My Fair Cupcake

by Ceryndip

Story originally written for Hercules: the Legendary Journeys by: Gene O'Neill and Noreen Tobin

The men pulled the wagon to the side of the road, a voice yelled for help. Curiosity being stronger than their concern for the protection of their goods, the two merchants followed the sound into the woods. In a nearby clearing they found that it was a trunk doing the yelling. A large wooden trunk.

“Help! Help! Let me out, please! I can’t breathe! Oh, for the love of mercy! Somebody, get me out of here!”

The two burly men looked at each other and then back at the trunk before stepping forward and fumbling with the latch.

“Oh, that’s better.”

A flury of movement came from within the trunk as the lid was thrown open. “Yodel-ay-he-hoo!” was all the two men heard before the lid closed on them both.

“Ah, the old Delphi Carnival trick works every time,” Autolycus humbly declared as he gave the trunk a little pat and headed toward the road and the wagon waiting to be pillaged. The trunks yielded a wealth of items fit for theatrical use but little else. The thief plunked down on the back gate of the wagon in disgust. “Gowns, shoes, props, a couple of lousy dinars on the blackmarket, not much profit in here.” He riffled through a stack of papers before selecting one and holding it up in triumph. “Royal ball - Antioch. Ah! Now this is priceless.”

The cabaret was dark and dingy making the vision on the stage appear even brighter. She danced and swirlled around the stage as she sang. Her blond hair swaying in time to the music.

“Don’t mean to be indelicate,
But I don’t want your etiquette.
If you think I’m just too crass.
Then you can kiss my sassafras!
Yeah! Let’s have a ball, tonight.
Doing wrong can feel so right.
Take my advice, and youll be free!
Come on, have a ball with me!
Come on, have a ball with me.
Come on, have a ball with me.”

Applause and cat calls filled the little bar. The blond bowed, “Thank you! Thank you!” She turned and slipped behind the curtain, disappearing backstage.

She ran down the stairs passing the next performer on the way up to the stage, “I warmed ‘em up for you.”

“Thanks, Cupcake. Tough act to follow.”

Cupcake pushed open the door of her dressing room to find it already occupied. she sighed, “Autolycus.”

“Hello Cupcake. You don’t seem very thrilled to see me.” He lounged against the makeup table.

“Well, it’s just that I didn’t expect to ever see you again.” Why did she suddenly feel shy?

“I know. The truth is, I felt pretty bad about what happened between us, and ever since that time, I’ve been looking for a way to make it up to you. And guess what? I’ve got a proposal for you.”

“You do?!” Cupcake could hardly believe her ears. A proposal.

He grasped her hand gently, “How would you like to be princess?”

“A princess?” Okay it wasn’t what she thought. “Uh, what’s the catch?”

Autolycus advanced her her, “No, not what’s the catch, who’s the catch? And he’s the prince of Antioch.”

“Oh yeah, like that’ll happen.” Dissapointment filled her voice, “And I thought you came here because you cared about me.”

“I did, and I do. You see, the prince can’t become a king without a queen. Hmm? So, what do you do? You throw a royal ball and you invite all the beautiful princesses from around the land, and you, my sweet, are going. I might just tag along, myself.” He handed her the invitation.

Cupcake pondered the possibilities, “The prince of Antioch - Oh hey! He’s the guy who owns that famous sapphire, huh?”

Autolycus feigned ignorance, “Really? Say, where’s the romance? Is that all you can think of? A man’s jewels?”

Cupcake read the invitation, “Hey! This says, ‘Princesses only.’ And I’m not a princess.”

Autolycus smiled mischievously, “Not yet.”

“The prince of Antioch is a monster!” Declared King Jorgas.

Hercules took a step closer to his majesty motioning with his hands in a calming gesture, “Now, calm down. No man loved peace more than King Stephan.”

Iolaus joined them, “Why would the son turn so unlike the father?”

“Ambition,” King Jorgas answered ,”Power, greed - take your pick. Two of my villages have been burned to the ground.”

“That’s pretty convincing,” Iolaus agreed.

“I’ll see him in Tartarus before he takes my kingdom. That’s why I asked you here.”

Hercules was resolute, “King Jorgas, I won’t help you start a war but give us the chance to prevent one.”

Jorgas shook his head, “You’re too late. The village of Perthia, on the border - do you know it?”

“Yeah,” Iolaus answered, “that village is half in Carpathia and half in Antioch - peacefully coexisting with each other.”

“Not anymore,” Jorgas explained as he turned to the soldier waiting at the door. “The town is set to erupt.” Prepare for battle!”

“Yes, sire!” he replied. Hercules and Iolaus traded dark glances.

Jorgas strode over to the battle map on the table. “We’ll divide our forces at Perthia - half in the north, half in the south. “

Hercules wasn’t ready to give up that easily, “Don’t you realize that hundreds of your people will die?”

“Maybe thousands,” Iolaus added, “Is that what you want?”

“Look, you asked for my help. All I need is two days to sort this out.” Hercules negiciated, “Well, come on - you owe your people that much.”

