Hercules and Iolaus walked down a path that led to the city of Corinth. It had been several months since they had been home, and Hercules had promised his mother, Alcmene,that he would be there for her anniversary. Always fretful, that some crisis would wreck his plans, this time it looked like Hercules was going to make his promise.
Hercules rounded a corner with Iolaus, his best friend and partner, by his side. Iolaus was telling a joke. "So the bear sits down. The tavern keeper says, 'You know?'" Iolaus cleared his throat preparing for the punch line and, after stifling his own laughter said, "'We don't get too many bears in here.' And the bear says, 'Well'at these prices, I'm not surprised.'"
Iolaus laughed, no longer able to contain his exuberance.
"Okay, I guess that one was kind of funny," Hercules said.
Iolaus was incredulous at the absence of laughter coming from his best buddy. "You know, Herc. Um, usually when people say something funny, they like, laugh." Hercules apologized."Well, at least Jason will find it a hoot. He's got a sense of humor," Iolaus said.
"I've got a sense of humor," Hercules defended, "I just, exercise it wisely." Iolaus laughed facetiously at the statement, and then said, "You know, I can't believe Jason and Alcmene are celebrating their third anniversary."
Suddenly, Hercules stopped. Iolaus continued for a few steps. The demigod saw something in the distance, and as he watched the figure loom closer, he absently nodded his agreement to Iolaus' statement.
"Boy, time flies." Iolaus said, looking back at his friend, not fully aware that Hercules had stopped. "That's not the only thing," Hercules said pointing to the sky. As the figure came closer, the demigod was quick to recognize Hermes, the messenger of the gods.
"What is that?" Iolaus asked.
"That's not a what, that's a who, and the who is Hermes."
"Hermes? The messenger of the gods? Hey! Isn't he the one with the slogan, 'What can Hermes do for you?'" "That would be, Hermes," Hercules said as the winged-shod god stopped in front of the demigod, employing some invisible braking system.
"Hercules!" Hermes greeted.
"Hermes," Hercules said. "Oh, Iolaus, meet Hermes, messenger of the gods."
"Hi," Iolaus said as he waved meekly to the figure hovering several feet off the ground.
"Well, so? Do you have a message for me?" the demigod said.
"Of course I have a message for you," Hermes said as he dug into his pack of scrolls, looking for the correct one. Hercules waited patiently for him, but Hermes, always in a hurry, perceived Hercules' earlier statement as impatience. "Wait, hold on," he said as he pulled out another scroll, "This is not instant messaging, you know. Wait, here it is."
He untied the scroll, "Uh, it says here that someone stole Artemis' bow from her temple. She's all tied up at Olympus and would like you to help her out."
"Somebody stole Artemis' bow?" Hercules said.
Iolaus knew that his best friend would be inclined to help, so in anticipation, he threw up his hands in mock exasperation, and said, "Well, I guess this means we're going to be late arriving at your mother's."
"It shouldn't take too long," Hercules said, "I think I have a pretty good idea who we're looking for." Hercules brushed his fingers across the top of his lip to clue Iolaus in on the suspected culprit.
"Autolycus!" Iolaus almost spat. "I've had enough of his shenanigans."
"Well, I'm sure he'll be glad to see you, too." Hercules said, knowing Iolaus' interminable dislike for the King of Thieves. Getting ready for his next message delivery, Hermes said, "Hercules, Iolaus, good to see you again, but I've got to fly."
Literally, in a flash, Hermes was gone. In the air, Hercules and Iolaus could here the faint echo of the god pronounce, "TTFN."
Having a particularly foul day, with no one to pick on, Ares lounged fitfully in his granite throne. A scowl clouded his handsome face. Letting his anger take form, Ares forcibly threw his hand out and with a fireball, destroyed a stone bust from across the room.
Discord, aptly named for her usually disagreeable disposition, watched the angry god from a corner. "Redecorating?" she asked, as she regarded the shards of stone on the floor. And then putting on her most sincere face, she said, "Still upset about Strife?"
Ares responded silently, knocking over two more stone sculptures in rapid succession.
Discord tried to cheer up the god of war with some encouraging news, "He was a geek with an IQ of a sponge. Take my word for it, he's better off dead."
Ares knew she was right. Strife had the spine of a sponge too. "Still," Ares lamented, "he'was'fun to kick around."
"True, but I think I have found a way to cheer you up."
"Oh, let me guess. You've hatched another plan to rid the world of my over-rated, half-brother. So, what else is new?"
Discord was surprised at Ares' lack of enthusiasm. Ares, it appeared, was really in a blue funk. "All right! Enough is enough. Snap out of it. You're starting to become a real drag."
Ares swaggered over to the dark-haired woman, "Why, Discord. I'd forgotten what a temper you have."
Demonstrating that she was serious about Ares' mood, Discord quickly destroyed two stone busts with fireballs shot from her dark eyes. And then in a need to demonstrate her loyalty, she put her finger up to Ares' bare chest and slowly dragged it down. "I know we haven't been the best of friends lately, so why don't you let me make it up to you?"
"Oh?" Ares said, "What did you have in mind?"
Being coy, Discord answered, "Why spoil the fun? Let me just say by the end of the day, you'll be so tickled, you'll want me to be second in command."
"Strife's body isn't even cold, yet. You have no shame!" Ares admonished forcefully. He wanted to show his irritation with the willful woman. He hesitated, letting Discord imagine what his true feelings may be. "And I like your style. But, how are you going to get away from Zeus' little edict?" Ares was eluding to the protection the king of the gods had placed on his illegitimate son by Alcmene.
"Oh, I have my ways," Discord said.
"Good." Ares said, "Then go. Impress me, if you can."
With Ares veiled blessing, Discord de-materialized from the god of war's temple.
Arriving in the village of Koiros, Iolaus asked Hercules, "Why do you think Autolycus came here?"
"It's the closest village to Artemis' temple," Hercules said and then shrugged his shoulders, "It seemed logical that Autolycus would come here."
"Oh," Iolaus said, as if somehow he had missed the obvious. The two heroes continued their pace toward the center of town when they heard the distinctive voice of Falafel in the distance.
"Hercules, Iolaus," the lanky chef chimed. "Come here. Try my pigs in a blanket."
Iolaus cringed at the thought of his latest culinary nightmare. He would not put it past Falafel to try to cook pigs in a blanket. Hercules shrugged his shoulders once more and looked accommodatingly at Iolaus. He walked toward Falafel.Iolaus followed closely behind. When he reached Falafel, he craned his neck and looked skeptically at the chef. "What's in it?" he asked. Iolaus generally was not shy about eating any food.
"It's a pork sausage wrapped in phyllo dough. Try one."
Falafel gave Hercules and Iolaus a pig in a blanket; the small, fat sausage peeked out between several layers of the flaky dough. Iolaus tentatively tried the concoction of meat and bread. Then he stuffed a larger piece into his mouth. "Nod, bad," Iolaus said with a mouthful of food. He didn't realize how hungry he was, "but you've really got to do something about the name." Turning away from Falafel, the demigod's attention was on a wagon just outside of the king's palace. "I think I just found Autolycus."
Several guards were unloading a cache of gold coins from the wagon. The head guard pulled out two bags of coins. "Two for you," he said as he gave the bundles to one guard, "And two for you." He said as he gave another set of bags to a second guard. "Now, that's the last of it. You two, take the king's gold to his vault." He finally addressed the third guard, "You stand guard," He said and followed his two subordinates into the castle.
The guard was quick to comply, "Yes sir, you can count on me, " he said as he took off his helmet. It was Autolycus. "'to take as much as I can carry while you're gone."
Realizing he was free from scrutinizing eyes, Autolycus laughed and then opened the wagon doors to grab a bag of gold. His laughter quickly turned into surprise when Hercules grabbed the thief's hand in a grip that almost cut off his circulation.
