She ran. She ran as she had never run before. Her dark hair streaming behind her. She cared nothing for herself, not anymore. All that was important in the world was in the basket she carried. The basket that she knew would ultimately prevent her from escaping but they would take the basket over her dead body and not one moment before.
She could hear the horses behind her. They were gaining. She had to hide the basket. Somehow she had to get it away from them. She couldn’t fight and hold the basket.
“Over there! Come on!”
She topped a hill and beneath her roared the river. She may not escape but perhaps she could delay them enough time for the basket to disappear. She wadded in, pushing the basket before her.
The horses arrived, “We’ve got her! You there! Get in there!” The leader pointed to all three of his men who dismounted and pulled their swords as they slid down the embankment toward the fast-moving river. “Not with weapons, you fools! It’s a woman and a baby. What are you afraid of?”
Weapons left on the bank, they wadded in and quickly closed on the woman. She proved, however, to be more than a mere woman. She was a woman fully capable of defending herself against 3 weaponless men in armor. She used their greater weight against them and with a selective punch here and kick there, she soon had them all floundering in the water. Their armor making it that much harder for them to regain their footing in the currents.
Meanwhile, the basket bobbed and weaved through the swells as it floated downstream.A giggle issued from the basket as its occupant enjoyed the ride unaware of the danger ahead.
“Leave the woman, you idiots, get the baby! We were ordered to bring back the baby!”
The soldiers continued to struggle in the water, their armor making it impossible to swim or stand easily. The woman watched the basket as it floated downstream. She had to catch it and get it away from here, far far away from here. She ran from the water and snagged a bow and quiver off the muddy bank as she ran for one of the horses, scattering the other two horses as she mounted and turned, firing at the only soldier left on the bank. She hit his arm, wounding him. She had intended only to knock the weapon from his hand. “Sorry,” she called. “Guess I’m a little rusty.” Then, she turned and fled down the river bank in hopes of catching up with the basket.
Meniskos held his arm to staunch the flow of blood as his men truged out of the water. “Catch the horses. We must find that baby or what’s left of him after the falls.”
The water rushed faster gurgling around the basket. The baby inside, laughed and giggled as his basket was tossed in the waves. The falls loomed ahead. Heedless of the danger the baby enjoyed the ride, continuing to laugh as the basket disappeared into the spray and dropped over the falls.
Downstream from the falls, two friends were in search of a meal. Hercules stood waist deep in the river, perfectly still, waiting. His arm held just above the surface. He was a statue and then suddenly, he was moving. In a flash, he dipped his arms into the water and emerged with a fish large enough to fill both of their empty stomachs. He tossed it to the shore where Iolaus was waiting.
The hunter snatched the fish off the ground before it could flop back into the river and carried it to the fire. Hercules, meanwhile, saw something coming toward him in the water. He wadded further out to meet the basket.
Iolaus set the now cleaned and wrapped fish in the fire and wondered where Hercules had gotten to. “Fire’s ready, Herc,” he called. “Fish’ll be ready soon.”
Hercules carried the basket into camp, “Should I throw this one back?”
“A basket?” Iolaus asked.
“A baby.” Hercules replied.
Hercules handed Iolaus the basket and lifted out the chubby, squirming baby. “He was floating downstream.” The demigod held up the baby grinning at him. “Isn’t he...something?”
Before Iolaus could reply a woman on horseback galloped into the camp.
Hercules recognized her immediatly. “Nemesis.” He cradled the baby and held the horses head steady as she slid off. She ran around the horse to hug Hercules and the baby. She kissed the baby. She kissed Hercules who was not only stunned to see her but stunned by her reaction.
“Nemesis? What are you doing out here?”
“I can’t believe this. I look everywhere for you, and...Evander finds you. And you save his life.”
Hercules hefted the baby. “This would be...Evander.”
Nemesis’s smile beamed, “Yes, it would. Evander...our baby.”
If Hercules was stunned before, he was in shock now. “Our...baby?”
Nemesis nodded in confirmation. Hercules looked down at the grinning baby in his arms, a bewildered smile forming on his lips.
After a moment, Hercules remembered where they were, “We need to talk, I think.” Hercules turned to Iolaus who was looking as stunned as he felt. “Uncle Iolaus, will you keep an eye on Evander while mommy and I take a walk?”
“Oh, yeah, sure.” Iolaus took the baby. A smile spread over his face as he cradled Evander, “Uncle Iolaus.” As Hercules led Nemesis toward the river, he could hear Iolaus’s delighted giggle.
Hercules and Nemesis walked along the bank. They had been far enough from camp to begin talking long ago. Hercules remained silent.
“You’re awfully quiet.” Nemesis observed.
“So much has changed, I’m trying to sort it out. This morning, I was just...me and now, I’m a father again.”
She couldn’t tell if he was pleased or not. She feared the worst. “I don’t know what I was thinking. I should never have told you.”
Hercules stopped and faced her, “Of course you should tell me. I think it’s wonderful. I just never thought about having children again. It’s unexpected. I didn’t know.”
“You’re not angry?” Nemesis asked.
Hercules wrapped her in his arms, “No, I just wish you’d told me sooner. Why did you wait?”
“I wasn’t sure how you’d react.”
