The night was dark, the clouds ominous. Lightning streaked through the sky. Iolaus joined Hercules leaning against rail of the ship. They watched the sails intently as the wind alternately filled and then sucked the air from them.
"The wind picks up anymore, those sails are going to have to come down," Hercules commented.
Iolaus nodded and turned to look out over the churning waves. He knew there was land in that direction. By his reckoning they should be passing Attica, but were too far out to see the dark shore. A warm bed on solid ground in his cousin's castle sounded like the ideal place to be tonight, but the two men were Corinth bound. Alcmene's cooking was worth facing a storm at sea for anytime.
Iolaus rubbed his chilled arms with his hands, "I don't know about you, but I'm going below before that wind turns any colder."
Hercules nodded and followed him to the door. Iolaus pulled on it but it didn't budge. The way the wind was coming across the midsection of the ship, it was effectively forcing the hatch shut. Iolaus tried again and managed to pull the door open a few inches before the wind slammed it shut again.
"Here, let me," Hercules called over the howling. Iolaus stepped back while Hercules opened the door with seemingly little effort. He smiled sheepishly at Iolaus as he passed quickly through the opening with a couple of other men. Hercules followed but remained just inside.
"I better stay here and let people in and out until the wind or our heading changes. We don't want anybody getting caught half in when it slams."
Iolaus nodded, "I'll bring you a bowl of stew." He disappeared down the stairs and returned a few minutes later with two steaming bowls. He waited while Hercules let a man out before handing him his dinner.
"How is it out there?" Iolaus asked as he sat down on the steps.
Hercules slid down beside him, "Not good. Storm's intensifying."
"Hope we can make it to Corinth in one piece".
Hercules nodded and they continued to eat in silence listening to the storm buffet the ship. It creaked and shuddered with each rumble of thunder. Hercules handed back his empty bowl and rose to listen at the door.
"Captain's given the order to bring down the sails. About time, we'd better see if we can help."
Iolaus set down the two empty bowls on the step and followed Hercules back out on deck.
It had started raining and the men were having a difficult time with the sails. Several sailors had climbed up to try untangling the rigging and ease the sails down without tearing them. In this wind it was no easy feat. Iolaus hung back by the hatch, unsure where he should pitch in first. Hercules headed across the deck. Iolaus was about to follow when one of the men aloft shouted a warning.
Too late, one of the yardarms had broken free of the mast and swung dangerously low held by nothing but the sail and rigging. Hercules turned at the shout just in time to be struck broadside by the wildly swinging yardarm.
Hercules sprawled over the side of the ship catching and twisting his leg in the railing as he was jerked upside down. His head contacted the side of the ship and the darkness descended over his panicked mind a moment before he hit the icy water.
Iolaus ran to the railing oblivious to the wind's attempts to hold him back. In a flash of lightning, Iolaus scanned the surface. Nothing. He called, "Hercules!" Still nothing.
He turned to no one in particular and yelled, "Man overboard!" before diving into the dark water. If anyone heard him they were too busy trying to keep the ship intact to worry about a couple of passengers even if one of them was Hercules.
Iolaus gasped as he hit the frigid water. He took a couple of quick, deep breaths, filling his lungs to capacity and dove. He frantically searched for his friend. Deeper and deeper, he swam until his lungs felt ready to burst. Then, he felt something. A something wearing woven leather pants. He worked his way to an arm and taking firm hold of it, swam madly for the surface.
Iolaus gratefully sucked fresh air into his lungs as they broke through. He pulled Hercules closer and held him with an arm around his chest. Iolaus was stunned to see the ship a few hundred yards distant, being tossed by wind and wave like a toy. The air was filled with the terrible sound of splintering wood. The ship was coming apart.
Hercules twitched and began coughing. Iolaus tightened his hold around his friend and treaded water for both of them. Hercules coughed up a lot of water and then fell limp again. Iolaus rolled Hercules' head back against his shoulder and leaned back to better support Hercules' body and keep his head above water. Iolaus could feel his chest rising and falling, so he knew his friend wasn't in immediate danger. If they got out of the water before they froze, Iolaus' toes already felt numb.
A crack appeared in the side of the ship. Iolaus watched in horror as lightning strike after lightning strike ripped the flaming ship to pieces. Debris and bodies littered the surface of the sea.
Iolaus grabbed onto a big chunk of what appeared to be deck. It still had a piece of railing attached to it. He got under Hercules and hefted his torso up onto the makeshift raft. Iolaus pulled himself up, keeping a hand on Hercules, then pulled his friend the rest of the way out of the water.