Autolycus already suspected who it might be. "Ha, ha, ha. Hercules!" he said. He looked down at his hand, getting red from the lack of blood supply. "Talk about getting caught red handed," and then the King of Thieves saw Iolaus standing next to him, "Ah, and Iota. What a pleasant surprise."
Iolaus was about to correct the thief's recollection of his name when Hercules released his grip on the thief's hand. He said, "I wish I could say the same, Autolycus. Isn't stealing the king's gold a little beneath you?"
Undaunted, Autolycus said, "How good of you to notice." He stroked his mustache, "You see, I figure, every so often, a fellow just has to go back to the basics. Besides, the king, ah, he's plenty rich. What about the needs of the people?"
Aggravated by the thief's excuse, Iolaus said, "Oh, come on! You don't care about the people."
"Of course I do," Autolycus answered, "I happen to be one of them." Eager to get away from the demigod and his annoying sidekick, Autolycus finished, "Well, as much as I've enjoyed this little reunion, I haven't enjoyed it that much. Good day." Autolycus turned to go, but Hercules grabbed him by his collar before he could take a step. Using his strength, Hercules lifted the thief off the ground. "Where's Artemis' bow?"
Smiling, Autolycus said, "Ah, my fame spreads like wildfire."
"Nope. Like a bad rash," Iolaus interjected.
Autolycus made a sour face to the blonde man and then brightened, "Ah, come on. Admit it. You're impressed. How many mortals can steal from a god and get away with it?"
"You didn't get away with it," Hercules said, "We're here to take it back."
"Oh, yeah, right. Well, about that. You see, I would love to help you out, really, I would, but, well, the problem is, " Autolycus stopped and cringed, knowing what the reaction of the two men would have to his news, "I sold it."
In surprise, Hercules dropped Autolycus to the ground. "You sold it? To whom?"
"If I told you, I would be violating the sanctity of the client-thief relationship."
"Autolycus," Hercules warned, "You're not going to fast-talk your way out of this one."
"Fine. All right. I'll tell you."
Hidden away from the sight of the two heroes and the thief, Discord materialized on a roof with a bow stretched and an arrow aimed directly at the heart of the demigod.
Also hidden away, Ares had been watching Discord, intrigued by the so-called secret she had planned. When he watched her on the roof with the bow and arrow, he became concerned. Ares had already lost Strife, and now, Discord was so greedy to become second-in-command that she was going to make a foolish attempt on his bothersome brother's life.
That would certainly impress him, Ares thought, but at this time, he didn't need to lose another ally. He had to stop her. Ares quickly materialized behind Discord, and scarcely with enough time. Discord had barely let the arrow fly, when Ares pulled up on the bow, causing Discord's aim to be diverted. The arrow grazed the demigod's upper arm.
"Have you lost your mind?" Ares said. "Zeus will kill you if you try to kill Hercules."
"I wasn't going to kill him," Discord said, as if Ares' had taken leave of his sanity. "You see, I employed this buffoon , I mean, thief to steal Artemis' bow for me."
"Artemis' bow?" Ares said.
"As you know, Artemis' bow won't kill him, but it will give him a bad case of, what do the mortals call it," Discord smiled with evil delight, "'animal magnetism?"
Ares could see the potential in Discord's little surprise. Even if the arrow would not kill the demigod, it would certainly put him out of commission for a while. He laughed. "Ooo, of the worst kind, I would imagine." Ares said as he rubbed his hands in anticipation. He thought of any number of animals he would love to see his little brother turned in to.
"And of Herculean proportions," she said, "Admit it, you've missed me."
"Oh? Let's not get ahead of ourselves. This is almost as good as killing Hercules. Unfortunately, animal or no animal, Zeus' decree still protects him."
Discord answered, "True. We may not be able to kill Hercules, but it's going to be a whole lot easier for someone else to. And I think I know just the man for the job."
Waiting impatiently for Autolycus' answer, Hercules suddenly grabbed his arm. "Ow, that hurts," he said as the arrow pierced his skin.
"Hercules?" What is it?" Iolaus asked. His attention turned to Autolycus, he did not see the arrow graze the demigod. Hercules pulled his hand away from his wounded arm. His palm was red with blood. But Hercules was not concerned with the wound, until suddenly, the tall, muscular demigod began to feel woozy.
He staggered a few steps toward his partner. He yawned. "I don't know what's wrong, but I'm so sleep, " he said before he collapsed. The last thing Hercules heard before his slow descent to the ground was a mother chastising a young girl, "Becca," she said, "quit playing with your pigtails."
"Hercules!" Iolaus yelled, as he knelt down beside his partner. Concerned, the blonde man checked for other wounds. He could only see the flesh wound to the upper arm. But by then, the wound was barely bleeding,
"It's just a flesh wound," he said, both assuring himself and Autolycus.
Iolaus looked around, trying to find the person that did shot him, but by then, both Ares and Discord were gone. And then, Iolaus saw Artemis' arrow imbedded into a kiosk. He walked over to it, pulled it out and saw the mark of the goddess on the shaft. "Look at the big guy. He looks so peaceful, almost like he's sleeping," Autolycus said, critically watching the demigod. Iolaus turned to Autolycus and waved the arrow in front of the thief's face. "I can't believe this! You! This is all your fault."
"Me? What?" Autolycus defended. "I didn't want this to happen."
"Well, whoever had the bow did! I hope it was worth it," Iolaus said, continuing with his tirade.
"Hey, hey. I didn't just do it for the money." Autolycus defended.
"Oh? That's big of you."
"You see," Autolycus went on, "when you are the single, most gifted thief that ever lived, you've got to find new ways to challenge yourself. Stealing from a god seemed like a good start."
"You need to get your head read! Now listen. Who has the bow?" Iolaus said as he bent down to check on Hercules once more. He silently agreed with Autolycus. Hercules did appear to be in a blissful sleep.
Iolaus had first-hand knowledge as to what an arrow from the bow of Artemis could do. When he was a youth, he had defied Artemis, and Artemis in turn turned him into a deer.
Iolaus looked down at Hercules again and wondered if this unwelcome narcolepsy was caused by being struck by the god's arrow or the result of the arrow's graze. Turning back to Autolycus, Iolaus expected an answer and Autolycus could see that determination on Iolaus' face.
"Well, I didn't catch her name." Autolycus said and then tried to describe her, "Um, black hair, black leather. Sort of sexy in a tie-me-down-and-hurt-me kind of way."
Quickly going through the list of likely suspects, Iolaus said, "Oh, Discord," and then realizing the gravity of it, Iolaus slapped a hand on his forehead and said in exasperation, "You sold Artemis' bow to Discord!"
"Well, how was I supposed to know who she was?"
"Can you believe this guy?" Iolaus asked the unconscious demigod and then said, "Yeah, uh," realizing his partner was not going to answer him. "You know, we're going to have to go and find a way to get that bow back."
"Okay," Autolycus answered unsure, "but where are we going to find Discord?"
"Where there's Discord, there's Ares. We've got to get to his temple to get the bow. It's the only thing that can wake Hercules up."
"Oh, no. Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Ares? As in, god of war. That Ares?" Autolycus said as he made a couple of steps back.
"Ho, ho, ho. Well, give him my regards. Tell him I really loved what he did with that whole Troy thing."
"Now wait a minute," Iolaus said, taking just as many steps toward the thief as he did away from Iolaus. "Hercules has done an awful lot for you. You owe him."
"Listen," Autolycus tried to reason with the partner to Hercules, "You and I both know if the big guy could talk, he would tell us not to stick our necks out for him."
"This is all a joke to you, isn't it?" Iolaus said, frustrated with Autolycus' lack of concern.
"Why you, little," Autolycus said, suddenly becoming defensive. He knew Iolaus was right. Hercules had turned his head to the thief's indiscretions on several occasions.
