Iolaus had heard it said that one could never come home again after finally leaving. He wondered where his home truly was, he’d had so many over the years. Maybe it was simply any road to any adventure, but even those days seemed gone. There were bridges he hoped he hadn’t burned, and now that he had to redefine himself perhaps it was time to follow his trail back “home” and see if he could return.
Alcmene needed rest and Jason was more than capable of taking care of her needs. Iphicles would soon be returning home to Corinth and the lovely Rena. Hercules would be going back to Olympus to try and deal with the mess that the usurper had left and the traitor on Olympus, and that left Iolaus alone.
Iolaus watched as Hercules said his goodbyes, wrapping his mother in a great warm hug and promising to be home again soon. Alcmene nodded. He turned to Iphicles, giving his brother a warrior’s handshake, and then wrapping his arms around him. Finally he approached Jason. Iolaus watched as Hercules grabbed both his stepfather’s arms firmly, their eyes meeting and they nodded.
Iolaus turned away. This was the day he’d worried about since he was a kid, the day Hercules assured him would never happen, the day he would walk alone.
Iolaus heard Hercules striding over to where he was standing apart from the others and gazed at the empty path before him, staring down its winding course. He couldn’t see its end, but he figured he’d know a few stops on the way.
Iolaus felt the familiar heaviness of an arm across his shoulders and weight against his back as Hercules settled behind him and slightly to his side. He waited for his heart brother to speak first, wishing this moment had never come. It was what he’d dreaded since he’d first realized that Hercules was a demigod, that Olympus had a vested interest in him. He hadn’t let it keep him from loving Herc, but deep within in a place he tried to ignore there had always simmered an undercurrent of fear that his best friend would be snatched away from him. And now the day had come. What was there to say? Nothing or everything? He should have been prepared.
In the silence Iolaus could hear the soft song of a sparrow, promising warmth and sunshine, even though he felt unusually cold. The grass and wild flowers leapt and danced as the fingers of a light breeze caressed them both. He could smell Hercules’ scent and leaned back into him as Herc rested his chin on Iolaus’ golden curls.
“I wish this never happened!” Iolaus blurted, and then clamped his lips tight. This wasn’t how wanted to say good bye.
“Me neither,” Hercules answered.
“I know,” Iolaus admitted, relaxing a bit.
“I won’t abandon you.”
“I know that too.” A small sigh and Iolaus leaned his head back, his eyes glancing up at Herc’s. “But you won’t be there either.” Hercules moved away and Iolaus immediately felt his loss. He turned to face his friend, knowing instinctively that Hercules needed his support now.
“You did what you had to do. I would have done the same.”
Hercules nodded tightly. “Maybe it was the wrong decision.”
Iolaus shook his head. “I wish it was, but you’re mistaken there.” He sighed. “Whatever you did saved Alcmene, and that can’t be wrong.”
Hercules nodded mutely, his eyes fixed on Iolaus’.
“We’ll see our way through this.” Iolaus said the words, though in his heart he could only hope they were true.
“So where are you headed?” Hercules scuffled a foot a bit, eyes to the ground wishing he was traveling with Iolaus instead dealing with disruption on Olympus.
“Well I’ve been thinking about my mother, about my own past. After all that’s happened, well,” Iolaus paused, turning his face to Hercules’. “I guess after all these years I owe her a visit. A soft breeze lifted Iolaus hair off his shoulders, carrying the honeyed scent of wild flowers past the men. Tree leaves rustled in the ensuing silence like crones passing gossip.
Hercules nodded. “How long has it been?” he asked, knowing that decades had passed and Iolaus’ mom knew him only as a teen.
“Too long,” Iolaus answered honestly, feeling the knot in his stomach. He reached for Hercules forearm, grasping it firmly. His eyes grew distant. “You know, I was such a trouble maker when I was a kid, so angry at my father, and mother for letting him bully her.” He grew silent. “Then as soon as I thought I was old enough I took off, even though it was really too soon.”
Hercules nodded. Iolaus had confided his regret at this more than once. He squeezed his friend’s shoulder.
The soft breeze moved through the tall grass which brushed the men’s boots making a whispering noise.
“I told you my mom got remarried again a couple of years back. To a poet.” He paused. “I was still too angry to go back. In fact I haven’t seen her for so long…made it a point to avoid her until I just didn’t even think about it anymore.” His voice faded. “Guess I’m her prodigal son.”
“I’m sure she missed you,” Hercules spoke feeling the words acutely. “She’ll understand,” he answered knowing a mother’s unconditional love.
Iolaus nodded. He knew what he needed to do. It would be difficult given the amount of time that had passed.
“I’m sure she’ll understand,” Hercules comforted
Iolaus nodded. There wasn’t much more to say. Their paths had finally diverged.
“Take care of yourself Hercules.”
Hercules swallowed hard. “You too.” He diverted his eyes for a moment, then found his courage and met Iolaus’. “It wasn’t an easy decision.”
Iolaus nodded, then turned spontaneously to give his best friend one final hug.
Hercules stood alone in a place very special to him. He hadn’t wanted a drawn out good bye and hadn’t wanted a quick return to Olympus. He would have eternity there. For now, he had thought himself back to the secret place he and Iolaus had hidden out as children when they needed escape. Dreams were born and plans were made here. Now more than ever he desired the spark of childhood magic that had been lost as adolescence wrapped itself around him, bringing the hormone charged reality of girls, fighting, romance and wars; of new uncertainties and awkwardness he never even considered in earlier years
Hercules moved under shelter of the drooping branches that curved earthbound from an ancient tree, forming a natural cover. Beneath it, the soil was damp and thick, scented sweetly of decaying leaves. The light was filtered and dim, comforting. He plopped down and sank into the downy bed of rich dark soil as he had done so many years ago. Some places never changed. He let his head fall back against the rough bark of the ancient tree and sighed, feeling hidden again and thinking about how time had changed so many things, knowing that this was simply the beginning of his losses. They would go on for all eternity now.
“You’re still having doubts, aren’t you?”
Hercules closed his eyes wishing he knew how to tune into his godly powers easier so these interruptions wouldn’t happen.
“Father, of course I am.”
“That’s because you have a mortal heart,” his father rebuked him. He leaned forward and his flowing white robe brushed against Hercules’ arm, pulling him back to reality.
“It’s never easy to let go of the life you’ve built and the people you care about,” Hercules spoke quietly, feeling the violation of this secret place that he’d always consider to be his and Iolaus’. But then in his naivety he’d never thought that Zeus had always been watching him.
Zeus knew what he was thinking, feeling, and softened his voice. “Well you have a new life to build now son. This is your destiny, Hercules. Come join me on Olympus.”
He would rather stay here and fall back into a period that was more comfortable. But time marched forward and he had made a decision, given his word.
Hercules nodded, closing his eyes, and felt the loam fall away and the rough bark leave his scalp as his father reached for his shoulder. The scent of the forest was gone and when he opened his eyes he was following a sparkling pathway under graceful marble arches that extended into the darkest part of the heavens, lit by the twinkling of the faraway stars and planets. The path seemed to speed by them faster even than they could walk it. Yet Hercules felt as if he was standing still. He tried to appear nonchalant but had to stifle a gasp as the path ended and he found himself in a sparkling room of marble and windows and scrying glasses.
“Welcome to Olympus, son!”
Hercules took in his surroundings with a skeptical awe. The air was so fresh and pure it almost seemed sterile, scentless, no pine or flowers or sweet earth. The light was perfect, no glare like the mid day sun, no shadow rising and setting or marking the passing of the clouds. He was in a huge room with windows into all different scenes and times, from ages past to strange things he didn’t even recognize. The windows shimmered and changed and the light was constant and steady, never glaring so each window was perfectly illuminated. There was nothing to detract and each and every scene seemed mesmerizing to Hercules.
“It’s, uh, been a while. I like what you’ve done with the place,” Hercules commented without even looking at his father. He felt incredibly uncomfortable, watching the lives of others; their private moments play out so many times in front of him.
“It’s not much,” Zeus tried unsuccessfully to be humble, “but its home.” He stepped up beside his son, wanting desperately to seem strong to the one who was actually stronger, desiring Hercules’ respect. “All of history is recorded here…the past….the present and future, woven into a tapestry of time.” He turned to one particular window. “Look!”
Hercules stared transfixed as a young Iolaus grinned back at him.
“Later,” the voice spoke in an echo, a half grin splitting Iolaus’ face.
“That was so long ago,” Hercules murmured. “Not long before the last time he ran away.” Hercules’ eyes found a distant focus. Iolaus had been so unhappy in his childhood. He remembered this day, the day his heart sang after months of not seeing Iolaus, finally being reunited. He saw beyond the happy grin, into the pain that Iolaus hid, and knew that this was simply temporary, that Iolaus had fled just the next day after Skorous’ sudden return to home.
Iolaus had stayed in the woods, living under the arching tree that Zeus had pulled Hercules away from, eating what he could hunt and fish, rather than go back to his parents. Hercules had tried to get him to stay with Alcmene, but Iolaus wouldn’t do it. He didn’t want Alcmene to have to defend her action to his parents.
Hercules’ thoughts were interrupted by his father.
“You’re a god now. You can look back on any part of your life.” He spoke matter of factly as he stared across at his son, suddenly seeing his pain. “What’s the matter?”
“I’d rather keep the past inside,” Hercules answered thinking that this was a private moment, now on display for all of Olympus, and wondering if he was suddenly appearing on some screen in some God’s private viewing area, all his pain evident.
“Well then, try this, the present,” Zeus suggested.
Hercules stared into the closest window. Deianeira and the children moved peacefully through Elysium.
