He didn’t understand how Salmoneus could sleep. Perhaps that was how he dealt with intense anxiety...he just slept it off. Hercules, on the other hand, dealt with those feelings by thinking about them. Sometimes, his thinking could go on for hours, keeping him up nights...like now.
Hercules grabbed a stick and poked at the dying fire, trying to keep it going. He looked up when Salmoneus stirred, mumbling something in his sleep. Hercules wasn’t sure, but he thought he heard Kirra’s name somewhere in between all that mumbling. Then he heard she needs your help as clearly as when Salmoneus had spoken it early that evening. He sighed regrettably, wishing he had something to do to keep his thoughts busy, to keep this terrible feeling of guilt from plaguing his mind. Guilt. Hercules acknowledged it. He was feeling guilt for having left Kirra behind and Salmoneus was unwittingly feeding that guilt while he slept on. Was there ever going to be an end to all of this? He needed someone he could talk to, share his feelings with, someone he could trust. Iolaus had agreed to meet him in Attilas. He sometimes didn’t show up for those meetings, especially if he was in the middle of a really good hunt or was catching fish galore on some riverbank. Hercules had a feeling he would show up, though. Although Iolaus didn’t really like to be at “Hercules” festivals, he always wanted to know what went on, to have some sort of semblance of having been there. Hercules nodded to himself. That’s what he would do. He’d talk to Iolaus. Iolaus would understand...and probably talk him into going back!
There was a sound in the woods. Not just common night sounds like crickets, the rustling of bushes in the breeze or animal calls. This was different. It sounded like someone walking…and they were close. Hercules stood up and looked around. He had no weapons on him, like usual, so he reached for the same stick he’d used to poke at the fire. It wasn’t that large, but it was thick and sturdy. The sound of the footsteps got closer, the person most probably following the trail of his campfire light. The leaves rustled in the low trees and Hercules watched the form of someone emerging from the bushes. To his relief, and complete surprise, stood Kirra.
Hercules smiled, temptation teasing him to jump for joy. He kept his emotions in check, because as Kirra stepped into the light of the campfire, his joy died. She resembled nothing of the person he’d seen only that afternoon; young, vivacious, happy to be alive. Now, she was white as a ghost, shivering, her arms wrapped around her frail-looking body. The whiteness of her skin enhanced the purplish bruising around her left eye and cheek. When she seemed to finally realize who he was, she smiled, her color and demeanor giving her smile almost the look of death.
“I thought this was the way to Attilas,” she said softly through her frozen smile.
Hercules broke through his frozen trance, dropped the stick and quickly went to her side. He grabbed her upper arms, looked her in the eye and asked, “Are you okay?”
She continued to smile and nodded in answer to Hercules’ question. “I’m j-just c-c-cold.”
Hercules could see that she was freezing, shivering inside the simple dress she wore. He quickly began to realize that she was in shock. She was wet, too, which didn’t help her condition any. Turning from her, Hercules searched for something to cover her with. He spotted Salmoneus’ sleeping form snuggled tightly inside his wool blanket. The last thing he considered was Salmoneus’ comfort when he snatched the thick blanket from him.
Salmoneus awoke with a start…and the feeling of a stiff breeze up his skirt. “Hey! What…” He never finished his question when he noticed where his missing blanket had gone.
Hercules wrapped Kirra up in the blanket and walked her over to the fire. “Sit down next to the fire, Kirra. It’ll keep you warm.” She complied without any complaint, enjoying the feel of the warmth the fire brought to her frozen skin. Her toes and fingers were numb. She could feel her bottom lip trembling.
“Kirra!” Salmoneus exclaimed, getting up and hurrying to her side. He, too, was taken aback by her appearance. “By the gods, are you all right?”
She nodded, but didn’t speak. She could feel exhaustion beginning to take over and she closed her eyes. Then she heard Hercules calling to her. “Kirra, don’t go to sleep. I need you to stay awake.”
“I’m so tired,” she told him, her voice almost a whisper.