“There’s been an empty place in my life, Nemesis. It’s no secret that I miss my family. The way I lost them. The way I lost my second wife. I had reconciled myself to never having a family of my own again. It’s a shock to find out that I’ve had a family for awhile and just didn’t know about it. I would have liked to see his first smile. Help decide his name.”
“You don’t like his name?”
“Evander’s a fine name. And he’s a fine son.” Hercules paused as he continued to absorb his new situation. “Thank you for bringing him into my life. One question though, why was he floating down the river?”
“Men were chasing us. Soldiers,” she wondered how much she should tell.
“Why?” he asked.
“They wanted...to take Evander.”
“Why?” he asked again.
“I’ve got a problem I got myself into... a situation, and now I’ve got to get myself out of it.”
“Wait a minute. Soldiers are trying to take my son? That makes it my problem. Very much my problem.”
“You can help me most by taking care of Evander and making sure that nothing happens to him. I need to know that he’s safe.”
“You have my word but, Nemesis, let me help you.”
Back in camp, Iolaus had placed Evander back in his basket while he checked the fish and gathered his fishing supplies. It had been a long time since he had taken care of an infant but his former training was quickly coming back to him. He addressed the baby. “Since your mom and you are gonna join us for supper, we’ll need a couple more fish. First, you gotta have a sharp hook.” He tested the point on his thumb, pricking it in the process. “Ouch! that’ll do.”
Unseen by Iolaus, Hercules and Nemesis had returned from their walk and were watching from behind a nearby bush. Iolaus reached into a small pouch and pulled out a fat, squirming grub. He dangled it before the baby keeping it just out of reach of the little hands.
“No, no... you can’t eat it. It’s for the fish. This is Mr. Grub and he goes on the hook.” Iolaus deftly baited the hook. “Then we put him in the water and he wiggles and squirms around, and goes squirmy, squirmy, squirmy...” Iolaus demonstrated by wiggling his whole body to Evander’s giggling delight. “This attracts the fish, the fish, he’s swimming along....” Iolaus put his hands together and wove them through the air like a fish swimming from side to side. “Then, the fish spots Mr. Grub and opens his big ole hungry mouth...” Iolaus opened his hands and bit Evander’s nose between his fingers making the baby squeal. “...and you’ve got him. Toss him on a hot fire, and you have one very tasty supper.”
Iolaus tossed the baited hook out into the water and settled down to wait. Hercules and Nemesis emerged from their hiding place, clapping and applauding. “Do the grub dance again. The fish will come to you.” Hercules grinned at his friend.
Iolaus shrugged off any embarassment he should have felt, “Evander and I do quite nicely, thank you. It’s never too early to teach him the ‘right’ way to fish.”
Nemesis stepped forward and rested her hand on his shoulder, “Thank you, Iolaus. I put you in charge of teaching my son to fish.” Then, she turned to Hercules, “Will you look after him while I wash some of his things?”
“Sure, he can watch us catch supper.”
Nemesis smiled her thanks and took several wadded cloths from the basket and headed down the river with them.
Hercules settled beside the basket, cooing at Evander. He gave the baby his finger to hold. Iolaus jerked his line, missing the fish.
“Almost had him,” the hunter muttered.
Hercules stood and picked up a small rock. He winked at Evander, “Here’s how you really fish....” He watched the surface of the water a moment and then fired the stone into the water. A fish floated to the surface. Hercules wadded in to retrieve it. Iolaus watched him with a disapproving look.
“You sure know how to take the fun out of fishing.”
“Your way takes too long,” he replied.
“Patience is a virtue. You’re a role model now,” Iolaus reminded him.
Hercules shot his friend a look, but he was enjoying the give and take. He sat beside Iolaus on the rocky shore, willing to give in for now. “We’ll do it your way.”
Iolaus handed him his line and baited another hook for himself.
Hercules sighed, “I still say it takes too long.”
Evander now sat behind the two men. After a few moments of waiting for the fish to come, Evander became bored. No one was paying attention to him anymore. He lifted his little finger and a pebble rose from the ground. It hung in the air for a moment before Evander flicked his finger directing it. The pebble shot over and popped Iolaus in the back of the head.
“Hey! What’d you do that for?”
“Do what?” Hercules was oblivious to what was going on.
“Come on, you’re scaring the fish.”
“Huh? What fish?”
Evander grinned. Having gotten a satisfying reaction out of the adults, he levitated another stone, this one smacking Hercules in the back of the head.
“What are you doing?” He asked Iolaus.
It was Iolaus’ turn to be oblivious, “Fishing.”
“Very funny. Cut it out.”
“Cut what out?”
They settled down again. After a few moments a pair of pebbles knocked both of them in the head.
“I told you to cut it out.” Hercules’s voice rose.
“I didn’t do anything, and you started it.” Iolaus’ voice became equally louder.
“If you didn’t do anything, how could I start it?” Hercules asked.
Nemesis could hear raised voices coming from the camp and hurried back toward the fire light.
Not liking the tone his game had taken, Evander began to cry.
“Now see what you did,” Iolaus retorted.
“No, I didn’t,” Hercules replied.
Nemesis arrived frowning at the both of them, “What happened?”
