The characters of Iolaus and Hercules belong to Renaissance
and Universal. I am just borrowing them and will give them back unharmed
at the end of the story. All other characters in this piece are my invention
and I get to keep them ...
RESCUED (Part 1)
"You can't travel with me any more."
Iolaus almost choked on the mouthful of ale he had just taken. "What?"
"I have to travel on my own from now on." Hercules' handsome,
angular face was implacable, his voice equally so. There was no room for
argument in the words. Iolaus attempted one anyway.
"Are you crazy?" he demanded, leaning over the table toward his
friend. "Oh, I get it - you've found some pretty girl and you're scared
of the competition."
His teasing didn't work. Hercules just stared at him, his expression stony.
Not the least trace of amusement was evident. "I mean it, Iolaus,"
he said. "I'm leaving this afternoon and I don't want you following
The blond warrior was sure his heart had actually slipped from his chest
and was even now lying on the stone floor of the tavern, beating out its
last as he stared into turquoise eyes which showed no hint of emotion, no
trace of regret, try though he might to locate both. "Why?" His
voice held no indication of the anguish which was pulsing through him. He
felt inexplicably proud of this. "Herc ..."
"We're still friends ... brothers," the demigod interjected hurriedly,
almost offhandedly. "That will never change. I just ... I have to go
it alone, Iolaus. I need to be on my own."
"No you don't," Iolaus disagreed. "The last thing you need
is to be alone, Herc. You need company ... you need me ..."
"I don't NEED anyone!" Hercules hissed, savagely. He slammed down
his tankard and rose from his seat in one fluid motion, eyes blazing.
'Finally,' thought Iolaus, 'Emotion' - just not the emotion he had ever
expected to see directed toward him. "Herc ..."
"This conversation is over." There was a bleak finality in the
demigod's tone - in his entire demeanour - it spoke of 'goodbye'. "I'll
see you around sometime, Iolaus. So long." With that, the demigod left
behind his ale, his meal ... and Iolaus.
The blond hunter had been too stunned to move for several moments., When
he did finally find the impetus to get up and follow his friend, it was
to discover that Hercules had wasted no time and had been deadly serious
in his intent. He had already left town; his long, loping strides able to
cover the ground at breakneck speed when necessary - which was just what
he had done in order to shake off pursuit by possibly the best tracker in
Greece - his best friend.
Iolaus was not known for giving up. He was bound and determined to find
out just what had gotten into his friend, and why Hercules had found it
necessary to abandon him for no good reason - hell, for no reason at all.
He was not stupid. He also knew his friend far too well. Hercules had lost
too many people in his life in too short a time - two wives, his children
and, more recently, his mother. This 'farewell' had a familiar ring about
it. After each loss, he had been determined that he should not be a threat
to anyone else and had set out alone, despite Iolaus' protests. His mother
and brother should be safe enough, he had reckoned. Zeus had ordered Hera
not to attack Alcmene directly and her one indirect attempt had been thwarted.
She had not tried again. Iphicles was not really important enough to the
gods for them to attack. Iolaus, however, was a different matter. The demigod
feared their friendship was a great threat to the warrior. Gods alone knew
that, in the last few years, Iolaus had come under threat from the Olympians
often enough. And, as much as he had tried to convince Hercules that their
relationship was well worth any risk and that he would rather have a comparatively
short life with his friend than a long one without him, Hercules' concerns
had not been assuaged. Indeed, over the last year, Iolaus had felt the son
of Zeus pulling further away from him. Where before there had been overt
concern for his welfare, consoling hugs and heartfelt thanks for him risking
his life for the demigod; of late it had almost seemed like Hercules was
taking him for granted, or that he didn't care.
And suddenly, in a flash of blinding insight, Iolaus realised why. Hercules
had become convinced that if he could persuade the gods that he didn't care
as much about his friend, then they would leave the hunter alone.
And then Alcmene had died.
Thus there was only one person left in the entire world whom Hercules loved
- and his sheer, unadulterated terror of losing that one person had actually
prompted him into doing just that - of his own accord.
Leaving Iolaus behind; trying to convince him that he no longer cared as
much was another misguided attempt to protect his mortal friend.
So the gods had won anyway.
'Just wait till I find him,' Iolaus thought to himself as he made camp for
the night, after an entire day following the demigod's less than competent
attempts to cover his trail - which in itself was odd, as Iolaus had taught
him better than that. It was almost as if, subconsciously, he wanted the
hunter to follow him. "I'll beat him senseless," the blond continued,
muttering to himself. "And then I'll tie him up and make him listen
to my side for a change!" With this cheery thought uppermost in his
mind, and conveniently ignoring the fact that Hercules would undoubtedly
get the upper hand and could escape from any bindings unless crafted by
Haephestus, Iolaus curled up on his blanket and fell asleep.
... and therefore did not feel the mace which sent him spiralling deep into
a state of unconsciousness, nor felt the ropes which bound him, or the impact
of being roughly slung over a horse by his captors ...
It would have interested (although not surprised) him to discover that Hercules'
mind was meandering along a similar trail.
He missed Iolaus.
He missed his laughter, his companionship, his irrepressible good nature,
his skill at hunting and even his bawdy songs.
But most of all, he missed his friendship.
They had been together for so long that it was practically impossible now
to remember a time when they had not been friends. And it wasn't even that
simple. They had been through so much together that each new escapade, each
and every hour spent together forged new links in the lengthy, sturdy chain
which was their friendship. Iolaus was the only one who knew his weaknesses;
who truly understood and accepted him for what and who he was. Iolaus was
the only one who treated him as a person, with his own faults and foibles,
his own insecurities and mistakes. It didn't matter to Iolaus that he was
someone special to the rest of the world. He never allowed Hercules to start
believing in his own legend. On the few occasions when that had happened,
the blond hunter had stepped in where others would have feared to tread
and ensured that the hero was brought back down to earth. His eternal optimism
and innate good humour made him the ideal companion and his compassion,
courage, honesty and selflessness made him every inch a hero himself. But
it was his deep, unshakeable and abiding love for Hercules which made him
special to the demigod. Iolaus' love of him was unquestionable, given freely
and without asking anything in return. Hercules treasured it, as he treasured
But Iolaus' love of him was dangerous. The warrior's unswerving loyalty
and depth of feeling for his friend had placed him in jeopardy time and
time again. Whilst Hercules acknowledged that the smaller man was a warrior
and a hunter of few equals, that knowledge did not prevent his heart from
leaping into his throat, nor his breath to pause in sheer terror each and
every time his best friend placed himself in harm's way, which he did with
alarming regularity, it seemed. The 'bad element' of Greece seemed constantly
bound and determined to show the son of Zeus that he wasn't all he was cracked
up to be and, inevitably, Iolaus was by his side when they showed up. Whilst
intellectually, he knew that the blond hunter was more than capable of taking
care of himself against the pitiful efforts of the ruffians against whom
they usually fought, he was also well aware that one moment of carelessness,
one simple distraction could have tragic consequences.
And then there were the trained soldiers whom they often faced in their
various battles for good kings or against monstrous warlords. Even one as
courageous and skilled as Iolaus could not stand alone against an entire
army - and an entire army was usually what confronted them.
Some day his luck would run out.
And Hercules was not even factoring in the various attempts by the gods
to remove Iolaus permanently from his side ...
No, he convinced himself, as a nagging little voice started telling him
rather insistently that he was making a grave error in parting from his
best friend, this was for the best. His friendship was too big a threat
to Iolaus. The warrior would be better off on his own. He would certainly
live longer - and maybe he would be happier too.
The little voice didn't go away.
In fact, it started laughing hysterically.
A couple of days and many internal arguments later, Hercules set up camp
near the river. He was exhausted in both body and spirit. He was also incredibly
lonely. The demigod had set himself a gruelling pace since his abrupt departure
from Iolaus' side, partly in order to get as much space as he could between
himself and his friend before he could change his mind about leaving the
hunter and partly in order to make pursuit more difficult.
'Then why did you leave such a clear trail?' the aggravating and insistent
little voice demanded.
He chose to ignore it.
He was under no delusions. He and Iolaus knew each other too well. They
had been friends for so long that they could practically read each other's
thoughts, which admittedly came in very useful during battle. He was only
too well aware that the other man would have wasted no time in following
him once he had recovered from the bombshell which Hercules had dropped
Of course, there was another disadvantage to this mutual and instinctive
understanding which they had of each other.
Hercules sighed heavily as he pondered it, absently building up a small
fire as he did so.