“I know you’re tired, but I need you to stay awake. It’s very important that you stay awake, okay? Can you do that for me?” He was searching for something just off to her left, but she didn’t know what and she didn’t really care. She just wanted to go to sleep. But, if Hercules told her to stay awake, she would stay awake. “Okay,” she whispered to him in return.
“Good, girl,” she heard him say and could feel his hand on the back of her head. If it wasn’t that she was so tired, she would actually be giddy right now.
Hercules turned to Salmoneus who was watching after Kirra with the concern of a father. “Salmoneus.”
“I need left-over quail and I need water.”
“Hercules, this is not the time to be getting the munchies!”
“Not for me, Salmoneus, for Kirra! We need to get some food and water into her. Hurry, Salmoneus!”
“Okay, okay! The quail’s in my travel bag! I’ll go get the water!” With that, he grabbed his empty wineskin and hurried away.
Hercules took two big steps to the other side of the fire where Salmoneus had placed his travel bag. He reached inside and found the left over quail wrapped in a piece of cloth. Salmoneus probably had plans to munch on it on the trail to Attilas, but now he was going to have to make other arrangements. Kirra now needed this more than he did. Hercules took the quail back to the other side of the fire, sat down next to Kirra and tried to coax her into eating it. Tearing a strip of meat from the bird’s bone, he brought it up to Kirra’s mouth and said, “Here, Kirra, eat this.” She shook her head, clearly nauseated by the idea of eating. “Come on, it’ll make you feel better.”
“No,” she said to him, shaking her head once again. She had no strength to eat. “I’m tired. I’m not hungry.”
“I know, but you’ve got to get something into your system or you’re just going to feel worse. Come on, take a small bite.” He held it up to her mouth and Kirra took it reluctantly. “That’s good. Just hold on, Salmoneus is coming with some water for you. You’re going to be okay.” He rubbed her arm consolingly.
She chewed on the tough piece of meat at Hercules’ bidding, but she didn’t want it. And as much as she wanted to believe everything Hercules said, she didn’t think she was going to be okay. Not for a long time.
She had sat frozen near the small creek for a while; not crying, not thinking, not even feeling. She didn’t know where she had gone, but gone she had been. It was as if her mind had begun to shut down. She could almost hear doors closing in her head in places that had been open for the longest time. It had been a terrifying experience, but a peacefully calming one at the same time. She could no longer hear her mother screaming or the sound of Hiram’s voice. She even began to forget all that had happened that evening. Hiram hadn’t punched her or beat up her mother…and he hadn’t put his hands on her. But that all changed, all the doors swung wide open again and reality forced its way back into her life…when she heard Hercules voice: "Tell Kirra I said to be brave, because right now the only hero she has is herself."
She remembered sitting up right as if she had heard him talking right next to her. She’d even called out his name. That was the moment she knew she would be okay. Instantly, she remembered Hercules saying he was traveling to Attilas. She’d never been there, but he’d said it was to the north. She knew north. So, she got up and followed a small dirt trail north until she glimpsed the flickering of a campfire light.
Now that the food was hitting the bottom of her stomach, she felt the familiar sensation of hunger. So, it wasn’t long before she snatched the quail from Hercules’ hand and began to devour it before his eyes.
Hercules remained quiet while she ate, allowing her the time she needed before she even decided to speak. A few minutes later, Salmoneus walked up with his wineskin filled with water and sat down at Kirra’s side. “Here you go,” he said to her. She thanked him with her eyes, not pausing to speak. She guzzled the water greedily, some of it spilling out the side of her mouth and down her neck to wet the bodice of her blouse.
“How long has it been since you’ve had anything to eat or drink?” Salmoneus asked, his concern making him forget that he wanted to be considerate of her feelings.
Kirra heard his question, but was hesitant to answer. She wasn’t sure if she was ready to talk about what happened. She just wanted to forget about it and put it behind her, but she could see that he desperately wanted an answer to his question. Wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, she looked down at the quail bones in her lap and decided she’d best answer his question. Her voice was very small as she spoke. “I didn’t have time for breakfast this morning, because of chores and all. All I had was lemonade at the festival...I was going to eat when I went home.” Tears came to her eyes, but she willed herself to stop crying and wiped them away.
