The day started sunny and full of expectations. Hercules and Iolaus had been planning this vacation from Chiron's Academy for weeks. Chiron had to attend to personal business elsewhere and they'd set out for home as soon as he released them early in the afternoon. The boys planned to spend a couple of days with Alcmene, then, a couple of days fishing, finishing with a final meal and a good nights sleep at Alcmene's before heading back to the academy.
Hercules doubted that Iolaus had slept a wink all night. He constantly rolled and turned in the bed so that come morning, it looked as if he'd been fighting monsters in the sheets. Iolaus was operating on pure excitement and Hercules was hard put to keep up with him. Even without sleep Iolaus had more energy than three normal people.
They were making excellent time as they merrily chased each other through the trees. Their giggling rang through the leaves. They were having so much fun and had spent so much time anticipating these few days that neither could imagine anything not going as planned.
Both young men stopped suddenly as the wind changed direction and an icy breeze hit them from behind. They exchanged concerned glances as they scanned the dark thunderstorm approaching.
"That's moving fast," Iolaus called over the howling wind. "We'd better find some cover until it blows through."
Hercules nodded and they ran toward a cliffside nearby hoping to find a small cave. The wind continued to rise and the thunder nearly deafened them with it's nearness. The rain came down in torrents soaking them both. The pair huddled under an overhang and tried to stay out of the blowing rain as the wind screamed around them. As they watched the limbs were torn from the trees and leaves were ripped from the very limbs they had recently unfolded upon. The storm passed in a few moments but the cool breeze remained.
Both Hercules and Iolaus were shivering uncontrollably. It took awhile to get a fire going in the damp wood. They draped their wet clothes over the rocks and huddled close to the fire to warm up. Hercules still felt chilled even with the roaring fire and blanket around his shoulders.
"It's gonna be dark by the time our clothes dry. I suppose this is as good a place as any to camp." Iolaus stuck his bare foot out from under the blanket he'd wrapped up in and wiggled his toes in front of the fire.
Hercules nodded his agreement and wondered how Iolaus could possibly be warm already. He pulled his blanket tighter around himself and sneezed.
"You still cold?" Iolaus asked.
"A little," Hercules wasn't about to admit that he might have caught cold. He was half god and half gods didn't get sick. So, he couldn't possibly be cold.
He settled down as close to the fire as he dared but he slept miserably. His nose kept trying to plug up and his head felt increasingly stuffy. He tried not to let Iolaus see what was happening to him but it was hard to sneeze quietly. Iolaus must have heard everything. He rolled over every time Hercules made a sound.
The next day Hercules had dark circles under his eyes and he was in a foul mood. Iolaus quickly learned if he didn't want his head bit off to keep quiet. Something was bothering his big friend and by mid morning, Iolaus had it pretty well figured out. Yesterday's sneezing had turned into a dry cough and every once in awhile, Iolaus thought he saw a chill pass through him.
Hercules kept walking slower as the afternoon progressed. They covered far less territory than planned. They had hoped to make it all the way to Alcmene's today. Iolaus saw that it wasn't going to happen and suggested they take a break. Hercules didn't have a lot of experience with being sick and Iolaus figured, given his friend's mood, that he'd have to be careful how he brought the subject up.
Hercules sat under a shade tree and closed his eyes.
"At this pace, we'll never get there." Iolaus complained trying to get the usual quick-witted response.
Hercules didn't take the bait.
"You're not going to argue with me? You must be sick." Iolaus said playfully and reached over to feel Hercules' forehead. He frowned, "You've got a fever."
"I can make it." Hercules tried unsuccessfully to stifle a cough. His throat was scratchy.
"Uh Uh. Chiron says don't walk a fever, calm it." Iolaus spread Hercules' blanket out and made him lie down while he built a fire. Hercules fell asleep almost immediately. Iolaus headed into the woods to catch some dinner as they had only packed enough food for 2 meals. Iolaus had to shake his head at his stubborn friend. "The guy has a fever and what does he do? Spends half the day walking in the sun."