So well did they know each other that it would have taken Iolaus very little
time to figure out just why Hercules had left him behind. It was a topic
around which they had danced numerous times before, each occasion ending
up with the demigod capitulating to his small, but incredibly tenacious
partner. It wasn't often that the blond hunter lost his temper with his
best friend, but Hercules' stubborn insistence on sacrificing their friendship
for the sake of Iolaus' well being was almost always guaranteed to set him
off. Hercules had never enjoyed being on the receiving end of Iolaus' tongue.
The compact warrior in full flow had an unnerving talent for making him
feel about 2 inches tall - which was quite some feat considering their disparate
statures. It was, however, one of the things he loved most about his friend.
Iolaus treated him as a human being, not a hero and Hercules appreciated
that more than he could ever say. It got a little lonely up on the pedestal
on which the rest of the world placed him. Being with Iolaus meant that
he could step down from time to time and be a normal person. Of course,
being normal and being with Iolaus brought with it as many pitfalls as it
did blessings - and he treasured each and every one of them.
Reflecting on all of this, Hercules realised that, when Iolaus caught up
with him, as he eventually, inevitably would. He would be as mad as Hades.
Leaving him behind had been a mistake. The son of Zeus recognised that now.
Hell, he had recognised it all of two minutes after his abrupt departure
but had been unwilling to admit it, arguing with himself that he was only
doing what was best for his friend. He was not sure when that persistent
and awfully familiar little voice inside had forced him to see sense, to
realise that, danger or not, he would rather face it with Iolaus than without
him and that his over-protectiveness had finally reached ludicrous proportions.
But it had, eventually, won out over his streak of self-sacrifice. And now
here he was, feeling regretful, remorseful and ever so slightly giddy with
anticipation - awaiting Iolaus' arrival, looking forward to being once more
with the one person on earth who understood him better than he could ever
hope to understand himself.
His self-enforced loneliness was about to end.
He spent the rest of the evening in thoughtful contemplation, trying to
come up with suitable and heartfelt ways of apologising - ways which would
prevent Iolaus from hitting him over the head with a convenient tree branch,
as he had often threatened in the past. One thing was for sure - when Iolaus
finally got here and confronted him about his behaviour, he had better be
sure and be damned contrite - because the smaller man was not going to let
this one go in a hurry.
Hercules awoke with a start a few hours later. He had finally fallen into
a restless sleep, punctuated by visions of a rather ticked off blond haired
man coming across him in the forest and subjecting him to a period of haranguing
which had left the demigod smarting.
At first he was not sure what had disturbed these rather too realistic images,
but as he closed his eyes and began to drift off once more into Morphius's
arms, he was jerked rudely back to full awareness by the sound of rustling
in the thicket nearby.
"Iolaus?" he whispered. "Is that you?"
There was no response from the nearest bush.
If he listened hard enough, he could hear the faint sound of someone breathing.
Instinctively, he knew that it was not his friend who was concealed therein,
even whilst admonishing himself for ever believing that it could be. Had
Iolaus been hiding nearby, Hercules would never have known it. The hunter
was far too accomplished in the art of stalking to reveal his position so
soon and so obviously.
"All right, come out - whoever you are," ordered the demigod in
a tone which brooked no argument.
There was a heavy sigh, followed by the sound of twigs snapping underfoot
and the rustling of several branches. At length, a figure emerged from the
undergrowth. It was blond and slight of stature - but that was where the
resemblance to his friend ended. The eyes which peered at him from behind
the rather sheepish expression which it wore were deep brown and there were
no laughter lines on the rather pleasant, impossibly young face. In fact,
Hercules guessed the age of the boy - for that was who had been following
him - to be no more than about 15.
"Um," said the boy, somewhat hesitantly, "I'm .. um ..."
"Spying on me?" Hercules finished off for him sardonically. "Or
can I take it you were looking for berries and got a little ... lost?"
The boy shook his head. "No, I was looking for you," he confessed.
Hercules narrowed his eyes. "Looking for me?" he echoed. "Why?"
He suddenly had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach and, try though
he might to quell it, the fires of dread ignited.
"It's about your friend."
The flames crawled upward, fanned now by the winds of fear. "My ...
friend?" he repeated. "What - which 'friend'?"
The winds grew stronger, the flames crept ever higher, until they touched
his heart and forced their way inside.
"Iolaus - Iolaus of Thebes," the boy confirmed. His voice was
gaining in confidence as he spoke, his entire demeanour changing. "I
... I think he's been taken."
The fire was now a raging furnace, as it swept aside all humour and reason
in its quest to consume him. He had known something like this would happen.
This was why he had left Iolaus in the first place. His friendship was too
dangerous, too risky for the hunter, no matter the cost to both of them
in losing it. It was not worth Iolaus' life. But his departure from his
best friend's side had been too late. They had reached him anyway. And now
Hercules was placed once again in that world where hurt and heartache resided.
For to see his best friend, his brother, in pain or suffering in any way
was to rip the heart out of his own breast. He couldn't bear it. It was
too much. And it was all his fault.
The boy had backed away a little, stepping back into the bushes, practically
cowering into their protective cover at the dark expression which had slowly
suffused the demigod's handsome face, banishing every other emotion. "Um-
Hercules?" he whispered, hesitantly. "Um - are you okay?"
Okay? Hercules would have laughed had his heart not been slowly splintering.
No, he was not 'okay'. He would never be 'okay'. Because this was going
to happen again and again. Running away from Iolaus wasn't going to solve
their problem. Running away had not removed his love for his friend and
he could, therefore, still be hurt by what happened to the blond warrior.
Running away had not removed the threat from Iolaus - if anything, it had
made him an easier target, because Hercules was not at his side, protecting
him, even though Iolaus had always balked at that very concept. And now
Iolaus had been captured and was in danger - all because of him and their
"Where - where was he taken, do you know?" Funny, it sounded like
his voice - although it was hoarse with turmoil and he was sure there had
been a strangled sob in there somewhere. But he could not recall speaking
the words. He must have done, though, because the boy answered him.
"There were a lot of them," he said, not directly responding to
the actual question. "I've seen them around the villages in the area
where Iolaus was camped. They come, stay for a day or so then leave - and
half the village disappears with them. My uncle says they're slavers from
the North. They come here to gather people to work in their mines and their
quarries and don't exactly take 'no' for an answer. Those who have resisted
have been killed."
"Slavers?" echoed Hercules in a low, horrified voice. He had always
abhorred the very concept of slavery. It was an abomination - the use of
people as though they were no better than cattle or sheep, and, in most
cases, lower than both those animal species. It was totally alien to his
own beliefs. He had never understood what possessed those who had instigated
it, nor those who had come to condone it. He and Iolaus had, in the past,
been responsible for freeing slaves and now Iolaus had fallen victim to
one of the repulsive gangs themselves. Then, "You said the slavers
came from the North?" he demanded of the boy.
He nodded. "They started coming last winter season," he informed
the stunned demigod. "Whole villages have been decimated by their arrival.
They take indiscriminately. At first it was mostly the young and the strong
but now they don't seem to care. It's as if they need as many people as
they can lay their hands on. When we know they're coming, we hide. My uncle
and cousins and a few more of the villagers have some secret caves where
we go, but they're sure to find us eventually. My family is thinking of
moving further South before they come again next season."
Hercules heard the boy's words, but tuned them out as one thought reverberated
around his head. The slavers came from the North. They took indiscriminately.
This was not his fault. Iolaus had not been taken because of their friendship,
but because he had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. His relief
at this realisation was, however, short-lived. This did not negate the fact
that his best friend was in danger. He had needed Hercules and the demigod
had failed him. Almost without volition, he doused his small campfire by
kicking some of the surrounding dirt on top of it and gathered his things
together. He needed to be on his way. He needed to follow these slavers
before they were too far away and their tracks too well covered for his
limited abilities in that area to pursue. He had to find them and rescue
Iolaus; get the blond hunter back before anything happened to him And when
he had his dearest friend beside him, where he belonged, he would never
go anywhere without him again.
He was halfway out of his campsite before he remembered the boy, who was
still standing practically in the bushes, regarding him with a slightly
bewildered expression. "Look," he said, turning slightly to address
him, "thank you very much for the information. I do appreciate it.
I have to go now. I have to rescue my friend," 'before it's too late',
he added to himself, then brushed the negative thought away. "You'd
better get home. Your folks will be worried."
The boy shook his head. "Oh, they know I'm out hunting," he said,
airily. "They won't worry about me. I'm the best hunter and tracker
in these parts. It was why I was following Iolaus."
A puzzled frown swept across the demigod's face. "What?"
"My father taught me to hunt and track," the boy told him, proudly.
"By the time I was five, I could spot any print in a forest and tell
you how old it was, give you a description of the man or woman or animal
which had made it and practically tell you what they were wearing - unless
it was an animal, of course," he added.
