Disclaimer: Hercules and Iolaus belong to MCA/Universal and Renaisance Pictures. They
were used without permission. No copyright infringement intended. No money
was made.


by Chattan

"Okay...so tell me again Herc what's this festival thing about?" Iolaus
said as they strolled along together in the sunshine. Actually Hercules
strolled; Iolaus more sort of bounced along, his boundless energy making it
difficult for him to keep still.

"I've told you Iolaus, it's called a Convention."

"Yuh, convention...okay...let me see if I've got this right. We've been
invited, or more correctly you were invited and I was the afterthought...to
this big town because there are lots of people there who want to see the
son of Zeus am I right?" The compact warrior finished with just the merest
hint of sarcasm.

"I guess that just about sums it up Iolaus." Said the demigod at his side.

"Well, what I don't understand is why we have to go there. I mean, its a
real long way from home and it isn't as if there's anything useful we can
do there...no monsters or wolves to slay, no bandits or raiders." He
thought for a moment then added, "Could be some pretty women there I
guess." And he giggled a musical, infectious giggle that never failed to
get Hercules smiling.

"There probably will be Iolaus, and I expect you'll manage to find them

"What can I say Herc, I'm irresistible. Besides which they might have come
all this way just to see me! " The blonde warrior said immodestly, laughing
again. " Seriously Herc isn't there any way we could get out of this
convention thing? I could really use some time fishing, we haven't had a
holiday for ages and my body still aches after that last little adventure."

"Well you were the one who decided to attack the she-wolf on your own! If
you'd waited a couple more hours for my arrival you wouldn't have got
hurt." Hercules eyes darkened for a moment remembering the state he had
found his friend in when he'd got to the cave. Iolaus had been told wait
for Hercules before tracking down the creature but had hot-heatedly decided
to tackle it by himself.

"Yeah, well I didn't exactly have a choice if you remember. Those children
had been missing for some time. I couldn't risk waiting for reinforcements
when they might have been hurt or killed." Iolaus was serious for a moment,
trying to impress upon Hercules the reason for his foolhardy behaviour.

"I understand my friend, it's just that...you could have been killed and I
don't think I could stand to go through that again." His voice was thick
with sentiment, something that the demigod didn't often reveal. In his mind
he pictured the scene that had awaited him after making his way up the

The cavern had been almost dark, lit only by the torch that Iolaus had
carried, this now lay upon the ground close to the entrance of the cave,
it's light spluttering and fizzling on the damp earth. Hercules had picked
it up and, thrusting the brand in front of him, tentatively made his way
further into the chamber.

The sight that greeted him further inside was carnage. The she-wolf was
dead, her hide pierced with so many cuts that it was impossible to tell
which wound had actually killed her, the dark grey fur was matted with
masses of the sticky fluid that still dripped and pooled around the
carcass. This was no ordinary wolf, she was three times the size of a
normal one and her teeth were like gleaming daggers hanging from her half
open mouth covered with what must have been Iolaus' blood. The head was
bent back at an abnormal angle and Hercules realised that her neck was
broken. The son of Zeus was less interested however in the wolverine that
what was huddled on the ground near it.

By the side of the cold body lay Iolaus; his head propped against one furry
leg, breath coming in ragged gasps and his face ashen against the purple of
his vest. He too was a mass of bloody welts and cuts, the bite and claw
marks livid against his tawny flesh. He was conscious, barely, and he even
managed a faint smile when he heard the demigod approach. It had obviously
been a very hard fight and the hunter would probably bear the scars for the
rest of his life.

Hercules' heart hammered in his chest...panic almost rising to the surface
as he briefly conjured up a nightmare picture of what life would be like
without his friend.

The most surprising thing about the whole tableaux however were the
children that clung to the fallen warriors legs. Two small girls, each
about seven seasons old, snuggled up against the muscular form - they were
asleep. Iolaus had one arm protectively placed around them - in the other
his bloody sword, the hand grasped tightly around the hilt. Tear tracks
were evident on the girl's faces and one clutched a tiny wooden doll the
black horsehair streaming around the rough-hewn 'head'.

Although Iolaus didn't say anything it was clear to Hercules what had

The children had sought shelter after getting lost in the woods and had
come upon the cave. Iolaus set off to track the she-wolf after the
children's distraught and hysterical mother pleaded for someone to do
something as her babies hadn't come home. No one else in the village
inclined to offer, only the blonde stranger with the dazzling blue eyes. He
had left word with the innkeeper for Hercules and set off determinedly.

Iolaus stirred, trying to ease himself up to sitting position but the twin
burden on his legs wouldn't let him go, both clutching their 'pillow'
fiercely. Seeing the pain in Iolaus' face the demigod tried to gently pry
the little fingers from the hunter's calf and thigh but only succeeded in
making the sleepy children wake up. Two pairs of tiny eyes looked up into
the face of the hero before them and they back away, frightened. Iolaus
made soothing sounds and they scrambled up his body to nestle either side
of the wounded man, their faces showing their fright at seeing the

"It's okay, I'm not here to harm you...I'm a friend okay?" The girls both
looked up at Iolaus seeking confirmation. "He's Hercules. Remember? I told
you about him." The hunter said weakly. As one they turned back to face the
big man apparently accepting what Iolaus had told them but making no moves
to leave the protection of his arms.

"They're just scared Herc. They'll come around." Iolaus said by way of
explanation. He gasped as the pain coursed through his body and Hercules
automatically went to put a hand of his friend's shoulder. "Iolaus I think
we'd better take a look at you."

"No." gasped the golden hunter. "No Hercules it's important we must get
them home...please."

"Can you get up?" It was a simple question but it took a few moments for
Iolaus to reply and then he merely nodded.

Pain filled minutes later a bloody Iolaus was on his feet, the children -
whose names were Bramcene and Caraleira - never left his side. They never
uttered a word but walked hand in hand with the compact hunter matching his
careful steps.

Hercules marvelled at his best friend. It never ceased to amaze the
half-god the power that the mortal had over people and things. He was a
craftsman, hunter, warrior, lover and hero and he made room in his heart
for everyone. It was obvious that Iolaus was weak from shock and loss of
blood but he still refused to let Hercules take the children.

When they finally reached the entrance to the cave Iolaus' legs buckled out
from underneath him and he nearly pulled Bramcene and Caraleira with him.

"Uncle Iolaus, uncle Iolaus..." said the younger of the two. Bramcene had
large brown eyes and long hair the colour of oak; her full rosy lips were
pouting with worry. Caraleira was squeezing Iolaus' hand and shaking him in
an effort to get him to stand. She too had brown hair but hers curled
softly around her cherubic face and her eyes were a startling cerulean

Hercules scooped up the two girls in his muscular arms and set them down
away from the fallen man. "Now stay here a minute while I see to 'uncle'
Iolaus." He said seriously, tapping one finger on their little noses. Again
the girls nodded in unison.

"You are one Tartarus of a stubborn man my friend." Hercules said quietly
as he strode over to the blonde. "Now will you PLEASE let me look at you?"
It was more of an order than a question and Iolaus was too tired to
complain. Reluctantly he complied and Hercules eyes roved over the hunter's
form in an effort to assess the damage. It was then he noticed that Iolaus
had pulled his right arm in close to his side and he looked at the blonde.

"Uh oh...I've been found out!" Iolaus managed to say with humour as the
demigod moved to look under his arm. Hercules' couldn't believe what he saw
when Iolaus allowed him to gently pull the sticky vest away from his side.
Underneath lay a wound the size of a watermelon, the rough edges indicating
it to be a bite and what a bite! All of the hunter's flesh had been ripped
leaving him with a gaping, bloody mess, torn muscles visible and sinew too.
He gritted his teeth as the wet material sucked at the rawness of his body.

"Oh Iolaus, my hard headed friend why didn't you say something?"

The blonde hunter inclined his head slightly toward where the children
stood. "If it was you Herc would you have let on? They're just kids."

Hercules had to admit that he wouldn't. He took off his shirt and wadded it
gently against the horrific injury to help staunch the flow of blood that
had started to pour out at an alarming rate. "Here, keep this pressed as
tightly as you can against it." Then seeing the concerned look in his
friend's eyes he added "I'll get you back to the village, don't worry

But Iolaus was past worrying, his face contorted in a ricktus. All he cared
about was getting the two girls back to their mother and the safety of
their home. He looked past the demigod's large torso, winked then smiled at
Caraleira and Bramcene and promptly passed out.

The memory of the pain was evident in his best friend's eyes and Hercules
wished he had never brought up the subject.

"Iolaus, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have mentioned the she-wolf."

Iolaus' hand automatically went down to his right side where the creature
had bitten him. Under his vest the scarring was all too evident, the newly
formed skin showing pink and livid against the rest of his tanned body.

"It's okay Herc - I've felt worse pain than that. Besides which - it only
really hurts when I laugh" he chuckled.

"Well my friend - if you really want to go back don't worry I'll go to the
convention on my own. I've no doubt I can cope with the attentions of all
the beautiful women by myself!" He said mischievously.

Iolaus pretended to think about that for a moment. "Hmmn...well, just in
case there are any girls who are fanatical about sidekicks I'd better come
along - after all you wouldn't be able to satisfy them!"

"Well, thank you Iolaus...I'm grateful for your support!" The demigod said
slapping his friend heartily on the back, which made the smaller man choke
and brought laughter tears to his eyes.

Tears welled up in the blonde warrior's eyes as he struggled to remain
upright and retain his footing on the treacherous path that led down the
mountainside to the village below. He had fallen three times already but
refused Hercules' offer to support him, insisting that the demigod carry
the children instead.

With each step his whole body shook with effort, the loss of blood,
combined with numerous other, less serious, wounds, made him light-headed.
He would have given anything just to lie down and close his eyes.

Hercules walked in front, deliberately slowing his pace so that Iolaus
could keep up. The children were resting in Hercules' arms, their heads
hanging over his broad, muscular shoulders; eyes firmly fixed on the
progress of the wounded man. It was the view of those small, piercing orbs
that kept Iolaus going. He knew that they were frightened and he wanted to
reassure them that he was okay, therefore he had to stay conscious. He
trudged on, each step an eternity of pain. His eyes locked on theirs.

If anyone had wanted to follow the little group they would have had no
difficulty in tracking them for the trail of blood leading from the cavern
was like a small stream...

Iolaus tried smiling at the girls but the effort was too much and he
eventually settled into a repetitive and slow pace, hypnotised by Caraleira
and Bramcene's innocent stares.

Over and over in his mind he though - "Must keep going...must keep

The toe of his boot caught in a root and he fell again, this time to his
knees, the shock of the movement to his wound drawing an unwitting scream
from his thin lips.

Hercules turned hastily at the sound and saw Iolaus double over holding his
bloody side.