“Alright Hercules - but how will you save Perthia?” Jorgas wondered.

“No! No! A thousand times, no!” Cupcake strode across her tiny room in frustration.

Autolycus lounged on the bed, “Now, that’s only three--unless my abacus is off.”

She huffed in disgust and flopped in a chair.

Autolycus decided he needed to sweeten the deal. “Did I mention, you get your own castle? With beautiful twin turrets?” he looked around, “Say, what’s with all the scrolls?”

“Aw, Jeez! I’m studyin’, preparin’ for the future, ‘cause a dancer’s life is short!”

“Exactly! You know? You gotta get a second career. Otherwise, you’re gonna wind up in the old showfolks’ home with the Minotaur man, the bearded lady, and the human prune.”

“But why are you doing this?” Cupcake wondered aloud.

“Well, gee, Cupcake, I - just wanna see you happy. And how much happier can you be than living the life of a princess, huh? Yes, that’s my reward in all this,” then he muttered to himself, “that and a - certain sapphire.”

“But it’s a deception.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that. Think of it as playing another part - your greatest challenge ever.”

“But Princesses have - tutors and - private schooling, and - silk underwear.”

“Cupcake, you don’t have to be intelligent, just act it. And I’ll work on the underwear.”

“Hey! What do you think ‘you’re’ doing? This is an Antioch well! Go drink from that horse trough, Carpathian. There’s no water for you or your kind here.” The Antiochian gave the Carpathian a shove.

“Fine, but remember that bakery over there is a Carpathian bakery! There’s no bread for you, here!”

“Bakery?”

Iolaus and Hercules arrived on the scene, seeing the signs of the fight about to break out. “Not a moment too soon,” Iolaus remarked.

“What Bakery?” The Antiochian asked.

“Yeah, and maybe a moment too late,” Hercules replied.

Another voice rang out. “Fire!”

“Go back to Carpathia! We don’t want you here!”

“We don’t want your kind here, either!” The two men dove at each other. Hercules and Iolaus each grabbed a combatant and held them apart.

“Break it up! Break it up! Hey! Enough!” Hercules announced.

They ceased their struggles as they realized that they weren’t going to be allowed to continue, “Better. Now, who started this?” Hercules asked.

“He did!” They both shouted.

Hercules rolled his eyes at Iolaus, Iolaus shrugged his shoulders and smiled back.

Autolycus continued his lessons, “All right, say it again.”

Cupcake rolled her eyes, “Aw, gee, do I have to?”

“Don’t hunch your shoulders like that,” Autolycus corrected. “I want a nice, straight back - head errect - with a smile that says, ‘I’m trapped overnight in a candy store.’”

She cleared her throat and swayed her shoulders to the rhythm of the words, “An angry Ares often errs irrevocabably, irrevaculably, irrecolulably? Oh yeah, like I’m ever gonna use that in a conversation.”

“It’s just a drill. Don’t jiggle.”

“Well, that, I can’t help,” she admitted, blushing at the mention of her abumdant clevage.

“No, but I can.” He strode around the room stopping behind her chair.

“Oh,” she said as he grabbed her shoulders and began to massage them.

“I’m talking about these, not those.” He explained, “Those can move at will.”

“Oh, that feels nice. Hey, but, hey, but don’t get too used to it. If your plan works, we won’t see each other anymore.”

“That’s true, Cupcake. But sometimes,” Autolycus put on his philosopher’s hat, “you’ve gotta lose something you treasure, for a greater good.”

“That’s profound, and so selfless,” Cupcake observed.

“I know. I barely have any self left.”

The roof of the bakery was a smoldering ruin. The villagers and Hercules had moved to a quiet area of the square but the locals were still in an uproar, shouting and disagreeing with each other.

"All right, all right! One at a time!,” Hercules turned to Iolaus, “Any luck?"

With a negative shake of his head, "No, we searched the whole town."

"That's because the guy that started this doesn't come from here!" inserted one of the villagers.

"Liar!" a Carpathian retorted.

The villager disagreed, "You're a liar!"

Hercules stepped between them, "Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! Now, maybe he was just looking for a fight."

"You mean, an agitator, sent to stir things up?" Iolaus asked.

"Exactly. You people of Perthia have lived all of your lives in harmony. Your homes are right next to each other and now you let the words of a stranger turn you into enemies!"

The Carpathian was still concerned, "Well, what about our villages that the people from Antioch burned?"

"I'm not so sure that they did. King Jorgas doesn't want to start a war. Give me your word, that you'll keep a truce until I can find out what is what."

No one moved, Iolaus stepped forward and encouraged them, "Come on, put your hands together."

They eyed each other warily and finally stepped forward to clasp hands.

Hercules nodded his approval, "Good. Now, you can all start repairing the bakery together.” the demigod turned to his partner, “You go to Antioch and keep a lid on the prince until I get there."

"What're you gonna do?" Iolaus asked.

"I'm going to find out who did this. Then I'll bring King Jorgas there, myself even if I have to carry him."