“Nothing,” they both replied simultaneously and innocently, neither wanting to be caught arguing.
Nemesis opened her mouth to comment, then thought better. She knelt down and checked the baby. “Is him hungry? Hungry little man?” She picked up the basket and turned to the fishermen. “We’ll be back.”
They nodded and turned silently back to their task as she disappeared into the trees with her basket.
Nemesis patted Evander on the back, burping him before tucking him into his basket. She fought back tears as she explained their prediciment to her son.
“Please understand Evander. I don’t want to leave you, but the soldiers are still looking for us. I’ve got to lead them away from you. I’ll be back as soon as I can. Don’t worry, this all will be over soon. If anything happens to me, I know Hercules will look after you. And love you, just as much as I do.” She ran a finger over his cheek and with a final look, she turned and climbed on the horse and quietly rode away leaving the basket behind her.
Hercules and Iolaus tended the fish in the fire. The demigod kept looking toward the edge of camp, waiting.
“What’s taking her so long?” he asked.
Iolaus shrugged, “Hungry baby? So, how do you feel about all this? Evander...and Nemesis.”
“You’ve met Evander, how could I not be thrilled? Your real question is how do I feel about Nemesis? Do I want to settle down and be a family?”
“After Deianeira it was a long, long time before you even looked at another woman. Then there was Serena. It hasn’t even been a year...” Iolaus pointed out.
“I don’t know, Iolaus. He’s my son. I don’t have a choice about that.”
“About fatherhood, no, but about husbandhood, you do have a choice, Herc.”
“I know and I don’t have any answers for you. She was my first grown-up love. I don’t think I ever stopped loving her. I don’t know where this is going to end up. I don’t know if she even wants me anymore. It’ll take some time to figure it all out. But thank you, buddy. I know that you worry about me.” Hercules looked to the woods again, “Where is she?” He called out into the darkness, “Nemesis? Is everything alright?”
The two friends exchanged a cautious look when there was no reply. Hercules rose and swiftly headed in the direction Nemesis took when she left, Iolaus right behind him.
Hercules found Evander but no Nemesis. Iolaus came running in from the other direction.
“She took the horse,” Hercules reported.
“Where?” Iolaus asked.
“I don’t know. She’s in some sort of trouble but she wouldn’t tell me. We’ve got to find her before she gets hurt.”
Iolaus nodded, “So much for supper.”
“I’ve got Evander, you get his stuff.”
Ares stalked around looking the place over. It was cold, damp and decorated like a whore’s dream. Discord hovered nearby awaiting his opinion on her gift.
He shook his head, “I don’t think so. This is not me. What do I want with a palace?”
“Palaces are for sissies, Ares, This is a castle.”
“I appreciate the thought, Discord, but a god’s got no use for a place like this.”
“Everybody’s got to be somewhere. Give it a chance. I went to a lot of trouble.”
Ares snorted, “I’m sure you did. How’d you get rid of the previous occupants?”
She smiled with evil glee, “They all kind of went mad and slaughtered each other.”
The God of War shared her smile, “You and your pranks. That does give the place a certain cachet, but...” he looked around again, “...maybe.” He backed away from Discord as Meniskos, flanked by two of his lieutenants, entered the room. They tried to keep their eyes from straying to the leather-clad Discord, there wasn’t that much leather.
Ares glowered at them, “Well? Where are they?”
“We’ve been up and down the river. Nothing.”
Ares shook his head disgustedly and turned to Discord. “You go. Take them with you. Use them, or not, but bring me Nemesis and her child.”
It was Discord’s turn to be disgusted, “What do you want with her?”
“Never mind. and I want them....alive.” He emphasized the last word so that Discord would not misinterpret.
“What if there’s an accident, something out of my control?” She asked sweetly.
“You are so impudent,” he leaned in closer so that only she could hear him.” What you deserve is a good spanking.”
“And you are such a tease,” she purred back.
The baby cried. Reluctantly, Hercules stopped by the side of the road. “I think he needs changing.”
Iolaus who was carrying the basket, pulled out a blanket and spread it on the ground. Hercules laid Evander on it and began fumbling with the knots holding his diaper on. Iolaus lay beside the baby and distracted him by letting him hold his finger and making faces. This, of course, caused Evander to giggle and wiggle.
Hercules looked up at Iolaus in disapproval, “Iolaus!”
“Oh, sorry.” He stoppd and watched the demigod a moment. “Do you remember how to do that?”
Hercules was about to reply, reminding Iolaus that he’d had three babies of his own once, the one person that he shouldn’t have to remind, when Evander let loose and squirted him squarely in the face. “It’s coming back to me now,” Hercules replied instead. “That explains why he was dry at least. Stop smirking or next time it’s going to be Uncle Iolaus doing the changing.”
Again, Nemesis fled. The horse moved at top speed through the rocky terrain and trees. Yet, she could still hear the soldier’s horses crashing through the underbrush behind her. Suddenly, the horse reared and she fell. Nemesis rolled over on the ground and began checking herself for injuries. “Come on, horse. I don’t have time for this.”
A familiar giggle trickled through the air and Discord appeared on a nearby rock. “Poor baby, that had to hurt. I guess life was a lot softer when you were handing out justice for the gods? Too bad you blew it. Too bad, too sad.”
