How Close We Were
Part Two - For The King
So every day goes by,
And everyday, I fall...
So every day goes by,
“...So you passed the crown to Hector.” Iolaus concluded, sitting up in the chamber bed. Niobe was just a few steps away from him, still standing.
“Yes...Hector insists I stay at the palace. He believes that after the war the people of Attica will accept me as their Queen again.” Iolaus could detect the doubt in her tone and finally turned to her.
“I know you don’t think they will, but he’s very wise.” He smiled at her. He could tell she was uncomfortable talking to him after they’d...left each other so abruptly just over a winter ago. But that had been by necessity, not by choice. She had had her role as Queen and he...
“Linus probably has found Hercules by now. I’m looking forward to meeting him.”
“He’s the best there is.” Iolaus winced, trying to get up again.
“You shouldn’t...” She stopped in mid-sentence, noticing his gaze, “I just don’t want you to get hurt.”
“A little too late for that, Niobe,” he mused, “but maybe it’s for the best right now...at least until Herc gets here.”
Ameth growled at the soldiers cowering in formation before him, not quite smiling as he slowly passed each man. “King Malcus’ army is not for the weak. Our success at breaking down Attica’s defenses is slowing, and I don’t have to remind you that Malcus is a very impatient man.” He stopped in front of a brown-haired solider, barely out of boyhood, but just a hair taller than Ameth himself. “I saw there were civilians caught in the battle, and you didn’t let them escape. Instead you clobbered one of them! Our law prohibits the killing of civilians in combat. Not an intelligent move, was it?”
The young man shook his head, “But, sir, they were fighting for Attica.”
“Not a good move, was it?” Ameth repeated, inches away from his face.
Without reaction he ended his interrogation. Sure, they were killing, and even if the two men had been for Attica, civilians weren’t included.
He could remember watching his father lost in thought in this very throne room, deciding fate for some in the process. With all the admiration a ten-year-old could have for his father, he’d watched him. Now he was a man, and his father had proven a weak king when he died at the hands of a woman a winter ago. Xenon had always wanted Attica to be part of his growing kingdom, and with the death of Orestes and the rise of Queen Niobe, Malcus had once thought it would be the easiest victory in the history of the surrounding provinces. But King Hector was nothing to laugh at. Attica’s troops were among the very best - they were just outnumbered. In honor of his father, he would continue to press ahead, no matter what the cost.
“Is this as crazy as it sounds?” Hercules asked Iolaus the minute he saw his friend was safe.
The hunter frowned. “What, not even a, ‘hi, Iolaus!’ Or a ‘gee, I’m glad you’re not dead!’ for old time’s sake?”
Hercules smiled, laying a hand on Iolaus’ shoulder. “Hi, Iolaus. Gee, I’m glad you’re not dead.” Not waiting for a reaction, he turned to Niobe, “I’m glad to finally meet you. Iolaus has told me much about you...and Attica. Maybe you can help us straighten out some things before this war gets any worse.”
Growing impatient, Iolaus paced slowly around the bed, “Herc, trying to talk to Malcus won’t solve anything. Look, I know it goes against what we fight for - but like you said on the battlefield - you hate war. The only way to stop it is to take Malcus off the throne. By force.”
Hector watched the demi-god closely and the room silenced, all eyes landing on him. “Well, Hector,” Hercules began, “you’re the king. I’m afraid Iolaus is right. We’ve got to cross the border with your army.”
Linus slowly walked in, looking exhausted and flustered, far too young to be second-in-command. “They’ve taken King Phaedron’s castle. I barely escaped out of there myself! I had a team of five with me and two of us made it back. You’re right, Hector, by the looks of it their entire legion is preparing another attack on us tomorrow.”
Malcus slowly circled Ameth, sensing how nervous he was making him. “You let two of the spies get away - unharmed? I thought you were better than this, Ameth.” The solider despised the mock frustration his king displayed, and didn’t care if that hatred came out in his tone,
“I’m sorry, your highness, but we tried to -”
“Maybe I should lead the army myself,” Malcus continued dramatically, “that way we’ll get this whole ordeal over with.” The general stiffened, knowing his king loved to watch him squirm. Like father, like son. “Anyway,” he started again, “I want the majority of our troops to move out before dawn. Once we secure the palace, I want King Hector killed. And you’ll have the honor of doing me a personal favor.”
Ameth rolled his eyes to the heavens, “Yes, your majesty?”
“Bring Niobe to me. I have so much planned for her and I.”
The general turned to leave and carry out the orders, no matter how ludicrous. “And Ameth.”
“Bring her to me alive. Can you handle all that?”
Yes, sire.” Ameth’s voice wasn’t quite as pleasant as it had been before. It was enough they were going to have to destroy Attica to take it. Now he was to run around kidnapping royalty?