Zeus smiled, thinking that this sight would appease his son, but Hercules saw far more. She and the children existed for all eternity without him. He had stepped beyond her and there was no turning back. He saw his children glancing down the path that led away, looking for his arrival, as they must have done so many times before and now would for eternity.
“Close the window!” Hercules commanded his voice tight.
Zeus complied quickly, opening another to calm his son. This one showed his mother, smiling happily, Jason’s arms around her and both smiling. Alcmene was still wan but vital and Hercules took heart that she seemed happy.
“Now that,” he nodded to his father, “is definitely a benefit.” He saw the joy in Jason’s eyes, the peace and pleasure in his mother’s.
“Yes,” Zeus nodded regally. “She is an extraordinary woman.”
Hera watched, incensed. Hercules, a god! And Zeus, still lusting after a mortal, that abominable Alcmene, who had been responsible for too many ruined years. She should have been dead! The best plan, the foreign god’s, had already been foiled, and in Hera’s eyes that was a disgrace. But she was far from impotent when it came to mortals. The options were many and she had immense powers. Zeus had shown his weakness when he’d made Hercules a god, a protector for a has-been king. Hera knew what she must do. She had been disrespected for far too long. The time for action had come. She didn’t need any foreign deity to exact justice. She was the all powerful Queen of Gods.
The usurper had been so sure that his plan would work, that Alcmene would die, that Zeus would be devastated and Hercules would be left without an anchor. Olympus would look to Hera for guidance, and she would give it to them, with his counsel. But it hadn’t happened. This being didn’t know the heart of that abominable demigod Zeus had created! But she did. She’d been watching him for years. She could handle him and Zeus as well. She had more than enough power to handle them both!
Hera laughed. Men were men, God or otherwise. She had SO much to use against Zeus.
“That’s what you do all day? Watch people?” Hercules didn’t try to hide his scorn. His mother would not have approved of Zeus’ spying.
“Knowledge is power Hercules,” Zeus nodded toward a screen, smaller than the others and set low in the display.
Hercules cast his eyes upon it, raising an eyebrow, Skouros in a commanding moment.
“You see Iolaus’ father far differently than I do. You see him as a part of Iolaus’ life, or rather a missing part. But I see him as a cog in the life of mortals. Without Skouros, all of Greece may have been ruled by foreign armies. Your life and those of all mortals would have been drastically different, and for the worse. That he had no patience or consideration for his son is sad, but of less consequence than if he’d decided to be a barely mediocre father rather than a superb general.”
Hercules snorted. Out of the corner of an eye he watched as Skouros rallied his men, battling along at their side, sustaining a wound that might have felled another man and continued on. He couldn’t help but see where Iolaus had gotten his courage and strength, the convictions that drove him beyond mortal capabilities. He’d hated Skouros for the torment he’d caused Iolaus. He’d resented that Skouros chose war over family. But he’d never considered that Skouros was simply doing what he was best at, leading a bunch of violent men who chose war. Perhaps his absence had been a blessing.
“Skouros was a warrior. He chose battle over family. That may be his power,” Hercules admitted. “But I see strength as being able balance family and commitments.” He stared at the screen watching Skouros buckle, falling to his knees as he took a sword to his chest. Then he stood and struck back.
“Yes,” Zeus responded. “You would. But it’s all about the greater good, not just Iolaus. That is your short coming son.”
Hercules snorted, “If valuing friendship is a shortcoming, then yes, I’m guilty.”
“Oh no,” Zeus shook his head. “Friendship is indeed most valuable, in fact it strengthens us. But the good of the one or the few shouldn’t be put before the good of the many, do you agree?”
Hercules turned his face away. He’d wrestled with this idea himself and had never been able to put Iolaus’ experience aside. In other situations he knew the greater good generally prevailed, but not every time, or could his father be right? Were things so cut and dried that the truth was no more than one man’s perception of a situation? Were love and friendship of no more value in life’s judgments than one simple breath in a whole string of them? Hercules couldn’t buy that.
“Not always,” Hercules responded, with a touch of uncertainty.
“But you don’t rule out that the argument is valid.”
Hercules looked up at the ceiling that reflected the sky. The sun shined, clouds raced by. The light in the room stayed perfect.
“No,” he finally answered.
Zeus nodded and closed the window. “You need to remember this Hercules. It can be very important.”
“I’ve never forgotten it.” He turned away, striding out of the room.
“Where are you going?” Zeus asked in surprise.
“People need my help.” Hercules answered simply.
“But you just got here!” Zeus was puzzled and worried. Surely he’d impressed Hercules, peaked his curiosity. He needed his son. How could he walk away?
Zeus drew his lips tight. He wanted Hercules on his side. Alcmene might be alive, but he knew that this only made the following events more critical. There was much at stake; Alcmene’s death was simply the first step of a cascade that ended in the beginning of a new order. Whether saving her had changed anything he couldn’t be certain, but any opportunity to foil the usurper’s plan had to matter. And a traitor remained on Olympus.
He could see that Hercules was more than puzzled, his voice was tight with tension and had an undercurrent of what anyone else would have thought was fear. Zeus knew differently. His son was actually considering a different viewpoint.
“Look, no offense, but I took up your offer knowing I’d use my powers to make the world a better place. My job is to help mankind, whether as a god or a mortal, that’s where my heart lies. In the absence of a plan to fight this new entity, I’m on my way.” Hercules saw the disappointment etched deeply around his father’s frown.
Zeus knew that there was more involved in this. The traitor had to be found.
“I can’t change who I am.” Hercules added as he shrugged, raising his hands placatingly.
Zeus nodded, composing himself. “Believe me Hercules, I don’t want to change who you are. I’m just proud to have you as my son.” He swallowed hard, knowing if his son chose to cavort among mortals that his own days as ruler of Olympus would end soon. He could only hope that Hercules would be here with him when the time was right.
“We’ll finish the tour when I get back,” Hercules conceded. He turned, moving quickly away, more uncomfortable with Olympus than even his own godhood.
Zeus nodded lips tight.
The trip to his mother and Pandion’s home seemed to pass too quickly. Iolaus couldn’t help but stop as he passed and stare at the abandoned house where he had spent his childhood. The door lintels had fallen downward, ending up in a pile of splintered and rotted timber. The windows were simply holes in the façade of the small crumbled building whose shape resembled nothing more than a frown.
This wasn’t the home he had seen as a comfort in childhood and a prison as he’d matured. It was simply a decrepit building, overgrown with vines and fallen into disrepair. Never the less, he felt compelled to enter.
Iolaus pushed aside the overgrowth that swallowed the path to the door. The yard was simply brambles and the trees had stretched towards the sun, putting out branches that raised a canopy of darkness. He ducked as he turned sideways and entered the dwelling on feet placed softly and carefully upon the detritus of what had once been home.
The floor had long rotted away and beneath his feet soft loam feathered with mugwort and fed by rotted floor boarding gave way beneath each step as mole trails caused small collapses and missteps.
The air was thick with mold and mildew and each step raised clouds of dirt, thick and pungent, that surrounded Iolaus like a heavy fog as he moved cautiously forward.
Iolaus hadn’t remembered his home as being this small, only three rooms. He stood in what was once a kitchen-dining-family area, turning slowly. The hearth was occupied by three snarling rats that poked their faces out of the fallen stones, warning Iolaus away. He could pace the width in only a few steps. The roof had long since collapsed and become part of the floor and when he glanced upward, he could see birds hopping on the tree branches above, and a nest on the sole rafter that remained.
He moved to the room he used to call his. It was empty and he felt his heart sink. How could something so small and shabby have seemed so large and important? This was hardly big enough to turn around in, let alone stretch out and sleep. The musty air stunk and a lone piece of roof sagged in over where Iolaus used to sleep. He felt as if he was crouched in a rotting coffin. Perhaps there was truth to the old adage you can’t go home again.
But this hadn’t really been a home, at least not since he’d been old enough to realize that his family was different, poor, that he was different and that this difference made him unacceptable to a majority of people. Coming into the house had been a bad idea, bringing up bad memories and setting his mood in a negative manner when he needed to come home repentant and thankful. Iolaus took a deep breath, ducked his head and moved out of the house without bothering to check the final room, his parents’ bedroom. There would be nothing in there for him. Besides, he still had a walk in front of him if he wanted to get to Pandion’s house in daylight and surprise his mother. He didn’t look back as he strode down the familiar path to the next town.
Iolaus hesitated at the door. The town smith had told him that this was Pandion’s place, but still he held his knuckles in front of the door, not yet knocking, letting the tight spot in his belly rule him as it didn’t usually in battle. In most of life he was sure of himself, but this was different. Iolaus was feeling uncertain. Would his sudden reappearance hurt his mother or heal the old wounds he had caused?
Iolaus let his knuckles fall upon the door. Once, twice, and then he waited.
The door opened and a thin solemn man peered through, keeping one hand ready to slam it shut. Iolaus stuck his foot in the door. “Excuse me, does Erythia live here?” he enquired. From inside, he heard a gasp.
“Iolaus?” a voice called out, hope rising as the sounds of footsteps hurried forward.
“Who wants to know? The thin faced man inquired as he held the door tightly; only open enough for his face to show.
Erythia pushed past the thin faced man without caution, breathless, opening the door wide. Could this be her son? Could this be the moment she had waited so long for, the moment she dreamed of so many times before? The voice was deeper than she had thought it would be, but still, she’d have known it anywhere. She had thought about this moment day and night. She had dreamed about it, imagined it, and wondered if it would ever come to pass.
“Iolaus?” She tried to keep her voice level. Could it really be true? Had the gods actually heard her prayers after all these years? Her heart pounded in her chest, her breath caught as her pulse raced. She pushed past Pandion, out the door, one hand over her heart, the other fluttering to her mouth.