"Iolaus...are you all right?" The son of Zeus inquired his voice full of

"That's a daft question Herc. NO...I'm not okay but I will be...just...give
me a moment to catch my breath." The hunter said bravely.

Hercules eased the girls to the ground and Bramcene immediately rushed
forward in an attempt to help the hero rise to his feet. Caraleira held the
demigod's hand tightly and stood looking down at the blonde, blue eyes
meeting blue. Suddenly she wriggled out of Hercules grasp and bent to kiss
Iolaus on the cheek.

"Hey Caraleira...what was that for?" Iolaus mumbled, attempting to sound as
healthy and cheerful as possible.

She was crying again and her high-pitched voice was punctuated with sobs.
"Fank you for saving us from the wolf Uncle Iolaus. Please...please don't

"...Oh don't die on me Iolaus, it was just a joke..." The big man said
heartily as he watched a still choking hunter.

The blonde tried to catch his breath, and finally succeeded in doing so
with not a small amount of effort. "Not fair Herc" he spluttered dabbing at
the salt water that lingered in the corner of his bright eyes. "Slapping me
on the back in my delicate condition is NOT a good idea...AHA! Unless of
course you ARE trying to kill me!" He exclaimed, "Yes...big guy...I see
your plan now...kill the sidekick - get the girls. Well I have to tell you
Mister Son of Zeus...it just won't work!"

It was Hercules turn to laugh now at such a crazy thought but nevertheless
he'd play along. "You always were much too astute for me Iolaus. What can I
say...guilty as charged? Now what would you have me do to make up?" He said
in mock seriousness, his eyes downcast feigning guilt.

"Well, er...you can start by doing the hunting tonight. I'm sick of rabbit
though so you'll have to be inventive. And then there's always the
stitching to be done of my other vest!" Iolaus grinned picturing Hercules
sitting by a fire after serving him some luxurious meal then sewing...it
was too much.

"Iolaus...I don't even repair MINE!" Hercules seemed genuinely shocked at
the idea.

"Yeah, well now's as good a time to start as any. Besides which I've heard
Alcmene complain enough times that you don't look after your clothes."

Iolaus was on a winning streak, or so he thought until Hercules quickly
leaned over him and grabbed his leather pack. Then with the swiftness of a
god, proceeded to pull out the two spare vests Iolaus travelled with. One
was patched so much that other repairs wouldn't be possible without first
re-arranging the whole thing and the second was the garment Iolaus had been
referring to, this one had great tears running down the back. For a moment
it seemed to flutter in the wind like a battle-worn flag, blue sky clearly
visible through the rents, then the demigod deftly stuffed both items back
in the pack.

"Need I say more?" Hercules said and looked sternly at his friend as he
handed a very sheepish Iolaus his baggage.

"Okay...so I haven't a thing to wear to the convention! Hey Herc maybe
we'll run into Salmoneus on the way and I can get one of those new short
togas he's always trying to sell us. Maybe the blue one with the gold
edging - whaddya think?"

"I think, Iolaus, that you've finally flipped, besides which do you really
think you want to show you're legs to all those strange women?" Hercules
laughed heartily and clasped an arm around Iolaus' shoulder as if in
sympathy. Iolaus pulled away and looked up at his friend.

"Hey, not fair...I've got great legs."

Iolaus' legs were wobbling as Hercules helped him up. "That's it. I am not
going to stand by and see you kill yourself for your pride."

The blonde was ashen beneath his tan and there were dark circles under his
eyes, his breathing was shallow and one trouser leg was soaked in blood
from the wound, the wadding that Hercules had given him totally
ineffectual. With a quick apology to the children he turned his head and
started to retch dryly. When he had finished he was shaking like a leaf
with cold and weakness.

Hercules turned to the girls and spoke to them gently so they would
understand him. He used the nicknames that Iolaus had christened them with.
"Cara and Bram - Iolaus isn't going to die but we have to help him to get
home, do you understand." Again the heads nodding in unison. "Good, now I
want you to do something for me. I am going to have to carry Iolaus and I
want you both to hold onto me as tightly as possible while we go back down.
Can you do that?" Two earth-coloured manes nodded agreement vigorously. Not
for the first time, Hercules was awed by the fact that these two, hardly
out of their mother's arms, managed to find their way up the wooded
mountainside on their own; then, at the courage they had shown when faced
with the wolf. Still they had stayed with Iolaus until help had arrived.

"Good girls" he said and bent down to kiss them lightly on their heads
before going over to his friend. Iolaus was hanging onto a convenient tree,

"I am NOT going to be carried Herc, you know I hate it!" The wounded man
insisted. But Hercules was didn't care what Iolaus wanted.

"We'll make better time if you shut up and let me. We can't keep stopping
whilst you pick yourself up, the children are getting cold." He threw that
last in knowing it would make a difference to the hunter.

"Ooh you are cruel Hercules but as it happens, this time I agree with
you...mmph." Iolaus fainted and the demigod's lightning reflexes ensured
that he caught the blonde before he hit the ground. Hoisting him carefully
to lie draped across his arms, Iolaus' head propped against the hero's
shoulder he gestured for Bram and Cara to grab hold of this trousers and
the sorry quartet resumed their journey.

After their brief, childish, interlude, the two heroes happily resumed
their journey towards Aredi and the convention, thoughts of the previous
month almost completely faded. As they got nearer to the city the traffic
increased, farmers herding livestock, travellers on horseback, foot and by
wagon, tourists by the cartload, all headed in the same general direction
as the men.

With so many people around it was inevitable sooner or later that they
would be recognised. Hails of "Hercules...our hero." or "Hercules, thank
you for saving our village, we're forever in your debt!" or even "Hercules
please kiss our baby and bless him!" This last one made Iolaus' eyebrows
rise almost completely off his forehead.

"Kissing babies?" Was all he said.

Hercules shrugged his shoulders, mumbled a polite but firm apology to the
lady in question and continued down the road to Aredi.

Once they were out of earshot Iolaus turned, walking backwards then made a
face and crossed his hands under his chin, fluttering his eyelashes at
Hercules becomingly. "Oh Hercules... pleeeeassse, kiss my baby great
Hercules it would mean sooo much to my husband and I!" It was a mean
impersonation; he even got the high-pitched voice right.

The son of Zeus couldn't resist cuffing the blonde hunter around the ear.
Iolaus laughed so hard he doubled over, guffawing.

Hercules wagged a finger at his friend "Yes, well...you may find it funny
Iolaus but when it's your turn you'll think twice before laughing!"
Although he was also carried away on the moment because of his friend's
uncanny impersonation.

"Oh, ah, sure Herc." Iolaus said, biting his cheek "I'm er...likely to get
overwhelmed with people wanting me to kiss their babies. Sometimes I find
it so hard to get away from all this hero worship stuff." He chuckled.

But Hercules was thinking back to the last couple of weeks when he had
brought Iolaus and the children back down to their village. If the hunter
hadn't been a hero to them then, he didn't know what the meaning of the
word was.

A bone weary Hercules trudged into the village just before dusk, the
children clutching at the leather strips on his trousers. Bram held her
doll in her arm in exactly the same way the demigod carried the unconscious
Iolaus, every now and then she told her doll that everything would be all
right and bent down to kiss it.

Someone came out into the muddy street with a torch and after seeing the
little party shouted out "They're back...the children are back!"

It didn't take long for a crowd to appear and, pushing herself to the
front, was the children's mother, she was crying and laughing at one and
the same time. Quickly dabbing at her eyes with her apron, she ran to her
children. They released their grip on the half-god and launched themselves
into their mother's arms. She closed her eyes and offered up a silent
prayer to Zeus for their safe return then, looking up, she noticed the man
before her and burden he was carrying.

"Oh my, that's the warrior that went to find my babies. What happened to

Hercules hefted his friend slightly, releasing the tension on his cramping
muscles and loudly asked the crowd in general "Is there a healer here - my
friend has been badly hurt?" Nothing. No one came forward so again he said,
"Please, I beg you, if there is anyone here that knows healing my friend is

That got a reaction, a small, scrawny man of middle age found his way
through the throng and came up to the tired Hercules. "I know a little of
medicines and herbs." He said looking from the demigod to Iolaus' death
mask of a face. "But my knowledge is limited. There is a woman who comes
here periodically who acts as a midwife and healer but she won't be due
here for a while yet so I will help you. My humble home is too small, you'd
better find somewhere for him."

Caraleira and Bramcene's mother Leara, offered to accommodate both men and
Hercules gratefully followed her, jostled by a crowd eager to get a look at
the injured hero. Once he turned and snapped at them when someone
accidentally knocked Iolaus' head and he moaned in pain.

The children were excited, seeing this all as a huge adventure. They were
tired, cold and hungry but otherwise none the worse for wear. It was
miraculous how they could bounce back from things that would lay an adult
out with shock. They chatted and chirped and talked of Iolaus non-stop. How
he had run in to help them when they screamed, how he'd got 'bit' and how
he wrestled and finally killed the bad wolf.

Leara finally managed to get them settled in their bed together, curled
around each other, the doll between them. Cara's thumb tightly between her
lips, her index finger just touching the top of her nose. Warm and snug.

Once she had done this a happy mother went to check on her houseguests.
Hercules had brought Iolaus in and laid him gently on the bed that Leara
indicated. He knew it must be her own pallet and felt a slight pang of
guilt knowing that it would soon be soiled with the injured man's blood.

The little man returned from his home clutching an armful of bandages,
herbs and bottles. "Oh, by the way young man, what's your name and that of
your friend? " He inquired nodding in Iolaus' direction.

"I'm Hercules, and this is Iolaus." Said Hercules waiting for the expected
reaction, but surprisingly it didn't come.

"I'm Canicles and the lady whose house you are invading is Leara. Now,
let's get him seen to."

Canicles manner was a little off-hand and Hercules was concerned at first
that he had delivered Iolaus up for some rough treatment. He needn't have
worried however as Canicles proceeded to strip Iolaus' clothes off with the
gentleness of a nurse, not worrying about the decorum of having a woman
standing looking on. He tutted and fussed when he saw the state of Iolaus'
fine body. The bruises and cuts were evident now that Hercules could see
his flesh. All three pairs of eyes were drawn however to the large wound in
the hunter's side.

"Oh my goodness. I haven't seen anything like this since a Harpie caught
one of the farm boys oh, must be nigh on ten years ago now. Nasty." His
long, curved fingers probed the bloody flesh around the wound gauging the
extent of the damage.

Hercules wanted to scream. He needed something done now and couldn't stand
the wait. His big hands knotted with temper.

"Leara, hot water and plenty of it, then I need you to boil some thread,
lots of that too." He turned to the demigod, who was well over a head
taller than the scrawny man, and noted his hands.

"Relax son, I'll have him stitched up in no time. Just how did he get
himself into this fix anyway?" He inquired. It was a calculated question,
designed to get Hercules' mind off the tension and onto something he could
talk about.