"OK, good luck.”

Hercules nodded the same sentiment in return and they both turned in opposite directions.

Cupcake took a firmer hold on the bedpost as she complained, "Oh, why can't I just be myself?"

"Oh, you can Cupcake, you should be, but not until you get married like every other woman. All right now, take a nice, deep breath,” Autolycus pulled on the lacings of her corset.

"Ooh! Geez, Louise!" she protested.

"Sorry, I guess I'm better at... unlacing,” he stood back and she turned to face him.

"Married?! Don't you rush me! I'd never marry someone I didn't love. I mean, what if he turns out to be a jerk?! I have known one or two."

"Really? Well, you ought to give this prince a chance, you know? He's young, heir to a throne, and possibly better-looking than me. Well, that's a stretch." The thief knew he had to tread carefully and keep his ego under control.

"I don't care,” she replied. “I have to follow my heart. Don't you ever do that?"

Autolycus turned so she couldn’t see his face. He couldn’t let her know how he really felt, what was really in his heart where she was concerned. "I better check on the carriage."

Autolycus grabbed a few of the scrolls that were threatening to fall from the heaping pile of scrolls in Cupcake’s arms. He walked her the last few feet to the carriage. "You know, just out of curiosity, what is with all the scrolls? We're going to a ball, not a seminar."

"Well, gee! I wanna study up-- so I can discuss things with the prince." She accepted his helping hand into the carriage. Autolycus laughed and followed her in with a rap on the side of the carriage, telling the driver to start moving.

"He's a man! Talk about him. All men think they're fascinating. In my case, it's justified," he sat across from her with a smug grin.

Cupcake was taken aback, "Uh, but, uh, "

"I know. Why don't you just bat those baby blues, smile a lot, and don't say a word?!"

“Ooh, that's it! Stop the coach! Stop! I want off!" The driver leaned back on the reins. Cupcake lost her grip on her seat and flew across the carriage and right into Autolycus’ arms.

"Whoa!"

"Oh!"

"That was a little obvious.” Autolycus chided, “You might not wanna throw yourself at the prince."

"Oh! Don't you worry!” She scrambled back to her seat. “I won't embarrass you because I'm not going!"

Autolycus rushed to do damage control, "Oh, ho, wait, you can't quit! Not after all the work I've done!"

That was the last straw for Cupcake, "All the work you've done?! I've put up with crummy costumes, too-tight shoes, stupid vocal drills, as if I need them. And now, you don't even want me to talk?! I hate you!"

Autolycus thought he heard a breakthrough, "Hey-- say that again."

Cupcake was confused, "I hate you?"

“No, no, no, no, like you wanna kill me."

An easy request, her voice lowered a notch and her diction was precise. "I hate you!"

Autolycus smiled, delighted, "Good, once more."

Cupcake’s ire increased, "I hate you!"

"Hey!" the thief protested.

Cupcake continued, "I hate you! I hate you!"

Autolycus smiled at the change in her pronounciation, "By Zeus, I think you've got it!"

Cupcake stopped, realizing what he was talking about, "Oh, really?!"

Autolycus stuck his head out the window, "Driver, an extra dinar if you get us there posthaste, if not sooner. Now-- there's only one thing left. Come up with a name. Argatha, princess of Egypt? Nah, nobody would ever come that far...."

The herald stepped forward, commanding the attention of the people in the room. "Argatha, princess of Egypt, and Hippolyta, princess of Helos."

Prince Alexandros stepped forward and bowed to them. "Welcome to Antioch. Thank you for coming. I look forward to getting to know you."

"The honor is mine,” replied Argatha.

Vitron, the Prince’s aide whispered in Alexandros’ ear, "My Lord-- I just heard the news. The Carpathians have launched a full-scale war."

As they spoke in hushed tones, a familiar figure appeared in the entrance.

“and you are?” questioned the herald.

Iolaus hesitated, without the presence of Hercules at his side, he didn’t have the clout he usually did. He needed these people to take him seriously. Thebes didn’t sound very impressive. And what if they checked his credentials? Corinth would be more impressive and he knew that Iphicles would back him up if asked. He whispered to the herald.

"Iolaus of Corinth," he announced.

"Uh, I've got a message from King Jorgas," Iolaus explained uncomfortably.

"Good,” the Prince replied, “I have a message for him, too."

"Jorgas pulled a sneak attack in Perthia," Vitron said accusingly.

"No! No, no, no!” Iolaus shook his head and raised his hands in a calming gesture. “He didn't! Hercules and I were there this morning. There's a truce. And now, he's bringing the king to you, so he can negotiate with you in person. No misunderstandings."

The aide wasn’t buying it, "He'll come, all right, with ten thousand men."

"If Hercules brings him to Antioch, he brings him to his execution,” Alexandros agreed. “This is my message: Death to all Carpathians."

“Hermia, Princess of Carpathia," announced the herald.

"Seize her!" screamed Vitron.

