No copyright infringement intended on the characters owned by RenPics and/or Universal Studios. The character of Elissa is all mine, however, so nyaah!
Author's Note: This story contains some mild language and scenes of violence. Nothing graphic, but sensitive readers be warned.
"The Price of Love" - Roger Daltrey
“Waiting for someone?”
Hebe jumped at the sound of the hunter’s voice behind her and blushed at having been caught staring off down the road.
“Hercules said that he’d be back yesterday,” she said softly, turning her attention back to the wheat she’d been grinding.
“I’m sure he’s all right,” Iolaus reassured her. “He may have gotten sidetracked, but he’ll be here soon. That’s a promise.” Hebe gave him one of her blinding smiles. He and Elissa had welcomed her into their hearts and had given her a home and a family, and she was at a loss over how to thank them. Eventually, Hebe knew that she would have to go and find her place in the world, but for now she was content to stay in the safe confines of the three kind people that cared about her, even if one of them was a bit late. Iolaus winked at the girl as he left her sitting in front of the house and went in to bring a string of fish to Elissa.
“I see you caught enough for Hercules,” she commented, taking the line from him. “Think he’ll be back in time for dinner?”
“He’d better be,” the hunter replied. “If he isn’t, I think our poor Hebe is going to wither away from loneliness.”
“They are just too cute together, aren’t they?” Iolaus made a face, which did not go unnoticed by the healer. “We used to be like that once, you know,” she reminded him.
“We were never that sickening,” he argued with a grin.
“No, we were worse.” Although the rabid passion of their early romance had gradually cooled into something more stable and comfortable, the depth of the love the two shared had grown increasingly stronger over the years. The tie of their souls was as intense as ever, but with a little less flamboyance.
“Well, there is no doubt about it. Those two have definitely fallen for each other. And I think it’s exactly what both of them needed. But I have noticed that Hercules is still sleeping out by the fire.”
“I think Hebe needs a little more time with that,” the healer explained as she dressed the fish. “She’s never known love. It’s all been violence with her, and it’s probably going to take her awhile to see the difference. I’m sure it’s probably natural for her to equate intimacy with pain and fear.”
“If anyone can help her get over that, it’s Hercules.”
“You could have gone to Hellespont with him.”
“He didn’t need me this time,” Iolaus said dismissively. “And someone had to stay behind and finish that barn for those horses that you two insisted on keeping.”
Elissa smiled at her husband‘s good natured complaints. She had quickly grown attached to the spirited stallion that she had stolen from Calais, and had mentioned in passing that she would keep him if she could find a place to house him. The next day, Hercules and Iolaus had begun work, clearing an area adjacent to the stone house and setting up the framework for a small barn. A few of the villagers had come to help them, and the structure was finished in no time. After Hercules had been called away, Iolaus had busied himself with building a fence around the barn so that the horses could be free during the day.
Hebe suddenly burst through the door as rapidly as her lame leg would allow her.
“I think he’s coming,” she said excitedly, depositing her ground wheat on the table and smoothing her hair with her hands.
“Then maybe I’ll just go out and meet him,” Iolaus grinned, leaving Elissa to calm the girl down. The hunter made his way outside and did indeed see his friend approaching. Iolaus began walking up the road, calling out a greeting.
“Hey, Herc,” he yelled, waving to his partner. The demigod returned the wave, but as they met, Iolaus could plainly see that he was bothered by something. “What is it? Did everything go all right in Hellespont?”
“Yes, fine,” Hercules answered.
“Then what’s wrong?” the hunter persisted, falling in step beside his friend.
“We’ve got trouble,” the demigod replied. “But I’d rather tell everyone all at once.”
“Ok,” Iolaus agreed, slightly confused. “Let’s go back to the house. The girls are working on dinner, and Hebe’s dying to see you.”
Hercules did indeed receive a warm welcome from the girl as they went in, and he reciprocated it gladly. He hadn’t known her very long, but he truly had fallen in love with her. She was so vulnerable, yet she had an underlying strength which had led to her survival. Hebe was sweet, and warm, and she was by far the most beautiful woman he had ever lain eyes on. She was the first girl he’d had such strong feelings for since Serena had been taken from him. A part of him had decided that he was through with love, as it had invariably proven fatal to the object of his affection twice. But he couldn’t help being drawn to Hebe, almost against his will. That’s what made it so hard to tell her.