"Well, let me tell you something, buddy. Hercules is the best friend I ever had, and yeah, you're right. He wouldn't want us to risk our necks to save him, which is exactly why we're going to. Now, he'd do the same for me. Even for you."
Autolycus looked down at the sleeping demigod. "Well, much as I hate to admit it, you've got a point."
"Right. Now come on." Iolaus said as he grabbed the thief's upper arm to steer him back toward Hercules. Autolycus wanted to do the right thing, and he fully suspected that he would, but he resented the blonde buddy of Hercules forcing him into making a decision that he should be making on his own. After all, forcing the thief into doing something he didn't want to do, seemed, well: not sincere.
Autolycus jerked his arm away from the blonde man, "Just one more thing, buddy-boy. You touch me again and I'll, "
"What?" Iolaus asked still perturbed.
"I'll be just as upset as I am now?"
"Yeah, right," Iolaus said, not believing Autolycus even for a minute. Not thinking, Iolaus immediately turned and began walking away from the downed Hercules.
"Um, Iolaus?" Autolycus asked, resigned to helping the blonde man. He pointed to Hercules, "Just out of curiosity, aren't we taking him with us?"
"Of course." Iolaus said and then surveyed the area once again, wondering if Discord had hung around to see what she had done to his friend. Concerned that she might decide to take anther attempt on his life, he said, "And we're sitting ducks here. We'll take him to Alcmene's and then go get the bow. Come on, let's get him out of here."
Autolycus looked at the sleeping demigod and said, "Hum, I wonder what he's dreaming about."
"Hog-tying you, I would imagine." Iolaus answered, "Man, I can't believe this," he said, shaking his head in disbelief.
Back at Ares' temple, Discord and the god of war looked into a magical pool of water. They waited for Hercules' animalistic transformation. They waited, and waited, but nothing happened.
"Don't tell me that thief double crossed me. Nothing is happening," Discord said, priming herself for a regular conniption fit.
"Well, as you can see, my dear brother is down, but he's not out. Either Artemis' bow doesn't work on sanctimonious siblings, or a glance from the arrow behaves like some sort of sleeping potion."
"What do we do now?" Discord asked, peering into the water, watching Iolaus tend to his best friend.
"Sleeping beauty he is not," Ares said as he stroked his beard in thought. "And Iolaus is bound to find a way to wake him up. That is, unless someone kills Hercules first."
Ares turned to Discord, "Perhaps you can get that special someone of yours to do the dirty work." The god of war's lips curled up in revulsion. "And if that doesn't work, use your charm on him."
"Fine," Discord said. She smirked at the god of war and then disappeared from Ares' temple. She quickly materialized in the lair of a hunter.
The hunter looked up as he continued to sharpen his knife. "Discord, my black rose. Where have you been?"
"Don't start getting possessive on me, Colchis," Discord said, "You're lucky I'm consorting with a mortal at all."
"Consorting?" Colchis said as he put his knife down, "Interesting choice of words for what we've done together."
Laughing superficially, Discord said, "Don't flatter yourself, lover. I've been around since time began. You couldn't even begin to count the notches on my bedpost."
Colchis countered, "What can I say? I love a woman with experience."
Discord recognized the conversation was getting off track, and she had little time to toy with her dim-witted lover. "I want you to do something for me."
"I hope it involves candle wax."
Discord got up from her seat at the end of the table and walked slowly toward Colchis at the other end. She picked up a crossbow from the table and began to stroke the tip of the arrow seductively, "You say the sweetest things, but no, I want you to kill someone."
"Ah, human game. This could be interesting, for a price." Colchis would do anything for the favor of Discord, though he did not want to appear too eager. "Who do you want me to kill?"
"Hercules," Discord said.
Hercules could hear Iolaus and Autolycus squabbling with each other, but he could not do anything. It was if he was detached from the situation; as if he was not really there, or more like, not really himself.
And then Hercules suddenly knew why he felt so helpless. He was a pig. Not the metaphoric version of a pig; a real pig. His little pig tail was switching behind a little, pig body, appropriately dressed in his suede tunic and brown leather pants. He was looking up at the now towering figures of Iolaus and Autolycus.
He listened as Iolaus pronounced that they were sitting ducks, and as if the words were magic, Iolaus and Autolycus suddenly became ducks. Iolaus was a white duck in his familiar patchwork vest and Autolycus was a black duck dressed in green. The clacking of their bills fell in time with their squabbling.
This was all very strange, Hercules thought. He couldn't really be a pig, he thought. Hercules tried to communicate with Iolaus, but all that came out of his vocal cords were loud, pig grunts.
Then, at that moment, Iolaus and Autolycus turned back into themselves.
The two men were so focused on Hercules and the problem of getting him safely back to his mother's, that they did not hear several men approach them from behind.
"You! Surrender now or suffer Discord's wrath," Colchis said as he and his henchmen surrounded Iolaus and Autolycus.
"Now, I suppose this is my fault too?" Autolycus said.
"No, it's my fault for taking the time to argue with you."
"Surrender," Colchis announced once more, this time with a little more force to his voice.
"Watch this," Autolycus whispered to Iolaus. Iolaus could see a hint of mischief in the dark eyes of the thief. Autolycus turned to Colchis' henchmen. "A wise move," Autolycus said with the same conviction that Colchis had recently displayed. "Now, throw down your weapons and say you're sorry!"
Several of Colchis' men threw down their swords, as instructed by the thief.
"Not you, you idiot mongrel," Colchis chastised as he hit the man next to him in the head with the side of his sword.
Then whispering to Iolaus once more, Autolycus said, "Trust me, and I'll get us out of here."
"Are you kidding? I wouldn't trust you with my lunch order," Iolaus said in a breath of incredulity.
"Get them!" Colchis ordered, and swiftly the men converges on Iolaus and Autolycus.
Too many of them were approaching at once, and Iolaus knew he could have used the help of his sleeping partner, "Great time to sleep on the job, Herc," Iolaus said quietly but to himself. He was feeling more than a little annoyed and worried that there was nothing he could do for Hercules until Artemis' bow was retrieved.
With men approaching them and with little time to spare, Iolaus and Autolycus each dropped a shoulder, and in a well-timed and orchestrated move, one man sailed over Iolaus' left shoulder and the other man sailed over the thief's right shoulder.
Two more men quickly advanced. Autolycus punched one in the gut and then gave him a left hook to the face. And then, grabbing his arm, Autolycus twisted him around and threw him into a basket of fresh fruit. Autolycus looked at the downed man, pulled at the bottom of his tunic and pronounced, "That's right, spread the word. I'm a lover and a fighter!"
Free to escape, Autolycus asked Iolaus, "Do you think you can hold them?"
Iolaus threw a punch so powerful that caused his attacker to flip over.
"Why?" he asked.
"Because, I've got something to do. You're on your own."
Iolaus kicked another brute in the stomach. "You can't leave, now!" he said.
"Ah, you'll thank me later," Autolycus answered as he backed up. Lifting his arms up as if in hopelessness, he said, "Sorry, but this is something I've got to do." With that, Autolycus turned around and took off.
Iolaus was surprised that the thief would run away. Even in Scyros, Autolycus demonstrated that he was not afraid of a fight. In fact, he fought next to Iolaus, and one by one, their combatants were being defeated. That was, of course, until Autolycus was on the verge of being caught, and then the thief left Iolaus to fend for himself, with the King's vault and a story to tell.
"I can't believe that man," Iolaus said as he watched Autolycus leave, but the blonde man did not have much time to dwell on the thief's untimely departure. Within seconds, another henchman advanced on him. Iolaus grabbed the man's arm, pulled him back just far enough to kick him in the stomach. He followed up with a kick to the face. Finally, a powerful punch sent the man straight into a table. The table flattened with the thug on top of it.