Autolycus suddenly had second thoughts about their chosen name, "Maybe we should've gone with 'Erin of Gaul.'" He boldly stepped forward and was immediately grabbed on either side by the guards. "Unhand the princess and myself! You risk the threat of war... or at least a vicious trade embargo."

Alexandros turned to face him, "And who are you?"

Autolycus didn’t wither under his glare, "I'm Autolycus, the king's advisor, and protector of the princess."

Iolaus pushed between the prince and one of his guards, "Autolycus, I know exactly who this man is! King Jorgas would never have let him come here with his daughter.” Iolaus paused at Autolycus’ desperate expression. He’d learned to read the thief pretty well during their recent misadventures together, “unless his intentions were truly peaceful." What was going on here?

Alexandros’ aide stepped into the circle to voice his opinion, "It's a trick."

"How?” Iolaus asked stumbling over his words- Why did he allow Autolycus to do this to him? He improvised rapidly, “You have the princess at your mercy. She's... she's an olive branch extended to prevent a... a terrible catastrophe."

Autolycus moved to cover up whatever faux paux they’d blundered into, "Ah, look, if we've come at a bad time, I- "

"My Lord, don't be fooled Throw them both in jail. We must attack, now!"

Alexandros looked between his aide and Iolaus, "No, we wait for Hercules."

"But, My Lord," the aide insisted.

"Why would Jorgas risk his daughter? No, there’s more going on here. Hercules and Iolaus have always supoorted and assisted my father. They have proven worthy of our trust. I've made my decision until we know otherwise, we will extend our hospitality. Welcome, Hermia."

As soon as it was possible, Iolaus pulled Autolycus aside where they wouldn’t be overheard. "Princess Hermia is a brunette!"

Autolycus made a show out of looking back at his blond partner on the other side of the room, "I knew that was a dye job!"

“That is not her. Who is she?" Iolaus demanded.

Autolycus stalled for time, "Uh, Erin of Gaul."

"That is not a princess!” Iolaus accused, “And you're here, to steal the sapphire of Antioch."

A look of surprise covered Autolycus’ face, "You mean it's here in the castle of Antioch?! Talk about your wild coincidences!"

Iolaus shoved the thief into the corner, "Listen, the only reason I covered for you was to buy some time and prevent a war."

Autolycus wasn’t going to be intimidated, "Oh, so now you need me or you are a fraud, too. Well, let's start showing a little more respect for the man who's preventing a war by escorting the King’s olive branch. I oughtta get a reward, like the, uh, sapphire of Antioch?"

"Look! Your reward is that you're gonna be able to disappear when Hercules gets here, without the jewel! And in the meantime keep your nose clean!" Iolaus warned.

"Maybe you should stop lookin' up my nose!” Autolycus snubbed, “Of course, I guess you can't help it, huh?" The thief chuckled to himself as he slipped past Iolaus to rejoin the reception.

In the meantime, Hercules had spotted his quarry and stepped in front of him as he passed the alley, “Hello. I had a feeling you'd be back."

The man knew he’d been caught, "Stopping me won't stop the war. It's bigger than me."

Hercules grabbed him by the scruff of his neck, "So am I. Now, who's paying you to do this."

"King Jorgas,” he replied with his feet swinging in the air beneath him.

"Then, let's go say hello to your boss."

Iolaus joined the “Princess”, maybe if he couldn’t get any information out of Autolycus, maybe his partner wasn’t so wiley. "Hi. Are you all right?"

"Oh, yeah. Royal balls always make me nervous." She smiled at Iolaus.

"Yeah,” Iolaus understood that, formal events were not his favorite past time. The upcoming royal ball had more pitalls than usual. “Look, I know you're not Princess Hermia."

Cupcake’s face fell, "Oh. Is it that obvious?"

"Well-- "

"Oh, gee, Why did I let Autolycus talk me into this? I mean, even if he thinks he's doing me a favor, I-"

"Favor?,” Iolaus interrupted, “Wait, do you know why you're here?"

"Well, sure, so I can meet Prince Alexandros."

Iolaus took Cupcake’s elbow and turned her away from the rest of the room. He lowered his voice, "Did, Autolycus ever mention his hobby? Collecting things that aren't collectible?"

She looked confused, "What are you trying to tell me?"

"He is using you,” Iolaus warned ,”to get him here so he can steal something."

"You're lying. He is not a thief."

"He's the one that's lying," Iolaus insisted. "I know this is gonna be difficult for you, but, look, I have to prove it. The sapphire's probably gone by now. So is he."

Cupcake looked toward the open vault behind the thrones, "There it is." the gem was clearly visible. Astonishment was written all over Iolaus’ face.

Autolycus stepped up behind them, "Beautiful, isn't it?"

She turned to Iolaus, "I told you he wasn't a thief."

"Couldn't get past the security, huh?" Iolaus quipped.

"Iolaus, why would I want to? Come along, Dear. the reception is breaking up. Let's practice our diction." He offered Cupcake his arm.

