"Iolaus! Slow down! The fish will still be there, if we walk at a normal pace."
Iolaus complied, slowing just enough for Hercules to catch up to him before picking up the pace again.
It was a lovely spring afternoon. A warm breeze rustled the new green leaves on the trees. The winter had been a cold one and just as suddenly as it had turned cold, the whole world had burst into green warmth again.
Young Iolaus couldn't wait to be outside. There had been more than a few evenings recently that Hercules had wondered, if his friend would explode from simply being contained inside a house by the extra cold weather. As seasons change and boys become young men, the spring also brings other thoughts, thoughts of a softer nature.
"You gonna ask anybody to the spring festival?"
"Anybody as in a girl? Those kinda anybodys?"
"Don't know. If I ask just one, all the others might get jealous and I wouldn't want to be responsible for causing a scene." Iolaus responded playfully.
Hercules smiled, "Yeah. Right. Sure."
"How about you?" Iolaus asked, "You game to give it another try?"
"I don't know. The last time was so....humiliating. She still giggles uncontrollably every time she sees me."
Iolaus smiled and patted his friend's arm, "Well, ya gotta admit it was pretty funny when you tripped over your own two giant feet and ended up crashing into that old bee keeper's stand in the market," Iolaus giggled, "I never thought you were gonna get all that honey out of your hair."
"Thanks for reminding me. I think I'll stay single. Like you did any better, you never did tell me what you said that caused Melana to react so...violently."
Iolaus sighed, "Herc, I keep telling you, you don't want to know. It's not something you'd say to a girl, ever. I know I'll never say it again. So don't worry about it."
Hercules smiled and allowed the subject to drop as they emerged from the trees at the edge of a breathtakingly blue lake. The water was a stark contrast to the green of the grass and trees. The treeline came up to the edge of the secluded little lake.
Iolaus dropped his bag and bedroll on the grass and immediately flopped beside them and pulled off his boots. He grabbed his pole and set out for a rock outcropping which extended well out into the water.
"Hey wait up," Hercules hollered as he rushed to catch up to his friend.
"Shhhhhh! The fish don't know I'm here yet. You wouldn't want to spoil the surprise would ya?"
"Iolaus, the great fisherman has arrived. Nope, I wouldn't want to be responsible for making that announcement."
Iolaus was about to respond when he stopped and cocked his head to one side as if listening for something, "Herc? Did you hear that?"
Hercules looked around and saw nothing out of place, "Hear what?"
"I swear I just heard giggling."
"Uh huh. Feminine giggling."
"What would any girls be doing here? They don't generally like to fish."
"I don't know. I heard something, though."
"Yeah, your imagination."
Iolaus shot Hercules a dirty look as the two boys settled themselves on the end of the jette, their feet dangling off the rocks into the cool water, fishing lines cast way out into the lake.
After awhile Iolaus began to fidget. Hercules sighed, they'd only reeled in three small fish. Iolaus insisted that they weren't even big enough for keepers, but Hercules knew better. Small fish were better than no fish. Though, they did have a bag of fruit and cheese that Alcmene had supplied, "just in case".
Iolaus was frustrated, "We're not catching anything here. I'm going further out." With that Iolaus slid off the rock and into about three feet of water.
Hercules frowned as he watched his friend wade deeper. "Iolaus, be careful. The currents are unpredictable out that way."
"I know, but there's bound to be a big fish over in those bushes. I'd rather clean him than those three scrawny things you're keeping."
"Well, watch your step, Okay?"
Iolaus flashed his friend a big smile, nodded, and motioned for silence. Iolaus stood there for awhile in water over his waist, waiting as all fishermen must do. Patience in the hunt must be cultivated as Iolaus' uncle always said. Patience was a hard lesson for Iolaus.
Iolaus felt a small tug on his line. Still, he stood quietly. Then, another stronger tug and Iolaus knew he had something solid.
"Hey Herc! I got one!"
Hercules looked up just in time to see Iolaus jerked violently forward and hear him scream as first the pole and then Iolaus went under. Hercules called, "Iolaus!" When Iolaus didn't surface, Hercules dove in after him, madly swimming to the spot where Iolaus had disappeared.
Iolaus wasn't exactly certain what was happening to him. He just held on to the pole for dear life. He opened his eyes and saw the bottom of the lake racing by him faster and faster. He shut his eyes again against the rush of water.
Just as he was sure his arms would be pulled from their sockets, he stopped. There was no weight on the other end of the line.
"It must've snapped," he thought. Iolaus opened his eyes and tried to swim upwards but his feet wouldn't move. "Oh no! I've been tangled in the line." Iolaus thought, near panic, "No. Gotta stay calm."
Then, he saw his own fishing line come up around him. He raised his eyes and through the gloom saw the biggest fish tale he could ever imagine swimming around behind him. He turned and as it came around for another pass still twisting the line around him, Iolaus found himself face to face with the prettiest girl he'd ever seen. She had eyes the color of emeralds and flowing red hair that floated all around her, over her shoulders and across her...Iolaus gulped, bare breasts. He couldn't stop himself, his eyes roamed downward. She laughed when he gasped. From the waist down she was a fish!
She continued giggling and wound the line around him one more time as Iolaus continued to stare dumbfounded at her.
She stopped in front of him and smiled. Then, she put her finger to her lips in a hushing gesture. She winked at him as she turned away and disappeared into the murky water.
Suddenly, Iolaus found himself choking on water and unable to move. He thrashed around as best he could. The next thing Iolaus knew Hercules had grabbed him from behind and was hauling him to the surface. Iolaus tried to take a breath when they broke through into the air and ended up coughing up half of the lake. Hercules put an arm under Iolaus' shoulders and treaded water for the both of them as Iolaus spluttered. Finally, he took a deep breath without erupting into a fit of coughing and weakly lay his head back against Hercules' shoulder.