Nemesis shook the cobwebs out of her head and tried to focus.
Discord slid off her rock and strolled over to stand over Nemesis. “Where’d you hide him, Nemesis? The village? Think I can’t find him?”
“Running errands for Ares now? That’s lame, even for you.”
Meniskos and his men arrived. Discord made herself visible to them. “Take her to the village. And don’t let her get away.”
Iolaus walked behind Hercules keeping an eye on the baby. They had strapped Evander’s basket to Hercules’ back and Iolaus was making faces as they walked along. Evander was throughly enjoying the entertainment. Evander pointed at Iolaus and the hunter’s feet lifted off the ground. He floated several feet in the air.
“Hey! Herc, look...”
Hercules stopped and turned. As he did Evander could no longer see Iolaus and the hunter tumbled to the ground.
“Are you ok?” Hercules asked as Iolaus climbed back to his feet and dusted himself off.
“Yeah, did you see that? I was floating.”
“Floating.” Hercules wasn’t convinced.
“Well...yeah. In the air.” Iolaus’ expression became thoughtful. “You know, I think he was doing it,” nodding toward Herc’s back.
Hercules remained skeptical, “Evander.”
Iolaus nodded eagerly.
Hercules took a deep breath and let it out slowly, “Evander, will you please stop floating Uncle Iolaus? We have to find Mommy.” He, then turned around and resumed walking.
Iolaus fell into place behind him once again. As soon as Evander saw him, he again pointed his finger. Iolaus lifted off with a startled yell, only this time he was hanging upside down thanks to Evander twirling his finger.
Hercules stopped walking but didn’t turn around, “I suppose you’re floating again?”
“Well, yeah, I am but...” He saw Hercules turning, “No! Don’t!” He fell head first sending up a cloud of dust.
“Iolaus,” Hercules didn’t have time for this game.
“I know, I know...I just don’t want to talk about it. Just don’t turn around any more, okay?”
Hercules watched his friend for a moment, then turned and began walking again. As soon as Evander caught sight of Iolaus again, the hunter was once again airborne. This time he shrugged and decided to just enjoy the ride. Until Evander twirled his finger, that is....
Nemesis stood tied to a pole in the middle of the village square. Meniskos’ men knew how to tie knots, she had worn her wrists raw trying to loosen them. Discord appeared beside her. Her day just kept getting better.
“Where is this baby of yours?” She asked.
“I won’t tell you. And I won’t tell Ares,” Nemesis replied simply.
“You’ll tell sooner or later. Why does he want your brat, anyway?”
“Since when does he need a reason for anything? But he can’t have my son. I would die first.”
Discord smiled, “That could be arranged. Is one of these peasants hiding him?”
“No!” It was time for a distraction, “What’s your problem with me? We always got along okay”
Discord was filled with disdain, You had the sweetest deal on Olympus, a license to kill. I was made for that job.” She paced in front of Nemesis, obviously agitated. “But would they give me a shot? Noooo, not after you screwed things up. I’m left doing odd jobs. That’s my problem with you. That, and Ares always had a thing for you because you were an executioner.”
“I have always despised him.”
“You can tell him yourself, soon. That kid is here. I’m going to find him.”
Evander cried. Hercules cradled the baby to his chest and bounced him gently while he paced and wondered what was taking Iolaus so long. Just then, the hunter appeared, limping out from between two trees. He carried a goatskin bota. As he approached he gave the bota a squeeze and grinned as a stream of milk shot out of a pinhole. He handed the makeshift bottle to Hercules.
“What happened to you?”
“You know, cows get milked in the morning and the evening. It’s the middle of the day, wrong place, wrong time. Cow wasn’t in the mood.”
“She kicked you.” Hercules commented as he watched Evander latch onto the food.
“Yeah.” Iolaus admitted.
“Didn’t you use to own a kicker?”
“Yeah, but I’m out of practice.” He leaned over Hercules’s shoulder to watch the baby. “Ania never could get the hang of milking.”
Hercules glanced up at his friend. He’d been reminded of his own family in the last few hours as well.
“Would you look at him go,” Iolaus commented. “What an appetite.”
Hercules nodded his agreement, “There’s a village ahead. We’ll ask there about Nemesis.”
A heap of dried tinder and brush had been piled at Nemesis’s feet. Meniskos strode around in front of her. The villagers crowded around to hear what he had to say.
“This woman bought the wrath of the gods down on your village. Give up the child and no one suffers.”
The crowd milled around and quietly wondered what he was talking about. Hercules and Iolaus joined the crowd.
“Looks like we found mommy.” Hercules slipped out of the harness that was holding Evander’s basket to his back. They moved to the front of the crowd and listened to Meniskos as he continued with his threats.
“She’ll be the first to burn...then one of you! Show me the baby!” The crowd remained silent. He leaned toward Nemesis. “Last chance. Give up the child and save yourself.”
“Leave these people alone!” She spat at him.
Hecules handed the basket to Iolaus and entered the open circle around Nemesis. Two the soldiers charged him weilding a spear. Hercules quickly disarmed the first flinging him to the side and used the spear to take out the second. A third moved toward him.
