The two men passed through and around the shafts of light as the morning sun shown brightly through the trees. They soon would leave the thick forests of home behind for the green rolling meadows of the next kingdom.
Iolaus stretched and rubbed his lower back with his hand.
"What's the matter? You getting old?" Hercules asked with a smirk.
"No! But I think your floor's getting harder."
"My floor? we put down a pallet for you. You think my floor's hard, wait until we have nothing but the cold, solid ground tonight. You need to get out more. You're going to wile away all your hunter's instincts sleeping inside all the time in nice soft beds."
"Oh, like your life is so much harder. You have a wife to work out your kinks."
Hercules stopped and Iolaus plowed into the back of him.
"What?" Iolaus proclaimed as he disengaged himself from the back of Hercules' cloak.
The larger man was staring intently at a clump of bushes ahead of them. Something about the way the leaves were moving just wasn't natural.
"Herc, what's the holdup?"
Suddenly, the leaves shimmered and transformed into a large, menacing something, reaching out toward them. Quickly, Hercules sidestepped and shoved Iolaus out of harm's way. He landed in a heap several yards away with a grunt and a moan.
Hercules turned to face their attacker, ready for battle, to find a bush, still rooted in the ground, leaves blowing lightly, gently in the breeze.
"Now, what was that for?" Iolaus cried indignantly, untangled himself from the fern he'd landed in and sat up on the ground.
A breeze swirled around Hercules a moment and he swore he heard his father's voice faintly laughing and calling, "Boo!" to him.
Hercules frowned and bent to give Iolaus a hand up. "I'm sorry. It was nothing. A trick of the light."
Iolaus dusted himself off. "What'd you think you saw?"
"That bush became some kind of creature."
"So, you shoved me, ok, thanks, I guess. You're worried about me getting old, buddy, you're going senile. Next time you see a plant about to attack me, just point it out and I'll slay it with my trusty sword. ok?" Iolaus stepped around and in front of Hercules, "Think I'll lead awhile."
"You've got some extra ventilation back here."
Iolaus turned around, Hercules glanced meaningfully toward Iolaus' crotch and placed a hand on his own backside to show where.
Iolaus craned his neck around and tried to see, finally settling for reaching back and feeling his own undergarment through the gaping seam. His eyes grew wide with panic. "Herc! What am I gonna do? What if we meet somebody on the road?"
"To Alturia? I doubt it and if we do, just keep your front side to them."
"Oh, you're no help at all. It's your fault anyway."
"My fault, that you're pants are too tight from all that easy living?" Hercules stifled his laughter at his friend's predicament.
"Ok, ok, let me see, maybe it's not as bad as it first looked." He put a hand on Iolaus' shoulder and turned him around. Iolaus stood uncomfortably as Hercules examined the broken seam.
"The lace' is broken is all," Hercules concluded. "I can fix it. Take 'em off."
"Take them off?" Iolaus questioned slowly turning back around.
"I can't get to the seam with you squirming in them."
"But, but...What if...you know...somebody comes by?"
Hercules considered, "Jump in the bushes, stand behind a tree?" Hercules could tell by the look on Iolaus' face that he was not amused. "Look, your coat is long enough to cover your backside. Just don't take it off. Then, it'll just be your knees sticking out to scare people."
"What's the matter with my knees?"
Hercules threw up his hands, "I don't know, I haven't seen them yet. Come on, off with'em."
Iolaus slowly began undoing the lacings. "Don't watch me."
Hercules rolled his eyes and turned his back to his friend.
Hercules worked as they walked. They cleared the edge of the forest and entered open country. The sun became warm quickly without the shade to protect them. Iolaus began to sweat.
Hercules distracted his friend by teasing him about their earlier adventures together. It worked for awhile.
"Are you sure Alcmene taught you how to do that?" Iolaus ventured.
"Are you about finished, Herc?" Iolaus inquired innocently.
"Getting there, it takes as long as it takes." Hercules was only about halfway up the seam. Iolaus fanned himself by opening and closing his coat to create more of a breeze.
"Uh, Iolaus did you know that you have a hole in your...uh..." Hercules hesitated knowing it was a delicate subject at the moment.
"You wanna fix that, too? Make me run around the countryside totally naked?" Iolaus frowned at his friend and pulled his coat edges together crossing his arms in front of himself to hold it.
"Not really. I'll let you deal with that particular hole."
"What are you doing lookin' anyway? Can't a guy have a little privacy?"
"You're the one whose fanning himself. You really need to learn to mend clothes at least."
"I do fine buying them in the market."
"What about clothes for your kids?"
Iolaus fidgeted before answering, "If Alcmene can't mend them, I can usually persuade Deianeira or one of the other women in the village." Iolaus stated in his own defense. "They are usually happy to help me out."
"That's not very self-sufficient of you."
"Wanna bet? That's a survival skill, buddy. My charm and wit are tools that get me what I need to make it and sometimes surviving is more important than self-suffiency."
"If you say so."
Hercules was nearly finished when the inevitable happened. He and Iolaus walked up one side of the hill while a wagonload of people, mostly female, were making their way up the other side. They met at the top. There was nothing for Iolaus to do but clasp the sides of his coat together and hope for the best.
"Just act like there's nothing wrong," Hercules advised.
"Oh yeah, you try acting natural without your pants," Iolaus whispered back.
Iolaus smiled and nodded to the wagon as it passed by.
They didn't seem to notice, not until they were on the way down the slope and an old woman perched on the back of the wagon hollered to him.
"You need some help with those pants, Sonny, or are you just working on your tan? You could blind someone with those legs, ya know." She cackled with amusement.
"No thanks, we've got it under control." He hollered back, "We're self sufficient."
Just then the breeze caught the back of Iolaus' coat and flipped it up. The view was met with catcalls and giggling offers of assistance from the retreating wagon.
"This is so humiliating! Sew faster, Herc."
"Herc, are you gonna take all day?" Iolaus asked impatiently.
"Almost...you said that three hills ago."
"I'll be done before you know it," Hercules reassured him and decided a little more distraction was in order. It had been working off and on all morning. "I think when we get back, we need to take our boys on a camping trip. Maybe do some fishing, start teaching them to track. They're old enough."
Iolaus considered, "Yeah, we could do that. Our fathers were never around to do that with us. It would have been fun."
"Yeah," Hercules agreed.
"We'll sleep under the stars and catch our own food, teach them how to really live."
"Ok, all done." Hercules handed him the pants.
"Great! Thanks." Iolaus snatched the pants from him and plopped down on the ground to pull off his boots. "Of course, we'd need to bring extra stuff. We couldn't just live off the land totally with kids along. We'll need medicine and extra blankets in case someone gets sick or it rains or someone falls in when they shouldn't. Can't have anyone catching cold. We'd need to bring some food in case the game is scarce or the fish aren't biting. Hungry kids are the pits."
Hercules began laughing.
"You. You can put your pants on while you're babbling in front of me but I have to turn my back to get you to take them off in front of me?"
Iolaus finished pulling his boots on and lacing his pants as they walked. "Yeah, well, I'm excited. You distracted me. Come on, we have to make plans. How long should we be gone for? Do you think we can get Deianeira to look after my youngest? He's really too small for camping. Maybe next year, we can take him. How far are we going to go? I suppose we should take a wagon just in case. Then, we won't have to carry the extra stuff. A guy gets tired carrying around extras and kids need a lot of extras. This was a great idea, Herc..."
15 June 1999
Iolaus' pride was only slightly damaged in the writing of this tale.
Continue with the next story in this IWC challenge.
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