“Hello mother,” Iolaus answered with a joyous laugh. He moved forward, pushing past Pandion, through the door, and wrapped his arms around his mother. He closed his eyes as he hugged her, remembering her scent, her feel, and reveled in them now. He felt the soft touch of her shoulder against his chin.
“This is such a surprise!” Erythia squeezed her son tightly, thinking his voice still had the same inflections as before he left. And his hair was still as golden and curly, his body so sturdy and strong! She leaned back finally, still gripping him tightly, drinking him in, his grown up physique so filled out and strong. He looked like a fine man!
“So, you’re Iolaus,” Pandion spoke tightly, his hand firmly on Erythia’s shoulder.
“And you must be Pandion.” He broke away from his mother and reached for her husband’s hand. “I’m glad we could meet each other finally.” Iolaus stared directly into the disapproving eyes, hesitating, seeing Pandion’s hostility. There was no hand extended to his in greeting. Iolaus stepped back, staring pointedly at Pandion’s hand, still grasping his mother’s shoulder tightly.
Of course they were offended. Where should he begin with apologies that would be necessary?
“I’m sorry I wasn’t at your wedding,” he stammered. “Hercules and I were at Mycenae, dealing with a big fire breathing, um”--- Iolaus stopped suddenly, feeling as though he’d let his mother down, in many ways and Pandion’s glare and defensive posture only affirmed his feelings.
“Don’t worry, we didn’t expect you there.” Pandion blew out sharply through his nostrils, lips tight, and eyes boring into Iolaus. Erythia saw the discomfort on her errant son’s face. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. In all her dreams and imaginings they reunited as a happy family. She rushed to make things right.
“What Pandion means is…we knew you were busy. I’ve heard the stories.”
Iolaus looked down at his mother. She’d known he was alive and hadn’t tried to find him or even contact him, and worse he had done the same to her. He was no better than his father had been, and his mother accepted it of him!
“Yeah, well,” he scuffed his foot on the dirt pathway and looked down instead of at Pandion’s anger and his mother’s disappointment. “I’m sorry it’s been such a long time.”
Erythia slipped an arm around his waist. How good it felt to be touching him! She wanted to squeeze him, draw him close, pour every ounce love that he’d missed all these years right back into him. Instead she kept herself controlled, afraid that this would only give Pandion more reason to resent Iolaus.
“Come inside. I was just preparing lunch.” She steered him around Pandion, into the bright clean home of her new life.
Even though Hercules wanted desperately to seek out Iolaus and just talk, he knew Iolaus needed time alone with his mother, and Gods knew he, himself, needed time away from Zeus. He wasn’t ready to live on Olympus, to be worshipped, having temples in his name, offerings. Right now he just had to figure out the big picture and deal with it. What did this new entity want with Greece? Would it stay gone or did it have plans for a return? And the biggest question was why did Zeus REALLY want him to be a god, now especially? There were just too many questions for this to be as clear cut as Zeus wanted him to believe.
Iolaus would have been able to help him see clearly. His friend had always been more street wise, able to intuitively see the big picture and how it affected him. Hercules admitted to himself that he felt lost and lonely and less than capable of reading a mortal without Iolaus.
In the distance he heard a child’s scream, a woman’s voice calling frantically to her husband. Water was splashing and the scene sounded frantic. Hercules closed his eyes, daring his godly powers to kick in. And they did.
He saw the scene clearly. The man was drowning. He lifted his arm concentrating on the scene in his mind, lifting the man mentally out of the water, guiding him to land. He could hear the cries of happiness, the woman’s joyous weeping and the child’s screams of delight, even when he opened his eyes. This was simply too easy. He sighed.
Before he would have rushed into the pond and carried the man out, been wet and dripping and satisfied that he’d been in the right place at the right time. Now there wasn’t any right place or right time. In fact there was no time and place was only a matter of thought.
Hercules didn’t think he was going to like this god thing at all.
Erythia ladled some thick vegetable stew into a pottery bowl. Steam rose in wisps, following the air passing from the windows through the room.
“Thank you,” Iolaus smiled at his mother. “I’d forgotten how good your cooking is.”
Erythia put the bowl in front of him beaming, and then took the seat to his right. “Tell us about your travels, about Hercules.”
“I thought you would have heard enough about Hercules, with all the stories that go around.”
“Hercules yes, but not you,” Pandion spoke with quiet conviction while Erythia shot him a cautioning glare.
Iolaus met Pandion’s eyes and saw the coldness there. He respected Pandion’s anger and protectiveness, but he didn’t like the judgment that lay behind the anger.
“Perhaps Pandion would rather not hear,” Iolaus murmured. “And anyway, I’ve done most of the talking. Why don’t you tell me more about you two?”
“You’d like to know, would you? Well, where should I start? I mean you’ve missed SO much!” Pandion spoke sarcastically and shrugged, watching Iolaus for a reaction.
“Pandion!” Erythia spoke in quiet indignation, reaching for her husband’s hand to maintain a connection that would diffuse his anger.
Pandion turned towards her. “It’s true, isn’t it? Your son drops out of the blue after who knows how long and expects you to welcome him home with open arms.”
“Don’t do this!” Erythia begged, her eyes moving from her husband to her son.
“I don’t expect anything out of either of you,” Iolaus responded as he stood. “I haven’t been here like I should have; I know that and I regret it more than you can ever really know. But I just wanted to”…
“You don’t even know why you came, do you?” Pandion taunted. “I think you’re feeling lost without your friend and need a shoulder to cry on! I mean everyone knows that Hercules is a GOD now, and you’re alone.”
“Pandion, I don’t mind being that shoulder, I WANT to be that shoulder,” Erythia spoke, but her soft voice was lost as Iolaus leaned over the table, putting his face close to Pandion’s. He’d had just about enough of this stranger’s contempt.
“Listen pal, you don’t know squat about me.”
“And whose fault is that?” Pandion shot back, standing and pressing his face close to Iolaus’. “It was YOU who ran away and never bothered to contact your mother again. You were alive, prancing around Greece with Hercules making a name for yourself and breaking your mother’s heart!”
“This is NOT your problem. It’s between us!” Erythia raised her voice shrilly and whirled on her husband.
Pandion reached for her shoulder, gently placing a hand on it, but continuing to glare at Iolaus. “It became my problem every night that I saw you cry yourself to sleep because you knew that he’d abandoned you. The nightmares, depression, it’s because of him.”
“Is that true?” Iolaus asked gently, trying to keep the horror off his face. He had been more monstrous than his father even.
“Sweetheart, you have to tell him how you feel if you want to work this out.” He gripped his wife’s shoulders protectively. Then he wheeled on Iolaus.
Hercules stood in the center of a wide path, right where the cross road could take him to almost anywhere. He liked walking, and while in Greece, he’d do his best to try and act as he always had. He felt in his bones (or maybe with his godly senses) that something disastrous was going to happen soon.
His thoughts were interrupted by a familiar disembodied voice.
“They look so insignificant don’t they?” Hera laughed sardonically as she materialized at Hercules’ side, all black silk and peacock feathers, with that stupid tiara, as if it proved something.
He stared disdainfully at her, taking a step away from his hated step mother. “The only one who looks insignificant to me, Hera, is you.”
Hera waved a hand dismissively at her step son. “I didn’t come here to fight with you Hercules.” No in fact, she thought, she was simply implementing plan two. “I came to make you an offer. You might even call it an offer of peace.” Her hand fluttered like a bird in flight.
“Peace!” Hercules snorted with a shake of his head. His stepmother held no power over him. He was a full god. “Like you would know anything about that!”
Hera didn’t even look at him. “Despite our differences, we’ve always had our contempt for Zeus in common,” she led Hercules. He was a neophyte god, unable to fully exercise his powers. This was her window of opportunity.
“You and I have nothing in common,” Hercules retorted.
Posturing, so predictable! But she still had the upper hand. “Believe it or not I once loved your father, and your father loved me - - - until someone else caught his eye. And as strong as I thought our bond was, I couldn’t compete with his fascination for mankind.”
“Oh please Hera,” Hercules spat. “You have never loved anyone but yourself. You couldn’t stand to lose your power over Zeus, so you made sure mankind felt your pain. Your vengeance against mortals is so misplaced!”
“You think?” She cooed knowingly, but Hercules heard the edge in her voice. “It was the only way to make Zeus see what he had done to me.” She shrugged, “the world was incidental.”
“Only to you,” Hercules replied icily.
“You’re a god now,” Hera spoke with quiet strength. “I don’t want to fight with you for all eternity. Such a waste of time, its Zeus I despise!”
“Hera,” Hercules spoke tightly. “Why exactly are you here? I know that something unusual is happening. That’s obvious from my mother’s thread. I should be unimportant right now. Your concern should be the outside threat to Olympus.”
Hera smiled knowingly. “Hercules, do you really believe that Zeus brought you to Olympus to know you better, or even to help mortals?” She laughed. “Come on Hercules. When has he actually cared about you more than himself?”
Hercules hated Hera, but there was a painful truth in her words. The same thoughts had been running through his mind. He didn’t trust Hera, but he didn’t trust Zeus either. In many ways they were two of a kind. He’d felt as if he’d been used from the start, but he’d had no choice. There had been only one option open to him at the time.
He stared across at Hera, hating her, wondering. The answers wouldn’t come from her.
“ZEUS!” he screamed, his only thoughts on his father as he slipped away in stream of silken silver with the power and beauty of a raging river.
Hercules took a misstep as he materialized in Zeus’ viewing room, screens flickering and voices speaking in a disorienting kaleidoscope of sight and sound.
