Andronicles sat in total darkness as he silently cursed his brother-in-law. He almost snarled at the stupid condescending look on Josephus' face when he hatched the plan earlier that evening.
"Meet me at Tideus Grove. Plenty of puncture vine there...enough for your....um problem. Noxius, down at the tavern, told me that mandrake root will do the same thing. Said he heard of that from some story, and he said he's heard it grows in the grove too. Of course, the healers will tell you that stuff is for pains in the joints, but I think they're just savin' the stuff up for themselves. Anyway, just boil that stuff, the vine or the root, and make a tonic, and Bamm! My sister will conceive; you'll have a houseful of children to help you with the farm. How simple is that?" Josephus whispered conspiritorally as his sister went back to the kitchen.
"First of all, I don't believe that about the Mandrake. I've heard it can drive you crazy, and about that vine... I don't know. Maybe we don't want to travel that road. I mean, there's an orphanage in town run by the Daughters of Hestia. They have a lot of children there that we could help, and Corinna and I don't want a bunch of children just for the farm's sake," Andronicles grunted in disgust. "Besides, you don't know that will help produce children. The healers use it for crazy people!"
"Yeah, right, Mr Do-gooder. You know how much my sister wants a baby,her own baby, not some kid off the street. Listen, I'll be there just wait for me. I know where the best roots are," he grinned stupidly.
Andronicles frowned but agreed to the meeting just to shut him up before Corinnna heard them. He knew his wife wasn't that shallow, but he knew she desperately wanted to be a mother. Hearing the stupid conversation would only tear open old scars.
So, here he sat waiting for his "good" brother-in-law in an abysmally dark grove. He twisted his head as he heard movement in the distance. The eerie chanting filled the grove as Andronicles slowly rose and moved deeper into the shrubbery. It was clear that this little group was not dimwitted Josephus.
He shuddered as he saw the priest stop and mention Hera. Andronicles strained around the bush to see a peacock's feather stuck in a tree. The priest immediately dropped to his knees and started to dig. The man in seclusion listed in awe as he listed to the old priest make his supplication.
The old priest grinned in wicked relief as he uncovered his prize and muttered, "Ah...the sacred mandrake root. Oh, great Hera,I have done your bidding. Now, I await the messenger who will bring his death to Hercules.Ē
Lightning flashed through the sky, and Andronicles quickly backed out of the grove as quiet as possible as two green eyes looked on from the heavens. His heart was pounding as he took off running, and he nearly took his brother-in-law's head off as Josephus jumped out at him. "Are you just an idiot?" panted Andronicles. "You wanted me to try mandrake root? Mandrake root? If that stuff will kill even Hercules,
what did you think it would do to me? YOu fool!"
Josephus shrugged as Andronicles shoved past him and headed home. The idiot brother-in-law tried to peer through the darkness to see what had the other man so upset.
Pallaeus was almost beside himself with anticipation.His heart raced as he guided her through the field. He knew once he told her to open her eyes to see the construction of their future home, all talk of Hercules would end, and the beautiful Rena would agree to marry him. After all, he had a promising career in her step-father's service. He completely missed the annoyance in Rena's voice as she stated that this game was silly, and she needed to get back. He just smiled and told her it wouldn't be much further.
Finally getting her into the right spot, he smiled at his hard work and told her, "Okay, you can open your eyes now."
Rena was stunned as she looked at the partially constructed home. She couldn't believe he'd gone to this trouble. Surely he knew how she really felt. Rena just sadly sighed his name as he spoke of the home for them and their future children the gods would grant them. She struggled within herself to answer him without hurting him.He continued to ramble about their finishing the little house that mockingly stood on the hillside. Finally she simply said, "Pallaeus, please listen to me." I've told you before. I can't marry you!"
Pallaeus' eyes narrowed as he spat out, "It's because of Hercules."
"I love him," she explained.
Stubbornly he reminded her, "But you were promised to me."
Rena took a deep breath as she was beginning to lose all sympathy for the magistrate now behaving like whining child. He would just have to realize that she was no man's property, and she replied, "I make my own decisions."
Pallaeus quickly tried to figure out where his surprise went wrong. Surely she knew that he would provide for her, cherish her, and keep her safe. Hercules could never guarantee that. He stepped back to her and tenderly promised, "I'll be good to you, Rena. I'd giveyou everything."
She looked at the desperation in his eyes and thought of the devastation that would replace that once he realized this was a lost cause. She tried to gently let him down as she said, "I'm sorry if I've hurt you...but this isn't meant to be."
Anger began to rise up in him. Pallaeus had no intention of letting his dreams crash to the ground like Icarus. "I'll have your hand in marriage, and nothing the great Hercules can do will stop me," he stated with dangerous restraint as he stormed off leaving her to worry about the trouble he could cause.
Pallaeus continued down the stairs with Gorgas arguing his point. As he poured some wine for himself Pallaeus continued to whine, "How could she do this? How could she care so little about my heart and your word?"
Gorgas looked slightly bored and more than a little amused as he poured some wine for himself. How could this weakling think he could compare to Hercules? There was no way he would allow this little man interfere with his plans. When his wife, Queen Sylinia, died he lost the power he had acquired as Consort. The laws of the little town of Phlegra prohibited him from gaining the title of King since there was a living heir. He'd grown a little fond of Rena so assassination was out of the question. But this new development with Hercules would definitely work in his favor. After hearing how many times the demigod had been offered a crown only to turn it down, Gorgas was sure of his plan. Once Hercules married Rena, the hero would surely make Rena abdicate. The kingdom would be open for the warlord to legitimately assume power. Turning his attention back to Pallaeus, Gorgas was even more determined that his second-in-command would never, ever be granted Rena's hand. With a chuckle, he replied, "I trusted you to watch over my domain when I waged war in Thrace. Ha! I never expected to return home to your lovesick mewling.Ē
Pallaeus had to make this seem like more than "lovesick mewling". He knew if he wanted Gorgas' attention he had to make this a matter of loyalty. Squaring his shoulders he reasoned with the king, "ďEverything is just as you left it. You know Iíd never shirked my duty. I wish Rena cared as much about obeying you!"
Gorgas put down his wine and studied Pallaeus again. "Well, not as stupid as you look, are you Pallaeus," Thought the king. "Calm down, Pallaeus. Sheís not a child, anymore. The girl has a mind of her own." Gorgas had to play along until he had Rena and Hercules at before the high priest.
Pallaeus glared at Gorgas. "Okay, now I know the lay of the land, I'll have to work harder," he plotted. He growled, "Youíre as taken with Hercules as she is. All you care about is having him as an ally."
The king grew tired of this futile argument and finally admitted, "And why shouldnít I? Only a fool would pass up the chance to march into battle with the son of Zeus at his side." Gorgas knew that now he'd have to watch the man more closely. However, who could hurt him when he had Hercules as a son-in-law?
Pallaeus sputtered, "B-b-but Iíve fought nobly for you... killed for you... done everything you would ask of a soldier."
Gorgas smiled ferally at his right hand man and muttered, "Ah, thereís just one problem, Pallaeus. Youíll never be him." He watched Pallaeus try to leave the room with dignity, but the fool reminded Gorgas of a dog slinking away with his tail tucked between his legs.
Iphicles took a deep breath as he stood at Rena's door. He knew that eventually he'd have to give up this act, but until he had Rena as his lovely bride, the deception had to continue. He knew she'd forgive him as he knocked on the door.
"Who is it?" she sweetly asked as she combed her long brown hair.
Iphicles felt his heart skip at the beauty of her voice. Clearing his throat, he continued the lie, "Hercules!"
She threw the door opened, grabbed his muscular arm, and pulled him in. "Come in," she said with a passionate kiss.
Hercules grinned at the speed his friend was traveling. Iolaus went on and on about how good it would be to see his mother. Herc completely believed him to be sincere, but he also thought that the hunter wanted to put some distance between him and the last village. He remembered the haste his friend used to try and soothe angry feelings and laughed.
Iolaus stopped dead in his tracks and turned to look at Hercules. "What?" Iolaus continued walking as the hero caught up with him. Realizing what his buddy was thinking, Iolaus remarked with a smirk, "Come on, Hercules. Will you stop it? I didnít know she was married."
"Well, her husband knew," the demigod teased.
"Yeah, tell me about it. You know? You could ía said something,Ē answered Iolaus.
Hercules shook his head and picked up the pace a little. He said,"I donít know. Those kind of battles, I always avoid."
Iolaus just smiled at the memory of sweet Melissa and her deep brown eyes looking him up and down. "Did you see the way she was flirting with me?"
Hercules saw someone in trouble ahead so he answered a bit absently, "Uh, yeah she was. Need some help?" he called out to the older woman struggling with a donkey and a cart stuck in the mud.
As Hercules charged ahead, Iolaus stopped for a moment and thought, "Why does there always have to be mud?" He hurridly ran to help as well.
The woman cowered as she saw two men hurridly aproaching her. She knew the bandits that now roamed the countryside would probably just kill her and her donkey. "Take everything. Please, just don't hurt me or the animal. She's all I've got left in the world," she pled as she threw her arms around the donkey's neck.
Iolaus raised his hands to her in a placating motion and reassured, "Nah, take it easy. We're not bandits."
She looked puzzled and asked, "Gorgas didnít send you after me?"
Hercules replied, "Gorgas? No, working for a warlord isnít our style." Hercules turned to Iolaus and continued, "Now, Iolaus, why donít we help the lady with her wagon?" He and Iolaus casually moved to the back of the cart and assessed the damage. The demigod and the hunter lifted the heavy cart and listened to the lady go on and on.
"It didnít look like it a couple of minutes ago, but this is my second lucky day in a row. She explained, "Yesterday I sold my most expensive pair of sandals to Hercules."
Hercules and Iolaus stopped lifting and looked at each other in shock. She boasted, "Yes, sir, cost him thirty dinars, but he didnít think twice about it. You see? Heís gonna get married in those sandals."
Hercules suddenly became preoccupied with the news and dropped the cart. Fortunately, Iolaus was swift enough to move his foot in time, but still gasped, "Herc, my foot I do not want to have to help sort this out on a cane!"
