How Close We Were

by Ingrid

Part Three - The Price of War

And so, the light fades away,
try, try, try, as I may...

A winter ago, before the murder of Attica’s king...

It was empty. His chalice was empty. He could see his reflection in the bottom of the gold-lined goblet, staring back at him. The wine jug beside him had been his only comfort during the organizing stages of a peace plan, that in his heart, might have been too ambitious for its own good. Sometimes the sessions with Hector and his other advisors lasted through the night. But he’d promised Niobe not to drink, and after Minos had died he’d promised Iolaus he’d...

Iolaus. He chuckled thinking of his look-a-like heroic cousin who traveled with a half-god. How could Niobe ever had thought Iolaus was him? He rested one hand on the jug handle and grasped it -

“Your majesty?” Hector asked from the entranceway. He paused as Orestes turned.


“We decided not to go overnight on structuring the united’s just too late to begin another session.”

Orestes nodded, rising from his chair, “Yeah...thanks, Hector.”

“Good night, sire.” Hector quickly acknowledged him with a bow and smiled his good night to Niobe.

She had been waiting for her king, hid from view by Hector. She glanced at the wine glass in his hand, disappointed. He’d broken his promise. “I knew you couldn’t do it,” She began, shaking her head, “I knew you couldn’t -” Then the jug caught her eye, completely full and undisturbed on the dark marble table top in front of Orestes. She’d never noticed how tired he looked, and how...

How lonely he seemed.

“Orestes, I’m sorry, I -” He waved off her apologies, setting the goblet down.

“I was going to, but I...” Niobe was still never sure how to approach him, how to offer some kind of sympathy for a man she wasn’t in love with. One who slept beside her every night, with never an intimate moment passing between them. Never a moment...

“It’s been almost a year, hasn’t it?” She sat down and gestured for him to do the same.

“...With Minos alive, no matter how unfit I saw him to be...the royal line of succession would’ve gone on. But now, you and I...”

She knew what he was getting at. “Orestes, I know all this planning has taken its toll on you. Maybe you shouldn’t jump so far ahead. We have a long rule ahead of us in Attica.”

He looked up at her in a way that reminded her so much of Iolaus - maybe that was why she couldn’t fall in love with him. He and Iolaus were so alike - and so different! She’d started comparing the two so much...and she knew it was unfair to the man before her. What she’d felt for Iolaus she could never feel for Orestes... could she?

“Niobe,” He paused, thinking of how to place the words, “I’ve been thinking this through for a long time, and maybe I should tell you before I...go any further with it.”

“All right.”

He rose, brushing his robes behind him, walking to the other side of the room. He returned a few moments later, a small scroll in his right hand. “A new law...for succession. If a royal heir is not produced by the ruling king and queen, they may elect their next most trusted advisor before time of death. Even if they are not considered to be in a royal line...of any sort.”

He paused, waiting for her reaction. “You’ll be ending your families’ tradition...”

“I know...there’s more.”


Their voices echoed in the small room as did the parchment as he opened it further. She could see that it had already been stamped with his royal seal. “Secondly, if the people of Attica see fit that their ruler’s actions are unjust or ineffective in protecting the kingdom, they have the right to ask their ruler to step down.”

“Step down...Orestes, where did all this come from?”

He glanced up at her, “The second clause will be in our peace plan...the first is my own. Niobe, if we...if we don’t have an heir...”

“I just don’t think you should look that far into the future.” He let the scroll fall on the table top to adjust the heavy golden crown atop his blonde head and drew a breath,

“I know how you feel about me, about us...but I have to make sure my father’s kingdom will be taken care of. And if anything happens to you or I, if war should break out -”

“Orestes -” She laid a hand over his, a totally unexpected gesture that took him by surprise, “I’m asking you to wait. It’ll be a long time...before we need an heir. We’ve only been married a short time.”

He put the small scroll in the hand that had held his, if just for a brief moment, “For you, I will. But promise me, if anything happens - if this peace plan should falter - you’ll enact this law. If not for me, then for Attica.”