Iolaus shivered in the wind. He was relieved to find Hercules' pulse strong and his breathing even. He was shivering, too. Iolaus saw a few others hanging onto the wreckage. He picked up a pole as it floated by and used it to fish out part of a sail. There was still some rope laced through it. He wrapped Hercules with it and wrapped himself in what was left.
They seemed to be pulling away from the rest of the wreckage. They were caught in a current. The waves calmed around their little raft while it seemed to still be churning where the ship was. Iolaus fished out a few more boards and a couple of pots with his pole before they were pulled completely out of range. He could see the lightning striking the larger chunks of wreckage and long after he could no longer see the others in the dark, he could hear their screams on the dying wind.
With the lightning ended it was too dark to see. Iolaus felt around and fastened some of the extra boards against the railing to block the breeze. The current they had fallen into was still pulling them along. The clouds began to break up and the stars came out along with the moon, so that Iolaus had dim light to work by.
He had stopped shivering but kept the sail wrapped around himself. He checked Hercules and found a few drops of blood on the sail beneath his head. Iolaus found a gash under his hair that was still oozing. He had no water he could clean it with. Salt water was useless. So, he tore off a strip of the sail fabric and bandaged it.
"No use advertising for the sharks," Iolaus muttered to himself.
Hercules was still breathing evenly but Iolaus thought a little shallowly. The yardarm had hit him on the left side. Iolaus pulled Hercules' shirt out of his pants, untied his undershirt and opened it to find an angry bruise forming. He probed it gently with his fingers. Hercules moaned.
"Sorry. You've got a couple of cracked ribs here," Iolaus looked around, "and I don't know what I can do for them."
He decided he'd better check Hercules for other injuries. He began gently examining Hercules' arms and legs, touching him as though he might break. Both arms seemed alright and the left leg. When he got to the lower right leg, the one that had been caught in the railing, Hercules again, cried out in pain. Iolaus stopped and removed Hercules' boot. As gently as he could he slid his hands under the pant's leg and felt the area. His fingers found the unmistakable break. The area was tender and swollen but didn't seem to be out of place. Iolaus took two of the left over boards, more strips of the precious sail and splinted the leg. Hercules would be in pain when he woke, but in the present circumstances, there was nothing to be done for it.
Iolaus squeezed Hercules' shoulder, "Sleep well, my friend, you'll need it."
He looked around. It was still a couple of hours before sunrise. He'd have to work quickly. They'd need water to drink. Iolaus tore a square of the sail and put it in one of the pots for safekeeping. Then, he fixed the pole into the center of the raft and hung the sail from it to the deck. When the dew collected on the sail it would roll into the pot. The water would taste a little salty from the sail's being in the sea water but it would keep them alive.
As the sun rose Iolaus used the cloth rag to mop up the dew forming elsewhere and wrung it out in the pot. He didn't see the single fin following them or the others trailing behind.
The sun finally rose high enough in the sky that Iolaus felt his clothes drying. The sea remained calm and the sky clear. Soon, they'd be sweltering in the heat and in danger of burning in the sun. He draped the sail over the rail to provide shade. It would also be a visible signal for passing ships. He'd collected a little over half a pot of water. Enough to get them through the day if they kept activity to a minimum. Hopefully, someone would see them and pick them up.
Hercules moaned. Iolaus moved to his side and put a hand on his shoulder, "Easy, don't move."
Hercules knew instinctively there was something very wrong. Waking up shouldn't hurt this much, "How bad?"
"You're hurt all over. Cracked ribs, at least two, right leg's broken below the knee, and you've hit your head." Iolaus held the wet cloth over his mouth, "Here, swallow." Iolaus squeezed and let the moisture drip into Hercules' mouth.
"Thanks." Hercules looked around without raising his head, "What happened? The last thing I remember is the storm."
Iolaus frowned. "Yeah, well, I think your family may have had something to do with that storm. You went to help bring down the sail. The yardarm came loose and knocked you overboard. When you didn't come up for air, I went in after you. By the time I got us both back to the surface the ship was being ripped apart by lightning like I've never seen. I hauled us both up on this piece of deck when it floated by and here we are. One thing puzzles me though."
"After I got us both up on this raft, we suddenly got caught in a current and pulled away. It was calm where we were and still storming where the ship was."
"Yeah, he's always liked me."
"Nice to know somebody in your family does. There's at least one god who's not out to kill us."
Hercules shifted and moaned softly.