"Thanks," he said breathlessly.
"Let's just not make a habit of this, Okay?" With that Hercules leaned back and began pulling both of them toward shore. Iolaus was still too shaken from his nearly drowning to protest much. Besides, he was still tangled in the line and couldn't move.
The two friends crawled up on the beach. Hercules dropped beside Iolaus who had started coughing up lake water again.
"What did you think you were doing? Why didn't you let go of the pole?"
Iolaus still gasping, tried to gesture excitedly. His voice came out little more than a croak. Hercules was amused. He could tell by his friends wide eyes that Iolaus had something major to tell and was just too excited to get it out in his present condition.
"Slow down, Iolaus, let yourself breathe." Hercules worked on cutting away the fishing line that was now horribly tangled around his friend. Iolaus nodded, swallowed and deliberately paced his breathing. Finally, when he was able to talk, he exploded.
"Herc! WOW! She was a girl, no, a fish," his big blue eyes sparkled at Hercules with wonder, "She was a girl-fish, or something. She was the most beautiful thing and she wasn't wearing any clothes! She had this long, long hair that floated over her shoulders." Iolaus demonstrated with his hands.
"Iolaus, you're babbling," Hercules was concerned, "Are you all right?"
"A little water-logged, but yeah, I'm fine, why?"
"You sound a little, uhhhh, crazy."
"I saw her, Herc, really I did. She was there."
"Isn't that a little far-fetched even for you?"
Iolaus thought a minute, "Yes, No! I saw her. I know I did. I'm gonna prove it." He got up and headed toward the waterline.
Hercules caught his arm, "Hey, you just nearly drowned, let's take it easy awhile."
"I saw her, Herc."
"OK, OK. You saw something."
But Iolaus knew Hercules really didn't believe him. The pair walked slowly around the lake, back to where they had dropped their gear. Hercules left Iolaus to set up camp while he gathered some wood and cleaned the small fish, flaying them for roasting. The two boys shared a meal of fish and fruit. Iolaus wouldn't let the subject drop.
"I saw her." Iolaus declared stubbornly.
"Iolaus, we've been coming here since we met and if there's a creature like you describe, we'd have seen her by now. We've been over every inch of this lake."
Iolaus stubbornly refused to even consider another explanation.
After dinner and with some coaxing, Hercules managed to keep Iolaus from going back into the water. Soon, the setting sun found both boys asleep on warm blankets upon the soft grass by the fire.
Iolaus expected to dream about the day's near tragedy, but he had expected a nightmare. Iolaus was underwater and the girl-fish was there before him again, laughing and smiling as she danced around him. All the while she kept motioning him to come and follow her but he couldn't. Her giggling echoed in his mind as his woke. It was a familiar giggle.
A thought occurred to Iolaus as he lie by the dying fire waiting for the first rays of dawn, both in the dream and yesterday when he was with her, he didn't seem to need to breath. It didn't make sense. "Like thinking you saw a fish-girl makes sense either, good one, Iolaus," Iolaus looked over at the still sleeping Hercules, "I know what I saw." Iolaus got up and headed for the water, shedding clothes as he went.
Hercules opened his eyes to the early morning sun and the sound of splashing. He sat up and watched as Iolaus dove into the lake. The water's surface rippled in his wake, then, as the tiny ripples faded, Iolaus would surface, take a couple of deep breaths and dive again. Bare feet kicking the air for a second before sliding under the water.
Hercules helped himself to an almost ripe piece of fruit as he sat waiting for Iolaus to give up. He knew trying to stop his stubborn, obstinate friend would only make him more determined to find this whatever it was, he thought he saw.
Hercules spent the time setting a couple of snares nearby in the woods. He liked fish but a little variety was better. Besides, he couldn't risk fishing. He might catch Iolaus. All the time he never let the lake surface out of his sight for more than a few seconds and he kept an ear tuned for regular splashing.
Iolaus peered through the murky water. He could only see a few feet in any direction. In the deeper areas of the lake Iolaus found he couldn't hold his breath long enough to make it to the bottom and back, which only added to his frustration. He had about decided to pack it in when he surfaced and saw Hercules moving around on the small beach. Suddenly, Iolaus found his resolve strengthening. He wouldn't let Hercules win this one. It wasn't his imagination and he'd prove it with renewed vigor Iolaus dove again.
Herc snagged a rabbit mid morning and had it cleaned and cooking over a fire when Iolaus drug himself to shore. He collapsed next to the fire, dripping.
"So, any sign of your fish-girl?"
"No, but she's out there. I know she is."
"Iolaus you were under for awhile. I've heard that if a person is without air for too long they see things."
"She was real. Besides, I didn't seem to need air until she left."
"Iolaus, that's crazy. You can't breath underwater."
"Oh yeah, how did I get tied up in my own fishing line?"
"Iolaus, you get tangled in your line all the time."
Iolaus gave him a dirty look, "And how do you explain, how I got so far away from where I was pulled under? I was clear across the lake."
"The currents move fast in that part of the lake, that's why I didn't want you going out there in the first place."
"The current moves in the other direction, Herc."
Hercules did a double take and looked out at the lake. Then, he shrugged, "I don't know. Let's eat, huh?"
Iolaus nodded, "I'm starving."
Hercules smiled, "I'm not surprised considering the amount of energy you've expended this morning."
Indeed, Iolaus was hungry. He ate twice his usual amount and after a brief rest, he stood and headed for the water. Hercules grabbed his arm as Iolaus stepped over his legs.
"Hey, just where do you think you're going?"
"Back in the lake."
