Strife watched the children searching in the mine for the 'poor, lost kitten'. It had been easy to dupe the young mortals with his occasionally voiced cry of a pitiful feline. Their natural reluctance to enter the abandoned mine's dark entrance was swept away with the thoughts of some poor excuse for a fur ball separated from its mama, or worse, stuck under a fallen beam.
"Okay, they're here, now what? Want me to conjure up an apparition of some long lost dead mortal, or maybe a monster-oh! I know, how about-"
"Can it, Strife." Discord's arm swept back and out, nearly decapitating her partner in crime. "Watch and learn." She tossed a fireball at the entrance's lintel, causing the rotting beams to collapse and thus trap the children within. There were ominous rumblings through the choking dust, as if the whole mine shaft protested.
"Uh, not that I care really about the brats, but I thought we were only going to scare them, not smash them into paste. I mean, y'know, they could be future worshipers and all."
Discord's lips quirked up in a smirk. "Don't worry. Mortals breed like rabbits. There's always more to take their place. Time to set the rest of the plan in motion." She disappeared in a cascade of black sparkles, leaving Strife to bite his knuckle, cast one last look at the wailing children, and then disappear in pursuit of his cohort.
Kazankas was a large man. A farmer by trade up until a little over a year ago, he’d had an epiphany of sorts when traveling to Corinth to purchase some new seed he’d heard about. A hardier stock than what he grew, he’d been eager to get there. His eagerness had led to taking what was supposed to be a shortcut and ended in his nearly dying along with the populace of a small village in the marauding path of a warlord. Their-and his-salvation had been at the hands of Hercules, the legendary hero of Greece. Kazankas had never thought he’d lay eyes on the demigod let alone be saved by him. He’d left the village with stars in his eyes that day, taking to heart-perhaps too seriously-the demigod’s words regarding how everyone had the potential to be a hero inside of them.
Life for his family hadn’t been the same since. He’d stopped tending the fields in favor of helping his friends, neighbors, and even strangers. He’d even taken to traveling to nearby villages, looking to right wrongs like his idol. Somewhere along the line, he’d stopped thinking of himself as Kazankas and became Hercules in his own mind. The first time he’d laid claim to the name had been without conscious thought, a slip of the tongue. After that, the lie became easier until it was truth. Being a large, strong man, he easily convinced others that he was the son of Zeus.
“So, you’re Hercules.”
Kazankas looked up from his seat in the tavern. “That I am.”
The man standing before him was a stranger, his clothes covered in dust from the road. “I thought Hercules didn’t drink.”
The tavern owner spoke up from behind the bar. “Two of my regulars saw him lift a rock off a woman. He’s Hercules, all right.” Such would be an easy feat for Kazankas. He’d lifted many a small boulder while clearing his fields for planting.
The stranger snorted in disbelief. “Yeah, I’ll believe it when I see it.”
The tavern keeper shook his head in pity. “Nobody wants to believe in heroes anymore.”
Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of a frantic woman. “I need help! I heard Hercules was here!”
Kazankas wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and stood. “At your service.”
“It’s my children! They were playing in the old mine. It just caved in! My husband’s there now trying to dig open the entrance.” She’d been searching for them when she’d run into a woman sporting a black leather outfit who’d mentioned seeing some children wander into an abandoned mine. When their mother reached the mine, she’d found the entrance blocked.
“Say no more.” Kazankas tossed a coin on the table and followed the distraught woman outside.
When they arrived at the mine shaft, they could see that an opening had been cleared large enough for a man to edge through. The woman’s husband was nowhere to be seen, but the shout of “Daddy!” from inside proclaimed his location.
Kazankas approached the opening. It would be a tight fit, but he was sure he could make it.
“The other villagers wouldn’t even try to help clear the entrance, let alone go inside! You’re a brave man.” So was her husband.
“I’m Hercules. What did you expect?” Kazankas replied absent-mindedly while examining what was left of the opening.
She smiled and shouted to her husband, “I found Hercules! He’ll help!” Then she watched the legendary demigod disappear into the opening.
Kazankas stopped only long enough to let his eyes adjust. He didn’t like the sound of the moaning timbers. The wood was old and rotted. It wouldn’t hold up much longer. He spotted the father trying to hold up a timber that threatened to complete the ceiling collapse. If it went, the whole ceiling would come down. A small boy was clinging to his leg, making the matter worse while an older girl was trying to comfort a pinned child. “Here--let me do that. You dig them out,” Kazankas ordered the distraught father.
“Daddy, help us!” Ignoring the children, Kazankas put his shoulders to the beam and heaved upwards, allowing the father to release his hold and scramble to unpin his daughter. He finally freed her and shoved her into her older sister’s arms, sending the three toward the entrance. As soon as he saw them reach it, he turned back to help their rescuer.
Kazankas didn’t even think about his safety. He gestured with a nod at the entrance. “Go! Go!” The beam was slipping from his shoulders, the weight bearing down too much for his body to hold much longer. Yet he refused to let it go and risk trapping the children and their father beneath tons of rock.
The man hesitated and then nodded. “All right.” As he reached the mound of rock blocking the entrance and started to help his son up it, he heard something snap and a loud moan from above. He looked back and took a step toward their rescuer.
Kazankas shifted his feet, trying to get a better purchase. “Stay back! It’s not safe!”
Those were the last words heard as the timbers gave way and the mine filled with choking dust.
The sun shone down on the slightly dusty travelers as they headed toward Eleusis. The sound of one voice rang merrily through the air, like a babbling brook. “...and he was running through the street naked, going, ‘Eureka! Eureka!’” Laughter followed from the storyteller. His taller companion shared a smile and then interrupted the story as if this was his cue.
“Well, what did he find?”
“Well, he was sitting in the bath, and he realized that any object will displace its own mass in water!”
A thoughtful look crossed the taller man’s face. “Oh. That does make sense-“ Anything further was forgotten as they heard voices sounding from off the path. What they’d taken as another traveler coming toward them-in a hurry-suddenly started to veer off the road and into the brush.
“Hey--hey, what’s going on here?” The shorter of the two waved down the man, who looked like he’d rather continue on his hurried way than stop to answer questions.
“Mine collapsed. A couple of children got caught inside,” the stranger offered in way of an explanation. They followed him as he tossed these words over his shoulder, coming on a scene that seemed odd. A crowd was gathered around the entrance to a mine that was choked with rotted timbers and rocks. Though supposedly children were trapped, not a single person was lifting a hand to clear the entrance. The two exchanged a glance and made as if to approach the mine. The man stopped them.
“So, how come nobody’s helping?” The shorter of the two companions asked, looking like he thought they’d all gone mad.
“No need. Hercules is already inside.”
This elicited a pair of raised eyebrows as Iolaus looked at his traveling companion. “Funny, I thought you were with me. Is this one of those god things you forgot to tell me about? Being in two places at once?” Any retort from Hercules was drowned out by a loud moan from the mine entrance and a sudden rush of dust and debris from the narrow opening. This time the pair didn’t hesitate as they ran toward the entrance.
A woman rung her hands as the two heroes raced to the dust-filled opening. "Hurry! Oh, oh! Please, please! Do something! Help them!" she pleaded to the crowd standing around her.
A child’s voice could be heard wailing thinly from within the mine. "Daddy!"
Hercules scrambled up the fallen debris to the opening and began working his way through. "Hang on! We’re on the way!" Iolaus was hot on his heels. The pale light that let them see filtered through the dust and showed them a grim scene. The legs of a large adult male were visible beneath a mound of timbers and rock. Another man was crouched over three children, using his body to shelter them from the small stones and dirt that continued to shower the area.
Hercules scooped up the nearest child and shoved her into Iolaus’ arms. Then he hauled the man up by his arm and shoved him and the children toward Iolaus. The man looked dazedly at the hunter.
Iolaus headed for the opening, pushing the man and the other children ahead of him. "Come on! Go! Go!"
Hercules turned back to the trapped man. He doubted he was alive, but the demigod had to check.
Iolaus looked back. “Herc-!”
Hercules waved him on, shouting, "Go, get them out of here!"
Iolaus frowned to himself and turned back to the opening, waiting his turn to exit the mine. "It's okay,” he reassured the child in his arms. “We’ll get out."
