“Did you ever stop to think that she might have been saving up this money for something special?”
Kirra looked at Hercules in surprise. How did he know she’d been saving up her money? Boy, he was good. “You’re right. I have been saving up my money. Every new moon, my stepfather, Hiram, gives me a dinar for the work I do around the house and in the garden.”
“Generous, ain’t he?” Salmoneus said sarcastically.
Ignoring his comment, Hercules pulled up a chair, sat at the edge of the table and turned his attention to Kirra. “You don’t really want to just give your money over to Salmoneus, do you? I mean, sure he’s a nice guy, but come on,” Hercules added with a lopsided grin that made Kirra laugh.
“Hercules, please,” Salmoneus pleaded. “I need the extra doe, you know what I mean?”
She could tell by the look in Hercules’ eyes that he wanted her to play along with his little game, so she did. “There is this very pretty dress I wanted to buy for my mother ever since she got me this blue one that I’m wearing. She paid for it out of her own hard earned dinars. I’ve been saving and saving just to get that dress for her, Salmoneus.”
Smirking, Salmoneus said, “Good sap story. Now, pay up. Come on.”
With a sad expression worthy of any good actress, Kirra reached her hand across the table to give Salmoneus the money. The smile on Salmoneus’ face grew wider the closer the money got to his fingers. When his teeth where just about to show behind that greedy smile, Hercules’ hand reached out and grabbed Kirra’s. Not expecting it, she gave out a small gasp.
Trying to ignore her reaction, Hercules turned to Salmoneus. “You know, I don’t really think this bet is fair.”
“What?” Salmoneus asked, the smile now gone. “How do you mean?”
“Well, you said whoever could prove that the two of us are the best of friends, wins. You haven’t proven anything…as far as I’m concerned.”
The touch of Hercules’ hand on hers was enough to drive the current conversation out of her mind. At least for a couple of seconds. She watched with her eyes riveted to his hand, as he returned her hand to her side, keeping the dinars from Salmoneus’ grasp. Forcing herself back into the conversation, she cleared her throat and said, “T-t-that’s right. The only thing I’ve seen is that you know him and he knows you.”
“She’s right,” Hercules continued, adding to their little game of words. “I’ve seen no proof of this ‘best of friends’ thing, beyond the fact that we are mere acquaintances.”
Looking at Hercules curiously, Salmoneus pressed him palm against the big man’s forehead. “Are you sure the sun hasn’t gotten to you too? What are you talking about? Hercules, have you forgotten about the time I helped you with the Cyclops? How about that time you went blind and I had to watch your back?”
With a serious, but concerned look on his face, Hercules asked, “Are you sure you’re not confusing me with someone else?”
Now, Salmoneus was seriously worried. “Confusing you? Hercules!”
Her eyes on Hercules, Kirra could see the joke was getting a little out of hand, because she could see the laughter straining at the corners of his mouth. He wanted to laugh, but was holding it back as hard as he could. Kirra didn’t have his strength though. She snorted with laughter; and when she did, Hercules began to laugh.
That’s when Salmoneus finally caught on. With a shake of his head, and feeling a bit of the fool, he said, “Oh, very funny, you two. I sure hope you’re enjoying your little joke.”
“Absolutely,” Hercules replied with a chuckle.
“Immensely,” came Kirra’s quick reply less than a second after Hercules.
“Well, I’m glad.” There was a hint of annoyance in Salmoneus’ eyes that worried Kirra. Had they made him angry?, she wondered. “It’s nice to know that I can be so easily fooled enough to give the two of you a big smile and a hearty laugh. So, don’t worry about it, Kirra, you can keep your five dinars. Go buy your mother the dress she’s always wanted.” With that, Salmoneus got up from the table and walked into the crowd.
Kirra watched after him anxiously, her mouth hung open in surprise. “Oh no. Is he angry?” she asked Hercules, her brow furrowed with worry.
Hercules waved her worry away with a swipe of his hand. “Aw, don’t worry about Salmoneus. You haven’t lost a friend and neither have I. He’ll get over it.”
“I hope so,” Kirra said uncertainly.
“I can promise you that if Salmoneus set this ‘gig’ up, as he said, he already has in mind some way to make his dinars for the day. By this evening, he’ll probably be giving you ten dinars.” Hercules, seeing the worry that still shown in Kirra’s eyes, gave her a comforting smile.
Kirra smiled shyly in return, her eyes downshifting to her hands resting on the tabletop. “Seems I have lost the bet. You two really are the best of friends.”
Laughing, Hercules replied, “Well, I don’t know about ‘the best of’, but we are friends, yes.”