“You can’t have a fire here, no permit,” he said as he knocked the third onto a rooftop on the other side of the square. The rest of the soldiers rushed him.
Meanwhile, Iolaus wove his way quietly around the edge of the crowd. Placing himself behind Nemesis’s postion. Not wanting to draw attention to himself and Evander he kept a close eye on the fighting while he stealthily moved closer and began to cut away her bonds.
Hercules approached Meniskos and knocked the lit torch out of his hands. It was caught by Discord.
“Hercules...Why am I not surprised? Here to see your old flame? Well, why not.” She strode over to Nemesis and lit the tinder. She tossed the torch toward Hercules and disappeared as he caught it. Hercules snuffed out the torch as he saw Iolaus taking Nemesis’s hand and leading her away from the fire. He turned to face the remaining soldiers.
“Herc!” Iolaus called pointing toward the fresh contingent of soldiers pouring into the square. “Fresh meat!”
“Get them out of here!” The demigod called back.
Iolaus could do nothing else. The crowd realizing that he needed to pass, parted for them. As they neared the gates, Iolaus released Nemesis to grab the reins of her horse from the stall. Once they were safely outside the gates. Iolaus handed Evander over to his mother and turned to return and help Hercules. But the demigod was already making his way toward the gates. Iolaus helped him push the gates closed. Hercules quickly retrieved a large log and positioned it against the gate, holding it firmly closed. They could hear the soldiers inside calling for a battering ram.
They returned to the camp as the sun set. Nemesis fed Evander and was walking with him against her shoulder. Hercules approached her.
“Let me. I know how to burp a baby.”
She nodded and handed Evander to him. “Gently, Hercules.”
“I did have three children of my own, Nemesis,” he reminded her.
She nodded, “Of course.”
Hercules gently placed the baby against his shoulder and patted his back. “When are you going to talk to me, Nemesis? About this trouble you’re in. If Discord’s involved, it’s serious.”
“The best way you can help me is to keep Evander safe.”
“I wouldn’t let anything happen to this little guy. It feels good to hold a baby again. That little baby smell. I didn’t realize how much I missed it.” Hercules smiled wistfully at her, “There’s so much I want to share with him. Things I want to teach him. A father and son can be pals. You can talk about everything.” He lowered the baby from his shoulder and held him out in front where he could talk directly to him. “I’m going to be the best dad to you, Evander...my son.”
Nemesis turned away and wiped the tears falling from her eyes.
Hercules was alarmed, “What’s wrong?”
“I’m so ashamed, Hercules. You’re the one person I trust completely. And I deceived you. I can’t do that anymore. He’s not our baby. He’s not your son.”
Hercules was stunned. He was disappointed but he was concerned as well. “The trouble you’re in..is with Evander’s father. Who is it?”
Her eyes threatened to spill over with tears. “Ares,” she whispered.
“Ares? My brother?” He paced with the baby cradled against him. “I can’t believe this. Why would you get involved with Ares?”
“I was afraid of being mortal, not knowing what to expect. Ares came to me. He promised I could be a god again, if I’d give him a son.” She walked a few steps away. She didn’t want to see Hercules’s face. “I was weak. And foolish. I believed him.”
Hercules knew it had been a difficult adjustment for her. He felt a twinge of guilt for not being there for her. He moved behind her and put a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Ares never kept a promise in his never-ending life.”
“But I’m glad he didn’t. It would have been a big mistake. I don’t want to be one of ‘them’ any longer.” She turned to face him. “The gods play, and they laugh, but I don’t know one who feels real joy. They have more than enough passion, but do you know one who really loves? Would I love my little Evander the same, if I didn’t have this mortal heart? I like my life.”
“But why is Ares after Evander? He cares nothing for most of his children. He has to have an ulterior motive for caring. What does he get out of it?”
“Evander inherited some things from his father...”
The baby issued several little baby burps, followed by a huge belch and a small ball of fire shot from Evander’s mouth, ricocheted off a rock where Iolaus was keeping a low profile during the conversation and flew off into the sky.
Hercules cleared his throat, “I can see that he did. And I can see why you said to burp him gently.”
“If Ares gets his way, he’ll turn my baby into a monster like himself.”
“That’s not going to happen, I promise.” He pulled Nemesis to him with his free arm. “You won’t let it happen and neither will I. Evander can use his special qualities to do good. He’ll know right from wrong. He’ll be a good man, even if Ares is his father.”
The God of War paced in front of his throne. “Why is everyone always so willing to believe the worst of me? I do my job, I’m the God of War, what did they expect? So I can enjoy the slaughter of a few thousand mortals, this makes me a bad guy?”
“Not in my book, but Nemesis thinks you’re scum.” Discord slid seductively into the throne as Ares obviously turned the idea of being scum over in his mind. Could scum be attractive to a certain type of woman? His type of woman. “It’s not a compliment, Ares.” Discord corrected.
“It can be. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is her child And I’ve got a plan to take him.”
“Fine, but I want some answers. Why?”
“This is not just any baby. He’s special. He has unique talents, that I can develop and enhance. He has the potential, eventually, to destroy Hercules.”
“Why don’t we simplify. I’ll kill Hercules. I’m a god. I’ve got the goods.”