"Oh sorry, Iolaus, I just hadn't heard the news," the demigod said absently. "Who's he marrying?"
The old lady beamed to have such news to relate. Iolaus thought she reminded him of an old biddy back in Thebes who liked to be in everybody's business. Of course he was glad she had some news for his friend. If she'd not been partial to gossip, she wouldn't have anything to help Hercules.
"The stepdaughter of Gorgas himself!" she crowed looking at the two men who were suppose to be helping her. Then she sighed, "Too bad Hercules isnít here to help you two with that wagon. Why, heíd probably pull it out all by himself."
Hercules was getting a little tired of the attitude, and he wanted to get to the bottom of this. So, he just slyly smiled, grabbed the cart with one hand and lifted it out of the rut. "You mean...something like that? Good day Ma'am. Oh, and be more careful of this soft ground. After a rain this area can really bog down." Iolaus couldn't believe how courteous the demigod could be even in the face of rudeness.
"Hey, Iolaus. I didn't clip your foot back there, did I?" Herc asked as concern clouded his features.
"What? Are you kidding? No way would I let my foot get caught in that trap," he reassured Hercules. "Hey, that reminds of Melissa and the trap she was setting."
Hercules smiled and patted his shoulder as they headed to his mother's house. He was glad for the friendly banter to keep his mind on other things. This imposter was consuming his mind.
The lights in the tavern may have been scarce, but the place was filled with laughter as Iphicles told one story after another about his brother's exploits. Part of him revelled in the attention these stories brought him; however, another small part of him felt bitter that once again it was "Hercules" getting the attention. He didn't care. The way Rena stroked his arm and looked at him through adoring eyes made him feel like he WAS a demigod. So, he tucked away the whispering small voice that made him feel guilty, and found himself falling farther and farther into the spiders web of lies.
"Hades was worse than your foulest nightmare," he began with and intense quiet voice. "It was pitch black, sweltering hot, and evil lurking around every corner. So I had to find Cerberus, the three-headed dog? And bring him back to King Eurystheus...without using any weapons." The crowd snickered, and Rena looked at him with such love, but even she laughed. He reassured them, "No! No! No! Really!Ē So,using nothing more than my bare hands, I choked this biting, clawing, fire-breathing beast,and I dragged him outta Hades!" The crowd continued its warm laughter and encouraged him on. All around him, Iphicles heard the name of his brother spoken in reverence. Iphicles continued, "The thing is...the king didnít want this monster! I mean, who would? So I had to turn around and take him back!"
This time Iphicles joined in the laughter, but Rena noticed that it didn't quite live in his eyes. Neither she nor Iphicles noticed the bitter man hanging on in the fringes. They never noticed the hate that dwelled in Pallaeus' eyes, nor when he threw back his ale and hurried out of the tavern with a purpose. The purpose that would mean the end of Iphicles, or "Hercules" as the town knew him.
His decision firmly made, Pallaeus crept into Hera's temple to seek out her priest. The air was thick with some sweet incense and oils. His eyes adjusted slowly to the candlelit main room, but the priest saw him immediately and approached him. Pallaeus gathered his courage and made his proposition known.
"Indulge me, great priest. I desire revenge against Hercules, for stealing the woman I love. But no mere mortal can overcome the son of Zeus by himself. So it is that I seek help from the goddess, Hera, he asked calmly. Pallaeus always had a healthy respect for Hera though Ares was always his god of choice. He was surprised at th e priest's chilling answer.
"I have been waiting for you," stated the priest.
Hercules loved visiting with his mother, but his mind could not let go of the danger this imposter posed. He hated disappointing her once again, but he couldn't let this drop. He read understanding in her eyes when she expressed a wish for a longer visit. Internally, he vowed he would take the time before there was no time left. Next time, he and Iolaus would fix her fence. It wasn't as if she had anyone else who looked after her these days.
"I'm sorry, Mother, but a man has...a man has to defend his name," he explained.
"But, dear," she reasoned, "A name is all it is, Hercules. Whomever this imposter is, heíll never be the force for good that you are."
Hercules rose from the table and dropped his napkin on his plate. He had to make her understand what he was worried about. It wasn't just his reputation involved. He told her that people expected good deeds from him. This actor could actually cause some people to get hurt because they expected help. Alcmene smiled realizing she'd lost that particular battle.
"All right," she conceded. "I guess youíve got to go. But all these heroics, Hercules. Itís not exactly the best way to start another family. Just...be careful. Stay in one piece for happier days."
"I will, Mother," he said quickly skirting by the "why don't you settle down" speech.
Iolaus appeared at the door and took in the scene. It made him long to speak with his own mother, but he didn't think he'd see the same look of pride as he saw on Alcmene's face. Clearing his throat, he interrupted, "Oh, I'll make sure he does. As long as he can prove he's the real Hercules."
Hercules gently lifted Alcmene off the ground kissed her cheek and bid her goodbye. She smiled at His friend who had become like another son to her and replied, "Don't worry. He's the real one."
She watched them walking, obviously teasing, and talking. Her smile melted into a frown as she considered the danger they were both in. Alcmene was worried about her son and the strain he was constantly under to help people. She seldom voiced this opinion as it was that very sentiment that set off the last argument with her other son. Alcmene never played favorites, but for some reason Iphicles never believed he measured up in her eyes. The look of hurt in her two year old's eyes as he was dragged away by Aphitirion's family was magnified in the adult.
She lifted her eyes to the sky and whispered, "Zeus, I know it isn't safe to grant my requests, but please keep a close eye on all my boys."
The playful jibes soon halted as they neared Gorgas' domain. Farm after farm seemed to have been razed to the ground. Hercules knelt at the latest handiwork of the tyrant. "It looks like Gorgas has been busy," he grumbled as he chunked a chared stone across the field.
Iolaus stared at what had to be a happy little home. The pattern of the stones on the floor, the gardens now in ruins, the carefully crafted fireplace all spoke volumes about the love and care its owners shared. "I wonder if there's anyone here to tell us what happened?"
Suddenly a harsh old battle cry rumbled from the bushes as an old man with a pitchfork charged after them. Iolaus quickly and quite easily dodged the attack, spun around, and disarmed him in one stroke. Hercules reached out and steadied the old man and reassured him that they meant him no harm. Confusion clouded the man's face as he asked if Gorgas sent them. He just sighed when Iolaus mentioned that they didn't even know him.
The old voice warbled, "Ya havenít?! Well, be glad that you havenít suffered the taxes that heís inflicted on everyone." The old man sat wearily on the only piece of furniture left and moaned, "My daughter, Corinna and her husband, Andronicles fought him, but theyíre now dead. Maybe my coward son, Josephus had the right idea. If Corinna and Andronicles had listened to him and abandoned their place, they'd still be alive today. They were so excited about adopting a little boy from the village orphanage. Now that child is orphaned twice. And there's talk of Gorgas selling those children into slavery!"
Hercules grimaced and answered, "Nice guy. Why donít you come with us? Weíre on our way to Phlegra. Weíll find you some help."
He grew agitated and asked, "Who from? Certainly not Hercules. We thought heíd be our salvation. But even he wonít stand up to Gorgas. I don't know why I've been so critical of my son when the son of Zeus seems to be just as great a coward."
Iolaus didn't like the way this conversation was turning. "Wait! I thought this Hercules was a good man."
"So did we," whispered the old man.But so far, heís done nothiní to prove it.Ē
When Hercules offered to tell the people in town that he was there, the old man just sadly shook his head and told them not to bother. Gorgas had left him with nothing to live for.
Hercules grumbled, "You know, Iolaus, This Hercules character isreally starting to bother me."
The priest smiled menacingly as he instructed Pallaeus as he handed over the green alabaster urn, "This comes from the mighty Hera. Do with it as I instruct you, and you will have your revenge. Take it to where Hercules is put it close to him. Only then will it open only in the presence of Hercules."
Pallaeus looked hungrily at the urn and asked, "What's in it?"
"Death," simply stated the priest. A slow deadly smile grew across the magistrate's face.
Josephus looked again at the crowd listening to him. If only he hadn't run away, maybe he could have helped Corinna and Andronicles. His courage grew from their own, and Josephus decided his days of slinking away were over. It might cost him his life, but he would never again run from a fight.
"Gorgas saddles us with an unfair tax and slaughters those of us who resist it. He plunders our crops and our livestock-- and he assumes weíll never be able to rise up against this ceaseless campaingn of repression." his voice broke when he spoke of those who died. He looked around at those willing to listen to him and wondered how many of them would lose their lives if Gorgas wasn't stopped. Someone in the crowd tried to tell them that Gorgas was too powerful. He moved through the people pleading passionately for understanding.
"But rise up we must. Itís time for us to realize there is power in numbers. We can get weapons, but they are no good to us if we run at the first sight of Gorgasí soldiers. We must stand together, or we are doomed to live out our lives in fear," he reasoned. A small gasp in the fringes made him wonder if his proposal had finally hit a nerve.
"That's all you're good for," sneered the soldier as he sauntered to the crowd. People began slipping away from the town square, too afraid of being noticed. The soldier smiled at the intimidation he was capable of as the people began to run away in earnest. He boasted, "Look at them run. I guess they don't believe in your fancy talk." The soldier slowly advanced on Josephus. He wasn't happy with the way the boy wasn't scared. This one would have to be dealt with swiftly and cruely.
Josephus glared at the man and squared his shoulders. This thug couldn't back him down. He raised his voice so all could hear and vowed, "Not now, but someday. They will drag you through the streets and let the dogs chew on your bones." Josephus hit the ground hard as the soldier struck him.
The soldier lost his amused look as he warned, "Watch your mouth, otherwise you won't live to see that day. Do I have to remind you of what happened to your family? I thought you learned your lesson then."
Josephus looked up from the ground and virtually growled at the reminder of his family's fate. No way would he ever forget their sacrifice. "Yeah, I learned my lesson alright. I learned that I had to stand up for what I believe in. But you'll never understand that. You will understand when I pound you into the ground!" He jumped up, clinched his fists, and started to charge the soldier and his men. Suddenly he felt two hands strongly restraining him.