The hunter followed them down the hall and watched them enter their rooms before he opened his own door, to change for the evening’s festivities.

Iolaus slipped his medalion over his black shirt and gold tunic. So nice of his cousin to let him keep the one outfit for formal occasions. It came in handy from time to time when he had to hobknob with the upper crust. He didn’t have a clue how he was going to keep track of the girl, keep Autolycus from stealing the royal sapphire and keep war from breaking out. Sometimes this hero thing was tough. He heard Autolycus and Cupcake’s voices in the hall and moved to catch them. He matched pace with Autolycus and began again, not willing to give up on getting the girl to see the truth. “Why don't you tell her why you're really here?! And it's not so she can meet the prince."

"Never underestimate great talent, especially mine,” Autolycus informed. “I, personally, have groomed her for this role."

Cupcake jerked her arm out of his, "Ohh! If you're gonna talk about me like I'm not here, I'll make it easier for you! Goodbye!" She strode away.

"Oh, Cupcake, I-" Autolycus called after her.

"That's her name? Cupcake?" Iolaus asked.

"Yes. She's something, isn't she? She's got fire, looks and a great set of scrolls." Autolycus sighed and continued toward the ballroom. "Have yourself a wonderful evening. I know I will."

Iolaus eyed Autolycus’ back with suspicion. The thief, he knew, wouldn’t be distracted bya woman. Could Autolycus be smitter? He wondered. Nah, Iolaus dismissed the idea as ridiculous. He glanced around and saw several couples waiting to be announced but no Cupcake. "Where is she?" he asked as Autolycus stepped to his side.

"Don't you worry about a thing. She'll be here. I've got it all figured out." He glanced around looking for his ‘Princess’.

Iolaus rolled his eyes, "That's what I'm afraid of."

The herald’s voice boomed out, “Princess Hermia of Carpathia."

"That's my cue," Autolycus turned toward the entrance of the hall and caught sight of ‘Princess Hermia’ as she slipped out of her cloak and the light from the room hit her sparkling dress. She appeared lit from within.

A woman’s voice could be heard from nearby, "She's absolutely radiant."

Iolaus agreed, "She is beautiful." Next to him, Autolycus didn’t move, he stood mesmerized by the vision of beauty. Iolaus nudged him, "Hey, What's wrong?"

Autolycus shook himself out of his reverie, "Oh, uh, nothing of any... consequence." They moved into the ballroom behind her as she glided down the stairs and onto the main floor.

Prince Alexandros was there to meet her, "You look enchanting. If you'd come earlier, our two kingdoms wouldn't be preparing for war or looking for help from Ares."

She smiled and her glow increased ten-fold, "An angry Ares often errs, irrevocably eradicating the erstwhile enemy."

"That's very interesting.” He pondered her lyrics a moment, “So, music and geometry are connected!”

"Yes, yes! See, and that's why I think Pythagoras is really onto something with his theory."

Alexandros had been captured by her spell of beauty and brains. "You're so different. Most women just want to flatter me and I hate that."

"Oh, how funny! Most other men find themselves fascinating. And it's rarely justified."

"Speaking of fascinating, tell me more about yourself."

Iolaus pushed through the crowd where he could see the Prince and the object of his fascination.

A woman near the hunter and the thief but too far for them to hear, was talking to her fellow competitor for the Prince’s affections, "Now, I remember! My brother has a poster of the showgirls at the Panathenicon and she looks exactly like one of them. Oh, what was her name? Twinkie. Ding-dong. Ho- ho! Ah, something like that."

"Well, looks like we're home free," Iolaus commented to Autolycus.

"Are you kidding? We were home free when she walked in." They moved forward and joined the couple in question.

Alexandros’s aide had also joined in on the conversation, "My Lord, you share a passion with Princess Hermia."

Alexandros flashed him the knowing smile of a man in love, "Not yet, but I'd like to."

"Euripides, she must know your favorite of his classic roles?"

Autolycus tried to stop the conversation from turning to theater, "Did I hear a rooster crow? The princess must be so tired."

Ignoring him, Alexandros turned to Cupcake, "You must know, 'Wouldst that the gods have made thee clean of soul.”

‘Princess Hermia’ immediately replied, "Helen and thou, oh face and form were fair. But sisters twain they were, a stain on Castor's star.'"

"That's one of my two favorite plays!" exclaimed Alexandros.

"Oh, me too! And I love 'Lysistrata,' and what it has to say about war."

"That's the other one!" Alexandros had to wonder where this woman had been all his life. There were too many people around, he wanted Hermia to himself. "Would you care to dance?"

"I would love to."

Seeing his cue the herald announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, please clear the floor for Prince Alexandros and Princess Hermia."

"A stain on Castor's star?" Iolaus asked Autolycus.

"Wow," Autolycus replied, “who knew she had brains like that?”

"I knew once we scratched that shallow, selfish, egotistical surface of yours, we'd find more of the same underneath.” Iolaus laughed, “No, no, I'm just kidding. Are you really here to help Cupcake?” He revised his previous idea as not so ridiculous. “Good work."