Hercules shook his head, "I don't think so. I think you've had enough swimming for awhile." Hercules was disturbed by Iolaus' pale face. "If you want to swim later, you'll sit down over there and rest awhile, first."
"Herc, I'm fine."
"I don't want to have to rescue you again, please, just sit for awhile. It's a beautiful day, kick back and enjoy it."
Iolaus grumbled under his breath and flopped onto his bedroll sulking. As he stared through the tree tops, he realized Hercules was right. It was a beautiful day. He fell asleep almost immediately and dreamed the afternoon away.
Iolaus floated freely in the clear water. He glanced around himself. He could see the rocky bottom below and the glassy surface above. A school of fish darted past. Always, there was the laughing fish-girl swimming lazy circles around him. He turned to keep pace with her. Iolaus didn't know what to think about it all, about her. She was so pretty with her hair billowing around her head as she swam. Iolaus felt completely content to remain here in her presence gazing into her emerald eyes forever.
Hercules watched as Iolaus sighed in his sleep. The sun was more than halfway through it's afternoon journey. Hercules debated whether or not he should wake Iolaus. A little more color had returned to his sleeping face.
Hercules knew the look in his friend's eyes. As soon as he woke he'd be back in the lake trying to chase his apparition. Hercules didn't feel like an argument and decided to leave well enough alone. He wandered the water's edge and dug a few clams to take home to his mother.
As evening fell, Hercules wondered if he'd have to wake Iolaus after all. He had most of their stuff already packed when Iolaus finally stirred.
"Hey, why didn't you wake me?"
"I thought maybe you could use the rest."
"I was pretty wiped out. Time for one last swim?" Iolaus asked hopefully.
"I promised mother I'd be home before dark."
"We'll make it a quick one."
"Iolaus, just get your stuff, OK?"
"Come on, Herc."
"Mother will be worried if we're late."
Iolaus frowned, this was obviously not what he would call a satisfactory ending for the trip. "If we have to." Iolaus gathered his blanket and picked up his pole. He stood a moment gazing longingly at the lake. Hercules grabbed his arm and pulled him into the trees.
"Come on, you can daydream about fish-girls at home."
Hercules and Iolaus didn't see each other the next day as they each had two days worth of chores to catch up on. Their mothers kept them hopping. Hercules hoped that this new obsession in his friend's life would pass quickly. "A half naked fish-girl?" He shook his head. "Only Iolaus could imagine that."
School on the following morning, proceeded as usual. Iolaus fidgeted through the lessons and as the afternoon wore on Hercules noticed that it became more and more difficult for Iolaus to sit still. Finally, when Hercules thought the teacher was surely going to explode, she calmly turned away from Iolaus and dismissed the class.
Iolaus impatiently waited for Hercules to gather his things, so they could leave.
"Herc? Do you have to go straight home?"
"I suppose not. Why?"
"I'd like to go back to the lake."
Hercules sighed and knew he had little choice. He didn't want Iolaus going by himself. So he did the simplest thing and agreed.
Hercules sat on the end of the rock jette and watched as Iolaus repeatedly dove into the lake. Hercules had tanned the rabbit hide from the catch a couple of days ago and was working on turning it into a pair of slippers for his mother's birthday. Hercules thought she could use them to keep her feet warm next winter.
After a couple of hours of this, Iolaus crawled up on the bank next to Hercules. He examined one of the partially completed slippers.
"These are going to be nice."
"How about tomorrow?"
"Haven't you covered the whole lake yet?"
"I haven't been over there yet." He pointed toward the far shore, "There're lots of bushes and stuff she could hide in over there."
"OK, for awhile, but I have to be home early."
"Great! Thanks Herc."
The situation repeated itself the next afternoon until Hercules had to leave.
"Iolaus, I have to go home now!"
"Just a little longer."
Hercules just stood there with his hands on his hips.
"One more dive? A quick one?"
"Come on in or you'll get me in trouble!" Iolaus was playing for time by being stubborn and Hercules knew it.
"So, who's stopping you!" Iolaus called from the middle of the lake.
"You are. I can't leave you here by yourself, it's not safe. Don't make me come in after you and drag you out."
"I'd like to see you try it!" Reluctantly, however, Iolaus climbed out.
On the way home Hercules made a decision. "Iolaus? I want you to promise me something."
"Promise me, that you won't set one foot in that lake without me being there."
"I don't want what almost happened on the fishing trip to happen again without me being there to pull you out. I don't want to worry about you sneaking off to the lake alone. If you'll promise, I'll promise to be there whenever I can until you are satisfied that this fish thing you're looking for is not there."
Iolaus was silent.
Iolaus nodded, "Yeah. I promise."
"You're sure I don't have to worry about you?"
"Naw, a promise is a promise." The two boys smiled and clasped hands.
That night Iolaus sank into his warm bed knowing that when he closed his eyes, she'd be there waiting for him, to taunt him with her laughter and mischievous eyes. He wasn't disappointed.
The next afternoon found the two friends as before. Iolaus in the lake and Hercules keeping vigil from the jette. Hercules was pleasantly surprised when Iolaus climbed up on the rocks beside him.
"I don't have to be home early, we still have some time."
"I know," Iolaus sighed, "This just isn't working."
"You know the currents keep the water so stirred up most of the time that she could pass right by you down there and you'd never see her."
Iolaus nodded sullenly.
Iolaus looked so pitiful sitting there staring at the water that Hercules felt a need to cheer him up a little.
"Besides, if she's as big as you, you're not going to catch her with your bare hands."
Iolaus nodded his agreement and the two boys headed home.
The next couple of days saw Iolaus' mood remain quiet and subdued. The two even went back to a few usual activities. Like kicking rocks on the path, playing "gotcha", stalking each other in the woods on the way home. Hercules was beginning to think that Iolaus was getting over his single-minded obsession with proving the existence of the fish-girl.