"Use your head. Youíre outnumbered," advised Hercules as he held the brash young man back.
Defiantly Josephus stated," I donít care! I can take Ďem one at a time or all at once...however they want it!" He struggled to free himself from the man's grasp.
Hercules sighed, "That's something you don't want to find out." He looked to the other brash brave man that was his best friend and nodded.
Iolaus smiled and grabbed Josephus by the arm and guided him over to the side. He knew Hercules would be forced to do something, and he didn't want this kid getting hurt. "Yeah, step over here. We need to talk," he advised. As Josephus tried to argue, Iolaus just held up his hand and said, "No, no, no, no, no, no, no." Hmmm, who did this kid remind him of?
The soldier smugly advanced on the stranger and asked, "Who are you?"
Hercules shrugged and told him, "Just someone who hates fights."
"Yeah? Well, maybe you should stay out of them," the thug warned as he drew his sword.
They always thought a sword would stop him. Hercules internally shook his head because he knew this creep would have to learn his lesson the hard way. With a mirthless chuckle, the demigod tried toreason with him, "Believe me, I try. Because Iím always worried that someoneís gonna get hurt."
The soldier sneered, "You mean like this!" and rushed Hercules with his drawn sword. The hero easily dodged the thrust, twist aroud, and kicked the bully sending him to crash into the well.
Herc sighed and replied sarcastically, "Exactly!"
The demigod readied his stance and waited for the next attack, which didn't take long. A spearman rushed him from behind, but a few well placed punches sent the "would-be" warrior tumbling. Iolaus turned from trying to calm Josephus down and checked to see if his friend needed his help. Josephus wanted to run into the battle again when two thugs grabbed Hercules by either arm. Iolaus grinned and shook his head. The young man watched in awe as the demigod simply crashed them into each other, punched one, and kneed the other in the stomach. Iolaus spoke with pride, "That's my friend," as Herc rolled over the back on one creep and kicked another in the face. Confident that his friend had everything under control, the hunter heard a maiden cry out as another thug came out of nowhere and pushed her to the ground. Outraged, Iolaus handed his pack to Josephus and told him that it wouldn't take long. He ran to the rat, jumped on his shoulders, and proceeded to knock him and the other army of bullies senseless.
Meanwhile, Hercules was able to grab a spear and use it against two of the soldiers. Easily lifting them by either end of the spear, he vaulted them over the market completely into one of the residential areas. That was the last straw for the fighting men. They quickly exited the marketplace as quickly as they had slithered into it. Iolaus threw an arm around Josephus and guided him back to Hercules.
Suddenly, Josephus was tugging at Hercules' arm and urging the duo to come with him. He warned, "Well, you saved me; now, Iím gonna save you. Hercules is coming."
Hercules shook off the young man and turned in the direction Josephus had indicated. His heart dropped to the pit of his stomach. The betrayal was bitter indeed as he saw who was approaching them. Iolaus looked and whispered loud enough for the demigod's ears, "It can't be...gods, it is!"
"My brother," Hercules stated flatly.
Josephus couldn't understand what was going on. He knew that the stranger was strong, but could he really be Hercules' brother? He watched as the two greeted each other with a warrior's handshake, muttering small talk about the time that passed since visiting with each other. Maybe this stranger wouldn't help them after all. The depression that haunted him since his brother-in-law and sister's death began its seductive swirl around him. He barely heard the stranger's bizarre taunt about name changes when Iolaus interrupted his dark thoughts. With a sigh he agreed to follow his new friend while the stranger and Hercules began talking.
Iphicles looked at his younger brother and tried to size him up. Would he threaten his future? Iphicles tried to appeal to Hercules' good nature, "You look good Hercules."
Hercules wasn't buying into the amiable big brother routine. He'd remembered the last time he'd fallen for that.
"Hey Iph! Wait up, will ya?" the 10 year old boy called ahead. Iolaus was trudging along with Hercules, obviously trying to slow his younger friend down. "Iolaus come on. I know you're the fasted boy in the village. If we don't hurry up, Iphicles will go to his special fishing hole all by himself, and we'll never find it."
Iolaus rolled his eyes, "Yeah right...like he ever had time to find a 'special' fishing hole. Look, I know a really good one. We went there last month remember, before the great Iphicles came to visit. I caught 8 fish in one afternoon. Let's let grumpicles go off by himself. What does he know about fishing anyway." Iolaus kept moving, but his speed went from hanging back to stomping off. What did he care if Herc's bully of a brother knew a 'special' fishing hole. He didn't need anything or anybody. "Yeah, you go with your brother, come see me when he leaves." Iolaus turned to walk away but felt his buddy's hand on his shoulder.
Hercules cleared his throat and replied, "Okay, Iolaus. I don't know what Iphicles ever did to you, and I don't know why you guys don't like each other. I only see my brother once a year, and I want to know him better than I do now..I need to know him better. I've got to try. Now, I know you're just mad, and I know you'll get over it. You're still my best friend. Aren't you?"
Iolaus sighed, nodded, and just walked off. Hercules stomped down the hurt when he watched his friend desert him. "I'm sorry, Iolaus," he whispered as he made his choice and ran in the direction his brother was heading.
Iphicles stifled a laugh as he hid behind the tree and watched the brat talking with his shrimp of a friend. "Oh this is going to be perfect now. That sawed-off idiot would have spoiled all the fun. Now little Jerkules won't even question his concerned big brother," he plotted. "Hey, kid! Come this way. I'll wait for you!" Iphicles called out.
Hercules beamed as he heard his brother call him over. When he reached him, Iphicles gave him a brother pat on the shoulder and directed him toward the small pond.
"Wow!" gasped the young demigod as he saw a small, yet impressive, boat at the shore. "Are we going in your boat? Isn't this the one you were working on all last summer? This is going to be great," babbled the young boy.
"Yeah, yeah,yeah...get in, we don't have all day to catch these fish," Iphicles ordered as Hercules hurried into the boat. Hercules smiled as he watched his big brother push them off. In no time they were gliding across the lake. The ripples the oars made were almost hypnotizing. Iphicles pulled both oars up when they got to the middle, stood carefully, and threw out his net. Mimicing his brother, Hercules did the same. However, the young boy was a bit clumsy, and it took him a moment to gain his balance. Iphicles secretly smiled at the opportunity. Just as Hercules managed to achieve balance, Iphicles planted his feet farther apart and began rocking the boat. He laughed as Hercules immediately dropped to the bottom of the boat and clung to her side. "Come on, Herc. Don't be a baby...be a man."
Hercules blinked up at him and tried again. This time as he got to his feet, Hercules tumbled overboard. Iphicles didn't mean for him to do that. It was really an accident; he only meant to tease the little brat, but as he watched the kid sputter as he broke to the surface, all the nasty little things his uncle had accused his mother of, every insult, every beating he received because of his mother's shame rose up in him. He reached out to him, but as Hercules tried to grasp his hand, Iphicles gave his head a little shove, and Hercules disappeared into the water again. In an instant, he felt guilty. It wasn't the brat's fault that people judged him by his family. Hercules came to the surface again, but choking this time. Iph reached out again, but his vision blurred with the memory of the accusations Uncle Antipios spat out about his own origins, and he gave him a stronger shove down in the water.
Hercules looked up in terror as the menacing hand came down on his head. Why was his brother doing this? The pain in his lungs were minor to the ache in his heart. This time, he was shoved just a little harder, and he went all the way to the bottom of the murky pond. He felt the vine wrap around his ankle as he struggled.
Iphicles was beginning to get worried when his brother didn't surface this time. He quickly jumped in and swam down to where he should be, but he was no where in sight. Iphicles panicked as he surfaced, and dove again frantically looking for the innocent little brother.
Iolaus had been sitting on the bank watching the brotherly teasing, and felt a little jealous. He never had that with his own siblings, and he'd always longed for a big brother. He stared in shock as he watched Hercules tumble from the boat. Instantly he was on his feet, but he felt like a fool when he saw Iphicles reach out to him. Then the dunking play began, and Iolaus almost turned and went home. They looked like they were having fun. Something inside him, though, wouldn't let him, and soon he knew why. Hercules didn't come up. At the same time Iphicles jumped in, Iolaus dove as deeply as he could and swam to where Herc had to be. He broke the surface to breathe after he'd seen his greatest nightmare. His friend was in grave danger. Iolaus dove quickly to his side, pulled out his small knife from his belt, and proceeded to cut the vine away. That done, Iolaus grabbed him by the scruff of his neck, and pulled him to the surface. Iphicles saw Iolaus dragging Hercules along the water, and jumped in his boat. Quickly paddling, Iph caught up and had the shrimp help put the brat into the boat. As soon as Hercules was on board, Iphicles paddled toward shore, leaving Iolaus to make it back on his own. Of course, that didn't bother Iolaus.
After Iphicles got Herc on shore, he began to pound his back. The young boy had swallowed a great deal of water, but it didn't take long before he was vomiting it onto the grass. Iphicles sighed in relief as he patted his brother's back soothingly. He wasn't prepared for the little dynamo headed his way.
"Of all the idiotic pranks. You're a jerk, Iphicles. An empty-headed, weak- minded, knuckle-dragging, coward...that's what you are!" shouted Iolaus as he grabbed Iphicles by his collar.
As Iphicles rose to his feet, Iolaus was oblivious to the fact that though they were the same age, Hercules' brother was a good head and shoulder's length taller than he. Iphicles tried to explain that it was an accident, but Iolaus wouldn't hear of it and called him every name he could think of...none of them were too flattering. Just as it seemed that the two would square off, they heard a small voice.
"Iolaus...stop. It was just an accident. My..own..clumsiness. It wasn't Iph's fault," Hercules choked out. "I...uh...I think I...need to go home..now."
Iphicles and Iolaus both stopped and came to his aid. Supporting him on either side, they walked him carefully back home. The anger passing between those two was still seething, but they managed to hold back on it for Hercules' sake. When they reached the edge of their farm, Alcmene came running to them, and took Iolaus' place as they got him in the house. Iolaus followed quietly as Herc was put to bed. He stared at Iphicles as he heard Hercules tell the story of his amazingly brave brother who saved him from drowning. "Isn't that right, Iolaus?" Herc asked. Iolaus looked at the pleading in his friend's eyes, and he almost spoke up until he saw the terrible guilt in Iph's face.
