Note: This story takes place after "King For A Day" and before "Long Live the King."
Iolaus had been a guest in the homes of Hercules' family for so long, he was considered family himself. So, when the two friends decided they needed a few days off in a place with nice, soft beds, Iolaus thought he should return the favor. He had been intending to introduce Hercules to his new-found relatives for awhile now and they were only a day's travel from Attica.
Hercules and Iolaus walked through the city gates expecting to find the usual all's well and happy kingdom but there were armed guards everywhere and the streets seemed empty and deserted.
"Are they always this security conscious around here?" Hercules asked.
"No, this is definitely not regular procedure. Something's happened." Iolaus had been growing steadily more concerned about the state of affairs, the closer they got to the castle. His concern nearly grew to alarm when he saw that the castle gates, normally standing wide open to the populous of Attica, were shut up tight.
Iolaus spotted Linus among the guards at the main gate, "Linus!" He called as they approached, "Can't a guy get a little hospitality around here?"
"Iolaus," Linus looked beyond them as if checking to see if they were followed, "did you have any trouble coming into town?"
"No," Iolaus shrugged, "the streets were pretty deserted. You've practically got the place under siege."
Linus breathed a visible sigh of relief, "Maybe we have gotten them all." Linus smiled, "You must be Hercules? It's a pleasure to finally meet you." He extended his hand.
Hercules accepted the handshake in greeting but before he could comment Iolaus interrupted.
"Linus, what is going on?"
"A lot's happened. You'd better come in." Linus led them into the courtyard.
"Is everyone alright, Niobi, Orestes?
"Yes under a lot of stress, but unharmed." Linus explained that someone had been trying to kidnap Orestes. "If the Queen wasn't such a crack shot with a bow, they'd have had him on the first try on the road outside of town. We weren't expecting it. Several attempts have been made over the last few weeks, each one adding another layer of security. We arrested half a dozen men for the crimes yesterday."
"But Hector doesn't think you got them all or he would have let up on the defenses."
"We can't be sure. They've been thoroughly interrogated but refuse to name any others, insisting that the six we got were all there were."
"But..." Iolaus prompted.
"But they also refused to give us a reason. You don't try to kill a King without a reason."
"How has Orestes taken all this?" Iolaus knew his cousin had led a privileged life and was unaccustomed to being a target. A lifestyle that Iolaus almost took for granted, being Hercules' best friend left him in the center of an invisible bullseye all the time. He had simply learned to live with it.
"As I said, it's been stressful. Orestes has been planning to begin negotiations with the neighboring kingdoms to try and set up a League of Kingdoms for mutual support and protection. This has all but stopped that endeavor. He can't hear pleas and complaints. We've had to cut him off from the outside world to protect him. It's frustrating for him."
Iolaus nodded his understanding as Linus opened the door to the throne room and announced them. They found Orestes looking very tired. There were dark circles under his eyes and he sat slumped on the throne. His eyes lit up as he rose to greet his visitors.
"Cousin! What impeccable timing you have. I'm desperately in need of someone besides Hector and the palace staff to talk to." He grasped Iolaus' hand.
Iolaus stepped back and indicated his traveling companion, "This is my friend, Hercules."
Orestes extended his hand, "Welcome, Attica is honored by your presence."
"Hercules bowed slightly as he took the offered hand, "Thank you, Your Highness, but it seems that we have arrived too late to be of much help."
"Yes, there has been some lively debate today as to whether it really is all over. My life cannot get back to normal fast enough. I cannot take this, being a prisoner in my own castle much longer." Orestes led Iolaus back toward the throne and they both took seats on the steps. Hercules sat on a bench and leaned against the wall nearby.
"Linus, would you inform the Queen that we have guests? I think she went with Hector to question the prisoners again."
"My King," Linus bowed and backed out of the doors, closing them behind him.
"What more they can think of to ask them is beyond me." Orestes absently rubbed his eyes with his hand.
"How are you, Cousin?" Iolaus asked.
"Not well, I'm going slowly stir crazy being locked up in here. I understand that it's for my protection but I would hardly call this living. I can't even get on with the simple duties of being King." Orestes sighed, "What was it you told me you did when life got to be too much to handle? You'd go fishing?"