Zeus turned from the screens, arms folded across his chest, eyes assessing his son, calculating his response. Hercules had to be handled carefully. The instability on Olympus presented an enormous problem. Someone inside had helped. Someone didn’t believe in Zeus or wanted his power (and that could be anyone), though Zeus had a good idea who was the most likely candidate. “I know why you’re here.” The King of the Gods spoke without waiting for Hercules to lambaste him. There was only one god who got Hercules this riled. His worst suspicions were confirmed. “Hera got to you, didn’t she?”
“Tell me she’s wrong. Tell me you haven’t kept something from me,” Hercules demanded.
Zeus raised his hands in supplication. “It isn’t as simple as that. Tell me you haven’t kept something from me.” He maintained eye contact with his son, hoping that his ploy to shift blame would suffice. “Hera would stop at nothing to get me out of Olympus.” There was truth to Zeus’ words though they were meant to manipulate. He wasn’t yet sure that the traitor was Hera, but his godly instincts told him only the second most powerful would move for results before the usurper returned as reinforcement.
“Is that why you brought me here?” Hercules demanded.
Zeus wanted to answer honestly, but he knew what Hercules wanted to hear. It wasn’t that simple any more. He chose his words carefully.
“You don’t understand what’s at stake,” he finally answered, choosing honesty.
“Just tell me what the truth is for once,” Hercules pleaded. “Did you lie to me so that I would protect you against the other god? Answer me.”
Zeus could see that Hercules wanted the truth. But he also knew that the interloper god was tremendously powerful and knew exactly how to see into others in a way far deeper than any of the Olympians did, right into the darkest part of a being’s core. And he used whatever he could find there, evil or goodness, fear or joy. He didn’t want Hercules to be used. He wanted him protected. And in that instant he was completely sure that Hera was the traitor. He had given her more than enough reason to hate him. Zeus saw that his time was short. The usurper had forged an unholy alliance with Hera for the express purpose of destabilizing the Greek Deities, and he was partially responsible for that. The lives of all, mortals and gods as well, were at stake. The only one who could help was Hercules.
Hercules would have been overlooked, a demigod who lived and identified with mortals. Even if the usurper had considered him, it wasn’t as a god. He would have seen others as having powers far beyond Hercules’. This new entity knew little about mortals. The playing field had been closer to leveled. Hercules was now a full god. And Zeus didn’t want him to return to protecting mortals.
He needed him here on Olympus.
Zeus knew that the honest answer was the only one which would appease his son.
“Yes Hercules, I did,”
“I trusted you,” Hercules retorted. “But everything you’ve said has been a lie.”
“That’s not true,” Zeus answered. “I meant it when I said I was proud to have you as my son.”
“Well I can’t say I’m proud to be your son,” Hercules answered. “Why didn’t you just ask for my help?”
“I knew how you felt about me. I didn’t want to take the chance that you’d refuse me.”
Hercules rubbed a hand across his face wearily. “Well, now you’ll never know.” He sighed and turned away, taking a step back to the pillared hallway.
“Now don’t you walk away from me!” Zeus tried to keep the panic from rising into his voice. “You’ve had my protection since you were a boy. You owe me the same!”
Hercules spun around. “I owe you?” He spoke incredulously. “You have permitted the greatest sorrows in my life!” he snorted. “Where was your protection then? I owe you nothing,” he answered contemptuously.
“Did you forget about Iolaus and the Amazons? Did I fail you then?” Zeus stared unwaveringly into Hercules’ eyes. “Is that act alone not worth helping me?” Zeus challenged.
“What about Deianeira and the children, Iolaus’s death at the hands of the Enforcer? You think one act of kindness in a world of sorrow is a debt to be repaid with the ultimate sacrifice, myself?”
“And you think saving Iolaus isn’t?” Zeus retorted.
“I think it’s too little too late. Who are you to judge the value of mortal lives? Are Deianeira and my children who loved you nothing more than pawns in a chess match? Yes, Iolaus is important to me in so many ways I can’t even begin to name them, but Deianeira and the children held my soul. Did you even consider what they meant, or were you watching on your scrying screens? And might I remind you, that I worked a deal with Hades for Iolaus without your help that second time.”
“I never thought I’d see the time when you’d take my enemy’s side,” Zeus responded, failing to see Hercules’ true pain. “I’m not on anyone’s side,” Hercules answered, saddened with the realization that his father truly didn’t understand. “As far as I’m concerned, you’ll have to deal with whoever is threatening you on your own.”
“And your mother?” Zeus spoke sharply.
“We set her right. That’s what I came to Olympus to do, what you told me I HAD to do. As for your own issues, well father deal with them.” Hercules turned on his heel.
“If you leave now, don’t come back!” Zeus responded, shouting in anger and frustration.
“Take care of yourself dad, that’s what you’re best at,” Hercules waved as he walked away.
“Remember what Iolaus is worth to you, and what I did for him,” Zeus called out. “Remember the one who is most important to you and what could happen if I’m no longer king of the gods!”
Zeus watched as Hercules waved good-bye over his shoulder and could only hope that is last words got through.
Hera watched the exchange with a smirk. Zeus was an abysmal father and if he had even the slightest understanding of his son, this would have been predictable, thus prevented. The new power had seen Zeus’ weakness and had laid out a clear plan though it had failed, but she, who knew Zeus better than any other, would use the failed plan to its best advantage. She knew Zeus, and she knew Hercules. Surely there was more than enough ammunition there to obliterate the three and leave Greece to her own power. Zeus would most certainly pay. The disrespect had gone on far too long. It was time to take matters into her hands. She would be more than Queen of the Gods; she would be King as well.
Erythia struggled to draw the heavy bucket out of the well, her slender frame hunched over the opening as Iolaus watched helplessly. He’d tried to take this burden from her back at the house, but she had refused. She wouldn’t even let him take the buckets from her on the walk to the spring. Wasn’t there any way for him to repent? Iolaus felt useless. He was strong and vital while his mother was aging and the buckets were heavy. There was no reason for her to refuse his help. Yet still she did. Iolaus felt rejected.
“Here, let me help,” he offered once again, reaching for the overflowing bucket but knowing she would refuse.
“I can manage,” his mother responded curtly, not looking at him.
Iolaus recoiled at the rebuke. Of course she had been managing for years, but he was here now and more than willing to help, yet still she refused.
“Mother,” he pleaded. “I know I’ve hurt you. “I was stupid. I put my own feelings first, but I was a kid. And as I grew I didn’t stop thinking about you, I just didn’t understand. I just let my travels rule my life.” He paused. “And I hurt too, for all these years, but I can see my mistake now.”
Erythia drew a second bucket of water, hunching over the well and struggling with the weight.
“I always wanted you to go out in the world, make a life for yourself Iolaus. I’m glad you did.” She hesitated. “I just thought you’d be more a part of my life.” She turned hefting the buckets up and trying not to groan. “I heard from others that you were married, had children, and lost your family. I would have liked to have met them, been a part of their lives, their grandmother.” Iolaus could see the pain etched across his mother’s face, deepening the lines across her forehead and around her mouth. This was not what he wanted. He had come home to heal the rift, not widen it.
“I’m so sorry mother,” he spoke feeling it was inadequate. There was really nothing else to say. He should have let his mother into his life, but he had still held so much anger at his father and if truth be told, his mother as well.
It had taken his death at the hands of the fire enforcer to really come to grips with what his life had been and what it was becoming. Only by squaring things with his father had he understood the twists his life had taken. So much had happened since he’d left home… He reached over, took a bucket out of her hand.
“When your father left me and never bothered to return, I was so hurt. I heard of his life traveling, of his battles, but even when things were calm he never came home. I had to wonder why he chose this life of war and travel over his family.” Erythia spoke without looking at her son. Her voice was soft and sad.
“It was his loss,” Iolaus answered too quickly.
“That’s what I told myself, until you left. And then I had to wonder if I’d done something to drive you both away.” Erythia kept walking, never looking at her son, afraid that the answer she would hear would be worse than what she had imagined over all these years.
“No, no. You did everything right!” Iolaus responded putting the bucket down and grabbing his mother by the shoulders. “You did everything right, it’s me and Skouros.”
His heart was breaking. He never meant to cause his mother pain. When he left he thought he was sparing her, and through the years he’d deceived himself into believing that. He paused, hoping that by revealing what he knew, his mother would be relieved. “I saw him. He was in Hades’ realm, reliving all his mistakes. He still loved you and finally saw his shortcomings. He made it to Elysium finally, mother.”
Erythia never looked up. She trudged forward, holding the water bucket. Iolaus reached for her shoulder and stopped her, turning her to face him before continuing.
“You know, the problem was as much me as him. I made a lot of mistakes, got into more than my share of trouble.” Iolaus sighed. “Actually I was ashamed. I’d put you through so much. It was easier to run and forget than to admit that I was wrong,” “I know,” Erythia answered with a sigh. “You were still too young when you ran away to be responsible for your actions, for how they impacted me. You didn’t know I needed you with me more than you needed to be independent.”
“I’m sorry.” Iolaus started and his mother put her hand on his arm. “I guess I sort of wanted to be the kind of man you could be proud of.”
Erythia smiled and patted him on the arm. “But you weren’t a man, in spite of what you thought.” She knew his shortcomings and could offer explanation. “I love you son,” Erythia said with conviction. Her voice took a solemn turn. “But the truth is, I don’t know you enough to be proud of you.”
Hera paced in her Olympic chamber. She could count on Ares; he was always ready for a good fight and had some strong alliances to other gods. He would be swayed by power, simply that, and if it was she who held sway then Ares would be her man. But he wasn’t at her control yet. Apollo was, however. Apollo would do just about anything if she could make it a game. She could use him. It was time to start exerting even more influence. Zeus needed persuasion if he was to see things her way.