“I was on my way back here from Hellespont after I had stopped the bandits from raiding the town,” Hercules began as they all sat down to dinner. “A man came running up to me. He was one of Calais’ soldiers.” A loud clatter resounded as Hebe dropped her spoon on her plate.
“What did he want?” Elissa asked softly.
“He wanted to warn me,” the demigod continued. “He said that Calais had escaped from prison. And that if I knew where Hebe was, I had to warn her because he would most likely be looking for her.”
“You didn’t tell him where I was, did you?” the girl demanded.
“Of course not,” Hercules reassured her. “But do you really think Calais will be stupid enough to come after you when he knows that everyone will be looking for him?”
“Yes,” the girl cried, her face going white at the thought.
“I do, too,” Elissa said quietly, putting a comforting arm around the trembling girl. “Hebe was his trophy. He owned her, and he can’t stand it that she no longer belongs to him. He’ll stop at nothing to get her back. He told me himself that he never walks away from a challenge.”
“Well if he doesn’t walk away from this one, he’ll have us to contend with,” Iolaus vowed.
Hercules moved next to the healer to embrace the distraught girl, holding her tightly in his strong arms.
“Hebe,” he whispered. “I promised you I’d keep you safe. Iolaus and I will find Calais. I won’t let him hurt you again.”
“You can’t stop him,” she said helplessly.
“We’ll see about that,” Hercules declared.
The demigod turned to see Salmoneus waving frantically as he trotted toward him.
“What are you doing here?” Hercules asked as he slowed his step to accommodate the salesman.
“Looking for you,” Salmoneus panted. “I met a farmer in Troy that needs your help.”
“Listen, Salmoneus, I’m a little busy right now.”
“But you are the only one that can get his son back.”
“What happened to his son?” the demigod asked out of curiosity.
“Zeus took him.”
Hercules stared at his friend for several minutes before turning away and continuing down the road into Acheron.
“I don’t have time for this,” he said dismissively.
“Wait,” Salmoneus called, running to keep up with him. “He’s your father. Can’t you at least talk to him?”
“He’s never listened to me before, so what makes you think he’ll listen to me now?” Hercules asked coldly.
“Hercules, it’s a man’s son. A little boy, five years old. This farmer is beside himself, and his only hope is you.”
“All right,” the demigod said with a huge sigh, realizing that Salmoneus was right. “I’ll see what I can do. But I have to take care of another problem first. You didn’t happen to run into any suspicious looking warlords along the way here, did you?”
“Has anybody ever told you that it’s really dangerous being your friend?”
“All the time,” Hercules muttered, catching sight of Iolaus coming out of the tavern. He called out, and the hunter stopped to wait for them.
“Hey, Sal. Where have you been hiding?” Iolaus asked, nodding at Salmoneus.
“Here and there,” the salesman answered vaguely.
“Why did you take off like that? Elissa was worried about you.”
“I know, and I’m sorry,” Salmoneus apologized. “But I just felt so guilty about all the trouble I caused, I thought it would be better if I got out of sight for awhile. Is she mad?”
“No, and she’ll be glad to see you,” Iolaus told him, giving him a friendly slap on the back before turning his attention to Hercules. “Did you find anything?”
“Not so much as a trace of Calais anywhere in the outskirts,” the demigod answered. “I don’t know whether to be disappointed or relieved. Did you warn everyone in town?”
“Yes,” the hunter told them. “If he shows up anywhere around here, he’s in for a world of trouble.”
“I guess that’s all we can do,” Hercules said.
“Then let’s get back to the house,” Iolaus urged. “I really don’t think we should have left the girls there alone.”
“I’m sure they’re fine,” the demigod reassured him. “They’re barricaded inside and Elissa’s armed with her whip. We’ve made sure that Calais doesn’t stand much of a chance of getting through town to get to them.”
“Unless he’s already here,” Salmoneus said absently.
“What?” Both Hercules and Iolaus whirled around to stare down the salesman.
“Uh, nothing,” Salmoneus stammered. “I was just...”