Hercules could see the pain in her face and in the timidness of her voice. Seeing those feelings alive in her eyes and seeing the bruises that marked her face, he desperately wanted to know what went on. He just couldn’t bring himself to ask her. He also was facing the fact that he had truly made a mistake in leaving her there and it was eating at his soul. She didn’t seem as if she wanted to lay any blame, just to be cared for and she needed that more than anything else. “You don’t have to say anything now, if you don’t want to, Kirra. Just get warm.”
“I feel better,” she whispered. “Thank you...both of you.” She attempted a smile at them and was relieved to see that both smiles were returned. She didn’t know why she felt relief. Perhaps she was afraid she wouldn’t be accepted, but that didn’t seem to be the case. “I’m so glad I found you two.”
“We’re glad you found us, too,” Hercules replied, hugging her tighter to him to give her warmth.
“We sure were worried about you,” said Salmoneus, his smiling failing miserably to cover up his worry.
She looked at him and said incredulously, “You were sleeping.”
Hercules laughed, but Salmoneus’ expression was serious when he said, “That’s how I worry the best.”
Kirra smiled, wanting to laugh, but her exhaustion kept her from exerting herself any further. She was happy more than mere words could express to see Salmoneus’ face again. He’d been so brave to stand up to Hiram the way he did. She’d be sure to tell him that first thing in the morning. For now, she snuggled into Hercules’ warmth and felt her exhaustion slowly overtake her. It wasn’t long before she was fast asleep nor for the nightmares to creep in.
“Are you sure it’s okay for her to sleep now?” Salmoneus asked.
“Yeah. She was in shock before, but she’ll be okay now,” Hercules told him as he wrapped the blanket tighter around Kirra’s body.
Salmoneus stared down at her sleeping face, noticing that the color was only just coming back. She was starting to resemble more the girl he remembered from that afternoon. He was sure she would eventually be fine, because she was a strong girl. She was tougher on the outside than most of the women he knew. But he was concerned about how they were going to deal with things in the morning.
“What are you going to do now?”
Hercules seemed thoughtful as he looked at Kirra. He sighed and Salmoneus could see that these new problems were weighing even heavier upon him. “I don’t know yet. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what the morning brings. Until then, let’s just get some sleep.” Salmoneus nodded in understanding and went back to his place by the fire.
A moan drew Hercules’ attention back to Kirra. Her brow was furrowed and her lip curved downward in a frown. What had Hiram done to her? The question would not leave his mind, but he would never ask her. If she ever told him, it would have to be her choice and not his. He would treat her wounds and her broken spirit and try to make her whole again. Then he would go back to Endor, find Hiram and make him pay for what he had done to his own stepdaughter. No, he would not kill him or hurt him. That wasn’t Hercules style and it never would be. But he would make sure that he was prosecuted to the fullest extent of Endor’s law. And if Endor’s law did not find what Hiram did to this girl to be criminal, he would either help them to create new laws or move Kirra and her mother far away from the village of Endor where Hiram could never touch them again. Hercules now felt responsible for her and for the safety of her and her mother. He would never again fail to protect her from any harm. He owed her that.
Kirra sobbed in his arm and Hercules rocked her as he would a child. “Shhh, it’s all right,” he whispered into her hair. A sudden memory came back to him of his daughter Ilea. She had insisted on sleeping with them one night because she was afraid of the dark. Her older brothers had been scaring her with stories of Hydras and other monsters. He remembered her sobbing in the night from a nightmare as he held her, rocking her back and forth in his arms and telling her, “Shhh, it’s all right. Daddy’s here.” She’d quieted right up, just as Kirra was doing now. Her brow softened and her frown disappeared. “I’m here,” he told her softly. “Everything’s going to be all right now.”
End of Episode I.
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