Satisfied Iolaus and the others had gotten out, Hercules checked for a pulse. There was nothing. He shook his head and rose. At Iolaus’ shout that they were clear, he headed for the opening as well. “I'm coming!"
His words seemed to signal the end of any stability in the mine’s ceiling. With a loud rumble, the whole thing began collapsing. Hercules scrambled out in a cloud of more dust and dirt, coughing and trying not to inhale any more of it. When his eyes stopped watering, he was greeted with the words: "Hey, where's, uh--Hercules?"
Unseen by anyone, two gods watched the scene unfold. One seemed perplexed by what was happening and what, if any significance it portended. The other was giggling her head off over what appeared to be an inside joke.
“I don’t get it. What’s the punch line?” Strife narrowed his eyes at Discord. She had a nasty habit of setting things up and not letting him in on it until it was too late for him to add to the scheme. Personally, he thought that was why so many of their plans failed; lack of cooperation on her part. Didn’t he tell her all of his schemes?
His attention was dragged back to the present by Discord finally letting him in on what she found so amusing. “Remember that mortal I’ve spent so much time with lately?”
“Uh, yeah. Spendsalot, or something like that.”
“Spensius. He’s a disgruntled lawyer from this in-the-middle-of-nowhere piece of Greece. He wants to be somebody in Athens. He needs to win a big case so that everyone in Athens will notice him. I just thought I’d help him out. Today is his moment to shine in the sun.”
She filled Strife in on most of the details. They both broke into giggles as Discord’s plans unfolded.
"Hey, where's, uh--Hercules?"
At that question, the children’s father answered. "Dead. Hercules is dead. He died saving our lives. If it weren't for this stranger, we'd be on the other side with him."
Iolaus looked at Hercules, then at the villagers gathered around, their faces having fallen into mournful countenances at the rescued man’s words. "Um, folks. This ‘stranger’ is Hercules."
An elderly man stared at the demigod, then asked. "He's Hercules? Then who was the other guy?"
Iolaus and Hercules shrugged. They’d had no idea and apparently none of the others did either.
"His name was Kazankas," a new voice responded.
Everyone turned to see a small party of men had approached them. The two in the lead were both middle-aged, but there the differences ended. Where the speaker was of average height and had laugh lines around his eyes, his companion was tall and thin, his brows pinched down into a sour expression that seemed one of habit and not circumstance.
Hercules nodded to the speaker. "Turgeus."
"Hello, Hercules. It's been awhile. I wish it was under better circumstances. I'm afraid you're under arrest."
"Arrest?” Hercules shared a puzzled look with Iolaus. “For what?"
Turgeus’ companion finally spoke. His voice held a note of triumph as he announced, "You are responsible for the death of Kazankas!"
Iolaus stepped closer to Hercules, ready to spring into action if need be. "Wait a minute. Who are you guys?"
The man Hercules had named Turgeus, answered. "I'm the Provincial Magistrate. This village is in my district. This gentleman is Spensius."
Spensius spoke in turn, a supercilious smile on his face. "I'm the government prosecutor. I'm here to ensure that you pay for your crimes."
Hercules gave a disarming smile. "There must be some mistake."
“Damn right there is,” Iolaus muttered, quieting only when he felt the touch of Hercules’ hand on his arm.
“Mistake? A citizen is dead. There's no mistake about that. And he’s not the first. You are charged," Spensius said.
Turgeus broke in before Hercules or his friend could do something foolish. It was obvious from the expression on his face that he wasn’t happy with the situation. "Will you come peacefully?"
Hercules squeezed Iolaus’ arm, warning him to not do anything they’d regret. He could feel the muscles under his hand bunch slightly, then relax. "Sure."
Iolaus was leaning against the iron latticework that made up two walls of Hercules’ cell. They’d arrived in Eleusis mid afternoon, a small city that had a jail and the offices for trying criminals. Now they were going to have to wait till the next day to get anything straightened out. "This is crazy. You could just bust out of here." Iolaus gave the ironwork a kick.
"I can't do that. It would look like I have no faith in the system,” Hercules pointed out.
Iolaus wasn’t so sure he had any faith in it right now. This just seemed too suspicious as far as he was concerned. "You didn't kill Kazankas."
"Of course not. That's why I won't run like a guilty man."
"Yeah--but, I, I--" Iolaus stumbled over his words, not wanting to let Hercules know he didn’t have the same trust in the local judicial system.
Hercules reached through the bars, placing his hand behind Iolaus’ head and pulling him into a brief hug through the metal separating them. "It'll be all right."
Iolaus was the one to break free, quickly wiping the back of his hand across his eyes. He looked at Hercules and then around the cell. A small smile graced his lips. "Needs curtains."
“You did what?!” The voice boomed across the temple, causing the two minor gods to cover their ears briefly until the echoes died down to bearable.
“It was his idea,” Discord gestured at Strife. She knew that tone her brother had taken. He wasn’t pleased.
“Wha-?!” Strife didn’t even get to finish the word before he was hit by a ball of lightning and hurled out the temple doors. Discord managed to dodge the one intended for her, but couldn’t avoid the angry god himself when Ares’ hand closed about her throat and lifted her two feet off the ground.
“That’s not how we do things here. Violence, bloodshed, directly or indirectly achieved, yes. We don’t use lawyers!” He flung his sister to the ground. He’d have to clean up himself. Just once why couldn’t he have competent henchmen?
Turgeus waited until Iolaus had left before venturing into sight. "I heard what he said. This isn't easy for me, Hercules. But the prosecutor laid a complaint weeks ago. This latest incident has just added fuel to the fire. I have no choice."
Hercules gave him a stern look. "So, this is what's become of your justice system, huh?"
"I'm sorry, Hercules. Will you abide by the law? Stay in jail until the trial is over and the verdict comes out?"
"You have my word. I won't break out," Hercules agreed.
"Thank you." With that, Turgeus left, throwing a regretful look back over his shoulder before shutting the outer door to the holding cells.
The door was barely closed when a figure suddenly appeared in a flash of light. "Nice, but you could use a decorator." Ares, God of War, was leaning against the nearest wall, arms folded across his chest, a lazy smile on his face.
Hercules suppressed a groan. "Ares. Why do I get the feeling you're behind this?"
Ares shrugged. “You should know this isn’t my MO. However, the irony is delicious.” He did have to give Discord and Strife credit for this part. “You in the pokey--put here by the same mortals you insist on protecting. I'm sorry, I just find that--priceless."
Hercules didn’t rise to the bait. "Hmm. So, you're here. Why?"
Ares pushed away from the wall. "Ah, little brother. You look at me with petty eyes. I see a far greater picture than your temporary inconvenience, although...I do find it funny."
"Well, enjoy it while you can, because it won't last for long."
Ares shrugged. "Perhaps long enough for you to see the reality that you've refused far too long. We'll talk again." Ares disappeared in an impressive display.
Hercules slumped down on the rickety cot stationed under the lone barred window in his cell. "That's what I live for."
Iolaus was ready to rip his hair out. "You people are crazy! You can't arrest the world's greatest hero!" He’d come to speak with the prosecutor, gathering people along the way who had benefited from Hercules’ efforts in the past, and offered their support.
Spensius gave a smirk and shrugged his shoulders slightly. "Let me assure you, this was no hasty, frivolous decision. I've been building this case for months." Ever since he’d been visited by a goddess and promised success.
"But he saved those children!" Iolaus protested.
Spensius snorted. "What about the man he let die?!"
"He didn't let anybody die! The guy was already dead.”
“So he says. We’ve no proof except his word that the man was dead before he left the mine to save his own life,” Spensius countered.
“This is ridiculous! This is Hercules we're talking about!"
Spensius slammed the flat of his hand down on the desk. "That's exactly the kind of attitude that's brought us here today. Would there be this sense of outrage, this rush to acquittal, if anyone but the son of Zeus were in jail?"
Iolaus was horrified to hear a voice from his support mutter, "You know, he's got a point."
The courtroom was full of people, everyone talking at once. The small city hadn’t seen this much excitement since the King of Thieves was rumored to be in the vicinity.
Turgeus slammed the butt of his staff of office on the stone floor. "Silence!"
Hercules tried once more. He was here for the pretrial hearing but hadn’t been able to get a word in on his behalf. "All I'm asking is that you listen to me."
"This is a preliminary hearing. It's for the prosecutor to state his case," Turgeus replied.