Apollo saw Hercules wave dismissively and turn away from Zeus. Well, giving the old man the cold shoulder took a real set of them, he thought to himself. Hercules was no longer the pansy looking for approval. But he did have his weak spots and Apollo knew every one of them.
In a blink of an eye Apollo had his air surfer blocking the path Hercules walked. Yes of course he would seek out Iolaus, he needed advise, direction.
“Oh Hercules,” he taunted. “Always so predictable, even as FULL god!” He laughed. “You think you can help mortals!” He shook his head derisively. “They’re going to die anyway, Hercules. All this work for naught!”
“For once Apollo I welcome the chance to fight with you. I’m certainly in the mood for it.” Hercules was gritting his teeth. His eyes were steely and stayed on Apollo’s.
“Are you looking for some mortals that need your help? Well, maybe I can make that happen.”
“Apollo,” Hercules chided. “There must be something better you could do with a nice day like this. Maybe chase a few women, go air surfing over the Alps.”
“Yes, perhaps I’ll do that when I’m finished,” Apollo laughed. “But for now, keep those new godly senses working!” He stared directly into Hercules’ eyes, holding the gaze knowingly.
With a kick, Apollo started his air board rising and then, dipping his shoulder turned the board in a huge swoop. “I’ll be seeing you soon, Hercules!” he called out as sped off to the west and into the setting sun.
The teacher sighed as he faced his classroom of bored students. Most of them daydreamed about hunting, fishing, spending quality time with the opposite sex. They stared out the windows, even as the teacher enjoyed the scent of the warm day, the flowers in bloom, and the feel of the soft breeze. The air hummed with birds in flight, insects trilling and the soft rustle of roof thatching as it caught the surge of air like lute strings.
Of course any lesson would be boring to children desiring the outside world. And even those that liked to learn would be seduced by the scent of summer vacation in the air, but the lesson had to go on.
Teacher sighed, counting the days himself until summer break. “So class, that’s what is meant by the old adage ’what goes up, must come down.’ He looked across the room at apathetic faces.
“Yes, Aristotle,” he nodded to the only student with a hand raised.
“What about him?” the child questioned as he stared gape mouthed through the window at Apollo who hovered on his air board, waving through the window to the students. Aristotle waved warily back.
The children jumped out of their seats crowding around the window and leaned over the edge as they stared at the strange golden man flying on a board that was suspended in the air.
“Wow!” they exclaimed in unison, a few of the skeptics called out “Hey!”
“Hi kiddies,” Apollo called out with a wave in return.
“He’s floating,” a young child called out. A collective gasp followed.
Apollo grinned sardonically back. It was time to show Hercules that he was out of his league. “I love play time!” he called out.
Then, turning with smile of superiority, he called out, “hey, over here Herc! You and me old man?” He laughed, but the cackle sounded forced.
Hercules appeared as if out of thin air and the children gasped, recognizing him.
“You’re done playing your little game?” He asked in exasperation.
“I’m ready to pick that fight now,” Apollo responded, squaring up and flexing his knees on the hover board.
Hercules was aware of the children, piled precariously against the windows and of the teacher calling for them to step into the center of the classroom. He was aware of the sudden silence of the birds and insects and the stillness of the air. His muscles tensed as he tried to think of a plan. He was a god now, but what was so different from before? Not much except that he had gained entrance to Olympus and he was now immortal. Now he had to fight a god yet again. And it wouldn’t end for all eternity. Apollo kept his eyes on Hercules as he materialized a fireball and hurled it directly onto the thatched roof of the school.
“Ha ha!” Apollo yelled as he threw another at the dry timber that made up the wall of the school, watching, as the flames grew higher.
The children screamed and shrunk away from the window. The golden haired air surfer wasn’t as he seemed. First he was friendly, but then he set the school on fire. Why would someone do that? Didn’t this man realize that they all could die? Hercules stared grimly at the burning roof, the smoke curling upward as sullenly as a bully’s lip. He needed to work quickly. Forget about Apollo and concentrate on the children.
“Duck!” Hercules screamed as the teacher stuck his head out the window to assess the situation while Apollo flung a second fireball. “All right, GO! Get them out of there!” Hercules commanded the shaken teacher as the second fireball peeled right through a window, igniting a desk.
Iolaus had been headed into town to purchase some fresh vegetables for his mother. He thought about buying a parchment or new quill for Pandion, but wasn’t sure that his step father would even accept it. He had just rounded the bend when he saw the horrifying sight of a school in flames, Apollo taunting and Hercules poised for a fight.
His eyes scanned the area, looking for anyone who might be close to the school or within tossing distance and unprotected from Apollo’s fireball.
“Iolaus!” Hercules called out as he turned in the direction of the familiar voice. “Make sure everyone’s out!”
Iolaus didn’t even nod assent. He raced to the school, throwing open the door and pushing in through the dense smoke. The thatching of the roof was dancing with flames and inside the smoke and heat made the structure seem to be wavering, a misty apparition full of ghastly wails. The rising heat and the smoke and ash of the blazing roof swirled in suffocating eddies.
Iolaus surged forward, an arm across his mouth trying not to breathe. The school was smothered in darkness in spite of the light of day, the smoke so thick and black; the cries of the frightened children were muffled. There was no way to judge their location. Iolaus could barely see a foot in front of himself. The flames crackled and roared, reaching out with teasing fingers as Iolaus avoided their touch, his skin reddening with the heat.
Iolaus raised his voice. “Come to me! I can get you out!”
He heard small voices answering, feet stumbling towards him, the low voice of the teacher urging them forward like frightened sheep.
“Here,” he bellowed as heard the muffled steps come closer. He’d get as many as he could out, and then come back for more. He felt a small hand brush his own. “Here!” he shouted again as he grabbed on the hand. “Make a chain!” And he began to lead them out.
Outside Apollo taunted Hercules, determined to distract the big God, hoping for a child’s burning, or death even. Oh that would get him good, so quick to worry about the insignificant! Those mortals reproduced like gerbils; kill one and two more popped out somewhere anyway. A God could never get ahead.
Apollo watched as Iolaus led a chain of frightened children out of the smoking school, pulling them past the flames. Yes! There was a target he couldn’t miss! He raised an arm as he spun his hover board to get the best view.
“Apollo!” Hercules screamed the word as both a warning and an indictment.
Apollo laughed malignantly and taking aim, let the fireball fly.
Iolaus heard Hercules voice, the fear and anger in it and took it for the warning it was. He jerked forcefully on the small hand he held tightly, pulling the first child off balance with such sudden force that the whole chain of children fell like dominoes, rolling after Iolaus through the dry soft dust.
The fireball hit just short of the last child’s foot, exploding uselessly and was snuffed by the loose dust.
“Quick!” Iolaus shouted and pointed the children to a nearby shelter, where a woman gestured in welcome and no fire burned.
He watched them dash to safety and returned to the school, now close to engulfed in flames to finish the rescue.
Iolaus entered the school with his vest pulled over his mouth. The roar of the flames grew in intensity as they swallowed the thatching, licking hungry tongues down the walls. The heat was worse than a forge in full blow, reddening his skin and the smell of the hair burning on his extended forearms brought back memories of the death of Hercules family. He choked on the thickness of the air, the curl of the heavy smoke into his lungs as he inhaled, in spite of the vest. He could barely see and tried to concentrate on hearing.
“School master!” he cried out. “Are you there?” He struggled forward and a section of the roof fell in embers at his feet, igniting the floor. He staggered back, then using the small amount of light the embers afforded, stepped around the burning floorboards and pushed further into the school.
“Here!” he heard a choked voice call out. The sweat poured from his face, soaked the back and sides of his vest. He surged towards the voice hoping that the children were okay.
“Keep calling,” he spoke loudly. “I’m coming to get you out.” He listened to the voice in the thickening smoke and strove to move towards it as he picked his way through the small fires spreading on the floorboards. He could see nothing in the swirling darkness. “Keep talking,” he called out loudly, hoping that they were able in fact to speak. He stepped quickly, following the frightened voice of the teacher until at last he touched a hand.
“Is this the last of the children?” he asked, his voice hoarse with the heat and smoke.
“Yes,” he heard weakly and he grabbed in the obscurity, finally griping the arm and pulling it forward. He felt the weight of a train of people straining against his arm and wondered if he could indeed lead them to safety.
The dense dark clouds of roiling smoke and raging flames which now were busily engulfing the floor made finding a path out far more difficult this second time. Iolaus clung to the small hand in his, drawing strength from it. No child would die at the hands of an immature and vengeful god, Iolaus vowed.
“Let’s go!” he shouted, hoping his voice wouldn’t be lost in the roar of the flames. The creaking of the wood and snapping as it was consumed, twisting and popping as it deformed in the intense heat was unnerving. He stepped forward, knowing that his confidence could only buoy the children and using his keen senses, threaded his way quickly and carefully through the snaking flames, feeling each floor board for sturdiness and hunching low below the worst of the smoke.
The door seemed miles away, but Iolaus continued doggedly, clasping the small hand in his own so tightly the two seemed to meld into one. He followed the small trickle of coolness that threaded its way into the school, sniffed the scent of the fresh air and let that lead him to safety.
He broke through to the light and coolness of the outside, pulling the train of children frantically and urging them to run to the safety of nearby homes. The children coughed and gagged. Some cried in fear and others stood numbly until they hear the voices of their class mates who had come out before calling them urgently forward to shelter. The schoolmaster reached for Iolaus’ arm, clasped it in a warriors shake, and wordlessly shooed his charges out of danger.
Hercules tried desperately to keep Apollo busy, alternately taunting the golden god and dodging his fireballs.
“You promised me you’d leave these people alone!” he raged.
“This is a special situation,” Apollo retorted coolly. “I took you once before and I can take you again, demigod.”