"Easy," Iolaus advised.
"I wish there was something I could do."
"There isn't," Hercules said matter-of-factly, "Where are we?"
"I'm not sure. I don't know which way we were pulled last night. We're currently moving southeast. Rest. I'll try and catch us some lunch."
Hercules lay watching Iolaus in too much pain to sleep.
Iolaus tied the rope to a board and rolled it up. He'd caught a couple of bugs in the morning dew, so there must be land around somewhere. He threaded one of the bugs onto his hook. At least his hook was still intact, stuck through one of the patches on his vest and he still had his dagger. They could survive for a few days anyway.
The lone fin had disappeared but not gone away. It paced the small raft not knowing why it had a sudden desire for human flesh. The others had satisfied their bloodlust at the shipwreck and moved back to regular feeding grounds. This one remained.
Hercules opened his eyes and realized he'd been dozing. Iolaus had caught a fish and was busy cleaning it in the empty pot. He was very careful to keep all the blood and mess in the pot and let none of it drip into the water.
Iolaus kept scanning the horizon. Something was wrong.
"Oh, hi Herc. It's probably nothing. We seem to have picked up a friend."
Iolaus nodded, "Of the one fin and sharp teeth variety."
Again Iolaus nodded solemnly, eyes never ceasing to survey the surface of the water. "It's been pacing us for awhile."
"Why? There's plenty of fish easier than us. You caught one. "
Iolaus shot him a glance and shrugged, "Maybe he's shopping for something different?"
Iphicles walked slowly down the corridor. He had always been afraid he'd have to deliver this news. He had sat in front of the messenger completely unemotional and all business listening to the tale. Inside, his heart sank, he didn't know where to begin to tell his mother what had happened. This was going to devastate her.
He quietly knocked on the door. Jason answered, "Iphicles? It's late."
"I know. I have news."
"This doesn't act like good news."
"It isn't," Iphicles took Alcmene's hand and led her to a chair. "Mother, I don't know how to say this to you."
"Just say it, dear."
He nodded and took a deep breath, "Hercules is dead."
"What?" Jason exclaimed, "How?"
"The ship he and Iolaus were traveling on capsizedin a storm yesterday," he looked back at Alcmene, "Mother?"
She just sat there. "No, they don't have their facts right. Hercules isn't dead."
"Mother, the messenger came from the King of Attica, himself. It's reliable information."
"No, you don't understand. Zeus didn't come and tell me. When Deianeira and the children were killed, Zeus came and told me what happened. If Hercules were dead, Zeus would have come to me. He didn't. So, Hercules can't be dead."
"Are you sure about this, Alcmene?" Jason asked.
"Alright, Iphicles, tell me exactly what happened and where."
"There was a sudden storm. The ship capsized. They found no survivors."
"Off the coast of Attica?"
"That doesn't make sense. A ship capsizes or even falls apart, survivors hang onto the wreckage and there were ships out there in plenty of time to rescue them. They could hang on for a few hours. No, there's something else going on here. Iphicles send word out to the Argonauts and have the Argo made ready. We'll sail at first light. Where is this messenger?"
"I sent him to the kitchen for a meal. He'd ridden all the way from Attica."
"Don't let him leave, I want to talk to him. In fact, we'll give him a ride back to Attica."
Jason pulled Alcmene to her feet and looked into her eyes, "My dear, I'll get to the bottom of this. If Hercules and Iolaus are out there, we'll find them. I promise."
The shark had disappeared for awhile. When it became apparent that he wasn't coming back, Hercules had persuaded Iolaus to curl up and take a nap. He was asleep before his head hit the deck. Hercules tried to sleep knowing it was the best thing for his injuries. The simple act of inhaling caused his ribs to ache terribly. He tried to breath shallowly but then he had to breath twice as often. So, for awhile he tried to breath with his right lung and not the left with little success. As the afternoon wore on he had to slide over by Iolaus to keep out of the sun. He dozed when he could and tried not to move when he couldn't.
Iolaus woke that evening and they shared the rest of the small fish. Iolaus didn't mind the exotic taste of raw fish. Hercules preferred his cooked but knew that was out of the question. He tried to swallow it after chewing as little as possible. He knew he had to get some of it down to keep his strength up.
"How long has our friend been back?"
"Back? The shark?"
"I don't know. I'm sorry, I can't see from down here." Hercules tried to get up but Iolaus put a hand on his shoulder.
"No, Herc. You stay. You don't need to be moving around. You'll just cause yourself more pain. I'll watch him."