Iolaus caught a rabbit. He cleaned it before talking it back to camp. He didn't want to risk Hercules having a weak stomach. He didn't know if demigods had weak stomachs when they were sick but just in case it was better to leave the guts outside of camp. He also picked a shirt full of ripe berries on the way back.
When the rabbit was nicely browned he woke Hercules. The poor guy looked worse off after his nap. He did sit up and eat a few bites of the meat. The berries seemed to set better on his stomach, so he ate a handful of them.
"If you want to smack me for saying so, Herc, you can, but you look awful."
Hercules sighed. He had to admit it to himself. He was miserable, "I feel awful. Sorry for snapping at you this morning."
"It's ok, why don't you go back to sleep."
Hercules nodded as he sunk back into his blanket, "Maybe I'll feel better in the morning."
Iolaus stayed up with his friend and kept the fire roaring hot enough that Hercules broke out in a sweat but he still shivered with chills. Iolaus added his blanket to Hercules'.
The next morning Iolaus decided that he needed to get Hercules home. His friend was no better. Iolaus could tell without waking him. He still had the fever. His coughing had become much deeper and his breathing had developed a definite wheeze that Iolaus didn't like the sound of at all.
He put the water container and more branches for the fire within Hercules' reach and headed for a nearby farm. Iolaus wanted to borrow a wagon and a horse. They could return them on the trip back in a few days.
The farmer was a tall, imposing man, rail thin with a beak nose. Iolaus doubted the soundness of his plan as soon as those eyes penetrated his being. The farmer didn't want to just give Iolaus the wagon. He wanted payment for it's use.
"I don't have any money, couldn't I pay you with a few chores? My friend is really sick."
The farmer frowned but agreed and took Iolaus out to the barn.
"You can clean out the stalls and sweep out the loft."
"Oh yeah, mucking out the stalls is one of my favorite jobs. I have lots of experience doing that." Iolaus thought of the smile on Chiron's face every time he was assigned this particular task.
They walked through the large doors and Iolaus gasped. The place looked like it hadn't been cleaned out in years. He almost told the farmer to forget it but then he remembered why he was here. How was he going to get Hercules home if he didn't go through with it?
Resigned to his fate, Iolaus started moving things out of the way. Satisfied that he'd do the work the farmer left him to it. Iolaus tethered the horses outside and climbed up into the loft. He took the broom and started sweeping the hay off the edge of the loft. It rained down on the stall area beneath.
"Might as well start from the top down. No sense cleaning the stalls twice. And how'd you spend your vacation, Iolaus? Oh, you know, the usual; nursed a sick friend and jumped right in and mucked out a total stranger's barn..."
Iolaus was so intent on talking to himself that he didn't see the rotten board covered with old hay. The board gave way when he shifted his weight onto it and splintered with a resounding crack.
Iolaus landed in a heap in one of the stalls below. "At least the manure broke my fall. Ow!" His head hurt terribly and when he reached for his head with his right arm he was rewarded by excruciating pain when he moved it. It was broke, no doubt about it, just above the wrist. He felt his head with his left hand and it came away sticky with blood from a gash in his forehead over his right eye.
"What goes on in here?" the farmer bellowed.
"I fell through your rotten floor in that loft."
"Well, you just get right back up there and mend that hole you made. What are you trying to do, destroy my barn?"
"But. I'm hurt..."
"You volunteered for the work. If you want that wagon you'll finish the job."
Hercules coughed himself awake. The weakness he felt frightened him. He was used to being the strongest guy around. Now, he felt like it took every bit of strength he had just to lift the waterskin. He understood why Iolaus hated being sick. This was awful. He was wheezing worse than before. He took a sip of water. He swallowed with difficulty and looked around. Iolaus didn't seem to be here. He must be in the woods. He'll be back. Hercules slowly crawled over to refuel the fire and realized that Iolaus was not planning on being back right away if he'd left the wood within reach. Hercules stood to look around but became so dizzy he fell to his knees and crawled back to his blanket to lie down.
Iolaus hauled himself up and held onto the side of the stall for balance until the wave of dizziness passed. He moved slowly and tried not to jostle either his arm or his head. He splinted his arm as best he could with broken boards and climbed back up the ladder. Halfway up his vision blurred and he held onto the ladder until it was safe for him to continue. He crudely patched the hole in the loft and kicked the last of the hay and debris to the floor of the barn. At least he was nearly finished with the sweeping.