Then, Iolaus asked Hercules to lend him a hand. As they walked toward the lake Iolaus outlined his new plan.
"I borrowed a row boat and a big net from Clovidius."
"We are going to drag the lake and catch that girl in the net!" Iolaus declared.
"Oh, come on Herc, you were right. I can't catch her with my bare hands. You said you'd help."
"That was befo..." Then, he looked over and saw the bubbling Iolaus he hadn't seen in a few days. As much as he didn't really want to be a party to this, he just couldn't bring himself to squelch Iolaus' enthusiasm, "OK, I'll help."
The two boys spent the entire afternoon manning the net. Hercules was pleased to see that there were fish in the lake. A lot of fish. By the end of the day Hercules felt like they'd caught them all and let them all go, save one. In the middle of the afternoon the net had yielded the biggest bass either boy had ever seen. Iolaus was fisherman enough to know better than to throw this one back.
However, the lake was not giving up the secret of the girl-fish.
"Iolaus, I don't want to burst your bubble, but I don't think she's here."
"She is." Iolaus stated simply with conviction.
"Half girl, half fish?"
"Why not?" Centaurs are half-man, half horse. Satyrs are half-man, half-goat. Why not a half-girl, half-fish?"
"Ok, Ok, she's possible. How'd she get here?"
Iolaus thought a moment, "We know there are underwater caverns connecting the lake with the sea. that's why it's salty in places. Maybe she swam up one or maybe one of your relatives dropped her here."
Hercules conceded the possibilities but he still doubted it. "It hasn't been a total loss. At least we know there are fish here even if we can't catch them the old fashioned way."
Iolaus smiled, "Yeah and we got enough fish right here," he patted the bass in the bottom of the boat, "to feed both our families tonight."
Over the next several days Iolaus tried a variety of snares and an elaborate scheme designed to trap the fish-girl in a small inlet with a one-way gate. Iolaus ran to check his various snares and traps to find them all sprung He caught lots of fish but no girls.
Hercules watched all this activity with amusement. At least they'd never starve. They now had an arsenal of ways to catch fish. He had never seen Iolaus so single-minded about anything and so frustrated at the same time. Nothing worked.
The next week Iolaus begged and pleaded for Hercules to go fishing with him again. Hercules was doubtful of Iolaus' motives, "Are we really gonna fish or look for sea girls?"
"Fish, I promise, really!"
Unable to say no to Iolaus for long, Hercules eventually relented and found himself again camped at the lakeside.
Iolaus was good and didn't mention his underwater vision all day but Hercules could see that his eyes were constantly roaming the surface of the water for signs.
That night Hercules woke to find Iolaus tossing and turning and practically doing flips in his sleep, Hercules assumed it was a bad dream and shook Iolaus awake.
"Huh?" Iolaus asked blearily.
"You were dreaming."
"Yeah," Iolaus smiled and sank back on his blanket. It was early and still dark.
"It wasn't a nightmare?"
"No, I was swimming with her," Iolaus replied dreamily.
Hercules sighed, "Iolaus what is driving this crazy obsession of yours? Can't you believe that it might have been lack of air that caused you to imagine her?"
"You wouldn't believe me."
Iolaus took a deep breath, "I keep having dreams about her, Herc. Every night since I saw her. She calls to me and we swim in the lake together and I never need to come up for air. It feels so real, like I could just walk out into the lake and never have to come up again."
Hercules became immediately concerned "You've been having these dreams for weeks and you haven't said anything about it?"
"You didn't believe me anyway."
"Where are these dreams coming from?"
"I assumed her."
"What if they are coming from Hera or something? She has no love for me. It would be just like her to use you to get to me."
"The dreams aren't like that, Herc, they're peaceful and calm."
"I think we should go home."
"Herc, I think you're overreacting a little."
"Do you? Iolaus those dreams are not healthy."
"I'm not going. We came here to fish. Let's fish."
"You didn't come here to fish, you came here to be near whatever it is you think is in that lake."
Iolaus just stared at him.
"Do you deny it?"
"I'm not going to be a party to your obsession anymore. I'm going home. Are you coming?"
Hercules picked up his things and looked back at Iolaus, "You promised me you wouldn't swim without me. Does that still stand?"
Iolaus nodded, "I gave my word."
Hercules nodded and gathered his stuff. He stopped once and looked back to see Iolaus pitching rocks into the dark lake from the end of the jette. He didn't feel good about leaving but he didn't feel right about staying either. Iolaus' word was good. Hercules trusted him not to do anything life-threatening.
Iolaus threw rock after rock into the lake, working off his anger. He nearly fainted when one of the rocks came sailing back at him and landed beside him on the rock slab. He looked out at the water in time to see her tail waving at him from the middle of the lake.
Iolaus almost dove in and then remembered and yelled, "Herc! HERCULES!!!" but he was too far away to hear. The tail disappeared beneath the water. Hercules wouldn't believe him anyway. Iolaus picked up the rock thoughtfully, "Maybe I'm going about this all wrong. I've been trying to catch a fish. Stupid, Iolaus, really stupid. Wasted days, trying to catch a girl with a fishing pole."
He ran into the woods and gathered an armload of flowers which he left on the rocks, then, he hid behind a tree and waited. Nothing happened and after awhile he walked slowly home depressed.
The next day Iolaus stopped by and picked up Hercules on the way to school. They walked quietly hardly saying a word. Iolaus was about to apologize and admit he must be crazy to believe what he thought he believed. As they passed by the lake Iolaus stopped and starred. The flowers were gone. There was not a sign of them anywhere.
"Yeah, sure," he smiled and followed. "Hey Herc, what do girls like?"