It was a long night. The moon was nearly full giving Iolaus frequent opportunities to see the ominous fin when it surfaced.
Hercules slept when he could. Iolaus leaned against the railing and watched.
The next afternoon found the shark becoming bolder. Hercules, bracing his fragile ribs with his left arm, had struggled to a sitting position. Iolaus stood in the center of the raft. He turned slowly around, tracking the shark as it circled them at a distance.
Iolaus had taken down the sail when the shark began circling mid morning. He pulled out the pole and wielded it as a weapon. If he could get the shark to come within reach, he'd jab it in the nose. Hopefully, it would go away or at least go looking for food that didn't bite back.
It was two more full circles before Iolaus got his chance. Quickly, he whacked the nose of the shark as hard as he could. The shark dove and didn't surface for awhile. Iolaus thought that the problem had been solved. Then, without warning, the shark violently thumped the bottom of the raft, sending Hercules and Iolaus scrambling for hand holds or be thrown overboard.
"Oooohh! I've had enough of this!" Iolaus pulled out his dagger and prepared to jump into the water. "I've handled serpents and hydras, I can handle one measly shark."
"Iolaus, no! what are you doing?"
"I'm eliminating a problem. Stay here!" he yelled as he dove at the shark.
"NNOOO!" Hercules sat in the center of the raft cradling his ribs and feeling completely helpless as he watched his best friend take on a shark for his protection. He knew there was nothing he could do about it. In his condition he'd only make things worse. He wasn't even certain he could care for himself if Iolaus didn't come back.
Iolaus landed on the shark's back and plunged in the dagger. The shark bucked wildly. Iolaus was thrown off and just managed to grab a flipper and hold on as the shark dived below. The shark raced through the water before making an about face and stopping inches from Iolaus' face.
"This is not good..." was all Iolaus had time to think before the shark sprang at him. Iolaus jerked back and yanked his arm away before the shark could grab it. He was almost too late as he felt the flesh on his bicep tear against a tooth before he pulled it free. He saw his own blood spilling into the water.
The smell of the blood drove the shark mad. He attacked with wild abandon. Iolaus managed to get beneath it. He held on to a flipper and wrapped his legs around it and stabbed at it with his dagger. The shark bucked and rolled. Iolaus kept holding on and kept stabbing until it stopped moving all together.
Iolaus let go and swam for the surface. His right arm trailing unused behind him still streaming blood.
He broke the surface and gasped for air. He was at the bottom of the wave trough and had to wait until he bobbed to the top of a swell to seek the raft's location relative to his own. At the peak of the second wave he saw it a few hundred yards away. Gradually he made his way that direction.
Even at a distance, Hercules' relief was obvious when he caught sight of the bobbing blond head. Iolaus realized what he'd done was probably pretty stupid. He'd ran off and left Hercules, injured, helpless, and vulnerable on a raft in the middle of the sea. "Smart, Iolaus, really smart."
Iolaus finally caught up with the raft. His limbs were feeling heavy and he was a little light-headed from the exertion. He didn't want to worry Hercules so he'd decided not to tell him that he'd been seeing stars for awhile now. A little rest and he'd be fine.
Iolaus grabbed onto the raft with his good arm and hung there trying to catch his breath. Hercules sensed that Iolaus lacked the strength to pull himself up onto the raft. He reached down with his right arm and pulled Iolaus out of the water.
"Hey! Don't do that! You'll hurt your ribs." Iolaus looked up to see Hercules rolling onto his side, holding his middle with his eyes closed tightly against the pain. "I guess you just found that out."
Hercules nodded his face a shade paler.
Iolaus sunk down on the raft and concentrated on catching his breath. He opened his eyes at the sound of fabric tearing. Hercules was ripping off a strip of the sail.
"What are you doing?"
"You're bleeding. The last thing we need is for you to be attracting more friends."
"Oh, yeah," Iolaus had forgotten about his arm. It didn't hurt anymore, in fact, it didn't feel anything. It was numb. Iolaus tried to sit up but Hercules pushed him back down. Iolaus was far too pale for his liking. The gash in his arm was deep but didn't appear to have damaged anything crucial.
He took Iolaus' hand, "Iolaus, squeeze my hand."
Hercules' diagnosis was confirmed when Iolaus' hand weakly grasped his own. Hercules bound the wound. As the blood soaked through, he tore another strip and wrapped it on top. Iolaus stopped him at the third strip.
"We need that sail to collect water to drink."