The son of Zeus told him all that he knew and the recounting was punctuated
by oohs, aahs and reallys from the healer. When he had finished he noticed
that Iolaus was looking a lot cleaner. Canicles had bathed off most of the
old blood and was now concentrating his attention on sewing up the
offending wound. He couldn't risk giving Iolaus a narcotic to ease the pain
because of his weakness so he asked Hercules to tie Iolaus to the bed so he
wouldn't move if he awoke suddenly.

The hero hated seeing his best friend lying there, helpless and fought the
bile that rose to his throat as he heard Iolaus cry out with the pain of
stitching through the torn flesh. At one point Iolaus shot up, the cords on
his neck tightening almost to bursting point as Canicles struggled to keep
him from ripping himself open again. Amazingly the hunter seemed to have
some idea where he was and the only sounds that issued from his lips were
crys, not the screams that Hercules was sure he would like to have brought
forth - and he was equally sure it was because of the children.

Hercules paced back and forth until the floor was in danger of wearing

Leara brought him a mug of mead and when the big man refused she pleaded
with him to drink it knowing that he cared more about what was happening on
the bed than to the state of his own body.

"Just look at the state of your body!" Hercules was teasing his friend
again. "How can you get away with not exercising, and all that food you

"Hey, hey, what is this Herc; 'pick on Iolaus week'? What do you mean 'the
state of my body'?" He said looking down quizzically at his muscular form.

"Well Iolaus my friend, you obviously can't see the thickening round the
middle that I can." Hercules was loving this; he had promised himself he
would tease Iolaus constantly on their way to Aredi. It was his way of
trying to ease the tension that had built up over the past weeks and it was
proving to be too much fun to stop. Sure he felt just the teansiest bit
guilty about it but he was sure Iolaus wouldn't mind.

"Now you've done it. Let's see who's the fittest of the two of us. After
all I've beaten you before." When Hercules started to object Iolaus
continued "Come on now as far as I'm concerned Herc you issued a challenge
when you insulted my body and I'm here to make good. So come on, put up
your dukes."

"Put up my what Iolaus?" Hercules looked baffled.

"Dukes, dukes...it's an expression I heard somewhere...means fists or
something like that. Anyway, stop distracting me and get on with it." The
hunter raised his fists in a mock boxing style and started to dance lightly
around the hero.

Hercules was laughing so hard he didn't see the fist until it was too late.

"Ouch! Iolaus that hurt! " Hercules exclaimed bringing two fingers up to
touch his rapidly fattening lip. " You drew blood!" he said incredulously
staring at a tiny drop of scarlet liquid.

"Yeah, well maybe you'll show me a little respect now. Come on big guy I
haven't finished with you yet." Iolaus took on his martial arts stance,
arms up, knees bent, and hands rigid - ready to fight. "Hiyeeeeee!"

The son of Zeus held up his hands in mock surrender and shook his head.

"No, no...I take it all back...you're in great shape...for a little guy."
Herc laughed.

"Oohh, that was beneath you my friend - you'll pay for that one." And when
the demigod still showed reluctance to fight he added, "Are you mouse or

That got to Hercules and he turned to Iolaus ready to meet the challenge
"Okay, okay Iolaus. If you want to play rough - just avoid the face, there
are too many women who'll want to kiss it when we get there." Without
further warning he rushed the blonde hunter.

Who casually side stepped and brought his leg out to trip the demigod up.
Hercules lurched forward with the force of an elm being felled, straight
into a large puddle of water. Hercules lifted himself up on his arms with
as much dignity as he could muster under the circumstances and turned to
face Iolaus.

"Ha ha haaaaaaahhaaa..." The hunter giggled looking at the drops of wet mud
clinging to the handsome face. When he finally managed to get himself under
control he smooched and added, "They'll be lining up to kiss ya now Herc!"

Hercules lost his control then and grabbed Iolaus by the vest lifting him
high up above his head until Iolaus' legs were kicking and he was staring
nose to nose with the blonde.

"Hey, hey...put me DOWN!"

"No Iolaus...you deserve this." Hercules said as he manhandled the compact
warrior over to the puddle. Without ceremony he turned the still struggling
hunter over and dunked his head first into the murky water.

"Eeeccchsplurrfff!" Was Iolaus' only comment.

After a second or two Hercules put his friend back on the ground and dusted
his hands off. He then stood hands on hips, looking at Iolaus' equally
muddy face.

"Draw?" They both said together.

A family had been walking behind the two men as they acted out the scene
and the youngest child pointed at the grown-ups as they passed them by only
to be hurriedly ushered away by the gruff looking father mumbling something
about "Not safe on the road in broad daylight nowadays!"

The two men looked back at the hurrying family then, clasping an arm around
each other's shoulders continued on their way.

Hercules sat behind Iolaus supporting his shoulders as he tried to make the
hunter sit up enough to sip some of the medicine that Canicles had
prepared. Although conscious Iolaus was feverish and his upper body was hot
against Hercules chest. The wound had been dressed with poultices, which
still steamed in the lower temperature of the damp room. Leara had built up
the fire with wood that Hercules had collected and they had moved the
pallet near enough for Iolaus to get the full benefit of the heat.

After making Iolaus comfortable Canicles left to return to his own family
insisting there was very little more he could do. The problem he said was
internal. He didn't know how much damage had been done to the hunter's
organs and, as he wasn't qualified to know, all he could do was pray to the
gods that there was no internal bleeding. Hercules had seen men on
battlefields with bleeders before, their limbs amputated by the sword,
unable to stop their lifeblood from escaping. He shuddered at the thought
and added his prayers to those of the villager.

Leara had offered to look after Iolaus herself but she could sense that the
man was important to the demigod so she didn't question further when he
refused her offer. She merely reiterated her thanks for the lives of her
two children and agreed to take over when Hercules needed a break.

The bigger man looked down at the fair head of his friend, the hair damp
with sweat. Iolaus looked up and met his gaze with quizzical glazed eyes.
"Herc...what are you looking at?"

"You my friend...just looking at you."

Iolaus snorted a little "Well stop it...it's making my eyes go fuzzy!" He
closed his eyes as if to reinforce his statement.

"I'm not the one who's making your eyes funny Iolaus, it's a combination of
your fever and that foul medicine Canicles gave you." He brushed a stray
lock from the sick man's forehead.

"Yeah, well if that's the reason how come I can see two of you...even with
my eyes shut?"

Hercules laughed quietly.

"Then rest Iolaus...get some sleep. I think you're going to need it." He
eased himself out from under the blonde and gently placed his head back on
the straw pillow.

"Mmm...I think you're right..." Iolaus was asleep in seconds.

The night passed quickly and despite his fever Iolaus slept through most of
it without too much trouble, the still of the air punctuated only by the
occasional mumblings of the sick man. When morning came however he was
shivering uncontrollably.

Hercules had fallen asleep curled up on the makeshift bed that Leara had
fixed for him in the same room. The small cottage only had three rooms, the
common area and two bedchambers, one of which belonged to the children and
this was where Leara had spent the night.

With no one watching over him Iolaus decided to get out of bed to relieve
himself. The effort of swinging his legs over the edge of the pallet was
enough to exhaust him but he persevered wrapping the light blanket around
his midriff as he went. He normally wouldn't have cared but he was mindful
of whose home he was in. Carefully tucking one end of the cloth in the
temporary waistband Iolaus tiptoed around the sleeping form of his friend
to reach the door to the outside. His hand slipped on the handle twice
before he managed to grip the thing and open the door, the blast of cold
air making his teeth chatter. The morning air was crisp and refreshing and
Iolaus wished he felt well enough to enjoy it. His side was throbbing
mercilessly, the rough bandage moist with blood. He was able to complete
his task and was returning to his bed when one of the villagers caught
sight of him and rushed over.

"You're the man who rescued Leara's children aren't you?" The elderly woman
said glancing up and down at the half-naked man. Iolaus nodded, too cold to
do anything else. "I want to thank you...you did a great thing, especially
when the cowards here wouldn't lift a finger out of fear." She turned to
another woman who was coming out of her own cottage clutching a woven
basket full of laundry. "Drelina...look who it is...it's that young man
that killed the monster!" The other woman placed her basket on the ground
and came up to her friend; her eyes open wide with awe.

Iolaus didn't want to appear rude but he wasn't well enough for this kind
of attention. "Ladies, please...I can't stop...I must..."

"Nonsense." Said Drelina "We don't mind do we Ethlin?"

"Not at all dear...we don't get many heroes around here."

Both women seemed completely oblivious to Iolaus' state of undress and his
shivering. He had soon drawn a crowd however and it was proving impossible
for him to escape...

As they entered Aredi the two men began to draw a crowd...

At first Iolaus took no notice, after all the great Hercules was here for a
convention and he kinda got used to people ogling his best friend, but
after a while he started wondering why people were whispering to each other
and staring at HIM. Wasn't the mud...they'd managed to get most of that off
in a stream on the way here, wasn't his clothes as far as he could
tell...unless...nah...he checked his codpiece. 'Phew,' Iolaus thought,
'thank Zeus for small mercies! He even surreptitiously checked his armpits,
well in HAD been a long time since their last proper bath.

"Er...Herc, have you noticed people acting a little strangely towards us?"
He said quietly to the tall man beside him.

"You're imagining things Iolaus." Hercules answered.

"No, no...there's definitely something up. Take a look at me." Hercules
turned to the blonde hunter and put his head on one side appraisingly "No.
Take a real good look at me Herc." He turned around for inspection.

"And just what am I supposed to be looking for Iolaus?" Hercules said

"I dunno. I just know everyone is staring at me. Do I look odd to you?"

Hercules paused meaningfully before answering.

"Iolaus, there is absolutely nothing wrong with you that a good bath and a
decent meal wouldn't rectify, now stop fussing will you. We'll check into
the inn and kill two quail with one stone."

"Huh, more cliches!" Iolaus exclaimed still examining himself all over for
signs of trouble. "Hey, look...over there...someone's pointing at me!" He
tapped Hercules on the arm and gestured in the direction of two innocent
looking women who, having caught the handsome warrior's gaze turned away

"Iolaus what's with you. There's no one pointing. You're paranoid my
friend. Now can we just keep moving?" The demigod was exasperated and
pushed Iolaus in front.

"Do you have any idea where the inn is Herc?" Iolaus stopped again.

Hercules hands went to his hips, a sure sign he was displeased. "Yes
Iolaus, I double-checked the scroll before we set off. It's called
Marriotti's, he's Roman. Unusual to have a hostelry here don't you think?
Anyway we'd better ask for directions."