"It was amazing," he replied. His thoughts were quite different, though, "Yeah, okay, Herc. Cover for him. Just as long as you remember who your real brother is."
Herc shook his head to clear his memory of a broken trust, and stared as the adult Iphicles non-challantly shrugged off the current deception he was engaged in. "Hmm, aren't you worried someoneíll hear you call me that?Ē
ďOh, come on. Donít be so sensitive. You know Iíd never do anything to dishonor your name,Ē Iphicles reassured with a smile. This would take more finesse than he thought.
"But you already have. You've joined up with Gorgas, haven't you?" Hercules asked suspiciously.
Iphicles tried to explain that it was only pure coincidence and that he was engaged to Gorgas' step-daughter, Rena. "She's the kindest, most beautiful woman I've ever met," he explained as he sat on a nearby table. Hercules remained standing, and to Iphicles that meant Hercules would be difficult to persuade. What was I suppose to do? Tell him I don't like blood on his hands?"
Hercules crossed his arms over his chest and replied, "That would be a good place to start. Then people would still respect my name." Hercules knew by the way his brother spoke, that he truly loved this woman. Iphicles wasn't just trying to use his name to impress her for shady purposes, but he couldn't allow his name to be linked with a hoodlum warlord.
Iphicles tried to placate Hercules with promises that he'd never hear anything about Hercules helping Gorgas. But when Hercules challenged that line of thinking with another about hearing Hercules overthrew Gorgas, Iphicles knew he'd lost. The fact that he hadn't done anything to make matters worse did not sit well with his younger brother.
"Oh, I forgot," Iphicles smiled bitterly. "You're the brother who's always right."
Hercules frowned and answered, "When you're being foolish, you make it easy."
Iphicles rose disgustedly and spat out, "You know what? I don't have to listen to this." The would-be Herc stomped off.
Josephus asked questions about Hercules and the other "big guy" while Iolaus wound through the marketplace looking for anything to eat. His stomach growled a painful reminder that it had been awhile since he'd eaten.
"Look I understand you have questions, and I'll get to that, but right now, I'd just like to find a nice pomegranate," he muttered as he saw one stall after another empty.
Josephus followed him and stated that he'd be hard pressed to find a pomegranate in Phlegra. "Now, about the big guy...," he continued.
Iolaus continued to meander through the market, but he decided perhaps he could fill Josephus in while he was looking for something to fill his stomach with. He started, "OK, well, the other big guy, as you call him,that was the real Hercules."
Josephus looked at him incredulously and spoke, "Get outta here!"
Iolaus walked up to a stall that had some fruit and explained, "Yeah. And, uh, the guy whoís lying to everybody, thatís his brother, Iphicles." He reached out and picked up what was suppose to be a pomegranate. However, it was rotten, and appeared to have already been the dinner of some insect. The vendor assured him that it was the finest in all of Phlegra.
Josephus good naturedly punched Iolaus in the arm and said, "Nah, you're just trying to fool me. It's a joke. Right?"
Iolaus glared in disgust at the pomegranate in his hand and tossed it back into the bowl. "No, this is a joke. Is there nothiní to eat in this entire village?" he asked as he dusted off his hand.
Josephus' face fell slightly as he gazed at his once proud village. Once this marketplace was briming with livestock, fresh fruits, and vegetables. Bread baking would often draw him here in his lazier days. He explained, "Gorgas takes whatever he pleases, and leaves us with his leftovers." Josephus laid his hand on the stranger's shoulder and offered, "Look, if youíre hungry, uh...you havenít even told me your name."
"Iolaus," the hunter replied. Josephus invited him to get something to eat, and Iolaus followed the young orator eagerly.
Hercules followed Iphicles into the stall of a stable calling after him, "Iphicles. Iphicles! Fine, have it your way." Hercules used his strength against his brother for the very first time as he grabbed his shoulders and threw him to the ground. "Now, listen to me! Iím tryiní to make you understand how evil Gorgas is. I hope his dau...whatís her name?"
"Rena," Iphicles ground out. Never had he spoken the name with such bitterness.
"Rena," Herc started as he helped pull Iphicles from the ground, "Well, I hope Rena is nothing like her father."
"Actually, sheís his stepdaughter,and no, theyíre nothing alike," defended Iphicles. He narrowed his eyes when Hercules asked him if she was smart. "What now," he thought, "does Hercules want to court her now?" He answered his brother smugly, "Of course she's smart." Iphicles sat on a bench and looked up at his brother.
Hercules thought he finally had his brother at a place he could reason with him. He tried to make him see that sooner or later Rena would find out about his deception. Couldn't his brother see that if he truly loved her he would be honest with her? "What about when you introduce your new wife to Mother?"
Iphicles looked to the ground and admitted, "I haven't seen Mother in a long time."
Hercules drew in a deep breath. He didn't know what the argument was about, but the demigod was sure that it had something to do with him. Looking at the proud man sitting before him. "Be yourself, Iphicles. Itís a lot easier," he reasoned.
Iphicles forgot his guilt and rose, dusting himself off, "Yeah, well thatís easy to say if youíre Hercules. Iím the son of a man, not a god. Nobody cares we came out of the same womb. Nobody cares that my birthrightís not the same as yours.Ē The anguish in his voice did little to convince Hercules.
Herc stated, "Forget about that! We are what we are because of the lives weíve lived, nothing else."
Iphicles turned his back on his brother. He closed his eyes at the simplistic way Hercules viewed the world. "I do no harm to anyone," he tried to explain. "I try and help others when I can, but I might as well be a grain of sand for all the good it does me." Iphicles quickly spun around and stood toe-to-toe with the demigod. "All I want is happiness and contentment. And I can have that if you just leave. Canít you do that, Hercules? You help strangers all the time. Just this once,Iím asking you to help me." He'd never begged in his whole adult life, but he felt everything slipping away from him.
Hercules looked at him sympathetically, but answered, "Iím sorry, Iphicles. I wish you everything you want, but not my name."
Defiantly Iphicles warned, "If you refuse to understand the situation, weíre not brothers, anymore. Weíre enemies." He then turned and stomped out of the stable, leaving Hercules to sigh in frustration. In the next stall Pallaeus stood watching the exchange with the alabaster jar in his arms. He took the lid off with glee and watch the green toxin swirl. Suddenly, as the stranger exited the stable, the green fog disappeared. The little magistrate frowned in confusion.
Josephus plopped his pack down on the old stump. Unwrapping the tattered cloth, Iolaus watched in shock as the "feast" was revealed. Two hard loaves and a couple of small pieces of cheese were all this young man had. Yet, the young man smiled proudly as he offered, "Lunch?"
Iolaus started to refuse such heartfelt generosity, but Josephus insisted. The young man explained that though what he had may seem small, it was a virtual feast there in Phlegra. After he assured Iolaus that there was plenty for both of them, the hunter relented, which pleased Josephus immensely. Iolaus studied the painful poverty and desolation around him before he asked, "How long has it been like this?"
Josephus dropped his eyes to the feast before them and began to cut Iolaus' share. "Almost a year. I suppose if Hercules wasnít in love with Rena, he would have helped us overthrow the murdering pig already. Things went on little by little until it's like you see it now. I thought, well, when things settle down, Gorgas won't be so harsh. I was wrong."
Iolaus knew he had to make Josephus see that he had the beginnings of a fine rebellion on his hands. "Josephus, even if Hercules is marrying Rena, which he isnít, you canít stake everything on one man. I heard what you were saying out there, before. You're a brave man. Youíve got the idea, standing up for what you know is right."
Josephus heaved a sigh, "I haven't always had the right idea, and I don't know about being brave. I just wish I'd taken up the cause sooner. Maybe if I'd helped them instead of running away my sister and her husband would still be alive, but I was a fool back then....just like everyone else in this town. I had my head in the ground and refused to see. Now, well, my family is gone...even the child they were adopting will soon be sold into slavery, and I have no idea where my father is. I just...I just wish I wasn't so alone." He blinked back the tears and handed Iolaus the food.
Iolaus remembered the old man, mention of the child, and the "coward" son. If only they had been able to convince the man to come with them. At least part of the family would be reunited. He assured Josephus that he wasn't alone anymore and gave him hope about his father.
Out of the blue an angry voice shouted, "Thatís one of them right there, with the rabble-rouser! Move it! Move it!"
Iolaus told Josephus to get out of the market. When the young man refused and assured the hero that he wasn't afraid, Iolaus reminded him that it wasn't about him or his bravery. He needed Josephus to find Hercules. Iolaus fought valiantly against the odds thrown at him, and barely remembered to tell Josephus to get the "real" Hercules. He could only imagine the help he'd get if Iphicles arrived. "Hurry up, Herc," Iolaus muttered under his breath as another blow struck his stomach.
Iphicles sulked the whole way to Rena's home. He wasn't sure how he could explain his deception. He was sure that once they were married, she'd forgive him and accept him. Now with his brother in town she was sure to find out. His only decision now would be whether he would break the news or Hercules. She met him at the door, as always, and try as he could to hide his distress, she saw right through him.
Rena hugged him tighter to her and then leaned back. She searched his eyes to try and figure out why he was so sad. "What's bothering you, Hercules."
She saw him wince slightly as she said his name. He tried to tell her it was nothing but Rena was relentless when it came to making him feel better. What she felt for him was deeper than anything she'd felt before. Their love was as vast as the sea, and yet she felt as though they were sinking quickly beneath the water. "But youíve always been such an open book, and... and now itís like...itís like I donít know who you are. What is it, Hercules?Ē
Iphicles felt so guilty for lying to her. He stuttered and stammered at trying to explain, but he just couldn't do that. Not now, not when he was so close to having all of his dreams realized. He held her closer as she promised to always be there for him. Iphicles could only hope that would be true when he reassured her, "It's something I have to deal with myself. Don't worry, I'll be fine." He knew she was crying, and he hated for her to hurt for him that way, but he had no options now.