Hercules frowned but nodded. Iolaus was right, they couldn't afford it. Instead He covered Iolaus with the sail to keep him warm as he dried off. Hercules tied the third strip as tightly as he dared and hoped it would be enough. He sat back and frowned at his foolhardy friend.
"Iolaus? Are you crazy?"
"OK, it was a stupid thing to do. It came after us. I just couldn't sit here anymore."
"And I could? Iolaus, I can't even take care of myself here. I'm not used to being helpless. I need you to help me. Just don't ever do that to me again. OK?"
Iolaus nodded wearily and agreed, "I promise. It was stupid. I'm sorry. I should've thought first."
They had a meal of raw fish and dumped the remains in the sea figuring there was enough blood in the water it wouldn't matter anyway. They kept a few choice bits for bait.
Hercules reset the pole and sail shade. The sea remained calm and the sky clear as the two drifted off to sleep.
Iphicles found Alcmene standing on the battlements. She was just staring out at the sea her husband and the Argonauts had set sail on just yesterday.
He was about to tell her not to worry, then realized it was a silly thing to say. How could she stop worrying, he couldn't. He had no words of comfort to give her. He settled for putting an arm around her shoulders and was gratified when she relaxed against him and rested her head on his arm. The mere presence of the other was comfort enough for both.
The rising sun found Hercules madly one-handedly mopping up the dew and Iolaus still asleep. He woke bleary-eyed to find Hercules finishing up.
"Why didn't you wake me?"
"Thought you could use the sleep. Look, we've got nearly a full pot."
Iolaus sat up gingerly stretching his right arm. The numbness had been replaced with a persistent throbbing.
"Humidity is on the rise, we could have storms later." Iolaus scanned the horizon, "Still no sign of land and no bugs or birds since yesterday. I think we're getting farther from land," Iolaus looked around the tiny raft. "I wonder...If we could fasten this sail to the pole a little better and use these last couple of wood pieces as weights, maybe we could catch a breeze and try to steer this thing?"
Hercules considered as he baited the hook with a piece of fish, "Maybe, it's worth a try. Which way do we want to go?"
The Argonauts easily found the wreckage site with the help of Orestes' messenger. It was hard to miss. Tiny bits of ship floated everywhere.
"By the gods," Jason remarked, stunned. "It's been pulverized."
"No storm did this," Archivis replied.
"No it didn't." Jason warily cast his eyes skyward, "Phoebe, bring me that chart!"
Jason carefully examined the map.
"What are you looking for?"
"Not sure," he traced the area with his finger, "There. that!"
"That?" Phoebe asked looking over his shoulder bewildered.
"A strong, cold current. If Hercules and Iolaus got caught in it, they've been whisked away from the scene in that direction."
"But that's out to sea."
"Correct. Remember, it was dark. There was a storm. Easy to lose your bearings and not realize you're going the wrong way. Prepare to hoist sails."
Hercules fished while Iolaus worked on the sail. It was a crude arrangement but Iolaus did seem to be affecting their course a little. He'd pulled a long board from the edge of the raft and tied it to the bottom of the sail. Then, with the rest of the rope and his feet he worked the makeshift sail. Iolaus had managed to steer them out of the current so they weren't being taken any farther in a direction they didn't want to go.
Hercules finally got a bite and quickly found out he had to let Iolaus pull the fish in. His ribs sent shudders of agony coursing through his body at the slightest suggestion of doing anything. He felt completely useless just sitting there.
"Come on, Herc, cheer up. We're still alive and cracked ribs don't hurt forever."
"It feels like they do! What do you have to be so happy about anyway?"
"Well," Iolaus considered, "I always wanted to go deep sea fishing."
Hercules groaned and looked for something to throw. He settled for the wet cloth which he smacked Iolaus in the face with. Then, he clutched his ribs and regretted he'd ever even thought about moving.
"Jason? Do you see what I see?" Phoebe asked.
Jason nodded, "Looks like some rough water ahead." He unconsciously took a firmer grip on the wheel.
"But what if we haven't found them by the time the storm breaks?"
"We ride it out and hope they can hold on till we get there. I admit it looks bad but I promised Alcmene we'd find them and we're not leaving until we do."
Phoebe nodded and moved back to her position on lookout.
Iolaus' sail worked better as the wind picked up and for a couple of hours in the afternoon they made good time. Hercules and Iolaus had to sit on the edge of the sail to hold it down. Then, they had to lower the sail as the winds from the approaching storm threatened to topple them.