“Herc,” Iolaus began urgently. “Did you ever wonder why one of Calais’ men would want to warn Hebe that he had escaped?”
“I... just assumed he wanted to help her. Maybe he had some compassion for the poor girl.”
“Or maybe he was still working for Calais.”
“What do you mean?” the demigod asked tightly.
“What if Calais set him up? What if he got him to warn you, figuring that you’d make a beeline to warn Hebe?”
“And then I’d lead Calais right to her,” Hercules concluded, suddenly feeling like an idiot. “Come on, we have to get back to the house!”
Hercules and Iolaus raced through the approaching night back toward the stone house where they had left Hebe and Elissa, and surprisingly, Salmoneus followed not far behind. As they neared their destination, it became apparent that something was most definitely wrong. The flickering light that they had seen against the sky as they had approached was soon identified as fire. Great billows of smoke were pouring out of the newly built barn as tongues of flame shot through the roof to lick at the darkened sky.
“Check the house,” Iolaus shouted as he sped toward the barn. Hercules began sprinting toward the house, and after a moment’s hesitation, Salmoneus made his way toward the fire. The hunter leapt through the barn door, nimbly avoiding the flames consuming the walls. Smoke immediately began stinging his eyes, making it even more difficult to see through the hazy air. A loud creaking sounded above him, and he knew he didn’t have long before the whole building collapsed on top of him. The barn was too far gone to be saved, but Iolaus couldn’t be sure if anyone was inside or not.
Through the roar of the flames, Iolaus thought he heard Salmoneus shouting his name. Looking around him desperately, the hunter failed to see either of the horses, taking it as a sign that everyone was out. A large timber from the roof suddenly came crashing down next to him, and he decided that his time was up. He burst through the barn door just as a large section of the roof fell. Falling to his knees, coughing and trying to suck the cool night air into his lungs, Iolaus heard his name being called again. Once he could sufficiently breathe, the hunter looked up through watering eyes to see Salmoneus crouching beside a still form in the grass.
“It’s Elissa,” the salesman shouted as Iolaus staggered over to them. The hunter slumped down beside his wife and gently brushed the hair back from her face. His fingers came away sticky.
“She’s bleeding,” he announced, taking her wrist in his hands to try and find her pulse. “But she’s still alive. Gods, Elissa, please be ok.”
An ominous creaking noise drew their attention back to the barn. With a shower of sparks and a loud whoosh of flame, the remaining frame of the barn collapsed. Iolaus watched for a moment as his hard work was consumed in a massive fireball, then he turned his attention back to the unconscious woman before him.
“I can’t see a damn thing out here,” he yelled to Salmoneus. “We have to get her back to the house.” The hunter gathered his wife in his arms and followed the salesman’s lead.
“Where’s Elissa?” Hercules barked as Salmoneus came through the door. “Hebe’s been...” His words trailed off as the salesman stepped aside and he saw the healer hanging limply in Iolaus’ arms. “Is she all right?”
“I don’t know,” Iolaus answered. “It looks like someone knocked her out. Is Hebe ok?”
Hercules gave a quick shake of the head as he looked down at the sobbing girl in his arms. He looked up to meet his brother’s eyes, and both exchanged the same look of fear, worry, and guilt.
“He’s dead,” Salmoneus said quietly, examining the body that was crumpled in the corner of the kitchen.
“Good,” the demigod whispered.
“Hi there,” Iolaus said softly as Elissa’s eyes finally blinked open. He moved to sit beside her on their bed and took her hand in his. “Boy, did you have me scared. I was starting to think you weren’t ever going to wake up.”
“What happened?” she asked weakly.
“Calais conked you. Do you remember?”
“I... everything’s fuzzy,” the healer murmured, reaching up to feel the bandage wrapped around her head.
“It’s ok,” Iolaus comforted. “You don’t have to think about it now.”
“It hurts too much to think,” Elissa said with a wry grin.
“I’ll get you something for that,” the hunter promised. He kissed her hand gently and rose from the bed.
“Wait,” the healer stopped him, wincing against the pain that rushed through her head as she struggled to sit up. “Hebe. Is she all right?”
“Yes, she’s all right.”
“No,” Elissa protested. “You hesitated. What’s wrong?”