Iolaus grimaced as he felt every little bruise and cut when they dragged him into the main hall. He sized up the man sitting on the throne. Gorgas looked at him with disdain and then at his banged up guards. Iolaus smiled through his own discomfort when he saw the other men trying to look anywhere but at the warlord's face.
Gorgas widened and addressed his troups, "Heís the one who flattened an entire patrol. How can you call yourself soldiers?!" The contempt he felt for his own men was quite tangible at the moment. As they all tried to make one excuse after another. Telling Gorgas there was one other man that helped did nothing to appease his anger.
Iolaus chuckled, "So, you're the top dog around here. You should try my friend on for size." One of the guards slammed into him again and knocked him to his knees. "Iolaus, you've got to watch that mouth of yours," he told himself as the sentiment was echoed by the guard that hit him. "Yeah, right...show respect? Me?" the hero replied.
Gorgas smiled himself and warned, "You should take his advice. Maybe you can start by telling me why you and your friend are here."
Iolaus couldn't take the smugness on this small time thug's face. "We came for the waters," he answered sarcastically.
Gorgas frowned as he sprawled on his throne, "Waters? There are no waters in Phlegra."
Iolaus knew he'd bear the brunt again, but could help himself, "Oh, well, we were misinformed." The guards didn't disappoint him as they viciously began beating him again.
They only stopped when Pallaeus spoke up, "You should have been that tough on his partner." The recent events started playing out in the magistrate's mind. Something he couldn't quite put his finger, but if he were to deal with these two, then maybe Gorgas might change his mind about Rena. This was a golden opportunity and he'd take it.
One of the other soldiers stated that they could track the partner down and kill him, but Gorgas had other ideas. He wanted to find out if they were mercenaries sent to fight the battles of these little peasants. A wicked smile covered his face as he rubbed his hands together. He loved putting together a plan. Gorgas ordered, "Youíre not gonna kill anyone, soldier. Take him to the catacombs. Heís the best bait weíve got if weíre gonna capture his friend and find out what theyíre doing here."
Iolaus taunted as they dragged him through the castle, "You wonít catch my friend, and you donít wanna see him mad!"
Gorgas glared in his direction and then turned to Pallaeus. The contempt he felt toward the man seethed through his every pore, and yet, the warlord still had his use for Pallaeus. He said, "And as for you, forget about your heartbreak, and go find Hercules. I got a job for him." He didn't miss the hardness in the little man's eyes. He'd almost laugh if it weren't for the seriousness of the situation.
Josephus ran as fast as he could through town looking for the big stranger. He could only imagine the torment his new friend, Iolaus was going through. When he finally found him, Josephus quickly brought the stranger back to the scene of the battle and filled him in on Iolaus' status. Hercules slowly picked up an armband lying on the ground. Josephus explained in awe, "Iolaus gave the soldiers all they could handle, but t here were just too many of them. Iíd be proud to fight at his side."
Hercules frowned at the danger his friend would be. "You may get the chance to do that. Where would they take him?" He asked.
Josephus drew closer to him and glanced around the area. "The enemies Gorgas doesnít kill go to the catacombs underneath his compound. We found a remote entrance, but it wonít be easy," he warned.
Hercules threw the armband in disgust and told Josephus to show him the way. Without a thought the young man led him through the city and toward the catacombs.
Iolaus was thrown into a filthy jail cell somewhere deep in the catacombs. Picking himself up and slowly dusting off, he thought, "Well, at least I'll get something to eat here. Looking through the bars he saw the soldiers sitting at a table in a dark room. "Hey," he called out. "what time is dinner?"
The guard passing by laughed and remarked, "Dinner"
Iolaus frowned at the way the guard turned to look back at his companions and nodded toward Iolaus. Iolaus answered, "Yeah. You know...roast quail, bread...a little wine?" Were these guards dense, or what!
"If you want dinner, youíd better catch yourself a rat. Of course, youíll have to eat it raw," he laughed all the way back to the table with his companions.
The hunter blinked and willed his stomach to calm down as he sighed, "I'd rather have quail." He was just truly beginning to size up his situation, and the loud growling wasn't helping him focus.
Hercules and Josephus slowly slipped behind some rocks. Josephus pointed out the entrance and the two guards standing there. Herc just urged him to be quiet and snuck up on the poor dumb guards, and they went down like a rock. Josephus watched as Hercules tested the door. The young man looked around nervously and thought to warn the "stranger" about the danger he was in.
"Sir, ďI, uh... donít know how to tell you this, but nobody whoís gone in this way has ever made it back out."
In spite of his protest, Hercules insisted that he go on alone. He smile at the young man's desire to help, his declaration that he wasn't afraid, and his need to help Iolaus. When Josephus warned him about the dangers from being alone and Hercules showing up. Hercules lifted the door easily and replied to the shocked young man, "He's already here."
As the demigod made his way into the dark catacombs, he swatted away loose cobwebs and dodged bats. As one in particular startled him, Hercules stumbled into a skeleton chained to the ceiling. Herc muttered, "Just once, Iíd like to battle a villain who insisted on sunshine and fresh air." He nudged past it with a sarcastic apology, "Excuse me," and continued on his task.
Slowly winding through the labyrinth, Hercules came to a door with a knob on the end of a rope. Grabbing and pulling the rope, the demigod jumped when a wall dropped down behind him. Hearing another noise, Herc felt the ground fall away from under him. He quickly threw his arms out and braced himself agains two walls. However, he was unable to keep from losing just a little ground when it fell away. Straining to keep from falling into what seemed an abyss, Hercules pulled himself up bit by bit until he was once again even with the wooden door with the rope. Swinging back and forth, he used the momentum to kick out and smash the door. With the next swing, he jumped onto solid ground and began making his way through the labyrinth.
To the guards, he must have appeared calm. Iolaus was anything but calm. He tried to find that illusive sacred silent space where he could let the pains of his body drift away. His body, however, didn't want to drift away. His stomach kept interrupting. It was quite insistent. Trying to focus on breathing steady, once again he was pulled back gto the physical world by his grumbling, groaning stomach. "Will you pipe down?!" he muttered to it. Looking up, he glanced at the table that would surely be laden with all sorts of epicurean delights. Iolaus walked over to the bars and got the attention of a passing guard, "Hey! Hey, you! Hey, you," he shouted. "I'm talking to you."
The guard looked over at the noisy little man. "What?" he muttered.
Iolaus complained, "You know? I really wasn't kidding when I said I was hungry."
The guard just grunted, "Well, I really wasn't kidding about the rat," He and the others burst into laughter at the hunter's expense.
Iolaus just turned around and leaned heavily against the bars. He mumbled sarcastically, "Ah great! I'll just...grab a rat and eat it raw. Who feeds you?" He asked the vermin scurrying across the floor.
Iphicles was striding purposefully through the village. He had to try one more time to reason with his brother. He wasn't pleased to see that little lizard heading his way. Pallaeus stoppend him and said smugly, "Wrong way, Hercules."
Iphicles addressed him as he would a bothersome dog, "What are you talking about?" he asked absently.
Pallaeus smirked, "There's trouble at the labyrinth. You're suppose to take care of."
Iphicles looked surprised. "Me?" he asked. Pallaeus usually went out of his way not to include him in his little hunting expeditions. That was how he'd kept his promise to Hercules not to hurt the demigod's reputation.
Pallaeus frowned suspiciously, "That's right, you. The guards say the big troublemaker's going to rescue his partner. Gorgas wants you to kill him."
Iphicles was istantly worried about his brother and Iolaus. There were times he resented Hercules, but he'd never purposely do him any real harm.
Iphicles was shaken. He'd never meant for his "lesson" to go that far. It was funny at first...Hercules in the water...sputtering in shock each time he'd pushed him under. The older brother shuddered when he thought about what might have happened if he would have had to bring Hercules' dead body back to his mother. He sighed as he plopped down in the chair next to Herc's bed. "Oh well," he thought, "what's one more person to hate me in the long run?" He ran a list through his mind as he stared into the darkness.
"I don't hate you," a small voice whispered from the bed.
"I guess I said that outloud," he said with a sad smile. Turning his eyes to the blue ones looking up at him. "Yeah? Even after...."
"You didn't mean to hurt me," he supplied.
"Look, kid, stop being so nice! People are going to take advantage of you if you keep that up. They'll hurt you!" Iph growled. "How can you be so trusting?"
Iphicles' heart ached as he heard Herc's answer. "You're my brother. I'll always trust you. Mother says family has to believe in each other. She says that we bring out the best in each other," he answered innocently.
The twelve-yea-old winced as he remarked, "Yeah, family...of course, that only works when you've got mother around. I don't. Do you want to hear about my 'home' my family?" There's no love in my home. I'm not much more than a slave there. You've got care, I've got chores. Uncle beats me if I do anything wrong, and according to him, I do everything wrong. He calls mother horrible names all the time, and when I try to defend her, I find myself face down in the dirt with one more bruise or broken bone. Is that the family that brings out the best in me?" he growled. "Or maybe it's Aunt. Yeah, the other one who's so 'fond' of mother. If I had a dinar for everytime she smacked me across the mouth for calling her a liar, I could buy the city of Corinth. Sometimes...," he choked out. "Sometimes I wish I could run away." Unshed tears welledup in his eyes as he looked away. "Sometimes I wish I'd never been born, and sometimes...sometimes I think about not being here anymore."
Hercules started crying as he jumped out of bed and threw his arms around his big brother. "Don't say that, Iph! Don't hurt yourself! Mother loves you, sometimes I hear her crying for you. I love you too. Run away to here...you're real home."
Iph's own tears ran down his face. He thought that he must have looked as shocked as Herc had looked in the water. They loved him? His mother missed him? That wasn't what his Aunt told him. "But she sent me away...," he whispered.
"No!" Hercules insisted. "Mother said they took you away. She said that the magistrate held her back. Uncle promised you could come for the summers if she calmed down. She said that he promised you would be treated as if you were his own child." Hercules looked intently at his older brother and said, "Now you know the truth, you can stay here. We can tell mother..."