Hercules unabashedly went up to the two women that Iolaus thought had been
pointing at him. Iolaus stood behind the son of Zeus, partially hidden but
keeping one close eye on the two suspect females. Unaware of his friend's
strange behaviour, Hercules politely asked for the way to Marriotti's and
was told it wasn't far from where they were. The hero thanked them and
turned to see his friend peeking round him at the women like a frightened

"Are you going to act like this the whole time we're here? Iolaus... Iolaus
are you listening to me?"

The blonde snapped out of it, he'd been transfixed on the odd women.
"Huh...oh yeah...er...I mean...no. I was just...well...checking. You know
how it is Herc?"

"No Iolaus...I have no idea how it is."

"Yeah, well...it wasn't what you thought it was, okay."

"You are making absolutely no sense today Iolaus. You must be more tired
than I thought."

Milling their way through the crowded city streets Iolaus still couldn't
shake the feeling that there were eyes everywhere, watching his every move.
He suppressed a shudder...it gave him the creeps. One or two children came
up to Hercules and tugged at his trousers. The half-god looked down at them
and smiled, he even picked up one of the smaller ones and carried him for a
while, his mother walking slowly beside them evidently overjoyed at the
impromptu attention her child was getting from the hero. Citizens came out
of their shops; people stopped hanging out washing and waved at the two as
they passed by. Little by little Iolaus started enjoying himself. He had
been shy at first but now something in him began to change and he smiled
back, even waving enthusiastically at one (particularly beautiful) girl who
blew him a kiss. By the time they reached Marriotti's establishment he was
relaxing - a little!

The landlord came out to greet them personally, word having raced ahead of
them. He shook Hercules warmly by the hand and exclaimed "You honoura me
witha youra presence sir!" before turning his attention to the blonde
hunter. "Anda theis musta be Iolaus!" He said with a cheerful grin. "I ama
so pleased to meeta you." The portly Marriotti grabbed Iolaus' hand,
sandwiched it beneath two of his own flabby ones and pumped Iolaus' arm
until expediency (and pain!) made the compact warrior pull free of the
man's commendably tight grip. Iolaus wasn't to be let off so lightly though
as the man then proceeded to wrap the surprised hunter in his thick arms
and kiss him...ON BOTH CHEEKS!

Hercules just stood there with the biggest grin on his face - watching his
friend's obvious discomfort. Iolaus wrestled free of the lardy body and
straightened his vest.

Herc noticed that the smaller man's cheeks had flushed with embarrassment.
"Italians!" Was all he said quietly in his friend's ear as if it explained

The large landlord stepped aside and indicated for them to enter.

"Come, come inside dear friends aplease. I havea nicea baths waitin for you
anda my best rooms. Yours has a da beautiful view over da river." He said
to Iolaus, who was still in shock.

Hercules managed to disguise his laughter by coughing into his hand.
Well...it would have been rude to laugh outright he thought.

Some while later a nervous Iolaus crept down the corridor and knocked at
Hercules' door.

"Herc. Hey...Herc... Can I come in?" He knocked again, slightly louder this

"Just a minute." Hercules opened the door, he had been bathing and was
wrapped in nothing but a large towel, his shoulder-length wet hair dripping
in rivulets onto his broad chest, his feet bare. "What's the matter now
Iolaus?" He said as he looked at the equally clean man before him, although
Iolaus' eyes were distinctly red-rimmed.

"Er...you gotta help me!" Iolaus sneezed.

"Bless you." Hercules said neatly missing the fine spray.

Iolaus sniffed "Thanks...but seriously Herc I can't cope...aaahtttchoo."

"Bless you again Iolaus." The demigod thought his friend must have caught a
cold somewhere on the road and silently dreaded going through having to
nurse the hunter again.

Iolaus was more than catching cold standing virtually undressed in the
middle of the road, the goosebumps visible on his tawny flesh. He tried to
extricate himself from the pressing mass of people who had materialised out
of thin air to surround him, his head whirling with feverishness. He
couldn't breathe, they bumped against him, jostled and pushed. Throwing a
constant stream of idiotic questions at him. One child even came up and
poked him with a little finger right where his bruised and throbbing wound
had been carefully pulled together. He stifled a scream and tried to pull
away from the careless boy.

He need to get away...why had he been so foolish as to venture out on his
own. Where was Hercules when he needed him? Part of him felt stupid; the
other part didn't know what to think his mind was so fogged with pain. They
clapped and congratulated and touched and prodded him, like some piece of
art in a Grecian temple. Didn't they see he was sick? Couldn't they leave
him alone?

"Three cheers for Iolaus!" Shouted one of the more effusive villagers.

Iolaus pushed his hands against his ears as a "Hip Hip Hooray!" pierced his
aching head. He was swaying violently as they lifted him, blanket and all,
high above their shoulders to carry him down the streets. It was all he
could do to avoid being sick over their heads.

Luckily a small figure that Iolaus recognised scrabbled its way through the
gathering. "LET HIM DOWN!" Shouted Canicles above the noise but to no

"STOP, STOP...can't you see he's injured? Foolish, foolish people, do you
want to kill the man?" He couldn't get a response, so carried away were
they with their hero worship. Canicles knew one man who would be able to
stop them before Iolaus died in their arms - Hercules.

He ran back into Leara's house and roused the sleeping demigod. "Come
quickly, your friend..." Hercules was up like a bolt of lightning and shot
out into the street before Canicles could explain. He saw a tousled gold
mane above a sea of coloured garments as they whisked the hunter up the
road, cheering and laughing. Iolaus looked for all like some beautiful
sacrifice being taken to an altar.

Hercules ran quickly after them pushing people aside roughly to get to his
friend. When he was alongside the men that held Iolaus he looked up at his
friend's face, his head lolling to one side, the mouth set against absolute
agony. Hercules held out his arms and brought the procession to a halt.

"ENOUGH!" He bellowed so loudly that even the stragglers at the back heard
him. "Just what do you think you are doing?" Said an angry Hercules.

"We just wanted to celebrate...he's a hero!" Pointed out one of the hunter

"Well if you're so grateful to him why don't you take a look at what you're
carrying and see if Iolaus is enjoying himself!" Hercules was furious that
these idiots had not only brought this upon his friend by refusing to go
after the she-wolf themselves but were now compounding their ignorance by
half killing him.

The bearers looked at each other and carefully brought their burden down to
street level. Iolaus immediately sagged to the ground; the cloth around his
waist was sodden with crimson where the stitches had started to pull apart.
His body cramped painfully against the cold and his eyes were rimmed with
dark circles.

"Oh Gods!" Said one of the onlookers. "He really is sick."

"YES YOU FOOLS!" Hercules spat at them. "Didn't any of you think before you
did this? Are you so blind that you couldn't see a man in pain? Or did you
think only of your blessed relief at having someone else, an outsider,
suffer to save your village? None of you cowards offered to help Iolaus
when he went up that mountain to save your hides. You're pathetic." He
finally finished ranting; the biceps in his muscular arm tensing as if he
wanted to punch someone.

Hercules had never, in his entire life, felt so angry with a group of
people. He had something of a reputation for delivering speeches but as
soon as he had completed his sermon he felt disgusted with himself, after
all, he thought, they were only trying to show the hero their appreciation,
weren't they? Maybe he was being too hard on them but as he heard his
friend coughing he knew he hadn't, they deserved every harsh word.

Canicles was kneeling beside Iolaus who was now lying full length on the
ground. "You'd better get him back in doors Hercules. I think he's heading
for a dose of pneumonia." Hercules lifted his friend with ease and headed
back to the cottage. When he got there Leara was standing in the doorway,
Cara and Bram either side of her; she appeared worried as the demigod
stormed past her into the bedchamber.

"Why is Uncle Iolaus still sick mommy?" Said Bramcene her eyes filling with
tears as she looked up at her parent. "Cousin Canicles promised he'd make
him all better like he did Xena!"

"Oh sweetheart, Xena is just a dolly but Iolaus won't be sick for long,
you'll see, cousin Canicles will make him all better and then he may even
be able to play with you both." She bent down and clutched them fiercely,
her long dark hair flowing around their heads, knowing that if it hadn't
been for the brave man who was resting on her own bed she wouldn't have the
warmth of their bodies next to her. She couldn't stand to lose them as well
as her husband; they were all she had left.

Part of her wondered secretly what it would be like to have the handsome
warrior there all the time. The children obviously adored him, even though
he had hardly been awake since Hercules brought him there. And then there
was his face, such a kind and open face with impossibly blue eyes. She
sighed, knowing that it wouldn't be right. Although she never set much
store in legends she had heard about these two men and she wouldn't deprive
the world of two of its heroes.

She would content herself therefore with memories.

Hercules pushed aside the memories as he followed the still sneezing Iolaus
back to his room. When he opened the door he was greeted with the sights
and smells of at least a hundred bunches of flowers!

There were bouquets of lavender and rosemary, single blooms, bunches of
wild flowers, lilies, herbs, orange blossom and even the odd weed or two,
all laid lovingly around the hunter's room. The smell was overwhelming, the
perfumes mixing into a heady and intoxicating brew - that is unless you
happened to be allergic to the blessed things.

Iolaus stood in the doorway reluctant to enter, his fingers pinching his
nostrils tightly against the onslaught of the next sneeze.

"Hercules you have got to get rid of...Aa aah aaah...tchoo -

The demigod blew "Wow-er-bless you by the way. They're...uh...strong
smelling aren't they! But why didn't you open the shutters to let out some
of the fragrance?" He looked at Iolaus whose eyes had started to turn red
and swell - was it his imagination or was the warrior's face slightly

"Duh, of course I tried Herc but take a look outside. I can't touch them
and I couldn't get any fresh air in either!"

Hercules strode across the room to the small window "Don't be ridiculous
Iolaus all you have to do is..." He opened the slatted shutters and saw -
eyes - peering back at him - lots of them. He smiled, gawped stupidly, shut
the windows quickly and turned to his friend, pointing back at the sight
over his shoulder.

"Iolaus there are..."

"...Masses of people out there. Yes Herc I know, that's what I was trying
to tell you. I couldn't exactly bathe in front of them could I?"

"But what are they doing there? I didn't notice anyone outside my window!"

"Yeah, well I've got enough for both of us! I don't know why they're there,
all I know is I came into the room, saw this lot and started sneezing. I
was desperate for a bath before the water got cold so I tried to get the -
'vegetation' out and saw those people there, staring back at me grinning!
Maybe they think it's your room."

"No...I don't think so Iolaus, after all it is Marriotti's 'room with a
view' - if you look really carefully you can just about see the river
meandering round the other side of the hill...besides which didn't you
notice the banner?"

"Banner? What banner?" The hunter was genuinely perplexed. All this stuff
was driving him crazy.

"The one with your name on it." Hercules said seriously.

"Nah, couldn't be my name, musta got us mixed up somewhere down the line.
Aaa-aaah tchoo."

"Take it easy my friend you'll get a nose bleed. If you don't believe me
about the banner why don't you take another look?"