"You're asking me? I don't even talk to girls, if I can help it. I always end up sounding like an idiot. Maybe you should ask your stepfather. He's a poet. They know about girls. And you could tell me what he says. I need all the help I can get."
That afternoon Hercules had to go straight home. Iolaus realized with relief, that he didn't have to come clean about the "girl" he was trying to entice. Iolaus gathered another armload of flowers and left them on the rocks. Again he waited and watched and no one came.
Iolaus ran home for dinner and was almost late. His mother was worried because Iolaus didn't miss meals. He offered to help her with the dishes after, which caused her more concern until he asked, "Mom, how did he attract you?" gesturing to his new stepfather in the next room playing with his little brother.
She smiled, "I knew there had to be an ulterior motive for you to offer to help with the dishes. So, there's a girl is there? Anyone I know?"
Iolaus blushed and replied quietly, "I don't think you know her."
"Hmmmm." She began putting the dried pots and pans away.
"You haven't answered my question."
"Well," she began, "He brought me lots of flowers."
"Got that covered," they grinned the same grin at each other.
"He also wrote poems for me, then he sang them to me."
"Poems?" Iolaus gulped.
"Uh huh, a girl can't resist a boy who writes poetry."
They were silent a moment. She debated and finally asked. She knew she shouldn't ask too many questions, but she couldn't stop herself. She'd just ask one, "Is she pretty?"
"I think so."
"That's what counts."
"Think I could get him to write a poem for me?"
"I doubt he'd write it for you, he'd probably help you though and I'll tell you that if it comes from your heart, it'll be good enough for her."
Iolaus smiled and hugged his mother, "Thanks Mom. You're the best"
The next morning as the two friends walked by the lake, the flowers were gone again without a trace.
Hercules knew Iolaus was up to something. He kept writing and scratching out stuff on a scroll and then writing again. Iolaus was never one for expending lots of effort on academics. Hercules knew there must be something going on, but every time he got near Iolaus would cover the scroll or turn it over.
On the way home Hercules finally just came out and asked what was on the scroll.
"You wrote a poem?" Hercules was amazed.
Iolaus nods. "Mom said girls like them."
"Are you gonna read it to a girl?"
Iolaus shrugged, and nodded.
"Anybody I know? Which one?"
Iolaus shrugged again noncommittally.
Herc hesitated, "Can I see it?"
Iolaus was silent a moment, "It's kinda personal. Promise not to laugh?"
Hercules nodded solemnly. Girls were serious business.
"OK," Iolaus handed the scroll over.
Hercules accepted it reverently and Iolaus fidgeted while he read. When he finished, he handed it back.
"It's good, really good."
"You think so?"
"I think she'll love it, whoever she is."
That evening after dinner Iolaus went for a walk, gathered just a handful of flowers and ended up at the lake. He assembled all his courage and with a halting squeaky voice read what he'd written on the scroll to the calm surface of the lake. He didn't dare sing it. If his voice cracked while he was singing, he knew he would die of embarrassment. Then, he sat on a rock and waited and waited.
As he sat he started pitching rocks into the lake. The moon rose over the trees.
"That was lovely." a voice said softly behind him. Iolaus nearly jumped out of his skin. He hadn't heard a sound when she surfaced.
She placed her elbows on the rock and leaned over. Her hair cascaded over her shoulders and spilled out onto the rock. She had a circle of flowers woven around her head. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you."
"You're real. You're really real."
She smiled. "Are those for me?" She nodded at the flowers beside him.
"Oh yeah," he handed them to her.
"They're beautiful, thank you, so were all the others."
Iolaus blushed and found his tongue. "What are you? Who are you? What took you so long to talk to me?"
She laughed. "Whoa! One at a time. My name is Lamia and I'm not supposed to tell anyone I'm here, but I don't have anyone to talk to except the fish and they aren't much on conversation. Your poem was just so sweet. I couldn't resist."
"Thanks. How long have you been here?"
"Not long. I wanted to talk to you sooner but your friend was always here. You mustn't tell him about me. Especially not him. He's a son of Zeus."
"What does that matter?"
"It matters. Please just do as I ask. I can't come to you if anyone else is here. I'd like to be friends for as long as I'm here."
"I'd like that, too.
The next morning Iolaus was all smiles.
"Come on Iolaus, did she like it?"
"Who is she? Is she in our class?"
"No, she's new and doesn't go to school here. She's just visiting. I think."
"Oh. How'd you meet her?"
"Walking by the lake." It was almost true. Iolaus figured he better stick as close to the truth as he could.
"When can I meet her?"
"I thought you didn't like talking to girls. Now you want to talk to mine?" Iolaus teased.
Hercules punched Iolaus in the arm.
"Hey, OK. OK. Maybe after I've made her fall hopelessly in love with me forever."
"Afraid I'll steal her away?"
"Well, you are half god you know and all your shy charm might be too irresistible."
Herc laughed. "OK fine. I'll meet her later, whenever you're ready."
That evening after dinner, Iolaus ran to the lake. Bundled in a cloth in his shirt, he carried a piece of leftover cake from dessert. He gathered a handful of flowers along the way. He saw Lamia's tail playfully waving at him as he cleared the top of the hill and bounded toward the shore.
He was out of breath by the time he dropped onto the rocks at the end of the jette. He pulled his boots off and dangled his feet in the water.
"For...you," he handed her the flowers between breaths.
She blushed and smiled shyly, "Thank you."
"Oh, I almost forgot," he reached into his shirt and pulled out the cake. "I brought us some leftover dessert." He broke the piece in half and handed her part.
"Thank you," she examined the sponge-like thing he placed in her hand unsure what she should do with it. Iolaus looked at her expectantly.
"Ummm, what is it?"
"Cake. Don't you know what cake is?"