“That’s right,” she exclaimed in sudden realization. With all the crazy things happening in her life…at least over the last few minutes...she had completely forgotten all about the things she’d written down in her scrolls about Hercules’ life. “You already have a best friend, don’t you?”
Hercules nodded, though wasn’t terribly surprised at the young girl’s knowledge about himself or his friends. Most people knew he had a best friend; a friend he’d had since childhood. The only problem was, most people didn’t know his name. A fact that irked his friend at times. “That, I do,” Hercules responded. “The best friend a man could have.”
“Isn’t his name Iolaus?”
“Yes, it is,” Hercules said, surprised. “I’m surprised you know his name. Most people don’t.” Hercules nearly laughed at a memory of Iolaus’ crushed expression when someone claimed not to know who he was. But he really did feel for Iolaus at times since he was the one having to live in Hercules’ shadow. One thing he always regretted was not being able to tell Iolaus that he understood. He’d never had to live in anyone’s shadow...unless you considered Zeus, and Hercules didn’t.
Kirra downshifted her eyes again, feeling a blush rising on her cheeks, as she tried to find the right words to explain how she knew Iolaus’ name. “Well, uh... Hercules...this is probably going to sound pretty stupid, but...you’re sort of like a hero of mine, and...”
“Having someone you can look up to is never stupid.”
She shrugged her shoulders self-consciously and said, “I guess not.” Hoping to change the track of the subject, Kirra quickly asked, “So, how come your friend, Iolaus, didn’t come with you?”
It was time for Hercules to shrug his shoulders. He often times hated having to explain Iolaus’ absence from his side. “Well, Iolaus doesn’t much like these kinds of...” Hercules paused, searching for the most tactful word. “...things.”
“You mean festivals?”
“No, no,” Hercules laughed, shaking his head. “If there’s one thing Iolaus loves, it’s festivals.” When he saw Kirra’s confused expression, he continued. “I mean he doesn’t like festivals…in my honor.”
“What man wouldn’t want to be at the celebration of one of his best friends?”
Hercules heaved an uncomfortable sigh. “Iolaus is, far and away, the best man I know. He just…” Hercules sighed again, but gave Kirra a soft smile. “He has fought by my side for as long as I can remember. He’s the constant in my life, the one person I can turn to…”
Kirra watched Hercules expression change. He had been laughing, happy…and now…there was such soft compassion in his voice. His love for his friend was obvious. She couldn’t believe that he was opening up to her…nearly a stranger in his eyes. Though she welcomed it, she was surprised that he let his feelings show so easily. Kirra had heard that, although he risked life and limb for the sake of others, Hercules was a very private person.
As if responding to her thoughts, Hercules cleared his throat and shook his head, casting off those emotions and tucking them safely away for another time. “Anyway, what I’m trying to say is, Iolaus doesn’t get the recognition he deserves and it tends to get under his skin.”
“Well, who can blame him?” Kirra, feeling braver than she had since she first met him, returned Hercules’ comforting smile and placed a careful hand on his. “You shouldn’t feel bad. I’m sure he doesn’t mean to hurt you in any way.”
“I know he doesn’t.”
There was a small moment when Kirra thought she would lose herself in Hercules’ eyes as they stared at each other. Then, the moment was broken by...
“Excuse me, sir,” said Tiras, Endor’s village leader.
Hercules rose from his seat and faced Tiras with a smile. “Please, Tiras, ‘Hercules’ will do just fine.”
“Of course, Hercules. Please forgive me.”
With a friendly pat on the back, Hercules said, “You’re forgiven. How can I help you, Tiras?”
Tiras nervously wrung his hands together as he spoke to the half-god. “Well, Hercules, the festivities are just beginning. Please, will you get things off to a start by speaking to the people of Endor?”
Looking a bit nervous himself at the idea, Hercules responded, “Uh...I’d be glad to. Lead the way, Tiras.”
Tiras’ smile widened until Kirra thought his face would crack. Fortunately, it didn’t. “Thank you, Hercules. Right this way.”
Hercules turned to follow Tiras, and Kirra stood to be able to peer over people’s heads to see and hear Hercules’ speech. But, he suddenly stopped and turned back to Kirra. Hercules returned to her side, took one of her hands and warmly said, “It was a pleasure meeting you, Kirra. Be safe.”