"You're a tracker?" Hercules shook his head in amazement. This
boy had more in common with his best friend than he had realised. "And
you were tracking Iolaus?" How had the warrior missed him? Obviously
the boy's words were no idle claim, else Iolaus would have realised he was
being followed. He was too canny a hunter himself to allow himself to be
pursued by a mere teenager. Unless, of course, he had been distracted by
something else - perhaps his thoughts had been centred as much on Hercules
as Hercules' thoughts had been centred on him.
The question had elicited a nod from the boy. "I told you I was good,"
he said, almost as though he had been able to read Hercules' most recent
thoughts. "Iolaus never heard me. I only made myself known to you when
I was sure you wouldn't attack me or something."
"I never 'attack' anyone!" responded Hercules, somewhat testily.
"I would think you'd know that." The words had emerged harsher
than he had intended. He was very worried about his friend. That was no
excuse for scaring the boy half to death, however. When he spoke again,
he moderated both his tone and his words. "Look, I'm sorry. I didn't
mean to snap at you. It's just .."
"You're worried about your friend, I know," interjected the boy
sympathetically. "I'm sorry, too, Hercules. I know better than to think
you would hurt me. All of Greece knows who you are and how you've helped
people. And your friendship with Iolaus is legendary. Course, I've always
admired Iolaus because he's the best hunter in Greece - he's my hero. Um
..." he shifted uncomfortably as he suddenly realised he may just have
insulted the country's most famous son. "I ... er .."
To his amazement, Hercules grinned, albeit that it was tempered by worry
and the smile didn't quite reach his eyes. "That's all right,"
he said, kindly. "It's actually nice to hear someone praise Iolaus
for a change. Usually, people fall all over me and either ignore him altogether
or just tolerate him because he's my friend. Of course, there are those
who see him for the warrior and true hero that he is in his own right, but
he's so much more than that and I'm glad someone recognises that at last.
I want you to know that I'm very proud to be his friend and without him,
half the battles I have fought would have been lost."
The boy returned the grin. "Oh, I know he's a hero," he said,
"but like I said, he's the best hunter in all of Greece and I've wanted
to be like him for as long as I can remember. Course, I don't have what
you'd call a best friend to share things with, but that's okay. The forests
and trees are my friends. When I heard that he had been seen in the area
near my village, I couldn't resist using my tracking skills to follow him
- just to see if I could. Now I'm glad I did." His face became sorrowful
as he recalled the easy capture of the famous warrior. "I couldn't
help when the slavers got him, but I knew that where he was you wouldn't
be far away and so I just came after you instead. I knew that once you found
out what had happened, you'd help him. My name is Phaedro, by the way."
The demigod couldn't resist a smile as he took the proffered hand. Phaedro
hadn't seemed to stop for breath all the way through his tale - once more,
Hercules was reminded, painfully, of his best friend. "Pleased to meet
you, Phaedro," he said. "I'm glad you were on hand to see what
happened to Iolaus, but you had better get home now ..."
"Oh no," Phaedro interjected again. Hercules was beginning to
wonder if he would ever get a word in edgewise with this young man. It was
almost like having Iolaus beside him, he reflected, sombrely. "I can
help, Hercules. I can track those slavers down. The trail will be cold by
the time you find the beginning of it. Let me go with you. Let me show you
what I can do. Besides, I want to help. I admire Iolaus and I want to meet
The son of Zeus couldn't help but admire the boy's youthful enthusiasm and
his genuine admiration for Iolaus was guaranteed to endear him to the hunter's
by now desperately worried friend. "Okay," he said, a little reluctantly.
"You can come with me. But the moment there's any danger, or any fighting
breaks out, I want you out of there. Okay, Phaedro?"
A vigorous nod of the head and the boy practically leapt from the bush to
the demigod's side. "Just wait till Iolaus hears about this,"
he mused, excitedly. "He won't believe what I've done!"
Hercules was wont to agree. And he couldn't help but be grateful that, for
once, Iolaus' keen hunter's senses had failed him (either that or this boy
was really as good as he claimed to be). Otherwise he would never have known
the fate of his best friend and he could have lost him forever.
Iolaus returned to awareness with the accompaniment of a groan. Malicious
little men in heavy boots were stomping around his head, beating an incessant
tattoo inside his skull in time to the beat of the blood roaring through
his ears. His mind was blanketed by a thick fog, although he vaguely remembered
following Hercules, making camp and then - nothing. Nada. Everything after
that was a complete blank.
He tried to move and heard a clanking sound, then realised that something
cold and heavy weighted down his wrists and ankles. 'Chains,' he thought,
morosely. 'Oh, great.' Gingerly, he tried again, only to discover that this
was probably not the best idea he had ever had as his head started spinning
and a raging nausea began to swirl within his stomach. He relaxed back against
the hard floor for a moment, struggling to recall how to breathe. 'Calm,'
he told himself, firmly. Slowing his respiration down, he tried to compose
himself, waiting for his head to cease its relentless gyrations and the
queasiness to die down. The little men continued to march around, but their
pace slowed somewhat. At length, he made another attempt to rise, relieved
that, this time, his stomach appeared to be staying in one place. His head
felt like it was about to drop off but at least it had stopped trying to
pirouette on his shoulders.
Everything was black, that was his first impression. Then he realised that
he had yet to open his eyes. The fact that he had forgotten this basic impulse
worried him somewhat, but he decided to table that concern for the moment.
He was still groggy, after all. He could be excused a little forgetfulness.
The scenery didn't alter much when he did manage to force open his heavy
eyelids. A murky gloom greeted him and the rank odour of sweat and human
waste assaulted his nostrils. He fervently hoped that it wasn't himself
he was smelling then concluded that this pungent aroma was one which permeated
the entire place. Either he wasn't the only prisoner - and a prisoner was,
indeed, what he was, he had already been forced to admit - or he wasn't
the first. He couldn't hear any sound other than his own ragged breathing,
so obviously the second guess applied.
"Terrific!" He leaned back against the wall to which he now discovered
he was chained. The links on the manacles around his extremities were attached
to bulkier chains which led to two heavy iron circlets embedded in the stone.
There was sufficient room for him to sit up and lie down but anything other
than that was a physical impossibility. The shackles were too short and
the circlets placed too far down in the wall to allow for standing. Undoubtedly
they had been designed thus to put prisoners at a distinct disadvantage
to the guards. He lowered the investigative hand with which he had traced
the chains and sighed heavily. Escape seemed impossible.
With nothing else to do except to wait for whoever it was who had captured
him to come and explain why, he peered through the murkiness of the cell
- for that was what it appeared to be - and tried to clear his mind. There
was nothing much he could do about his predicament at the moment, he conceded,
although, every so often, impatience would triumph over quiet reflection
and he would yank somewhat ineffectually on his chains. He seemed to be
totally alone, as no voice from the darkness beyond ordered him to stop
and no-one came to see if he had awoken.
Hours passed. Hours in which he became more agitated and more frustrated
with his situation. There was no window in the cell so he was completely
oblivious to the passage of time and had no idea how long he had been held
prisoner. He knew he felt ravenous despite the churning nausea associated
with his concussion and his mouth and throat were achingly dry. The stench
from his clothes and his own skin told him that he had been there for some
considerable time and the cell was freezing cold, which meant that it was
either deep underground or he was in a different, colder part of Greece.
He estimated from all of this that the travelling here must have taken at
least a day and a half, possibly more and maybe another half day or so had
elapsed since then. He reflected somewhat resignedly what if someone didn't
come soon to give him some water, then all they would find when they finally
did deign to fetch him would be a corpse.
This thought gave him absolutely no pleasure and he bitterly regretted not
being more alert when he had been overcome. He had been distracted by his
contemplation of the situation between himself and Hercules and had, therefore,
not been as vigilant as normal, nor had his hearing been as acute.
It was possible, he conceded, that whoever had captured him had been an
excellent tracker themselves but deep down, he admitted to himself that
he had been far too concerned over his best friend's behaviour to pay much
attention. On reflection, he realised that he had been subliminally aware
that someone had been following him since he had passed the last village
before the forest in which he had camped. That he had chosen not to investigate
his observation had proven to be his downfall and on top of everything else,
he was angry with himself for being so careless.
Still, it was too late now for regrets. It would not help him escape his
current circumstance and it was a pointless exercise in futility. There
was one burden, however, which refused to be quelled, refused to secede
- and that was how Hercules would feel when he found out, as he eventually
would, that his friend had been captured and, more than likely, killed.
This painful thought weighed heavy on his mind and made him even more determined
to escape - when he had the opportunity. He did not care how or when this
would be accomplished, only that he could not and would not allow the demigod
to undergo any further anguish, especially not on his behalf. Hercules had
suffered enough. He was not going to suffer any more.
His impatience finally bettered him.
