Author's Note: I mean no copyright infringement on the characters owned by Universal Studios. Just borrowing for a little non-profit fun!
Till the rivers all run day
Till the sun falls from the sky
Till life on earth is through
I'll be needing you
"Til the Rivers All Run Dry" - Pete Townshend
“Herc, I’m starving,” Iolaus whined pitifully. The demigod grinned as he looked at his partner’s pleading face. For the last hour, the hunter had been complaining of hunger. When the pair had left the castle earlier that morning, Iphicles had seen to it that they were given a hearty parcel of food for their midday meal. Iolaus had predictably ensured that Hercules would end up carrying the bundle, so the demigod felt justified in teasing his friend by withholding the contents from him. Just as predictably, Iolaus had also been wanting to sample those contents all morning, and Hercules had been taking a sort of juvenile delight in denying him.
“Well,” the demigod drawled. “I’m not really hungry yet. I say we keep looking for another hour or two.” But he had misinterpreted the limits of how far he could push his insatiable partner. Blue eyes narrowing dangerously, Iolaus flexed his fingers a few times and sprung. He had given up thieving many years ago, but his skills had not grown rusty. Deftly, the hunter relieved the bundle from his friend and was sprinting off down the road before Hercules even knew what had happened. By the time the demigod had caught up with him, Iolaus was lounging on a bench, happily munching on bread and cheese.
“Why can’t you move that fast when work is involved?” Hercules complained, sliding in next to his friend. Iolaus ignored him and took another bite. “Are you planning on sharing any of that with me?” The demigod arched an eyebrow as his partner shoved his half eaten lunch into his hands and jumped up abruptly.
“There she is,” he murmured, looking out over the crowd.
Hercules tried to follow his gaze, but the milling throngs of people were obstructing his vision. But the ever wary hunter had spied their quarry somehow, and was soon lost to the demigod’s sight as he quickly weaved his way through the crowd and vanished. Hercules remained where he was. He had never met Aurora, the child that Iolaus had found abandoned on the road so many years ago, and he decided it was best to let the hunter talk with her alone. If she was lost, scared, or confused, it wouldn’t help her any to be confronted with a stranger, someone she didn’t know if she could trust. So, Hercules made himself comfortable on the bench, digging through the parcel that they had brought from the palace to satiate his own hunger as he waited for his friend.
“Elissa,” Iolaus called out as he entered the great stone house. There was no answering reply, and a quick check of the bedroom failed to produce the healer. He began to feel a little worried, as the lingering dusk was about to give way to nightfall, and he couldn’t imagine where his wife would have gone so late. Telling himself that he was being ridiculous, the hunter went out the door and made his way around the house to the garden out back. He couldn’t hold back a small sigh of relief as he spotted her sitting on the bench next to the pond.
“Hi,” Elissa exclaimed, welcoming her husband’s warm embrace. “How was Corinth? Is Hercules with you? Did you find Aurora?”
“I found her,” he confirmed. “Herc’s staying in Thebes with Jason for a few days. How are you feeling?”
“Better.” The healer pulled away from Iolaus to study his face in the dying light. She could see in his eyes that things hadn‘t gone as he had hoped. “I want to hear what happened, but I have a message to give you first.”
“Let’s go inside,” the hunter suggested. “I want to show you something, and then we can talk.” Taking his hand, Elissa followed him through the garden and into the house, sitting at the table as the hunter began digging into his pack. He extracted a white, fleshy root and set it gently on the table.
“What is it?” the healer asked.
“Something from the East,” Iolaus explained. “They call it ginger. It helps stop the nausea for women in your condition. The trader who sold it to me told me how to prepare it. I’m going to make you a tea, and I want you to drink it, ok?”
“Did you see women using this when you were in the East?” Elissa asked doubtfully.
“No, but then again, I didn’t spend a whole lot of time with pregnant women. I remember seeing this root for sale, though. All the markets were selling it. And, I saw the Eastern healers doing some pretty amazing things with other plants. They know what they’re doing over there.”
“But how do you know...”
“Lis, just trust me. The man I bought this from is very reputable. You know I would never give you anything if there was even a chance that it would hurt you or the baby.”
“Ok,” she agreed.
Iolaus smiled and went to work making a tea from a small piece of the foreign root.
“So, who’s the message from?”
The hunter stopped what he was doing and turned to face his wife.
“What is it? Is she all right?”
“There was an attempt on her life,” Elissa explained softly. “Hector saved her, but he was badly hurt in the process.”
Iolaus slumped down on the bench across from her, absorbing the news.
“Who was here?” he asked finally. “Was it Linus?”
“I never really got his name,” the healer answered. “He just said he was a palace guard in her service. But he left this for you.” She rose and went to the shelf on the wall to retrieve the scroll that the man had left. Iolaus took it from her, breaking the seal and scanning the parchment quickly.
“Niobe’s afraid for her life and for the safety of her kingdom,” he reported. “She’s asking me to come to Attica.”
“Then I think you should go.”
“I feel like I should, but...” Iolaus sighed heavily and ran a hand through his hair. “I promised you that I would stop all this running off and settle down.”
“But this is personal,” Elissa told him, laying a hand over his. “She’s your friend and she’s in trouble. You need to go. I understand that.”
“I just got back from Corinth, though,” the hunter protested. “I hate to turn around and leave you alone again. Especially to go to Attica, when I don’t know how long I’ll be gone.”
“Well,” the healer said thoughtfully. “I could just go with you.”
“Are you sure that you’d be up to that?”
“I’m all right,” she replied. “Don’t worry about me.”
“I would feel better if you were with me,” Iolaus declared. “Where I knew you were all right.”
“Then we’ll leave for Attica in the morning.”
Elissa immediately got up from the table, intent on starting on the list of things that needed to be done before they left on their journey. But Iolaus made her sit back down while he finished brewing the medicinal tea. He was worried that the trip would be too hard on her, but he knew in his heart that he could not leave her all alone again in her condition, especially for an undetermined length of time. Fortunately, the weather had been mild, and he was determined to make the stubborn healer take it easy along the way.
“So what did happen with Aurora?”
Iolaus was silent for a few minutes, his back to her as he worked. She was just about to repeat her question when he turned around, placing the mug of hot tea in front of her before sitting back down on the bench across from his wife.
“She wouldn’t let me help her,” the hunter began in a tight voice. “I couldn’t convince her to go home. She said she wants to be in control of her own life, and she wants to try and make it on her own.”
“Living on the streets is her idea of ‘making it’?” the healer asked in disbelief.
“There was nothing I could do, Lis,” Iolaus told her sadly. “I know what’s she’s going through, because I was there myself when I was about her age. Scared to death, but trying to prove how tough you are. Pretending that you’re happy living on the street because you don’t want to admit that you have nowhere else to go. Not wanting anyone to see just how much you wish you did have a home to go to. And being so full of hurt that you are terrified to trust anyone again, because you know you just won’t be able to take one more betrayal. Feeling so low about yourself that you don’t believe you are worthy of anyone’s help.”