Iolaus smiled, "Yeah, but there aren't any really good fishing holes around here, no offense."
"None taken, a fact is a fact. It does sound wonderful, though. Just to get away and sleep by a fire under the stars, catch your own food. Nothing matters, but the basics of survival. It must be very relaxing."
Iolaus exchanged knowing glances with Hercules, "It is."
"Good," Orestes nodded to himself, "I need a relaxing holiday. Let's do it."
"Do what?" Iolaus asked but he already knew the answer.
"Let's go out in the woods and catch our own food and sleep in the dirt and not concern ourselves with affairs of state or assassins or kidnapers. Let's just survive and become a part of nature. Besides, we didn't have much chance to talk the last time you were here."
"Orestes, I don't think..."
The door burst open and Niobi glided in with Hector right behind her.
"Iolaus, how wonderful to see you. We weren't expecting you."
Iolaus rose and smiled as he walked to meet her halfway, "Well, we were in the neighborhood, so we thought we'd stop by."
"I've missed you." She hugged him warmly.
"This is my friend,"
"Hercules," Niobe finished for him, "A pleasure. Iolaus has told me so much about you."
"Your Highness," Hercules bowed.
"So what brings the two of you to Attica?"
"Well, we thought," again he was interrupted, this time by Orestes.
"He came to take me on a holiday, dear." Orestes winked at Iolaus.
"Yes, he's going to take me camping in the woods and it's just what I need."
"I cannot permit that, My King. With all that has been," Hector began.
"This is exactly what I need. You both have been telling me to relax for days. The assassins are in our keeping, this terrible ordeal is finally over. I need to breath the air. We will just be in the royal forest. It's not like I'm going on an extended voyage. We'll be fine."
Hector was beside himself, "At least let me send guards."
"You are being overprotective. Hector, you know the King of Attica, would you look for him camped in the royal forest, half a day's walk from the castle?"
"Well, no, I wouldn't expect to find you there," Hector muttered.
Hercules was amused. He knew the King looked like Iolaus but didn't know that he could talk as fast as Iolaus could. While Niobe and Hector continued to try and talk Orestes out of his scheme, Hercules motioned Iolaus over to him.
"I'm going to go get a room at that little inn we passed coming through town. You have a nice time sleeping in the 'dirt' with your cousin, the newly-discovered nature lover."
"How do you know they are going to let him go?"
Hercules smiled, "Easy, I recognize the look in his eye, it's the same one you have when you won't take no for an answer."
"You're not coming?"
"No way. I came here for a warm meal that I didn't have to catch for myself and a soft bed and that's what I'm going to have."
"You can get that here in the castle."
"I could, but there's nothing really for me to do here. I'd just be hanging around until you got back. I'd be more comfortable in town where there are things to do. Besides, he's right, I think you two do need to spend some time together." Hercules shook his head in wonder, "The resemblance is truly amazing."
"Yeah, but Herc?" Iolaus was too late, Hercules had already slipped out the door waving his farewell as he went.
By the time Iolaus had turned back to the other conversation, Orestes had gotten his way. Niobe and Hector were not happy about it but their arguments were falling on deaf ears.
Hector approached Iolaus and held out his hand, "You'll understand if I say I'm not pleased to see you?"
"Yeah, it's not quite what I had in mind either, Hector. I'll look after him."
"I'm counting on it."
To say Orestes was excited would be an understatement. He practically bounced through the rear gate of the castle. Iolaus was pleased to see that the dark bruises under Orestes' eyes were already fading. Maybe this trip wouldn't be so bad. Iolaus had a hard time keeping up with him.
"Orestes, slow down. You are missing all the things you came out here to see."
He stopped and turned giving Iolaus a perplexed look, "What do you mean?"
"The first rule of being in the wilderness is to be aware of your surroundings at all times. You are walking through here with blinders on. You are in such a hurry to get to the camp that you are missing some incredible things."
Iolaus nodded and moved to stand behind him, "Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Clear your mind of everything. Now, listen, what do you hear?
Orestes was silent a moment, "Birds, I hear bird's singing."
"Good, what else?'
"Wind in the tree tops, it seems to be blowing stronger there than down here."
"Can you hear the stream?'