“I’ve improved since then,” Hercules answered smartly as he dodged a fireball. He watched Iolaus herd the children away from the open area and move toward the town fountain to cool and take a quick drink of the water before he too moved out of danger. “Why are you doing this?” He gestured widely to the flaming building while the last child scooted to safety. “It’s not your style, Apollo. “You’re a party boy more interested in play than torture.”
Apollo chuckled. “While you were making every attempt to save all those children, the peasants and worthless mortals, Mother was readying her plan to take control.”
“Hera!” Hercules spat. “What has she done?” Nothing good, Hercules thought.
“Oh, more than you can know, Hercules!” Apollo grinned down sardonically. “It’s safe to say that she made a pact with the foreign god for her own safety and others of her choosing, not including you, Zeus, or very many of your ever dear mortals, at least not the good ones!”
Hercules shook his head. “She can’t seriously believe that he’d honor that deal,” he spoke skeptically.
“Well, she’s the one that him to put the hit on your dear old mom,” Apollo raised an eyebrow and sneered knowingly.
Hercules seethed, turning his face away from the young god and trying to concentrate on the rush of buckets sent hand over hand by the fire brigade. The air was thick with smoke as the fire consumed the schoolhouse. He could hear Iolaus’s voice, rallying the men to move faster.
“I’ll take care of Hera,” Hercules finally answered coldly, letting his anger set stone like in his belly. He turned icily to Apollo. “Why this?” he finally asked and gestured to the school. “More than a simple whim?”
Apollo brought his hover board lower, but remained out of Hercules’ reach. He leaned forward. “A lesson,” he intoned. “The more you use your godly powers to fight for mortals, the more harm will come to them. And Hercules, you can’t be everywhere!” And with that, he leaned back and kicked the hover board into gear, zipping away from the chaos.
Hercules spun towards the town center, sprinting for the water tower. It had worked before and it would work again. He needed only to make sure the angle was right.
“Iolaus!” he bellowed, and Iolaus nodded, knowing what his partner planned. He began herding the men out of the way. The flow of the water would be so forceful that it could injure anyone not prepared for the full brunt of it.
Hercules didn’t even break a sweat this time. His godhood had increased his strength even more than before and he took heart in this. He had been an equal to any god, now at least in this he was superior. But would that even matter if everyone he loved and all mortals were targets because of him?
With no effort the tower toppled, its direction unerring. In seconds, the flames were extinguished and all that was left of the raging inferno was a steaming mass of sodden thatch and pilings.
Iolaus ran over and clapped him on the back.
“That was great buddy! Better than ever!” He smiled up in appreciation.
Hercules simply nodded. He knew suddenly that Zeus had made him a god for more than companionship. He needed a powerful ally. One that he could trust, one who hated Hera and could do what was necessary.
“I’ve got to go, Iolaus,” he spoke. “There’s more to this than meets the eye. I need to deal with some subterfuge.”
“Like that’s a surprise,” Iolaus answered with a sigh. “Okay, but come back soon.” He clapped his buddy on the back. “I miss you.”
Hera was seething as she paced restlessly. Apollo’s ploy had almost worked. She had wanted to demoralize Hercules, humiliate him in front of the mortals who held him so dear. Now there would be temples built and more adoration and legends than she could stand.
Apollo had let his ego interfere. He’d wanted to seem so important, in charge, and as usual talked too much, letting Hercules know more than he needed to. The plan had been supposed to go quickly, bam, a few well placed fireballs a laugh and reference to Hercules’ inability to save the children and all the parents in town would have hated him. Then it would be on to the next town and the next, as long as it took to leave Hercules’ reputation in tatters and make him beg to go back to being a puny mortal. The new god, who had sent for her and laid out his plan, had failed to consider that Hercules didn’t think like a god or a mortal either. He used the best of both sides and that had gone unanticipated that.
Hera paced, stewing through the day’s events. Hercules had become a god. Alcmene had been healed. The school children had escaped to safety. The schoolmaster was unharmed. Hercules remained exalted.
This new god may know how other gods thought, but he didn’t know mortals, Hera trusted him. But at this moment she saw his faults. He under estimated mortals, the strength of their convictions and power of their hearts. Hera hated to admit it but Hercules and his friend Iolaus embodied the best of this.
Hera was up for a good fight. She would NOT have Zeus making his bastard son a full god, flaunting him as so perfect. His mortal blood marred him. And that stupid scrying glass that was always on Alcmene HAD to go. SHE was queen of the Gods and Zeus was king and their children were the most true and powerful gods of the next generation.
Things were stable until Hercules got thrown into the mix with his incredible strength, equal to a god before he became one fully and now stronger than all of them. He had to be stopped, and Hera knew now that it would have to be her to do it. Then she’d set everything else right, get rid of the scrying glass and kill Alcmene.
Pandion had seen a rising cloud of smoke in the distance, over where the main part of town would be, and worried that it could spread, had started out to see if he could help put out the flames. Fires were not so uncommon when the weather was dry, what with the pits for outside cooking. Sometimes the vendor stalls were too close, or the wind carried an ember, dropping it on something that would act as tinder. Usually the people in town and market rallied to put out the flames quickly. This had lasted longer than most.
Pandion had almost reached town. The smoke had stopped rising, but the stench of burning wood hung heavily in the air and he could feel the weight of the soot laden air pressing against his skin. The road was empty and Pandion stepped up his pace, curiosity driving him on faster as the path snaked upward through the trees. The village stood at the top of the rise, sheltered by a taller hill behind it. Pandion was beginning to feel out of breath. He wasn’t a young man anymore.
He pushed past a few low pine boughs, smelling the crisp scent that lingered on his hands and trekked on up the last section of path. As he broke into the clearing that marked the border of the town he scanned for the source of the smoke. The school building was still smoldering. A crowd of people were helping to remove what they could and salvage the rest. Pandion stopped, seeing the school master rubbing his mouth thoughtfully as he oversaw the work. He noted the soot covering the man and the singed clothes, the way his breathing was heavy and how he kept coughing.
He walked up to the teacher, placing a hand on his shoulder.
“Hey friend, what happened here?”
The teacher turned to Pandion, clapping him on the back. “Apollo went nuts,” he spoke hurriedly. “He tried to burn the whole place down! If it hadn’t been for Hercules and Iolaus”- - - He shook his head, lips tight and face grim. “We never would have survived.” Pandion stepped back. His eyebrows dipped and forehead wrinkled. “Iolaus?” he questioned. The son who had caused his beloved wife so much pain actually was responsible for saving the children of this town? He was negligent, thoughtless of his mother’s feelings, a rowdy child who never even thought to check in on his mother all these years.
Pandion had actually hated Iolaus for a while, but seeing his mother’s continued love for her only child, his view had softened to a mere loathing and total disrespect. Sure, he’d heard the stories, every one talked of Hercules and Iolaus as well, though certainly not as much. Always doing good, always on the move, but never bothering to come to his own family home, helping strangers but never even considering his own mother.
“Iolaus?” Pandion whispered in surprise, unaware he had even spoken the name.
The teacher’s voice broke into Pandion’s thoughts. “Oh yeah! The school was on fire! He went in and got me and the kids out.
We would have died for sure if he hadn’t been there. Risked his life he did. Twice.” The teacher stared into Pandion’s eyes, nodding solemnly.
Erythia had been through Tartarus during her years with Skorous. But suddenly Pandion realized that Iolaus had been through the same, without the maturity to understand why his mother didn’t resist, why his father was so stressed, why he was alone in some of the worst situations and why his mother couldn’t help if she wanted to be there to see him grow up. Not every child had the ideal upbringing, parents that banded together to protect and support him.
Iolaus saw Pandion approaching, as he labored to clean up the wreckage of what had been the town school. He watched as Pandion stopped to talk to the teacher. He felt a fist clench his heart. This couldn’t go on. He wanted a relationship with his mother, something supportive and mutually satisfying. That wouldn’t happen as long as Pandion saw him as the enemy. He would have to make peace with his step father, if only for his mother’s sake.
He stepped out of the shadow of the charred building, hair mussed and covered with soot, skin blackened, breathing heavily with the particles of ash clogging his lungs. He coughed, spitting out a wad of black phlegm, and stepped forward quickly, before second thoughts took over.
“Pandion!” he called out as he approached the older man. “This can’t continue.’ He stepped up to face his step father and softened his voice. “This is no good.” He didn’t try to hide his pain. Everything had to be in the open or this would end up no better than an uneasy truce.
Pandion stared across at this man who he knew so much, yet so very little about. This solid blond, so strong and at this moment so vulnerable was appealing to him, Pandion, when it should be him coming to Iolaus to ask forgiveness. He’d let Erythia’s pain blind him to the whole picture, but now he saw clearly. Iolaus hadn’t known how to deal with his pain. He hadn’t avoided his mother as much as he had stayed with the one person who supported him, lent him strength and helped him to realize his potential. “I guess I owe you an apology,” Pandion offered.
“No, no,” Iolaus shook his head. “I’m the one that should apologize to you and mother.” He reached for Pandion’s shoulder and clasped it. “I understand. I’ve fallen short in so many ways. But I love my mother and want to make amends.”
Pandion nodded. “I had my mind made up about you before you ever came home. I painted such a negative picture of you, but now I understand. You do such wonderful work, for the good of so many and that’s because you’re making up for the wrongs that started when you just a child.”
Iolaus swallowed hard. He’d never thought of it that way. He figured he just liked hanging out with Herc, but here he was alone working to get a new school ready where he had no children to attend it. Perhaps Pandion’s interpretation was more accurate than he wanted to believe.
“I’m sorry I judged you so harshly, and without even knowing you,” Pandion offered.
Iolaus smiled and grasped Pandion’s arm. “You love my mother. Well I do too. You and I are both concerned about her feelings, and this is a good thing.”