"I can save us all a lot of time."
Turgeus ignored Hercules and pleaded with the prosecutor. The sooner he got all these people out of here, the sooner his headache would abate. He liked Hercules, but he had to agree that no one was above the law. Spensius had a compelling case. "Please--help us out here."
"Thank you, Magistrate.” Spensius smiled at Turgeus and then faced the crowd. His voice rose, commanding silence as he stated his case. “Hercules is accused of the following crimes-- involuntary manslaughter, undermining the authority of the gods, and sedition; denying the authority of our government, encouraging rebellion. How do you plead?"
Hercules tried not to scowl in impatience. "I don't plead. I didn't kill Kazankas. I've never condoned rebellion against a just government in my life."
Spensius leaned forward. "And who decides if a government is just?"
"We all do. It's called freedom."
Spensius leaned back again. "Interesting. You tell men to go out and follow their hearts--to do what's right--whatever the cost!"
Hercules felt like he was being driven into a corner. He could feel Iolaus’ eyes on him, his friend radiating impatience. He almost wished he’d not made him promise to keep quiet. "I tell men to follow their hearts--that's all."
"And what if their hearts tell them to ignore a law, or that it's wrong?" Spensius probed.
"I don't tell people to ignore the law. I do tell them to speak up if they disagree with it."
"It's that flippant attitude to the law that's brought us here today!" Spensius gestured grandly at the room they stood in, as if it was seat of Greece’s judicial system in Athens, not some overly stuffy room in a small town miles away.
Hercules’ eyes narrowed. "Why am I here, Spensius? I mean, why am I really here?"
Spensius smiled and lifted his hands, gesturing to the crowd in the courtroom. "Because you encourage people to act like you, to try to be like you--even to pretend they are you!"
Spensius didn’t let him finish. "By your actions you are as responsible for poor Kazankas' death as if you had shoved that beam and that stone down on him, and crushed him yourself! He was no son of Zeus who could survive such calamity.” Spensius stood. “I call the widow, Galea, to the witness circle."
Iolaus looked on in dismay as a harried-looking woman moved forward, stopping a young girl from following her. He heard her say, "Stay right here. Mommy will be right back." The two children she left wore worn clothing that showed numerous mending. They didn’t wear sandals and their mother’s were worn. Despite their obvious poverty, the woman carried herself proudly.
His gaze returned to the prosecutor as the man spoke. "Kazankas was your husband."
Galea’s proud stance faltered a bit. "Yes. He-he was."
"He was a farmer. What happened?"
She looked over at Hercules and then back at Spensius. "He met Hercules. There was a village that was being threatened by a warlord. Hercules gathered the people together to make a stand against him. Hercules fought the warlord and saved them all. Kazankas was there and he saw it happen. He said Hercules said there was a hero in everyone’s hearts. He said that once he'd met Hercules, his whole life had changed."
Spensius gave her a concerned look. Iolaus thought he was about as concerned as most of the gods were regarding mortals. "And did it?"
Galea’s lips thinned. "Unfortunately, yes. He started spending less and less time at the farm, and then one day, he just took off."
"Tell me, who's tending the farm? Harvesting the crops?"
Galea shook her head. "There are no crops. Kazankas didn't plant any." This elicited dismayed responses in the crowd, including among Hercules’ supporters.
Spensius gave Hercules a look that closely resembled a hydra about to swallow its prey. "You have two small children. How will you eat? How will you survive?"
Galea bit her lip as if to keep from breaking down and weeping "I don't know."
Spensius began to walk back and forth in front of her, head bowed as if in thought. "So, your husband meets Hercules-- is inspired to go out and do good-yet he leaves you and your children to starve.” He stopped and looked at the crowd and Turgeus. “That says it all; I have no further questions. We don't know if Hercules is immortal. We do know Kazankas wasn't. He went into that mine saying he was Hercules--and he never came out."
Turgeus stepped forward at Spensius’ signal and wrapped the butt of his staff against the floor to quiet the crowd. "Hercules, the court finds that the charges stand and you are bound over. Your trial will begin in Athens one week from today." Spensius had pulled what strings he could to get the trial heard in Athens. He wanted the higher court to see how intelligent and astute he was; what better way to gain their attention than to bring a famous hero to justice? And he had a goddess on his side. He smiled to himself as the crowd filed out of the room.
Iolaus brought Hercules some bread and cheese. He’d had to put up with the guard running a knife through it to make sure he hadn’t hidden a knife or something in it. Like Hercules needed anything to get out of his prison if he wanted to leave. Idiots, all of them. He handed the food to his friend. “They say the food here is really bad--even for prison food."
Hercules gave him a weak smile. "Thanks. I, uh--feel better already."
"You know, I don't know why you insist on going through with this charade. That Spensius has it in for you, and Turgeus is playing along out of fear."
Hercules reached his free hand through the cell’s ironwork and gripped Iolaus’ shoulder. "I gave my word. Besides, this isn't just about Kazankas anymore."
"I know, but I heard that guy Spensius never lost a case," Iolaus muttered.
"Great. Now I really feel better."
“Sorry. Y’know, it’d be easy for you to just bust out of this place," Iolaus suggested.
"To what end, Iolaus? I have to clear my name. If they can do this to me, they can do it to anyone. Have some faith in our judicial system. I’ll be out of here all in good time." Hercules tried to put a brave front on for his friend, even though he was beginning to doubt himself.
“I know, I know. I just wish I had as much faith in the system as you.”
Iolaus didn’t wait another day. As much as he wanted to be there to comfort his friend, on the morning Hercules left under guard to head to Athens, he took off in another direction to find help. Hercules might be smart, but this called for fighting fire with fire. He needed a lawyer and there was only one lawyer he knew that he trusted to fight with the passion necessary to get the job done.
Iolaus borrowed a horse and headed in the opposite direction, praying to any god that might hear and want to help that he’d be on time.
The judge, Cycnus, brought his staff down sharply on the floor. "Order, order!" This trial was turning into a zoo on the very first day. He wouldn’t be surprised if some entrepreneur was outside selling tickets to Hercules’ trial. The courtroom was packed and more people kept squeezing in. He could feel a headache coming on.
Spensius, resplendent in new robes that while somber were obviously made of the finest material, questioned one of several witnesses he had planned for today. "Your farm was being ravaged by a wild boar and you were waiting for Hercules to take care of the problem?"
An elderly farmer stood before the judge, nervously destroying the hat he kept wringing between gnarled hands. "Yes, sir, but he was too busy. War broke out in Arlis, then there was a Hydra problem in Dodona."
"So, what you're saying is that he raised false hopes."
The old man nodded, his white beard bobbing up and down with the movement. "Right. He--he couldn't get to us in time--and that big pig tore up all my crops and me, and destroyed my farm."
Hercules objected. "This is ridiculous. I've never seen this man before." He also didn’t remember receiving word about a rampaging boar either.
Spensius gave a satisfied smirk. "My point exactly. You influence people you've never even met. That's why you're so dangerous."
Hercules’ face looked like a thundercloud. "Dangerous? To whom?"
Cycnus held up a hand to get their attention. "Could we have a little order here, please? Don't interrupt, Hercules. This is Athens, and you'll do things our way. You'll get a chance to be heard. Proceed." Maybe he could get someone to make some tea for his headache.
Spensius nodded his thanks to the judge and continued addressing his witness. "Is there any lesson that you've learned from this?"
The farmer looked at Hercules, then the judge in turn. "You can't count on him. I should've found a way to deal with that boar myself, instead of waiting for Hercules to show up."
The second witness for the prosecutor could have been a brother to the first, but for the fact he dressed better and seemed more educated.
Spensius asked his first question. "How many of your sons went to war?"
"All four of them," the elderly gentleman replied.
"How many came home?"
The witness sighed sadly. "None--they all died in battle. They heard the story of Hercules' rescue of Ajax and his soldiers at Mt. Pentelikos and how he risked all odds to save those soldiers. They thought it was what they wanted--to be heroes--like Hercules-but-- " His voice died away and the courtroom was actually silent as everyone leaned in to hear the quietly spoken words.
Spensius had put on his sympathetic face. "So, now, without a son, your family name dies with you."
"Yes, that's right, but that's not important. I miss my boys." He looked at Hercules, his face not accusing the demigod, simply sharing his grief over lost opportunities with his beloved children.