Niobe grasped the document, turning it over in her hand. Solemnly, she nodded.

“I promise.”


When they’d retired to their room, Niobe found that she couldn’t fall asleep nearly as quickly as her husband beside her had. She felt so guilty, yelling at him when he was exhausted - he hadn’t given in to escaping pressures with a wine jug. He didn’t even let her apologize, as if he had been the one accusing her of something. And the scroll he’d given her, if passed as law would end royal succession as tradition in Attica. All because she couldn’t love her own husband. She moved closer to him, listening to the steady rhythm of his breathing. Did she even really know him? They would be ruling Attica for a long time, lifelong. She spoke in their peace plan discussions of hope, of forgiveness and trust. Yet she’d been so cold to him. She closed her eyes and grasped his hand that had been resting on her own pillow. “I’m so sorry...” Was all she could whisper.

Back in the present...

Ameth smiled, watching his former king sulk in prison, awaiting trail. He turned when Hercules entered.

“Ameth...I can only say what you did took a lot of courage. Turning on your king isn’t easy...even if he was a king like Malcus.” Although he was out of uniform and in civilian clothing, the training he’d grown up with didn’t leave as easily. He stood at attention as if Hercules was addressing him as a soldier. But the half-god didn’t bother to remind him of it.

“Well, you can only be loyal to those who are deserving of it. Those who wanted to protect their kingdom instead of trying to make more enemies for it.”

They left the dim prison together, squinting as the sunlight hit their faces outside. “Who’ll be king, now that Malcus is awaiting trial?” Niobe heard Hercules ask as she approached them.

“According to Malcus’ father’s law, if a king is imprisoned, someone has to defend the throne until he is released - especially during wartime.”


“He was a great soldier...and life was just taken from him.” Hector said, shaking his head. Iolaus laid a supportive hand on the king’s shoulder, watching as Linus’ burial ceremony was completed.

“He was a man sworn to protect Attica. He knew the risks, Hector, of being part of your defense. He died saving his king...and that’s the most honorable death for a soldier, and a friend.”

Hector managed a small smile for him, nodding. “Have most of the families returned?” He asked as Hercules, Ameth and Niobe returned to him.

Iolaus nodded, “The main village took a lot of damage...but its the outlying lands that need our help the most. Houses were burned to the ground along with crops. Herc and I are going to take a few days to help them put things back in order after we get done here.”

The hunter turned to Ameth, the man who had been their unlikely hero of the day. “I know what you did was hard - betraying your king. But it was the right thing to do.”

Hector started back for the palace, taking one last glance at Linus’ burial site, then at Niobe; the three were silent as they watched the king go. “Attica will recover because of him.” Niobe said, looking up at Iolaus and Hercules. Maybe this was for the best...besides, it about time I learned what living a real life is like. I’ve been a princess and a queen...but I don’t think I ever lived, did I?” She smiled at Iolaus.

“Not if you haven’t gone fishing with me.”

Her forehead wrinkled in distaste, “Fishing? Oh, Iolaus...”

Hercules shook his head. “I’m disappointed in you, Niobe. You can work to save Attica with Hector against Malcus...but you can’t fish?”

It had been the first light moment of the last few days, and it felt good to laugh again. Niobe looked back towards the palace. “Niobe, once Hector is ready, tell him Ameth and I’d like to take a look at that peace plan...King Phaedron, too.” Phaedron was to arrive the next day to meet with Ameth and Hector. They’d settle things once and for all, and without another king like Malcus.

Before the war in Attica...

Night was silently passing by for the rulers in the palace at Marathon. King Phaedron, well-protected, was asleep in his royal chamber. Soldiers whispered to each other, some friends, others just being introduced to each other. The final piece to Queen Niobe’s League of Kingdoms plan had just been enacted not a week ago, in which each allied kingdom’s military forces were expanded for a more powerful unit. Now each ruler had a larger defense - especially king Malcus’ kingdom as with Attica’s. Word was that Phaedron thought the idea silly at first; it had taken Niobe some time to get him to agree to it. More soldiers from more walks of life meant a variety of experience, hence enhancing an army. Or so he hoped. Keeping peace was more important to him than anything, and his kingdom had prospered from the plan already.