Iolaus' curiosity was peaked and holding his breath he traversed the space
to the window. He opened it very carefully, the crowd cheered, he shut it,
they stopped - he opened it again, they started all over and this time he
quickly examined the sight before him through his sore eyes. Sure enough
there at the back of the throng was a large parchment covered in writing
which said:


In huge lettering and underneath it a strange symbol shaped like joined m
and v with an arrow through the middle followed by more words that he
couldn't quite make out because of the number of heads in the way. Suddenly
from the centre of the crowd a missile was launched at him, it hit the
confused man square in the face...he looked down at the fallen item in his
hand. It was a ...oh...my it was an item of ladies' apparel that he had
seen on plenty of occasions but usually under slightly less - public -
circumstances. His mouth went dry, his palms started sweating. The shutters
were closed again VERY FAST.

"Herc!" He squeaked grabbing the frilly thing and stuffing it behind a
particularly ugly bunch of yellow Hamamelis. "Will you pleeeease tell me
what's going on!"

"Canicles will you please speak to me!" The demigod was standing by Iolaus'
beside, his arms wrapped around his own body in a subconscious effort to
comfort himself. The balding man had one ear to the sleeping hunter's chest
and was listening intently. He put a finger to his lips indicating for
Hercules to be quiet as he continued his task, all the time watching the
rise and fall of the blonde's chest.

"Hmmn...Just as I thought." He mumbled to himself as he lifted his head and
rubbed his chin.

"What? What do you think?"

"Oh yes, well he definitely has a touch of it. His lungs are starting to
wheeze like dry autumn leaves." He pointed animatedly at the wound on
Iolaus' side indicating the fresh stitching. "These should last now; unless
of course the young fool decides to go gallivanting around the village
again. Thankfully the poultices have drawn out much of the infection
although it's still a nasty colour, interesting that - I don't think I've
ever seen a wound turn quite that shade before.

Ah, now, come to think of it I did hear tell that a body was found down by
the lake not that long ago that showed similar signs of yellow necrosis
around the wounds...this is most interesting! I'll have to tell Fadoulla
when she returns on her rounds."

Hercules was getting more and more exasperated with Canicles' cryptic
language, he decided to his try one more time before he resorted to
violence. "Could you PLEASE tell me in plain Greek just what's wrong with

The skinny man continued to poke and probe at Iolaus' wound as he answered
the irritated demigod. "That...well, let me see now. He's got pneumonia, no
question. It was the stress you see, on top of a wicked little virus. I'll
go and prepare some expectorant and another poultice - you'd have to apply
that to his chest, right about here." Canicles said indicating the lung
area. "Beyond that the normal sorts of things, rest and fluids. Thankfully
he's extremely fit. Yes I think he'll be back to normal in no time!" He
said cheerfully as he departed the cottage.

The demigod wasn't reassured. The hunter's face was pale and clammy and
he'd only just quieted down from a coughing fit that pulled the mesh of new
fibres taught across his wound. In the absence of a better solution
Hercules reluctantly had to trust the healer to do his best.

Leara could be heard reading a story to Caraleira and Bramcene in the
common room and their voices rose in laughter as she changed accents to
suit the character she was portraying. Hercules was painfully reminded of
the times that Daenaira would sit in bed with their children reading rhymes
from their favourite nursery scrolls or singing lullabies as they fell off
to sleep. She had such a beautiful voice.

Hercules blinked away the thoughts and tiredly ran a hand over his face. He
couldn't afford the luxury of the memories. His family was safe and happy
in the Elysian fields and he knew that Daenaira would forgive him for
tucking their memories away considering the circumstances.

He drew up an old chair and, turning it the wrong way, positioned it at the
end of the pallet and straddled it. Then he began to stare at his best
friend's face as he slept, soaking in every line; absorbing each detail so
it would remain locked in his memory forever. The demigod would lie awake
sometimes in the middle of the night desperately striving to recall the
faces of his wife and children - hour upon hour conjuring up images of
them, sometimes the pictures never came and he cried fearing they were lost
to him.

He wouldn't let that happen to Iolaus, no matter what.

Gradually Hercules' eyelids became heavy and he rested his head briefly on
his thick arms. He never intended to fall asleep and jumped therefore when
the spindly fingers shook him to wakefulness. It was Canicles.

Canicles returned hastily with more medicine and poultices. The healer had
expected to call in some favours in order to obtain the herbs he needed but
amazingly no one asked for payment. Iolaus was a hero.

"You should be in bed yourself my boy." He said to the demigod in a
fatherly tone. "You might be the son of Zeus but even the Gods themselves
eat and sleep."

Hercules started to protest but Canicles hushed him up saying, "I refuse to
take no for an answer. The great Hercules may be able to pull birthright on
others but I'm not impressed. I'll get Leara. We'll look after Iolaus for
you, now go and get your head down for a while."

"Only if you promise to call me if he awakens."

"Yes, yes I promise now go on."

Leara and Canicles bathed the hunter's sweat-soaked body and administered
to him. After ensuring that the embers didn't die on the fire Leara took up
position at the foot of the bed that Hercules had vacated. She too stared
at the man before her, now heaped with blankets - and came to realise that
she truly cared what happened to him.

Glancing back and forth between his handsome face and that of the half-god
she wondered if all the stories she had heard were true. Of battles with
monsters and giants, Hydras and She-Demons: were they just myths told by
bards to children and drinkers in taverns willing to spend a dinar to hear
them? Or were they true? Leara wasn't clever enough to know, but she
believed in the Gods and she sensed the goodness in Hercules and had seen
his love for his friend. What she also knew to be true was that Iolaus, who
possessed neither the strength of Hercules, nor the power of the Olympians
had risked his life for strangers - her children. That was enough for her.

Whatever these two men wanted they could have. If the world owed them a
fraction of what she did, then they were rich indeed. She suspected too
that the world's debt would never be repaid, particularly in the mortals'
case - how many would build shrines to the noble Iolaus who accompanied the
son of Zeus on his labours?

She wanted to make some small recompense for what he had done for her and
for others and as she sat there, listening to his laboured breathing, the
germ of an idea began to take shape.

Iolaus' compact and muscular shape was silhouetted against the slatted
shutters, the sunlight squeezing past him to make patterns on the wooden
floor. From what Hercules could tell his friend was still a little shaken
by the 'object' that had just been lobbed at him. The demigod had barely
glimpsed the item in question before Iolaus hid it from him. He made a
mental note to have a search later.

It was time to come clean, almost.

"Okay Iolaus, you're right, I guess I should have told you earlier. First
of all I want you to know that I had very little to do with this and,
secondly, I did not know that there would be so many - er - people out

"What are you talking about Hercules?" Iolaus said, emphasising Hercules'
full name to let the demigod know he was suspicious of what was about to
come next. "Are you trying to tell me that you KNEW about all this?"

"Well, not exactly, you see it goes back to when you were ill." Hercules
felt awkward now. The idea had seemed such a good one at the time but he
had expressed reservations that he could even get Iolaus to go to Aredi
with him. As for staying once he found out why he was there, well the
demigod had an even harder time convincing himself that Iolaus wouldn't
just turn around and go back to Thebes.

"Come on Herc spit it out. Aaatch-tchoo. Oh my nose! Do you or do you not,
know what's going on in this weird city? I have never seen so many people
behaving oddly as I have today, complete strangers staring at me and
pointing, banners with my name on and some strange hieroglyphics (that
could be saying anything from fresh chickens two dinars a pound - to kill
the little guy who rides with the son of Zeus!!) And then there's Marriotti
and this room and these stinking flowers which, by the way if you haven't
noticed I'm allergic to!

I am not going out there until I find out if it's safe or not! After all
you didn't tell be about Nemesis until she became mortal and I could see
her. Scared the living daylights out of me when I found out she was the
hit-woman of the Gods (as beautiful as she is!). If you don't tell me I'm
gonna walk out of here and go home - er...the back way!"

And if I do tell you, thought Hercules, you'll probably do just that

He held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. "You win Iolaus. Sit down
and I'll explain."

The Hunter laughed. "Now I'm even more worried. You never ask me to sit
down to listen to you unless it's really serious." Iolaus eased himself
stiffly onto the pallet secretly glad that he could take the weight off his
feet. His side had been aching all morning and he didn't really want to let
his friend know of his discomfort. "Right then big guy, what gives?"

The handsome demigod paced across the stretch of floor in front of the bed
wringing his hands. Once or twice he started gesticulating prepared to
speak then stopped, formulating the words in his mind.

"Right well, you see it's like this...er...no...Hang on." He stopped again,

Iolaus raised his eyebrows in exasperation "How difficult can it be?"

"Yeah, you're right. Well you know the invitation I received, er - we
received?" Iolaus nodded not willing to speak lest he stop the half-god's
train of thought. "Well I kinda knew it was coming."

"You what? How could you have known that a messenger would bring you the
scroll? Herc have you inherited some other powers from your father? You
weren't struck by lighting were you?"

"No, no you don't understand...you see I ah...sent it myself."

Iolaus' face said it all. He'd heard of lonely people sending themselves
love scrolls before but never an invitation to a Convention, or whatever
this trip was turning out to be.

"You sent it yourself."


"Herc I still don't understand what you're talking about. Call me thick but
I've lost the plot. You said before it stemmed back to my being wounded."

"It does. Okay, okay let me start over. The Convention tomorrow. You think
it's in my honour right?"

Iolaus shrugged "Yeah, well naturally it's in your honour - after all no
ones' going to do something like this just for me are they?" He looked
puzzled as Hercules smiled.

"No Herc oh...wait...please don't tell me that this is all for me!"

Hercules smile got bigger.

One day and another night had passed with little change in Iolaus'
condition. He had been out cold for hours, ever since they brought him in
from the street, even the persistent coughing fits hadn't pushed him
through the barrier to consciousness. Although he didn't show it, Hercules
was secretly terrified for the hunter, his stomach knotting every time he
thought about the possibility of losing his only true friend.

Every so often Canicles returned to check on his now famous patient. The
first time a crowd of villagers blocked the path to Leara's door,
questioning the healer, desperate to hear the progress on the man's
condition to pass to neighbours and friends. He told them little, angrily
insisting that the relapse was thanks to their unthinking actions. "If
Fadoulla were here she'd have your hides! You should all be ashamed. You're
a bunch of cowards who would let another man do your work. I've got no time
for any of you." He had said as he pushed past the mob and went inside.

Unaware of any of this, Iolaus was dreaming. His last conscious thoughts,
before drifting into a troubled and unhealthy sleep, were those of being
paraded through the town virtually naked, just the simple woven blanket
tucked around his waist barely affording him any warmth. His scarred and
aching body glistened with chilled sweat, the salt from which seeped into
his wounds making them sting even as the stitching started to tear. Of
people pressing round him, cheering and shouting...and of pain.