"Hello!" he yelled. The sound of his hoarse voice reverberated
around the cell, echoing hollowly on the thick walls. There was no response
to his cry.
He tried again. "Hello! Is there anyone there!"
Again - nothing. No reply. Not even the sound of scuffling feet outside,
indicating a guard's presence. For a moment or two, Iolaus felt real fear
beginning to blossom as the thought that he may have been brought here,
chained and left to die of thirst and starvation ran though his mind. 'Calm,'
he told himself, firmly. 'Stay calm. There must be a way out of this. You
just have to think.' But his head ached intolerably and the nausea was starting
to have a debilitating effect on him. Still, he mused, at least he no longer
felt hungry. In fact, he no longer felt much of anything ... except for
the pounding in his head where the obnoxious little men were doing their
best to execute a wild dance - or execute him. He was no longer entirely
sure which. All he knew was the throbbing in his head, which was increasing
in intensity until it was too much to bear and the sound of his blood surging
through his ears. It was a loud, booming noise which almost drowned out
his surroundings, and, after a while, completely sublimated them as he drifted
toward an ever beckoning darkness ...
When he regained his somewhat shaky senses again, he was practically blinded
by the bright sunlight beating down on his face. He dragged open eyelids
which felt like dead weights and blinked rapidly, staring around him in
He was suspended from a beam about 6 foot high by 5 foot across. The manacles
on his wrists were looped over the crossbeam and he was left dangling about
a foot from the ground. The strain on his abused wrists and arms was intolerable
and he could not suppress a groan of pain. The sun beat down relentlessly
on his naked torso, its raw heat searing his nerve endings and penetrating
every pore. It seemed to bore straight into his very soul, burning incandescence
which sent beads of sweat streaming to the surface of his skin, running
in rivulets down his face, his body, already severely dehydrated. It was
moisture he could ill afford to lose and he knew it. Focusing on this problem
diverted his mind, for the moment, from other issues, such as the strange
buzzing sound which was assaulting his eardrums and the occasional lashing
noise which seemed to originate from behind him. He had a very good idea
as to what was going to happen to him next and he did not particularly care
to dwell on the prospect, instead concentrating on his current condition.
He had a feeling, however, that this was a luxury which he was not going
to be allowed to maintain for much longer.
He was right.
The first stroke fell without warning, lashing into his back, opening a
gash several inches long. He hissed as the pain flared, then drew in another
breath as the second lash wound around his side. The subsequent strike of
the whip elicited a low moan, as did the one following. The fifth and sixth
impacted with increasing ferocity, and drew out the screams he had been
doing his utmost to contain, and the next three coincided with shortened
gasps as his strength drained from him and oblivion beckoned.
But he was not to be allowed even that sweet respite. As he started to fall
headlong toward the welcoming darkness, he was rudely brought back to bitter
awareness by a torrent of cold water. He groaned again, and some of the
moisture slipped into his mouth. He gulped at it eagerly. It was too little.
He needed more.
He stared dazedly downwards whilst he waited for the next stroke to fall,
discovering to his horror that the droning which had echoed in his ears
was the clamour of people. Thin, drably garbed people gathered in the courtyard,
cheering somewhat unenthusiastically. From his elevated viewpoint, he soon
detected the reason for their lack of excitement as he noticed the robust,
leather attired guards stalking the crowd, flicking their whips in a threatening
manner and leering maliciously at the man on the beam. Him. They were regarding
him with a lasciviousness which sent raw terror crawling down his physically
He did not have time to dwell upon this, however, as the whip fell again,
blazing across his back with a flame which burned with molten fire with
each progressive stroke. Ten more fell in quick succession, each one more
forceful than the last, until his spine felt like a river of fomenting lava,
and his blood dripped ceaselessly on the sandy ground. He was no longer
able to utter a sound. His throat had long since dried up, his screams finishing
the process the aching thirst had begun. His heart hammered in his chest,
threatening to burst from that cavity at any moment, and there was not anywhere
on his body which seemed free from pain. The flogging had been professionally
and expertly administered, for maximum effect. He could even allow a vague
admiration for the man responsible, although that admiration was tempered
by a seething hatred for the same person.
Moments passed and no more lashes fell. Cautiously, he lifted his head,
peering at the crowd and their overseers. He was inexplicably pleased to
note that none of the people gathered in the courtyard seemed particularly
happy at his condition, although he had heard each muted cheer at every
stroke of the whip. Gradually, he came to the conclusion that perhaps these
people were as much prisoners as he was. Indeed, from the expressions on
the faces at the front of the crowd, perhaps some of them had suffered a
similar indignity in the past. 'Good,' he thought. 'That will make them
more sympathetic and maybe there is a way out of this'. He tried to convey
something of this thought to one of the men standing closest to him. Something
in the other's eyes gave him hope that he had an ally in here - wherever
'here' was. But blackness was spiralling in from either side and his head
was spinning uncontrollably. He fought it with every fibre of his being
but the pain was too great, the torture too prolonged and he fell into oblivion
with a tiny gasp and a final shudder of his tormented body.
He awoke an indeterminate time later to find himself wrapped in a thin blanket,
his face half-turned onto a bed of semi-clean straw.
"Welcome back." He started at the voice and tried to rise, then
fell back with a strangled moan. "No! Don't try to get up yet,"
the voice implored him. "You're not strong enough. You need to rest.
Gods alone know there's little enough time for that and you should take
advantage of it whilst you can."
He nodded, mutely, desperately trying to regain a hold on his whirling senses,
and concentrating on the soothing female voice, using it as a focal point
to centre himself. At length, he forced himself to open his eyes again and
tried to focus on the figure beside him.
His first impression was that she was young, but her pleasant face was thin
and pale, and her clothes were little more than rags, hanging on a bony
frame. She had obviously been a beauty once upon a time for some radiance
still shone from her deep emerald eyes, but it had faded under the oppression
of abuse. "Who ... who are you?" he managed. He was aghast at
the sound of his own voice. It sounded so weak, so hoarse, and his throat
was still parched, although not as badly, he realised.
"My name is Anaxibia," she told him. She reached beside her and
brought up a flagon from the straw. "Here," she said," levering
his head up with her other hand, "drink this. Slowly now. You've been
left without water a long time."
He nodded and, despite his overwhelming desire to gulp down the precious,
lifegiving liquid, sipped slowly, the relief he felt at its presence in
his dehydrated body almost overwhelming.
"How is he?" A new voice. Male. Iolaus glanced upward and found
himself staring into the face of the man from the front of the crowd. The
man who had seemed to him to share his plight.
"F .. fine," he managed, brushing aside the flagon very reluctantly
so he could talk. "I - what's happening ... here?"
The man smiled grimly and squatted beside him, displacing Anaxibia, who
touched him briefly on the shoulder and handed the flagon over to him before
rising and walking away. "Name's Tectamus," he said. "And
you, friend, are?"
"Iolaus," the blond warrior introduced himself. He struggled to
free his hand from the blanket in which he was seemingly cocooned so that
he could greet the man properly but found, to his horror, that he was too
weak. "Tectamus ... where are we? What ... is this ... place?"
The man's grim smile disappeared under the weight of a bleak frown. "We
are in slaver's country and this, friend Iolaus, is Tartarus."
Over the next hour or so, Tectamus related to Iolaus what he and the others
knew of their 'home'. During this time, the blond warrior was encouraged
by his guide to drink as much as he could as often as possible, and at some
stage during the explanation, Anaxibia brought their food - a thin, unappetising
gruel which Iolaus regarded with distaste until a rebellious stomach convinced
him to partake of it.
It transpired that Tectamus, Anaxibia, Iolaus and the other people who even
now milled around the large dungeon had been brought here from villages
and towns of Northern Greece. Here they were firstly incarcerated in separate
cells, starved, left to thirst and then taken out and beaten in front of
a similar crowd to the one which had been forced to witness Iolaus own flagellation.
Tectamus did reluctantly point out, however, that none of them had received
quite as severe a punishment as the blond haired warrior. Iolaus managed
to quip that perhaps this was some sort of comment on his endurance or maybe
the slavers had heard some of his songs. Privately, however, the hunter
was appalled at Tectamus's words. Slavers! Gods. Slavery was something against
which he and Hercules had fought almost their whole adult lives, and which
they both felt was an affront to the entire human race. To think that he
was in the hands of proponents of it filled him with both fear and loathing,
and fortunately, the latter was winning out. He could not afford to show
any of the consternation which he felt at the prospect of being in the hands
of those who would treat human beings little better than insects. These
people needed guidance - and a way out of here. And maybe fate had brought
him here to provide that. If only he didn't feel so weak!
"Your wounds have been treated," Tectamus informed him, mildly.