The queen of Attica was staying as a guest at his palace to ensure the transition of the king’s expanding military ran smoothly. But for all the good they were trying to do, it had become all the more an advantage to King Malcus. And one of the leaders in his army, who had just been transferred to Phaedron’s defense, knew it. The corridor was guarded by four other soldiers, all from Malcus’ army except one, from Attica.

“Are they ready in the main hall?” Ameth asked the man beside him.

“Yes. You’ll have to hurry down there, though. I don’t know if the diversion will last long enough for us to get to the queen -”

“It had better be.” Ameth sternly whispered back, adjusting the sword in his hand.

Linus stood at the opposite end of the hall, watching them. They hurried towards him as they heard the commotion beginning on the grounds below them. The torches that had lit the hall were being carried off by soldiers running to the stairs.

“There’s something happening down there!” Ameth shouted maybe a little too theatrically. Linus hurried along behind him to the stairway but stopped to turn back.

“You go - there’s only a few of us left to guard the queen.”

Another man from Malcus’ army rolled his eyes,

“And what about the palace?”

“Niobe is more -” Linus never finished his sentence. A quick blow to the head by a man behind him prevented it. In the dim light, he never saw their faces.


By now Niobe had been woken up by the noise, quickly arming herself with her bow. Something was happening in the palace and as Queen she wasn’t going to cower in her bedroom.

Hector threw open the doors to the room, nearly scaring her half to death, “Niobe! We’ve got to get you out of here!” She followed him, clinging to his side but holding steadfast to her bow, an arrow already set to protect her. Without warning two soldiers knocked Hector the ground and managed to keep him there, long enough for the other to corner her.

In what little light there was in the corridor she could just barely make out his face. She gasped, still gripping her bow as he raised a sword to her throat. If only Iolaus had stayed, if only -

“Drop your sword.” The soldier holding down Hector said. It clattered to the floor at the same time Niobe dropped her bow.

“Lay one hand on the queen of Attica...” Linus struck the man restraining Hector, still a little dazed, a hand on his head. Ameth ran as soon as the other soldier rose up, disappearing quickly into the darkness of the stairwell.

“Go after them!” Hector yelled. The remaining men from Attica were already half-way down the stone steps.

He ran to Niobe, helping her up. “You all right?” She nodded. “Did you get a good look at him?”

She shook her head, “Not really...but he was from Malcus’ army by the look of the uniform. Hector, you were right...I can’t believe it, after all we’ve done for his kingdom, but you’re right. I promised the people of Attica that this peace plan would prevent any conflict. I’m afraid...we can’t avoid this war.”

Linus, out of breath, ran back up the stairwell. “There were five of them, sir. We have three of them but can’t find the other two. They’ve probably fled the palace by now.”

“That quickly? Linus, I want all soldiers belonging to Malcus out of the palace as of this moment. And get King Phaedron out here. My queen, I’m afraid you’ll have to be guarded around the clock.” He didn’t even turn to his queen as he spoke to her, “We’re taking you back to Attica, it’s not safe for you to be here.”

Niobe took a deep breath, trying to get a grip on what had just happened. “Hector, I need you to see something as soon as we return to Attica. It was something I passed as law when Orestes was killed -”

See something? Niobe, you were just nearly murdered!”

“It’s important, Hector. Something I promised.”

He shook his head, “Niobe, I thought you would’ve listened to your counsel and I when we told you to leave the military clause of this treaty to military you realize what this merge has started? Soldiers will always be loyal to their own king.”

“Of course I knew the risks, Hector! Now like you said, we have to get out of here.”