“There must be something...” Elissa began. Her heart was breaking for all that her husband had suffered, and she knew that it was killing him that he couldn’t spare Aurora from going through the same thing.
“She has to be ready to accept our help,” the hunter continued. “We can’t help her if she won’t let us. I did the only thing I could, which was to let her know that we care about her and that we’re here if she ever needs us. Now we just hope that she’ll realize that in time and that she will come to us when she’s ready.”
“I’m sure she will,” the healer said, looking upon her husband with a fond smile. “If anyone could earn her trust, it would be you.”
“Flattery will not get you out of having to drink that,” Iolaus grinned, nodding at the untouched mug of tea before his wife. “So just resign yourself to your fate, my beautiful healer, and have a taste of your own medicine for a change.”
After obediently drinking the tea, Elissa began preparing for their trip to Attica, despite Iolaus’ protests that they didn’t have to rush. He was worried about Niobe, and wanted to get there as soon as possible, but he also didn’t want to hurry and make the trip any harder on his pregnant wife than it already would be. But Elissa was determined not to hold him up, and she flew about the great stone house so that she could be ready to leave in the morning. The hunter finally went to bed at her urging, after she promised that she would soon be joining him. As the healer finished up her preparations and entered their bedroom, she found Iolaus standing by the window, quickly wiping telltale moisture from his blue eyes.
“What is it?” she asked softly, moving to wrap her arms around her husband.
“I just wish she would have let me help her,” Iolaus whispered back.
“She’s had a lot to overcome,” Elissa tried to comfort him. “Seeing her parents killed before her. Being abandoned when she was barely more than a baby. She finally starts to trust you, and then she’s taken away again. She’s had to deal with more in her short life then anyone should have to in a lifetime. There’s only so much a person can take, Iolaus. We just have to face the fact that Aurora might never be emotionally healthy. She may never be able to trust and love and open herself up to help. You just have to understand that you’ve done all that you can do, and now we just have to leave it up to the fates.”
“You’re right,” he sighed. “I just hate feeling helpless like this.”
“You can’t save everybody,” the healer murmured. “All you can do is try your best and then move on to those you can help, like Niobe.”
Iolaus turned, taking his wise wife into his arms, holding her tightly and drawing in her love, light, and strength.
“What would I do without you?” he asked.
“You’d be hugging Hercules right now,” Elissa giggled.
“Maybe,” the hunter agreed. “But I wouldn’t be doing this to Hercules.”
Lowering his lips to hers, Iolaus kissed her gently. Not with passion, as she wasn’t ready for that in her condition, but with an overwhelming sense of love.
The hunter spent a restless night tossing and turning. He was tired, but his mind was in turmoil and would not let him relax into sleep. As dawn began to break, Iolaus quietly rose and dressed, going outside to inhale deep breaths of the chilly morning air. He was still worried about Aurora, but a few more pressing concerns were starting to wear on him. Looking at the side of the house, he was dismayed to see the beginnings of the forge he’d been planning to build. It was supposed to be his lifeline, the thing that was going to provide him with income to support his family. He’d just barely started its construction, and now he had to abandon the project once more. They were going to be in Attica for an undetermined length of time, and he didn’t have anything ready for the baby yet.
Iolaus had vowed to give up his adventuring lifestyle in order to avoid this type of thing. He didn’t want his family to be neglected because he was out helping strangers. And yet, here he was, ready to jet off again, leaving all his work unfinished. But he knew he couldn’t say no to Niobe. She needed him, and he owed her that much. The hunter went into the barn and saddled Boreas. Swinging up onto the stallion’s broad back, he urged the horse to set off down the road at a gallop. Iolaus hated to beg, but there was something he had to do before they left.
“Where have you been?” Elissa asked as her husband came through the door. She had been surprised when she had awakened to find him gone, with no indications of his whereabouts.
“Sorry,” he murmured, kissing her hello as he took a mug of tea from her hand. “I thought I’d be back before you woke up. Come on outside with me. I have to show you something.”
Puzzled, the healer followed him out the door to see Boreas waiting patiently, hitched to a brand new wagon.
“Where did you get this?” she inquired.
“I made a deal with Simeous,” Iolaus explained. “He let me have it now, and I’m going to pay him a little more than its worth when I get the money.”
“But where are you going to get the money?” Elissa demanding, hoping her husband hadn’t gone in over his head.
“I’m going to sell my house in Thebes,” the hunter said quietly. “It’s not worth much, but I should be able to get enough to pay for the wagon and still have a little extra left over.”
“Are you sure you want to do that?”
“I’m not using it anymore,” Iolaus rationalized. “It’s just sitting there empty. Why not sell it? Besides, we need the money, and we need this wagon.”
“You did this because of me, didn’t you?” the healer asked, suddenly understanding. “You’re worried about me making the trip to Attica.”
“Yes,” he confessed. “You’ve been having a hard time of it so far, Elissa. I just wanted you to be comfortable. Anyway, we might want to travel after the baby comes. We’ll need the wagon then, anyway.”
“I just wish you wouldn’t worry so much about me,” she sighed. “I would have been able to make it without the wagon. You didn’t need to sell your house to get it just for me.”
“I don’t give you nearly enough of what you deserve,” Iolaus whispered. “This is a small luxury, and its no sacrifice on my part.” He moved to wrap his strong arms around her, cuddling her close. “Besides, this is my home. Here with you. I don’t ever want to live anyplace else.”
“Let’s go inside and I’ll fix you something to eat,” Elissa suggested. “Then we can pack up and see how well our wagon rides.”
Iolaus grinned and followed his wife back into the house. He wasn’t sure why he had been holding on to his old place. Maybe for the memories. But then he discarded that idea. The memories were all of a time before Elissa, when he was lost and incomplete. Restless days in Thebes, longing for something more. Long nights alone by the fire, or in the company of a long string of woman that he wanted to love, but that didn’t ignite passion’s fire inside of him the way his beautiful healer did.
To be honest to himself, he had to admit that he’d kept his house because it was the last link to his old life at Hercules’ side. Elissa gave his life meaning, filled his heart with love, and joined his soul with hers, and he’d never once regretted sacrificing his old life to make a new one with her. But every once in awhile, Iolaus missed the comfortable routine and the continued presence of his place alongside the demigod. He would never speak of these feelings to his wife, but every so often he yearned for the time when it was just the two of them, and they were the center of each other’s worlds. But Elissa knew his heart well, and she sensed these feelings inside of him. She never confronted him, realizing that he didn’t not want to discuss them. But from the very beginning, she had known that Hercules occupied a very special place in the hunter’s heart, one that no one else would ever touch, and she accepted that as a part of who Iolaus was, and why she loved him so absolutely.
Elissa had been in the midst of breakfast preparations when Iolaus had arrived, so it did not take her long to complete her task. Within minutes, she had laid out a simple meal on the table, and the hunter was delighted to see that she joined him, eating more than he had seen her consume since they had left Athens all those weeks ago.
“You must be feeling better,” he observed happily.
“I am,” she told him. “The nausea was starting to ease up a bit, but that root of yours really helped.”
