How Close We Were
For Iolausians everywhere...
This story was inspired by the lyrics of the song “Everyday” by Phil Collins.
I got lost, couldn’t find my way,
and I guess there’s nothing more to say...
Part One - Attica
The brush that concealed them from the soliders’ view was sparse, and they knew they were taking a chance. “You sure they’re from Attica?” Hercules whispered, nudging the warrior beside him. He sunk lower on his hands and knees to improve his view, squinting to see over Iolaus’ blond head.
“Yeah, I’m sure. What’s worse is the people they’re up against. King Xenon’s army - or at least it used to be - the one who had Orestes killed.” Hercules crouched lower this time to speak to him again.
“There’s only one way to stop a war, my friend.” He started to rise. Iolaus pulled him down,
“Are you crazy?” Whatever they’re fighting over -”
“Too late!” The demi-god charged towards the battle at full force, careful to keep track of the warrior’s uniforms. Where was Attica’s queen? Surely a leader would be present at battle. Attica was in the right here - it had to be, Iolaus had said he was certain. Although war was never an option to Hercules for anything. Nothing good could come of taking lives.
“Iolaus, watch your back!” He shouted, ramming the solider fighting his best friend with his own sword.
“Thanks, buddy!” The hunter grinned before taking another blow for his foolishness.
“I...” Hercules lifted a shocked solider, hurling him several feet in front of him, “hate...” The other warriors tried to avoid crossing the half-god’s path, “WAR!”
Towards the southern end of the other legion, its king looked up in terror when he heard the thundering of hoofbeats distanced from them, but coming to them nevertheless. “Gods, they’ve sent the calvary!” Hector yelled, his voice carrying over the smashing of bodies and the shriek of swords clashing. The chaos in the battlefield was tremendous. The enemy kingdom’s legion was moving in with forces that doubled Attica’s, maybe even tripled them.
And Hector knew Attica had lost then.
“RETREAT!” His voice failed to carry immediately, but Linus was close by and understood well the importance of the message.
“RETREAT!” Linus helped a fallen comrade, “Come on, I’ll carry you.”
“No...” By the look of his wounds the young man would not survive the trip, “Go...save what’s left of us for Attica...” There was no time to even say goodbye to him. Linus set his jaw, squeezed the fallen warrior’s hand, and continued on shouting Hector’s order.
Half a mile away, enemy soliders were making a gap between the two friends. “Iolaus! Will you watch your back?” Hercules threw him a sword overhead just in time to bring down four more of King Xenon’s former army. And just in time for five to notice the half-god was distracted. Iolaus tried to gain his balance, scrambling to help him.
The last thing he remembered was a yell from Hercules and an agonizing sensation brought down from overhead.
Darkness claimed the rest.
“There is no safer place anywhere in Attica, Hector,” Niobe countered, “...and I’m not the leader here anymore according to the citizens of the kingdom. You are.”
There were guards lining the chamber doors standing like statues along the hallway. Curious, they listened to the conversation through the partially open doors. The windows of the inside chamber were barred, boarded up and locked. She felt like a rat inside a cage, locked in with no escape. She was practically a civilian now, yet Hector insisted she stay protected within the palace.
“He should stay here...at least until he’s well.” She dipped a dark blue cloth in the bowl of warm water beside the bed, trying to soothe the spots where his cheeks had been gashed by swords. They hadn’t spoken to each other in over a winter...and seeing him now brought back what few moments they had together.
“I know what he means to you, Niobe,” Hector urgently spoke, “but if King Malcus’ forces discover him...”
“They won’t.” She said simply. The soft blankets covering him rose and fell in a steady rhythm, a good sign that hopefully meant he would recover quickly. She closed her eyes and rested her head against the back of the smoothly carved chair. Iolaus himself had said she would forget him one day. How can I still be in love with you?” She asked herself, and Iolaus. If he’d been awake, she doubted he would have an answer for her, either.
“Iolaus!” Hercules’ voice cracked, his throat dry from a half day of searching. He knew in his heart it was pointless. Had the hunter escaped on foot he would’ve tracked him down faster than the demi-god could say ‘Mount Olympus.’ After Iolaus had been knocked unconcious, the arrival of the calvary had made it impossible to keep track of him. But that was no excuse. He should’ve thrown himself into the mass of soliders to pick up his best friend. And he did try, but he’d failed. If Iolaus was lying somewhere, hurt...dying... He would never forgive himself. But he couldn’t think about that now. If fate was on his side at all, Attica’s forces had rescued him when they heard the order to retreat. He picked up the pace. To Attica, it was.
The room was fuzzy, but at least it had stopped spinning. Then, gradually it came into view.
Iolaus stopped breathing.
He was in Attica...in the palace. Hector or another from the kingdom’s forces must’ve brought him here. His heart beat faster in his chest when he realized Hercules wasn’t in the room with him. His body finally forced him to breathe again.
He’d been cut practically everywhere by swords, and though his chest and rib cage ached terribly, no ribs were broken. He became very aware of the throbbing in his head as he tried to sit up. Whatever had happened when he’d turned his back to help Hercules, it sure had hit him hard. Sitting up only made it worse, but he had to find out what was going on. He placed one foot on the floor, pushing himself of the bed. Slowly he made his way to the chamber doors, but before he reached out, they were pulled open by someone on the outside.
...And she was so beautiful it made his eyes hurt. Was he dreaming?
“Niobe...” His voice came out in a soft whisper. She nodded.
“We rescued you.”
A smile was all the weakened warrior could manage.
Linus walked at an odd pace, trying to think of what to say to a god. Or a half god...or whatever. Tracking Hercules down was no small task, so he’d probably been lucky. Or maybe the fates had led him to him...or whatever. He was a solider representing Attica, so whatever he was about to say had to reflect on his own kingdom.
“Hercules?” The taller man turned to him, slowing his pace.
“That’s what they call me.”
“I’ve been sent from King Hector...to bring you to Attica. We rescued your friend, Iolaus.”
Relief washed over the Son of Zeus. His best friend - his brother - was safe. “I’m on my way to Attica now. Join me?”
Linus eagerly nodded and they continued along the worn path ahead.
“Did you say King Hector sent you?” Hercules asked.
Linus nodded. “When this war with Xenon’s son, King Malcus’ began, the people blamed it on Queen Niobe. They said that her and Orestes’ plan for peace among the surrounding provinces had failed them. When Orestes died, she changed our traditional way of doing things. The people spoke, and she was forced to step down.”
Hercules’ brow furled in disbelief. “Are you telling me she let them elect their leader?”
Linus shook his head. “Not exactly. She asked the people if they wanted her to remain Queen because she felt she had failed them somehow...and they answered her. So she appointed Hector as King. We’re lucky to have him, who knows who they had in mind.”
“But you haven’t told me why there’s a war going on. Could her ideas have failed that badly?”
“She did carry on, at first. But Malcus had other ideas. He gained our trust as an ally...we shared our new military strategies with him, planning to unite together in one legion to protect both our kingdoms. Now he wants to conquer us instead.”
Hercules sighed, not surprised at all that Xenon's son would want to take Attica. “What about King Phaedron’s army? Isn’t he part of your alliance?”
“He was, but his military forces were even smaller than ours. They didn’t last for more than a few days.”
The demi-god ran a hand through his dark chesnut hair, anxious to reach the palace and see Iolaus. “So what now? Is there any hope of peace?”
The younger man looked up at Hercules with wide eyes still innocent to the price of war. “To tell you the truth...I really don’t know.”
End Part One
Go to Part Two
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