Ares appraised her leather-clad goods, reclining in his throne. “As much as I admire your...goods, that won’t work. One God can’t kill another, you know the rule. And can’t kill a mongrel half-god like Hercules, either.”
“So how’s a baby mortal going to do the job?”
“That’s just it, he’s not all mortal. Like my brother, the baby has some godly blood as well. And the ‘no kill’ rule doesn’t apply, if the one doing the killing is not a full God.”
Discord sat up, “I get it! I get it! He’s Hercules’ son. You’ll use his own son to kill him. You are so bad.”
Knowing that Discord had no love for Nemesis, she certainly didn’t need to know the true parentage of the child. Not while Ares still had a use for her anyway. He allowed her to drape herself around him, momentarily enjoying the feel of leather against leather. “Just don’t deviate from my plan,” he warned.
“Telling a deviant not to deviate. That’s not fair,” she pouted.
Iolaus laid on the blanket and had a meal of baby toes and fingers. Evander giggled and squealed everytime Iolaus took a mock bite toward him.
Nemesis smiled and shook her head as she handed Hercules a now clean and dry changing cloth to fold. How many men would not only help her care for the baby but take the time to fold his changing cloths as well? Not many she suspected. Hercules and Iolaus were two of a kind.
Evander squealed again and they could hear Iolaus taunting him, asking where those toes were.
Iolaus was about to start on one of Evander’s fingers when he stopped and wrinkled his nose, “Whoa...you are a ripe little guy.” He called over to Nemesis and Hercules, “Evander could use some attention.”
“Fresh diaper?” Nemesis suggested.
“That would be my guess. He definitely has an air about him.”
“Go ahead, Uncle Iolaus. Do the honors,” Hercules offered.
Iolaus rolled a bit farther away from the baby, “No thanks, been there, done that, I’ll pass.”
Nemesis started toward the baby, diaper in hand but Hercules stopped her, “I’ll do it.” He took the diaper and crossed to Evander. As he kneeled beside the baby he spared a look for his friend, “Wuss.”
“You betcha,” Iolaus replied with a smile.
“Come on, little guy. Let’s you and me take care of business.”
Iolaus moved away, not wanting to be too close to the proceedings and sat by Nemesis at the fire. They watched as Hercules took care of the boy who wasn’t even his son. When he finished, Hercules cradled the baby against his chest and announced that they were going for a walk.
“He would be such a good father,” Nemesis commented.
“He was,” Iolaus confirmed. “It’s something he’d enjoy again.”
“I still love him, Iolaus. I guess I always will.”
Iolaus nodded, “He feels the same, but you know that.”
Nemesis looked at Iolaus closely, feeling that he had more he needed to say to her.
“What is it?” She asked.
Iolaus was silent a moment debating if he should say anything at all, “It’s not my place, to say this.”
“Yes?” Nemesis wasn’t sure she wanted to hear but she needed to make things right with these two.
“He would have helped you anyway, without the lie.” Iolaus glanced at her. Nemesis remained silent. They both looked into the fire as Iolaus continued. “Telling him he was a father, was the best surprise of his life. Taking it away....” Iolaus stopped. “Like I said, not my place. I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“It is your place. You love him, too, he’s like your own brother. I hurt him, I know I hurt him, but...I’m so sorry,” she paused a moment. “I knew he would help me. I knew you would, too. I should have believed in what I knew.”
Iolaus put a comforting hand over hers and offered a smile.
“Now isn’t this cosy.” the God of War commented behind them.
The full moon blanketed the valley in soft light. Hercules paused at the edge of a cliff descending into the valley to admire the view. He lifted up the baby so he could see as well.
“We’re a lot alike, Evander. My father was a god, my mother was a mortal, just like you. Zeus was never around, didn’t seem to care...but my mother was always there for me. She gave me what my father wouldn’t...or couldn’t...and that was unquestioning love. The same way your mom loves you. The same way I love you. As long as I’m around, no one’s going to hurt you. I promise.” He kissed Evander’s cheek and looked at him a moment before turning to walk back to camp. As he turned a familiar shower of sparks heralded the presence of his brother.
“How touching...how comforting..to know my beloved brother is looking out for my son,” his voice full of contempt for Hercules. He opened his arms to take the child. “He and I have a lot of bonding to catch up on. I’ll take him now.”
Hercules watched Ares warily, he knew Hercules would never just hand the boy over to him. “No, I won’t.”
“I’m his father, you can’t deny me.”
“He’s innocent. I won’t let you take away his chance to be a good man.”
Ares snorted sarcasticly, “A good man! What good is a good man? He has a shot at greatness!”
“You don’t care about your son. You want to corrupt him, to spread your own poison.”
“I do care about him. Evander grown up will be your worst nightmare. Yours and all those good men you care so much about.”
“I will not give him to you.”
Ares smirked as they could hear Nemesis yelling from a distance, “Hercules! Help!”
Hercules turned toward Nemesis’ voice and ran, holding Evander secure against his chest. Nemesis continued to yell for help and her voice led him directly to her. He ran out into a clearing on top of a promenatory, also overlooking the valley below but this was much higher and a much longer fall to the valley floor.
Seeing the baby, Nemesis called, “No Hercules, stay back!”
“Be careful, Herc.” Iolaus was here, too.