After another nap, Hercules decided that he should try and eat something. Maybe that would help him feel stronger. People always said you should eat to keep up your strength. He propped himself up on his elbow and had eaten only a few of the berries when his stomach began churning violently. He rolled off his blanket just in time to be violently ill. The chills returned when he was finished being sick and he was sweating. How could he be cold and sweating at the same time? This was ridiculous. He collapsed back onto his blanket and wrapped up. Where was Iolaus? How could he just leave him in this condition? He couldn't even take care of himself.
All Iolaus had left was cleaning out the stalls. A bigger job than it sounded. This was grueling work for a healthy person, one-armed it was slow going. Shovels were designed for two hands. He could only half fill the shovel or it would be too heavy to lift it into the wheelbarrow. He improvised a means of lifting the barrow by placing a board under the two handles and grasping it in the center. Twice the wheelbarrow tipped on him when he was overtaken by dizzy spells. His arm throbbed painfully in time with his head. Iolaus persevered and worked all through the afternoon without a break. He had to get back to Hercules and couldn't afford to stop. He hadn't bargained on being gone so long. He hoped Hercules was doing alright on his own. Just before sunset he hitched up the horse and headed back to his friend as fast as he could.
It was dark by the time Iolaus approached the quiet campsite. He checked on Hercules and was disturbed by the evidence of further sickness. He'd obviously tried to eat and it hadn't set well.
"Well, that answers the question about weak stomachs. You've got one, my friend. " He pulled the blanket up over his sleeping friend before he tossed the last of the branches onto the fire and collapsed into an exhausted heap on the ground. Pain sliced through his head and arm at regular intervals. He was still conscious enough to make sure he kept his bad side away from Hercules.
"Like you won't know something has happened from the way I smell. Then again, the way you're breathing, you probably can't smell much anyway," Iolaus said to his sleeping friend.
Iolaus caught a couple of hours of sleep before the ache in his arm woke him up. A full moon had risen giving plenty of light to see by.
"Might as well get moving." Iolaus said to himself as he ate the last of the berries. They'd have to travel slower at night but if they started now they should reach Alcmene's by breakfast. He stood and waited for the dizziness to pass before he doused the fire and woke Hercules. He helped him up and over to the wagon.
"Where were you? You smell awful."
"I'm surprised you can smell anything."
Hercules collapsed in the back of the wagon. Iolaus shoved his feet in and threw the blanket on top of him. Hercules was so out of it that he barely noticed the wagon. He was completely oblivious to Iolaus' physical condition beyond his smell and until they reached Alcmene's that situation suited Iolaus just fine. He didn't want Hercules worrying about him. As long as Iolaus could keep moving they'd be alright.
Alcmene stood in the lane visiting with a neighbor. She was using the visit as an excuse to watch for Hercules and Iolaus, they were over a day late and she was becoming worried. She knew they could take care of themselves but that didn't help her worrying. She certainly wasn't expecting them to come in a wagon. Iolaus was almost upon her before she recognized him.
"Iolaus, I was expecting the two of you yesterday. Why are you in a wagon? Where's..." Then she really saw him, "What happened?"
"Long story, Herc's sick." he pointed to the bed of the wagon.
She took one look at the two boys and sent the neighbor scurrying for the healer and a messenger. She climbed onto the wagon, took the reins from Iolaus and drove the horse up to the house.
She helped Iolaus to the ground, "Iolaus, you go in and sit at the table. I'll bring Hercules."
Once she had Hercules settled on his bed she returned to the kitchen and began pouring water for a bath. She told Iolaus to get undressed. He looked stricken.
"Iolaus, this is no time to be modest. You're so covered in, I don't even want to know what that is, that I can't even see where you're hurt."
"My arm's broke."
She sighed, "I see that. Alright, Can you clean yourself up?"
"I certainly can." Iolaus rose shakily to his feet, dignity intact.
She frowned, "You get whatever that is off you while I go take care of Hercules."