"We have developed salves and oils for such wounds. They have been
needed for the many who have suffered at the hands of the tormenter. Unfortunately,
you won't have a lot of time to recover from the whipping. They'll expect
you to work in the mines or in the quarries tomorrow."
Iolaus almost laughed at that. Right now he didn't feel capable of attending
to his basic personal needs alone, and they expected him to mine? If it
wasn't so tragic, it would have been funny. "B ... but what are they
mining?" he asked, breathlessly. "Why so many slaves?" The
crowd at his flogging had been impressive but he had never considered the
fact that they might all have originated from other places, brought here
against their will and made to work manually for cruel overlords.
Tectamus shrugged. "Who knows?" he replied, carelessly. "We
stopped asking a long time ago. We soon found that questions were perilous
to our continued health. Then there was the uprising. A hundred slaves were
killed in one night. Granted the uprising was engineered by only a few but
a vast number paid the price. The guards herded them into the quarry and
surrounded them. We found them all the next morning. Every one of them slaughtered
by arrows or wounded and then cut down like animals by the guards' swords.
After that, they started bringing back more slaves, probably to make up
for those which had been lost. We have been servile ever since."
"But some of you ... don't like it," surmised Iolaus thoughtfully.
Another shrug. "What if we don't?" The other man shook his head
helplessly. "We can't fight back against them. We can't risk everyone's
lives for a few."
"Everyone's lives are ... already at risk," Iolaus pointed out.
"Tectamus, if everyone fights together ..."
"We may all die," the older man finished off for him.
The blond warrior shook his head. "No, no ... well, maybe," he
appended. "But surely ... it's better than .. dying day by day, giving
up your freedom, your rights, your lives. Living like this is a death of
its own. At least if you fight ... you will regain your lives ... if only
for a short time. And ... maybe ... maybe you might win. Have you ... ever
thought of that ...?"
To his surprise, Tectamus smiled warmly at him and clasped him on the shoulder.
"Yes, my friend," he said. "I have. And I thank you for putting
into words what I have been thinking for such a long time. It is time we
fought back. We cannot go on like this day after day for much longer, allowing
them to leech our lives, our very souls from us. I have heard of you, friend
Iolaus. You are the companion of Hercules, are you not?"
Iolaus' face clouded for a second at the mention of his best friend's name.
Hercules would never find out where he was, not in time. No, this was something
he would have to do alone - well, not alone, he amended, with the help of
the people here. He only hoped that it would be enough. He only hoped he
was strong enough. "Hercules is ... on a journey elsewhere," he
lied. "I'm afraid you're ... stuck with only me."
"From what I heard before I was captured and brought here, there's
nothing 'only' about you, Iolaus. You have garnered as much a reputation
in your own right as your friend. True, it would have been a much needed
boost for these people to know that Hercules himself was going to help us,
but I think hearing your name will be impetus enough. Most of us only need
a little encouragement and we'll be ready to fight with whatever we have.
We've been trying to fashion weapons and have hidden them in the mines and
in the straw in here - much like that water flagon Anaxibia gave you. They're
not much, but they'll do and will at least give us the confidence we need
to wield them. With you on our side we should be able to persuade those
who are not so ready to join us. We must have everyone involved or none
at all. None of us are willing to risk a fight if it means that others who
did not join will pay the ultimate price."
Iolaus nodded wearily. "I understand," he said. He winced as a
stab of agony shot through him, originating from his back but spreading
throughout his entire nervous system until his entire body was wracked with
Tectamus regarded him with concern. "You need to rest, now," he
advised the hunter. "Here." He lifted Iolaus' head from the straw
and poured a cool liquid down his throat. The hunter gulped eagerly at it,
swallowing it before he registered the taste, which was acrid and bitter.
"What ...?" he gasped.
"A painkiller," the other man explained, soothingly, placing the
blond head back on the grassy pillow. "And something to help you sleep.
We will need to speak to everyone tomorrow but we must wait until the end
of the day and you will need all your strength simply to get through the
mining. Don't worry," he went on, reassuringly, as Iolaus' eyes widened
somewhat at this statement, "we will all help you - as much as we can,
anyway. Now - sleep."
Any protests which the blond hunter were about to make were swept away as
the drug began to take effect and he drifted back into a place where pain
and distress did not exist.
The next day Iolaus was made to rise and walk to the mines. Tectamus and
another man, who introduced himself as Memnon woke him before the guards
arrived and he found his clothes neatly folded and placed beside him. Getting
into his leather pants and boots was bad enough, given the extent of the
injuries on his thighs and lower back, but the very notion of wearing his
jerkin was unthinkable. The lacerations caused by the whip were of varying
degrees of depth and severity, but one thing they all had in common was
searing agony and the individual marks blended into one fervid whole, making
every movement a new experience in torture.
Iolaus, however, was nothing if not tenacious and determinedly hung on to
both consciousness and his dignity so that when the guards finally did arrive
to march them to their daily grind, he was able to walk under his own steam,
albeit with swimming vision and the occasional stumble, which his new friends
covered with an expertise which surprised him.
The hours passed slowly for them all; a long, torturous process of digging
rocks and breaking them down into smaller pieces to be handed to the next
man in line. Iolaus had fortunately been chosen to be one of those handling
the rocks rather than wielding the axe. Fortunately because, much as he
would have enjoyed using it as a weapon against these men, without the backing
and prior knowledge of the other prisoners it would have been an exercise
in futility and besides, he was in no fit state to lift the tool time and
time again. Tectamus had been sent into the mines themselves whilst Iolaus
was placed between Memnon and another man, who had not had the opportunity
to introduce himself. Talking was strictly forbidden whilst the prisoners
were working and the rule was enforced with the whip, viciously and effectively
operated by the guards, who seemed to take sadistic pleasure in using their
power whenever it suited them rather than for any transgressions by the
men and women under their rule. The prisoners were chained together whilst
outside, in order to reduce the chances of their escaping - not that there
was anywhere to go if they did get away. The nearest village was apparently
deserted, so Tectamus had told Iolaus during their rather one-sided discussion
the previous night. The older man suspected that it had been the source
of the first batch of slaves and, once their numbers had been diminished
through either sickness or death through the constant application of the
whip, the slavers had looked further afield for their workers, eventually
finding them in the Northern Grecian villages and small towns.
If the hours passed slowly for the others, for Iolaus every moment was torturous.
Try as he might, his mind could not overcome the torturous blaze of agony
which assaulted him as his now festering wounds protested the strain to
which they were being subjected and his muscles screamed in pain at the
unaccustomed and never-ending work. Too many times to count he seemed on
the verge of crashing through the barrier into insensibility before the
sting of the whip would strike his shoulder, adding new torment to that
which he was already undergoing. As the day went on and the sun moved through
the sky until it was directly overhead, he knew it was only a matter of
time until his badly wounded and sadly depleted body gave up any semblance
of control and he fell to the ground like one of the stones he was hauling.
"Don't give in," came the whispered urging from beside him. Memnon,
who had watched with increasing concern as the smaller man grew paler and
sicker with every passing moment.
"Wh ...?" Iolaus glanced at him in consternation, hardly daring
to breathe, and his respiration was already ragged and racked with a cough
which had developed a couple of hours before. "Shouldn't ... talk ..."
he rasped, heaving a stone over to his companion with arms which threatened
to drop off at any moment. "They'll punish ... you."
"Then stay alert," ordered the other man firmly, in a low voice.
He said no more as a guard glanced in their direction, but did not come
to investigate nor use his whip to drive them further into servitude. Iolaus,
however, nodded slightly and turned to handle the next stone, wondering
at the same time how he was going to comply with the urgent demand.
The end of the day came not a moment too soon as the blond haired warrior
was past exhaustion and way past his pain tolerance level as the sun set
in the West. The journey back to the cell seemed interminable, but he and
Memnon were once more joined by Tectamus and the two other men, despite
their own obvious fatigue, helped him back, virtually holding him up as
he sagged between them.
Once inside the relative privacy of the large holding, they guided him to
his blanket, where Anaxibia once more tended to the wounds inflicted by
the whip and dosed him with another painkiller. As he finally fell into
a restless and disturbed sleep, she rose and moved across to the corner
where Tectamus was regarding the warrior with apprehension. "How is
he?" he asked. He kept his voice low, not wishing to broadcast his
concerns to the others, most of whom he had managed to speak to during the
day. The internal mines were not so well guarded and therefore it was easier
to communicate with the other prisoners therein.
Anaxibia shook her head dismally. "Not well," she reported. "His
wounds have not had time to heal and now he has more. The guards were extra
vigilant today and they seemed to take great delight in striking out at
him. It saved the rest of us from our daily beatings but it has had a grave
effect on his constitution."
"Will he survive?"
She stared at him in something akin to horror at the dispassionate tone
in which he voiced the question "Tectamus, is that all you can think
of - that he survive to help us? You care nothing for him as a person?"