Autolycus nodded but he didn’t seem to be reveling in his success, "Yeah, I'm a regular genius."

Iolaus caught sight of a woman watching intently from the sidelines. Her open stare at the dancing couple sounded a warning in his head, "Uh-oh."

Prince Alexandros whirled the ‘Princess’ around the floor, "You're a terrific dancer."

"Thank you. You know, I sing, too." They paused, waiting for the musicians to begin the next song.

"Oh, really?" Was there anything that this girl couldn’t do? "I'd love to hear you some time."

"Oh? Well, how about now?” The music began anew, a lively number. “Ah! They're playing my song!" Cupcake, hitched up her skirts and leaped onto the platform where the band was playing.

Iolaus turned to Autolycus momentarily forgetting the woman in the crowd, "What's she doing?"

"Oh, she's ruining our plans."

They watched in horror as chorus girl, Cupcake turned Princess launched into a singing, dancing cabaret number.

"A royal crowd has come to town.
The Prince has brought them here.
The girls are in their finest gowns
A smile from ear to ear.

"But, underneath these fancy clothes,
There's always been a girl who knows.
To keep from feeling sad and blue,
And to herself she must be true.

"Let's have a ball tonight!
Come on, y'all! Don't be uptight.
Forget the pomp and circumstance.
Just let it all hang out and dance.

"Don't mean to be indelicate,
But I don't want your etiquette.
If you think I'm just too crass,
Then you can kiss my sassafras!

"Yeah! Let's have a ball, tonight.
Doing wrong can feel so right.
Take my advice, and you'll be free!
Come on, have a ball with me!
Come on, have a ball with me.
Come on, have a ball with me."

Autolycus was enchanted a new, "How about that, huh? Brains and talent, who could ask for anything more?”

The Prince was obviously just as enchanted, applauding louder than everyone. The rest of the evening he didn’t allow anyone, not even his aide to interrupt his getting to known Hermia.

Late that night, Iolaus made one more visual inspection of the crown jewel and then caught up to Autolycus again. He found the thief sitting alone at the bar, obviously feeling sorry for himself. Iolaus took the stool next to him.

"I know 'Euripdes'. Oh, 'Euripides'-- that's my favorite play. Puh-lease!"

The slurring of his words told the hunter that the thief had had more than a ‘few.’ He added this new information to his growing theory about Autolycus’s real purpose for being here. "I don't get it.” Iolaus said, “You had the perfect diversion going on all evening. Why didn't you use it?"

"That, my friend, is the million-dinar question,” Autolycus replied, his words slightly slurring together.

So Iolaus asked, "Yeah? So, why didn't you grab the sapphire?"

"Look, if I stole it, the jig would be up, and you're tryin' to prevent a war, aren't ya?"

"Oh, you're being noble!” Iolaus wasn’t buying it, “Come on, who are you trying to kid?"

Autolycus sighed, "Only myself. Of course, I want that jewel! I should be halfway to Crete by now! How was I supposed to know that my perfect plan would be turned upside down by a... show girl?"

It all fell into place for the worldly hunter, "Ohhhhh, so that's what this is all about! Ha. Well, call me crazy but I think you've fallen in love with your own creation."

"OK, you're crazy."

Iolaus chuckled.

Autolycus continued, "And you are waaaaay off."

"Oh, yeah?" Iolaus challenged.

"OK? Look, if she wants to waste her time with that handsome, wealthy, honest prince. Well, that's just fine."

Iolaus offered some advice, "You know, if you really want her, you're gonna have to come clean about your past."

Autolycus just became more miserable, "Oh, how did I know you were gonna say that? How far back? Fall was slow. Is that far enough?"

"Uh-uh,” Iolaus shook his head, “And you're gonna have to get a legitimate job."

"As what? The king of locksmiths?"

"Hey, now, that's catchy!" Iolaus approved.

"Well, you're trying to force me into this," Autolycus replied.

"Hey, listen,” Iolaus soothed, “this is bigger than you and Cupcake. So, we wait here for Hercules, OK?"

"OK," he agreed and stood swaying.

Iolaus laughed and waved his hand in front of his face to ward off the alcohol aroma, "Whew!"

"Bring him in,” Hercules ordered the guards who entered the audience chamber with the prisoner between them. “Your Majesty, this man claims that you hired him to start a war between Antioch and Carpathia."

"Yes.” He identified the King immediately, “You personally sent me to stir up trouble in Perthia and two other towns."

"And what if the king denies this?" Hercules asked.

"Then the king lies!"

“He's not the king," Hercules said.

"Huh?" The man was confused. He’d done exactly what he’d been paid to do, say that King Jorgas was behind the troubles.

The real King Jorgas stepped forward from behind the throne as the imposter vacated the throne. "Good plan, Hercules. Your punishment is death-- "

Hercules interrupted grabbing the scrruff of his neck again and lifting, "Unless, of course, you tell us who really put you up to this?"

"Uh!" the prisoner cried out as his feel lifted off the floor.