Again silence for a moment as Orestes listened intently, "Yes, I can. How did I miss that?"
"As long as you can hear the stream, you can fill your waterskin. When you can't hear the stream anymore, your waterskin better be full."
"Because you don't know how far away the next water source is?"
"Right. When the birds stop singing, it means that danger is near, a predator or maybe bandits."
"How can birds know the difference between good people and bandits?"
Iolaus shrugged, "A sixth sense, they just know. Animals have an instinct about things. At night you can depend on the crickets and frogs in the same way."
"Now, lets walk a little slower and see what we can see. Just let yourself be open to what's around you."
They continued at a greatly reduced rate. Suddenly, Orestes was seeing animals and flowers and birds everywhere. He had to investigate every rustle of the vegetation to see what creature lurked behind it. He was like a child in a new place, peering into every nook and cranny to see what mysteries awaited there. Iolaus found himself becoming more and more infected with his cousin's enthusiasm and pointed out even more sights for Orestes hungry senses to devour.
They eventually made camp in a small clearing near the stream. Before they left Niobe had seen to it that they were provided with a bag of provisions, fruit, cheese and bread. Both men were grateful for it as the sun was setting and they wouldn't have time to catch anything before it got dark.
Iolaus quickly gathered some dry branches and brush to start a fire. He arranged a few stones in a circle and stacked the branches into the middle of the circle. He showed Orestes how to strike the flint to make a spark and then let him try to light the fire while he gathered some larger branches to keep it going through the night. After a few minutes of trying Orestes gave up and handed his tools back to Iolaus in defeat.
Iolaus smiled, "It's ok, it just takes some practice."
They soon had a roaring fire to light their meal. After he'd finished Orestes settled down with his back to a tree and sighed contentedly.
"Iolaus, I know you came to Attica looking for a little civilization and the first thing I did was shanghai you back to the woods." He searched for the words, "Thank you, Iolaus. I really needed this. I can easily see why you like being out here so much."
"Yeah, there are few places I'd rather be."
Soon the only sounds that could be heard were the gentle breeze rustling the trees, the occasional hoot of an owl, and the soft snoring of the humans.
The next morning saw Orestes up at first light. They finished up the fruit and cheese for breakfast and headed into the woods.
"Alright, cousin, how do we catch our lunch?"
"Well, if you want to catch a rabbit, you have to think like a rabbit. If you were a rabbit what would you need to survive?"
"Hmmm, I'd need water, and food and shelter."
"So where should we look to find rabbit tracks?"
We should walk along the stream as that's the only source of water in the area they'd have to come there eventually."
"Sounds like a good plan to me."
They slowly made their way along the stream's edge. Iolaus pointed out and identified the various tracks they found. Explaining that he could tell how old they were by their definition and how a quail was favoring one of it's feet by the difference in depth of the tracks. Orestes was amazed.
Just as Orestes had predicted, they did eventually run into some rabbit tracks. After following them for awhile, the tracks merged into several sets of tracks.
"This is a good spot. It's a regular path." Iolaus then pulled out a bit of fine net and some string. He proceeded to attach the string to the net and lay the net on the ground. He spread a light covering of dust and leaves over the net. Then, he pulled down a branch from a tree and tied the strings to it. He adjusted the fine balance of every component so that it all looked perfectly natural.
Orestes thought it was all so simple. "The rabbit will come along and when it crosses the net it will disturb the balance and the branch will spring back into its normal position, pulling up the net with the helpless rabbit inside."
"Correct. Now, if we wait around here we risk tipping off the rabbits with our presence. I don't know about you but I think it's getting kinda hot out here. Let's go back to the stream and cool off."
The two grown men made their way back to the campsite and quickly shed most of their clothes. They waded out into the shallow stream and laid down in the cool water. It wasn't long before they started splashing each other. This quickly escalated into a free for all that left both of them puffing and exhausted on the shore. They napped there in the soft grass as the sun dried their bodies.
It was early afternoon when they awoke and headed out to check their trap. There still wiggling in the net was a large rabbit. Carefully removing the string from the branches Iolaus tied the ends together so their dinner could not escape.
"That worked marvelously."
"There's one thing in life that you can always be sure of, old hunter's tricks will never fail you.