"You think so little of me, daughter? That I care nothing for him?"
"I would like nothing better than to see him well and strong again.
He is a brave man. He has borne the beatings over the past two days with
a strength I have never seen before and would never have expected of any
mortal, but we cannot deny that we need him and his reputation for our fight
here. And think about this. If he is not strong enough to help us, and we
do not win, or we do not fight at all, then he will die of this agony which
he is undergoing. So it is for him as well as for ourselves that I ask this."
She sighed, heavily. "Yes, of course. I'm sorry, father. Well, then,
yes, he will survive. Whether he will be strong enough or awake enough to
help you address everyone tonight is something I cannot tell you. That is
up to his own will, his own tenacity, and whether he can overcome his pain
in order to speak and then to fight."
"And I have every confidence that he will," said Tectamus. "Or
he will die in the attempt." He drew a deep breath and smiled grimly.
"Do what you can for him, little one, and when the time is here, get
him on his feet. We must move tomorrow, or not at all."
Hercules and Phaedro had made camp for the night after a long, arduous journey.
Much to his surprise, the demigod had found Phaedro to be just as proficient
at keeping up with his pace as Iolaus was. Yet again evoking memories of
his dearest friend. They had backtracked to Iolaus' last known campsite,
where they discovered some very apparent signs of a scuffle including, the
demigod noted with rising panic, a splattering of blood on the ground. Hercules
could not tear his eyes away from the sight - there was a frightening amount
of the lifegiving liquid staining the earth here, and he knew, with all
the senses at his disposal, that it belonged to Iolaus. It was all too evident
that the warrior had not left here of his own accord. Plus, the fire had
not been doused as the remaining embers still shone in the pale light of
the day and his pack was still sitting beside the rumpled blanket. Even
more telling, however, was the object which Hercules found hanging on a
tree branch nearby, swinging to and fro in the slight breeze, its dull jade
moist with dew.
His heart skipped a beat as he closed his fist around his friend's ever-present
amulet and pulled it reverently from its resting place. There was more blood
on the leather and on the metal itself, and his mounting terror rose up,
threatening to choke him. The amulet's very presence here instead of around
the strong, corded neck around which it constantly hung sent huge waves
of alarm coursing down his spine, adding fuel to the already raging fires
"What's that?" enquired Phaedro, rounding the tree to discover
the strong man staring off into space, his face drawn and pale, his hands
clutching something with such an iron grip that he was sure it must crush
the object at any moment.
Hercules spun sharply at the interruption and for a moment, the grief suffusing
his fine features unsettled the boy. Had the demigod found some proof that
Iolaus was dead instead of merely being kidnapped? He had been so sure that
Iolaus had still been alive when the slavers had made off with his admittedly
limp body, albeit that he was bleeding badly from the head wound he had
sustained. But these two friends were reputed to have such a strong relationship
that many suspected that, if one died, the other would be able to feel it.
Was that what had happened?
"It's ... Iolaus' amulet," Hercules finally said, solomnly. "He
... he's worn it ever since I've known him ... practically all my life,"
he added, in a low tone.
"It must've snagged on the branch when they took him," surmised
Phaedro. He could tell that anguish was threatening to tear apart the famous
son of Zeus and sensed that only part of this could be attributed to Iolaus'
current predicament. "Don't worry," he continued, attempting reassurance.
"We'll find him. The trail starts there, see?" He pointed to some
barely discernible tracks in the soft grasses near the tree. "Maybe
we should get going."
Hercules nodded his assent, bringing his errant emotions back under some
semblance of control. "Let's go," he said, grimly. "We have
a lot of ground to cover and I don't want to waste any more time."
Dusk had fallen before they decided to make camp. Phaedro had been all for
going on, confident that he could follow the trail which the slavers had
left, even in the dark. But Hercules had demurred. He was incredibly grateful
to the boy for his eagerness and determination, but Phaedro was, like Iolaus,
only mortal, and he needed the rest, loathe though he may be to admit it.
They sat almost companionably beside the blazing fire, watching the fish
which Phaedro had insisted on catching cook over the roaring flames, despite
the demigod's eagerness to be on the road. He had been reluctant to call
a halt to their travels, though he had realised that both he and Phaedro
needed to rest. But his heart ached for his friend and he had to quell the
constant desire to jump up and continue on his way, with our without Phaedro.
However, he needed the boy to guide him, and his recognition of that fact
overcame his impatience - just. If he looked carefully and hard enough,
Hercules could swear that occasionally, he could see the outline of a face
in the flames, then a bright smile, a pair of laughing blue eyes - all topped
by a thatch of unruly blond curls would come into view. Iolaus. The demigod
could not bank down the inferno which raged within him, stoked and fanned
with panic, apprehension and the very real fear that he was going to lose
Iolaus forever. Once the blond warrior discovered the identity and vocation
of his captors, he would be as sickened as Hercules had been. And if there
were, indeed, other slaves there, then he would have no compunction about
fighting for them and their human rights, no matter that it may be a solitary
battle. And Hercules had no doubt that Iolaus, as courageous and skilled
a fighter as he was, would be overwhelmed by sheer numbers. Either that
or - and he did not even care to dwell on this particular line of thought
- his friend would refuse to subjugate himself to his captors and would
be slowly tortured to death, a lesson for all would-be belligerent slaves.
Neither prospect was conducive to either a hearty appetite nor to easy sleep,
and he found himself unable to eat more than a bite or two of the admittedly
tasty fare which Phaedro had prepared. Particularly as he also could not
help wondering what his friend, his brother was being fed that night, if
anything at all.
He recognised intellectually that this overt concern for Iolaus could well
be out of all proportion to the danger the blond warrior might actually
be in, but, admitting to himself that he could not go on without that bright,
golden presence beside him also brought with it the sheer terror of losing
him. And that was unthinkable. Iolaus was everything to him. He was the
most important person in Hercules' life and he couldn't conceive of a future
without him. Which was what scared him so about his friend's current situation,
despite his intimate knowledge of the hunter's fighting abilities and determination.
Phaedro could not fail to notice the demigod's preoccupation, and also his
lack of appetite, although he was unsure how to broach either subject for
fear of being either rebuffed or worse. He had heard tales of the legendary
friendship between the two men - the demigod and the warrior - and had,
like a lot of other people, wondered at its strength and intensity. But
even he had been totally unprepared to witness the depth of feeling which
ran through the demigod for his friend. It was more than love, more, even,
than need. It was almost as though Hercules was lost, split in two, as though,
Phaedro suddenly realised, he was searching for the other half of his soul.
Was that, then, what true friendship was, he wondered? A true meeting between
heart and soul? Something so strong, so intrinsic to each party that to
lose that thread, or to have it unravel even slightly, hurt with such physical
pain? Would he even wish something like that upon himself - a boy with no
friends to speak of? For it was patently obvious that Hercules was terrified
of losing his other half, that it cut him, deeply, somewhere inside, unleashing
wave after wave of anguish and pain, making him lose interest in anything
other than following that thread to its source and being reunited with the
one person who could bring him succour, who could fill the black, yawing
emptiness in his soul.
Suddenly he felt very, very lonely.
They would have sat in contemplative silence all night, each lost in his
own thoughts, had Hercules not shaken himself out of his reflections and
noticed the slightly lost expression playing on the boy's expressive features.
He had no clue as to the reason but he recognised the look. He was sure
that if anyone looked closely enough, they would see it reflected in his
"So, tell me," he said, softly, conversationally, breaking the
oppressive silence which had fallen over their small campsite. "How
long have you been a fan of my friend's?"
Phaedro gaped at the demigod. "Wh ... what?" he spluttered, helplessly.
The son of Zeus smiled, kindly. "You heard me," he stated. "How
long have you been following my friend's exploits?"
Relieved that the onorous atmosphere had been rent at last, Phaedro returned
the smile and, poking idly at the fire with a stick, he replied, "Ever
since I was little - since I knew of your names."
He turned to the older man again, relaxing at the teasing note in his voice.
"I'm almost 16," he said, proudly.
"And Iolaus and I have been friends for more than 25 years," Hercules
told him. "It's been a long time."
"How do you stay friends with someone that long?" Phaedro wasn't
intending to sound obtuse. He was genuinely interested in the answer. Not
having had a friend of his own due to the circumstances in his life made
him more inquisitive about the relationships in others'. And this particular
partnership was more than just famous. It was an ideal to which a lot of
young boys and their friends aspired.