“She’s going to be ok,” Iolaus assured her. “Let me get you something to help with the pain, and then I’ll tell you everything, all right?” He slipped out the door as Elissa sighed and lay back down..
“I remember now,” she said as the hunter returned with a mug of tea. “Hebe and I were inside and we heard the horses going crazy. I looked out, and the barn was on fire, so I ran out there. I managed to get the horses out, but they broke free and ran off. I was going back to try and save the barn, but... I guess that’s when Calais hit me.”
“Good thing you have such a hard head,” Iolaus teased affectionately. “Here, sit up.” He helped her up and made her drink the medicinal tea. “I sweetened it with honey, so it shouldn’t be too bad.”
“It’s fine,” she whimpered, slumping back down on the bed and cradling her aching head in her arms. “I just hope you made it extra strength.”
“You’re going to be all right,” the hunter said suddenly, reaching out a gentle hand to stroke her auburn hair.
“Of course I am,” Elissa retorted indignantly.
“I just had to say it out loud,” Iolaus grinned. “I was so afraid for awhile there that I was going to lose you.”
“Can’t get rid of me that easily,” she murmured.
“You’d better get some rest,” the hunter suggested, but she was having none of it.
“What happened to Hebe?”
“Calais got to her,” Iolaus finally told her, realizing that she wouldn’t relax until he told her the truth. “Apparently, he smacked her around at first while he filled her head with all the horrible things he was going to do to her. Then he raped her, and while he was doing that, he cut her.”
“Cut her?” The healer was horrified. “How bad?”
“He cut her all over,” the hunter continued. “Most of them were superficial, but the bastard slashed her face. One long gash from her forehead to her chin.” Iolaus closed his eyes, feeling sick. As Elissa had been incapacitated, it had been left to him to treat the girl’s injuries and to sew up that terrible wound.
“Oh, gods,” Elissa whispered.
“He probably would have cut the other side, but Hercules interrupted him. He pulled Calais off her and tossed him across the room. I guess he didn’t bother checking his strength, because Calais hit with enough force to shatter his skull.”
“Are they all right?”
“Hebe’s obviously very upset. Hercules is beating himself up. Not over killing Calais, but because he thinks it’s his fault that Calais got to her in the first place.”
“And how are you doing?” Elissa asked softly.
“Me? I’ve been too worried about you to even think about anything else.”
“Why did this have to happen to Hebe?” the healer muttered. “It’s not bad enough that Calais took practically her whole life from her and crippled her. Just when she finally broke free of him, he shows up again and does this to her. Hasn’t she been through enough?”
“Honey,” Iolaus comforted her. “Don’t get upset. You’re hurt, and you need to rest. There’s nothing you can do now, so just try and forget about it and get some sleep.”
“Will you stay with me?” Elissa asked. In answer, the hunter carefully climbed into the bed next to her and wrapped his warm arms around her.
“Always,” he whispered in her ear.
Hercules sighed as he stared up the slope of Mount Olympus. It was going to be a long, hard climb, and he was not looking forward to it. But, the sooner he got started, the sooner he would reach the top. Heaving another weary sigh, he began his accent.
He hadn’t really wanted to start this task. The demigod had been very worried about Hebe. She was very emotionally fragile after the attack by Calais. And even though he was dead and could not hurt her ever again, she couldn’t seem to shake the perpetual fear that haunted her. Nightmares robbed her of sleep, and she had become very withdrawn and self-conscious about her appearance. Iolaus had done an admirable job of stitching the gash on her face, but she would forever more be left with a prominant scar. The only time she seemed to relax at all was when Hercules was close beside her, so naturally he was loathe to leave for what would probably become a matter of weeks.
But Salmoneus kept reminding him of the people that needed him, and once Hebe had heard the story she insisted that he go. She was not about to let a little boy suffer on account of herself. So Hercules had gone to Troy and met with Tros. The farmer told him that a great eagle had swooped down from the sky and stolen his only son, Ganymede, and it didn’t take a demigod to realize that the eagle was the symbol of the king of the gods. It had carried the child up to the heavens, and later a herd of magnificent horses had appeared on the farm. Tros believed that they were compensation for the loss of his son, but he did not want them. He begged Hercules to bring back his child, and after hearing the story the demigod could not refuse him. Hercules could not figure out what his father would want with a small boy, but he was determined to get to the bottom of it.
