April 2002 An Old Fashioned h/c Challenge
Write a story including the following:
the line "I'm sorry, there's nothing more I can do. It's up to the gods now."
Iolaus landed hard in the brush. He sat up shaking his head to clear away the stars swirling around it. A flash of steel and he rolled, narrowly escaping the blade of his attacker. At the same time the hunter clipped the bandit's legs with his feet bringing him down. Iolaus winced at the crack his opponent's head made when it hit the tree.
The hunter climbed to his feet as Hercules bounced the last evil doers against each other.
"You ok?" the demigod asked.
Yeah, I'm not too sure about him though, ouch."
Hercules gave the bandit a quick once over, "He'll live. Let's go before his friends start waking up."
"Right behind you, pal."
"Iolaus, stop that."
"I'm not fidgeting, I'm itching."
"Itching?" Hercules stopped and looked at his partner, "Why are you itching?"
"I don't know, that guy back there, threw me into a pile of brush, I must have got some leaves or something up under my vest. Scratch my back, will ya?"
"Um, Iolaus? Did the brush look like that?" Hercules pointed off to their left.
Iolaus stopped trying to reach the impossible to reach spot between his shoulder blades and glanced up, "Yeah, sticks, dead leaves, grass, underbrush is underbrush, right?"
"No, not really," the demigod picked up a stick and used it to hold up a telltale vine with oval leaves in clusters of three.
"Oh, that's not, is it?"
Hercules nodded, "I'm afraid it is."
"And I was rolling in it," Iolaus moaned.
The demigod stood, "Ok, get your vest off and let's see how serious the situation is."
Iolaus slipped out of his vest and turned for Hercules to check his back. "Well?" he asked impatiently.
The demigod was careful to examine without touching, "It's red and there are little welts coming up. We're going to have to find some place to wash your clothes and anything else you've touched." Hercules stopped and thought, checking his arms for red sploches, "You haven't touched me, have you?"
"I don't think so."
"Good. Stay on the other side of the path until after your bath, ok?"
"Oh, I feel so loved," Iolaus replied sarcastically but stayed well out of reach of his companion.
Evening found the two heroes huddled by the fire at the side of a river. When they'd arrived, Iolaus had dove into the icy water clothes and all. The hives had spread from his back to his chest, arms and neck. Mercifully, so far his face had been spared as had areas below his waist. Hercules was grateful for small favors. He didn't think he could survive his friend's mad attempts to scratch if more of his body had been consumed by the red angry rash. What he had was driving him crazy.
The demigod roasted a rabbit while he ground up violets to make a salve to dampen the itch. Iolaus twitched slightly and Hercules let it pass, then, he flinched more violently.
"I know. I think I may have to sleep in the water. It's the only place I don't itch."
"You'll freeze or catch cold and get really sick. I'll have this salve ready soon. It'll help."
"It better or I'm going to have to scratch."
"Not if I have anything to say about it."
"It's not working," Iolaus rubbed his hand across his stomach.
"Don't touch it, you'll make it worse. It will work, give it time. Eat your dinner." Hercules sincerely hoped the rabbit would distract his friend from thinking about his hives.
Iolaus did eat but his constant twitching and fidgeting didn't stop. He set his half-eaten meal down on a rock.
"That's it, I can't stand it, I'm getting back in the water."
Hercules sighed listening to the scream of shock as his partner hit the cold water, "Well, at least he'll be clean."
The dawn rose to light a cloudy sky which the demigod found appropriate to Iolaus' increasingly irritable mood. Hercules knew his friend's disposition had as much to do with his fever as it did his constant itching. Hercules tried to be patient. Iolaus hadn't slept at all. He'd spent the night alternating between lying in the shallows letting the cold water cool his rash and huddling by the fire trying to get warm again. Unfortunately, his partner's comings and goings had kept Hercules from getting any real rest either.
In the middle of the night Hercules had boiled a handful of acorns and sprinkled their diluted tannic acid on the hives but even that didn't dampen the irritation. Hercules rose early and went in search of anything else that would help his miserable friend.
Iolaus was, again, trying to drown his hives. He invisioned tiny creatures under his skin irritating him. Then he imagined them staggering around their burrows in his skin as they alternatly drowned or froze to death. Hercules called to him interrupting his dreams of revenge.
"Hey! I've got something else we can try."
The hunter shook off the excess water as he waded ashore and took a look in the makeshift pot over the fire.
"No thanks, Herc. I got enough oats to last my lifetime at the academy."
"These aren't to eat."
"I don't wanna know, do I?" Iolaus asked.
"They're for smearing all over you," Hercules smirked when he said it.
"Yuck, I'm going to smell like horse feed all day and this is going to help me?"
"It can't be any worse than mud or grapes," Hercules observed. "Let's be positive, it's going to stop your itching at least temporarily and by then maybe we can be somewhere else."
Iolaus warmed to the idea, "Your mother's, I bet she'll know just the trick. Can we make it to your mother's?"
Hercules considered, "That's a full day's traveling and you're running fever. I had someone a little closer in mind."
"Cheiron, the academy's only half a days walk from here. Now hold still while I put this on you."