They roasted the rabbit over the fire, this time Orestes managed to light it himself. They were both famished and the smell only made their hunger worse. They took a short walk and gathered some berries from a few nearby bushes. The berries made an adequate appetizer. Finally, they were able to settle down and enjoy their well-caught meal. Both men completely unaware of the eyes that had been observing them or of the arrow hurtling toward them. Iolaus sensed something amiss barely in time to grab Orestes and throw him to the ground but not before the arrow grazed Orestes' arm.
"Come on, we've gotta go." Iolaus pulled him to his feet and the two men ran through the forest. Iolaus mentally chastised himself for breaking his own rule and letting down his guard. He was now completely aware of their surroundings.
They ducked through trees and around underbrush and outdistanced the would be assassins. They stopped briefly to catch their breath.
"I thought Hector had this taken care of?" Iolaus asked.
"Evidently not. How many are there?"
"We've picked up at least a dozen. Too many to hold off on our own. How did they know we were here?" Iolaus checked Orestes' arm and tied a torn strip of cloth around it, "That's not too bad. Kinda deep but you'll live, I think. Switch clothes with me and I'll try and lead them off."
"You can't. This is my problem."
"Orestes, you are the King and you're a good one. Your people need you. I need you. We're cut off from the castle, you have to get back to town and find Hercules. He's staying at the inn on the main street, tell him to come and bring help."
Orestes reluctantly nodded. After they had switched clothes, Iolaus took his knife and sliced his left upper arm in the same place as Orestes.
"What are you doing?" Orestes asked with alarm, thinking his cousin had taken leave of his senses
"I'm becoming you. They winged you and they know it. If I'm taken and I'm not bleeding, they'll know I'm an impostor." He looked at Orestes pale face and didn't know if it was from the blood loss or the shock at having his holiday so rudely interrupted, "Can you make it on your own?"
Orestes swallowed, "Yes," he nodded.
"Good," Iolaus flashed him a grin, "Cause I'm depending on you, If they knew we were here, they must have connections in the palace. You have to stay me, until this is over. If your leak sends word that you're in the palace..."
"They'll do something we'll both regret to you. I understand. You can count on me."
"Stay low." Iolaus regretfully handed over his knife but kept his sword. Orestes tried to return a confident smile to his cousin before Iolaus headed off into the woods.
Orestes watched him disappear and then turned and carefully, awkwardly bending over to stay low, he headed in the direction of the village, trying to be as quiet as possible.
Iolaus moved directly into the enemy's path and after leading them away from the village he tried to double back and escape himself only to find he was surrounded. He knew it would take Orestes some time to make it to the village and send back help. He had to buy him that time.
"Gentleman, we can talk about this."
"Where's your friend?"
Their leader, a grimy sort who was missing a front tooth, smiled ruefully, "The one we're going to find right after we take care of you. Get him!"
Iolaus fought valiantly but knew if he fought too well he'd give himself away. One of the men got in a lucky punch and stunned Iolaus, giving another time to club him with the hilt of his sword. Iolaus crashed unconscious to the ground.
Orestes had a couple of close calls, but he remembered Iolaus' lesson about listening and when he heard the birds stop singing, he quickly hid himself in the brush or between the roots of an old tree. On both occasions he'd barely hid before the men approached. Both times they walked right past him. They were not in tune with their surroundings Orestes thought with satisfaction. They were looking for a running man, not a hiding one.
He made it to the edge of town at dusk. He mussed his hair and wiped some dirt in it in an attempt to further disguise himself. He ignored the stares of the people as he walked to the inn. "OK, so the disguise isn't too good, no one's stopped me yet." He resisted the urge to run that would only draw attention to himself.
He casually, if not nonchalantly, sauntered up to the bar without a care in the world as he imagined his cousin must do and inquired if they'd seen Hercules this evening.
"Yeah, he just came in, upstairs on the end."
"Thanks," Orestes tossed over his shoulder and headed up the stairs. As he walked down the short deserted hallway his shoulders slumped and he cradled his left arm against him. He glanced down, it had bled through the cloth Iolaus had hastily bound it with. He was so intent on reaching Hercules and paying attention to everything else around him that he'd hardly thought about it. Now that his objective was in sight, his arm began to throb painfully.