Spensius nodded and briefly touched the shoulder of the grieving father. It never hurt to show sympathy, feigned or felt when before a judge. It did wonders for gaining support for his side. "They wanted to be heroes--just like Hercules."
The courtroom’s silence was shattered as the crowd began shouting out their sympathy and support for either side.
Cycnus called a halt to the proceedings till after lunch. He needed to see a healer about something for his headache.
“Come on, little brother. You can't let these tales get you down. They’re mortals. Probably half of their stories are lies." Ares was paying yet another visit to his nemesis, but found himself in the uncomfortable role of sympathizer. He knew what it was like to be maligned and blamed for all the wars and violence in the world. Not that he didn’t enjoy the wars mortals themselves initiated, but he didn’t want to take credit where it wasn’t due, nor blame for some of the more stupid stunts warring factions pulled. He did have a reputation to consider.
Hercules didn’t even look up at the god. "I never realized that what I do can affect people I've never even met." He looked lost.
Ares snorted. "You're a good influence on people." Gah! I can’t believe I said that. That’s Shorty’s job. Where in Hades is he, anyway? He’s normally attached to Hercules’ hip. Ares brushed the thoughts aside as his half brother muttered in reply.
"Even when they die."
"It’s not your fault, idiot. If people hear about your adventures, and then risk their lives trying to be like you-well, that’s their problem, not yours.” Ares was sorely tempted to simply dissolve the wall behind Hercules’ so he could escape, but the idiot of a brother would probably stay in his cell like a good lamb waiting for its slaughter. Escape wasn’t an option when the escapee would simply turn himself back in out of misplaced guilt. Besides, if anyone was going to rid the world of goody-two-sandals, it would be he, Ares, God of War.
Ares’ reverie was broken by the sound of voices just outside the holding cells’ door. He disappeared before the words fully registered on Hercules’ ears.
A woman’s voice was adamant as she proclaimed, "I want to see Hercules."
A frustrated guard was just as adamant. "Lady, you can't go in there."
The door burst open and Iolaus was suddenly bouncing before Hercules’ cell. Just his presence made the demigod’s depression lift. He smiled, glad Iolaus had returned and wondering what plan he’d been off hatching. When the hunter had left with only a message stating he’d meet him in Athens, Hercules had found it difficult to keep his spirits up, especially after two days of the prosecutor’s witnesses claiming their lives were ruined because he hadn’t been there for them.
Iolaus looked like the cat that got the cream. "Hey, buddy, I got some good news--I think. You, um--have a visitor." Anything further had to wait as the woman’s voice, now sounding vaguely familiar, sounded again.
"No. You don't understand. I'm his lawyer."
Hercules looked at Iolaus, perplexed. Lawyer? He hadn’t-then it hit him. "Dirce?" The door burst open before he could get another word out and a tall woman sporting rich clothes and a ridiculous hairstyle, swept in, scrolls dropping from her arms like petals from a bouquet.
She beamed at her ‘client’. "I came as soon as I heard that you need someone in your corner, Hercules--someone who knows the law. That would be me."
Hercules stared at her, bemused. "That would be you. Uh, I don't think so."
She didn’t seem to hear as she rattled on, more scrolls dropping like flies. "I'll have you out of this inside a week."
She finally seemed to notice the skepticism in his tone. "I represented Iolaus, didn't I, in his trouble with King Menelaus."
Iolaus waved at him from the floor as he picked up the fallen scrolls.
Hercules rubbed the spot on his forehead right between his eyes, the place all his headaches started when things went from ridiculous to bizarre. "King Menelaus is your father, and you still almost got Iolaus killed."
Dirce huffed. "I've learned a lot of the law since then. Now! What we need to do is put someone up there who knows you personally--somebody that Spensius can't twist around."
Iolaus handed her back the scrolls and watched as several more fell out the other side. "Well, that'd be me."
She shook her head. "No, it wouldn't."
As a duet, the two warriors said, "It wouldn't?"
Dirce smiled at Iolaus. "You're his partner. They expect you to stand up for him. No, what we need are people that Hercules has helped."
"Well, piece of cake, I mean, they're all over the place!" Iolaus gestured grandly, as if such witnesses were there in the room with them.
"Well then, show me!"
"You know, Dirce, we can go and find some right now!" Her enthusiasm catching, Iolaus didn’t wait to see if she followed. He took off out of the room, Dirce following in hot pursuit, leaving a trail of scrolls behind her.
Hercules called after them, "Hey, you know, you, you--dropped your-uh, see you later..."
Hercules grabbed the scepter and Cassandra. He shoved Panthius to the side and smashed the control panel with the scepter.
The multiple layers of tunnels beneath them began to collapse and the palace with it.
“Are you all right?” Hercules hurriedly asked.
“Ask me later!” Cassandra replied.
All around them the island began to fall into the mine levels beneath. People screamed and panicked and ran everywhere. Nothing could be done now except run for their lives. But to where? The whole island was falling in on itself. Hercules and Cassandra tried to make it down the stairs but they were crumbling away beneath their feet. Cassandra screamed as she fell. The floor gone from beneath her. She looked down and saw nothing but blackness, a void so dark and deep. Hercules grabbed her hand and she turned back and saw the face from her vision.
“Don’t let me fall!”
“Never.” Hercules pulled her up and she wrapped her arms around him like she would never let go. “Let’s not celebrate yet.”
“What now?” She looks and sees that there is no where for them to go. The stairs are impassable. “Oh no!”
“Don’t panic. I’ve got an idea.” Hercules began pulling her up the stairs, past the throne room and toward the roof.
Hercules and Cassandra arrived on the rooftop glider runway just as the whole building dropped a few feet. They ran toward the gliders. Hercules secured himself in the seat and Cassandra climbed in behind him holding on for dear life.
The roof was developing huge cracks, their time was up. Hercules hit the power switch and held on to the controls. The crystal began to glow and hum.
“Do you know how to fly this?” Cassandra asked.
“There’s a first time for everything.” He found and released the brake. The glider shot across what was left of the roof and into the air. Cassandra buried her face in Hercules’ back and refused to look.
The roof collapsed entirely behind them. Hercules was concentrating on what was in front of him. They cleared the bluffs and soared out over the sea.
“Tell me when it’s over.” Cassandra was still waiting for the crash. She thought it should have come by now.
“We’re safe, you can open your eyes.”
Cassandra raised her head and looked around. There was nothing but ocean below them. “I’ll say one thing, you sure know how to sweep a girl off her feet.” She smiled and hugged him from behind. Then, she had a thought, “I know this isn’t the best time, but...”
“Yes?” Hercules asked.
“We don’t have anywhere to land.”
“We’re not looking for land.” Hercules pointed out a ship under full sail.
“But how will we land on that?”
“We don’t.” He angled the glider downward toward the ship. “We get as close to the water as we can and we jump. Tell me, you can swim.”
“I can swim.”
Cassandra opened her eyes, letting the memory fade from her internal vision. ”It was horrible The ground was shaking, and it was tearing open, and buildings were falling, people screaming-but--I wasn't afraid.”
Dirce smiled at her first witness in Hercules’ defense. They’d petitioned the judge for a month’s time to gather witnesses on Hercules’ behalf. In spite of arguing that they needed as much time as Spensius had had to build his case, they’d only been given a week. Iolaus had spent every dinar he could scrounge to enlist messengers from Hermes’ temple to find others willing to come. Luckily, Cassandra had dreamed that Hercules was in trouble and had arrived in Athens two days ago to plead his case. "How could you not be afraid? I, I mean, how could anyone not be terrified?"
Cassandra smiled. "Because I knew that Hercules was going to save me--just as he did in my dreams."
"The flying machine you told us about was built for two people?"
"No, they carried one soldier, the operator."
Dirce spun about and addressed the crowd with her next words. "So Hercules took a great personal risk, knowing that the machine might not fly with the two of you on board."
"I don't think it entered his mind. He was going to save my life. We both knew it."
With a smile, Dirce turned back to her witness. "That'll be all. Your witness."
Spensius rose and gave Cassandra a condescending smile. "Atlantis. Imaginary city of mortals."
As he predicted, Cassandra bristled. "It wasn't imaginary."
"Mm-hm. Tell me--this dream you mentioned where Hercules saves your life--would you call this a vision?”