"Well," she began hesitantly, "we don't get a lot of baked goods in the sea. It is baked, right?"
"Yeah," he smiled, "I hadn't thought about that. Is it OK for you to eat it?"
"I think so," she sniffed cautiously and tried a small bite. She closed her eyes luxuriating in the taste, "mmmm, what is it?"
"Chocolate, my Mom makes the best."
"It is good."
"You've never had chocolate before either?
"No, well, there are a couple of things that taste sweet like this, but you probably wouldn't want me to tell you about them while you're eating."
He gulped, "OK. We really do come from different worlds, don't we?"
She nodded, "But we can teach each other."
"All right, this cake is my favorite sweet. What's yours?"
She got a twinkle in her eye, a twinkle Iolaus was quickly learning meant mischief.
"Be right back," and she flipped her tail splashing him as she dove beneath the waves.
Iolaus finished off his cake and waited. He didn't have long to sit and watch the setting sun. Lamia reappeared and handed him a green leaf that looked rather slimy.
He eyed it warily but took it when she handed it to him. He held it up in the air between two fingers and watched it drip.
"Go ahead, it's sweet, I promise. You eat the leaf part and stay away from the stem, it tends to be bitter."
Iolaus nodded and gathered his wits. He knew he had to try it. He was committed. He slowly moved the wet leaf over his mouth. He prepared himself for the worst. He bit off a piece and the leaf just seemed to melt into his mouth. It had the sweet taste of sugar cane about it.
Lamia giggled. He stopped and looked at her confused by her laughter.
"You didn't trust me. You thought it was going to be terrible," she teased.
He smiled shyly, "I did. I admit it." He giggled, "I've got to give Herc some of this sometime. He won't believe I'm eating slimy leaves and loving it. Where do I find this stuff."
"Over there on the far bank there's a shelf near where that dead tree's sticking up. There are clumps of it growing out there. You should only pick it in spring, though, before that it's bitter and by summer it's too tough to chew."
"OK, I'll remember that. Thanks."
Iolaus met Lamia every evening even when he had to sneak out after bedtime. He'd taken to running out onto the jette and flopping down on his stomach at the end. Usually Lamia would be waiting just out of sight beneath the surface.
Clouds drifted across the moon and the wind had turned colder again. Iolaus figured it would rain tomorrow. He'd brought his blanket as he climbed out the window of the room he shared with his younger brother. He sat cross-legged on the smooth rock and pulled the blanket a little closer around himself.
"Is it too cold for you to be out? Lamia asked. "I don't notice so much, living in the water."
"I'm OK," The clouds cleared a moment and they both looked up into the light from the moon. It gave everything an eerie feeling.
"The moon is full tonight," Iolaus remarked.
Lamia nodded, "They'll come for me on the night of the dark moon."
"The priests. My family owes a goddess and I'm the required payment."
Iolaus swallowed, he knew from Hercules' family that this was probably not a good thing. "What will happen to you?"
"I am to be trained in the temple and when I'm grown to spend my life using my talents in her service."
"They're not going to sacrifice you or anything?"
"No, I don't think that was part of the deal."
"That's good. Talents? Like keeping me from drowning and sending me dreams to keep me coming back here?"
She smiled mischievously, "Come swim with me. The water is warm even if the air isn't"
"Warm for you maybe, not for me. Besides, I can't, I promised Hercules I wouldn't swim without him here."
"You're good friends, aren't you?
"The best. He's like a brother."
"It's good to have a friend like that. I wish I could."
"Hey, you have me. After you leave we can write and visit and stuff."
"I hope so."
They talked until late into the night. Iolaus didn't want to leave. The moon was nearly set when Iolaus finally made it home. He wearily climbed through the window and the first thing he saw was his mother sitting on his bed, waiting for him. His stomach did a flip flop.
"Mom! Uhhh, hi!"
"Where have you been?" She whispered softly not wanting to wake the rest of the house. She seemed awfully calm. This wasn't going to be pretty.
"I was talking to Lamia."
"That's the girl the poem was for?"
Iolaus nodded and shivered suddenly chilled in the warmth of the room.
"Iolaus do you realize how cold it is out there tonight? It's not summer yet, you know." She sighed, "We will talk about this in the morning." She rose and pulled another blanket from the cabinet. "You get in bed and get warmed up before you catch your death."
"Iolaus was confused, "Mom?"
She stopped in the doorway, "Yes?"
"Am I in trouble?"
"You better believe it."
The next morning found Iolaus feeling terrible. He lay in bed as his little brother got ready for school.
"Come on Iolaus. It's time to go."
"What's the matter? Are you sick?"
"Yeah, I think so."
"MOM! Iolaus says he's sick!"
"Don't yell!" Iolaus held his aching head.
His mother appeared in the doorway, "I was afraid of this. Go on, you, breakfast is on the table." She shooed the boy out of the room and sat on the bed. She pulled Iolaus' hand from his face so she could feel his forehead, "You have a fever. Does your head hurt?"
He nodded slowly.
"How's your stomach?"
She got up and put another log on the fire to get it started again. "Are you warm enough."
"Do you want breakfast?"
She came back and pulled the covers up and tucked him in.
She smiled, her eldest hated it when she fussed over him or treated him as a child. He was definitely 'that' age. She brushed the hair away from his eyes, "Go to sleep."
She went back to the kitchen and wrote a message on a piece of parchment and handed it to her younger son. The boy opened the parchment and squinted at the symbols, as though squinting would miraculously decipher them. He was not quite old enough to read yet.
"What's it say?"
"It's a note to Hercules telling him that Iolaus is sick and not to wait for him. I also asked him to bring Iolaus' schoolwork, so he won't get behind. This message is very important. Would you take it to Hercules?"
"Yes, Mama!" he swelled with pride at her trust in him and marched out into the rain.