“Told you so,” he smirked, not able to resist a little teasing. “Does that mean I now qualify for some type of honorary healer title?”
“You were lucky this time,” Elissa joked back. “But don’t push your luck. You just stick to the heroics, my brave warrior, and leave the healing to me.”
Soon after the meal was finished, they were ready to begin their journey. Iolaus brought Chestnut out of the stable and harnessed the horse to the wagon along with Boreas as Elissa quickly tidied up the house. The hunter loaded up the few belongings that they were bringing into the back of the wagon, adding a few extra blankets and pillows which would make for a cozy nest in case his wife felt ill on the way and wanted to lie down and rest. Stretching a canvas tarp over the back of the wagon, he tied it down quickly to guard against rain as the healer emerged and announced she was ready. Iolaus helped her climb up onto the wagon, then went around to swing himself up into the seat beside her. With a snap of the reigns, the eager horses began trotting, and they were on their way.
The ride was indeed a smooth one, and it was not long before they arrived at their first stop, Thebes. Jason answered the door, a grin of delight on his face as he saw his unexpected visitors. Sweeping Elissa into his arms, he swung her around, hugging her tightly.
“Congratulations, my dear,” he told her warmly, kissing her cheek as he set her down. The healer shot her husband an annoyed look.
“It was supposed to be a secret,” she declared. Elissa hadn’t wanted to spread the news about her condition until the first few months had passed and she was reasonably sure that everything was going well. She knew it was a bit superstitious, but with her unfortunate history of miscarrying, she felt she was entitled to be a bit paranoid.
“I only told Jason,” Iolaus reassured her.
“And Iphicles,” Hercules piped up helpfully from the corner.
“I can’t help it,” the hunter said, using his most charming grin. “I’m a proud father, what more can I say?”
Elissa rolled her eyes at him, but she wasn’t angry. Jason was one of Iolaus’ oldest friends, and she, herself, loved the Argonaut dearly. It was only right that he knew and joined them in their celebration. And it would be a celebration, she assured herself. Hestia had promised her that this time everything would be fine.
Iolaus quickly recounted the message he’d gotten from Niobe by way of explaining their sudden presence in Thebes, inviting his two friends to accompany them to Attica. Hercules immediately agreed, but after some hesitation Jason declined. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to help, but he had already promised Iphicles he would lend his experience to the king’s upcoming trade negotiations. Jason would have much rather preferred the path of adventure over what were sure to be boring, endless talks, but he tried to make it a habit never to break his word, and he knew that Hercules and Iolaus together would be able to handle whatever perils might be awaiting Queen Niobe. But, the former king did also have experience on the subject of attempts on the throne, so he was able to give his friends a few tips as to what they might be dealing with.
As the men talked, Elissa excused herself to go lie down. She hadn’t wanted to admit it, but even with the ease of the wagon ride, the short journey had exhausted her. The healer knew that perpetual tiredness was just a side effect of the early stage of pregnancy, but knowing that fact didn’t make it any easier to deal with. She had also been trying to mask the level of her fatigue from Iolaus, not wanting to increase his worry for her, but the hunter had seen right through her. He did not chastise her for taking on too much, but instead escorted her to their room and helped her settle in. Elissa was asleep in minutes, and Iolaus sat with her for a bit, just watching her as her face relaxed into peaceful slumber. Covering her gently with a warm blanket, he silently crept out of the room to rejoin his friends.
“Jason,” the hunter began, taking the opportunity of his wife’s absence. “I need to ask you for a favor.”
“Anything,” the Argonaut replied. “You know that.”
“Come and help me put up the horses,” Iolaus suggested.
Jason agreed, going outside with his friend, unhitching Chestnut and leading him to the stable as the hunter did the same with Boreas. As they brushed and curried the horses, Iolaus explained his plan to sell his house and asked his old friend if he would undertake the task for him. The Argonaut happily agreed, promising him that he would ensure that the house would go to good people for a fair price. Iolaus and Elissa never asked for much, so Jason was proud to be able to do such a simple thing for them, even if the hunter was making it seem like a great burden. As they fed the horses, the conversation began to turn to the subject of feeding themselves. Finally, they decided that Iolaus would go to the inn in town and pick something up. Hercules opted to go with him, and Jason volunteered to stay at home in case Elissa woke up and needed anything.
As they walked, the hunter filled his friend in on the request he’d made of Jason. Since it was on the way, the pair stopped at the house in question, looking it over critically in the fading light of dusk.
“It needs work,” Iolaus commented. “I should have kept up with it. It would be worth more if I had.”
“Maybe, but the forge attached is a strong selling point,” Hercules told him. “That should up the price of it. But since when have you ever been so worried about money?”
“Since I have a family to support,” the hunter sighed. “I can’t be thinking of myself anymore, Herc. All my life I’ve been getting through by the seat of my pants. And I’ve been dragging Elissa along with me. I can’t do that to her anymore. She deserves better. She deserves to be provided for, and to be secure, and to have pretty things. And now with a baby on the way, I have to be more responsible. When Elissa told me she was pregnant, I swore to myself that my child was never going to know what it’s like to....”
Iolaus abruptly stopped, but Hercules knew what he was going to say. A feeling of sorrow rose inside the demigod’s heart and he put a comforting hand on his friend’s shoulder. The hunter rarely spoke of his home life and the abuses and neglect he had suffered there, but Hercules had seen enough to be able to guess. When his father was away on some campaign or another, he often forgot to send money back to his family. Erethia never had enough to make ends meet, and the demigod knew that Iolaus had ultimately born the brunt of these actions. Too many nights spent shivering in the dark with an empty stomach, not sure if the next day would bring a scrap of food or not. Hercules knew his mother had done what she could, never failing to feed Iolaus and always making sure he had warm clothing. But whenever he had come to stay with them, he ultimately would have to go back home, back to the poverty that welcomed him with its cold embrace. These thoughts of all his friend had suffered tore at the demigod’s heart, and he certainly understood just why the hunter was so vehement in his vows to provide for his family.
“You’ll be fine, Iolaus,” he said reassuringly. “You have a lot of friends, who aren’t about to let you or Elissa or your child go without anything. But you won’t need us. You’ve always had a knack for landing on your feet, and I have complete faith that you’ll be able to provide your family with everything they need.”
“Thanks, Herc,” the hunter said gratefully. These fears had been weighing heavily on him, and hearing his friend’s vote of confidence had been just the thing he needed.
“Something else is bothering you,” Hercules remarked perceptively as they began walking.
“It’s going to Attica,” Iolaus confessed with a sigh. “Its been years since I’ve seen Niobe, but the last time I left her...”
“Do you think you still love her?” the demigod asked gently.
“I don’t know,” the hunter mumbled. “I thought I loved her then, but that was when I thought I could never be with Elissa. I can’t imagine loving anyone else now, but Niobe and I did have a strong emotional tie. I guess I just don’t know what to expect.”
“Iolaus, you don’t have to go,” Hercules told him. “You and Elissa can go back home. I’ll go to Attica, and you know that I’ll make sure she’s all right.”