“Yes,” Pandion answered, staring into Iolaus’ eyes and seeing for the first time how much like Erythia’s they were. “I see that you do what you do for a good reason, a wonderful reason. I judged you harshly and without forethought. I let my heart rule my head,” He stopped, not sure what else to say.
Iolaus understood. Pandion was only protecting his mother. “We’re both concerned about mother. This is a good thing.” He smiled that infectious grin at Pandion and Pandion couldn’t help but smile back.
“I don’t suppose you could use some help here?”
Hercules faced Zeus furiously.
“You made me a god because Olympus was in turmoil! You knew that Hera’s faction was gaining strength and that she was in league with the usurper!” Hercules leaned into his father, fists tight and face drawn down in anger. “But you withheld that!” Zeus stood unmoving and held Hercules’ steely glare in his own. “Yes. I did, in part,” he admitted. “But don’t forget that you used your godhood to save to save Alcmene.”
“For how long?” Hercules spat. “As long as she lives she’s still a target. And now she’s a bigger target than ever.” He stood tall, pacing away from his father and running his right hand restlessly through his honey brown hair. “Hera will always hate mother. Right now you’re too preoccupied to protect her and I’m obviously going to be the new target on Olympus. Hera will make sure I have to choose between Mother and the calamity of the day and sooner or later the stakes will be too high.”
“Son,” Zeus tried to placate. “There is still work to be done here. When it’s finished then if you wish I will return you to your demigod state.”
“I’m ready now, father,” Hercules growled.
“But not yet,” Zeus answered. “You need to face Hera first and ensure Alcmene’s safety. It’s obvious she has ceased to listen to me. I’ll keep my promise. You may stay in whichever state you choose. I promise.”
Hercules shook his head in disgust. “Everything comes with a clause!” Hercules complained justifiably. “It will never end!”
“You’re wrong,” Zeus answered as he stepped forward to his son. “Olympus has been through upheaval before and regained stability. There is an end in sight,” he trailed off looking not at his son, but into the scrying glass that held Hera’s image.
“Not soon enough,” Hercules spat back. “Okay, you’ve got your way. I’ll go to Hera. I’ll face off with her and finish this.” Hercules stared across at Zeus who now met his steely stare unwavering. Hercules had no idea how important this all was. Yes, he was a pawn, but not in a bad way. This was all going to happen, with or without him. It had been decreed by the fates. Without him it would have been disaster. With him there was at least a little hope.
Zeus was King of the gods, he knew all, foresaw all. He loved Hera, but he knew she was out of control. Her hatred and anger blinded her to the big picture, and as painful as it was, she needed comeuppance.
He would take any inroad to prevent the down fall of the Greek Gods. Hera too was a pawn, though she refused to see it. Hercules was a pawn. The big picture wasn’t good and the events that Hera and the usurper had set in motion couldn’t be completely annihilated. But the effect could be blunted, perhaps to the point of actually salvaging Olympus. Everything hinged on Hercules now. His son had the strength, but did he have the anger?
Hercules,” Zeus spoke quietly. “I want your promise one thing.”
Hercules raised an eyebrow and cocked his head. “What would that be?”
“That you won’t kill my wife.” Zeus wanted to crumble, but stood strong. He stared firmly across at his son. “If you do, you will remain on Olympus forever that I promise.”
“Great! Blackmail me,” Hercules groaned. She wants me and everyone I love dead, but I can’t kill her.”
“You don’t know her like I do,” Zeus spoke softly. “She wasn’t always like this. Once she loved. But I stripped her of that.”
“Father,” Hercules interrupted.”
“Once she loved her husband and her children.”
“Once is not enough,” Hercules interrupted Zeus. “There’s a lot at stake. My life, mother’s life, the stability of Olympus. The here and now is what we exist in, and if she can’t stop interfering I will have to stop her.”
“But not kill her,” Zeus warned. Don’t make me repeat myself. She may not be important to you, but she is me. I am your father.” Hercules sighed in frustration. “You’re tying my hands, father,” he clenched and unclenched his fists, his face tight. “You want me to do your dirty work, but you want to tell me how to do it. Why don’t you just do it yourself?”
“I don’t want to, and I don’t think I can,” Zeus admitted, his shoulders slumped and eyes cast down. “I know all that was good in her and feel guilty for the way she expressed her anger. You know her only as evil, angry and certainly unreasonable. You deserve the chance to exact revenge for all the pain she’s caused you. I trust you to find some way to control her without killing her.”
Hercules snorted. “Or live for eternity as a god!” He ran a hand through his hair, turned away to think then wheeled back on his father.
“You want everything!”
“No son, I want only one thing, Hera’s lifepreserved.” Zeus maintained his stare into Hercules’ steel blue eyes, not requesting, but demanding obedience.
Hercules stared back, wondering if he would even be able to comply. Hera would be out to kill him, and she had been practicing her fighting skills far longer than Hercules had even been in existence. He could only hope for the right turn of events.
“Father, I expect you’ll be watching.”
Zeus nodded solemnly. “And I’ll give you any assistance I can,” he spoke hollowly.
Hercules nodded. He couldn’t expect more than that. At worst, he would be a god for eternity. At best, he would be back with
Iolaus and his family, doing what he did best.
“I’ll hold you to that,” Hercules spoke quietly.
Iolaus hugged his mother tightly, remembering her tender scent, the way she pulled him against her, and seemed to take all of him into her warmth. It wasn’t so different now. She was softer and shorter, but the strength in her arms was what he remembered.
“I’m glad you came,” Erythia, spoke softly into her son’s ear, enjoying the feel of his strong frame in her arms. She had worried needlessly. He was Skorous’ son; of course he’d do fine. She felt him squeeze her back and remembered how he’d clung to her as a child. It wasn’t so different now.
“Me too. I’m sorry it was so over due.” Iolaus choked on his swallowed his emotions. “I just never thought…”
“Never thought I’d miss you?” Erythia interjected. “Never thought it would matter to me? You should have known better.” She pushed him back, keeping her hands on him, afraid to let go, afraid it would the last time she saw him. “You should have known in your heart how very proud of you I am. And when you were in trouble and couldn’t find your way, I never lost faith in you. And you proved me right.”
Pandion clapped a hand on Iolaus’ shoulder and gripped it firmly. “Don’t be a stranger. You’re always welcome.”
Iolaus leaned forward; embracing his mother with fierceness he hadn’t imagined was in him, released her and then turned to Pandion.
“Thank you for taking care of my mother,” he spoke sincerely, his eyes smiling, but his jaw tight with emotion. He felt his mother run her fingers through his hair, tousling it as she used when she put him to bed for the night. “I’m glad we finally met.”
“Mother,” he spoke with a smile, his voice soft and grateful.
“Come back soon,” Erythia spoke, knowing how hard it was for him to leave, but leave he must. There was so much good to be done, and son was the one to do it.
“I will. I promise.”
Hercules strode through the halls of Olympus, fists tight and Zeus at his heels. His mind was solely on business, getting finished with the task on hand and returning to his demigod state.
“You’re in MY yard now, buddy!” Apollo called out as Hercules opened the door to Hera’s chamber.
“I’m NOT your buddy!” Hercules snapped back and stiff armed the golden god, letting all his anger come into play. Apollo was forced backward into the wall before he could even react and slid down into a heap on the floor as he tried to regain his senses. Hercules strode forward, but Apollo quickly righted himself and pitched a fireball at Hercules back. Zeus shot him a cautioning look, which Apollo ignored as Hercules nimbly ducked, letting the fireball strike the door of Hera’s chamber, setting it aflame. Hercules spun around. “Come on Apollo. If it’s a fight you want, I’ll give it to you.”
Apollo grinned at Hercules, but it wasn’t a pleasant grin, his teeth showed like a snarling cur. His shoulders hunched and his fists clenched and opened restlessly.
Hercules stood stonily, unafraid. Even as a demigod Apollo was only a mosquito for swatting. He had no strength. Yes he could throw fireballs, but mortals shot fiery arrows and this was really no different. He was fast, but Hercules knew that his own reaction time was nothing to sneer at. Apollo knew him only as an insecure teen, struggling to find his identity. That was the past, and Apollo was underestimating him now.
“Go ahead!” Hercules growled. You’ll only be a second in the eons of time.”
Apollo flew at Hercules, not even bothering to fling a fireball, wanting only to have violent physical contact with the new god.
Bad decision. Hercules simply stuck out a fist the size of a shot put and caught Apollo in the face, dropping him. Zeus shook his head.
“Back off,” he warned as Apollo struggled to his feet. “This isn’t about you. Hera doesn’t need your protection. She’s more than capable of taking care of herself.”
Apollo dipped his head, eyes still on Hercules. “Only for you Zeus.” He didn’t mean it and Zeus knew it. He was afraid. Hercules had the strength, the power, and the desire. Apollo only had jealousy to fuel his anger and it was not enough to win this fight. Hercules turned, unopposed as Zeus acknowledged Apollo’s withdrawal with a dismissive wave, and walked through the opening in the door that the golden god had burned.
Hera was waiting, and more than ready. She floated high above , assuming a position of power which ensured she a view of the entire room. She laughed maniacally and raising her hand she simply tapped the air, sending a shock wave as powerful as a volcano explosion hurtling at Hercules, unseen and lethal.
“Hercules!” Zeus cried out.
Hercules registered the anguish in his father’s voice and instantaneously dropped, but still couldn’t avoid the entire force of the blow. He flew backward, slamming against a pillar and causing it to crumble. He felt the floor shudder as he hit. The ceiling listed and small flakes of the exquisite ceiling tiles fell around him. He heard his own voice cry out and struggled against the pain, the sudden loss of breath.