Kirra could feel her heart racing behind her breast, and once again that hated blush began to rise. “Thanks, Hercules. It’s a pleasure getting the chance to meet you too." Then, as the sun began to set behind the hills, Hercules turned away from her. She was sad to see him go, because she knew she wasn’t going to get another chance to talk with him. After his speech, he was going to be surrounded by people and she would never get a word in edgewise. Oh, well, I guess I can thank the gods I even got the chance to meet him, she thought. It was a strange twist of fate that she accidentally bumped into a man who actually knew him. Perhaps the gods were involved. Kirra smiled happily, shrugging off her sadness, as she listened to Tiras introduce Hercules to the people of Endor. She watched him standing in front of a bank of torches as he waved at everyone and said hello.
What she didn’t see was the angry face of her stepfather at the edge of the crowd, with eyes squarely locked on her.
As she figured he would be, Hercules was surrounded by people for the remainder of the evening. But, she stayed on a little while longer just in case. She never knew if there would be a lull in his activities where she could get that chance just once more to talk with him. She waited at the edge of the crowd for that moment, but it never came.
Now that the sun was down, she knew she’d better get home anyway. Her mother was probably furious with her by now for having been gone so long. The good thing was, with all this activity, Hiram would probably be busy in his shop till late in the night. There were a lot of travelers here this evening to see Hercules and she was sure many of them would be leaving by morning. She’d heard from several of the villagers that Hercules would not be staying the night at Endor, since he had plans to be at a neighboring village the next evening. The travelers would most likely leave by morning since Hercules would no longer be there. That would keep Hiram busy dealing with horseshoes and wagons.
Turning to leave with a slight frown on her face, Kirra turned back when she heard someone calling her name.
With a bit of trepidation, fearing that Hiram would suddenly show up out of nowhere, Kirra turned back only to notice Salmoneus trotting her way, smiling brightly.
“Kirra, I’m glad I caught up with you before you left.”
“Salmoneus, it’s good to see you again. I thought you would hate me forever after this afternoon.”
Salmoneus waved away her concern just as Hercules had. “Forget about it. I was the one acting like a jerk. Can you forgive me?”
Kirra smiled and said, “Of course, I can. The question is can you forgive me?”
He gave her another one of his sly grins and took her hand. “I hope this answers your question.” There was a clinking of metal as she felt something cold and metallic fall into her open palm. Kirra looked down into her hand to see ten dinars resting nicely there.
“Salmoneus!” she began to protest, but Salmoneus held up a hand.
“No, no, think of this as my way of apologizing for my behavior this afternoon. It’s yours!,” he exclaimed jovially. “Besides, you deserve more than one dinar every new moon.”
“I think I’ll be the one to judge how much she deserves,” came a harsh voice from behind Kirra.
Kirra turned suddenly, a look of fear in her eyes that Salmoneus quickly registered. However, Salmoneus couldn’t quite understand the reason behind her fear. Standing before them was a dirty, fat and balding man. He couldn’t have been any taller than Salmoneus, and at first sight, he thought that even he could take this guy. That’s when he realized that it wasn’t just his looks that frightened Kirra, it was the look in his eyes. There was a drunken rage in his eyes that, once he finally noticed it, caused even Salmoneus to cringe in fear. Instinctively, he felt the need to cower or hide from that menacing gaze, but he chose instead to be brave.
Hiram took a step forward toward Kirra and said angrily, “Jus’ what in Tart’rus do you think you’re doing out here?!”
Just then, Salmoneus broadened his shoulders, threw on an air of bravery about him and moved himself in front of Kirra to shield her from this drunken fool. “Excuse me, sir, is there something I can help you with?”
Hiram walked closer, sticking his face close to Salmoneus’. “You can move yourself outta my way fer starters, ya stupid bastard!”
“I’m sorry,” Salmoneus said, his voice starting to quiver. “But, I don’t think you should be talking like that around the young lady.”
“I’ll talk to her any way I like, ya blitherin’ idiot! She’s my daughter!”
“Your daughter?” Salmoneus asked curiously, wrinkling his nose at the smell of liquor on the man’s breath. How could someone as sweet as Kirra have a father like this?, Salmoneus wondered.
Pushing her way from behind Salmoneus, Kirra took two determined steps toward Hiram and lashed out at him. “I am not your daughter!! You will never be good enough to be the kind of man my father was! You aren’t any better than the scum on the bottom of his shoes!”
Salmoneus watched as the man’s face turned red with rage. The fear he was feeling began to increase, not for himself this time, but for Kirra, since the man’s rage was directed at her. Kirra, though, didn’t back down one inch, although she was scared out of her mind. She too could smell the liquor on his breath. And when he drank, he had the tendency to become dangerous, like the time he left her mother with a broken arm and a concussion that had left her bedridden for days.