"No!" he interrupted. Iphicles jumped to his feet and paced nervously. "You can never tell mother this. If I ran away they'd put mother in jail, drag me back, and throw you in an orphanage. Do you really want to see how mean they can be to her? Do you really want to see them hurt her? Promise me. Promise me you'll never tell mother. Promise me, or....or I will run away, but I'll go so far away, you'll never see me again. "
Hercules looked at all he might lose. He couldn't bear the thought of someone hurting his mother. He also knew that he couldn't rely on his absent father to help her. He also hated the thought of never seeing his brother again. So he agreed. "Okay. I promise, but Iphicles, what will you do?" Herc asked quietly.
"Just live with it I guess. I'll still be able to come during my summers. When I turn sixteen, the law says I can leave. I get to have a choice then," he said bitterly.
"You'll choose us, won't you, Iph?" the younger boy asked anxiously. "You won't think about...not being here anymore, will you?"
Iphicles looked at his little brother with new eyes. The hurt was still there, and the envy was, as well, but now there was also a tiny seed of hope where there had previously been none. "Of course I choose you and mother. Don't worry...all I'll think about for the next four years is being here."
Deep inside, Iphicles knew it would be a long four years. At least now he knew his mother never wanted him to go . "Maybe someday, we can be a real family," he thought.
The adult Iphicles brought himself back to the present as the threat to his now and future family became apparent. "Kill the stranger?" heasked. "Well, why? What happened to his partner?"
Pallaeus marvelled at Hercules' ignorance dealing with these men. He wondered at the concern Hercules wasshowing for these troublemakers. Slowly a smile crept over his narrow face as he caressed the alabaster jar in his hand. Slowly he moved his hand to the top of it and grasped the lid.
"Not much for news, are you? Letís see how you are with this!" Pallaeus jerked the lid off the jar and waited for the big man to start writhing on the street. When nothing happened, the fog that had been descending on him all day disappeared. He laughed with malicious glee as he sneered, "Youíre not Hercules."
Iphicles grabbed the little man by the collar and angrily warned, "Only a crazy man'd say that!"
Pallaeus taunted, "Then kill me. Thatís what the real Hercules would do, isnít it? Heíd be so outraged at being called an imposter, heíd strike me dead where I stand!"
"Never," he said as he shook him one more time before releasing him. Iphicles was disgusted at the lies this man was spouting about his little brother.
Pallaeus looked at him with contempt. "Liar. Everything you do is a lie," he accused.
Iphicles glared down at the snake and said, "You don't know the first thing abouty how he..." Realizing he'd slipped up, he tried to recover, "I mean, 'I' operate."
Pallaeus said triumphantly, "I know all I need to know about you, you fraud. And Gorgas and Rena are gonna know, too."
Hercules moved quickly past several former "visitors" to Gorgas' labyrinth. With every step, the demigod felt the fear for his friend rise up in him. In fact, he was deep in thought when he took that next step and found the floor depressed just a bit. He rapidly dodged spike after spike that zipped past him. One particular spike almost caught him in a very sensitive area. Releasing a little breath, Herc grasped the object that would guarantee he'd never start another family, and pulled the spike from the wall. He was getting quite irritated with Gorgas now as he ran with even more determination through the labyrinth.
Iolaus ' eyes snapped open as he smelled the the food arriving. he wa over to the bars in a snap. Smiling as he heard the other guards talkikng about how delicious the food was, Iolaus sighed in relief, "Food. I knew you guys wouldn't let me starve.
The guard laughed and teased as he took a huge bite from his meal, "Down boy, this isn't for you. This is for us. Hey," he asked his firends. How's the pheasant?" His eyes never left his prisoner.
"Pheasant?" whispered the hunter. Iolaus glared at them as they all told him how magnificent, and just downright delicious it was. When they started in on describing the wine.
"Yeah, well," he spat back, "you just go ahead and eat. I...I...I've got plenty of rat." He sank down as he listened to the happy noisy sound of men enjoying their meal.
Hercules walked a little more cautiously through the narrow hallway. He stopped periodically to check for traps. Satisfied that nothing was going to jump out, slice, or drop him, he moved forward. However, when he crossed another threshold, the walls rapidly closed in on him. He braced either side with the strength in his arms, but Hercules knew he was just moments away from being a semi-divine splat on the wall. He growled under his breath, "Gorgas, Iolaus better be alive!"
The guards left the room with leftovers on the table to torment the hungry man. Iolaus tried to reach through the bars. His fingers barely reached the dish, but he only succeeded in pushing the plate farther back. He rose and began pacing back and forth talking to himself, "Okay, okay. What do you do?" Suddenly he stopped as he was inspired. He snapped his fingers and answered, "you...you use an old hunter's trick." Iolaus quickly took off his belt and popped out a plank on the bench that was his bed. He slid the plank through the bars making a bridge between table and tormented man. Iolaus could finally smile as he just knew this plan would work, and he'd be feasting in a moment. Tossing the belt across the table he missed a couple of times, but with a little "damn," muttered under his breath, he was at it again.
Hercules' arms were starting to get tired. Suddenly he released the walls, turned and headed in the right direction. He stopped again to try and brace the walls as he went. They were moving in quickly and he could no long outstretch his arms. Finally, only his broad shoulders were keeping the walls from crushing him. Looking around frantically, the demigod saw a large bone lying on the floor. Hercules slipped his foot underneath it, flipped it up, caught it, and wedged it between the walls. Turning sideways, he was able to advance out of the trap and toward rescuing his friend.
Gorgas bolted off his throne and rushed Pallaeus . This crazy jeolousy had to end. "You're insane!" he charged.
Pallaeus shook his head and held out the alabaster jar. "This jar," he began, "comes from Hera's most trusted priest. What's in it will kill Hercules. But when I held it up to this imposter, nothing happened."
Gorgas vascillated between murderous thoughts and pity. The fact that he even considered killing his most powerful and valuable tool infuriated him. Yet, he knew nothing in a jar could achieve this, proving to him once again what a fool Pallaeus was. he shook his head turned, climbed up to his throne and sat as he spoke, "A jar that will kill Hercules? I knew your heart was broken, but Rena's obviously affected your mind too."
Pallaeus began to think of Gorgas, not as a powerful warlord, but as a simple child. Pallaeus appealed to his pride, "Gorgas, listen to me. She's not going to have Hercules for a husband, and you're not going to have him as a son-in-law. Why can't you understand that?"
"Because, I don't have blinders on," Gorgas stated.
Pallaeus sighed in frustration, "Yes you do. The intruder is Hercules, and he's inside these very walls."
Gorgas pulled his dagger and swiftly held it to Pallaeus' throat. "How do I know this isn't just one of your jealous rambling?" he asked.
Pallaeus patiently explained, "The mandrake in this jar will prove me right. It will kill this intruder. And your rule will remain unchallenged forever."
Gorgas turned this idea over in his head. Things started to make sense as he realized the real Hercules would have overthrown him by now. "Ready the guards," he ordered quietly with a smile. "We're going after Hercules, the real Hercules."
Pallaeus smiled victoriously and thought of Rena.
Finally, Iolaus' belt hooked a dish. Pulling it carefully, the hunter grinned in anticipation as he urged, "Thatís it. Now come to Papa. Come on." He pulled it closer and closer as it slid effortlessly across the plank and toward his waiting stomach. " Gotcha! Ha-ha.Come on. Come on, come on, come on," he giggled as it was now in reach. Suddenly one of the guard dogs came charging across the room. Iolaus held his hand to his chest trying to get his heart to slow down. Turning back to his prize, his face fell as he watched his food devoured by the very hungry dog.
Rena had to dodge all of the soldiers in the streets. Something big was happening, and she was afraid for her Hercules. She stopped one very young soldier and tried to find out what was going on. At first he didn't want to tell her, but she found he was easily intimidated. After he told her about the intruder and the captive, Rena wondered what they would have to do with her love. Vowing to get to the bottom of things, she went back to the castle and slid through the secret passage that led to the labyrinth's jails.
Hercules face another innocent looking hallway and just knew it was a trap. He wasn't disappointed as he dodged a huge spiked ball as it came barreling toward him. He straightened up after it lodged into the wooden door behind him and grunted in disgust, "Who makes these things?" He looked in surprise to find his quest wasn't quite over. Poles embedded with very large spikes, swung back and forth across the hallway. The fact that they swung alternately from one side to another only reinforced his need to be very careful, yet move very rapidly. He dodged one spike after another until finally at the end of this gauntlet, he dove to the floor. Relieve that it was finally over, Hercules rolled to his stomach to get up only to be facing a sword held by a very angry older brother.
Iphicles absolutely needed to scare his brother off. Knowing that his brother would never face off with him, Iphicles asked, "Are you ready to die, Brother?" He hated the look of sadness thrown his way by his little brother.
"Put that thing down, before you hurt somebody," ordered the demigod.
Iphicles slowly shook his head and explained angrily, "All I asked you to do was leave. But you couldnít even do that for your own brother. So get on your feet. Weíre gonna settle this for all eternity." Inside Iphicles prayed to all the gods that Hercules wouldn't call his bluff as he held out the second sword.
"Settle what? Thereís nothing for us to fight about. Youíve got your name, and Iíve got mine! That should be good enough for both of us!" said Hercules impatiently.
Iphicles couldn't let him go in there yet, so he thrust the sword at him again and warned, "Quit talkiní and take the sword!"
Herc narrowed his eyes at the brother he felt he hardly knew. "I've got better things to do right now." He turned and walked in the direction where the cells should be.
Iphicles let his temper get the better of him at that remark. "Better things to do than help out your less fortunate brother? Yeah, right I don't really mean anything to you, do I? Okay, we'll play it your way." Iphicles threw the sword on the floor and ordered, "Pick it up and fight, or Iím gonna have to do this the hard way, Hercules."
Quietly Rena stepped behind her Hercules and asked, "Hercules? Why did you call him Hercules?" She saw the pain and the utter desperation in her loves eyes as he turned toward her.
Iphicles felt his whole world slipping between his fingers, as Hercules addressed him, "Well? Are you gonna to tell her?"
Rena became more and more confused by what this stranger was saying, "Tell me what? Come on...I wanna know. Why did you call him Hercules?"