Cassandra had the measure of the man and gave a cautious nod. ”You could call it that.”
"Visions of the future, imaginary cities, and machines that fly! You made it all up, didn't you?!"
Dirce rose from her seat. "Objection!"
Cycnus shook his head at the defense, then gestured at the witness. "Proceed."
"No. Hercules saved my life."
"Fine, say he did. What about all the other people who lived there? He just--let them die?!"
Cassandra cast a quick look at Hercules before continuing. "He tried to help them, but they wouldn't listen."
Spensius nodded reasonably and addressed the jury. "You see, that's the problem with heroes, isn't it? They have to make decisions--who lives, who dies. It doesn't seem fair, does it?"
Cassandra gave him a dark look and muttered, "No. This is what isn't fair."
Spensius waved a hand in her direction, dismissing her. "I have no further need of this witness."
Dirce and Iolaus were visiting Hercules while the court took a break for lunch. Every witness they’d brought forth that morning had been shot down or their words twisted by Spensius. Dirce had to admit the man was good. She hated him all the more for it. Looking at her client, she reached out a hand to touch his arm in comfort. "Look on the bright side. They can't fine you. You don't have a dinar to your name."
"This isn't about money. What if Spensius convinces the jury that I'm guilty of--whatever--and I end up going to prison. How can I help people if I'm in prison?"
Dirce tried to bolster his flagging spirits. "Things are always darkest before the dawn. This afternoon all we have to do is choose better witnesses."
"No? No what? What are you thinking?"
"I want to go into that witness circle, and speak for myself."
Dirce broke out in a laugh. "Amateurs!” At the determined look on Hercules’ face, she stifled the laugh. “Read my lips--no way. No self-respecting lawyer would ever let a client do a thing like that."
"It's not your call."
"That is not how the game is played."
Hercules pulled himself up straighter, determined to make her understand. "This isn't a game. It's not about winners or losers. This is about truth and justice, and I'm doing it."
Dirce mimicked his stance unconsciously, just as stubborn as the demigod. "I'm on your case. As long as I am we do things my way." Neither of them noticed Iolaus shaking his head, one hand running nervously through his hair and muttering about peas in a pod.
Hercules scowled as his lawyer turned on her heel and marched out the door. "Dirce!"
Her voice drifted back. "That's final."
At one point during the questioning of the witnesses, Hercules interrupted the proceedings. Spensius had just whittled away at another of their supporter’s stories and Hercules had lost his temper. He’d stood and stated, "I'm hearing a lot about the choices I've made but nothing about the choice Kazankas made, and that does the man a grave disservice. I wish, more than anything, I could have saved his life, but trying to make me responsible for his actions, it- it takes away from the greatest, most selfless act a human is capable of--sacrificing one's life--for another. You can try to discredit me--at least I'm here to defend myself. But Kazankas isn't. So don't take away from his death--his self-sacrifice--by making it my responsibility. He made that heroic choice himself. And he deserves our honor--and respect for doing so."
Of course, this led to an uproar from the crowd and a brief dismissal of everyone to calm down the rising tide of emotions. Dirce had followed after Hercules’ and his jailors, barely waiting until they’d left them alone to comment on Hercules’ little speech.
"That was a nice speech. There's a good chance they might drop the involuntary manslaughter charges." She nodded in emphasis.
"Good, now we're getting somewhere. Uh, this is good, right?"
Dirce was writing down a few notes to herself on a piece of parchment. She looked up and shrugged. "Kind of not. I don't think Spensius is interested in manslaughter. He wants you on the sedition charge. If the jury convicts you of that, then you'll be banished from all of Greece-- forever."
It hadn’t been easy, but the mercenary had evaded the guards, losing them in the crowded warrens and alleys around the busy market square. Finding an isolated corner, formed by shacks and storehouses leaning against the city wall, he’d climbed up and over, slipping down the other side and loped quickly into the forest. His wounded leg was stiff and ached badly, but he gave it no quarter as he ran for his life.
For, if he didn’t escape, he would surely die when they caught up with him.
Breaking from the forest into a stretch of grassland on the hill overlooking the shoreline, heading for the corel he and Hercules had taken from the pirates, he lurched up the incline and then lifted his head - and all hope of escape died in his heart. Hercules was standing square in his way - blocking his desperate bid for freedom. Groaning, panting for breath, he rolled his eyes and then demanded with exasperated despair, “Aw-w-w…don’t you ever give up? I suppose you’ve come to take me back again.”
But the demigod shook his head. “That was my arrow,” he said simply.
Stunned, never having expected assistance of any kind, let alone aid in escaping, Derk blurted, “Why?”
Hercules grimaced as he looked away. “What was happening to you,” he replied, returning his gaze to the mercenary’s gaze, “it wasn’t justice.”
Overwhelmed, Derk bowed his head. “Thank you,” he choked out, his voice nearly breaking with relief.
“It’s not that easy,” the demigod told him flatly as he dictated his terms. “You go back to your family. You be a farmer…a fisherman,” Hercules ordered. “But you put your mercenary days behind you.”
Derk took a deep breath and nodded. Moving forward, he grasped Hercules’ forearm in the warriors’ clasp as he vowed, “It’s done. I give you my word.”
"Your husband, Derk, was a hired killer. He killed people for money." Spensius was cross examining the latest witness for the defense.
Derk's wife had finished her tale on Hercules’ behalf. "But they were bad men--all of them."
Spensius frowned at her. "None of these executions were government-sanctioned, correct?"
"Th-that's true, but-- "
"So, Hercules brought your husband back to justice, but when he didn't like the court's verdict, he helped him escape. Is that right?" He smiled, but his eyes were like a hawk’s before it took its prey.
"Derk became a good man." she protested. He’d been the model farmer, husband, and father since then.
"He was a killer! Hercules--half-god--and hero--put himself above the law! That is seditious behavior by my standards!"
Dirce shot up and waved excitedly at the judge. "Objection!"
Spensius straightened his robes and returned to his seat, saying, "I have no further questions."
It was the third day of the defense’s witnesses. More people were pouring into Athens to either add their stories regarding how Hercules’ had helped them, or to simply get into the trial to watch the proceedings. It was good for business, but did nothing for Cycnus’ headache. He watched in silence as the defendant’s lawyer called her next witness.
"I call Daedalus, the world's greatest inventor.” Dirce waited patiently as the elderly man ambled forward. When he was directly before the judge, she began her questioning. “Daedalus, can you tell us about Hercules?"
"He's the best friend a man could have. He is there when you need him. Early on, I had trouble convincing people that my inventions were useful. Hercules persuaded me to follow my dreams, as long as I felt I was right."
Dirce smiled encouragingly and urged him to continue. "And we're glad he did."
"And after my boy, Icarus, died, I--,” Daedalus paused to get control of his voice, “--I lost my way for awhile. I was inventing weapons--helping an evil man to--to destroy innocent lives."
"What part did Hercules have in all this?"
He smiled at Hercules as he answered Dirce’s question. "He opened my eyes. He helped me see that I was blinded by my grief--that what I was doing was hurting people. Next to my boy, Hercules is the best friend I've ever had."
"Thank you, Daedalus. He's been that kind of friend to many of us."
For the first time, Spensius objected, but it was overruled.
Dirce smiled at her adversary and, with a slight strut to her step as she surrendered the floor to Spensius, added, "No further questions. Your witness."
Spensius ignored her and began his questioning. "Hercules knew your son, Icarus. Did he encourage him also to follow a dream?"
Daedalus nodded. "Icarus wanted to fly like a bird. Hercules told him that anything was possible as long as he wanted it badly enough."
"So, Hercules--immortal, for all we know--encouraged an impressionable young man to be just like him and to risk everything--to follow his dream. And that risk is what killed him!"
Dirce shot up. "Objection!"
Hercules wasn’t far behind her. He was up as well, and only Iolaus’ hand on his elbow reminded him to remain where he was and not stride forward and shake some sense into Spensius. "How can you say something like that?!"
Cycnus rubbed the bridge of his nose as he admonished the defendant. "Hercules! Be seated. No more outbursts, please! Objection is overruled. Continue, Spensius.”
Spensius nodded his thanks. "A friend for life. Is that what you said? He shattered your world! What kind of a friend would do that?!"