Knowing that Iolaus was left alone to fight Colchis' men, Hercules wanted desperately to help Iolaus, but as a pig, even Hercules believed there was not much he could do.
His inaction did not last long. Suddenly, three dogs, which Hercules could have sworn were men only moments earlier, advanced on him. Hercules had no choice but to fight. A quick one-two punch with his cloven-footed, hind legs made quick work of one of the dogs.
Hercules was intent on using his head, literally, as a make-shift weapon. As the second dog advanced, Hercules slammed his head into the shoulders of the dog, and the strength of the once-human, apparently now-pig, quickly brought the dog down. Seeing the result of the scuffle with the pig, the third dog ran in fright as Hercules pursued him.
Dispatching the three dogs, Hercules ran back to Iolaus, but by that time, the fighting had all but subsided. Iolaus turned his head as he downed the last of Colchis' brutes. When he turned, he saw Autolycus riding up in a small, flat bed wagon filled with hay. The hay, spilling from the back of the wagon, looked almost like dust behind him with the swiftness in which he rode up.
Jumping off the wagon, even before it came to a complete stop, Autolycus rushed toward the sleeping demigod.
Iolaus met him there. "How'd you get that?" he asked.
"How do you think?" Autolycus answered. It was a rhetorical question. He really didn't expect Iolaus to answer it.
"You stole it?" Iolaus said as he helped Autolycus pick up Hercules and place him in the back of the flat-bed wagon.
"Well, you wanted to get Hercules to Alcmene's , didn't you?" Autolycus said, "You don't seriously think that you can carry the big guy all the way to Corinth on piggy back?" Autolycus looked at Iolaus' serious demeanor. "If you're upset because I stole the wagon, don't be. When farmer Fred demanded to know who was stealing his wagon, I gave him your name."
"You WHAT!" Iolaus said.Ignoring his outburst, Autolycus grunted loudly as it took considerable effort to pick up the sleeping demigod. "Talk about your dead weight."
Iolaus gave the thief another caustic look. If Iolaus could not retrieve the bow from Discord, Hercules may remain in slumber forever.
"Sheesh, just kidding," Autolycus said, observing Iolaus' concerned expression.
The two men quickened their pace when they saw several of Colchis' men clumsily approaching them, bent on continuing the fight they begun, even after their beating.
"Get on!" Autolycus said, as he ran around to one side of the wagon and grabbed the reins of the horse. Iolaus quickly ran and jumped into the wagon just as Autolycus beat the horse into a fast gallop.
Once Autolycus felt confident that they had outwitted the brutes, he urged the horse to a slow canter.
"You know, I can't believe you." Iolaus said, still miffed that the thief would finger Iolaus once again for a crime he did not commit. Iolaus was still not over the thief's betrayal by letting him take the fall. "You'd turn in your mother, just to get away with something."
Autolycus stopped the horses and pointed his finger toward Iolaus. "You know, you better stop looking down your nose at me, Blondie. I've had it up to my mustache with your insults."
"The truth hurts, doesn't it?" Iolaus said.
"Yeah! So does my fist." Autolycus responded back.
"Uh, huh." Autolycus finished.
Iolaus looked at Hercules peacefully unconscious in the hay-filled back of the wagon. His dislike for the thief began anew. He turned to Autolycus and said, "You know, you really shouldn't be messing with things you know nothing about - like Artemis' bow. You don't know what kind of harm her arrows could have done to Hercules."
"Oh, and you do?" Autolycus asked.
"That's right, I do, as a matter of fact."
"Okay, Smarty Pants, then how is it you know so much about Artemis' bow anyway? What? Did Artemis turn you into a BORE or something?" Autolycus snickered to himself with his play on words; not that Iolaus would likely catch the double entendre.
"If you must know, it was a deer," and then under his breath Iolaus said, "better than the weasel you'd be turned into."
"Oh, this ought to be good," Autolycus responded, "We've got some time before we make it to Alcmene's. So spill. Tell me the story of how Artemis turned you into a deer."
Iolaus knew that he had done it now. He had opened the door to his past, and Autolycus would continue to annoy him until he told him the story of how "Iolaus went Stag".
"All right, fine." Iolaus began, "We were at Kora's, the local eating establishment at the Academy, waiting for my Uncle Flatus'"
Gnawing on a piece of crusty bread, Iolaus turned to his Academy friends, a young Hercules and Jason. Kora was also there, a concerned look on her face. "He was a hunter," Iolaus said of his uncle, "He was the best in my village. He's going to teach me the tricks of the trade."
"You want to be a hunter?" Young Hercules asked.
"Yeah. What's wrong with that?"
"Going hunting is one thing, being a hunter is another," Young Hercules answered. He was concerned with the path his friend was taking.
Kora interjected, "They don't see their families for weeks at a time."
And then Jason said, "They live like beasts. They become the thing they hunt."
Young Iolaus could see where the conversation was taking them. His friends were trying to discourage him from his new career path. "You guys don't know what you're talking about," he said.
"When he walks in," Young Iolaus was explaining, "Everyone offers them their seat." He was so intent on convincing his friends that his decision was right that he did not see his uncle arrive.
Flatus was a large, unkempt man. His years of hunting left him little time for personal grooming, and his malodorous stench followed him into the tavern. "Is this seat taken?" Flatus asked.
"Not any more," a patron responded. He quickly got up and moved away from the stinky man. At that time, Young Iolaus turned around and saw his uncle.
"Iolee!" his uncle shouted enthusiastically. Iolee was a nickname Uncle Flatus had given to his young nephew when he was very small. Iolaus always hated it.
"Iolee, eh?" Autolycus said and the snickered, interrupting Iolaus' storytelling.
"Yeah, Iolee." Iolaus argued, "Didn't you ever have a nickname when you were growing up?"
Autolycus mulled it over for a moment. The King of Thieves was moved by Iolaus' truthfulness about his past and he was weighing whether he should be equally forthcoming.
"No. No. I don't think so," Autolycus finally said. He decided not to divulge the wicked nicknames his brother, although deservedly, had given to him as a youth. After all, he decided, Iolaus already had a low opinion of him. "So what happened when your uncle arrived?"
Flatus easily found himself at home at Kora's. Lounging in a chair and taking a bite from a ham bone, he said, "You know, Iolee and me have brought down many a deer."
"You know? I'm not that young anymore," Young Iolaus said. He was proud of the young man he had become.
"I guess your laundry shooting days are over," Flatus said, referring to his use of animal skins to clothe his rotund body. He turned to his nephew's friends, "We were coming back from a hunt, and little Iolee here sees his father's long underwear hanging out to dry. He thought it was a demon from Tartarus."
"I don't do dumb stuff like that anymore, Unc."
"Of course not," Flatus said, trying to be agreeable. "Anyway, I bet you bring down the biggest deer in the forest, tomorrow." Flatus concluded. He got up from his reclining position and walked behind the youngsters of Jason and Hercules, putting a beefy arm on their shoulders, "See you tomorrow, then. At sunrise,"
UncleFlatus turned and walked out of Kora's.
Watching Uncle Flatus leaving, Kora quickly walked up to the three young men. "So, you're going to hunt deer tomorrow," she said.
"Yeah, it will be our first hunt since I was a kid. I get to show him I'm not the goof up I used to be," Iolaus said.
"Well, then," Kora announce almost sighing, "maybe you should be bringing some insurance." She looked toward Young Iolaus' two friends. She then cleared her throat and mouthed something silently to Young Hercules.
"Ooh, oh." Young Hercules said, finally getting the clue. "We would love to come." He nudged the young Jason at his side, "Right?"
"We would?" Jason questioned.
"Yes. Yes, we would," Young Hercules reiterated. "The three of us on one last hunt! We may never get the chance again."