Midmorning Iolaus' mother decided it was time to talk. She made them both a cup of tea and perched herself on Iolaus' bed. Iolaus steeled himself for what he assumed would be a lecture.
"So, what's going on with you?"
"What do you mean?"
"Iolaus, I used to be able to trust you, I'd like to think I still can. You're young, you have years to talk to this girl. You don't have to sneak out of this house in the middle of the night. She'll still be there tomorrow."
"No she won't, she's leaving in a few days. I may never see her again."
"Then, why didn't you come talk to me?"
Iolaus shrugged, "I didn't think you'd understand."
"Iolaus, I'm happily married to a poet. Young love I understand. I wouldn't have let you stay out half the night, but I might have been persuaded to extend your bedtime a little."
Iolaus looked down at the blanket and picked at the edge, "I'm sorry Mom."
"Next time, will you come talk to me before you sneak out?"
"OK, when does she leave?"
"You are going to be grounded for sneaking out and probably extra chores, you know that?"
At his mother's pronouncement of sentence a panicked look appeared in Iolaus' eyes. Too late, Lamia would be gone by then.
"Starting the day after the new moon."
Iolaus closed his eyes in relief, "Thanks Mom."
"If you promise me no more sneaking out. I will know where you are."
"Done. No more sneaking out, I promise."
She smiled at him and felt his forehead, then kissed it, "finish your tea, you'll feel better."
Hercules worried as he walked up the lane. He wasn't sure this mysterious girlfriend was having a good effect on Iolaus. He was sleeping in class and the teacher was about to pay Iolaus' mother a visit, if it didn't stop. Iolaus was still hanging around the lake. He said it was where he meets Lamia.
Now, Iolaus was sick. Something just didn't feel right about it all. He knocked softly on the door. Iolaus' mother let him in.
"Hercules, how are you?"
"Fine, how's Iolaus?"
"Better, I think, he still has a fever, though," she led him back to Iolaus' room.
She had to wake him, "Hercules is here." She moved back so Hercules could get in.
"Oh, hi Herc." Iolaus sat up and yawned. His mother closed the door quietly behind herself.
Hercules pulled up a chair beside the bed. "So, what's the matter?"
"I stayed outside too long last night and got too cold. Made myself sick."
"What were you doing outside?"
"Talking to Lamia."
"Your mother let you stay out that late with a girl?"
"She trusts me. Besides, I snuck out."
"Snuck out? Does your mother know?"
Iolaus nodded, "She does now."
"What's she gonna do to you?"
"Grounded, two weeks, starting after Lamia leaves."
"Yeah, I told you, she was just visiting here."
"Oh, right, I'm sorry."
Eventually the two friends got around to the homework but Iolaus didn't really feel up to it. Hercules felt Lamia's shadow between them, it made him uncomfortable.
Iolaus spent a miserable evening in bed. His mother refused to let him up until his fever broke. He knew better than to even ask about visiting Lamia. He couldn't ask Hercules to take a message. Lamia was adamant about Hercules' not knowing anything about her. Iolaus was just stuck. He hadn't dreamed of Lamia since they'd started talking. Iolaus sulked in his bed and eventually fell into a restless sleep.
Lamia waited. Iolaus didn't come. She had seen Hercules walking alone and worried about what could have happened to Iolaus. "Something must have happened," she thought, "he'd be here if he could."
Worry over her missing friend drove Lamia to seek Iolaus' mind. She closed her mind to the world around her and directed all her energy inward as her body relaxed and floated gently to the bottom. She knew something was wrong as soon as she touched Iolaus' mind. She could feel the heat of the fever through his dreams. She knew this had to be the result of the cold and she felt responsible. Iolaus was sick because he wanted to relieve her loneliness.
Lamia gathered all the strength she had and took Iolaus' fever dreams into herself. The effort left her lying exhausted on the bottom but it was the least she could do for her only friend.
She slept for a time and then forced herself to the surface come morning to watch the children walking to school. She was pleased to see Iolaus and Hercules making the journey together. She saw Iolaus stop and look toward the lake and then give a little wave as he ran to catch up to his friend. Lamia sank gratefully back to her bed on the bottom.
Iolaus couldn't wait to get out of school. As he and Hercules passed the lake. Iolaus stopped. "Herc, listen, I need to stop and let the fish out of one of my traps. You go ahead and I'll catch up to you in a minute."
"I'll come with you."
"No, you don't have to, go on. I'll catch up."
Hercules was clearly reluctant, but agreed and headed on up the hill.
Iolaus continued down the path toward the water. He ran out onto the jette and glanced back to make sure Hercules was out of sight before he called to the water.
She broke the surface immediately."
"Iolaus, are you OK?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. I had a little fever that's all. Mom wouldn't let me out of the house. She found out I've been sneaking out. I think she was pretty upset, but we talked about it and she's gonna let me keep coming. I just can't stay so late." Iolaus was talking very fast, "Listen, I have to go. I promised Mom I'd come straight home after school today, if my fever doesn't come back she said I could come awhile tomorrow."
"I'll be waiting. I'm glad you're all right."
Iolaus noticed the dark circles under her eyes, "Hey, are you OK?"
"Fine, I was just worried about you."
"Don't worry about me. I'm a tough guy." he flashed her a grin and ran up the hill after Hercules.
Hercules had always been able to talk to his mother about anything, but he was uneasy about bringing up what was bothering him. He knew he should be happy for Iolaus but instead is felt resentful and envious of the time Iolaus was spending with Lamia. the fact that Iolaus wouldn't even introduce him to Lamia just made everything worse.
Hercules picked at his dinner debating whether or not to bring it up. As usual his mother was reading his mind.
"Iolaus' bottomless appetite hasn't graced our table lately, how come?"