“No,” Iolaus said with a small shake of the head. “I have to go. I can tell by her message that she’s scared. She asked for me, and its the least I can do to go to her. I want to make sure that she’s safe and that Hector’s all right, and then we can deal with any other complications as they come up. Besides, its been so long, she may not feel the same way about me anymore.”
Hercules fell silent as they approached the inn. Likewise, he couldn’t imagine his partner ever loving anyone else the way he loved Elissa. But he also remembered Iolaus coming back from Attica, devastated at having to say goodbye to the queen he had fallen for. The demigod knew that his friend’s feelings for her had run deep. He just hoped that Iolaus would sort through his emotions and find a clear path to his wife. Hercules wasn’t sure that Elissa, in her condition, would be able to take it if the hunter were to discover long buried feelings for Niobe. Suddenly, the demigod wasn’t sure that this trip was such a good idea.
As morning dawned, the healer awoke to the now-familiar pangs of nausea. Iolaus had brought the ginger root with them, and he quickly scurried out of bed to prepare a tea for her as he heard her soft moan. Hercules watched his partner carefully as he tended to his wife, coaxing the medicinal brew into her, rubbing her back, and bathing her face with cool water. He was utterly devoted to her, his actions full of love and concern, but the demigod still held a thread of doubt. Would all of this change once Iolaus was back with Niobe?
They had been friends nearly all their lives, and they had gotten to know each other inside and out in that great span of time. Hercules had watched as a multitude of lovely young women danced in and out of his partner’s life. Each one had been gifted in some way, and all of them would have easily made for a wonderful companion. And every time the demigod had thought that his friend had finally met the ONE, he had found some reason to break it off with her. Then it was only a matter of time before Iolaus was losing his heart to the next pretty girl that came his way.
Until Elissa. The healer had captured his heart and soul in a way that Hercules had never thought possible for his friend. He had finally decided that Iolaus would never settle down, content to leap from one love to the next forever. But then the hunter had met the girl that shared his soul, and he had been lost to her ever since. The love between them was so strong, Hercules could tangibly feel it in the air. It amazed him, and comforted him, for they had welcomed him into it, willing to include him in their lives and hearts. And even though Elissa took something of Iolaus from him, Hercules could never resent her, for she gave the hunter a degree of bliss that warmed the demigod’s heart. After an exhaustive search, Iolaus had finally found the girl that he was meant to be with.
And yet, subconsciously, Hercules was always waiting for the other shoe to drop. After the years and years of bearing witness to his partner’s rapid fire love affairs, the demigod couldn’t help but think that someday his friend would want to move on. When Iolaus had married Elissa, Hercules began to finally believe that this time it was for real. But now, even after all these years, the demigod found himself wondering if perhaps Elissa would fall victim to the pattern, even if she had escaped it for much longer than most. Would seeing Niobe be the catalyst that would cause Iolaus to stray? Watching Iolaus and Elissa together, Hercules really didn’t think so. But, just in case, he assigned himself a new part in this mission. He wasn’t going so much to help Niobe, but instead to be there for Elissa just in case Iolaus realized that he did indeed still love the queen.
As the sun reached the noon position, Elissa felt better, getting up to eat a little bread. Iolaus fussed over her, but she assured him that she was fine and was able to resumed the trip. He didn’t want to push her, but knowing that Niobe’s life could be in danger was starting to weigh on his conscious. So, the hunter didn’t object as his wife gathered her things and met him at the wagon. They said goodbye to Jason, and were soon on their way to Attica.
Despite the urgency he was now feeling, Iolaus kept the pace of their journey relaxed. Elissa was still having bouts of nausea, but they were able to keep it under control with the help of the ginger root, so she was not overly miserable through the course of the trip. She still tired easily, and spent much of the ride resting in the back of the wagon. Hercules and Iolaus took on all the duties whenever they camped, freeing the healer up to relax and take care of herself, even though she protested that she was all right. For the most part, the journey was uneventful, even enjoyable as the two partners spent a lot of time talking and enjoying each other’s company.
Finally, they arrived in Attica. Some of the castle guards were new additions since Iolaus had last visited, but many still remembered him. He was not easy to forget, having the same face as their long dead king. But all had been told to watch for him, so they greeted him cordially and ushered the three of them inside, promising to accommodate the wagon and the horses.
Iolaus walked through the castle, an unreadable expression on his face. Not much had changed since he’d last been there, and even though it had been years, the corridors were still instantly familiar to him. His blue eyes darted quickly around, taking in all the little details of the kingdom which, for a brief time, had been his to command. They were taken not to the throne room, as he had expected, but to a smaller sitting room, which was open, airy, and inviting. The wait was a short one, for Niobe had rushed to receive them as soon as she’d heard of their arrival.
Hercules kept a close watch on his friend as Iolaus greeted Niobe warmly, hugging her tight. The hunter’s face had shown caring, and concern, and happiness at seeing her again. He obviously did feel a lot for the queen. But, the demigod had been scrutinizing him, and he did not see the lovesick flash come over Iolaus’ face as he had so many times before. The smile that the hunter had given her was the same one he gave everybody, not the conspiratorial, loving smile that he reserved for his beloved wife. Breathing a small sigh of relief, Hercules felt himself relax, realizing for the first time how tense and anxious he’d been in anticipation of this moment, and also realizing that he should have known better. There wasn’t a woman in Greece that could come between Iolaus and his beautiful healer.
“I knew that you’d come,” Niobe whispered to Iolaus.
“I came as soon as I heard,” he whispered back. He could feel her trembling as he held her, and he stroked her hair reassuringly before he let her go. Taking a step back, Iolaus slid an arm around the healer’s waist. “This is Elissa, my wife.”
“I’d heard you were married,” the queen stated. Something passed over her face, but the fleeting expression was gone before anyone could identify it. She turned to Elissa with a polite smile and held out her hand. “It’s very nice to meet you. Welcome to Attica.”
The healer thanked her and echoed her sentiments before Iolaus introduced Hercules. When the formalities had all been exchanged, the queen bid them all to sit and asked a servant to bring them refreshments. Moments later, pastries, fruits, and wine were being passed around. Elissa was satisfied with just an apple, but Hercules and Iolaus eagerly sampled the offerings. When everyone was settled, the hunter turned to Niobe and asked her to tell him all that had happened.
“It all started two weeks ago,” she began, toying with the bracelet on her wrist in a nervous gesture. “It was early evening and I was walking through the garden when this man just appeared out of nowhere and grabbed me. Hector had been right behind me, and he came running when I screamed. He fought with my attacker and killed him, but he took a sword in the chest trying to save me.”
Niobe’s looked down at her hands, a tremor creeping into her voice.
“Hector’s still clinging to life, but he was hurt very badly. His wound became infected, despite the best attempts of my healer. I didn’t think he was going to survive, but somehow he fought off the infection. The wound is better now, but he’s been unconscious for the last two days and we still aren’t sure if he’s going to make it or not. He saved my life, but... Anyway, I was scared, and I didn’t know what to do. I knew that if anyone could help Attica, it would be you, Iolaus, so I sent word. I know I’m imposing a lot on you....”