Kora was relieved that Hercules and Jason were going to go with Young Iolaus. "Yeah. And then Hercules and Jason can keep you from doing anything'"
"Stupid," Young Hercules said.
"Or idiotic," Young Jason chimed in.
"Aw, you guys are the best!" Young Iolaus said, not entirely sincere
"How's Hercules doing," Iolaus said as he stopped the story and turned to see his sleeping partner in the wagon.
As the wagon bounced on, Hercules appreared to be sleeping peacefully, but in his mind, Hercules, still a pig, was being pursued by a butcher. He was running away, in an effort to avoid becoming someone's lunch and possibly being reincarnated as a ham bone.
The butcher was faster than Hercules thought he would be, and before long, Hercules was caught between a hard place, the butchery and the buther's axe. Behind him, other animals squawked a warning.
"Shut up, all of ya!" The butcher said in the cacophony. He scooped up the piglet Hercules, and shoved him under his armpit, crooking his hand around the little oinker. "And this little pig, went wee-wee-wee, all the way to the chopping block."He brought Hercules into his butchery and fastened him into a collar that immediately kept his head immobile so he could cast the fatal blow."Okay, little guy. This is gonna be fast and painless!"
Knowing he had little time now, Hercules said, "Okay' think Herc."As the axe came down, Hercules quickly kicked the butcher with his powerful hind legs. This caused the butcher some immediate discomfort and he dropped the axe. The axe blade hit the lock to the immobilizing collar, and allowed Hercules the chance to escape.
Feeling sure Hercules was still sleeping and not in any immediate danger, Iolaus turned back and began his narrative once more. "I didn't know it at the time, but as Jason and I went to pay the bill, Kora had a talk with Hercules'
"Hercules, you remember Helene?" Kora said."The Golden Hind? How can I forget a sort of half-deer, half-woman?" Kora understood the question was only rhetorical, and continued, "She's been spotted near here."
"If Flatus catches sight of her, he will certainly go after her."
"There are so few of her kind left. There's no telling what Artemis would do if she caught anyone hunting them."
As the conversation moved forward, Young Hercules knew he had no other choice but to go with his buddy, Iolaus. "Where was she seen last?"
"Near Artemis' sacred falls."
"Okay," Young Hercules said, "I'll keep the hunters away, but you know Iolaus. He catches trouble like dogs catch fleas."
"Well," Kora concluded, "Something tells me Uncle Flatus attracts both."
Autolycus laughed, "See, Iolaus? To spite what you think, you're not that different from me. Let me guess, you went after the Golden Hind, didn't you?"
It was Iolaus' turn to laugh, cynically. "You and I are nothing alike. Trust me on that, Autolycus."
"Well, then. It all makes perfect sense. You're jealous!"
"Of you? Ha!"
"Yeah, of me, Shorty. So tell me; what was it like watching the King of Thieves in action?"
"From what I saw, I'm surprised you're not in prison already," Iolaus said, "And for your information, I used to be a thief, and you are nothing special."
"Yeah, well denial ain't just a river in Egypt, Curly. You look at me and you see everything you wish you were. Everything you could have been today." It was the thief's turn to exalt his way of living.
"Now, listen you," Iolaus said as he pointed toward the upturned nose of Autolycus. "I was ten times the thief you are!"
"Was being the operative word," Autolycus said, "Now, you're nothing but a water boy to a half-god. So, why the change in professions? Was being a quiver caddy to your uncle Flatus too much for you?"
"There's nothing wrong with being a hunter, and I loved my uncle; something I'm sure you wouldn't understand. You probably never loved anyone but yourself."
"Hey wait just a minute, buddy. Now you're getting into some personal territory, there." Autolycus said indignantly. He did understand how proving your love for someone could make you do crazy things. Sometimes you choose to be a hunter, sometimes you choose to be a thief. Maybe they weren't so different after all.
Iolaus defended his choices, "Besides, I decided I wanted to do more with my life that just be a hunter."
In the bunkhouse Young Hercules and Iolaus were trying to get to sleep, but sleep wouldn't come to the demigod. "Are you sure this is what you want to do?"
"You mean become a hunter?" The young blonde said as he lay in his bed.
"Yeah, it's okay and everything, but I didn't think that's where we were heading."
"We?" Young Iolaus said. Even at the Academy, young Iolaus had always felt that his path would be different from the life of the young demigod.
"Yes. We. I just started thinking of us as a team. You, me and Jason against the world. We were going to go out and do great things. Being a hunter is okay. It's just kinda ordinary."
Young Iolaus wanted to explain why he was so devoted to the idea of following in his uncle's footsteps. "Uncle Flatus has always been there for me. When no one had any time, he made time. He never married; he never had kids. Now that he's getting older, he needs me. And I need him."
Young Hercules turned to look at his best friend, "Still, it's not going to be the same without you."
Autolycus interrupted the story again. "Okay, I get it. I get it. You wanted to be noble. You know, Iolaus, you really need to work on your story telling. Why don't you get to the fun part and tell me how you got turned into a deer."
"I'm getting to it, okay?" Iolaus shot back. "Sheesh, haven't you heard that patience is a virtue. Oh, but I bet virtue is a bad word for the King of Thieves."
Iolaus did not see Autolycus mouthing the words back to him as the blonde continued his story. "Anyway, Hercules Jason and I were tracking a deer in the woods'"
"What's the real plan," Young Hercules said to the young Iolaus.
"I'm going to shoot the deer, myself," Young Iolaus announced.
"Of course, you know you don't have to prove anything to your uncle," Young Hercules said.
"Yes I do. I have to show that all the time he spent on me wasn't wasted." Young Iolaus said as he spotted the deer they had been tracking for most of the morning.
"There she is," he said and he aimed his arrow toward the deer, "You're mine."
He let the arrow fly; however, his aim was off and the arrow lodged into the trunk of a tree.
"Come on. Come on, he urged his two companions. Young Iolaus was eager to prove his worth to his uncle.
But Young Hercules was not so eager to go. "She's heading into the falls of Artemis. That's sacred ground."
"You never know how gods are going to take these things." Young Hercules said, trying to dissuade Young Iolaus from following her..
"Hello?" Young Iolaus answered as if his two companions were daft. "Artemis IS the goddess of the hunt. We're hunting."
"It might be her pet deer," the young Hercules said thinking of anything that would discourage his young friend.
"Or Zeus in disguise," Jason jokingly added. He got a rather concerned look from the illegitimate child of the king of gods.
"I've made my decision," Young Iolaus said. "I'm going on. Alone, if I have to." He left his two friends alone in the woods.
"We follow him at a distance," Young Hercules said to Jason, knowing he would have to go after him.
"Looking after that kid is a challenge," the older Jason said as they set off to ensure their friend would not get into trouble.
As Young Iolaus followed the deer, he finally cornered him at the falls of Artemis. Determined not to miss this time, he aimed his bow and arrow for the heart of the animal, but a voice from behind him drew the young man's attention away.
Iolaus looked behind him and saw the Golden Hind. He quickly decided the half-deer, half-woman might be a better prize to impress his uncle. He turned and aimed. "This one's for you, Uncle."
Suddenly, an unearthly voice from the heavens boomed above the young man. "Who dares hunt the Hind in the presence of Artemis."
Knowing he was in trouble, Young Iolaus carefully backed away from the booming voice. This seemed impossible considering the voice was coming from everywhere.
"I'm toast," he said.
A moment later, Young Iolaus saw a flash of light envelope him, but when it cleared, the young man appeared to still be alive. "Whoa, that was close. Artemis must have let me off with just a warning."
What Iolaus didn't know, was that now he was in the body of the very deer he had been pursuing. He began walking away from the sacred falls, musing as he walked, "My mouth tastes like the bottom of a bird's nest," as if he would know what the bottom of a bird's nest would taste like.