Hercules staggered to his feet, his desire to find some way to subdue Hera, control her, the driving force that propelled him forward yet again.
“Look out!” Zeus called as he watched Hercules struggle upright, concerned. Hercules fell back yet again, losing precious ground as Hera let a powerful blast of energy fly at him. It caught him on the head and chest as he tried to duck, stunning him and sapping his legs out from under him as he struggled against the blackness that wanted to seep into his mind. Hera swooped triumphantly above him, watching him stagger backward toward the rail of her balcony which formed the lip of an abyss on legs so wobbly they could hardly bear him up.
Hera swooped lower, cackling and gloating, putting herself higher so that Hercules had to look up at her.
Hercules felt like he’d been run over by a group of giants. He groaned as he propped his reluctant body up and gripped the wall behind him for stability. He pulled himself up, muscles shaky and legs weak. This just wouldn’t do. Hera was strong, but he could beat her. He was stronger even than the Queen of Gods, this he felt deep inside. He needed only to learn to tap into the source of the power. Unfortunately, this lesson would be trial by fire. He knew what he had to do at this instant was to find one small weakness or a misjudgment. Then he could use every power he held to defeat her.
Hercules was glad that Iolaus wasn’t here for once, probably the first time he’d ever felt this way. He would have hated to have his friend see him being beaten by Hera, taking the brunt of her awesome power. Iolaus would have been a small tornado by now, attacking Hera with everything he had. And Hera wouldn’t have held back on him. Iolaus was safe and Hercules was glad for that. Hera leaned over him and cackled into his face as he hung back over the edge of the abyss.
“You fall and that’s all. This is abyss of Tartarus. Old Cronus is down there, captive until the end of time.” Her eyes glittered in hard delight, as she almost tasted Hercules’ weakness. She had hit him with most of her power and it had cost her, but he didn’t know this.
“I’ll watch my step,” Hercules responded with more bravado than he felt. He could kill Hera now if he wanted, but Zeus had forbidden it. Well, he could at least buy some time to think. He let go of the wall and swung at her, catching her hard directly in the face.
Hera simply laughed, swallowing back her surprise, lunged forward and gave him a head butt that had him seeing stars. He swung again, catching her on the side of the head and sent her reeling away, but as she sailed back, she regained her composure and with a cackling laugh caught him with her feet right in his chest.
Hercules felt his balance fail him as his upper body was forced over the edge of the abyss and his center of balance was no longer stable on the floor. His torso was tipping back and his feet couldn’t seem to get a grip. Hercules felt his adrenaline rush as his feet left the floor and the Abyss of Tartarus seemed to open beneath him. He heard Hera’s maniacal laugh and as he fell over the edge he vowed that she wouldn’t get the best of him. He had a job to do and wouldn’t fail. He reached out and grabbed at the edge of the wall, his fingers gripping fiercely, the rough edge lacerating his fingertips.
He wasn’t beaten yet.
“Get ready for company, Chronos!” Hera screamed. She jumped up on the edge of the wall, throwing caution away. She was in charge here.
Hera stepped on Hercules’ fingers, bearing down heavily and feeling the crack of his bones against the solid wall.
Hercules groaned and tried to maintain his grip in spite of the pressure Hera applied.
The Queen of Gods laughed and pressed harder, feeling one of Hercules’ hand release from the wall.
“Get ready for company Chronos!” she called.
Hercules bellowed in frustration as Hera laughed.
Hera leaned forward as she applied pressure to his other hand. “I’m going to miss you Hercules,” she sneered.
Hercules reached deep, refusing to give in despite his position. His foot felt a tiny chink in the wall and dug his toes into it desperately. Hera was putting everything into crushing his hand to release the grip and he had no doubt that if he had mortal blood his bones would have broken and he would be conversing with Chronos right now.
“I’m going to miss you Hercules, she sneered sarcastically.
Hera was already celebrating her victory. Hercules could see that and knew it was his only advantage. As Hera laughed in triumph, feeling his fingers starting to slide away, he reached up with his other hand, grasped her ankle and with every erg of strength he had, he pulled.
Hera gasped, her balance broken, her foot came off Hercules’ hand and he took advantage by grasping her ankle tighter, securing his position. He jerked harder as he balanced carefully, his foot in the chink in the wall and his crushed hand maintaining its painful grip on the cold stone lip of the abyss.
Hera flew over his head, a projectile aimed perfectly at the center of the abyss. There was nothing for her to grab and she flailed wildly. Her screams of rage echoed as she fell deeper and deeper until there was nothing but a small wail which became a whimper and then silence.
“I won’t miss you,” he muttered.
Hercules pulled himself up over the edge agiley. Zeus faced him, pale and silent. There could be no happy ending with his his wife banished forever.
“I didn’t kill her,” Hercules started and Zeus held up a hand to stop the words as he silently nodded. What was done was done.
Zeus faced Hercules, watching as his son stared across at the scrying glasses, pausing at his mother’s smiling face as she embraced Jason, healthy again. He saw Hercules stare long and hard at Iolaus, golden curls stuck to his head as he labored to rebuild the school Apollo had destroyed.
“Are you SURE you want to return?” Zeus questioned. “The threat isn’t over”…
“I’ve done what I can here. And father, the only way I can truly help mankind is to be among them, not above them.”
His father tried one more time. “As a complete god you could do so much more for them and yourself.”
“No,” Hercules shook his head. “You once said that I was born as the Fates meant me to be, half god and half mortal. That’s why I’m going back, you were right.”
“Stubborn, always so stubborn,” but his eyes smiled as he gripped his son’s shoulder.
“I take after my mother,” Hercules answered. “I don’t want any special treatment from you. I’ll deal with the other gods and everyone else on my own.”
“If that’s what you want,” Zeus responded not trying to hide his pride. This was the only one of his sons who had truly been through the fire and came out unchanged. “Then that’s what you get. Are you saying goodbye? Is that what you this is?” He choked back his loss.
“This is me getting on with my life. I did what you wanted. I don’t fit in here. Put me back the way I was.”
Iolaus was filthy. Soot clung to his skin and clothes reddened his eyes and he was still coughing. But he was still working too. The school house had to be demolished and rebuilt. There were a few salvageable items, but not many. Sweat stuck his curls to his head and ran in rivulets through the dark coating on his skin. His muscles were already aching, but Iolaus wouldn’t stop until either the demotion was done or night had fallen.
He couldn’t help but miss Hercules. Pandion worked at his side now, and the older man was slower and more deliberate, quieter. His stamina was already flagging. He was used to being out worked by his partner, not the other way around. Well, he’d have to get used it. The bar had been lowered when Hercules left.
Iolaus grabbed an armload of burned timbers and walked out to the growing dump area. The charred wood could be used by the town’s folk for cooking. It wouldn’t burn long, but there was plenty of it to use. He dropped the blackened pieces, still warm, onto the pile and turned to go back for another load.
“YAH!” Iolaus shouted in surprise as Hercules materialized in front of him so closely that his nose was almost against his friend’s chest.
“Whoa!” Hercules called in return, taking a quick step back and clamping a hand down on Iolaus’ shoulder.
Iolaus grinned in pleasure, his eyes twinkling, and spontaneously moved in to wrap his friend in a huge bear hug. He felt Hercules wrap his arms briefly around him too then the men spontaneously backed away.
Hercules looked around the town square then back to Iolaus.
“I…ah…missed you too,” he admitted softly, his eyes meeting Iolaus’.
“Hercules, it’s…it’s good to see you,” Iolaus answered. There was so much more he wanted to say, but the town’s people were starting to notice Hercules. Pandion was approaching.
“It’s good to see you too,” Hercules smiled back, small lines crinkling at the outside edges of his eyes and Iolaus wanted to hug him again. He’d missed Hercules. Sure he knew it would be hard going alone, but in his heart there was always a smidgen of hope. Seeing his best friend, but knowing he’d soon be gone was bittersweet.
“Well…I’m back” Hercules stuttered. He ducked his head as if he was embarrassed, but Iolaus could see the hesitant twinkle in his eyes. Could it be?
“Back?” he gasped. “Like ‘back’ back?” He grabbed Hercules by the arms and looked excitedly into his eyes, hoping this was for real. “Like really, no more Olympus? No more Hercules the god?” Iolaus couldn’t keep the excitement out of his voice.
“No,” Hercules answered as Pandion came alongside. He could hear the rush of people heading his way, wanted to finish this minute privately with Iolaus. “Just back to a half god,” he spoke quietly and laughed self consciously.
“Oh, that’s terrific!” Iolaus laughed gleefully. So what happened?”
“I realized how much my family means to me. And you especially.” He wrapped an arm around Iolaus’ shoulder and Pandion stared across at them with new respect for his stepson.
Iolaus saw the look on Pandion’s face and turned quickly away, sniffing back tears of relief.
“Iolaus wait!” Hercules grabbed his shoulder and turned him back, concerned. “Is something wrong?”
“No, no.” Iolaus sniffed and rubbed a tear away from his cheek smudging the soot and trying to pretend it was simply sweat that had gotten into his eyes.
“No, No. Just glad you’re back.”
“Hercules nodded, not releasing Iolaus’ shoulder. “Oh,” he answered knowingly.
“So, um, how was Olympus?” Iolaus answered, not really expecting to hear the whole story now. He stared into Hercules’ face then at Pandion’s astonishment at seeing the truth of how close the two men really were.
“Olympus,” Hercules answered hesitantly. “It wasn’t very friendly.”
Iolaus nodded. “And Hera, the whole usurper god thingy?”
Hercules stood quietly, unsure how to answer in front of the forming crowd. Finally he just spoke quietly and with such pain in his voice, Iolaus knew there was big story to be told.
“You could say she’s…history.
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