“Don’t be silly,” the hunter told her. “Of course I’ll help, if I can. That’s why we’re all here.”
“Niobe, have there been any more attempts on your life, since that first one?” Hercules asked.
“But what?” Iolaus prompted.
“No, no more attempts,” the queen answered quickly.
“Do you have any idea why someone would want to hurt you?” the demigod continued. “Any peace treaties or negotiations in the works that someone might want to have stopped?”
“No, nothing,” Niobe replied with a small shake of her head. “It’s been very quiet here lately.”
“If anything happened to you, who would be next in line for the crown?” Iolaus wondered.
“Well, since Orestes and I had no heirs, the crown would go to my sister, the princess. And I know what you’re thinking, but you’re wrong. She would never do anything to hurt me, just to rule Attica.”
The queen was very adamant about that statement. Hercules and Iolaus appeared to go along with it, but they secretly exchanged a knowing glance. Too many times they had seen families ripped apart, doing unspeakable things to each other, in the name of greed. Orestes’ own brother had almost gotten him killed, trying to steal the throne. Despite Niobe’s protestations, they at least had a suspect to look at.
“We’ll get to the bottom of this,” Iolaus promised her. “Maybe that guy that Hector killed was just a random whacko and it’s all over now. But if there is something else going on, Herc and I will put a stop to it. We aren’t going to let anything happen to you.”
“Thank you,” the queen whispered with a grateful smile.
“Niobe,” Elissa spoke up. “If it’s all right with you, I’d like to see Hector.”
“Why?” She couldn’t hold back a look of suspicion.
“Because she’s a healer,” Iolaus explained. “And she’s the best. Let her take a look at Hector. She’ll know if there’s anything that can be done for him.”
“All right,” the queen agreed after a moment of hesitation. “Come with me. I’ll show you to his room.”
The palace healer, Hymericles, was in with the injured man, and he and Elissa began conferring quietly after she quickly examined the guard. Iolaus sat down next to his bedside and looked sadly down at a man he considered to be his friend. Hector was ghostly pale and was lying as still as death. The shallow rise and fall of his chest was the only indication that he was, indeed, still alive. Hercules and Niobe watched from the doorway of the room.
“Iolaus told me a lot about you,” she said conversationally. “I’m glad to finally meet you, Hercules.”
“He’s told me wonderful things about you,” the demigod replied warmly. “I’m just sorry we had to meet under these circumstances.”
“Me too,” Niobe murmured, but her eyes were not on her injured bodyguard. Her gaze was firmly fixated on the young healer, the wife of Iolaus.
“Can you do anything to help Hector?”
Iolaus and Elissa had retired to their room for the night, and the hunter had immediately flopped across the large, canopied bed.
“There‘s nothing I can do that Hymericles isn‘t already doing,” the healer answered him. “He’s being well cared for and the wound is healing. All we can do now is wait.”
“I hope he’ll be ok.” Iolaus locked his hands behind his head as he stared up at the fabric draped over the top of the bed.
“You really like him, don’t you?”
“He was a good friend to me while I was here,” the hunter told her. “Hector always treated me with respect, even before I masqueraded as king. He told me once that he had been proud to serve me, and that it was a shame that men like me didn’t get become kings for real.”
“It is a shame,” Elissa declared. “Having royal blood doesn’t make one a good leader. That takes courage, honor, integrity, and compassion, which you have in abundance, my brave warrior.”
A slightly embarrassed grin crept over the hunter’s face.
“Anyway,” he murmured, trying to change the subject. “I hope he pulls through. Men like him are a rare thing, and the world needs all it can get.”
“Iolaus,” the healer began, after a few moments of silence. “Can I ask you something?”
“I want you to think about this, and give me an honest answer.”
“Ok.” The hunter rolled over on his side, propping his head up with his hand to look at his wife, intrigued by the seriousness in her voice.
Elissa had been sitting on a bench in front of the long mirror on the wall, brushing her auburn hair. Realizing it was too late to back out now, she took a deep breath and plunged forward.
“Do you ever regret leaving? Do you ever wonder what your life could have been like if you would have stayed? If you became the king of Attica?”
“Never? You don’t even think about it for a moment sometimes? You could have been a king. That thought has to occur to you once in awhile.”
“Ok, I do think about it sometimes.” Iolaus clambered off the bed and went to sit next to Elissa, drawing her into his warm embrace. “I think about what a giant mistake I would have been making, and I think about how glad I am that I didn’t decide to stay. I wasn’t meant to be a king, and you know me well enough to know that I’d never be happy cooped up in a castle all the time.”
The healer snuggled up against her husband’s chest, feeling the strong arms tighten around her.
“My life is with you, Elissa. By your side. And from the moment I first met you, that’s the only place I’ve ever wanted to be.”
“I love you, my brave warrior,” she whispered, feeling tears stinging her emerald eyes. As she did every night, Elissa sent out a silent prayer to the fates, thanking them for blessing her life with the amazing man who filled her heart and completed her soul.
“Niobe,” Iolaus began as they strolled together alongside the lake that bordered the castle grounds. “When we arrived a few days ago, you told us that there had been no more attempts on your life, but you looked like you wanted to say something else. What was it?”
“It was nothing,” she answered abruptly.
“Hercules and I have been all over the castle and we haven’t found any signs of anything,” the hunter said. “If we’re going to help you, then you have to tell us everything, even if it doesn’t seem that important.”
“If I tell you, you’ll think I’m crazy,” the queen muttered.
“I could never think that about you,” he coaxed. “Whatever it is, you can tell me.”
Niobe sat down on a carved bench with a heavy sigh. She was as beautiful as the hunter remembered her, but she was paler and dark circles outlined her eyes, evidence of sleepless nights. Iolaus sat next to her, putting a hand on her shoulder for support.
“I’ve been... seeing things,” she confessed slowly.
The hunter raised his eyebrows at this bit of news, but did not comment.
“Hearing things, too,” Niobe continued. “Nothing I can really identify. I’ll just see something out of the corner of my eye, but when I turn, nothing’s there. Or I’ll hear a knock at my door or a scratching sound in the dark. But when I check on it... nothing.” She turned to face the hunter and frowned. “See, I told you that you’d think I was crazy.”
“I do not think you’re crazy,” Iolaus protested quickly. “I’m just concerned. Has anyone else noticed this type of thing happening?”
“I haven’t mentioned it to too many people. Linus seems to think that I’ve taken leave of my senses.”
“Niobe, you are one of the sanest people I know,” the hunter stated firmly. “If you say this is happening, then I believe you. We just need to figure out who’s doing this to you and why.”
“Oh, is that what we need to do?” the queen said with a slight smile. “I never would have thought of that. Whatever would I do without you here to assess the situation for me?”
“Ok, I deserved that one,” Iolaus grinned, jumping up and holding out a hand to her. “I guess what I meant to say is that Herc and I will figure out who’s behind this.”
Niobe took his hand and rose gracefully. He linked his arm through hers and they began walking back toward the castle.