Hercules had reseated himself, but protested. "Leave him alone, Spensius!"
Cycnus slammed his staff down on the floor. "Hercules, I'm warning you! You're out of order! This trial can proceed without you here, you know. Proceed."
Spensius continued. "This half-god would like us all to follow our hearts--to do what's right--to ignore the law! To rebel against order and defy the state! Sedition!"
"Objection!" Dirce looked like she was about to commit murder.
"Overruled!" Cycnus slammed his staff down to emphasize his judgment.
Spensius nodded to the judge and spoke to the jury. "Had Icarus lived--he could've been an even greater inventor than his father. But, we'll never know--because Hercules told him to go for it! Chase your dream! Lose your life. No further questions."
Even Dirce’s confidence looked like it had taken a beating. "Look--I, I know you're upset because things don't seem to be going our way. I can read a jury. We're not so badly off."
Hercules shook his head. “That is not what's bothering me. Maybe I am somehow responsible for the death of Kazankas, and for--for Icarus. How many others have died trying to live up to my standards?"
"Look. Tomorrow's another day." She tried to sound encouraging.
Dirce bit her lower lip and then plastered a smile on her face. "Don't start to doubt yourself, Hercules. We're in the right here. Hang on."
"Right! There you go. You just gotta think positive!" She smiled at him, hoping his depression was a passing thing. If Hercules gave up, then Spensius would win.
“You know, she’s right, Herc.” Iolaus reached through the bars and grasped his friend’s shoulder as they watched Dirce leave. “Spensius wants you to doubt yourself. That way he can trip you up. My bet is that he’s going to want you up there to testify so he can trip you up. It’s his ego controlling this, not any real desire for justice. If he makes you look bad, then he’ll look good. It’s the classic bully strategy.”
“My head knows you’re right, Iolaus, but my heart-“ he buried his face in his hands and tried to ignore the thought that for every innocent life he’d helped, how many had been harmed?
“Come on, buddy. We’re in this together. I’m going to go get you something to eat and then see who we have lined up for tomorrow.” Iolaus patted his shoulder.
No sooner had Iolaus left than Hercules became aware of another visitor, this one right in the cell with him. He stifled a groan when he saw the God of War lounging against the wall.
Ares raised an eyebrow in greeting. "I knew this would happen sooner or later. You beat yourself bloody to help these people and how do they show their loyalty? Like this."
"What do you want now, Ares?"
"I'm trying to understand. You see, you puzzle me.” Hercules was surprised to see that Ares seemed actually sincere about this. The god separated himself from the wall and approached him, gesturing passionately. “Where is your anger, man?! They shouldn't treat you like this. You’re a son of Zeus, and more importantly, you’re the brother of Ares!"
Hercules corrected him automatically, amused by Ares forgetting he usually hated to call Hercules even remotely related. "Half-brother. Don't make it worse than it already is."
Ares shrugged as if that was suddenly of no consequence. "You could have a much easier life, you know."
"How? What, by being like you? I don't think so." Hercules shook his head.
"We've had our differences,” Ares admitted, “but it's because you refuse to look past what you think you see in me. We want the same things for this world."
"Really?" Hercules couldn’t keep the skepticism out of his voice.
Choosing to ignore it, Ares elaborated. "Yes, we do. Order--perfect order. It could be a place without crime, without vice. Think how happy that'd make your beloved mortals. And wouldn't it set Zeus back a step or two? You and me? Think about it." In truth, Ares looked like he’d just thought of the idea. Obviously it appealed to him from the smile that suddenly blossomed. Disturbingly, Hercules thought it looked like Iphicles’ smile. In fact...
Hercules shook the thought away. "You and me."
"Yeah!" Ares positively beamed.
"A team. What color is the sky in your world?" Hercules asked.
"See, that's your weakness. You don't have the stomach for it. Compromise just isn’t in your nature, little brother."
"No, it's just that, whenever you're around, I lose my appetite," Hercules rejoined.
“Fine, rot in this place then. But if you change your mind, just call. I’ll be listening.” Ares disappeared.
Spensius watched his adversary question her next witness, trying to find faults in her testimony. It wasn’t easy since the two women kept segueing off into various tangents. He was beginning to think that he’d have to pass on questioning her since the testimony was hard to follow.
Queen Melissa finally got back to her story and was finishing it up. "So, without Hercules' help, our kingdom would've fallen into the hands of my evil sister."
Dirce had been staring at her witness intently. "You know, you’re an uncommonly beautiful woman, Queen Melissa." In truth, there was a resemblance between the two women that was astounding. The only obvious difference was that Queen Melissa knew how to dress and Dirce seemed to have been born without a sense of fashion whatsoever.
"Really? I was just about to say the same thing!"
The two shared a moment of laughter before Dirce saw the judge reaching for his staff. She quickly sobered up and continued. "But, let's keep to the business at hand. You said that Hercules' compassionate treatment of wounded soldiers inspired you."
"He was an inspiration to us all." Further testimony was interrupted by a movement through the crowd. A woman’s voice was heard to whisper, “Jason.” Two people were silhouetted in the doorway before they moved forward to show that it was the former king of Corinth and the woman for whom he’d abdicated his crown. The crowd erupted in murmurs, causing the judge to bang his staff on the floor.
Dirce eagerly closed her questioning. "That will be all, Queen Melissa.”
Spensius waived his right to counter question the witness. Dirce eagerly retook the floor and announced, “I call Jason as a witness for the defense. Jason. Well, everybody knows who you are--former king of Corinth, former Argonaut. How would you describe your relationship with Hercules?"
Jason looked Spensius in the eyes as he answered Dirce’s question. He wasn’t like many of the witnesses who might have been cowed by the lawyer’s fancy clothes and manipulative manner. "He’s my stepson, and my best friend. We fought together on the first expedition for the golden fleece. And in a darker time he helped me turn my life around. I'd-- I'd become a hopeless drunk-- because of--well, personal problems."
Dirce then went into a series of questions about the many times Hercules had helped Jason in war, and in peace before finally ending. "Well, thank you, thank you. That'll be all."
Spensius looked up from the parchment where he’d been taking notes and focused in on a less than glorious time. "The second expedition for the fleece. Your idea-- or Hercules’?"
Jason kept his face neutral. "Hercules.' It was a matter of honor."
"How many died?"
"Two men--Otis and Valerus," Jason admitted.
"How many died on the first?"
"Four. What's your point?" Jason frowned at the lawyer.
"My point? Spensius smiled. “The end--their glory, their honor--justifies the means. No matter how many lives are lost or how many families are ruined."
Jason frowned. "Hold it, that's not right, that's not the way it was. Those men were never coerced into anything. They knew the risks and willingly took them. Their deaths weren’t Hercules’ fault. If anything, he saved us all many times on those journeys.”
The crowd erupted into chaos, some cheering Jason’s words, others booing them. The judge rose and slammed his staff down on the ground, trying to shout above them. "Order! Order!"
The door leading to the cells opened and Hercules looked up to see his latest visitor. Immediately, he stood. “Mother."
Alcmene rushed forward and reached out to join hands with her son. "Hercules. This is awful."
"Oh, yeah." Yet he felt better now than he had all day.
"How could they do this to you?"
Hercules shrugged. Power, corruption, greed, all and any were probably the driving force rather than a desire for any justice. "Uh, I'm just trying to cooperate with the system."
"I was the one who taught you to do that." She sounded regretful.
"You taught me exactly as you should have," Hercules reassured her.
"Are you getting enough to eat?"
"It's not your cooking, but I'll survive,” Hercules chuckled. “Iolaus has been supplementing my diet here."
The guard looked in on them and gestured to Alcmene. "Time to go."
Alcmene turned back to her son and hugged him as best she could through the bars. "I love you, Hercules."
"I love you, Mother. It'll be all right. Believe me.” He just wished he could believe it as well.
Dirce and Iolaus sat in the room the woman had rented while in Athens. Scrolls were spread all over the table, floor, and bed. She had several open and was pouring over them, taking notes. Iolaus sat nursing a glass of the wine that had come with their meal. It was just like every evening since Dirce had come to help Hercules. They interviewed their next day’s witnesses and then Dirce rummaged through her scrolls while he drank the last of the wine. Later he’d go over with some tidbits for Hercules to eat and some light-hearted conversation to cheer them both up. "You know, these scrolls are so outdated, it's not funny."