Iphicles looked at the ground and then into her eyes. He knew what he was about to say would quite possibly send her running back to that rat, Pallaeus. Taking a deep breath, he realized that his brother was right. She had to know the truth now. "Itís his name."
Rena felt like she was hearing something underwater. She knew something important was being said, but she couldn't bring herself to understand what it was. "What are you saying?" she asked.
Iphicles couldn't quite look her in the eye. He was overwhelmed with shame, guilt, and fear. "I lied. I didnít think youíd love me if I told you I was just...plain Iphicles, the half-brother of a hero," he explained shakily.
She walked up to him and forced him to look at her eyes. She felt and immense hurt as the weight of this betrayal crushed her. Did he really have that little faith in her. She asked, "Is that the kind of woman you think I am, Iph...whatever your name is?"
He looked at her and pled for understanding. "Rena you donít understand," he started. "Iíve always thought the best of you. It was myself I wasnít sure about."
Tears filled Rena's eyes as she answered through clenched teeth, "Well, Iím sure about you. Youíre the type of man I prayed Iíd never meet!" With that, she turned and fled.
Iphicles called out, "Rena, come back! Hercules, you've got to help me."
Hercules listened to the same pain he'd heard from his brother years ago. The demigod realized the years he'd spent with that other family left their mark on him deeper than he could ever imagine.
Iolaus sat scrunched in the corner of his cell talking to his would-be dinner. "You know? It wonít be painful, he promised. "Just a quick," he twisted his fingers as if twisting a tiny neck, "and then," The hunter's eyes looked wild as he mimicked snapping a tiny neck. "Iím gonna start with your, uh...legs. A little...nibble there, and then Iím gonna go to the...the...oh, what am I doing? I haven't even been here that long. Herc and I went a couple of weeks without food in that prison in Thrace. Iolaus, snap out of it. Still I am really...really...really hungry. Hercules?! Would ja hurry up and get me out of this place! I mean, what could be so hard?"
Though he didn't feel like he had the time, Hercules chased after Rena. "Rena? Rena, would you wait? Would you hold on a minute?!" he called as he grabbed onto her arm.
"Why should I? Youíre probably just gonna lie to me the way that ...that imposter did," she said through her tears.
Hercules explained, "Heís my brother. Iíve known him a lot longer than you have. He would never do anything to hurt you."
She struggled in his grasp. "But how can I ever believe him again?" Rena asked. "Everything we had together was based on a lie."
The demigod tried to reason with her. His brother's fate seemed to rest in his hands. "No...not the love you shared. Iphicles used my name. I mean, it was foolish; he knows that. But it doesnít mean he cares any less for you. Iím sure this is all...very hard to understand, but Iím just asking you to give him a second chance to find out if you can love the man that he really is," Hercules urged.
He didn't think things looked so well for his brother when she simply said, "Iím sorry, Hercules, but right now, I donít know what to think."
Gorgas hurried through the labyrinth with Pallaeus. He grew furious to find out that this intruder...the real Hercules...was able to escape his traps. When the soldiers promised that the intruder would be a dead man, the warlord revealed who the intruder really was. He was pleased to see what little impact that had on his men. Gorgas ordered them to come back with his head. Knowing his men, he was confident the orders would be carried out.
Hercule walked carefully up to Iphicles. He really didn't want to have to tell his brother anything that could affect his ability to survive during a fight. It was inevitable that his brother would join him, Hercules knew what kind of man Iphicles was down deep.
Iphicles knew in his heart that he'd broken Rena's. He was sure of the outcome, but he still had to ask, "Iím never gonna see her again, am I, Hercules?"
Hercules shrugged and tried to hold out a little hope as he answered, "Thatís up to the two of you, now. I did what I could. Iíve got to go find Iolaus while heís still in one piece. We could use your help."
Iphicles watched his brother head down another hallway and made his decision.
Hercules turned down the only hallway that could house the jail. He was delighted to hear that familiar voice call out, "Herc! About time!"
Hercules groused, "Now...don't...start with me." He looked at the bars and tried to size them up when one of the soldiers jumped him. The demigod quickly dispatched him with an elbow to the head. Herc could not believe the oblivious look on his partner's face as he battled one villain after another. "Iolaus!" He warned.
Iolaus asked in exasperation, "Hey, I get a little impatient when I'm starving to death, okay? You gonna get me out of here?!"
"Thatís the idea!" Hercules muttered as he dodged a sword to the kidneys, twisted at the bars, and kicked an attacker.
Iolaus said sarcastically, "A keyíd be nice."
Hercules grunted as he pushed one of the soldiers into the bars, "So would a little help!" Iolaus grabbed that guard and decided to show him what a hunger crazed man was capable of. Hercules was thrashing the bad guys in his usual way while Iolaus pummel the poor guards face. Finally, Hercules grabbed the soldier and rammed his helmet, head and all, into the keyhole. He effectively began picking the lock with the spike on the helmet when two guards grabbed him from behind. Getting ready to throw them off, Hercules was surprised to find himself free to continue his work. "Thanks, Brother," he said to Iphicles.
Iphicles jerked the two men away from his brother and fought with courage and strength worthy of his brother. "That's all right, " he said as another charged him, "Thatís all right! Iíd have to fight these guys, anyway!"
Hercules gave one more twist to the soldier stuck in the prison door, and Iolaus was free. After receiving Iolaus' thanks, Hercules turned to see his brother dispose of the last guard. With pride Hercules held out his hand and felt the joy of family as Iphicles grasped his forearm. Iolaus smiled widely to see the two brothers acting like family again.
However, their relief and joy was short-lived as Gorgas sauntered through the archway. "Very impressive! Soldiers! Say hello to the real Hercules," he taunted. The soldiers were shocked to discover the intruder was the real demigod. His next words were meant to be chilling, "Now say good- bye."
Pallaeus smiled with wicked glee as he proclaimed, ďBehold the mandrake. Pallaeus then removed the lid. Green vapor swirled and slithered from the jar as the magistrate placed it on the floor. ďHera sends her regards,Ē he snarled. All of a sudden, a reptilian arm sprang from the jar. Light and power radiated from the container on the floor as a terrifying transformation took place. As the final burst flashed concentrically from the center. Hercules shielded his eyes from the brilliant light. He grimaced when he saw what remained. A large lizard with glowing green eyes and very sharp teeth faced him maliciously.
Rena walked into the room from a hallway and screamed at the fierce site. Her step-father warned her, ďGet out of here, Rena! This is not your concern!Ē Turning to his men, Gorgas was disgusted that they were just as transfixed at the site as Hercules and his group. He barked out the order, ďWhat are you standing there for?! Kill them!Ē He was quite surprised at the speed in which the imposter and the pipsqueak moved. Gorgas was frustrated with the ease at which the small troublemaker kicked and punched out his guards. He didnít have much time to focus on that man; however, when the imposter ran straight for him, Gorgas was pleased that he would be the one to dispose of this deceiver. ďThink youíre man enough? Whoever you are?Ē he growled. With swords drawn, Iphicles and Gorgas circled each other menacingly.
Iphicles proudly proclaimed, ďIím Iphicles, brother of Hercules, and youíre about to find out.Ē Their swords clashed loudly as the battle began.
Hercules, in the meantime was busy trying to lure the creature into the cell with him. He took a moment to check on Iolaus and Iphicles. Feeling secure in their abilities, he backed further into the jail. The creature followed cautiously.
Iphicles and Gorgas continued the brutal fighting as Rena screamed, ďStop, Father! Youíll kill him!Ē Iphicles smiled inwardly as he realized that she still loved him. This one bit of knowledge spurred him on.
Iolaus hopped on a guards shoulders and began pounding into his face. While he was concentrating on beating some sense into those idiots, the hunter couldnít believe his ears as Hercules told him, ďIolaus! Lock the door!Ē
ďYouíre insane!Ē He shouted as he continued to show the guard no mercy.
ďJust do it!Ē Hercules urged rather loudly.
ďEasy for you to say!Ē he yelled as he finished off the guard. He rushed to do as Herc ordered, but just as he closed the cell door, another thug grabbed him from behind and hit him squarely in the face. Iolaus reached up to the bars behind hims and kicked out at the guard, and the man flew across the room. As the hunter turned, he saw all the left over food on the table and sighed, "Finally...Food!" Unfortunately, that was time enough for two men to grab him and carry him to another part of the room.
Iphicles and Gorgas continued to strike at each other. Gorgas had totally underestimated the imposter. There was no pretending where his fighting skills were concerned. Gorgas was so absorbed in trying to kill Iphicles that he completely missed Pallaeus act of desperation.
Pallaeus grabbed Rena by the arm and held her against her will with a three pronged dagger aimed at her heart. "Kill him!" he encouraged Gorgas. "It's what the liar deserves for lying."
Once inside the cell, the creature attached Hercules with a vengence. Herc managed to jump out of the way as its dangerous tail whipped out at him. The demigod rolled as it lept toward him. Hercules tried to reach the animal as it climbed the walls and clung to the ceiling. Breathing hard, He muttered, "You...are going to be annoying, arenít you?"
Iolaus grabbed another thug and was delighted that it was the head idiot in charge. His fist connected with the man's jaw repeatedly as Iolaus taught him a little about manners, "Next time! Feed me, when I ask to be fed."
Rena struggled against Pallaeus, but she couldn't free herself. the magistrate pulled her further and further down the hallway. Pallaeus knew that shortly the fraud would defeat Gorgas and this Iphicles person would try and get her from him. That would never happen. he'd rather see her dead first.
Iphicles' hit Gorgas with the hilt of his sword and knocked him out. Quickly rushing to find Rena, Iphicle's stopped as he saw Pallaeus' knife pointed at her. The warrior tried to stare down the little magistrate as he warned, "Let her go Pallaeus!" Iphicles began to slowly advance on the lunatic.
"She's mine!" Pallaeus yelled furiously.
Iphicles glared as he said, "Iím warning you...let her go."
Meanwhile, Hercules had his hands full with the clever creature. After cutting the railing down with its bare teeth, the animal almost took the demigod out. Hercules jumped out of the way with only moments to spare.
Iolaus continued fighting; by the gods, he enjoyed it. However, he began to feel guilty because of what his friend was battling in the cell. He chanced a glimpse as he continued to knock the guards into the wall. "Herc! How ya doin'?" he asked.