"Thank you." Iolaus made haste and piled the dirty clothes on the floor and climbed into the tub before she had a chance to comeback which she did in short order.
"I'm just passing through, I won't peek. Oh, that's a nasty gash in your forehead." She peered closer and frowned, "We may have to stitch that. Be sure to wash your hair." She picked up the pile of clothes and left with them.
Iolaus wondered briefly if he was going to be stuck in this tub without anything to cover himself with. Then, Alcmene was back carrying a blue cloth wrap, "This is going to be a little big. It's too small for Hercules now. It'll do." She smiled at him, "You're just going to sleep in it after all. Wash that hair." Iolaus nodded and she was gone again.
Iolaus climbed out of the tub, wrapped the cloth around his waist and was still dripping water on the floor when the messenger knocked on the door. Alcmene handed him a scroll and told him to take it to Chiron. Iolaus wondered when she'd had the time to write that.
She was appalled at how pale he was under the dirt but didn't mention it, "Blue's a good color for you." She motioned for him to sit at the table and examined the gash in his head, "Well, I'm sure this smarts but it's not as bad as it first looked." She smiled at him as she put salve on it and bandaged his head. "We'll leave the arm for the healer. How long since you've eaten? I bet you're starving." She set a light meal of bread and cheese in front of him and poured him a glass of water before she sat across from him at the table, "So, tell me what happened?"
The healer arrived in time to hear the end of Iolaus' tale. He sat quietly at the table and let the boy finish.
"That terrible man." Alcmene was appalled.
The healer agreed, "Unbelievable. It's hard to believe there are such uncaring people in the world. Let's see what we have here young man.' he carefully unwrapped the bandages and removed the board Iolaus had used as a splint.
"I didn't set it," Iolaus stated matter-of-factly. He hadn't noticed that it still hurt. He'd just gotten used to the pain.
"I understand, hmmm, this is a bad break." He carefully placed the arm on the table. "Alcmene? Would you get him another glass of water?" She nodded. "How's the head, son? Have you had any dizziness or blurred vision?"
"A Little of both, I guess."
The healer nodded and mixed some powder in the glass and handed it to Iolaus, "drink."
Iolaus looked doubtful.
It didn't taste as bad as Iolaus expected it to and the healer left him to examine Hercules. Iolaus took a deep breath and sighed. He suddenly felt very tired. After the last day and no sleep, then the warm bath, it was all catching up to him. He stared at a fixed point on the table top until the healer returned a few minutes later and lifted Iolaus' chin to look into his glassy eyes.
He spoke softly, "Let's lie you down before we set this." The gentle old man led Iolaus into the bedroom and the pallet Alcmene had fixed in the window seat.
He took a firm grip on Iolaus' arm and asked if he was ready. Iolaus wasn't but nodded anyway.
Hercules woke when Iolaus moaned. Alcmene quietly explained about Iolaus' arm as she bathed Hercules' fevered face and gave him a sip of the tea the healer had prescribed for him.
Neither young man slept well. Hercules' fever and Iolaus' arm conspired to keep both of them from getting the rest they so badly needed. Alcmene kept a pot of broth warm for when they woke. Hercules refused the broth after he'd failed to keep it down the first time around. That night, Alcmene slept in the chair she'd pulled into the room. She wanted to be nearby in case either of them needed her.
Early the next afternoon, Alcmene was startled to hear a knock at the door. She was equally surprised to find Chiron there, her scroll in his hand. He'd ran into Alcmene's messenger after concluding his business and decided he should check it out.
Alcmene explained what had happened and how the boys were. Chiron assured her that he would return the horse and wagon personally on his way home, "I *will* speak to this man."
Alcmene had no doubt that it would be unpleasant for the farmer.
Iolaus woke to hear Chiron's voice. "I must be hurt worse than I thought. I'm hearing things." Slowly he climbed to his feet ignoring the sharp pains in his head and arm as he moved toward the voices in the kitchen.
"Why are you here?" Iolaus asked seeing that it really was Chiron drinking a cup of tea in Alcmene's kitchen.
Chiron appraised his pupil critically. Iolaus was pale. Chiron could see the pain reflected in his eyes, "Alcmene tells me two of my best students are sick and injured. I thought I'd better see for myself what manner of mischief they'd been into."