“Well, we’ll leave you alone now.” Linus said, glaring purposely at the half-god who finally understood. That left the hunter and the former queen alone. The heavy oak doors closed with a soft thump behind them, made much louder by the passing silence.
“So...we’re really going to take Malcus’ castle tomorrow.” Niobe sat beside him. He smiled like a fool, not able to take his eyes off her.
“Yeah, imagine that. Herc and I with an army.” She looked away for a moment, averting her eyes to the floor.
“You didn’t want to talk to me about the war, did you?” He gently asked, leaning towards her, “This is for something else...” Niobe nodded, still not quite making eye contact. “Niobe?” He took her hand, “I know when we last saw each other that I hurt you. But I had to leave...you had your place, I had mine.”
She shook her had, refusing to cry in front of him. “No...I know you had to go and it did hurt, but as time went on, I knew it had been for the best. And seeing you here, now...”
He squeezed her hand for her own reassurance, “I’ll be fine, I just got a little banged up, that’s all.”
“I’m not talking about that.”
The hunter leaned closer, totally unaware he was only making it harder for her. “Iolaus...” She felt a tear fall slowly against her cheek and couldn’t believe she was letting him see her cry. What kind of a queen was she? Thank the gods Hector had accepted the throne... “I guess I’m as naive as I ever was, to think you’d hold on to what we had.” She let a small laugh slip, “I must sound like a babbling fool to you.”
He sat up, not letting his injuries bother him from embracing her. “No...I’m the fool. I can’t believe I let you get away.”
She sighed, whispering her response over his shoulder, “So I guess we’re both fools, huh?”
Iolaus chuckled, breathing in the lavender scent of her soft dark hair. “Yeah. Niobe, whatever happens tomorrow, we have to put this all aside. We’ll never get anywhere crying all over the place.”
She nodded, drying her eyes. “I know...I’m sorry. Linus and Hector, they want us to be together. And I...I wanted you to drop everything for me. Gods, Iolaus, I’m sorry I even suggested -”
“Niobe, you know me being king would never have worked -”
“Hector is king.” She reminded him.
It was a bizarre twist of events that had dethroned the strong young woman before him. Her own rewritten laws had backfired on her. She’d thought giving the people more freedoms in their society would prove fruitful. Instead it had knocked her from her place as ruler. And this war - Malcus trying to conquer Attica to expand his father’s kingdom - what would become of her? Of Attica?
“Niobe, do you think after all this, you’ll be accepted as Queen again?” She pulled her robes tighter across her chest and crossed her arms, delaying a reply. “Hector is a true leader, Iolaus. Next to you...I’ve never seen a better king.”
Midnight. Ameth couldn’t believe Malcus wanted to approach the border at midnight. He halted the small group behind him. “After the king is dead, the others will move in. If any of you find Niobe, harm her and Malcus will have your head, understand?”
They nodded, very aware that soldiers loyal to Attica could creep up on them at any given moment. Ameth pulled his sword from its sheath, secretly unwilling to lead any longer. Malcus wasn’t trying to take Attica anymore, he was intent on destroy it and its people. What good was being a solider when your kingdom was led by one so corrupted?
Iolaus awoke, finding Niobe beside him in the royal bed chamber. They’d fallen asleep, innocently enough. The pain from his injuries had subsided for the most part, enough for him to get up and see Hercules. If they were going to defend Attica, they were going to do it together. He laid a kiss on her cheek and pulled the soft blankets up to her chin.
Just as he made it out into the hall, Hector and Linus ran to him with Hercules not far behind, “Iolaus!” Hercules called. “Malcus’ soldiers are in Attica.”
Hector turned to his second-in-command, “Linus, I want guards surrounding Niobe until this whole thing has ended. If anything happens to her, I’ll never forgive myself.”
“Neither will I,” Iolaus said, not realizing he’d said it aloud.
Hector gave him a brief smile and continued, “They’ll want to take the palace first. Hercules, the villagers -”
“As ready as they’ll ever be. Some of the women and children have fled to the outermost villages - or what’s left of them - just in case Malcus decides to destroy the main village as well.”
Iolaus almost laughed. “If he’s anything like Xenon was, he’ll only do what he thinks is necessary. Burning homes is probably among them.”
Hector nodded, knowing he couldn’t hold it off any longer, and they still had time. “Linus, make sure all women and children are evacuated. Malcus probably pulled every man he has out of those lands by now to defeat us...but take a few of our own, just in case.”
“Understood - and sir, all forces report ready.” Linus turned to leave. Hector laid a hand on his shoulder.
“Good luck, my friend.” The younger man smiled and saluted his leader.