Nemesis and Iolaus were suspended by their tied hands from either end of a rope hanging from a branch of a gnarled, dead tree that overlooked the valley. To release one of them meant that the other would fall to their death on the rocks below.
As Hercules looked for a way out for them all, he heard Nemesis’ voice yelling from far away. He turned to find Discord standing behind him. She had lured him there, not Nemesis. Ares had a good laugh over it as he, too, joined them.
“May I have my son now?” Ares advanced on Hercules.
“Don’t do it, Herc!” Iolaus called.
Discord stopped laughing and pointed at the tree. The limb cracked, dropping Iolaus and Nemesis a foot closer to the valley floor below.
“Ares! Please don’t take him!” Nemesis plead.
The God of War ignored her, “What’s it going to be, brother? My son, or your friends’ lives. Oops! Guess I mean life. It doesn’t look like you can save them both.”
Discord looked confused, then her confusion became anger as she realized that it wasn’t Hercules’ son as she’d thought, it was Ares’. He had slept with Nemesis and hadn’t corrected her wrong assumption back at his castle. Ares had allowed her to continue thinking it was Hercules’ child. She nearly boiled with frustration and anger.
“Your son?” She asked the God of War.
Ares realized that they had inadvertanly spilled the beans, no matter. “Don’t start,” he snarled at her.
Discord turned her ire on Nemesis and again, pointed at the tree. The limb cracked further.
“Time’s almost up,” Ares unnecessarily reminded.
Hercules took one last quick look at the situation and determined how to save the most lives. He turned and handed Evander to Ares, “I’ll be coming for him. If anything happens to him before I do, all the gods of Olympus won’t be able to protect you.”
Ares accepted the threat and the baby. He turned to Discord, “Let’s go.”
Hercules turned and left the gods to vanish on their own while he examined the situation his friends were in.
“Get Nemesis first. I’ll take my chances,” Iolaus advised.
Hercules glanced at the rocks below, “Your chances are close to zero.” Hercules reached out and strained to grasp the knife in Iolaus’ belt. He gently slid it free and then reached for Nemesis. The demigod tried not to put any further weight on the already weakened and overstrained tree. He grasped Nemesis’ skirt at the waist, put the blade to the rope above her head and looked over at Iolaus. “Hang tight, buddy.”
“Like I have any choice,” he commented.
“Hercules cut the rope with a single swing of the knife and pulled Nemesis to safety. The loose end of the rope flew over the top of the tree. Iolaus screamed. At the last second, Hercules grabbed for the rope and caught the frayed end. He quickly hauled his friend up and over the edge of the cliff. They traded a relieved and concerned glance as Hercules untied his hands. He laid a hand on Iolaus’ shoulder as he took a last deep breath of relief before turning to Nemesis’ bonds.
“Ares has won, hasn’t he?” She asked fearfully.
“No way,” Hercules responded. “We’ll find him.”
Discord watched the baby play in the bath an unpleasant look on her face. She was obviously mulling over dark thoughts. “I should have known. Ares has thousands of children. If you’re so special, you’re one of them. But he didn’t tell me. Didn’t tell me you were his. That he’d been with her, Nemesis! He’ll go back, too, like they all do. And she’ll never refuse him, as long as he’s got you. But, if he doesn’t have you....” She pondered a particularly dark thought, “I’ve heard a mortal can drown in only a dipper of water. A baby would take a lot less. There’s plenty here.”
“An ocean wouldn’t be enough,” Ares responded as he emerged from the dark hallway. He knew he’d have to keep a close eye on Discord. She was a jealous soul, that made her easy to manipulate but it also made her dangerous in certain, highly predictable situations. He strode across the room and snatched the baby from the wooden tub, placing him against his shoulder like an old pro. Over the years, Ares hadn’t been completely neglectful of his children. Like Hercules, he knew his way around an infant if he had to, unlike Discord. “He’s my son. You don’t want to try me,” he warned.
She stepped around the tub and got in his face. She could feel his breath on her cheek, “And you don’t want to underestimate me.”
The general and his lietuenants waited uneasily. They were not happy with their situation and wanted to make a change.
“It never fails. Ares handpicks a General for his service, a General with a record scratched in blood, a superb tactician, a military genius.” He wasn’t the most humble of Generals, that was certain, “but as soon as he feels the hand of Ares, as soon as he’s called to Ares’ personal service...he becomes a boob. It has happened to others, and now, it has happened to me. I’m going to do something about it.”
He strode off the battlements.
Below, Hercules, Iolaus and Nemesis hid in the bushes. Above they could hear Meniskos and the guards talking.
“You were right, Iolaus. This is the place. That was Meniskos, the man Ares sent after us.”
Iolaus nodded, “Where there are soldiers at night, there is usually a fire. Soldiers don’t like the dark.” He grinned.
Hercules rose and moved toward the walls, “Come on. Evander is inside.”
Having found a towel to wrap the baby in, Ares returned to his usual tasks. He found his General and one of the men talking as he lounged on his throne. The General hadn’t noticed his return. His man tried to warn him but the General didn’t notice, he kept on talking.
“I wish I were still in the field. How I’d welcome an afternoon of pillage. This is so degrading.”