Several yards away, the deer, in the body of Young Iolaus, was not having it much better. He was not used to walking on two legs, and was having quite the time keeping himself upright.
Attempting to walk, he looked like a deer who had had too many fermented gooseberries. He wiggled and wobbled as he tried to get his bearings on half the number of legs he was used to.
"Who's that idiot?" Young Iolaus said, spying himself, or at least, the body of himself. Then he realized what must have happened. "Whoa, hold on. Hold on. That's me!"
And then, looking down he said, "Then, who am I?" He saw himself covered with the hide of a deer. "Uh oh," he said, and ran panicked through the woods.
As Jason and Young Hercules were following Iolaus, Jason spotted a deer. "There's the deer," he said as he pointed out the animal to Young Hercules. "I'm going to bag it and Iolaus can claim it with his uncle."
"You think Iolaus will go for a trick like that?" Young Hercules reminded Jason.
Seeing his friends in the distance, Young Iolaus wanted to say something, but quickly realized that deer were not very good conversationalists. Without communication, Young Iolaus was literally, and figuratively, dead meat. "I've got to get my hind quarters out of here." Iolaus said and then ran.
Following the deer, Jason and Young Hercules soon found the deer in the body of Iolaus. He was hiding behind some brambles, happily gnawing on grass. "Hey, look. There's Iolaus." Hercules pointed to their friend. "What's he doing?" Young Hercules asked. "Eating grass? He doesn't even like lettuce," Jason said.
Still with the instincts of a deer, the deer, in Iolaus' body, ran. Running awkwardly as a biped, the deer was not quite sure what to do with his upper , and in his opinion, useless limbs, so he held them up, chest high and limp.
Young Hercules noticed Iolaus gamboling in the woods, his arms crooked up similar to a popular Academy dance called the 'bunny hop'. As the Iolaus' body pranced by them, Young Hercules said, "Something is definitely wrong here."
Barely escaping from death, Young Iolaus tried to calm himself with reason. "So I'm a deer and it's deer season." He wasn't doing a very good job of calming himself, he thought. "How can things get any worse?"
At that time, Young Iolaus saw his uncle coming up a hill. "Oh, I had to ask," Iolaus said, as his uncle grabbed an arrow from his quiver and loaded it onto his bow. Young Iolaus audibly gulped. "I've got to think fast," Young Iolaus said, "I know, write my name in the dirt. Right, no time." He reasoned with himself. "Uh, running is good. Yes, running is good," and as a deer, Young Iolaus ran. Flatus shot, missed and immediately took after the deer.
"No fair!" Young Iolaus said, "Where's my weapon?"
"Ho, ho, ho," Autolycus laughed, "Kinda puts a whole new spin to the term 'Stag Party', doesn't it?" He continued, "So, clearly, you're no longer a roaming ruminant, so how'd you get turned back into your annoying, blonde self?"
"Okay, so Hercules and Jason were following me, er, I mean the deer and,"
"Settle down, settle down," Young Hercules said as he approached the deer in Iolaus' human form, "Iolaus, remember me? It's us."
"He's gone crazy, Herc," Jason said, "It's in his eyes."
The deer, finally finding a use for his useless arms, picked up his fists and began pummeling the young Hercules' chest with them. Bam, bam, bam, bam, bam." Quickly turning around, the Iolaus-deer fell to his hands, and kicking up, hit the demigod with his legs. Young Hercules was propelled backward into the upper branches of a tree.
The deer's attention on Jason now. He kicked Jason into the same tree, and lodged the future king of Corinth into a fork of the tree. "I think Iolaus is taking his uncle's advice to think like a deer a little too seriously."
"I think it's a little more than that," Young Hercules said, "Iolaus has been acting like this ever since he's come back from the Fall s of Artemis."
"You think this has something to do with Artemis, right?" Jason said .
"Yes. I do. I think Iolaus stirred up some godly wrath and this is her revenge. We've got to catch Iolaus before he disappears into the woods."
Jason began thinking of how they could trap Iolaus. "If Iolaus thinks he's a deer, then we will capture him like one."
Once free from the tree, Young Hercules and Jason spent the morning setting up traps and snares to capture Iolaus. And donned with foliage to effectively camouflage their likeness, Young Hercules and Jason waited patiently for Iolaus to be trapped.
They watched and hoped expectantly as Iolaus walked by one of the snares. Catching a scent of the humans nearby, The Iolaus-deer stepped into a snare. He was finally caught. As the body of Young Iolaus hung upside down, swinging in the air, Young Hercules said, "Jason, it worked."Looking into the face of who he thought was Iolaus, Young Jason asked, "What do we do with him now?"
"What else?" Hercules said. Soon, the boys had the legs of Young Iolaus attached to a pole. They were dragging the hapless man through the woods, as Young Iolaus, with a mindless look on his face, helplessly scanned the area around him.
Finally, tired of hauling the young man, Young Iolaus' two friends put him down. "How can somebody so short be so heavy? Whatever Artemis did, I wish it would wear off," Young Hercules said, and then remembering their predicament, quickly added, "Uh oh."
"What do you mean, uh oh?" Jason reiterated.
"Uh oh, no, no. I just thought of something. What if this is more than a curse? What if this is a switch? I mean, what is this is more than Iolaus just acting weird? Maybe the deer is in Iolaus' body?"
"Which means?" Jason added.
"Iolaus is inside the deer's body."
"Which Uncle Flatus is shooting at," Jason finished.
"We've got to get to him first." Young Hercules said in panic.
"We'll put whatever this is in the shade, we'll make better time getting to Flatus."
Loosing Uncle Flatus, the deer-Iolaus continued to walk through the woods. "I never knew what it was like to have everyone try to kill you. No wonder deer always look so scared."
Off in the distance, Iolaus heard the cry of a woman. "Help. Help me. Please."
Iolaus walked toward the cry and recognized the Golden Hind. She was trapped in a snare. She tugged on it, trying to free herself. "I wonder if she knows that I was the one trying to shoot at her earlier," Iolaus said.
"Oh, it's you. The one Artemis changed. The human," she said, her words were embittered.
"Oh, busted," Iolaus said. "Yeah, but I just walked a mile in someone elses' hooves." Iolaus added, not sure if the Golden Hind could hear him or not.
"Is this one of your snares?" The Golden Hind asked, as she tugged on the snare once more.
"If I could talk, I would tell her how I've lost my taste for killing anything, let alone the Golden Hind. Well, at least I can lend her a hand, or hoof."
Using his hoof, Iolaus snapped the line to the snare, allowing the Golden Hind to go free. Watching her go, he said, "Don't mention it Goldie, it was my pleasure." And then Iolaus turned around, and smelling something with his sensitive deer nose, said, "I know that smell."
It was his Uncle Flatus.
Seeing his uncle with his bow in hand, the Iolaus-deer knew he was in trouble. He knew how often his uncle did not miss. "Sorry can't stop to chat," he said and he turned to run. The aim was good this time and the arrow pierced the hide of the Iolaus-deer. He fell.
"Excellent. Caught you," Flatus said, as he pulled out his large knife.
"Uncle don't! It's me Iolaus!"
Trying to justify the use of his knife, Uncle Flatus reasoned to the deer, "You gave me quite a run, so out of respect, I'll make this quick."
But before Flatus was able to disembowel the Iolaus-deer, Jason and Hercules quickly tackled him. Jason grabbed one arm and Hercules the other.
Incensed, Flatus said, "You better have a good reason for this, boys."
"It's not a deer, it's Iolaus," Young Hercules said.
Moments later, as Young Iolaus lay dying, Uncle Flatus cradled his young nephew's head. "My favorite nephew, lay dying by my arrow, I'll never forgive myself," he said.