They drank the rest of the water figuring it was better to store it in their stomachs than risk losing the precious substance in the storm.
Iolaus tied down the sail and the 2 pots as best he could. Then, the remaining rope he tied around Hercules and himself and anchored them both to the strongest section of the raft. As the storm broke Hercules and Iolaus prepared to hold on for dear life.
The Argo was not a small ship and even she was taking a battering in the storm. Jason had left the sails up until the last minute wanting to get as close as he could to the lost men before waiting out the storm. Even then he refused to go below decks with the rest of the crew. He tied off the wheel and remained near the rail to watch for small bobbing rafts just in case...
It began with wind and rain both rapidly increasing in strength. The sun set but Hercules and Iolaus hardly noticed. It was so dark already. The tiny fragile raft was thrown violently in the waves. More than once Hercules or Iolaus were thrown from the raft. The other used the rope tying them together to pull them back up. The pain of their injuries long forgotten in the struggle to simply survive.
The wind howled so that they couldn't even shout to each other without the wind carrying their voices away too far to be heard.
The rail was torn away early in the storm. Another splintering and half the raft came apart under the pressure of the crashing waves. The lightning flashed so brightly, they saw spots before their eyes.
Finally, after what seemed like hours of drenching rain, the storm began to subside. It was early dawn and still raining lightly as Iolaus pulled himself up from his position on his stomach, half on the raft and half in the water. Iolaus reached down and pulled Hercules' numb fingers loose from the boards.
Hercules raised his head, "Is it over?"
"I think so," Iolaus replied shakily as he helped pull Hercules up out of the water and onto his back. "Are you OK?"
"I hurt. All of me hurts."
Iolaus patted his shoulder knowing exactly how he felt, "I'd give you some water but we don't have any to drink. There's not much left. Rest now and we'll see about starting again later." Iolaus slid down beside Hercules and the two friends shivered together in the cool morning breeze and fell into exhausted sleep.
Iolaus woke feeling unbearably hot. The sun beat down without mercy on the small raft. It's two occupants had no protection from the sun. Their clothes had been torn to shreds in the storm. The sun burned their already tender flesh. Iolaus carefully sat up. He felt stiff and bruised. He braced himself as a wave of dizziness washed over him.
Hercules opened his eyes at the movement, "Might as well lie back down, there's nothing we can do but wait to be picked up or wash ashore somewhere."
Iolaus didn't feel strong enough to disagree and lay back down. The raft seemed more stable with both of them lying down anyway. Iolaus closed his eyes and dozed.
Jason ordered a search pattern. He reasoned that given how fast that current ran, they should've been close to his lost friends before the storm. Where the storm blew them, he didn't have a clue, except that it was unlikely that they were still in the current.
He and Phoebe remained on lookout. They didn't sleep. He couldn't if he tried and Phoebe' eagle eyes were needed. She'd be able to spot them long before anyone else.
Jason stood in the bow at the railing. So intent on the horizon was he, that he didn't notice the dolphin riding in the bow wave until it splashed him as it leaped out of the water. He watched a moment as the dolphin peeled out of the wave away from the Argo. Then, it came back and did it again. Almost like it wanted them to follow it. The third time it came back, Jason leaned out over the water for a closer look and saw that it had blue eyes. A dolphin with blue eyes, that decided it. The next time the dolphin peeled out of the bow wave, the Argo followed it.
It was dark when Iolaus woke again. He heard Hercules snoring softly beside him. The sun was coming up. Iolaus couldn't remember what day it was. He'd lost track of time. How long had they been adrift, two days, three, a week? He was thirsty, so thirsty. The cool morning breeze caused goosebumps to rise on his sunburned flesh.
Hercules didn't know what time it was. He only knew that he was hot. He felt baked and he was too weak to move. He felt Iolaus stir beside him.
"Guess this is it." Hercules' voice was barely a whisper.
Iolaus rebelled at the thought, "Nonsense. We'll be rescued any time. I bet our safe haven is just over the horizon."
"If you say so. I don't think I can last much longer." Hercules closed his eyes. It took too much effort to keep them open.
Iolaus felt too weak to argue. He knew if he slept he'd never wake up again, but his eyes were so heavy. Just a moment, he'd only rest them for a moment. He didn't see the white sail float over the horizon.
Phoebe sung out from the crow's nest as soon as she caught a glimpse of the tiny raft bobbing haphazardly in the waves.
Jason heard her call and followed her pointing arm with his eyes. He eventually saw it a few moments later. He marveled, yet again, at her eyes.