“I’m really glad you’re here, Iolaus,” she said softly. “You probably won’t believe me when I say this, as jumpy as I’ve been, but I feel safe having you here.”
“You know, Elissa could help you. Give you something to relax you, help you sleep.”
“That’s all right. Hymericles has been making me teas every night.”
“No offense,” Iolaus told her. “But it doesn’t look like they’ve been working. You should ask Elissa to make you something. I know she’d be glad to help.”
“She’s pregnant, isn’t she?” the queen asked suddenly.
“How did you know?”
“It’s not hard to tell,” Niobe replied. “She has that glow to her.”
“She does, doesn’t she?” Iolaus smiled dreamily as he pictured his beautiful healer. The soft light that always seemed to shine from her had been made even brighter by the child growing in her womb. She was positively radiant.
“Congratulations,” the queen told him, struggling to keep her voice normal. “I know you’ll make a wonderful father.”
Iolaus was fortunately lost in thought, so he didn’t see the tears in her eyes that she was desperately trying to keep from falling.
Elissa awoke to find herself alone in the huge bed. Yawning, she sat up and looked around the dark room. A soft breeze was causing the curtains that framed the balcony to billow in, and she could see a familiar figure silhouetted in the moonlight. The healer stretched and rose, wrapping a warm blanket around her shoulders as she padded across the floor and stepped out onto the balcony.
“Are you all right?” Iolaus asked.
“I’m fine,” she replied. “I feel great, actually.” It was the truth, as she hadn’t felt sick in days and she had gotten some of her old energy back. She was experiencing a little light-headedness from time to time, but that was hardly a complaint at all compared to what she had suffered over the last several weeks. “But what are you out here worrying about?”
The hunter didn’t need to ask how she knew he was worrying. Elissa knew his mind as well as she knew her own, and she was always able to tell when something was bothering him. Just like he always knew when something was upsetting her.
“I was just thinking that I’m going to be a father,” he sighed.
“Is that just now sinking in?” the healer teased.
“I don’t know. Maybe. I just want to do it right, you know, but I’m terrified that I’m going to turn out like my father. What if I end up doing to our baby what my father did to me?”
“That’s ridiculous,” Elissa scoffed. “You are a gentle, loving, compassionate man, Iolaus. You couldn’t be a bad father if you tried.”
“What if I can’t help myself? I mean, I’m sure my father never planned on being a bastard either.”
“I thought you made peace with him in the underworld?” the healer asked, detecting the note of bitterness in his voice.
“I forgave him,” Iolaus murmured. “And I’m glad he got to go to the Elysian Fields. But I can’t forget.”
“Did he beat you?” Elissa whispered gently. She had never really known the details of her husband’s upbringing. He’d hinted at enough so that she could understand it hadn’t been a happy one, to say the least, but it wasn’t a topic he ever wanted to discuss. Several times, she’d considered asking Hercules about it, but then always decided against it. When Iolaus wanted her to know, he would tell her.
“He wasn’t above giving me a good smack once in awhile,” the hunter replied softly, staring out over the moonlit town. “But I wouldn’t really say he beat me. Not with his fists, anyway. He knocked me down with words.”
Elissa slipped her arms around him, enveloping him in a loving embrace, letting him know that she was listening.
“He would come home from his latest campaign,” Iolaus told her, covering her hands with his own. “He’d tell me about the great battles he’d fought, and he’d go over the strategies with me. Then he’d turn around and tell me that I was wasting his time, for I’d never be a soldier. I was just a weak crybaby, never going to amount to anything. He just had a way of drawing me in, and I wanted to please him. More than anything, I wanted my father to be proud of me. But, he never was. Because I wasn’t as big as the other kids my age, and because I didn’t have war in my heart. He told me once that he was ashamed to call me his son.”
The healer tightened her hold on her husband, her heart aching for all that this cruel man had done to his only son. Iolaus drew strength from her, and cleared his throat slightly before continuing.
“I tried not to listen to him, but I couldn’t help it. I kept thinking, why would my own father be saying these things to me if they weren’t true? Pretty soon, I began to believe that I was worthless. That I never would amount to anything. That it would have been better if I’d never been born. That’s when I left home, and only the gods know what would have became of me if Hercules and Alcmene hadn’t been there to steer me in the right direction.”
“I think you would have found you’re own way, eventually,” Elissa whispered.
“I don’t know,” the hunter said with a small shake of the head. “I’d like to think so, but I just keep thinking about the time when Fortune took my memories from me. I went right back to my old ways. A thieving, bullying, common criminal. That’s the path I could have ended up on, Lis.”
“But you didn’t,” she reassured him. “Iolaus, I don’t know why your father behaved the way he did. Maybe it came from his own life, being abandoned when he was just a small child. Maybe he thought he was trying to make you tough, so that you’d never have to feel the hurt that he kept locked up inside. But, whatever his reasons, he never saw the hero that you had inside, and that is his loss. I’m not going to pretend that you’re perfect, but you are a good man, Iolaus. You have a huge, sensitive heart. You fight for those that can’t fight for themselves. You are loyal to the death to those you love, and you never fail to offer your help to those that need it. Its for all these reasons that I know that you will make a wonderful father.
“ I know a lot can go wrong in pregnancy, but there is nothing in this world that can happen to our child that would ever make you love it any less. No matter what path lies ahead for our child, I know that you will love it with all your heart, and protect it with all of your being. And I think that this is the luckiest little baby in the world to be born as your child, and I think that it will spend the rest of its days thanking the Fates for such a good fortune. What your father did to you was horrible, and it breaks my heart that you had to suffer through it. It’s a good thing he’s dead, or believe me, I’d give him a piece of my mind. But you are not him, Iolaus, and you are not like him. You have gentleness in your touch, where his was hard. You have love in your eyes, where he had anger. And you have warmth in your heart, where he only had coldness. You may be the son of Skouros, and his blood may be in your veins. But your mind and your soul are all your own, and no one, least of all a ghost, can touch the goodness that lies within you.”
Iolaus turned to hug his wife tightly to him, burying his face into her auburn hair and feeling her love for him wash over him in gentle waves.
“Not only beautiful, but smart, too,” he joked, trying to conceal the tremor in his voice. “I knew there was a reason I married you.”
“How sweet,” Elissa teased. “And here I thought you married me for my cooking.”
“I was hoping you wouldn’t figure that out.” The hunter pulled back a little, giving her a bright grin. Reaching out he brushed a stray lock of hair from her cheek before cupping her face in his hands. Drawing her closer, Iolaus kissed her gently, relishing the feel of her soft lips against her own. When they parted, somewhat breathlessly, Elissa leaned into him, resting her head against his bare chest, feeling the thudding of his heart.
“Why don’t we go back to bed?” she suggested, her fingers tracing a light line down his muscular arm.
“Ok.” The hunter shivered slightly at her touch. “But tell me the truth, Lis. Are you sure you’re feeling all right?”
“Come to bed, my brave warrior,” the healer commanded, pulling away from him and stepping back into the bedroom. She turned to look back at him, a vision on the balcony, illuminated by the backdrop of the silvery moon. As her breath caught in her throat at the sheer glory of her golden hunter, Elissa gave him a mischievous grin. “Come back to bed, and I’ll show you just how all right I really am.”
