Hercules knew that Iolaus wanted to get as far away as he could before the King of Scyros managed to think up yet another reason to execute him. The demigod couldn't blame his friend at all but one look told him that Iolaus wasn't going to be on his feet for long. Twice Hercules had to steady him with a hand on his elbow on the uneven path. Iolaus looked exhausted. How he could have gotten so exhausted sitting in a cell, Hercules had no idea but now wasn't the time to get the rest of the story. They needed to make camp soon, the clouds that had been hanging around all day, were finally threatening rain.
Iolaus stumbled yet again and Hercules barely caught him. This time he steered his friend off the path and into the trees.
"Come on, Iolaus, time to make camp."
"No, I can go a little farther, I have to, Herc. We haven't passed into the next kingdom yet."
"We're far enough that they are not going to come after us. You are dead on your feet, my friend. We are stopping before you hurt yourself trying to sleep and walk at the same time."
"Ok," Iolaus sighed, conceding too fast for Hercules to be comfortable with.
They found a small clearing surrounded by thick brush and trees which would shield them from the view of anyone passing by on the road. It appeared very secluded. Hercules began gathering wood for a fire while Iolaus collapsed against a tree trunk and slid to the ground. Normally, Hercules would have goaded his friend into helping with the fire and the meal preparation but this time he remained silent and allowed his blond friend to close his eyes and rest against the sturdy tree.
Thunder rumbled in the distance and the demigod knew there would be no sleeping under the stars tonight unless they wanted to get wet. As he gathered the necessary wood for the fire, he also gathered a few longer pieces and some green brush to construct a hasty leanto with. He refilled their water skin from the nearby stream and stopped to wash his face and arms. He could hear Iolaus' snores all the way from the clearing. Chuckling at how quickly his friend managed to fall into a sound asleep, he headed back and began constructing the leanto.
Hercules placed their makeshift roof where they could take advantage of the shelter of a large tree. Then, he dug a small pit for their fire, so that it would be protected from the wind but still be close enough to provide heat for their shelter. He dug into Iolaus' pack and examined their meagre rations, a few berries, a little cheese and part of a loaf of bread. They'd have to do some fishing or hunting if they planned to stay here more than a day.
The thunder was now accompanied by flashes of lightning in the fading sunset. He glanced over at Iolaus intending to wake him and have him move into the shelter to sleep but his eye was caught by a large bruise peeking out from under his vest. Hercules climbed out of their shelter to investigate.
Hercules lifted Iolaus' vest and was appalled to find his friend's body covered in cuts and bruises. Individually, they looked minor but collectively they spoke volumes about what Iolaus had been put through. "What have they done to you, my friend?" Hercules wondered to himself unaware that he'd spoken out loud.
"That better be you, Herc," Iolaus commented sleepily, eyes still closed.
"It is, I'm checking for injuries."
"I don't think anything's broke. I've just pulled and strained every muscle I've got."
"What happened to you?"
The tired eyes finally opened and looked into the face of the worried demigod. "Can I have some water?"
Hercules pulled the water skin over and had to help Iolaus hold it, his hands were shaking with the effort of lifting the now full skin.
"It's a long story, Herc, they call it the Eribus Test and if I could survive it, I'd be declared innocent and set free. So I went for it, but I should have asked what I was getting into first...." He shrugged, "They were going to kill me anyway."
Part way through his tale the rain threatened and Hercules helped him into their shelter and onto the blanket-covered bed of pine boughs. Hercules listened silently but he quickly understood Iolaus' need to get far away from Scyros. He also knew that they would be staying here for at least a couple of days. Iolaus would need rest and if Hercules could manage to find all the ingredients in the morning, a salve to soothe his abused muscles.
As Iolaus finished his tale, Hercules reached over him and helped him slowly remove his vest. The hunter was already stiffening up.
"Now the pants," Hercules prompted.
"Iolaus, you're not going to be able to move by tomorrow. Taking them off then will be a painful proposition, better to do it now, huh?"
Iolaus sighed, "Ok, you're right." With help, the hunter managed to get his boots and pants off. Hercules spread their blanket over him as the wind picked up and rain began in earnest.
"Nice shelter, Herc," Iolaus rolled to his side and closed his eyes, surrendering himself back into the arms of morpheous.
Hercules remained awake, leaning back against the large tree trunk and watching the fire burn fitfully in the rain. It was barely sheltered enough to stay lit in the wind and moderate rain.
Deep in the night, the demigod sensed a presence in the forest. He remained still, waiting. He was astounded that anyone could have gotten this close to them without his noticing, he must have dozed off.
A tall, cloaked figure stepped into the open beside their shelter.
"Easy big fella, I've brought you supplies. You two are hard to find, you know that?"
"Supplies?" Hercules eyed the bag held out before him warily.
"Some food and salve for your friend, my contacts told me what happened to him while you were trying to apprehend me, figured it was the least I could do."
"Stolen, I suppose," Hercules assumed.
"Freely given, there is a difference."
Hercules accepted the pack, "Thank you." He slid over making room in their shelter, "Come in out of the rain, you can stay until it lets up which shouldn't be too long now."
"Thanks, cozy in here."
They sat in silence. Hercules regarded the King of Thieves a moment before asking, "If they had executed Iolaus in your place, could you have lived with yourself?"
"You wouldn't have allowed that to happen."
"That's not what I asked."
"Look, when he wakes up, just tell him, no hard feelings, ok?" The man vanished into the night. Hercules didn't hear him leave even with the ground covered by mud and puddles.
Hercules waited until he was sure that he and Iolaus were alone again before he opened the pack. Inside were a loaf of bread, cheese and several ripe apples along with a jar of something that smelled vaguely like what his mother used on his bruises.
Hercules pulled back the blanket and gently began to rub the ointment into Iolaus' arm. As he worked, he pondered the mysterious Samaritan. He was a thief of that there was no doubt but Hercules felt that there was a good heart beneath the criminal exterior. His thieving was put to good use. He was a hero to the poor and while a magistrate wouldn't take that into account, Hercules did. He yawned as he recovered his friend and settled back comfortably against the tree. The thief was an enigma and one that he would ponder another day for the demigod felt certain that they would meet again. He was duty bound to arrest him the next time they met but Hercules suspected that would prove more difficult than he cared to imagine.
11 June 2002
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