The dolphin disappeared as soon as Phoebe spotted the raft. Jason mentally thanked whichever god had sent it.
"Can you see who it is?" he called to Phoebe.
"No, two people. They're not moving." She climbed down.
Jason turned the wheel over to another and moved to the rail. As the Argo came along side Jason could see it was them, "Let's hope we're not too late."
Jason took a rope and climbed down the side of the ship. After fastening the rope to the raft, he knelt between the two men. He checked one and then the other and breathed a sigh of relief.
"They're in bad shape but they're both alive." Immediately three other men scrambled over the side to help bring them aboard.
Iolaus felt hands touching his body. Soft feminine hands, gently rubbing his arms and then his chest. Yes, he'd died. Died and gone to the Eleysian Fields. He opened his eyes to view the beauty who was attending him and found himself staring into the big brown eyes of Phoebe.
"Hey! what?" Iolaus looked around in alarm and realized with horror that he wasn't wearing anything but a cloth around his middle - in front of Phoebe. He screamed and grabbed the blanket, pulling it over himself. It was too much for Iolaus to handle at one time and with the whispered words, "I'm not dead," he promptly fainted back into the safety of oblivion.
Hercules felt warm, dry and almost pain free for the first time in a long time. He opened his eyes to find himself in a ship's cabin. He was in a bed with his leg propped up on a pillow. Jason sat beside him.
"Jason?" he croaked, obviously surprised to see him.
The older man smiled and put down his log book, "You're awake. How do you feel?"
"Of course," Jason poured a glass of water and helped Hercules drink from it.
Jason pointed to the hammock hung on the other wall. Iolaus was wrapped in a soft wool blanket and appeared to be sleeping peacefully. "He's fine, well, I won't say fine. There was some stir about Phoebe putting salve on his sunburn. He's lost some blood from that gash in his arm and he's exhausted but he'll be fine."
Jason shifted his attention back to Hercules, "We've bandaged your ribs and head and resplinted your leg. A little rest and I think you'll live, too."
Hercules smiled and shifted his positing. He grimaced at a warning twinge from his ribs.
"Phoebe's been giving you something for the pain. Do you need more?"
"No, I'm OK, mostly I just ache."
Jason gave him some more water, "You rest and we'll have you home where Alcmene can fuss over you in no time."
"How did you know to come find us?"
"A messenger told Iphicles what happened. That's another reason we're in a hurry to get home. I don't want your mother worrying herself sick. Now, rest, we'll talk later."
This time when Iolaus awoke, Jason was there writing in a book and didn't realize Iolaus was awake yet. Iolaus reflected on what must've happened. Obviously they'd been rescued...that other memory must've been a nightmare. Yes, that's what it was. Iolaus felt terrible. His stomach wouldn't stop churning. He felt suddenly very hot. He sat up fearing what was about to happen.
Jason looked up, saw the expression and pallor on Iolaus' face He grabbed a bucket just in time for Iolaus to be very sick in it. Feeling truly exhausted, but better, Iolaus fell back into the hammock. Jason gave him a drink of water.
"I can't believe I'm seasick. I haven't been seasick in ages."
"It's probably more the exposure and sunburn talking than the sea. I've seen men sicker with less burn than you have. It'll pass. I'll have Phoebe mix up something to settle your stomach." Jason placed a damp cloth on Iolaus' forehead.
"Sleeping. We've been giving him pretty strong doses of herbs for the pain. It's keeping him sleepy." Jason moved to the door.
"Yes?" He turned back in the doorway.
Iolaus hesitated to ask, "Was Phoebe here earlier?"
Iolaus was awake when the ship docked in Corinth. He slowly walked along side the stretcher bearing Hercules. Alcmene ran up the gangplank almost before it was lowered into place. Iolaus gasped as she hugged him. She immediately withdrew, seeing the color of his skin for the first time.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean.."
"It's OK. We just got a little too much wind and sun," He smiled painfully, "It's good to see you, too."
She looked down at Hercules, her eyes filled with worry. She resisted the temptation to touch his red flesh.
"They are both going to be fine, Alcmene," Jason said as he put an arm around her and led her back to the dock and over to the waiting royal carriage. "I'll be along as soon as we have things battened down here." He gave her a soft kiss and a hand up into the carriage. Iolaus followed and the stretcher was slid in behind him.
Iolaus briefly told Alcmene of their time adrift as she examined her son's injuries. The carriage was comfortable and Iolaus was grateful for it. Even then, his strength was exhausted by the time they arrived at the castle. Alcmene left him at the door to his room and followed the stretcher into Hercules' room down the hall.