Iolaus did not need anymore urging.
The castle was dark and silent. Oil lamps hanging from the walls cast dim light along the shadowy corridors, and slight rustlings gave away the nocturnal activities of rodents scrambling inside the walls. Iolaus couldn’t decide, as he made his way through the halls, footsteps seeming to echo loudly in the quiet air, if the effect was peaceful or creepy. Rather than give himself the willies, he decided to go with peaceful. But that still didn’t stop him from jumping out of his skin as he heard a voice behind him.
“Linus,” the hunter gasped. “If you’re going to go sneaking up on people in the middle of the night, at least try and give a little warning.”
“Sorry,” the guard told him. “I didn’t mean to scare you. What are you doing down here so late?”
“Ah, the perils of a pregnant wife,” Iolaus joked, feeling his heartbeat returning to normal. “She’s having cravings, so I’ve been banished to the kitchen and I’m not allowed back in without a plate of honey-dipped olives. This, of course, coming from the girl that previously hated olives.”
“Must be rough on her, to be in her condition, so far from home.”
The hunter glanced at the serious face of his old friend and frowned.
“What are you trying to get at, Linus?”
“I don’t think you should have come,” the guard confessed.
“Why not? Of course I’d come, if Niobe needed me.”
“That’s just it,” Linus sighed. “I’m not so sure she needs you. Not like you think.”
“What are you talking about?” Iolaus demanded.
“After you left,” the guard began. “Niobe took it pretty hard. She began to lean very heavily on Hector. He wasn’t just her bodyguard, but also her friend. Her confidant. He was the one person she could confide to, about her feelings toward you. She never did get over you, Iolaus. Anyway, Hector became a constant presence for her. She wouldn’t make a move without him by her side. When he was hurt, she fell apart. I don’t think that she feared more attacks on her. I think she had lost the one person she could lean on, and it terrified her, so she sent for the only other man she had ever trusted to such a degree.”
“That’s ridiculous,” the hunter scoffed. “Niobe is a great leader and a very strong person. She doesn’t need anyone’s support to do her job.”
“People change,” Linus continued. “It’s been a long time since you’ve seen her, Iolaus. She’s not the same person you remember. The only thing that’s the same is her feelings for you. She never stopped loving you, and now that you’re back here, you’re just stirring up all those emotions again. Getting her hopes up, only to let her fall when you leave. Take my advice and go home now. Before she gets any more attached to you than she already is.”
“I can’t just leave,” Iolaus argued. “What about everything that’s going on?”
“What’s going on?” the guard demanded. “Since that first attempt, when Hector was hurt, what has happened? I know what Niobe claims, but what has happened that anyone but her has witnessed?”
“Are you actually suggesting that she’s been making everything up?”
“I don’t know for sure,” Linus replied. “But what if she is? What if this is her way of trying to keep you here? Hoping that maybe she can win you back?”
“That’s crazy,” the hunter insisted. “Anyway, even if Niobe does still have feelings for me, I’m married now.”
“There are ways around that,” the guard said quietly.
Iolaus’ eyes flashed dangerously. He didn’t like what Linus was implying, but before he could confront him, a shrill scream tore through the castle. The two men glanced at each other before taking off down the corridor, heading for the spiral staircase that would lead them up to the queen.
“Get back inside and lock the door,” the hunter yelped out as he sped past his own room and saw Elissa standing in the doorway, having heard the scream. Without missing a beat, he kept running down the hallway, until he came to the room occupied by Niobe. Hercules had already arrived, and was holding the sobbing queen in his arms, trying to calm her. When Niobe saw the hunter, she pulled away from Hercules and flung herself into his arms. Iolaus held her, stroking her hair and her back, trying to soothe the terrified queen.
“It’s all right, Niobe,” he whispered in her ear for the hundredth time. “Please, just stop crying. You’ll make yourself sick.”
“Do you want me to make her some tea?” Elissa whispered, hovering at his elbow, having come to see if she could help after ignoring his order to lock herself in their room.
Iolaus nodded, hugging the shaking woman in his arms and looking at Hercules helplessly.
“Please, Niobe,” he comforted. “Try to calm down. Tell us what happened. We can’t do anything until you tell us what happened. Come on, sweetheart. It’s all right now. You’re safe. I’m not going to let anything happen to you. Just try and relax. I’ve got you.”
Eventually, the distraught queen managed to choke out her story. She’d been asleep, but had woken up to find a man standing over her with a knife. She screamed, and he dropped the knife and disappeared, melting away into the darkness.
“There’s no knife here,” Linus reported, searching the floor around the bed.
“There has to be,” the queen insisted. “I heard it hit the floor.”
But a search of the room failed to produce anything out of the ordinary. Niobe looked extremely upset, burying her flushed cheeks in her hands as the tears formed once more.
“Can you remember anything about this man?” Hercules asked quickly, trying to stave off another round of hysteria. “Did you see what he looked like? Did he say anything to you?”
“No,” she gulped. “He didn’t speak, and it was too dark to see him.”
“All right,” Iolaus said calmly, lest she begin crying again. “Herc and I will find him. You’ll be all right. Just take another sip of this for me, ok?” He offered her the mug of tea that Elissa had brought and she obediently took a drink.
“Iolaus, please, will you stay with me tonight? I’m so afraid he’ll come back, and that this time he’ll kill me. Please, will you?”
“I’ll stay here, Niobe,” Hercules offered, catching the look his partner sent him. “I promise, nobody will get by me.”
The queen turned brown eyes full of fear to the hunter.
“I only feel safe with you, Iolaus. Please?”
Iolaus glanced over at Elissa, and the healer gave him a small nod.
“All right,” he agreed. “I’ll stay with you. Drink the rest of this tea, ok?” The hunter squeezed her hand, then got up to approach his wife. “Are you sure you don’t mind?”
“No, it’s ok,” Elissa told him. “She’s pretty shaken up. That tea should relax her, though.”
“Good night, my beautiful healer.” Iolaus kissed her, hugging her tightly to him, then he turned to Hercules. “Can you see her back to our room?”
“Sure,” the demigod agreed. “Just yell if there’s any more trouble.”
“And make sure she locks the door,” the hunter called after them as they left. He turned to Linus, who was hovering by the door. “Still think she’s making this up?”
“I’ve never heard of an assassin that drops his knife and runs away just because his victim screams,” the guard said solemnly. “I’ll be outside here if you need me.”
Iolaus sighed and went back to Niobe. He convinced her to lie down, but she begged him to join her, so he stretched out in the bed next to the queen and took her in his arms. The hunter held her, stroking her hair and whispering softly to her as she cuddled up against him. Finally, the sedatives in the tea began taking effect, and Niobe dropped off to sleep. Iolaus rose, stretching, and went to the window, looking out into the night as he mulled over all of what Linus had said to him. He couldn’t believe that the regal queen could be capable of such mind games, faking these threats just to get his attention. But, he also had to admit that Linus had a point. If someone were trying to kill her, he was really ineffectual at his job.