He knocked on the door quietly. It was a moment before Hercules opened it. He had obviously caught him in the middle of bathing.
Orestes didn't reply instead he glanced nervously up and down the hall. Something in his manner wasn't right and tipped Hercules off, "Orestes?"
He nodded and Hercules moved aside to let him in, "You're hurt. What's happened?"
Iolaus came to, pleased to find himself still alive but not thrilled about the throbbing in his head or that his arms were bound tightly behind him. He slowly opened his eyes only to be hit by a bucket of water.
"Time to wake up Your Highness."
Iolaus coughed and spluttered and struggled as best he could as the man ripped the royal seal from around his neck, "This is all we need tonight, to send with the message, we'll decide what to do with you in the morning. You're a feisty one. Feistier than we were told to expect."
"Who are you?"
"Oh, we do odd jobs here and there and around. At the moment we're working for some people who don't like your League of Kingdoms idea and want it stopped before it gets started."
"Who? People here or people somewhere else?"
"You'd like to know."
Hercules offered to send for the royal healer while he was sending word of what was going on to Hector but Orestes wouldn't hear of it.
"No, if they capture Iolaus, which I'm sure they did, if he put up a fight, they'd know. If they find out he's not me, he'll be killed. They think he's me and that's the only thing that will keep him alive. If that provides him any protection at all."
Hercules nodded, "Let's take care of that arm while we're waiting on Hector." Hercules removed the bandage and cleaned the area. "This is going to need stitches."
"Alright," A shudder went through Orestes. He hoped Hercules hadn't noticed.
"Are you sure?"
Orestes took a deep breath and nodded, "Yes, I have to stay in this disguise. Iolaus is depending on me."
Hercules nodded, "I'll get the bar maid," he smiled awkwardly, "at least she can probably sew straight."
Linus arrived as the girl was about to begin stitching Orestes arm. Hercules let him in and motioned him to silence. Then, resumed his place on the opposite side of the bed Orestes was lying on as he had done before for Iolaus, giving him a focal point beyond the person doing the stitching.
"This is going to hurt." she told Orestes.
He nodded and looked away, toward Hercules, "I can take it. My cousin could handle this, right? So can I." His voice didn't sound as brave as his words. Hercules took his hand reassuringly. By the time she had completed the first stitch Orestes was blissfully unconscious. She quickly closed the wound, applied an ointment and a fresh bandage. Linus took the girl's place at Orestes side as soon as she vacated it.
He quickly filled Hercules in, "Hector's taken his men and they are heading into the forest. He expects you to join them. I was to escort the King back to the palace but I assume from the earlier conversation that he isn't going. He's playing Iolaus and that place is here."
"No, Iolaus' place is with Hercules." Orestes quietly said as he opened his eyes.
Hercules shook his head, "Not this time, Your Highness, you are staying here and resting."
Orestes looked at his newly bandaged arm and was disappointed, "I passed out, didn't I?"
"It's OK," Hercules consoled him with a smile, "Sometimes Iolaus passes out, too."
After some persuasion, Orestes agreed to rest and Hercules was on his way to meet Hector, leaving Linus to look after his increasingly stubborn King, "More and more like Iolaus all the time." Hercules chuckled to Linus before he left, "That's not necessarily a good thing."
Orestes slept for a couple of hours, then woke more determined than before. "Iolaus wouldn't let this little scratch hold him down, he'd be out there effecting a rescue. I can't allow my cousin to suffer on my account. Once I probably would have done just that, walked away saying 'Better him than me', but not now. He's helped me become a better King and a better man. I have to help him, Linus. I know I'm inexperienced but I'll have you with me to see to it that I stay out of harm's way."
Linus didn't agree but could see that there was no arguing with him. So he nodded his agreement, knowing full well, he'd have to face Hector's wrath for this.
Orestes paused in the tavern and thought for a moment, wondering what Iolaus would do next. He sent Linus outside.
"I'll be there in a moment."
Believing that Orestes wanted to thank the pretty barmaid, Linus ducked outside.
"Feeling better?" she asked as he walked up and leaned on the bar.
"Yes, much. Thank you." Orestes turned on his prettiest smile. The one that no female except his wife had ever been able to resist, "I was wondering if you could do me a favor..."