Iolaus removed his clothes with great relief. He wrapped a cloth around his middle and sank gratefully onto the soft bed. He knew it would be days until his raw, blistered skin could tolerate clothing of any kind. Before he could even begin to wonder how he was going to get around the palace without clothes, Alcmene arrived with a basin smelling faintly of lavender. She had an arm full of white cloth which she dipped pieces of in the basin and laid over his burned arms, legs and chest. She folded a smaller cloth and placed it gently on his forehead.
Iolaus could feel his skin cooling immediately. He knew it was only temporary but the sensation was sheer bliss. He sighed deeply.
She smiled and again found herself having to forcible resist the urge to touch. "The healer is with Hercules now. I'll send him in to see to that arm as soon as he's through. Rest."
Iolaus nodded. The smell of the lavender was intoxicating and he was having trouble keeping his eyes open under it's effects.
When he awoke the soothing cloth was gone and he'd been covered with a soft sheet. His arm had been rebandaged. It felt stiff and very sore, much like the rest of him. The healer had been there and gone. Iolaus realized that he must have slept through it.
He shifted to sit up against the pillows, grateful his back had been spared the worst of it. A soft knock at the door was followed by Alcmene peeking in to see if he was awake. She came in and sat on the bed. She had a blue cloth and another piece of fabric draped over her arm.
"Here, the healer wants you to keep that arm resting in a sling when you're not asleep." He let her slip the fabric over his head and adjust the knot so his arm lay comfortably in it.
"Do you feel up to coming down for the dinner I've made or should I have something sent up?"
Iolaus wasn't sure how to explain his problem, "Alcmene," he began, "I can't wear clothes."
"That's why I brought this." She handed him the blue fabric.
Iolaus held it up, "This is a lady's robe."
"It's the least abrasive thing I could find."
Iolaus hesitated, "But what's Herc gonna say?" He protested.
"If Hercules could get out of bed, he'd be in the same predicament you are. It's that or come to dinner in your towel." She giggled, "That should keep the palace gossip going for awhile. Your choice." She breezed out of the room with a twinkle in her eye.
Iolaus lay on the bed fingering the edge of the robe. If they sent up something, it would be soup or something equally bland. Iolaus debated how much he wanted some of Alcmene's cooking.
Ultimately, his love of food, especially her food, won out over his potential embarrassment. "Plenty of time for soup later." he said to himself. "After all a home cooked meal is what we came for."
Hercules became aware that he was in a bed that wasn't moving. He opened his eyes to see a canopy over his head. He turned and saw a rock wall which confirmed that he was in the castle in Corinth. Hercules turned to his left and saw Iphicles in a chair by the bed studying a scroll.
"Hi, Iph," his voice still croaked but not as badly.
"So, my brother is alive. I was beginning to wonder. You've only been asleep for a couple of days."
Hercules stretched and found his ribs didn't hurt nearly as bad. He was indeed feeling better. He pushed himself up to a sitting position against the pillows as Iolaus stuck his head in the door.
"Hey, Iph. Sleeping Beauty still out or what?"
"I'm awake." "
Oh, good," Iolaus came in and sat on the bed. He was holding a bowl of soup in his left hand and eating with his right which was in a sling. His face and arms were bright red and looked as though they would peel soon. He was wearing a blue robe of some sort. It looked vaguely familiar to Hercules.
"What is that?" Hercules asked, sniffing the aroma coming from the bowl.
"Soup, you feel up to some?"
"It smells good. Anything, as long as it's cooked."
Iphicles rose, "I'll tell mother that you're awake and hungry. Glad to have you back with us, brother." Hercules and Iphicles traded smiles and Iphicles left closing the door that Iolaus had left standing wide open.
"Nice outfit. New?" Hercules asked.
Iolaus rolled his eyes, "OK, look, it's soft, I'm very, very sunburned and this is soft. I don't want to hear about it, OK?" Iolaus continued eating, "Herc, promise me something?"
"The next time you want to come home to visit, can we walk?"
Hercules smiled mischievously, "Only if you promise to stop wearing my mother's clothes." Then, he dissolved into laughter which caused his tender ribs to ache terribly but it was worth it to see the expression on Iolaus' face.
Iolaus wasn't laughing, "Funny, Herc, real funny, you just wait till you're better. I'll get you. I will."
Hercules just laughed harder.
Written in February 1998
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