Hiram forced himself to calm, not wanting to cause a scene in the middle of town. It wouldn’t be good for his reputation. “I may not be your father, but I am your stepfather. As your stepfather, who has legal rights over you, I’m orderin’ you home!” Salmoneus was worried, but cautious. He wasn’t sure if he should step in. It was a family matter, after all, and he had no right to tell Kirra’s legal guardian how to control his stepdaughter.
However, for Kirra this was the last straw. She couldn’t take living in fear of him everyday of her life, or in fear that he would hurt her mother just to get back at her. From now on, things were going to be different. And he wasn’t going to hurt them anymore. “I wouldn’t care if you were Zeus himself! You can both go to Tartarus and rot there until the end of time!” Kirra pounded her finger into his chest as she screamed at him. “You can’t order me around like I’m your personal servant! You don’t own me and you don’t own my mother! And I absolutely refuse to listen to you ever again!!” Kirra felt Salmoneus lay a calming hand on her shoulder, but she roughly shrugged him off and continued to pound and scream at Hiram. Withe withering eyes of contempt she said, “You are a worthless son of a bitch who doesn’t even deservethe right to live on this earth!”
Kirra’s finger pounded into Hiram’s chest one too many times for him and he lost it. Gripping her wrist, he twisted her arm so quickly and painfully that she fell to her knees screaming. But her scream wasn’t loud enough to reach the crowds of people. Only Salmoneus witnessed the man’s brutality on his own stepdaughter.
“Hey!” Salmoneus cried. He wanted to go to Kirra, who was cradling her wounded arm, and help her, but was afraid of what this man was capable of. So, he settled instead to chastise him with words. “You can’t do that!”
Hiram looked at Salmoneus with a deadly glare, causing him to take a few steps back in fear. “The little she-demon deserved it! Now, unless you want a bit of this yourself, you’ll move on, wimp! Oh, and by the way,” he shouted, reached down, grabbed the dinars from Kirra’s hand and stuffed them into his own pocket. “Thanks for your contribution to the family, rich boy! NOW SCAT!!”
Salmoneus quickly did as he was told, feeling like such a coward for leaving Kirra behind. But, she understood. Hiram could make even the bravest of men in the village of Endor cower beneath him. He was a very fearful man, and Salmoneus had been brave to stand up to him.
Hiram looked down on her as if she were the lowest form of life that exsisted. “Get up, Kirra! We’re gonna have a talk with your mother ‘bout this.”
Her arm pained her immensely and she was fearful that he may have broken it, but she still refused to acknowledge him. She couldn’t allow her mother to take the blows for what she had done. “No,” she said defiantly, her voice quivering from her anger, pain and fear.
“I said get UP!!” Hiram screamed. He reached down and yanked her up onto her feet by her braided ponytail. Kirra bit her tongue to keep from screaming in pain, even as she tasted the blood in her mouth. She refused to give him the satisfaction of knowing the pain and terror he was causing in her, because she knew it scared him when she stood up to him or defied him. It was a challenge to his ‘so-called’ authority. The moment he knew he had no authority over her, he would no longer be able to control her.
But, for the moment, he was in complete control. Pain was shooting its way up Kirra’s arm, and if it wasn’t broken, it was definitely sprained. His hold on her hair had not loosened anymore than when he first grabbed it either. “Now, unless you’d like me to pull this mop outta your head, girl, you’ll mind me,” he whispered into her ear with spiteful malice. He wrenched on her hair, forcing her to follow him into the dark night to their small cottage that lay a mile from the village of Endor.
Kirra was desperate. She knew that if he got her home, not only would she get it, but so would her mother for letting her out of the house. She couldn’t let that happen. But, what should she do? Pray to the gods to protect her and her mother? HA! What a waste of time! The last time she’d prayed to the gods for help they’d ended up on the street with no food to eat and no place to sleep. Though she’d told her mother she didn’t expect Hercules to save them, she half-hoped that Salmoneus was rushing to his side now.
Salmoneus picked up the mug of ale and swallowed the last couple of gulps like an old drunk wallowing in his drunken misery. The only thing missing was a lonesome Merle Haggard song…if he and a good old-fashioned jukebox had been around back then. Salmoneus had to make do with a lively jig of pipes and lutes from the local band to back up his misery. And it wasn’t doing much to liven up his mood. He felt so ‘terribly, terribly horrible’ for leaving Kirra behind like he had. He’d wanted to run to Hercules and cry for help, but not only did he not want to look like a cowardly fool for running away from a young girl in need, but … he wasn’t sure if it was his place to do so. Though he seemed a little gruff, the man was her stepfather. He had the right to tell her when she needed to be home or if she should have even been out in the first place. Maybe she was grounded...bad grades or something, Salmoneus told himself. And with the way that temper of hers flared, perhaps she wasn’t as sweet as she seemed. Maybe she got what she deserved...