Iolaus had wanted to accompany his partner, but the demigod had refused. While he missed his friend’s comforting presence, he felt better knowing that the hunter was home with the girls where he could protect them. Elissa was still suffering from headaches, and Hebe needed all the support she could get, so he felt that someone should be there for them. Hercules was also nervous about bringing Iolaus to Olympus. Being the son of Zeus offered him a degree of protection, but he didn’t really think it was a wise idea for the hunter to stroll through the realm of the gods where several enemies would be lying in wait for their chance to pick him off. No, this was one adventure that was best kept to himself.
Hercules had climbed for what felt like days, until finally he could see the gate to Olympus up in the distance. At the altitude he’d reached, the air should have been bitterly cold, but a balmy breeze wafted over him instead. He continued upward, moving through the thickening clouds and eventually reaching the immense golden gates. They opened easily enough under his hand, and Hercules stepped through to Olympus. A brilliant light illuminated the area, which was strangely quiet and devoid of gods. Hercules began walking toward the great temple before him, treading over the cloud firmament that was completely solid under his feet. The demigod pushed open the door to the magnificent Temple of Zeus, and his footsteps echoed loudly through the silent hall as he moved across the marble floor. It wasn’t long before Hercules spotted the child, hiding behind a giant pillar.
“Hi there,” the demigod said gently, kneeling down before the boy. “Are you Ganymede?”
“Yes,” the child whispered. “Who are you?” He was an absolutely beautiful fair haired boy, but he was obviously terrified.
“My name’s Hercules.”
“Really?” Ganymede lost a little fear as he realized that the big man before him was the hero from all the stories he’d heard in his short life.
“Really,” the demigod avowed. “Your daddy sent me here to find you. He misses you an awful lot. If you want, you can come with me and I’ll take you back home to him.”
Ganymede nodded vigorously and climbed into Hercules’ outstretched arms, hardly believing that he was being rescued by the legendary hero himself. The demigod rose and headed toward the temple door, but a voice behind him stopped him in his tracks.
“I can’t let you take him, Hercules.”
“What could you possibly want with him?” the demigod demanded, turning to face his father.
“Look at him,” Zeus instructed. “He is a vision of beauty and innocence. I want to preserve that. Here he’ll be safe from the dangers of the mortal world. I’ll make him immortal, and he will never grow old and he will never die. Ganymede is to be the cup bearer of the gods. They will lavish affection and riches on him, and I will be his father. I want to get right with him what I could not with my other children. I’ll be the father to him that I never was to you.”
“He has a father,” Hercules argued. “One that loves him very much. More than you ever could. And don’t you see that by not giving him a choice, you’re making him into a slave? You can’t just pull people out of Greece and designate them to spend an eternity serving your whims. He has the right to be with his family, and he has the right to grow up and live his life.”
“Hercules, please try and understand...”
“There’s nothing else to talk about. I’m taking this boy back to his father, and if you want to stop me you’ll have to kill me.”
“You know that I won’t do that,” the king of the gods told his son. “But Hera will.”
“She’s become very fond of the child. It was her that wanted him in the first place,” Zeus explained. “Ever since she’s returned from the Abyss of Tartarus, she’s been much calmer. But she still holds a grudge against you. By bringing her this boy, she was distracted enough to agree to leave you alone. I did this for you.”
“You don’t know me at all if you think that I would leave an innocent child with all of you to spare myself,” Hercules said scornfully. “I can handle Hera, even if you can’t. Some of us still have a little courage and dignity.” He turned to leave, but Zeus materialized before the door.
“I can’t let you take him,” the king of the gods insisted.
“Zeus, let him have the child.” Hercules turned around and came face to face with his stepmother. Instinctively, he held Ganymede closer to him as he stared into her eyes.
“I don’t know what game you’re playing...”
“No games, Hercules. We won’t be needing the child anymore. You are both free to go.” With a dismissive wave, Hera turned and glided out of the main hall.
“What is that about?” the demigod demanded of his father.
“I don’t know,” Zeus admitted. “But you’d better get out of here while you can.”