"Sorry, I don't know my own strength."

Vitron brooded on the battlements of the castle while his accomplice reported.

"Sir, there's no sign of Flectus."

"How can the prince die in battle, when there's no war with Carpathia?"

The accomplice agreed, "And he seems genuinely interested in Princess Hermia."

"I know, a marriage means peace. I want her kingdom, too, when I take over Antioch. So, Darsus, we need a reason to retaliate immediately.” He stood up a little straighter, “And I think I've got one, thanks to Princess Hermia."

Autolycus felt out of his element. A thief had no business falling in love. There wasn’t room for a woman in his profession. There were a million reasons why he shouldn’t say anything to Cupcake at all, yet he was rehearsing what he should say. "Cuppy, you know you want me. Ohhh. Cupcake, I'm the guy for you."

A knock sounded at the door, followed by Cupcake’s voice, "Autolycus, it's me."

"Cupcake, uh, come on in."

She floated into the room, still lost in the clouds, "Oh! Thank you for last night! He's wonderful."

Just what he wanted to hear, "Oh, uh, no problem. You know, it's just the two of us. You can use your normal voice."

"I don't think I can, anymore,” she replied. “You have changed me. Thank you for that, too."

"Um hmm,” he acknowledged, “Let's talk about change."

"Oh, I can't. The prince summoned me."

Autolycus continued as if he hadn’t heard her. "I wanna be honest with you."

"Well, sure. And that's what I'm gonna be with Alexandros."

"Cupcake, I'm a thief. As a matter of fact, I am the king of thieves."

Cupcake’s smile left her face as she realized what he said, "Oh. Then Iolaus was right. You lied to me, again."

"No, see, that's my whole point. For the first time, I didn't steal anything."

"The only reason I went through all this was so that I could spend time with you, to see if what we almost had before could-" she began.

"Well, that's perfect, see, 'cause here's what I wanna talk to you about. Um-- "

The aide’s voice sounded outside the door, "Princess Hermia!"

Autolycus began to talk faster, "Uh, yeah, just a second. What I wanna ask you, Cupcake, do you think, that there's a way-- ?"

"The prince is waiting," called the aide.

Cupcake gave Autolycus a look of sympathy, "Coming. We'll talk later."

And she was gone, Autolycus was alone in his room again.

Prince Alexandros cleared his throat, "Princess Hermia, I've become a different person since I met you."

"Me, too. And that's why I have a confession to make. I-- "

Alexandros stopped her with a finger pressed to her lips, "Shh. It'll have to wait. we can’t talk here, follow me."

Autolycus didn’t know how he managed to get himself into these situations. He’d taken a walk down the hall and managed to run into a whole bunch of black clad figures. As a thief he knew that black was the color of choice for anything nefarious. He turned and ran around the corner, straight into Iolaus.

"Uh, Iolaus!" the thief picked himself off the floor.

"Hey! How'd it go? Did you talk to her?"

"There's gonna be a fight!"

Iolaus was confused, "You mean, she took it that badly?"

“No,” Autolycus pointed at the black gang following him, did he really have to spell it out? “There's gonna be a fight!"

"Get them!"

Hugely outnumbered, the thief and the hero fought valiantly but they were soon overwhelmed and the interlopers headed for the stairs toward the Prince’s chambers, leaving Autolycus and Iolaus to pick themselves up and follow.

Meanwhile in the Prince’s chambers, "I've only known you for a short while, but it's enough for me."

"Alexandros, first, you have to know-- "

A pounding on the door interrupted her, "Open up! In the name of Carpathia!"

Alexandros turned angry eyes on Cupcake, "You have betrayed me!"

“No! Please believe me! I-I never! I-I couldn't!"

Alexandros didn’t listen to her, instead he turned to his faithful aide as the doors gave way, “Where are the castle guards?"

"Unfortunately, out on maneuvers, my Lord.” He turned to the black clad figures who had burst through the door and paused as though awaiting further instructions, finally gave away just who the real betrayer was, “Why do you hesitate? Kill him. Kill them both! Now!"

“Vitron!”Alexandros yelled in outrage he pulled Cupcake behind him and grabbed a chair for protection.

Autolycus and Iolaus swung in from the balcony on a long curtain to land between the two parties. “Hey, rich boy!" shouted Autolycus as he tossed a sword to the Prince.

The fight was on, still outnumbered but now armed, the trio fought hard. Cupcake began to throw whatever she could pick up at the enemy. Tiring, the Prince zigged when he should have zagged and cried out in pain as the enemy’s blade knicked him. He was saved from a worse injury by the King of Thieves shoving him and stepping over him.

"Alexandros!" screamed Cupcake. She pulled him back as Hercules and a regiment of Carpathian guards arrived on the scene.

"Hey! Nice to see ya!" Iolaus called over the throng.

"It's good to be seen," Hercules called back as he bashed two heads together and sent them crashing to the floor. Out of the corner of his eye Hercules spied the ringmaster of this coup sneaking off out a side door. "Not so fast, pal! Iolaus! Do you think you can handle the rest of them?!"