"You had no way of knowing," Young Hercules said trying to assuage Uncle Flatus of his guilt. Then addressing the heavens, he yelled. "Are you watching this Artemis? Are you proud of yourself?"
Young Jason followed Young Hercules' lead, also got up and said, "Is this what you wanted, taking an innocent life?"
A voice from the heavens boomed out. Their questions were being answered. "Your friend hunted the Golden Hind, Hercules. This was his punishment."
"He did something wrong, but he didn't deserve this." Young Hercules said, looking back at his dying friend. "Change him back."
"He has learned his lesson, this is true. I can change him back, but it won't save his life."
"Do it." Young Hercules challenged. "Change him back. At least let him die like a man."
"Do it." Young Jason demanded with the authority of a future king.
Feeling that nothing would be gained by keeping him in the body of the deer, Artemis asked the men to stand away from the dying deer with the soul of a hunter.
With a flash of light, she quickly changed him back. Uncle Flatus, Young Hercules and Jason were now free to say their goodbyes to the human they loved.
"Iolee!" Uncle Flatus called as he continued to cradle his head. "You know I 'd never hurt you."
"I know," Young Iolaus said weakly.
"Hey, everything's going to be okay." Young Hercules said smiling, but not feeling the confidence that was unspoken in his words. Feeling that Artemis was still near, Young Hercules said to the goddess, "You can fix him?"
"No. Though there is someone who can, although she has little sympathy for hunters."
"Please, get her." Young Hercules pleaded.
Moments later, a young brunette walked through the forest and toward the downed man. "Helene," Young Hercules said, acknowledging the woman.
"Who's she?" Jason whispered.
Helene walked up to Iolaus and looking down upon him, said, "You risked your life to save mine, Iolaus. You have a brave and caring heart, such a character is rare amongst humans and is sorely needed." Bending down, and letting her hands hover over the core of the young hunter, she said, "Live and fulfill your noble fate."
"Wait. Wait.' Autolycus said, interrupting for the final time. "Are you telling me you were saved by the Golden Hind?"
"Yeah. What of it?"
"Oh, nothing." Autolycus said, and paused. "I was just thinking to myself; that's one hind any thief would like to get a piece of."
Inside the lair of Colchis, Discord stood, angry and upset with her hunter. "Well, Colchis. Your little outing today was a complete success. That is, if you were looking to embarrass yourself."
"It's not my fault, Discord." Colchis said, defending himself, "He had two tough bodyguards. That little, blonde one packs a powerful punch." The dark and brooding man silently rubbed his chin.
"Those weren't his bodyguards," Discord said, "and after that screw up, if you don't kill Hercules, your name is mud."
"I love it when you talk dirty," Colchis said and attempted to pull Discord into his arms.
She pulled him back. "Let me put it to you in another way. No Hercules, no party."
"Why didn't you say so in the first place," Colchis said. "I'll find him."
As Colchis stormed out, Ares materialized. "So, this is where you spend your nights? Classy. I can see why you've been so secretive; playing house with that pathetic excuse for a warrior."
Discord sidled up to Ares, "There's nothing wrong with a little diversion from time to time. Besides, you've been such a party pooper lately. And you know how I hate to sleep alone."
Ares removed the two arms that had snaked up his muscular chest. "Make no mistake, Discord. If your little hunter fails again, I'll make sure he sleeps six feet underground."
"Stay out of this Ares." Discord spat, "If Colchis fails me, then I'll deal with him. In my own way."
Ares smirked, "If I didn't know you better, I'd say you actually cared for this knuckle-dragger."
"And if I didn't know you better, I'd say you were jealous."
Alcmene looked thoughtfully into the distance as she attended to her garden. Jason seeing her worried countenance, came up with a basket for her flowers. "Jason, I'm worried. Hercules was supposed to be here before lunch."
"Aw, he'll be along soon enough, sweetheart. If we had a dinar for every time Hercules was late because he stopped to help somebody, we'd be rich by now."
Alcmene laughed. She had already thought herself rich beyond any man's dreams, what with a son like Hercules and a husband as devoted to her as Jason.
It was already late afternoon, and Iolaus knew that Alcmene would be worried. "Stay here." Iolaus said to Autolycus after secreting the horse and wagon away from the searching eyes of Alcmene. He felt like he had to break the news alone.Iolaus walked up the path to Alcmene's home.
As expected, she was in the garden. Jason was the first to see Iolaus and said, "There. What did I tell you?"
But Alcmene immediately saw that her son was not with Iolaus. When he approached she said, "Iolaus. Where have you been? And where's Hercules?"
"Well," Iolaus began.
Behind Iolaus, Autolycus, who was not at all mindful of Iolaus' instructions spoke, "Allow me to explain. You see'"
"Will you shut up?" Iolaus said to Autolycus, "Alcmene, Hercules is,"
"Going to be late?" Alcmene asked expectantly.
"No, no, um, he's'"
"He's not coming, is he?" Jason interrupted, speaking the words that he knew Alcmene could not.
"No. He's here."
"Here? Where?" Alcmene said. She looked around for her son.
"Um," Iolaus stammered, "There's no easy way to say this." Iolaus cleared his throat, "he's in the wagon, beyond the trees."
"He's not'" Alcmene began to say before she fainted. She had always feared this day. Although Alcmene could not fathom her son's unnatural narcolepsy, she could imagine his death. She knew only one thing would keep Hercules from walking down the path side-by-side with Iolaus, and that would be if he couldn't.
"Oh, that was smooth," Autolycus answered.
Jason was able to catch the fainting Alcmene and carefully followed her down to the ground, cradling her head and supporting her body as he went.
Turning to the thief, Iolaus said, "I thought I told you to stay with Hercules."
"What? Like he's going some place?" Autolycus defended, "Besides, he's not exactly the greatest conversationalist right now."
Jason quickly scooped Alcmene up and brought her into the house. Jason interrogated the two men as the trio patiently waited for Alcmene to regain consciousness.
"What happened to him?" Jason asked.
Alcmene's eyes fluttered open. "Oh, Jason. I, I had the worst dream," she said as she propped herself up from her sleeping position.
"Yeah, well, speaking of sleeping," Autolycus said.
Moving toward Alcmene in a hurried dash, Iolaus answered Alcmene's and Jason's worst fears. "Alcmene, first of all, Hercules is not dead."
"Then what happened to him?" Jason asked.
"Well, it's a long story, uh, let's just say that Ares and Discord are up to their old tricks. Hercules was grazed by Artemis' bow and well'"
"He's asleep in the back of the wagon." Autolycus interrupted.
"Let's go get him," Jason said, already moving toward the front door. He wanted to see what Iolaus was not telling Alcmene, fearing that it must be more than an afternoon nap. Autolycus followed him out, intent on helping Jason with Hercules.
"Asleep?" Alcmene asked. She waited for Iolaus to tell her more.
Jason and Iolaus settled Hercules into his old bedroom. As the duo walked out, Iolaus explained, "Well, I'm not sure. We need to steal Artemis' bow back from Discord. He should wake up once I shoot him with the arrow."
"Well, let's go. Let me get my sword." Jason said.
"No. I think you should stay here with Alcmene and Hercules. Something tells me Colchis will be back."
Iolaus was not aware of it, but at that moment, Colchis, with a few of his men still stupid enough to tackle Iolaus, had gathered outside the home of Alcmene.
"Discord said we would find Hercules here," Colchis said to his men. "Light 'em up and be ready!"
Colchis turned toward the front of the homestead and yelled, "Let me in, or I'll huff 'n' puff and I'll burn your house down." There were maniacal cheers coming from the warriors behind him.
"What are we going to do?" Alcmene asked.
"We're going to fight. That's what we're going to do." Iolaus said.
"Yeah, we're going to'" Autolycus said, "We're going to do what?"
"You heard me Autolycus, we're going to fight. And you're not going to skip out on me this time."