"Do we have to do this?" Iolaus held out his arms.
"Unless you want to spend the next two or three days alternately freezing and roasting yourself."
"Ok, gook me up."
"There, how does that feel?" Hercules asked after he'd covered his partner with the pale, lumpy mixture..
"I feel like..." Iolaus was at a loss for words, "I feel really disgusting. Stop grinning, it's not funny."
"You look disgusting."
"I feel like somebody barfed all over me."
"But you don't itch?" Hercules asked hopefully.
"Not at the moment, it's too gross to be itchy. It's warm, feels good, kinda."
Hercules grabbed their carry sacks, "On that note I think it's time to hit the road, if you think you can travel?"
"I didn't get made up like a monster, just to sit around here freezing in that river."
The sun rose high in the sky holding the promise of a warm spring to come. the birds sang and a few early butterflies flitted from flower to tree to flower. They, also, seemed to have a strange attraction to oats.
"This stuff is drying and it's getting itchy again."
"Are you not listening to me? It itches! What am I supposed to do?"
"I'm sorry. I'm cranky."
"I know, but if you don't stop scratching those sores, I'm going to have to tie your hands."
"I'll be good."
They must have been a sight to the young men at the academy gates. Hercules, legendary student of Cheiron and acclaimed graduate of said academy, leading what must be his prisoner, shoulder's slumped, hands bound to either side of his hips by a rope with Hercules holding the other end. He was shirtless with some sort of lumpy mess flaking off his skin. Maybe the guy was a leper? Quickly, Cheiron was fetched.
Hercules warmly shook the hand of the headmaster.
"...And Iolaus, so good to see you." Chieron's outstretched hand fell limply to his side as he saw the ropes binding Iolaus' hands and took in his appearance. "I see it's not a social visit."
Iolaus smiled sheepishly and shrugged as best he could.
Cheiron turned to one of the young gawkers that had gathered at the gate. "Run ahead and put on water, our guests are in need of a bath." Then, he turned to Hercules conspiratorially, "Bad spot for a roll in the hay?"
"You could say that."
"I have poison ivy, that's all," Iolaus replied miserably.
"The oats were a good idea."
"No, they weren't," Iolaus commented, "they're sticky and they stink."
"Depends on your species, Iolaus, in some circles you'd be approaching irresistible right now."
Cheiron chuckled, "I see it hasn't affected your sense of humor."
"That depends on how itchy he is at the moment," Hercules commented.
"I understand," Cheiron left Hercules to deal with getting Iolaus into the bath while he prepared a few things in the infirmary.
"Still boiling twigs and bark, Cheiron?" Iolaus arrived wearing nothing but a towel with Hercules trailing behind.
"Birch, it will soothe your condition."
Iolaus sank down to sit on a bed, "I'm all for that."
Cheiron allowed the mixture to cool slightly before he applied it to Iolaus' body. As it dried he applied it twice more. By the time he was finished, Iolaus' eyes were closed in rapture.
The centaur turned to Hercules, "That's all I can do for him, it's in the hands of the gods now."
Iolaus sighed, "Cheiron, you are magnificent. For the first time in a full day, I don't itch. Tell me this is going to last."
"I hope so." Cheiron smiled and turned back to Hercules, "I have a class to teach, see if you can get him to drink at least half a cup of the stronger tea in the other pot." Quietly, he added, "it has a sedative effect, you'll probably have to add some honey to it as I recall, that's the only way to get it down him."
Hercules nodded, "Thank you."
"Yes, thank you, very much," Iolaus replied from the bed.
"Perhaps I can get the two of you to speak in a couple of classes while you're here. Share some of your experience."
"Get Hercules to do that, he's good at speaking."
Cheiron nodded his agreement, "Yes, but you are the master storyteller.."
That evening Cheiron repeated his treatment, noting that the swelling was already gone along with the fever and predicted a full recovery by morning.
"I've never seen anything like this," Hercules remarked.
"It's an amazon cure. They say birch works sometimes when nothing else does. Apparently, they are correct."
Two days later, Iolaus had bandages covering the places where he'd scratched open the sores making them longer in healing. Hercules spoke to the upper level students on the advantages of teamwork while Iolaus took on a small group of kids that Cheiron knew were struggling academically. He also noted privately to Iolaus that several of them were attending the Academy on the same plan Iolaus had; school or jail.
The next day they bid Cheiron and the students farewell, promising to stop by the next time they were in the neighborhood.
"Were we like that?"
Hercules chuckled, "Incorrigible maybe, but obnoxious? Nah."
They came to a cross roads and Iolaus immediately proceeded toward Corinth.
"Iolaus, we don't have to go to mother's, you're better now."
"I'm not going to your mother's, I'm going to your brother's."
"Iphicles? Why?" Hercules asked, following along.
"I intend to suggest a new community service project to him. I know where there's a whole lot of brush that needs to be burned and I can think of a few bandits that would be the perfect candidates for the job." Iolaus grinned, "Revenge is sweet, you know."
Disclaimer: In the months that followed Poison Ivy was completely erradicated from the Greek countryside and now it can only be found in the Americas.
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