But tonight was different. Iolaus had been quiet through the meal, letting his companion do all the talking. "Dirce, there's something I have to tell you."
Dirce looked up, a question in her eyes. "Look, I know things look bad, but you know? It's not over till it's over. There's no way I'm going to let that fast-talking chariot-chaser beat me in a court of law." She continued on in this vein, suddenly needing to vent about Spensius.
"Would you listen to me?"
She didn’t seem to hear. "I'll show him. If I can't find something in these scrolls, then I'll find it in 'The people of Athens versus Deaphones.'"
"Would you stop?!"
"By the way, I've changed my mind. I think things might go better for Hercules if I put you in the witness circle before closing arguments."
Iolaus sighed in exasperation. "That is exactly what I want to talk to you about."
Hercules watched Dirce stand over him, biting her lip. That wasn’t a good sign. "I have some--news."
"Iolaus is going to testify tomorrow.” she said.
"Great!" Then why didn’t he feel like it was a good thing? Iolaus knew him better than anyone, including his mother. He should be glad Iolaus was finally getting a chance to help him in a fashion other than finding witnesses for the defense. He waited for the sandal to drop. It wasn’t long in coming.
"For the prosecution."
“--I’ll leave town-“
“You’ll do no such thing, Iolaus.” Hercules leaned shoulder first against the bars of his cell as his friend paced outside of it, gesticulating wildly with each step he took.
“I’m not testifying against you!” his companion declared.
“I never said you were.”
Hercules held up a hand to silence his friend. “Dirce explained it to me. Spensius is trying to twist everything and you’re just one more witness he thinks he can use to make me look bad. She said he’s calling you as a hostile witness.”
“I’ll give him hostile--!” Iolaus made a gesture rather reminiscent of a sword thrust. Hercules winced.
“No, you won’t. Just-just keep your temper in check.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my temper!” Iolaus protested.
“Well-you can be a little hot-headed-“
“I am not!” Iolaus stopped at the raised eyebrow and slight smile Hercules gave him. “Funny. Fine. I’ll be polite. But after this is all over, I’m going to-“
“No, you’re not. You’ll leave him alone and forget about him.”
“Herc, you have no sense of justice.”
“On the contrary, my friend. That’s what got me into this mess to begin with.”
Spensius had called Iolaus to the stand, eliciting speculation among the audience as to why Hercules’ sidekick would testify against him. Some of the theories were less than kind and Iolaus gritted his teeth as the whispers reached his ears. Spensius was expostulating as usual and he pulled his attention back to the important matter at hand. "The list is long. Good men dead before their time while trying to live up to Hercules' impossibly high standards."
Iolaus snorted to himself. "What about the lives he saved? I can't begin to count the number of times he saved mine."
”Ah!” Spensius raised a finger in the air to draw attention to what he had to say. "Which brings us to another question: Didn't you die once, yourself?"
Iolaus stared at him a moment before answering. What kind of question was that? "Well, yeah."
"Yes, and--and Hercules, using his godly contacts, managed to bring you back from the other side."
The damn lawyer made it sound like it had been a picnic, not the ordeal it had been as Hercules fought against Hera’s fire Enforcer, all the while under a time constraint. "Yes, he did, but-- "
Spensius looked at the crowd before he spoke his next words. "Too bad Kazankas and the others didn't know him as well as you."
"This has nothing to do with sedition. You have a problem with one man trying to make a difference."
"That one man being Hercules, a hero? Yes, I do. There's no place for it in the modern world. Maybe in the past, but now--we're civilized."
Iolaus gave a mirthless laugh. "Civilized. Since when?"
"We have courts and laws. Hercules-and you--upset the order of things."Spensius pitched his voice to sound as reasonable as possible.
"The government is supposed to serve the people--not the other way around," Iolaus protested.
"You refuse to accept the truth. Men like you and your partner are a danger to all around them. The death of Hercules’ own family is a good example."
Dirce bunced up from her seat. “Objection! This trial is not about the death of his family! And Iolaus isn’t on trial either. He’s-he’s badgering the witness!"
Spensius smiled condescendingly at her. “He’s my witness, remember?”
“Objection overruled.” Cycnus waved his hand at Spensius. “Continue.”
"Thank you.” He turned back to Iolaus. “Didn’t Hercules refuse to ask the other gods for help in his well-known war with Hera? He didn't even ask his own father, Zeus, for help!"
Hercules rose, his face flushed with anger. "I did ask Zeus! I pleaded with him!"
Spensius rounded on Hercules. "It wasn't Zeus' fault. It's your heroic behavior that cost your wife and children their lives!"
It was a quiet group that reconvened outside of Hercules’ cell. Alcmene had been so beside herself with anger that she’d been speechless. Not so Iolaus.
"He's such a liar! He gives lawyers a bad name."
Hercules sat on the cot in his cell, head down. When Iolaus finished speaking, he raised his head and gave a small shrug. "He turned everything around, but some of what he says could be true."
Iolaus scoffed at the idea. "Come on, you can't believe that."
"I try to do what I think is right. I do it my own way. If I--if I wasn't so independent, you know, maybe my family would still be alive."
"Hercules--that was not your fault. That was Hera."
"Yeah-“ Hercules whispered, “--maybe."
Iolaus left Alcmene and Jason with Hercules while he went for a walk to clear his head and hopefully cool his temper. He was truly worried about his friend’s situation. Hercules seemed to be falling into a depression he hadn’t suffered in quite some time. He wondered if Dirce maybe wasn’t the best lawyer for this situation. Her enthusiasm was contagious, but she was still less experienced than that toad of a lawyer who’d dragged them to Athens and initiated this whole mess.
His reverie was interrupted by the sound of a woman’s voice. “Iolaus! Iolaus! Mong's on a rampage! We need Hercules' help!"
"Mong? You mean, Mong Mong?" Mong was a large man, rumored to be part giant. He was generally a benign soul with a child-like demeanor, but when he lost his temper, all Hades broke loose. He had near the strength of a giant and didn’t hold back when he was on a rampage.
"Yes! He's destroying our village."
"Hercules is in jail, friend.” The village was a few hours walk from Athens. Less at a dead run. “But you're right. He's the only one who can deal with Mong. Come on." He grabbed her hand and took off for the jail.
Ares watched the argument taking place with some dismay. He was all too aware of his naïve brother’s obsession with the law and doing what was ‘right’, but the god was amazed at how blind his brother could be at times. He never seemed to see the bigger picture. Take war for example. Sure, mortals died, but there were side benefits to it. Injustices sometimes were righted, disputes settled for good, economies even flourished in the wake of the destruction. And as a bonus, Hades was kept busy. He tuned back into the argument.
"--I can't do that." Hercules and Iolaus were facing off in the jail, both stubborn in their convictions. Iolaus was frowning, his hands on his hips as Hercules explained why he couldn’t help with a rampaging Mong. "I told Turgeus I wouldn't break out."
"Yeah, but Hercules, with Mong anything can happen. The man is a simpleton. Most times he’s passive and gentle, but you know what happens when he’s angered; his rampages always leave a path of destruction.”
"Iolaus. I made a promise to stay in custody until a verdict is reached." Hercules folded his arms, signifying that he wouldn’t budge, not even for his friend.
"Yeah, I--I understand, really I do, but-“ He broke off at the look on his friend’s face. “Okay, I guess I'll try and think of something. I’ll be back as soon as possible, okay? Don’t go anywhere-I mean, uh, I’ll see you later.”
As soon as Iolaus left, Ares took his place. He ignored the groan from Hercules when the demigod saw him. "I'm impressed. Knowing you, it's not an easy promise to make, when piddly mortal lives could be at stake. I think you've reached a turning point, little brother."
"I have--but not in your direction." The words sounded defiant, but the slump of Hercules’ shoulders, his outward demeanor, said something else. Ares knew he had to get tough if he was going to get back his favorite nemesis. It wasn’t fun kicking butt if there wasn’t someone to kick back once in a while.
"That lawyer wants to bring the hammer down on you. Banishment from the whole of Greece. My, my. Think what that'll do to your reputation.” He chuckled, adding a touch of evil to the sound. “And think of the fun I'll have. My warlords will rampage, loot, and burn.” He could see he had Hercules’ attention. Now to add the coupe-de-grace. “They may even burn your mother's house--maybe even with her inside--and there's nothing you can do to stop it. You’ll be here, watching the world go by without you." Good. Hercules’ face was that shade of red that indicated he was about to do bodily damage to the god.