Linus was stunned to see Orestes come out of the inn carrying an armload of what appeared to be blankets.
Motioning him to silence before he could ask, Orestes led Linus to the edge of the wood where he had emerged only a short time before.
The full moon gave plenty of light to travel by. Hercules caught up with Hector in the clearing where Iolaus had been taken. Hector kneeled to examine the ground for signs.
"How is my King?" he asked.
"Resting comfortably when I left him at the inn. He'd had a few stitches, but he'll live."
Hector's eyebrows rose, "Indeed, I'll look forward to hearing the tale. They took Iolaus here and traveled that way."
Hercules nodded, agreeing to the interpretation and they set out.
Linus was concerned at the speed with which his King was traveling through the trees, "Sir, we should slow down."
"Oh, Linus. The moon is casting plenty of light. We aren't going to walk into any trees, the crickets and cicadas will let us know if there is anyone around. We'll catch up to Hector before we reach the assassins."
"Sir, may I ask, no disrespect intended..."
"Just ask, Linus."
"Why do we need this stuff?" Linus indicated the dark colored, woolen blankets and rope that Orestes had obviously sweet-talked the barmaid into giving him.
Orestes smiled, "Nevermind, Linus, we just need them."
After another hour of heavy traveling, Linus and Orestes reached a ridge overlooking a valley. From this vantage point they could see the whole valley. The mercenaries were camped in a small forest clearing. They could see Hector's forces in the nearby area.
"Looks like Hector's waiting for dawn to attack," Linus commented.
"Hmmm, that gives us a little time. Can you see a way down from here?"
Linus stepped out to the edge of the small ridge. Orestes yelled and grabbed for him but the edge crumbled too fast and Linus slipped over the side. Orestes helplessly watched him tumble down the steep gravel incline.
"Hang on, Linus, I'll be right down." He tied the rope around a tree and lowered himself over the side.
"Be careful, Your Highness."
"Hush Linus, I'm not Your Highness right now. Do I look like, 'Your Highness'?"
"Well, at this moment, Sir, not really."
"Good. How badly are you hurt?" Orestes could see that Linus was covered in scrapes and cuts.
"My leg. I think it's broke."
Orestes grimaced when he saw the leg sticking out at the wrong angle.
"Looks like it, what should I do?"
"We have to straighten it and splint it with something."
"Alright," Orestes got into position, he looked at Linus, "I think this is going to be painful."
Linus replied, "It will."
Carefully, Orestes began to move the foot.
"Just do it," Linus hissed through clenched teeth.
Orestes quickly pulled the leg back into it's proper position. Linus gasped.
"How's that?" Orestes asked uncertainly.
"Enough for now." Linus panted until the worst of the pain subsided.
Orestes ran to pick up a couple of small sturdy branches. He sliced off the smaller limbs with Iolaus' knife and tore strips from one of the blankets before splinting Linus' leg. Orestes, then, got behind Linus, lifted him by his shoulders and drug him to the sheltered area between the roots of a big tree. He covered him with one of the blankets and pulled some brush in around him.
There, that should hide you if anyone comes around, I'll be back for you."
"My King, wait. You can't."
Orestes stopped, "Tonight, I am not your King. Iolaus is your King and he needs my help. I'll be fine, don't worry. I don't plan on going into battle, just helping out a little where I can. Stay here. That's an order."
Orestes grinned at him, grabbed the ropes and blankets and hurried on into the woods.
Iolaus worked the ropes loose and ducked out under the rear wall of the tent they had thrown him in.
"That wasn't too hard. Now to get into the trees and find Hector."
As he rounded the last tent with a clear view of the trees just a short distance away a sharp pain exploded in the back of his head.
At dawn Orestes took refuge in the thick brush at the edge of the clearing where the brigands were camped. He watched with mounting interest as Hector's men took up position. Then he saw Hercules stride into the camp shouting at the top of his lungs like a drunk. Every man in the camp looked his direction and Orestes heard Hector give the signal. The men charged in and the battle was on.
Orestes was still panting from the exertion of laying half a dozen man-sized snares in what he hoped were the right places. He'd thought for a moment earlier that it might not be necessary. From his position in a tree, he'd seen Iolaus sneaking around one of the tents but was soon disappointed to see a large burly man carry him back into a tent. He was obviously unconscious.