Herc searched the dark ceiling for the green monster as he answered Iolaus, "That is...a very good question." Suddenly, Hercules felt a strange sensation on the back of his neck. The creature was an arm's length away just behind him. He ducked just in time as the monster pounced. The demigod grabbed its tail with both hands and hung on. He began to spin around and around until he built up a great deal of momentum. The demigod hurled the creature to the wall. It seemed to hang for just a moment before it fell stunned to the ground. Hercules jumped on top of it as it lay helpless on its back.
Hercules' battles went unnoticed for moment as Iphicles began to seriously worry about what Pallaeus would pull. He shuddered when he heard the magistrate threaten her.
"She loves me," he justified. "Or she loves no one at all!" He brought the wicked looking blades closer to her.
Iphicles vowed, "You harm her...youíll pay with your life." Swiftly, Rena planted her elbow in Pallaeus' chest and caused him to lose his grip on her. Iphicles grabbed his arm and twisted. The warrior could feel Pallaeus' bones moving beneath his hands. The magistrate managed to get in one lucky punch, but Iphicles only staggered back a bit. Pallaeus on the other hand was lucky to be lying face down on the stone floor. Iphicles turned to Rena, and their eyes locked as they longed to say what they had no time to say. Iphicles turned back toward his brother.
Hercules managed to pin its front legs to the floor again. He had an idea and quickly called to his friend, "Iolaus! Grab that shackle." The tail lashed out as its legs were restrained one after one by Hercules and Iolaus. Finally they managed to chain it to the floor. As soon as they stood, the creature vanished along with Hera's plot to kill Hercules. The two friends exited the cell and leaned against the bars. Looking down at his buddy, Hercules asked, "Why does this always have to be so hard?"
Iolaus shrugged and replied, "Because if it was easy, anybody could do it." The hunter froze as he heard the sounds of more people moving through the corridors. He looked at Herc as a warning.
Hercules was completely disgusted at having to fight yet again. "Enough already!" he yelled. Disgust turned to joy, though, when the relief guards turned out to be an angry mob...led by Josephus. Iolaus was glad to see his new friend had taken his words to heart. Hercules nudged him and pointed out Josephus' father holding a pitchfork.
Josephus looked only slightly disappointed when he stated, "Ahh, donít tell me we missed everything." Then the young leader looked around and saw the prone figure of Gorgas on the floor. He asked again, "What are we gonna do with Gorgas?"
Hercules scratched the back of his head and winced. Turning to look at Rena, Hercules explained, "Well, thatís...kind of an awkward question, uh...Rena," he started as he turned red.
Rena spoke up and made Iphicles very proud. She said, "No, itís not. My step-father is an evil man and deservesto be punished for his crimes. I was gonna say I should have run away long ago. But if Iíd done that-... I never would have met Iphicles...the love of my life."
"Do you mean it?" he asked hopefully. When she nodded, he hugged and kissed her tenderly.
"Iphicles? Well, that means you really are..." Josephus asked.
Hercules grinned and said, "I knew you'd come around."
Alcmene arranged and rearranged the same vase of flowers for the tenth time. The longer she didn't hear from her youngest, the more she worried. It was bad enough never seeing one child, but her heart would break if she'd lost both of them. With a sigh, she recalled the nightmares she'd been having since Hercules left. She was standing in her yard screaming as Amphitrion's brother took her child from her. Little Iphicles screamed cried, and even bit to get back to his mother. The mother struggled against the local magistrate and tried the same tactics the toddler had. It tore her heart out to see the small child holding his arms out to her from the back of the cart where her sister-in-law held him with such hate in her eyes. Only the threat of never seeing him again calmed her down. The snide look in her former brother-in-law's eyes as he promised to allow Iphicles to return to her in the summer sent chills throughout her being. With a start Alcmene awoke and found her pillow was wet as well as her face. The hurt those people caused haunted all of them. A knocking at the door brought her back to the present.
When she opened the door, she was thrilled to see her son returned to her. "Welcome home, Stranger," she said gleefully.
Hercules stepped in and brushed a kiss across the top of her head. He smiled as he corrected, "Wrong guy. The strangerís right behind me."
Iphicles tentitively crossed the threshold and approached his mother. She said his name with such love and affection, he could barely keep it together to introduce his future bride. Suddenly, all the cruel things he said, all the hurtful behavior, and all the defiant actions popped to his mind. He felt the shame of his former life as he tried to correct this for her. "Itís been a long time, Mother. I hope you know how sorry I am," he apologized.
She just shook her head and corrected him, "Oh, shhh-- this is a time for celebrating, not apologizing. Iím just so glad youíre home. And whoís this?" Alcmene knew the look when she saw it. The young lady in the doorway stared at her son with such adoration, Alcmene understood their relationship immediately, but she waited patiently for them to tell her.
Rena smiled at Iphicles' mother and explained, "I'm Rena..."
Iphicles jumped in and announced, "Isnít she beautiful? Weíre gonna get married." He gently hugged Rena from behind. He loved the way she felt in his arms, and he loved the way his mother was looking at both of them. How could he ever have missed that expression she'd always worn. She approved of him. Iphicles moved his hands to rest on Rena's shoulders as he anticipated his mother's next move.
Alcmene stepped forward, hugged Rena, and kissed her cheek. "That's wonderful!" she exclaimed. "Welcome to the family." She hustled her off to the kitchen, where all family decisions were made, and began planning for the wedding. Iphicles just shrugged and followed along.
Hercules remained at the door; his smile lit up the room as he watched his brother reconnecting with family. A knock at the door had Herc turning away from the cozy scene. He opened the door and listened as Iolaus teased.
"Herc, do you have any, uh...bread or... food of any kind?" he asked as his friend pulled him into the house. Iolaus just grinned as the demigod laughed about his forever empty stomach.
"Come in, Iolaus. You're family too. In fact, family has to help plan the wedding. I'm sure mother has some honeycakes you can munch on as they get the details laid out."
"Oh...Oh...I know what I can do. I can plan a menu. Let's see...Alcmene," he called as he walked into the kitchen. "We've got to have....fresh bread, roast pheasant, Oh, and don't forget grapes. Cheese...gotta have goat cheese at a wedding. Wine...lots of wine, olives, absolutely have to roast a pig. Some of these honeycakes would be good..." Iolaus tried not to talk with a mouthful of honeycake, but he just had to list all of his favorite kinds of food for the feast. "Oh, and dancing girls."
"Iolaus!" they shouted.
"What? They can serve the food," he suggested. The rest of the household burst into laughter as Iolaus asked again, "What?"
He really couldn't understand why his mother wanted Iph to invite Amphitrion's brother and sister-in-law to the wedding. Iphicles told him that it wasn't for their benefit. His mother only wanted Iphicles to be able to confront them as a grown man and have some closure in one painful part of his life. In the end, it didn't matter as they had sent a very hurtful letter to Rena about her future husband. Iphicles and Rena both sat down and replied. Hercules and Iolaus were quite suprised at the tone Rena conveyed in her part of the letter. "Remind me never to get on her bad side," Iolaus told Iphicles as he handed back the letter. Iphicles just laughed and returned to building the wedding arch. It didn't seem like the type of job a future king would be doing. The people embraced this young man as someone who would be good for the kingdom and for their Queen. It was somewhat surprising for him to see the support many people gave him regardless of the lie he'd told them all. The people did not focus on the deception, but on the deliverance. Anyone who overthrew Gorgas and freed Rena from the hated regency would gain their loyalty. When Rena accepted her responsibility as Queen, she addressed the people of her kingdom about the change in the laws concerning governing. They were quick to support her decision. Iphicles would not be Consort; Iphicles, brother of Hercules, husband of Queen Rena would now become King of Phelgra. Rena and he would rule jointly.
It seemed all of Phlegra was in attendance. Iolaus waved wildly to get Josephus' attention. He noticed a very small boy holding onto his friend's hand. "Iolaus," he called out as they hurried to join him before the wedding. "This is my nephew, Tirion."
Iolaus remembered about the child who would have been sold into slavery if Gorgas had anything to do with it. He was glad to see his young friend taking on this responsibility. Josephus' father was there as well, and he thanked Iolaus for helping give him at least part of his family back. Josephus explained that he told Tirion of the kindness and love his sister and brother-in-law had for him. He'd hoped that Tirion could one day see him as an important part of the family. Iolaus looked at the small boy and could only see acceptance and pride when the child listened to Josephus. Yes, this family would not only survive, but it would thrive beyond all comprehension. With that, Iolaus turned his thoughts back to Hercules and his family. He smiled when he corrected himself, "My family now.."
He took his place next to Alcmene and Hercules as Rena and Iphicles moved down the aisle together. As they turned to get a better look, Alcmene nudged him and asked, "Iolaus, is that Jason over there?" Iolaus observed a man who appeared exhausted. Hercules strained to see who they were looking at. It was Jason, but he did look awful. Hercules frowned when he noticed the red eyes, and the dark circles under them. Alcmene remembered attending his poor children's funeral and whispered as Iphicles and Rena entered the archway, "Hercules, make sure Jason comes to the wedding feast. I have a feeling he doesn't need to be alone."
Iphicles spoke of love and their future together. The small family on the front row beamed at one another as Iphicles stated, "Other things may change us, but we start and end with family."*
Disclaimer: No tender, succulent, or spicy rats were consumed during the production of this motion picture.
*final line from Anthony Brandt
Some images, characters and other things used in these works are the property of others, including but not limited to Renaissance Pictures and Universal Studios. Everything else remains the property of the artist or author. No money will be made on anything appearing on this webpage and no copyright infringement is intended. This site was created by fans for the enjoyment of other fans.
For information on reprinting text and/or artwork (including privately owned photos, photo manipulations, and other images) from this website, please contact IolausianLibrarians , who will assist you in contacting the original creator of the piece. Do NOT reprint, republish, or in any way link to items on these pages without obtaining permission from either the original creator of the piece or the webpage owner. A written one-time use statement may be issued to you at the discretion of the artist or the author. Please respect the legal and artistic rights of our contributors.