"He's been spending most of his free time with his new girlfriend."
Alcmene nodded, understanding, "That's why you've been moping around the house by yourself so much lately. Any girl I know?"
"Her name is Lamia. Iolaus said she just came here."
"Hmmm, I haven't heard of any new families in the village. Is she staying with someone?"
"I don't know. I think she's just visiting."
"And Iolaus has fallen for this girl?"
Hercules nodded, "Hard. She's all he thinks about. He doesn't hunt or fish or anything anymore. It's just Lamia this and Lamia that."
Alcmene heard the frustration in her son's voice, "And how do you feel about Iolaus spending all this time with a girl?"
Alcmene smiled, "Hercules, I know it's hard when friendships change. Your friendship with Iolaus will survive this girl. Iolaus will go hunting and fishing with you again as soon as the 'new' has worn off the romance. If she is just visiting and Iolaus has fallen in love as you say, then, Iolaus will need your friendship when she leaves. He'll need your support."
Hercules nodded and sighed.
"Alcmene continued, "Besides, one of these days a pretty girl will catch your eye and you'll catch hers and then you'll understand what Iolaus is going through."
Alcmene smiled, "All right, I won't say anymore. Eat your dinner before it gets cold."
Alcmene's not knowing of any new people in the village made Hercules all the more concerned about his friend. Iolaus had continued to hang out around the lake to the exclusion of all other activities. If Alcmene didn't know about any new people, it was a good bet there weren't any, but she didn't seem all that concerned about it. Maybe he was imagining things.
Hercules followed Iolaus to the lake to see if he could find out what was really going on. He hung way back as he followed, so that Iolaus wouldn't get the feeling he was being tracked. He stayed in the trees out of sight when he reached the lake. He saw Iolaus apparently talking to someone in the water. Casually as he could, Hercules walked up to them. Hercules heard a splash and was surprised to find Iolaus alone.
"Oh Hi Herc."
"What are you doing out here? Who were you talking to?"
"Nobody. Just myself," and he sighed. He and Hercules skipped rocks awhile and then walked home together. Iolaus knew Lamia wouldn't be back that evening. Since he'd been sick, she refused to let him stay out long after dark. He was going to have to be careful these last couple of days before the new moon. Hercules was getting suspicious.
Iolaus knew this was their last day together so his mother allowed him to camp out. The weather had turned warmer again.
"Iolaus, I want to thank you for being such a good friend. I'll miss you and I'll never forget you."
"You sound like you're never coming back."
"I may not be. They'll come for me tomorrow."
"Which goddess? Maybe I could visit you at the temple sometime. Or write letters."
Her eyes were downcast as she whispered, "I don't think they accept letters at Hera's temple".
Iolaus' eyes widened, "Oh."
"I guess you won't be visiting."
"Now, I understand why you didn't want Hercules to know you were here. Are you sure you have to do this? I mean, Hera?"
"I have no choice, Iolaus. I have to do this."
Iolaus had taken his boots off and was dangling his feet in the water. He kicked them idly.
"I just don't want you to be hurt, to be changed." She placed her finger over his mouth effectively shushing him.
"Come swim with me."
"Please. I promise to see that no harm comes to you. I'll bring you back to the rock. I just don't want to be alone tonight." Her big eyes pleaded.
Iolaus weighed his promise to his friend. He knew that Hercules was worried about him swimming alone, but he wasn't alone now. He agreed with a silent nod and slid into the water. They swam near the surface at first. Then, she pulled him gently deeper. Finally, she took his hand and led him to the bottom. Iolaus quickly learned that as long as he was near Lamia he didn't need to breath, but if he got too far away he was in trouble.
She led him to an underwater spring. Iolaus could feel the warm water bubbling up from between the rocks. There in the bubbles Iolaus gazed into her eyes getting lost in the deep emerald green pools. Iolaus leaned forward. Their lips touched. Iolaus drowned in the sensation that electrified his being. The bubbles tickled as he slid his arms around her.
A voice in Iolaus' head said, "I was supposed to be able to steal your heart not allow you to take mine." Funny, he didn't think the voice was his.
Iolaus woke up. The full morning sun hit him in the face. He was lying on the rock outcropping on a bed of freshcut flowers. He called for her but she was gone.
For the next couple of weeks Iolaus was very quiet and it disturbed Hercules. this is what his mother had meant about Iolaus needing their friendship and Hercules wasn't going to let him down. He tried to cheer up his friend by suggesting a fishing trip. Iolaus reluctantly agreed after some persuasion.
They arrived at their usual camp site late and went to sleep expecting to make an early start. In the morning Hercules awoke to find Iolaus gone. He found him sitting on the rock jette, throwing flowers into the water and watching them float away in the waves. Hercules sat next to him.
"Wanna go swimming?" Hercules ventured.
Iolaus frowned, "Herc? When you made me promise not to go into the water unless you were there, did you mean you only or that you really just didn't want me going alone?"
"I was afraid you'd get in trouble and there'd be no one to pull you out."
"So, if I went swimming with someone else, that'd be okay?"
A twinkle appeared in Hercules' eye. He sensed where Iolaus was going with this, "Did you swim with Lamia?"
Iolaus nodded, "Was that alright? Are you mad?"
"Mad? Jealous maybe. I wish a girl'd go swimming with me."
Iolaus didn't reply. His mood became quiet and sullen again as he continued throwing flowers.
"Wanna talk about it?"
"There's no one to give her flowers or make her smile anymore."
"I'm sure she'll find new friends."
"I hope so."
"Maybe she'll come back to visit again."
"Maybe, but it won't be the same. I think she took my heart with her"
End of Story one in a trilogy.
Written by Ceryndip November 1997
Part two of this trilogy is Siren's Song
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