Orestes skirted around the village watching the fighting. As his would-be captors began realizing they were going to lose, the more cowardly of the bunch broke away and tried to flee into the woods. Orestes was overjoyed to see two of his snares successfully tripped. He hoped the others fared as well. He didn't know how else he could help. He couldn't hit a thing with bow and arrow, unlike his wife who excelled at the sporting arts. He'd be more dangerous to himself with a sword than to anyone else, but he knew which tent held the "current" King. Remembering to stay low, he weaved between the tents and came up behind the tent he'd seen Iolaus carried into.
Orestes slipped in under the back tent wall. Iolaus was slumped against the tent pole to which he was tied. There was still a guard outside the entrance but no one else inside. Orestes crawled to Iolaus.
Iolaus moaned softly.
"Shhhh. we must be quiet and not alert the guard." Orestes slid around behind him and began cutting the bonds. This knife had proven to be very handy. Orestes made a mental note to get one of his own.
"The one and only," came the grinning reply.
"Why aren't you in the village?"
"Because somebody had to sneak in here and rescue you while Hector and Hercules are fighting our would be assassins or kidnappers, whichever they turn out to be."
"They don't know you're here."
"Also correct. Something you would pull, yes?"
At that moment the guard decided to duck into the tent to check on his prisoner. Iolaus tripped him from his position on the floor and Orestes smashed a small crate over his head. With a grin he turned to give Iolaus a hand up.
"Can you stand?"
"My head hurts, that's got nothing to do with my feet."
"That's debatable but let's go." He led Iolaus under the back of the tent and toward the forest. Iolaus stumbled and Orestes caught him and kept a supporting arm around him as he steered his dizzy cousin toward the tree line.
Both men turned. Orestes grinned at Hercules and waved.
As they entered the trees, they passed under a blanket hanging in a tree with something struggling inside. Iolaus stopped and looked at it. The two men exchanged childish grins. Orestes settled Iolaus against a tree and they watched the final moments of the battle while Iolaus nursed his aching head.
"Orestes, do you have any idea how dangerous it was coming after me like that?"
"Well, I couldn't let them kill you, then, I'd really be in a fix, wouldn't I?"
Iolaus sighed deeply and then wondered if this was why Hercules just sighed and gave him that look sometimes.
Orestes fidgeted with the hem of the vest and asked nervously, "So, how'd I really do?"
Iolaus smiled, "Pretty damn good for somebody who's wilderness experience consists of a day and a half and snaring one rabbit."
Orestes beamed, "At first, I kept thinking, what would Iolaus do? Then, after awhile I just did it. Hector's not going to believe this..." Orestes smiled mischievously.
When it became apparent that Hector's men were moping up, Orestes and Iolaus made their way back into the camp.
Hector ran up, "Your Highness, Hercules said he'd seen you but what..?"
Orestes cut him off, "Hector we need to send a couple of men with a stretcher over to that ridge, They'll find Linus sitting under a tree with a broken leg."
"Yes, he took a bad step."
Hector regarded his King, dirty face, soiled bandage, messy hair. Orestes seemed different, more confident, something. "Your Highness, are you alright?"
"Fine, I've never been better."
Hector hesitated to ask but once again it appeared that Iolaus had effected a valiant change in his King's demeanor, "Then, may I ask which of you is responsible for setting the snares and allowing us to capture the whole gang?"
Iolaus threw up his hands, "Don't look at me, Hector, I was tied up in that tent over there the whole time."
"Orestes?" Hector turned to his King with something akin to wonder on his face.
Orestes grinned proudly, "What's the matter Hector, don't you know an old hunter's trick when you see one? Now if you don't mind, my cousin is in need of a soft bed and so am I." The two walked off laughing, leaving Hector with his mouth hanging open.
Written in May 1998
Disclaimer: No golden hunters, royal or otherwise, were permanently damaged in the writing of this story.
Note: Many thinks to Tom Brown Jr. for writing "Tom Brown's Field Guide to Nature Observation and Tracking". His book taught me living without blinders might slow ya down a little but it's by far a more interesting journey.
Continue with the next story in this IWC challenge.
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