“Oh, what am I saying?!” Salmoneus cried out loud in the middle of the tavern. People turned and stared at him, but he ignored them. His mind was so full of warring thoughts that he really didn’t know what he should do. He knew it was wrong to hurt someone of less strength than you for any reason. But did the people of this town see it that way? Perhaps it was something that was accepted or condoned in Endor, a way of life. Did that make it okay? Salmoneus remembered the fear in Kirra’s eyes. She’d stood up to him and faced him, but she feared him. To Kirra, it wasn’t okay.
Salmoneus slammed his mug down on the tabletop, drawing curious stares once again. He shook his head in frustration, not knowing exactly where his duties lay, but worried nearly to the point of illness for Kirra’s safety. He could safely say that Kirra was his friend, even though he’d only known her for less than a day. She was a good person with a good heart, and she didn’t deserve to be treated that way. What could she possibly be thinking of him right now?
Salmoneus, so lost in his thoughts, nearly jumped out of his chair when he felt a heavy hand rest itself upon his shoulder. Looking up, he saw his friend Hercules standing over him and smiling.
“Salmoneus, I thought I’d hit the trail. I have to be in Attilas by this time tomorrow. I thought you might like to join me...if you’re headed that way, that is.” Salmoneus doesn’t readily answer, and seeing the worry on his friend’s face, Hercules became curious. Sitting himself down next to the salesman, Hercules grinned and joked, “So, finally feeling the guilt for the way you overreacted this afternoon?”
Hercules didn’t know it, but his words, though having nothing to do with what Salmoneus was fretting over, tweaked a tender nerve and it showed on his face. “Not exactly,” Salmoneus said uneasily. “Uh, Hercules...could I ask you a purely hypothetical question?”
Hercules raised his eyebrows and shrugged his shoulders at the same time, then said, “Sure.”
Salmoneus lifted his hands into the air expressively and began. “Let’s say there’s this girl who has a stepfather. Well, the stepfather wants her to go home, but the girl doesn’t want to. In fact, the stepfather is sort of...well, drunk and he looks really angry, and the girl, who is trying to stand up for herself, looks pretty scared —“
“Wait,” Hercules interrupted. “This has gone way beyond hypothetical here, Salmoneus. Are you trying to tell me something?"
Salmoneus shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “Uh, I don’t know if I should say anything. I feel I should, but...”
Understanding that Salmoneus had gotten himself into something serious, Hercules placed a comforting hand on his arm and said, “Then tell me. What happened?”
Hercules watched as Salmoneus began to look around the room, as if he were looking to see if anyone was listening in. Satisfied that they weren’t, he began. “I went to Kirra before I left for the evening to apologize. Her stepfather came up. He was drunk; I could smell the liquor on his breath. Kirra was instantly afraid of him and he demanded that she go home. But, she got angry and started yelling and screaming at him.” Salmoneus gestured, trying to physically explain what had happened as he said, “She was pointing into his chest as she yelled…I guess he just got angry…I don’t know…he grabbed her by the arm and twisted it. I don’t think he broke it, but...he hurt her.”
Hercules looked at Salmoneus seriously, his face hardening. He wasn’t feeling anger toward Salmoneus, but anger for this man who called himself a father. “What did you do?”
“That’s the problem, Hercules. I did nothing. I’ve been sitting here for almost an hour doing nothing...trying to figure out what I should do.” Salmoneus shook his head again, worry creasing his face. “Is it even my place to get involved?”
Speaking from his own experience with both his father and his stepmother, Hercules said, “No parent has the right to harm their child, whether the child is theirs by blood or by marriage. It doesn’t make a difference.” Hercules sat forward in his chair and stared Salmoneus directly in the eyes. “If you feel that he is hurting her, then it is up to you to say something. Nothing bad can come from standing up for what you believe in. If it’s in your heart, then you should say it.”
Salmoneus nodded his head, taking Hercules’ wisdom to heart and understanding. “Okay. Who should I talk to?”
Hercules led Salmoneus to Tiras and allowed him to tell Tiras everything that had happened. He’d even learned several new details, such as the fact that Hiram had taken from Kirra money that Salmoneus had given to her. After Salmoneus had finished with the retelling of those events, Tiras looked troubled, but not troubled enough for Hercules.
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