Iolaus leaned shakily against the door frame, "Mischief? I wish, this is some way to spend a vacation."
"Come here," Chiron ordered. Iolaus carefully crossed the few steps to him, obviously his balance had been affected. Chiron took him by the shoulders and looked him over, "Which hurts worse, your head or your arm?"
"Take your pick both are throbbing something fierce."
Chiron turned Iolaus around and sat him on the bench at the table. He began massaging the back of his neck with his thumbs. He continued applying pressure to certain points until he felt Iolaus relax beneath him and the tension flow away. Then he reached down and took Iolaus' arm. He gently felt between the splints, "It's been properly set." He turned to Alcmene, "What did the healer leave for the pain?"
She handed him a bottle. He sniffed it warily, "We can do better than this. Would you get me a glass of wine?" She quickly brought it. Chiron added some powder to it from his pouch and handed it to Iolaus, "drink."
"This is wine--" Iolaus started, unsure if he was being tested or not, with Chiron, you never could tell.
"You've had wine before, Iolaus, don't play innocent with me. I know you." Chiron smiled, "Drink." He turned to Alcmene, "I'm going to look in on the other one."
Being careful of the small cluttered rooms designed for human use, Chiron walked into Hercules' room. He was still asleep. Chiron felt his forehead, "When did the fever break?"
"This morning. It was a restless night for both of them."
Chiron nodded, listening to the wheezing still evident in Hercules' breathing.
Alcmene picked up a small bag from a nearby table.
Chiron saw her, "Is that what you're giving him?"
She nodded and handed the bag to him, "In tea, three times a day."
Chiron examined the herbal mix and nodded his approval, "He should keep your broth where it belongs now."
He walked back into the kitchen to find Iolaus snoring softly with half the wine left, "This one should sleep a good long while. Wrap the arm in warm cloths. It will help ease the throbbing. Keep it elevated when he's lying down. Try not to let him use it." Chiron smiled knowingly as he picked up Iolaus and headed for the bed with him. He knew what a handful he was leaving her with.
"I have to get home. The other students will begin arriving back tomorrow. I don't expect to see either of these young men for a week at least. Two would be better for Iolaus. That's a bad break, painful in healing."
"My pleasure, If you think you can keep Iolaus down longer by waiting to send Hercules back, you have my blessing."
She returned his earlier grin, "I may have to do that. Give that farmer a piece of my mind."
"Oh, I will. Don't worry and let them spend a day or two fishing. They've been planning on terrorizing the fish for too long to miss out on it completely now, but don't tell them I said it was okay." He grinned.
Alcmene sat on the bed while Hercules sipped some broth. He had managed to keep it down despite his uncertain feelings where his stomach was concerned. When Iolaus finally stirred, she moved to his side as he opened bleary eyes.
"Well, about time you woke up, Sleepyhead. I was wondering if you were going to sleep the whole day away."
"You've slept over a full day."
"It's tomorrow already?"
She nodded, "Late afternoon, but I think the rest has done you some good. You're getting a little color back. How's your head?"
"It doesn't hurt so much, just aches a little. It's not stabbing me like before."
"And the arm?"
"Still throbs, but I'll live." He raised up slightly and turned, "How's Herc?"
"I'm OK." Hercules swung his feet off the bed.
"Get back in that bed!"
"Mother, I'm feeling better, I just want to get up for a little while. I'm going outside a minute."
Alcmene frowned but nodded as her son coughed deeply and shuffled into the kitchen.
"Do I smell soup?" Iolaus asked eagerly.
Alcmene's frown turned to a smile for her at the moment more cooperative charge, "Yes, hungry?"
Iolaus nodded, "Famished."
Hercules came back inside and sat at the kitchen table a few minutes periodically wracked with spells of coughing. It wasn't long before he'd exhausted himself and Alcmene had to head him back to bed.
Hercules turned to Iolaus after his mother had tucked him in and fussed over him to her satisfaction, "Some lousy vacation, huh?"
"Yeah, flat on my back is not a good way to catch fish."
Written 17 June 1998
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