Hercules' smile faded as he considered the question. Strange, that he had
never thought about this before. But he and Iolaus were not in the habit
of analysing their friendship. They didn't exactly take it for granted,
for it changed and evolved all the time. But it was not something they ever
really discussed. It just was. How had he and the blond warrior remained
friends for so long, growing closer and ever closer over the years until
they were almost a part of each other? The question ran interminable circles
in his mind until he was forced to admit that he had no ready answer. "Friendship
can't be analysed and categorised," he finally told Phaedro. "When
you find someone who understands you, who loves you for who you are, with
all your good points and all your faults; someone who does not want to mould
you into their idea of a friend - that's a part of it. But there's so much
more to it than that. It's sharing life's triumphs and tragedies. It's being
there for the other person no matter what happens, even if that person tells
you that you can't help them. You know that, just by being with them, silent,
supportive, you are helping, and that when the time comes, they will turn
to you for comfort. And you will give that comfort willingly, unconditionally.
It's being willing to die for each other, being happy when the other is
happy and always wanting the best for each other. It's never judging, but
also having the insight to let the other person know when they're being
an idiot. Being a real, true friend isn't difficult, Phaedro, but there
are not many who can truly claim that they have such a friendship. I can.
I have a friend who is all of these things, and so much more besides. He
makes me laugh when I'm sad, lets me mourn when I need to and is the only
man I trust to watch my back. He knows me - inside and out, and loves me
anyway. And I know that he would die rather than let anyone hurt me, be
that physically or emotionally. And he would rather die than hurt me himself,
in any way. Our friendship was built on strong foundations, and nurtured
through both tough and carefree times, and it has evolved over the years
into something without which I would never survive. The simple truth is,
we are soul mates, and no matter where our hearts go, they will always be
"Wow!" Phaedro sat back on the grass, staring at Hercules with
something akin to awe. He had never suspected that friendship could be at
once so complicated - and so mind-numbingly simple. It was a lot to take
in. He fell back onto the blanket he had spread out beneath him - a loan
from the demigod and stared at the stars. "Hercules?"
"What?" The demigod sounded distant, as though he were as much
overawed by what he had just said as the boy to whom he had just imparted
"D'you think I'll ever have a friendship like that?"
Hercules smiled again , although it was tinged with melancholy. "I
don't know, Phaedro," he said. "Maybe. I hope so. Because, much
as such love can hurt, it can also bring with it the most wonderful rewards,
and to have a true friend is to be rich beyond your wildest imaginings."
Phaedro nodded. There didn't seem to be anything further that he could say
to this, so he turned over on his blanket, whispered a 'thank you' and 'goodnight'
to his fellow traveller, and fell into a doze.
Hercules' good humour faded as he gazed at the peaceful face. He hadn't
particularly wished to engage in conversation, even with this boy, who was
the very epitome of Iolaus in so many ways. However, oddly enough, their
conversation had made him feel closer to his friend, as though talking about
him kept the hunter safe, well and unharmed.
He prayed that this would remain true as he drifted off himself into a fitful
sleep, hoping that tomorrow they would find the slavers' headquarters.
Tectamus had called a meeting for the early hours, when the guards would
be asleep and no one would bother them. Memnon had managed to pass the word
along to the quarry workers, despite the inherent dangers in such an assignment.
Now all they awaited was Iolaus.
The warrior was gently awoken by Anaxibia, who plied his face with gentle
pats from her careworn hands until the blue eyes flickered open, focusing
on her dazedly. "Wh ..? Anaxibia?" he mumbled, drowsily. "I
... what is it?"
"Can you get up?" she asked.
A confused expression swept across his mobile features. 'Get up'? What did
she mean? Surely it wasn't morning already? Oh gods, what had happened to
"The meeting," she reminded him, watching the play of emotions
across the bone-white face already lined with pain. "We have to fight
"Tomorrow?" he echoed, in dismay. Great Zeus, how could he be
ready to fight for these people tomorrow? And yet, he must. They were relying
on him. Exerting all of the willpower at his disposal, he dredged up a smile
for the worried looking girl and rose up on his elbows, pointedly ignoring
the tendrils of agony shooting through his back and creeping inexorably
through his entire body. "Just ... give me a hand, here," he panted,
suppressing a sudden urge to cough. "I'm ... ready." She flashed
a warm, grateful smile at him and once again he could see the beauty which
dwelled within the auburn haired healer. As he tottered to his feet, her
steadying arm at his back, he reached over a hand and put it to her cheek.
"You're ... very pretty," he whispered. "I'd ... do anything
She blushed attractively and her emerald eyes twinkled. She realised that
this was probably just a line - like most men used when they wanted something.
But he had sounded so sincere, and his hands were so gentle on her skin.
Her cheek still flamed where his fingers had touched, almost as though he
generated an otherworldly energy. Like many others before her, she was falling
under the spell which was Iolaus' natural charm and kindness, and she was
quite content to plunge headfirst into it, just to see what would happen
"Then come with me and speak to the others," she managed, at length.
"Tectamus has called on you."
With Anaxibia's assistance, he made his way across the open cell to where
the others were gathered. He noted the expectant faces of the crowd, recognising
some of them from those who had been forced to witness his flogging. But
there was no condemnation nor even embarrassment in their expressions, just
hopefulness, anticipation and a confidence in him which he wasn't entirely
sure was justified. How could he hope to fulfill their dreams, how could
he promise to help end their suffering when he felt very much like lying
down somewhere in a darkened corner and curling into a small ball where
the pain couldn't find him any more? But he couldn't disappoint them. There
had to be a good reason why he was here, now, in this place. And no matter
what became of him, these people deserved something better. They deserved
their freedom, they deserved their lives. In that moment his decision was
made, had there ever been any doubt. He was going to do this, even if it
meant giving up his own life in the process. These people were going to
go home. He was going to make sure of it.
Tectamus smiled as he approached them, his grin widening as the blond warrior
gently removed Anaxibia's guiding hands from around his waist and shoulders,
his slightly bowed shoulders suddenly straightening and his head erect,
proud . "Friend Iolaus," he greeted him, almost jovially. "You
honour us with your presence. Here," he made space for Iolaus beside
him, "sit here and let us tell you what we mean to do."
Iolaus listened intently as Tectamus outlined their plan. It was simple.
Too simple. It involved using the weapons they had managed to conceal in
the cell to attack the guards as soon as they came to let the slaves out
the next morning. "They're distracted whilst they lock us in the chains,"
he said, a note of disgust lacing his voice at the latter word. "That'll
be our best opportunity."
"And ... then what?" asked the blond warrior, breathlessly.
Tectamus stared at him. "We take the fight outside," he declared.
"We kill as many of those slaving bastards as we can and escape."
Tectamus's eyes narrowed. "Friend Iolaus," he began in a warning
tone, before the hunter cut him off urgently.
"Tectamus, listen to me," he said. "Listen to me ... all
of you. Forgive ... me - this is not a plan. This is ... suicide."
"Better suicide than staying a slave a moment longer!" yelled
a woman from the crowd. A few other voices murmured their agreement, and
the crowd began mumbling amongst themselves. This was the warrior who had
come to save them? He was no more than a coward. A gainsayer who put all
their hard thought plans at risk.
Iolaus sensed the discord and held up his hand. He was startled to see how
much it was shaking and dropped it almost immediately. It did, however,
have the desired effect as the low noise died away again and everyone's
eyes fixed upon him. "You don't understand," he said, patiently,
fighting for breath. Gods, he still felt so weak. But he couldn't let them
know the agony which plagued him. He had to get through this. Summoning
up every spare reserve of energy he had, he continued, "I'm not saying
that your ... plan to fight isn't good, just that it needs more work, more
thought into the ... consequences. You're fighting to free yourselves, right?
Well ... first you need all your weapons."
"But the rest are in the mine," Memnon pointed out.
"It's going to take time to get them all here," added Tectamus.
"We want to fight now."
"I ... know," admitted Iolaus. "But you've waited this long
... can't you wait a while longer?"
The older man looked sceptical, but he finally nodded, curtly. "And
your idea?" he prompted.
"When we have all the weapons ... here," Iolaus went on, "we
wait ... another day, then, when the guards ... bring us back and unlock
the chains ... those who are freed first back away into ... the cell and
get the weapons ... unobtrusively. They wait ... till the others are free.
Then the strongest and best fighters among you ... attack the guards, get
their weapons and get outside to prevent ... the other guards from closing
the gates. The secondary assault group follow; the women last."
"And then we can rush the other guards and catch them unawares,"
Tectamus completed for him, having caught the idea behind Iolaus' strategy.
"Yes, yes, that makes better sense. That way we don't all rush at once
and stand a better chance of both fighting and escaping with our lives."
Iolaus nodded. He was feeling very light headed and the room was beginning
to spin alarmingly, but he had to get out the last part of his plan. "Exactly,"
he gasped. "We ... have the element of surprise on our side, plus,
we ... outnumber the guards. And as for getting ... away - maybe running
to that ... village you spoke of would be the best idea, Tectamus. That
way everyone can rest and ..."