That was then, so what was happening now - after Hercules had carried him
back to his temporary 'home'? He could only follow where the images took

The dream was hazy and it was as though he was watching events unravel
through someone else's eyes. He saw his body being lifted aloft by people
whose faces were blurred and unrecognisable. They took him through woods to
the entrance to an underground cavern. It was dark as they entered but
gradually the details became clearer and more focused and Iolaus recognised
the place - it was the mountain cave where he had fought the she-wolf.

The whole cavern was lit by hundreds of tallow candles, the stench wafting
up to reach his nostrils, making him feel sick even as he saw his other
self gag.

Familiar faces started appearing; Hercules was there, smiling down at him:
the pity evident in his glazed eyes, Canicles and Leara, the villagers and
Ethlin and Drelina, many more whose names tickled at the back of his brain
but he just couldn't place.

At that moment the crowd slowly and reverently parted as Caraleira and
Bramcene walked slowly towards his other self.

The blonde hunter watched from two different viewpoints, he saw their faces
as they came towards him, mocking, grinning and he saw their backs as they
walked away from him. Iolaus stared in horror as he realised their heads
were hanging at the wrong angle, and then he saw blood pouring down the
front of Cara's homespun tunic...

As he watched Iolaus felt hot breath on his neck, the fine hairs rising in
reaction and he went to turn, instinctively knowing the awful thing that
was behind him but almost fearing the sight in front of him more - the
children damaged beyond any healer's ability to help. Hadn't he saved them
after all? He felt sharp claws rake across his back tearing the fabric of
the purple vest he now found himself wearing. Ripping skin that had
received the same punishment before...

Nothing in his dream made sense, his mind brought forth pictures from
memory and what...scenes from the future or fantasy? They became mixed and
entangled to create a story that wasn't reality. So why was it so
horrifyingly clear?

The animal behind him smelled real, the putrid smell of a charnel house.
Its body radiated incredible heat as she cast a shadow in the candlelight
that would have given even the strongest of men cause to be afraid. But the
strange thing was that Iolaus felt he knew it with an intimacy never before
shared, he didn't know why but she was familiar somehow and not just
because he had fought and killed her. On the altar his other self looked
back in terror. Finally he faced the beast.

The she-wolf stood arched over him with matted fur, fangs gleaming brightly
in the amber glow. This then was the enemy...or was it? Iolaus was confused
- something made him pause and it cost him dearly. He awoke yelling even as
the wolf feasted.

"There's to be a feast with the City's elders and some specially invited
guests. I won't tell you who they are Iolaus...you'll have to wait and find
out." Hercules looked at the dumfounded blonde. His mouth had dropped open
about six inches and remained that way as Hercules explained the real
reason for the Convention.

"So...you mean I'm the one that everyone is hoping to see
tomorrow...er...not you?" Hercules nodded. "And I have to make a SPEECH?"
he squeaked.

"Well you don't have to Iolaus, but I think it would be the right thing to
do under the circumstances don't you? After all these people have travelled
from all over Greece just to honour you. For some it must have taken days
to get here. From what Marriotti's told me every hostelry and inn is packed
for miles around. You're one popular hero my friend."

Iolaus shook his head. "Herc, in all the years we've been together,
fighting by one another's side, I've never expected any praise or
remuneration. I do it because someone has to and more importantly I care
what happens to you - you're family to me. I don't like to think that you
could be out there fighting some monster or your weird relatives with no
one watching your back. It's just what I do - I'm not special. In fact
there are some things you don't know about me from the past. You wouldn't
be very proud if you knew what I'd been forced to do sometimes.

Sure every now and then I moan a little that people seem to take me for
granted because I hang out with the son of the King of the Gods, but I'm
only mortal and if you knew my heart you would know that I don't mean it.
So why now Herc? Why all this? From what I can tell there's been a great
deal of preparation for this day. I mean, don't get me wrong or
anything...it really is appreciated but...it's just not me! I'm not a God
or a real hero and I don't want to be worshipped...just plain old Iolaus of
Thebes who tries to help others."

"Oh Iolaus, you fool. You ARE a hero and special! Very special. How many
people would have gone through what you have over the years and survived?
Your strength of body and character are what kept you going. I do know your
heart my friend, it's good, kind and honest and whatever you may think you
deserve much more than just a Convention. You recently touched someone's
heart (as only you are capable of Iolaus!) and gave that person back what
she would have otherwise lost. In return she wanted to reassure you that
you have friends and followers who care deeply about you."

"This was all Leara's doing wasn't it?" Things started to fit into place
now, the long conversations about his family and friends during his
convalescence, the way she encouraged both himself and Hercules to tell her
stories of their deeds asking questions about locations, checking names and

"Yes she arranged all this, she even asked me to stage the invitation
thing. Whilst you were ill she apparently started thinking about the two of
us. She knew that, despite my objection, there were many shrines and
statues in my honour and had heard the tales the bards spin and the songs
that are sung to the son of Zeus. Her questions became more and more
specific about you my friend. I think she has a soft spot for you."

"What woman hasn't?" Iolaus said laughing in mock seriousness remembering
their soft embrace when they had finally parted. He sighed.

Hercules cocked his head on one side. "Overestimating our charms again are
we?" He laughed. "Anyway, Leara wanted to know what had been done to repay
you and I told her truthfully - very little. She seemed upset about that
and asked for my help, which I gladly gave her. I can tell by your face
that you don't like any of this but don't be angry, it was Leara's way of
thanking you for Cara and Bram. Don't spoil it for her."

"Hercules! I have no intention of spoiling anything but neither do I need
payment. I guess I'm just overwhelmed. This hero worship thing doesn't sit
well with who I am. What do I say when I go out there tomorrow? They've
probably been given the impression that I'm some seven foot tall Adonis who
has a torso the size of a tree trunk and muscles to match! I don't even
have a decent vest to wear for Zeus' sake. Are you sure Salmoneus isn't

Hercules laughed. "You'll find that everything has been taken care of. Go
look in the chest by the door."

Iolaus gave him a 'now what' look and sneezed again before doing as the
demigod instructed. Inside the little wooden chest was an outfit that had
been made especially for him. Leara had asked a seamstress to make Iolaus a
new pair of black leather pants to replace his old ones that they couldn't
get all the blood out of and a brand new patch vest this one had lacings to
fasten it across the chest, helping to hide his scar. "It's purple!" the
blonde exclaimed in surprise.

"Yup...no imagination I guess, either that or she knew just how fond you
are of that awful thing."

"Hey, not fair Herc, after all it was your mother who made it for me. Okay
so it's fifteen years old now but I'm kinda fond of it." Seeing Hercules'
grin he added "And no jokes about me wearing kids clothes or I'll punch
you!." He looked again at the present in his hands. "This is a wonderful
gift but...er...does this mean you won't be repairing my other ones for me
then?" He giggled and ducked as Hercules threw a pillow at him.

"Talking of garments Iolaus are you going to tell me what was thrown at you

The hunter blushed, a deep pink colour rose from his neck to the tips of
his ears in genuine embarrassment, the contrast between the flush and his
own golden colours was quite striking. "Er...no. It wouldn't be gentlemanly
to disclose that Herc. Besides which I'm not too sure myself."

Hercules didn't believe that for one moment. "Oh really?" Was all he

"Can we change the subject please? I'm breaking out just thinking about

"Sure thing. Well, now that we've got your clothes sorted out I'd better
tell you the plan for the day."

Iolaus was replacing the clothes carefully in the box as he spoke "I could
also do with a little help on the speech. Since I've only had to address a
Kingdom before and that was quite a while ago now. I'm a little out of

The son of Zeus looked at his friend's back as he bent to his task. "You've
done what Iolaus? What Kingdom?"

He turned to face his friend. "Didn't I tell you? No, come to think of it I
haven't told you very much about what happened in Attica have I? Well you
see when I took my cousin, King Orestes, place temporarily it was necessary
to continue with the everyday running of court and part of a King's duties
is to hear grievances. His subjects came to him with disputes and arguments
and it was the Orestes' job to try and solve them as his father did before

"And you managed all this?" Hercules said amazed at his friend. "Did you
resolve any problems?"

"Oh yeah, all of them, that is all that I could hear in the time. It was
really interesting Herc, somehow I just knew what to say to them. I kinda
enjoyed it too. You see it's all too easy for a King to dismiss his
subjects without giving them a thought - but they are the backbone of the
court and without happy subjects there would be civil unrest ergo no
Kingdom. It's just commonsense really."

It was Hercules turn to have his jaw resting on his chest. The man before
him, his friend that he had known most of his life, had just shown another
side to his nature. It made Hercules wonder if, by having Iolaus beside
him, he was depriving the world of a powerful and just leader. If Iolaus
had chosen to he could have become King of Attica, a role he had, in that
small speech, demonstrated himself to be wholly suited to. But Hercules
knew Iolaus couldn't have lived a lie and it made him appreciate his friend
all the more.

"You amaze me Iolaus. I don't think I need to give you any help. You're
quite an orator."

"Yeah, well you should have seen my knees trembling at the Coronation. Some
of my ancestors had incredibly odd names! Right what's the plan? Oh and, by
the way...please, please remove those darned things." The blonde said
pointing at the flowers. "Aaattchoo!"

"Bless you."


"It's okay, it's okay." Hercules had been in the common room when he heard
Iolaus cry out, he came rushing in and sat down on the edge of the bed as
the hunter awoke and tried to rise.

Hercules put a restraining hand on the blonde's shoulder. "Stay there,
everything's all right. Thank the Gods. How do you feel Iolaus?" Hercules
looked into his friend's pale face, concerned. Iolaus had kicked off most
of the bed clothes in his restless sleep and the demigod picked them up and
replaced them over him, trying to keep the frosty air from the sick man.

"Wow. I've been having such terrible nightmares Hercules. They just seemed
so real somehow." He was exhausted from thrashing around and lay back on
the pillow. "It's strange though, now that I'm awake I can't remember too
much about it. I just get the weirdest feeling that this business isn't

"It's just your mind going over everything. You've had a pretty rough
couple of days." Iolaus' faced creased and his jaw set against the agony.
"You're in pain aren't you?" The hunter said nothing but his face spoke
volumes. "I'll get you something for it, stay here."

"Believe me Herc I am not going anywhere!"

"Yes, well I know you. As soon as my back's turned you're off. Do this for
me okay?"

Iolaus gave his best martyred look. "Where are the children?"

"They're out playing I believe. Leara's gone with them. Why?"

He wasn't sure why but he needed to know they were safe. He shrugged. "No
particular reason I just thought it would be nice to see them that's all."

"Iolaus you're not well enough to have kids jumping all over you. I'll get
this medicine and some soup if you can manage to keep it down."