If word of her failure to control the expanded military spread to Attica, there was no doubt her place as Queen would be in danger. She grabbed the arm of the man who had practically raised Orestes, “When we arrive I need you to help me with something.”

“That promise you spoke of?” Niobe nodded, picking up her bow.

“It concerns you...and Attica. But Hector, if anything happens to me before we reach Attica, I want you to take the throne.”

The general nearly dropped his sword as they approached Phaedron’s palace doors, “What?!”

“I can’t explain right now, but it’s in the scroll Orestes left to me.”

“What scroll? What are you talking about?” Hector ran to catch up to her. Linus was not far behind, bringing word that there were horses for them waiting at the palace gates. A wall of Phaedron’s soldiers shielded them from possible attack as they ran to mount them, their own king watching them leave. “Niobe!” Hector yelled, but the Queen had already kicked her horse into a strong gallop. She hadn’t done anything this rash since her days as a young princess.

“There’s no time, Hector, come on!” She shouted over her shoulder. She had to reach Attica before the news of war reached the kingdom, praying that the fates were on her side.


Back in the present...

“You wanted to see me?” Ameth asked. Niobe took a few steps toward him. Hector was seated behind her on the throne, awaiting her opinion of what his decision should be.

“Yes. I wanted to talk to you about the night war broke out in Attica.”

The young man paled; she had recognized him from that night! Why hadn’t she jailed him, then? Or had him killed?

“You were there. I saw you running down the stairwell when Hector called for our men to go after you. Tell me, the other man you fled with...I know there were only two of you that escaped...where is he now?”

“Dead. He was the soldier who killed your man, Linus.”

She nodded, “I could have you executed. Sentenced to slavery. Jailed. Any of those for what you almost succeeded in doing that night.”

Ameth straightened, once again taking on the stance of the soldier he no longer was. “Do what you must.”

“Ameth, you helped save my life. If I’d been trapped in that chamber or in that hall yesterday, I could’ve been killed. You realized that loyalty to a king can only go so far. And now by your kingdom’s own law, you could be considered Malcus’ successor.”

Ameth shook his head. “I know...but I’m not deserving of it. Helping to protect you doesn’t make up for being part of Malcus’ army for so long.”

“No, it doesn’t. But people can change, Ameth.” Iolaus interrupted them. “I’ve seen it all my life traveling along side Hercules.”

Niobe smiled, knowing Iolaus was a living testament to that. She continued as Hercules came to stand beside his best friend in the throne room, “Things can happen that change everything, even things you were so sure of.” And for a moment she thought of Orestes...of the night he’d put that scroll in her hand, only a few nights before he was killed...

“What are you saying?” Ameth asked.

“You risked your life for what you believed was right. That by it’s very definition is how a king should rule.”

“You’re not going to...”

She smiled. “I don’t think I’d be a fool to advise King Hector to do so. What do you think, my king?”

Hector rose from the throne, “I think Ameth and I have a lot of work to do. And a long future ahead of us.”

“If Niobe would join us, I’d like to start taking a look at your plans.”

“It’s not my place anymore.” Niobe replied, shaking her head.

Hector put an arm around her as they walked together with Ameth, “Well, you know, as King, I do need an advisor...”

Niobe raised an eyebrow, not able to hide a smile, “I thought I was to leave military matters to military men.”

Hector shrugged, “Well, what you wanted for our kingdom - allies - was a plan with a lot of potential, Niobe. It wasn’t you who faltered, it was Malcus. Besides, Attica has gotten this far with its Queen. Who am I to let you leave the palace?”

“You never give up, do you?”

The older man looked over at Ameth, who couldn’t hold back his grin as well. “I still consider you queen, Niobe, I always will. And as for your answer...nope, I never do.”



The book closes and we try to forget,
but I know that things won't change.
How we feel, how life goes on,
...and that seems so strange...