"Yes, yes, I think that's an excellent idea," said the older man,
watching with growing alarm as Iolaus' already ghostly white face blanched
of every last residue of colour. He leaned closer to the ailing warrior.
"This could take two or three more days, my friend," he said,
gently. "Are you sure you'll be able to hold out?"
The warrior nodded, then wished he hadn't as the world tilted on its axis
and the faces all blurred into one spinning gyration, rushing round him
at breakneck speed, until he could no longer tell which direction was up
and which was down. "I'll ... be ready," he mumbled, as he lost
all hold on reality and fell sideways, straight into the older man's lap.
Consciousness intruded again some time later as he became aware of muffled
voices and the feeling of being shackled. He could not suppress a groan
as the iron circlets were fastened around his ankles and wrists, chafing
at skin already rubbed raw the previous day. What he wouldn't give for his
gauntlets, but he had no idea what had been done with them, and his ever
present amulet had gone from around his neck, too. A pang of sorrow splintered
his heart at its loss. Although his memories of his father were bittersweet,
the amulet had once belonged to the General and his father before him and
had hung around his own neck for as long as he could remember. There were
memories attached to it which made him smile whenever he touched it, including
those of his grandmother, Leandra and he missed the pendant more than he
would have thought possible. It brought him small measure of comfort to
know that the memories would live on in his mind, but he was enough of a
pragmatist to realise that if this was all he had, then it would have to
His musings were rudely interrupted by a rough shove from behind. "Hey!"
he protested, in a rasping voice which was barely recognisable as his own.
The hacking cough which followed his objection unfortunately feeling and
sounding all too familiar.
"Get on with you, slave!" came the ill-tempered retort. "Else
I'll put the whip to you!"
"Been there ... done that," muttered Iolaus, and felt the sting
of the lash across his shoulders for his audacity. He bit back a moan of
pain but stumbled and the whip fell again, this time catching at the already
infected sores inflicted by the lashing of the previous two days. He could
not suppress a cry of anguish at the agony which tore through him and had
it not been for Tectamus and Memnon beside him, he would have crumpled to
the ground. As it was, his knees buckled and they practically had to drag
him out of the cell between them, flinching as the whip fell again periodically
throughout the journey to the mines.
Iolaus was made to work inside the mines this time. Once his senses stopped
swimming and his head cleared sufficiently for him to take stock of his
surroundings, he found himself facing a huge wall of black rock, which seemed
to go on forever. The mine itself was immense, its height unbelievable and
its length indeterminable, as it went on for as far as the eye could see
and beyond, illuminated by dull lanterns which cast an eerie glow over the
lustrous ore of which it was seemingly constructed. "Wh ... what are
we ... mining?" he managed, turning to Tectamus with a puzzled expression.
"We don't know," the other man replied, brusquely. He regarded
his smaller companion uneasily. Iolaus looked terrible. Even in the dim
light cast by the torches he could see that the warrior's eyes were glittering
unnaturally. His skin was ashen and bathed in a sweaty sheen, despite the
coolness of the mines, and he was trembling with such force that Tectamus
wondered if he would even be able to hold onto a tool, let alone apply it.
The warrior had noticed the man's keen observation of him and realised how
he must look. He tried to smile. It emerged as more of a grimace. "I'll
... be okay, Tectamus," he declared, with a lot more confidence than
he felt. "Just ... remember to get the weapons ..."
Tectamus sighed and nodded. "We can do this without you if you're too
sick," he began. Iolaus cut him off, a burst of anger giving his voice
more strength than he had previously been able to muster.
"No!" he exclaimed. "This is ... my fight too. I'll be fine.
Just ... let's get through ... this day. Okay?"
A little taken aback by the outburst, Tectamus nodded again. "We should
be able to get most of them out today," he said, in a low voice, aware
that the few guards who had accompanied them down here were patrolling nearby.
"If we manage that, then there should be enough for us all. You won't
have to go through another day of this, friend Iolaus."
The blond warrior did manage a grin this time, although it was muted by
the effects of the pain blistering through him every second. "WE won't
have to go through ... another day of... this, Tectamus," he corrected
the other man. "Remember that. We're ... all together in this."
Tectamus returned the grin. "Together or die!" he vowed. Then,
wary of the guard walking toward them, he started swinging his pick at the
rock face, seemingly intent on his task.
Iolaus watched him for a few moments, trying to summon up the strength to
even lift his tool. Without warning, a vision of Hercules entered his mind.
The demigod was smiling, then the smile was suddenly wiped away as grief
took its place. The warrior swallowed convulsively. Gods, he missed his
friend. And he had no intention of dying here in some godforsaken hole somewhere
far away from home, thereby forcing the demigod to grieve for his loss.
Glancing around at the others with whom he was sharing his current fate,
he drew upon that thought and added to it with the resolve that he was not
going to let these people suffer any further either. They didn't deserve
this. No-one deserved this. And he was not going to let them or Hercules
down. Not in this lifetime. Not if he could help it.
It took every ounce of reserve strength which he had and then some besides,
but eventually, he was able to lift his own pick, although the liquid fire
which poured through his body at the action almost had him tumbling to the
ground. With a grunt, he let the tool fall, then hefted it again, let it
drop and repeated the action, time after time. Blazing agony coursed through
him with every movement, but he found a rhythm and stuck to it, hour after
ceaseless, unremitting hour.
It seemed that he was going to make it after all.
Even for Iolaus, that thought was a tad optimistic.
Hercules and Phaedro were making good time, although they were not travelling
as quickly as the demigod would have managed alone. He did not share this
opinion with his companion, however. Had it not been for the boy, then he
would have lost the trail several miles before and what was the use of speed
if you had no idea of the direction in which you must travel?
They were getting close, however. Hercules could feel it. The link which
he and Iolaus had always shared; that invisible bond which had been stretched
and cut but never truly severed told him that he was within reach of his
best friend. Already he could feel the candle which flickered within his
soul burn brighter and hotter as that which kept it alight fed its flame.
It flickered, once, twice, then steadied, glowing with bright red and cool
blue, surrounded by a golden halo. "Iolaus," he breathed. "I'm
on my way, Iolaus. Hold on, my friend. I'm on my way."
Phaedro looked askance at the demigod at these barely discernible words,
but all he said was, "These tracks look fresher. I think we're getting
Had Hercules not been so worried about Iolaus he would have let loose a
cry of relief. But that outpouring of emotion would have to wait. They still
had to reach the slavers' stronghold and who knew what they would find when
they got there?"
Their day in the mines ended not a moment too soon for Iolaus. The hacking
cough which had plagued him earlier had returned with a vengeance, and he
had suffered several attacks, each one leaving him weakened and gasping
for breath. His entire body was quivering with the strain of trying to retain
a hold on his fast fading senses, and the effort of trying to breathe with
lungs which felt like someone had been tearing them apart. Little pinpricks
of light twinkled behind his eyes and it was growing darker with every passing
second. At the order to cease work, he allowed the pick to fall from limp,
numbed fingers, and staggered against the wall, unable to suppress the whimper
of frustration which emerged as his head spun faster and faster, until a
veritable kaleidoscope of colours whirled around him. His legs felt like
jelly and he could hear a faint keening sound echoing around the caves,
the irritating noise penetrating his eardrums, threatening to split them
asunder. He wasn't sure when he realised that the sound was originating
from him, but it was abruptly terminated by an hysterical giggle, then sound
and light were gone as he tumbled over the edge of oblivion and fell into
a darkness which knew no end.
Iolaus came to the conclusion that waking up certainly wasn't becoming any
easier. His body ached. There wasn't any part of him which was free from
pain, and he wasn't entirely sure why his senses had chosen to return him
to awareness when he would just as soon remain in the realms of sweet oblivion.
He could feel her beckoning to him, the siren's song she was singing too
powerful to resist. He almost smiled as he took a step toward her, then
was pulled back, reluctantly, inexorably. A faint cry issued from between
broken lips as her song faded away and he surfaced into bitter reality.
A face swam into view as his eyes slowly opened. It was a familiar countenance
but it took him several long moments to come up with a name to accompany
"Anaxibia ..." he murmured. It was barely a breathy whisper but
she seemed to hear it and a smile of relief washed away her anxious expression.
"Welcome back," she said, softly.
"Wha ...?" He turned his head slightly to discover that he was
back in the cell. Beneath him was soft straw and he was covered with a thin
blanket. He couldn't remember getting there.
"Tectamus and the others got you back," she told him, reacting
to the utter confusion on his grey, drawn face. "You collapsed in the
mines. Don't you remember?"
Forward to Chapter Two
Return to Hercgen Fiction
Return to Home Page