As Hercules went out of the room Iolaus closed his eyes briefly. He
couldn't escape the feeling that something was wrong. Perhaps his dreams
had shaken him more than he realised. He wasn't the type to put store in
idle fancies nevertheless he trusted his instincts. He had to see the

The demigod came back with the promised soup and Iolaus managed to get some
down followed by the herb brew. Quite a bit ended up on his chin and chest
and he kept apologising to Hercules for his weakness as his friend cleaned
him up.

"Just stop it Iolaus. We both know that you can't help it. I've had to deal
with much worse before so why worry about a little spilled soup? You're
acting very twitchy today, are you sure you're feeling better?"

"Yeah, yeah I TOLD you I am." He paused. "Sorry, I didn't mean to snap it's
just that this is so ridiculous, all of it. It's my own stupidity that got
me in this bed in the first place. If it had been you fighting that beast
you wouldn't have ended up so...so...helpless!"

"And just what gives you that idea? I saw that thing remember? It wasn't an
ordinary wolf and I don't care what you say Iolaus no one could have come
away from a fight like that without some damage. You're too good a warrior
to chastise yourself like this, stop."

They were silent for a moment before Iolaus added "Herc, I really do want
to see Cara and Bram now. Please?" he pleaded.

Hercules could see there was something more bothering his friend than he
was willing to let on so he decided to humour him. "Okay I'll find them,
but just for a short while, then you sleep right?"

"Anything." As long as they're okay, he added silently.

A short while later he returned with Leara and the children in tow. They
were delighted to see him awake at last and almost crushed him with kisses.
Leara too was pleased though she refrained from doing the same to the
hunter. She was actually desperate to kiss him, but Leara knew his healing
wounds were tender and she wasn't willing to risk hurting him.

Iolaus bore the attention stoically, laughing and coughing at the same time
but his handsome face lit up at the sight of the pretty girls who called
him uncle. If anyone had been watching closely when they had first come
into the room they would have noticed Iolaus' expression change from panic
to relief.

The girls high pitched voices carried all over the cottage as they told
Hercules and Iolaus what they had been doing that day and Bram showed them
a drawing that she had done on a rough piece of vellum. It was a picture of
what must have been Iolaus standing in triumph over the dead body of what
looked like a colossal dog but was her way of depicting a wolf. She had
cleverly tried to put in some rocks as the background together with two
little pin heads, her and her sister, peering round the side of one.

What made Iolaus blanche though was the big jagged hole she had drawn on
his side. Leara saw his reaction and quickly ushered the girls out of the
room telling them that 'uncle' Iolaus was tired.

It would take a while to forget.

Iolaus started his recovery from that point on. Within a week he had enough
strength to get out of bed for a couple of hours at a time without the
benefit of Hercules shoulder to lean on and within two Canicles had given
him permission to go outside and take in fresh air. By the end of the third
week he was going stir crazy, his abundant energy returning to him in
armloads. He laughed and played with not only Leara's children but many
from the village who seemed to be drawn to the compact warrior. Every one
of them called him uncle and he never tired of telling them stories.

All this time Hercules had been helping out with chores in the village as
much to bide his time whilst Iolaus recovered as to repay their
hospitality. In truth it was they that owed the two men but Hercules didn't
see life that way.

Hercules stood watching Iolaus from a distance as the blonde gave piggy
back rides to the smallest of the kids, mindful of his aching side and he
laughed when they packed over him and brought him to the ground only to
bounce back up as though nothing had happened. It was nearly time to leave.

Leara stepped up beside the demigod and laced an arm around his squeezing
it in a friendly gesture. They had become good friends over the last few
weeks, joined together by Iolaus' incredible heart and suffering. The son
of Zeus had spent most evenings talking to this woman whilst he watched
Iolaus' battle with health. He knew that the children's mother looked on
the hunter as someone she would like to get to know better and he was sad
for her. Iolaus wasn't the settling type. After his wife Ania had died the
hunter found it hard to stay anywhere for long, leaving broken hearts in
his wake. Queen Niobe of Attica was the closest Iolaus had come to thinking
about marriage again although Hercules didn't know of his friend's inner
turmoil over the beautiful Queen.

"So you think it's a good idea then?" Leara asked as Hercules stared at his

Hercules turned to look at her, small and shapely, the long dark hair
framing a heart-shaped face with soft brown eyes, why hadn't he noticed
before how beautiful she was? "What, oh, the Convention. Leara, I told
you...I don't know. If I had to be honest I'd say no. You must understand
that neither Iolaus or I do what we do for recognition, it goes against our
nature to have an event like this. Besides which I can't imagine how I'm
going to get him there."

"Oh, I've been working on that, we just make out it's you who's the guest
of honour! That way Iolaus won't get suspicious. In fact I'd like you to
send yourself the invitation. It saves me trying to find a messenger to
locate you both when you're gone."

Leara paused and looked wistfully at Iolaus who was resting on a tree
stump, the children sitting cross-legged in a circle at his feet whilst he
engaged them with yet another story. Even from where they were standing
they could see the small man gesticulating wildly and making funny faces
enriching his tale. Small voices laughed uproariously at the antics. It was
the picture of a teacher and again Hercules was given to wonder at the man
he was honoured to call friend.

"All right, I'll do it but only because I agree he deserves something. I
can't guarantee you that he'll fall for it Leara. Iolaus is quite shy."
They both looked at the hunter again who had risen from his seat and was
dancing around pretending to be a horse. "Er...I take that last comment
back...he's not shy at all!"

"Then it's settled. In around a month's time there will be the first
Iolarian Festival Convention. I like the sound of that!" And she gave the
demigod a sisterly kiss on the cheek.

The next morning Marriotti greeted Iolaus with yet another round of kisses
on the cheek. "Meister Iolaus once again pleasea let me express my
gratitude fora your custom. I havea already made da sign to go over da
door, isn't it handsome no?" It was extremely hard for the two men to
understand Marriotti's broken Greek and strange accent. Iolaus tried not to
laugh thinking it unbecoming of a 'hero' although he was still weighing up
whether or not he should kick the man for kissing him.

Before the large landlord could pass Iolaus the mysterious sign Hercules
snatched it from over his head. "Hey Herc that was for me to read!"

"I know Iolaus, I just couldn't wait." He read the wooden sign and couldn't
suppress a huge grin. "Oh yes sir, I think this will look wonderful
what...right about here?" He went outside and held it up over the
doorframe. "What do you think Iolaus?"

"What are you doing Hercules?" The hunter said as he followed the demigod
outside to look at the sign. "Oh NOOO...no way...I am not letting him put
THAT there. He can't. Please tell him Herc, please."

"Why Gabrielle...you're whining again! Ouch."

The kick that Iolaus had been debating about giving Marriotti was placed
squarely on Hercules shin.

"Serves you right, now get that thing down!" This was not the best start to
the day.

"Why Iolaus...I think it rather suits the place. 'Iolaus of Thebes, Hero of
the people stayed here' Kinda grows on you doesn't it?" The big man teased.
"Ouch...will you stop kicking me!"

"Not until you take it down." He launched another kick.

"Ow...okay, okay...just a joke." Hercules took the sign down and handed it
to a bemused Marriotti who wasn't quite sure what had just taken place.
Then he rubbed his tender shin.

"Time to go my friend."

"Yeah, well maybe I've changed my mind Herc. I don't wanna do this.

Hercules turned his head to see Leara, closely followed by Canicles and his
wife Panestra and Leara's two girls. Leara jumped into Iolaus' arms and he
hugged her tightly giving her a friendly kiss, she felt the smooth play of
his muscles under the vest and felt his sweet breath on her flesh and was
reluctant to break the hold - ever! "Let me look at you Iolaus. I see
someone found the clothes, they look good on you."

"You think so? Yeah, well thanks very much I'm really pleased to have them,
I was getting a little self-conscious about the others. Listen, Leara...I
really appreciate all this but I'm just not..."

"Uncle Iolaus what about us?" Interrupted Cara as she tugged on his
trousers and looked up into Iolaus' face.

"Oh sweetheart I haven't forgotten you, either of you." and he bent down to
scoop them into his arms giving them each a kiss. "We missed you and so did
Xena!" Bram whispered into his ear, thrusting the little doll into his
sight line. "Well thank you too Xena." Iolaus said, feeling more than a
touch silly talking to a wooden doll named after the warrior princess. He
stood up to talk to Leara again, keeping his hands on the children's heads.

"As I was saying...I don't think that I'm ..."

"Iolaus it's good to see you up and around, you're looking so much better.
Let me take a quick look at how you're side's healing." Canicles stepped
forward and automatically lifted the brand new vest. Iolaus' hand whipped
down to cover the sight of his injury. "Thank you Canicles, but it's
perfectly FINE. I'd rather you didn't poke around, if you don't mind."

Hercules heard the anger and irritation in his friend's voice, to him it
seemed totally out of character for the hunter but he put it down to Iolaus
being self-conscious of his scars.

The smile faded briefly from the healer's face but as quickly it returned
and he tried to get off the subject. "Well you appear to be doing fine now.
By the way I don't think in all the time you were with us I had the chance
to introduce my wife Panestra. Panestra dear this is 'the' Iolaus." He
emphasised the 'the'.

Iolaus took her proffered hand and squeezed it gently. "It is a real
pleasure to meet you Iolaus, my husband told me so much about you and of
course the whole village just had to come today."

Iolaus gulped "The WHOLE village?"

"Well not quite, we've left some of the elderly who couldn't travel and
there's the Darik boy who's sick, he couldn't come, oh and a couple of
others to look after them. We had to pull hay in the end to see which ones
of us would stay behind. No one wanted to you see. It was quite a trip."

"Oh." Was all Iolaus could manage. How could he turn back now with all
these people waiting just to see him - he was very, very nervous.

"Come on Iolaus...time for the festivities to start." Leara took him by the
arm and, linked with the son of Zeus on the other, they walked down the
street that had begun to fill with onlookers.

One person in the small group was uneasy. Canicles eyebrows were knitted in
worry. He was concerned about why Iolaus wasn't willing to let him examine
the scar on his side and he was worried even more about the pulsing that he
glimpsed under the damaged skin. He made a mental note to send a message to
Fadoulla about it.

Many didn't know what the fuss was about but more people did. It was like
the day before when the men had arrived in Aredi only this time there were
flowers being thrown at the heroes as they marched toward the city centre
and the small arena that was being used for the Convention. A flower caught
in the blonde's hair as he passed under a window and he left it there: a
white daisy hanging from his soft golden locks.

Reluctantly Iolaus began to enjoy himself. People whistled and waved and he
saw more banners like the one outside his window. The strange symbol looked
almost like a heart with the arrow through it and the significance wasn't
lost on him, the words were flattering and to him unbelievable. He walked
tall and proud with his friends by the side and actually felt good.