“Not a moment too soon,” Hercules muttered, ignoring the hurt look that came over his father’s face. Without looking back, he hoisted Ganymede onto his broad shoulders and began the long descent back down to Greece.
Iolaus strained against the rope, but the charred log refused to budge. Digging in his heels and wrapping the rope around his wrist, the hunter pulled with all of his strength. The log slipped easily out of its rut and slid across the ground in front of him.
“Hey, Herc,” he grinned, turning around to see his friend holding onto the end of the rope. “Did you just get back?”
“Yeah, I saw you from the road and figured you could use a hand.”
“I was just trying to get this mess cleaned up,” Iolaus explained, indicating the remains of the barn. “Elissa’s going to make us build a new one, you know. Did you get the kid back?”
“Yes, and you’re never going to believe this one,” Hercules told him, catching the water skin that his partner threw to him. “Hera let me walk right out of there with him. If I live forever I’ll never be able to figure that one out.”
“I think I can explain it,” the hunter said hesitantly.
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know how to tell you this,” Iolaus began, running a hand through his unruly curls. “And by the gods I wish I didn’t have to.”
“Tell me what?” Hercules demanded.
“Herc, the reason Hera let you take Ganymede was because she found someone else to take his place.”
“Who?” A sinking feeling was beginning to descend over the demigod.
“Hebe. She wasn’t kidnapped, though. She went willingly.”
“No,” Hercules argued. “She wouldn’t do that.”
“Hera came to her,” Iolaus continued, heart aching for his friend. “She told Hebe that if she came to Olympus and served as cup bearer to the gods that she would be given immortality. Her leg would be whole and her scars would be healed and she would be young and beautiful forever. Hera said that they would make her the goddess of youthful bloom.”
“How could she do this?” the demigod whispered, sitting down heavily on a stump.
“I think you know why,” the hunter said gently, sitting beside his friend. “She wanted to be free of it all. Someone with that much beauty and vitality shouldn’t have to go through life disfigured and afraid all the time. Hebe went to a place where she’d forever be free of the pain and the fear. Where she could feel useful and adored. Plus, she felt it was a small price to pay for the life of a child.”
“It’s my fault,” Hercules mumbled. “I never even told her I loved her. If I had, maybe she’d have stayed.”
“She knew, Herc, and she felt the same way about you. But she also knew that she was carrying around a lot of emotional scars with her, and she wasn’t sure if she could ever get over them. She knew that was no kind of future for the both of you. If you want my opinion, I think she went to Olympus so that you could have a future together. If you are immortal, then its only a matter of time and I know she’ll wait.”
“I loved her,” the demigod said hollowly. “And if she loved me at all, she wouldn’t have gone to work for the gods that I despise. I was willing to wait until she was ready, and if she never was, then it was enough just to be with her. I didn’t care about her being lame, or about the scars. I was willing to work through anything with her. But now, I don’t know if I can forgive her for this.”
“Where are you going?” Iolaus asked as Hercules rose and began walking off.
“I don’t know,” he answered. “But I can’t stay here. I need some time alone, to think.”
“Herc,” the hunter called, running after his friend. “You know that Elissa and I are here for you.”
“I know. But I don’t think seeing you two cuddling up together is really what I need right now.” Hercules smiled fondly to take the sting out of his words. “I learned long ago that losing people is just the price you pay for loving them. And once again Hera's found a way to make me pay that price. But don't worry about me. I’ll be all right.”
“How long are you going to be gone?” Iolaus persisted.
“I don’t know that either, but I’ll be back in time for the big event.”
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Hercules smiled. He extended his hand and clasped the hunter’s in a warrior’s shake.
“Be safe,” Iolaus told him. He watched his friend walk back out to the road. Hebe had broken his heart, and the hunter wished that Hercules had stayed at home and let them help him through it. But he respected his partner’s feelings enough to let him go, knowing that he would return when he was ready. He also knew Hercules’ heart as well as he knew his own, and he was sure that the demigod would forgive Hebe, because he did love her. Iolaus sighed and turned back to his work, sending out a silent message to Aphrodite to look out for her little brother, along with a prayer of thanks that he and his love were still safely together.
Disclaimer: No sadistic warlords were harmed during the writing of this story
The Iolausian Library