“Unhappy with your commission, Meniskos?” Ares asked.
The General spun around and tried to explain, “Only explaining, the mortal soldier compares poorly when standing in the brilliance of the God of War.”
Ares wasn’t convinced, “Hmmmm. Meet Evander, my son. Evander...”
The baby lifted his finger and the three soldiers lifted into the air. Ares chuckled with delight at the trick.
“Isn’t this perfect? Think of it. Hercules suspended in mid-air. What good will his strength do him then.”
“Not much, I would think,” Meniskos agreed.
The soldiers crashed to the floor as Discord apeared beside the throne and grabbed the baby out of Ares’ arms. “Say goodbye to your father!” She popped out of existance taking the baby with her.
Ares rose to his feet, full of fire, “Get my son away from her.”
“I don’t think we should provoke her,” Meniskos warned.
“Provoke HER?!” Ares smoldered and the men ran out of the room in every direction.
Discord appeared in the courtyard only to find Hercules and company there to greet her. No sense in doing this quietly, when she could do it publically, in front of Nemesis. Discord popped out again, only to reappear a second later on top of the battlement. Ares ran into the courtyard a few steps ahead of his soldiers.
Discord held the baby over the open courtyard, obviously threatening to drop him. “You deceived me, Ares.”
“Discord...” he threatened. She wasn’t listening and dropped the baby.
Hercules ran hard and dove at the last second, just catching the precious bundle before it hit the ground. Before Hercules could climb to his feet, Ares popped in and grabbed Evander from his arms.
Nemesis cried, “Look out,” as the soldiers closed in on Hercules. Iolaus ran to help his friend. Nemesis had other concerns and ran for the stairs leading to the battlements.
Hercules and Iolaus made quick work of the soldiers before turning toward Ares. Hercules was steamed, “Ares! I’m coming for him!”
Nemesis arrived at the battlements and advanced menacingly on Discord, “You tried to kill him.”
Discord met her halfway, “Yes, but this is better. This is what I wanted!” They launched themselves at each other.
Evander began to cry. Ares, momentarily at a loss, stopped his advance on Hercules. The baby raised his finger and a large rock floated off the ground.
Nemesis and Discord had resorted to scratching and hair pulling. Discord shoved Nemesis knocking her to the ground. The rock floated higher, once it was even with the battlements, Evander flicked his finger and the rock shot across the space smacking Discord in the back of the head, knocking her off the wall and out of the castle. Evander giggled.
“I’m here,” Hercules said drawing Ares attention from the now ended fight above.
“Don’t be foolish, brother. He’s mine.”
Hercules spoke to the baby, “Okay, little guy...go to Mommy. Go on.”
Evander floated out of Ares grasp and they watched as he went higher and higher until he reached his mother’s outstretched arms.
Ares lashed out connecting a fist to Hercules’ head sending the demigod flying across the compound. Hercules was right back in his face, trying again. Everytime Hercules returned Ares sent him flying again. Hercules got in a hit, then Ares would return the favor. They continued in this manner for a time. Hercules wouldn’t relent, Ares knew he wouldn’t. He was too giving and too self-sacrificing and too goody goody. He wouldn’t give up and the God of War had better things to do than trade blows with his sort. It was obvious even the child wouldn’t stay with him. He’d be constantly floating off to find his mother.
“Keep the brat. He’s not worth the aggravation. He’s too much like you. But I’ll see you again, brother.”
“Every time you turn around....brother,” Hercules promised.
They retreated to Nemesis’ home for a meal and some much needed rest. The following morning it was time to say goodbye to Uncle Iolaus.
“Are you sure, you won't stay?” Nemesis asked.
“Nah, thanks for the offer but I think Herc needs some quality time here on his own.” He gave her a knowing look and nodded toward Hercules approaching them. He held the baby. “I’m sure we’ll see you again, pretty soon and Evander,” Iolaus changed to a sing-song voice. “We’ll have to come visit Evander.” He gave the baby an affectionate pat and glaced at Hercules, “See you in a few days?”
“I”ll be there.” Hercules nodded gratfully at his understanding friend for giving him some time alone. “We'll walk you out,” Hercules said indicating himself and Evander.
Nemesis gave Iolaus a hug and turned back to the house, “Come back soon.”
Iolaus joined in step beside Hercules and they shared some quiet time before Iolaus asked, “You ok, Herc?”
Hercules nodded, “Fine and that’s Uncle Hercules to you.” The two friends shared a laugh. Hercules punched Iolaus in the arm playfully, “You be careful. I know what sorts of trouble you get into on your own.”
“I'm just going to my Grandmother's house, Herc. I'll be fine, really.”
“Uh huh. Have a good visit.”
“You, too.” With that, Iolaus turned and started down the lane.
Hercules and Evander watched him until he disappeared around the bend in the road. Then, they started back home. Hercules cradled the baby before him, “Before you know it, Evander, I’ll be teaching you how to wrestle. Throw the discus. You don’t know it now, but before long...you’ll realize, they’re different. You’ll want to be like everyone else, but you never will be. You’re special, in a world of ordinary. Being special means you can make a difference, for everyone who’s not. It’s not an easy life to live, but I’ll be around to help. I will be there. Always.”
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