As they entered the arena Iolaus had an even bigger shock. The place was
packed. There must have been at least four hundred people crammed into the
auditorium and when they spotted him a huge cheer went up. Even the great
Hercules himself had tears in his eye. Leara had done a magnificent job.

When Iolaus finally remembered to take a breath he looked around the arena.
There were faces from his past that spanned over thirty years. How on earth
had Leara managed to find so many of the people he knew? He was overawed.
The little group walked into the centre of the building and the whole
audience rose to its feet and clapped. Then set up a chant "Iolaus, Iolaus,
Iolaus, Iolaus..."

Canicles and Panestra sat the children down in the front row where they
could get the best view of their friends. They didn't know it but sitting
next to them were Alcmene and Jason, Hercules' mother and stepfather. Jason
was clasping Alcmene's hand tightly and she wept unashamedly with joy. The
small warrior was as much a son to her as Hercules or Iphicles. Jason too
had cause to thank the young man before them and he was choked.

Somewhere towards the back of the auditorium Hercules caught a glimpse of a
pink negligee and a shock of blonde hair and knew that Aphrodite hadn't
resisted the invitation to honour 'sweetcheeks', with her and also
invisible to the rest of the audience was Hephaestus. He had brought with
him a very special dagger, forged by his own hand, which he would give to
Iolaus after the convention.

Leara started off the proceedings, showing an unexpected talent for
speaking in public. It was necessary to shout to be heard but the acoustics
pretty much compensated for the quieter moments.

"Friends...I would like to thank you all for coming here today. We have
joined here in order to show our appreciation for a man without whom most
of us would not be sitting here. Many of us, or our children or friends,
would most likely be in the Elysian Fields if these two brave men didn't
walk among us. Forget the myths and the legends I will tell you a true
story from my heart and then we will hear from some others who count
themselves fortunate to have crossed the path of Iolaus of Thebes."

Hercules noticed his friend shifting about from one foot to the other, his
hands behind his back knotting with anxiety and embarrassment, as Leara
told of the rescue of her children and the death of the wolf. He couldn't
ease his friend's discomfort but he could stand by his side. The demigod
moved closer and Iolaus looked at him, his piercing blue eyes catching the
equally blue ones of the son of Zeus. I'm here Iolaus.

Iolaus never stopped moving, throughout the whole proceeding he was
agitated. Person after person came forward to recount their own tales of
his heroism, many included Hercules but all focused their attention on the
hunter's part in the story. There was a ripple of applause as the Leara
introduced someone who had insisted on being here today.

The blonde warrior looked toward the audience as a tall grey-haired soldier
moved toward the stage. It was Hector, Niobe's aide. It was nearly too much
for Iolaus and his knees started to tremble, just the thought of Niobe
could do that to him. He could see Linus waving from where Hector had left
him but thankfully not the beautiful Queen.

The strong soldier greeted Iolaus with a warrior's handshake but couldn't
resist hugging the smaller man as well. Both men had suspiciously bright
eyes when Hector turned to the assembled people. He cleared his throat
before speaking.

"People of Aredi and friends and acquaintances of Iolaus. I am here today,
as you are, to honour a man whom we have already heard is a great hero. I
have learned much about him today that I never knew, but none of it
surprises me. I wish to add my tale to the telling which I hope will
overlay yet another dimension to this special warrior's character." He
looked back at Iolaus as if to get permission to continue. Iolaus just
looked at his feet, trying to retain his control.

"Some while ago the Kingdom of Attica was under threat by an internal
faction who were willing to kill the King in order to place his weaker
brother as a puppet on the throne. Iolaus closely resembles King Orestes as
he is related to the line and therefore willingly agreed to place his life
in jeopardy in order to ensure that the coronation took place as planned
while the his majesty recovered from being drugged.

Unfortunately King Orestes was captured and was gradually being poisoned.
Once again it was Iolaus that we turned to. He rescued Orestes and was
himself wounded several times in the ensuing fight with the traitor. More
details I cannot disclose suffice to say that we had need of this special
man once more in order to keep the kingdom together and Queen Niobe, the
late King Orestes wife sends her greetings to Iolaus today.

I now know that these were the actions of a man used to fighting evil and I
am, as you all must be, in awe of this mortal. But one thing I must add is
that during his brief sojourn as the sovereign he showed himself to be an
honest and just leader, someone who could command respect and love. Whose
judgements were fair and in whom I would trust my life."

Hector turned once more to his friend and sank to one knee before the
dumbfounded Iolaus. He bent his head as a mark of respect, his helmet
clutched beneath one arm. "I am honoured to know you Iolaus of Thebes and
should you have need of my services, or of that of the subjects of Attica I
am instructed by her majesty to tell you they are yours. Oh, and Linus
wanted me to thank you too!" he added quietly.

The audience roared their approval as an amazed Iolaus tried to get Hector
to rise. "Hector, please get up...you know I didn't want you to kneel to me
even when I was playing the king. It doesn't become a soldier like you -
and it embarrasses the heck out of me!"

Hector laughed and stood to face the smaller man. "That's so typical of you
Iolaus...you don't like anyone saying thanks."

"Yeah well there's 'Thanks Iolaus' and then there's THIS!"

Hector shook hands with Hercules noting the pride in the demigod's eyes.
"Thanks are of course extended to you too Hercules. Your friend makes quite
an impression on people!"

"Doesn't he just." Hercules replied looking at the man at his side. "He's a
little overcome with it all I think."

"Well I look forward to meeting you both at the feast. Linus is eager to
talk to the famous son of Zeus! See you later my friend."

Hercules spoke next. There was a hushed silence as the son of the King of
the Gods took centre stage.

"Friends, family and those of you who have come from far away for this day
- welcome. Iolaus will kill me if I say too much about him, you can
probably tell he's not really enjoying this one bit!" A ripple of laughter
ran through the arena. "When Leara first approached me with the idea of
running a convention in honour of the shy Iolaus I told her it wasn't such
a good idea. You've heard from many people today what kind of a man he is
and it is part of this amazing character that makes him feel unworthy of
this adoration. He is modest - SOMETIMES! and insisted many times to me
today that it shouldn't be him standing here before you but me. Naturally I
agreed but was willing to let this dog have his day." Again the laughter as
people warmed to Hercules powerful personality.

"Gee thanks Herc!" Iolaus said behind him.

"You're welcome my friend, now...where was I? Oh yes...Iolaus and I
practically grew up together in Thebes and I know this man like the back of
my own hand. He is one of the best fighters I know with a warrior's heart,
he can track animals for miles without tiring and can hunt with the best of
them (although his cooking does leave a little to be desired!). I have
heard (not witnessed!) that he is one of the best lovers in Greece and
enjoys nothing better than to spend time at festivals (with all the pretty
women). There is no one I would rather have at my side or protecting my
back in a fight and he has the strength of many men, despite what he looks

"Hey watch it Hercules." Iolaus mumbled.

Herc shrugged "In short he is the best friend a man could have and I'm
proud to be counted among them."

The audience rose to its feet cheering as Hercules stepped back out of the
limelight to take his place once more beside a very red Iolaus.

"Speech, speech!" Everyone shouted as Leara guided a reluctant Iolaus to
the front. He ran a shaking hand through his tousled blonde locks,
dislodging the daisy, which fell to the ground.

"Ahem...well...er..." He looked again at the sheer number of people there
just for him. The feeling of love directed towards him was palpable, it
washed over him in waves as he stood before them trembling.

Iolaus cleared his throat and began again.

"Hi..." he squeaked. "Er...what can I say? Hercules is right I'm so totally
overwhelmed with everything that it's kinda hard to know where to start.
Er...I guess the best place would be to say a huge thank you to everyone
for coming to Aredi today. I truly had no idea that this event was taking
place until I saw many of you outside my bedroom window yesterday! Ah,
oh...yeah and thanks for the flowers...even if I am allergic to them!" He
giggled and his charming personality took the audience with him.

"Herc, er...that is Hercules ah...told me that he had been invited to
attend this convention in his honour and that seemed right to me. He is
really the person here today that you should be honouring, not me. I just
do what he says! Nah...that's not true...sometimes I get a little
hot-headed and go off on my own. That's really how this all started as
Leara told you - so you can blame me for your being here today.

I recognise most of you although you may have to forgive me if I don't
remember all your names. The circumstances under which we met are imprinted
forever on my memory. The real heroes here today are each and every one of
you. For putting up with the things that you do, for overcoming the evil in
your lives and for rebuilding with an inner hope and sense that things can
be achieved. If you want to thank me for my small part in your lives please
do, it's the least I can do for all of you have made me what I am today.
You and Hercules, without whom I would never have survived to this ripe old

Another person, who deserves to be mentioned is Hercules' mother Alcmene,
sitting here at the front with Jason of Argos. She has put up with me for
most of my life and deserves a medal herself. Thank you sweet Alcmene."

The tears that had dried up started to pour down Alcmene's cheeks again and
she wiped at them with the back of her delicate hand. Jason patted her knee

"I won't bore you any longer with talking as I'm sure you are all anxious
to get to the feast, I know I am! Just to express my very last, and
heartfelt thanks, to Leara who pulled all this together without my
knowledge. She and her children, little Caraleira and Bramcene, were my
extended family for nearly four weeks and I owe them much. No less do I owe
thanks to the grumpy Canicles sitting next to Alcmene here who saved my
life. You see...I'm not the one who needs to be worshipped! Anyway...I have
had a very enjoyable, if extremely embarrassing, morning and am dying to
get stuck into the feast, as Hercules said I LOVE Festivals!"

When Iolaus finished the house went up with applause and cheers, every
single person rose to their feet, whistling and clapping. Hats were thrown
into the air, banners waving wildly in the breeze. More flowers were
launched at the stage, despite Iolaus' declaration. The blonde hunter
couldn't resist a theatrical bow as he turned to leave. Hercules clasped an
arm around his friend's shoulders and led him outside to the continuous
sound of approval.

"Er...that wasn't so bad Herc although I still don't quite believe all the
things that were said about me."

"Iolaus my friend, you never will."

"Yeah, well as long as they don't ask me to kiss babies...yuck!" He giggled
merrily as they walked back up the street to the city hall where the feast
was due to take place.

"So that was the first Iolarian Convention...hmmn...I wonder if they'll do
one next year?"

"Iolaus...I thought you didn't want this in the first place." Hercules was
surprised at the change in his friend's attitude.

"Oh...well...I know...but that was before I saw all those gorgeous women in
the audience. A man's gotta live Herc!"

"He certainly does Iolaus...he certainly does."

As the two heroes strolled happily along the road together the ache in
Iolaus' side grew...

---- THE END ----

(OR IS IT? tee hee hee)

(Disclaimer: No Italio/Romano accents were harmed during the writing of
this story, our hero however was squeezed by a large pizza maker and is now
recovering in hospital.)

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