“Hector! Stay behind me!” The Son of Zeus’ voice could be felt bouncing against the palace walls. They’d held off most of Malcus’ front line, but being outnumbered was slowing things down. Attica’s second line of soldiers surrounded Hector and the demi-god. But Hector held his own, ignoring Hercules’ offer of protection. Linus was fighting beside him, exhausted from his mission to evacuate the main village. Nevertheless he didn’t let fatigue stop him.
King Malcus was protected by a wall of his best men, giving him the perfect opportunity to creep up behind the half-god amid the chaos in the main hall -
“Let me guess, Malcus, right?” Hercules asked, lifting the man from the ground. He helplessly dangled his feet in the air, choking from the god-like grip, his sword clattering to the ground.
Malcus’ men were trying to pry the heavy oak doors open instead of defending themselves - how inexperienced they were! Iolaus whirled around, kicking one of them so hard on the chin they flew back against the opposite wall.
Niobe threw open the chamber doors, reaching for an arrow over her shoulder. She targeted on unlucky man about to sneak up on Iolaus. He turned, startled, as the solider abruptly fell with a thud behind him. He looked up at her as she innocently shrugged and smiled, pleased with herself.
“Thanks.” Iolaus quickly kissed her cheek before running ahead of her.
“You’re welcome!” She called after him.
“Stand back...” The hunter halted her. There was a lone solider approaching them, sword in hand. Iolaus tensed, taking a fighting stance he’d picked up in the East. Ameth approached him, dropping his sword. It skidded across the floor.
“You’re Niobe, aren’t you?” He asked, glancing over Iolaus’ shoulder at the princess.
“Yes.” She glanced at Iolaus, puzzled.
Iolaus took the sword and threw it to Niobe, who stayed behind him. He approached the soldier, who did not defend himself.
“I was ordered as a leader of my army to capture you.”
Niobe nodded slowly, still grasping the sword as Ameth neared, “But you’re not going to anymore?”
“I stayed loyal to Xenon when he plotted to kill Orestes and take his throne. I stayed loyal to Malcus when he took Phaedron’s kingdom and killed his family. I have seen deaths more horrible than you could ever imagine, Princess.”
Iolaus, with all his heart, wanted to believe the young man was on their side, but it was too risky to trust him. Linus had said the general of Malcus’ army was far too inexperienced to lead. But was he wise enough to see right and wrong all of a sudden? After serving both Xenon and Malcus? There was a way to find out.
“Will you help us escape?” Iolaus asked. Ameth nodded.
“We’ll have to put on quite a show to get passed the rest of Malcus’ soldiers.”
All at once, Niobe kicked off a sandal, messed up her hair and ripped a sleeve off of her dress. “How’s this?”
Iolaus raised an eyebrow. “That’ll do it.” Ameth nodded in approval and continued down the hall.
“Can we trust him?” Niobe whispered to the hunter, but Ameth had heard.
“Do any of us have a choice?” He asked without turning around.
They both knew the answer.
“Out of my way!” Ameth yelled with Niobe struggling over one shoulder. Malcus fought to get to them as soon as he caught sight of them. Ameth quickly set Niobe to her feet and unexpectedly punched him in the stomach, looking quite pleased with himself before a group of his fellow men clobbered him.
“I’m not -” Hercules grabbed Malcus by the collar and hoisted him over his own shoulder, “done with you yet!” Iolaus watched as the screaming monarch landed on the other side of the throne. He ran to Ameth before Hercules did the same to him.
“Herc - he’s with us - come on, let’s get Niobe and Hector out of here.” The last of Malcus’ legion entered the palace - a dozen or so - which they could easily dispose of.
Linus was fending off a solider much bigger than he but being successful. He knocked him to the ground and sharply turned the opposite way to bring down another - just in time to see his king in danger.
“Hector, watch your back!” He shouted, lunging towards him. The man he’d just fought rose up from behind him, sword in determined hand -
And it was the young man from Attica who fell.
“Linus!” Hector yelled, leaving Niobe, Hercules and Iolaus to fight off Malcus’ army.
He held his second-in-command in his arms, feeling the life draining from him. It was a feeling he’d become familiar with because of all his years of service...and one he’d always hoped Linus would be spared. “Hang on, it’s all over -” He shook Linus, trying to keep him conscious, “It’s over, soldier, we’ve won, we’ve...”
His voice faded and he knew it was too late for such things. Linus looked up at him, happy with the news of their victory. “You saved my life, solider.” Hector said.
The young warrior smiled, knowing his king was safe. “For Attica.” He whispered.
Hector nodded, still grasping his hand.
He gently brushed a hand over the fallen soldier’s eyes, closing them to the world forever.
Go to Part 3
Return to Fan Fic