Iolaus replied between rapid fire kicks and punches, “Yeah! Yeah, I got it!"

Autolycus called back to the Prince, “How ya doin', your Highness?"

"It's only a graze,” he called back. “Thanks. You saved my life."

"Yeah, well, you know, it's seven years' bad luck to have a dead prince fall on ya."

With the help of King Jorga’s men, they made quick work of the remaining thugs. Hercules returned with his charge to a room full of unconscious or groaning men on the floor. "Oh, good-- you're done fighting."

Alexandros rose from his chair, still clutching his now bandaged arm, "Vitron, you're in some kind of conspiracy with King Jorgas."

King Jorgas himself stepped through the door and surveyed the damage in the chamber, "That's not true."

Hercules explained, "The king came with me to assure you of his friendship."

Iolaus knelt by one of the black figures and pulled off it’s hood. "Anyone you know?"

Alexandros nodded, "Darsus!” He turned to the King, “So it's true! You, you sent your daughter to me in peace."

"Uh..." Cupcake stepped forward.

"That's not my daughter," King Jorgas stated.

"What?” Alexandros asked, “Who are you?"

"Uh-- I'm nobody. I'm sorry. I don't belong here." She burst into tears and ran out of the room.

The men stood in silence and shock, not knowing quite what to do or say next. Autolycus stepped forward. He had to somehow make this right for Cupcake. She deserved that much from him. "Uh, listen, I think I can offer a complete, yet brief explanation. This is all my fault....Well, Cupcake’s part in it anyway."

Alexandros found Cupcake sitting on a bench in the garden. "Cupcake?"

She stared at the ground in front of her, not daring to look up, "I'm so ashamed. What's the penalty for impersonating a princess?"

He sat down beside her, "None. You don't ever have to pretend for me."

She risked a glance at him, "I don't?"

"No. I love you just as you are."

She couldn’t believe her ears, "You do?"

"I do. Will you marry me?"

Autolycus fiddled with the harness on the carriage. It was something, anything so he didn’t have to look at her. "So, when's the date? Soon, I hope. You know, once you get into spring, all the good halls are booked."

"Well, it’s funny. The first thing I wanted to do was to share it with you."

He turned and looked at her, "Well, I appreciate that. I guess it's not the sort of thing you wanna read in the, uh, Antioch Enquirer, huh?” He laughed but the laugh didn’t extend to his eyes. “Congratulations."

"Thank you.” She sighed, “but it's just all happening so fast."

Autolycus had an explanation for that, too. "Well, last night he saw how beautiful you were, how talented, and no you don't have to act it, how intelligent you are."

Cupcake was amazed, "He sees all that?"

"I saw it. I mean, he saw it, too, of course. So, it's not hard to understand why he would want you, bad is my guess.” The thief cleared his throat. “It's a little dry in this castle, uh, you might wanna do something about that when you're queen."

"I've only felt this way once before."

"That's funny,” he replied, “the same here. It just didn't work out."

Again, she flashed him a sympathetic smile, not pity, just sympathy. "Well, as somebody once told me, the person for you is out there."

Autolycus nodded, wanting this conversation to be over just so he could be alone with his pain, "Sure, all the best to you, Cupcake."

"You know? I truly thought that you'd be the one for me." She turned and left the stables.

Autolycus watched her leave, "Yeah, I thought so, too. I love you, Cupcake."

“I gotta tell ya, Hercules,” Autolycus began. “This has been harder than stealing the Chronos Stone out of Quallus' ball."

Hercules clapped the thief on the shoulder, "I know." Iolaus had filled him in on the unrequited love affair.

"Tougher than snatchin' the sandals off of old Hermes' feet."

Iolaus wouldn’t call Autolycus his friend but he understood his pain, "The girl that got away, huh?"

"Two of them, the princess and the show girl." Autolycus sighed.

Hercules was ever the optimist "Yeah, but thanks to you, there'll be a new alliance ensuring peace for their children."

"Thanks to you, I'm going broke. See ya later, fellas."

"Hey, hey, hey, wait,” Iolaus said, “aren't you going to stick around for the official announcement?"

"Oh, no, you haven't seen me cry. Believe me, it's not a pretty sight."

Iolaus caught his arm as the thief turned away, "Hey, you're gonna be OK, aren't you?"

Autolycus was genuinely touched by his concern, It had been a lot of water under the bridge in coming. "Oh... sure... eventually. All I have left right now is one shiny memory." The thief pulled away and was around the corner and gone.

Hercules turned to go in the opposite direction, then stopped and looked thoughtful for a moment, "One shiny, blue memory?" Hercules strode toward the throne room’s vault.

"Hey, Herc, Herc, wait.” Iolaus called running to catch up. “You know things have gone so badly for him. Why not let him keep it for a while?"

Hercules nodded, "Yeah, you're right.” They paused a moment before turning in the direction that Autolycus left in, “OK, that's long enough."

Finis
5-2006



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