She knew it was coming. She’d been dreading it for the past three days while Hercules and Iolaus had put Attica’s outlying villages back together. She’d helped raise barns, rebuild houses and till fields under, all working side by side with them. But after all the preparation telling herself Iolaus wouldn’t stay - couldn’t stay, she knew she wouldn’t be able to hold anything back.

The main village was bustling with activity and for the most part seemed as if nothing of war had ever touched it. They walked arm in arm through the marketplace, checking to make sure no one else was in need of assistance. “Iolaus, I know what you’re going to say to me. And I can’t hear you say it again. I mean, I don’t have the responsibility of ruling an entire kingdom anymore, I -”

“Niobe,” He took her slightly shaking hands, “I want you do know, I would do anything to be able to stay here, to live with you here.”

“Then stay!” She knew she was pleading, but she didn’t care anymore, “I can’t do this all alone again.”

“Niobe, you were never alone.”

“A year ago you told me I would be able to fall in love again and forget you...but have I? Have you?” She asked. He brushed a hand gently over her cheek. This wasn’t right. He couldn’t leave her. Because of the events of the last few days they’d barely had time to say anything to each other, let alone ‘I love you.’

Thoughts raced through his mind - of them, a home together - but then of Hercules and the great work he felt was still ahead of them. Together. “This is about you and I?” He asked.

She couldn’t answer him, because it was partially true. She did need Iolaus, and she’d promised Orestes to take care of his kingdom... But she had done that for the fallen king. Attica was in very capable hands. It suddenly dawned on her that now she could be with Iolaus, traveling with him - but what of her promise to Hector to stay?

“It’s funny...I meet the woman who made me fall in love again and I can’t be with her.”

She closed her eyes, burying herself in the moment for as long as it could last. “You’ll come back this way?”

He smiled, working hard to hold back his own emotion. The last thing she needed was to see him shed a tear. “Of course I will.” She kissed him one last time, not caring that the whole village was watching them.

“We close.” She breathed the words against him.

“I know.”

They parted, grasping one another’s hand until distance claimed the hold. Hercules was waiting for him a short distance away. Iolaus would never learn the full story of exactly what the small scroll said, the words that had changed Niobe’s life. Or the feelings she had had that led her to crown Hector as king...and she wanted to keep it that way. She wanted him to remember her as a strong woman that rose up from a fall, one who had continued to fight even when her own plans for peace had failed her.

“You okay?” Hercules asked, concerned.

The hunter didn’t know what made him do it, but he turned to see Niobe smiling brightly, drying the last of her tears with the back of her hand. She smiled, looking so full of hope, it made him think that they had made the right decision after all. He looked up at his best friend, finally answering him.

“Yeah, buddy...I’ll be all right.”

The End

The lyrics that inspired the story...


by Phil Collins

I got lost,
couldn't find my way
and I guess there's nothing more to say
Love can make you blind,
make you act so strange,
but I'm here,
and here I will stay.

So everyday, I cry
yes, everyday, I fall
do you ever wonder why,
why I love everything about you?

But everyday I say I'll try
to make my heart be still
'till then every way there is to cry
ourselves to sleep, we will.

It picked me up, knocked me off my feet,
I've got no way to explain
Still I love you, love you, love you, this fire inside
will never see the light of day.

So everyday goes by,
and everyday, I fall
it makes me wonder why,
my life's worth nothing without you.

But everyday I say I'll try
to make my heart be still
'Cause every way there is to cry
ourselves to sleep, we will.

You'll never know, no,
you'll never know just how close we were...
you'll never know, no,
you'll never know
no, you'll never see...

The book closes and we try to forget,
but I know that things won't change
how we feel, how life goes on
...and that seems so strange.

And so the light fades away,
try, try, try as I may
I can't stop thinking about you -
it seems my life's worth nothing without you.

But everyday I say I'll try
to make my heart be still
'til then every way there is to cry
ourselves to sleep, we will.

Everyday, everyday, you know I try so hard
Everyday, everyday, it gets a little harder

Everyday, everyday,
you know, it gets a little harder...

My special thanks to Beckers. :-)

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