Jason quickly retrieved his sword, and holding it up and ready, he said. "So, what are we waiting for?"
Iolaus was the first to leave Alcmene's home, followed by Jason. They were met in the garden by two burly men. One man used the torch he carried as a weapon, and waved it in front of Iolaus, forcing him back. Iolaus used his leg to sweep the man off of his feet.
Another man advanced toward Jason, but a quick hit with the blunt edge of the sword to stun the brute, followed by a quick jab to the stomach, downed the man.
Another man was advancing on the home, so Autolycus quickly stepped in his way, and using his left fist, punched the man so hard, he turned around.
But Colchis' men were advancing too fast. One had penetrated the line of defense created by Iolaus, Jason and Autolycus. With a large frying pan in hand, Alcmene walked out of her home. As he advanced, she spent little time putting him in his place. With a wide swing of the pan, she hit the advancing brute with the back of the frying pan, knocking him out.
"Well, that's what happens when you mess with my son," she said as she looked at the unconscious man at her feet.
After all of the men had been dispatched, Autolycus walked up to Iolaus and Jason. "Now what do we do? We still need that bow."
"Oh," Iolaus and laughed. "Well, well, well."
"What? What did I do now?"
"Well, for a moment there, it sounded like you cared."
"Yeah, well, don't let it go to your head," Autolycus said.
Outside of Ares' Temple, Iolaus formulated a simple plan and explained it to Autolycus. "You stole the bow, now you can steal it back," Iolaus said.
Autolycus wasn't sure he wanted to be part of this plan, much less get caught in Ares temple. Besides, stealing something back that he stole in the first place was kind of like being an Indian giver.
Seeing the thief's reticence to take part in his plan, Iolaus said, "Oh, come on. This will be the perfect way to show me what a good thief you really are."
"Can't you just take my word for it?" Autolycus asked.
"Autolycus!" Iolaus said, getting tired of the thief's stalling tactics. "Hercules is counting on you."
After a momentary pause, Autolycus conceded, "Okay! Okay!" and then proceeded into the entrance of Ares temple.
Autolycus quickly found that two security men were guarding the entrance to Ares' temple. It would not be the easiest way into the temple, so using his grappling hook, Autolycus climbed onto the roof of the temple. Once on the roof, he repelled himself down into the temple via an open skylight.
Stepping onto the ground in front of Artemis' bow, he gingerly lifted it up and off of its stand, being as quiet as he could. He stopped instantly when he heard the voice of Discord quietly taking to Ares. She spotted him.
"Hey! He's got the bow!"
Autolycus laughed nervously. "Don't let me interrupt," he said, "
I just, uh, dropped in to repo the bow. This particular brand, you see, has been recalled, and well'I wouldn't want anyone to get hurt." And then quietly he mumbled, "Especially me."
Discord, being in a rarely nasty mood after Colchis had failed again, shot a bolt of lightning from her eyes. She struck the thief in the stomach.
"Ooh!" Autolycus coughed. "Wow, that hurts."
After a few minutes of waiting for Autolycus outside and presuming the thief got himself into trouble, Iolaus ran into the temple.
Two temple bodyguards immediately converged onto the blonde man when he entered. Having no time for fighting, Iolaus quickly swept the feet of one guard, knocking him to the floor and then hit the other guard with a swift right cross. The guard spun several times before smacking into a column.
"I don't remember inviting you," Ares said upon seeing Iolaus. In an effort to stop the partner to his half-brother from advancing, Ares used his power to manifest lightning to stop Iolaus. He ducked just as the lightning destroyed another bust in Ares' collection. Discord was not going to let Autolycus leave with the bow. She ran up to him as he was getting up and grabbed one end of the bow. With a firm grip of the other end, Autolycus tried to pull it away, and they were effectively waging a tug-of-war.
"Let me have it." Autolycus said.
Discord retaliated by lifting her knee to Autolycus' groin. She knew that would quickly disable the annoying thief and, as expected, Autolycus went down groaning. "You want it, you've got it." Discord answered proudly.
With the bow in her hand, she drew the string back and was about to shoot Autolycus.
"Oh! Oh! Oh! Not the face! Not the face!" Autolycus pleaded.
Iolaus rushed up to Discord and quickly grabbed the bow away from her. He pointed it at Discord.
Discord knew the power of the bow. After all, she had used it on Hercules. She was afraid of it and she remained still. Autolycus, quickly scrambled to a column and hiding behind it, peeked out and said, "What's the matter, Discord? Chicken?"
Autolycus calling Discord "chicken" caused the goddess to react, and her reaction was swift. She moved toward Iolaus, but Iolaus' reaction was swifter; he shot Discord with Artemis' bow.
A flash later, and Autolycus, Iolaus and Ares were staring at Discord, now a chicken.
Iolaus then pointed the bow at Ares. "Unless you want to be the god of gophers, you'd better make like a tornado, and blow."
Deciding retreat was the better part of valor, Ares pulled down on his tunic, and said, "I won't forget this." He pointed to Iolaus, "You, are on my list."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah." Iolaus answered. It was not the first time Ares had put him on 'the list' and, he surmised, it would not be the last.
Using the arrow to point at Discord, Iolaus finished with, "Don't forget your chicken."
Ares picked up Discord gingerly, and disappeared in his usual red flash.
After Ares left, Autolycus, regained some of his bravado, and still hiding behind the column, added, "Any time, any where!"
Iolaus turned to Autolycus, not terribly surprised the thief was still behind the column. "Ready to go?"
"You have no idea, Iolaus. You have no idea."
Back at Alcmene's, Autolycus, Alcmene and Jason waited patiently behind Iolaus. He had the bow, and aimed it toward the wounded shoulder of Hercules.
"You ready, buddy?" he asked rhetorically, knowing Hercules was not going to answer.
Although Alcmene trusted Iolaus, and believed that Artemis' arrow would bring her son back from sleep, she winced at the idea of an arrow piercing the flesh of her son and hid her head into the shoulder of Jason.
Iolaus aimed and then let the arrow go. When it grazed the wound on the demigod's shoulder, a bright, white light enveloped Hercules. His eyes fluttered, and suddenly he was awake.
"Hercules," Alcmene said, as if she needed assurance that he was cured.
"Mother," Hercules said as he got up from the bed.
"It is so good to have you back."
"It's uh, good to be back, believe me. Jason, I'm sorry I missed your anniversary. I, uh, haven't been feeling like myself lately."
Jason laughed and then placed a hand on his shoulder, "Having you back is good enough for us."
"So, Hercules, what did you dream about?" Autolycus asked, wanting and expecting some delicious story of some beautiful babe.
"Oh, this and that," Hercules said, not wanting to explain his vividly hoggish dream. "I don't think you would really be interested, Autolycus." Letting Hercules have some time with his family, Autolycus took a few steps back. Iolaus left the company of Hercules and followed Autolycus.
"I guess under different circumstances, we would still hate each other," Autolycus said when Iolaus joined him.
"Yeah, well, for once, I guess I agree with you."
"That's a start," Autolycus answered, resigning himself to the fact that he and Iolaus would never see eye to eye on anything. Autolycus reluctantly offered his arm for a warrior handshake, trying to hide his respect for Iolaus and from the others in the group.
Hercules walked up to the two men, "Glad to see you guys are getting along so well, because I'd like the two of you to do me a favor."
"Well, we took on two gods to save you, I guess we can help you out again." Autolycus said, not hiding his self-satisfaction.
"First, I want you to return the wagon you stole. And I'll return Artemis' bow."
"Wait. How'd you know I stole'" Autolycus said and then stopped. "Aw, never mind, I don't want to know."
Iolaus and Hercules laughed as a look of consternation crossed the King of Thieves face. Autolycus knew he would never get away with anything in the company of these two heroes.
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