Ares gestured and a window opened into another place. There was no sound, but the images showed men striking at each other with bronze swords and barbed spears.
"See? Even as we speak, war breaks out in Plathos--a nice bloody one." He laughed as the heady scent of war reached his nostrils. Damn, but it was good to be the God of War!
Hercules snarled at the images. "So, that's your perfect world, huh?"
Hercules’ teeth were gritted as he ground out, "This court will set me free. And I will see you in Plathos."
Ares laughed. Mission accomplished.
Iolaus was dancing around the half-giant, trying to get his attention to no avail. The man just roared in fury and knocked down a fruit stand, stomping on each piece of fruit until it was just pulp.
"Mong! Stop this. You have to go back to your cave.” Iolaus dodged the thrown basket and ducked under the following fist. “Okay, you asked for this-“ He pulled out his sword, hoping he could just use the flat of the blade to knock Mong unconscious.
Mong stopped swinging and started shouting at Iolaus. His voice was so loud, Iolaus felt deafened.
"What? What, what, wait--I can't understand what you're saying!"
Mong had stopped shouting and now stood there, with his mouth opening and pointing inside of it.
Iolaus put his sword back and muttered to himself, "What's he doing?"
Mong stopped his gesticulations and pleaded, "Hercules, will you help me? My tooth is killing me!"
Iolaus whirled around and saw his partner standing a few feet behind him.
"Oh--yeah.” Hercules touched Iolaus shoulder as he passed him to stand before Mong. “This is going to hurt you more than it hurts me.” He struck Mong in the mouth, aiming for the tooth that was obviously causing his pain. After the connection, as the rotten tooth fell from an otherwise unaffected Mong, Hercules shook his hand, trying to rid it of the pain from the blow. “Ah--I'd like to rephrase that. Ow! "
Mong poked at the empty socket. "The pain was terrible, Hercules. It doesn’t hurt much now."
Hercules gave his hand a final shake as he turned to Iolaus. "It was a bad tooth. He just wanted someone to help."
"A toothache? He had a funny way of asking.”
Hercules spoke to the half-giant. "Now, Mong, you have to help these people clean this place up. Okay? Good. I, uh, have to go."The demigod took off at a run.
Iolaus had been surprised at Hercules’ appearance after the demigod’s insistence that he had to keep his word and stay in jail no matter what. "Hey, Herc, wait! What about the trial?” There was no answer as the back of his friend became smaller with the distance. “Herc!" Iolaus took off at a run after him.
Spensius was ready to call Hercules to the stand. He was sure he could twist the demigod’s own words around to show the judge just how good of a lawyer he was. Cycnus had influence in the courts of Athens. If he got his patronage, he was sure to get a post here. Unfortunately, his next witness wasn’t in the courtroom, and further investigation showed he wasn’t in his cell either.
Spensius approached the bench. "The guards confirm he's not in his cell. Hercules has obviously fled Athens." While he wouldn’t be able to question him, the very fact that the defendant had fled, gave credence to his case. He might still be able to get what he desired.
There was a commotion at the door and a harried Hercules and Iolaus rushed into the center of the room. "Sorry I'm late. There was-“ Hercules gestured vaguely, “--something I had to do. Shall we get on with this?"
Spensius changed tactics. Forget questioning the demigod, his very thumbing of his nose at the court to go off on personal business rather than stay put showed his contempt for true justice. He waved away his right to question the demigod, though Dirce had Hercules answer her questions about various well-known exploits of his, and how the people he’d helped were better off now than before. By the end of the day, both sides were ready to make their final arguments. Spensius was allowed to go first.
"Hercules means well, we’ve seen that. And he has been born with god-given abilities that give him an edge on the average person. But we can't ignore the facts. Around him--because of what he does--people die--a lot. He causes others to reach beyond their abilities. He admits his dislike of the gods, and encourages us all to ignore their edicts. We’ve seen first-hand what the gods do when we ignored them. Harvests interrupted, people punished. Our history is riddled with these stories. Hercules disrupts our order--our perfect order. Think of the effect on future generations. Heroism. Follow your heart. Do what you think is best regardless of the law. It corrupts our youth. It puts the future of our great city-state in peril. It's treason! I just want to make it right. We can't bring back Kazankas, Icarus, or any of the other victims--but we can make sure that what happened to them can never happen again!"
Hercules stood. "Enough! Spensius is right. There's no need for him to continue. I have resisted the gods. Because, instead of helping us, they interfere with us. And I've bent the law, when my heart tells me it's unjust. Justice is not about the letter of the law, but its spirit. And I do try to inspire others to be everything that they're capable of being. If this is sedition--then I am guilty. But there's something more on trial here. A hero. A hero is a person who's not afraid to risk his-or her-life for another. Sometimes, like Kazankas, it means losing that life. It's what--it's what separates us from the animals and from the gods who would like us to believe that we are less than we are. That is why we all need heroes: to set a higher standard that others can aspire to. If I'm guilty of this, well, then--then I'm proud of it. If this is sedition, then I'm proud of that too, and you might as well sentence me, because I won't stop trying to do what's right. No, my--my heart won't allow it. If this is wrong, then you can take me now."
Iolaus, moved, stood up and shouted, "No! Take me! I'm Hercules. I think like him. I try to be like him. If you think what he's doing is wrong, you'll have to banish me, too!” There were murmurs of agreement from the crowd, encouragement. Heads nodded.
BeforeCycnus could call for order, another man stood up. It was Jason, former king of Corinth. "No, take me. I am Hercules."
Cassandra stood. "No, I am Hercules."
Derk’s wife stood. "Take me. I am Hercules."
"And me." Daedalus stood as well.
"I am Hercules."Galea, Kazankas’ wife, added her voice to the chorus.
“I am Hercules.”
Spensius watched in dismay as one by one, members of the audience stood and proclaimed that they were Hercules. This had not been factored in when he set up this trial. Crowds were like sheep, they followed the easiest, least resistant path. They should have agreed with the authorities and hung Hercules out to dry, not stand behind him like this.
Soon the whole court echoed with the words ‘I am Hercules’. Spensius turned to the judge, about to object or call for the court to be cleared. Cycnus shook his head. "Don't say it. If we proceed, I shall have to banish myself, also.” He stood from his seat of honor and raised his staff for quiet. As the voices died down, he proclaimed, “I am Hercules! Case dismissed!"
Amid the cheers, Hercules was nearly bowled over by a blond arrow that sped into him, hugging him and pounding his back. "Congratulations, Herc!"He was soon joined by Alcmene and Jason who both hugged Hercules.
Galea and her children approached. Hercules felt his smile slide away. "I'm truly sorry about Kazankas."
Galea nodded. "And I'm sorry about all of this. I should have never listened to Spensius."
"You did what you thought was right."
"No. No, I did it out of anger and grief. You and your friends are right. Kazankas was right. The world needs heroes. Before he met you, my husband was lost and misguided. He changed because of you."
Hercules looked away and then back. "It cost him his life."
Galea shrugged. "He died a hero. Now my children have two heroes to look up to--you--and their father." She hugged her children to her. "This trial did prove one thing.”
Hercules looked askance at her.
“There aren't enough of you to go around."
“Maybe someday that will change. Be safe, Galea.”
“You too, Hercules.”She ushered her children out of the courtroom along with the rest of the departing crowd.
“Well, all’s well that ends well,” Iolaus laughed. “I told you Dirce would help. It was her idea to get as many allies here as possible.”
Hercules smiled at his friend and then headed toward the door after another round of hugs with his mother and Jason.
“Hey, Herc, what’s the hurry? We can enjoy Athens now. Sightsee, see a few plays, enjoy the beautiful women-“
“Sorry, my friend, but we’ve got business elsewhere.” He didn’t slow down, counting on Iolaus to catch up.
“We have to go to Plathos,” the demigod informed him.
Iolaus matched step with him. “Plathos?! Whatever for?”
Hercules smiled in anticipation. “We have a war to stop.”
** Excerpt from: Atlantis by Ceryndip
*** Excerpt from: Second Chances II: For Love's Own Sake by Arianna
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