With another sigh, the hunter turned away from the window and tried to make himself comfortable in the chair at the queen’s bedside. It was not going to be the best night’s sleep, but he certainly had spent nights in worse places. And until he had proof that Niobe was playing him for a fool, he vowed that he would be there for her as long as she needed him.
Iolaus crept into his room in the early morning as the dawning sun was peeping through the shutters. Climbing into the large bed, he slid his arms around Elissa and pulled her close. She murmured a sleepy good morning as he snuggled up to her and asked him how Niobe was faring.
“She’s calmer this morning but I think she’s still pretty upset,” the hunter told his wife, feeling her soft hair tickling his face. Running his hands over her body, Iolaus brought them to rest over her stomach. It could have been his imagination, but he thought he could detect a slight swelling to her abdomen. “She wants us to have breakfast with her.”
“Then I guess we’d better get up,” the healer said reluctantly, enjoying the warmth of her husband so near.
“We can be a little late,” Iolaus whispered in her ear, his hands moving away from her stomach in a deliberate path up her body.
Elissa turned to face him, meeting his lips in a burst of desire as her own hands went out exploring. They made love passionately, but gently, mindful of the healer’s condition. And when they were finished, they allowed themselves a few minutes of lying silently together, appreciating the nearness of each other and the love they both shared. But finally, Elissa sighed and disentangled herself from the hunter, rising from the bed to prepare herself. She bathed quickly and dressed, combing out her auburn hair and tying the damp strands back from her face with a length of ribbon. When she was ready, she found that Iolaus had fallen asleep, still sprawled where she had left him. Deciding not to wake him, the healer covered him with a blanket and tiptoed out of their room, closing the door softly behind her.
Niobe and Hercules were already seated and were being served as Elissa joined them.
“Where’s Iolaus?” the demigod questioned as she sat down at the table.
“He fell asleep and I didn’t have the heart to wake him,” the healer answered, helping herself to a thick slice of hot bread.
“It’s my fault he had a long night. I’m sorry about that,” Niobe said softly, looking down at her plate. “I shouldn’t have asked him to stay last night.”
“It’s all right,” Elissa told her sincerely, shooting her a warm smile. “You were frightened, and Iolaus was worried about you. I understand.”
“But I shouldn’t have taken him away from you,” the queen protested, meeting the healer’s eyes. “I had no right...”
“You had every right to call on your friend when you needed him,” Elissa interjected. “Don’t give it another thought. That’s why he’s here.”
“Thank you,” Niobe whispered. “And thank you for the tea last night. It helped a great deal.”
“That’s why I’m here,” the healer grinned.
“Then why am I here?” Hercules teased.
“To do the heavy lifting, of course,” Elissa said innocently. The demigod chuckled and Niobe managed a hint of a smile.
“Speaking of which, I’m going to go and haul my partner out of bed. We have work to do.”
Hercules pushed back his chair and rose from the table, excusing himself as he went to go and roust Iolaus.
“I’ve noticed you haven’t been eating,” Elissa said softly, watching the queen picking at the food on her plate.
“I haven’t been hungry lately,” she confessed. “Hymericles says that I’m literally worrying myself sick.”
“That could be,” the healer mused thoughtfully.
“I never used to be like this,” the queen whispered, meeting the concerned green eyes. “I don’t know what’s happening to me. My advisor, Myrtilus, has taken over almost all of my duties. I’m scared all the time. I feel sick all the time. I’m seeing and hearing things that just aren’t there. Maybe Linus is right. Maybe I am going crazy.”
Elissa slid over into Hercules’ empty chair so that she could put a comforting arm around the distraught woman.
“Or maybe that’s what someone is trying to make you think,” she consoled. “Hang in there, Niobe. I know you’re confused and afraid, but Iolaus and Hercules and I are not leaving here until we figure all of this out. We’ll find out what’s going on, I promise.”
“How’s he doing?” Iolaus asked.
“No change,” Hymericles answered with a sad shake of his head. “He’s still unconscious and he’s growing weaker. I fear that he doesn’t have much time left.”
The hunter sat down beside Hector’s bed with a heavy heart. Reaching out, he took one of the guard’s hands in his own and squeezed. Instantly, he jumped up, pulling the palace healer over to the bed.
“I felt it,” Iolaus told him excitedly. “He squeezed my hand. I felt him do it.”
“It’s a reflex,” Hymericles told him soberly. “He responds to touch, but it’s automatic.”
“Oh,” the hunter muttered, feeling deflated. “I thought maybe it meant he was getting better.”
With a sigh, Iolaus sat back down and looked into the face of his old friend, feeling helpless. Picking up his hand once more, the hunter squeezed it again, feeling the immediate return of the pressure as the guard’s hand briefly gripped his own.
“Hector, can you hear me?” the hunter whispered.
The injured man gave no outward sign of response, but for some reason, Iolaus felt that the guard had heard him. And as he sat in the quiet of the room, the hunter began to get a distinct impression that his old friend wanted to tell him something. Something important.
“Did you find anything?” Elissa asked as Hercules and Iolaus entered the room.
“No,” the hunter answered frustratedly. “We’ve been all over this castle. All the entrances are secure. Nobody’s reported anything suspicious. Everyone’s where they should be. We can’t find anything out of the ordinary at all.”
“We’ve been here for over a week now. Maybe it’s time to look at the possibility that there is nothing going on,” Hercules suggested gently.
“I can’t accept that,” Iolaus declared. “I know how it looks, but believe me, Niobe is not crazy. There is somebody behind all of this. We’re just missing something, Herc.”
“Well, if you’re right, then somebody is trying to make it look like Niobe is losing her wits,” the demigod sighed. “The only motive I can think of for that is to assume the throne. Which brings us back to Niobe’s sister. She’s the only one who stands to gain rule of Attica in Niobe’s place.”
“Unless the queen is legally found to be mad,” Elissa put in absently.
The healer had only been half listening to their conversation, but now she looked up from the bowl of nuts that she’d been intently cracking and shelling.
“If any member of the royal family is judged to be mad, their rule of Attica is revoked. Fear of insanity tainting the bloodlines, I guess.”
“Then who does the crown go to?” Hercules inquired.
“The lead advisor takes power until a new monarch can be appointed,” Elissa told him.
“How do you know that?” Iolaus demanded.
“I read it,” she explained, a bit perplexed. “In the charter of Attica in the throne room.”
“Where’s Niobe now?” the hunter asked tightly.
“She went to her room to lie down, I think,” Elissa answered.
“I’ll go and get her,” Hercules volunteered. “You two go and get that charter and bring it back here.”
“Why didn’t you say anything about all of this before?” Iolaus questioned his wife.
“Well, I thought you knew,” she said with a trace of exasperation. “I assumed you were familiar with the charter, since you were the king at one point.”
“I never read it,” the hunter confessed. “I relied on Hector to tell me about all of that stuff.”
“Oh, gods,” Elissa gasped, coming to a sudden halt.
“What is it?”
“Hector,” she cried. “Last night, I couldn’t find Hymericles so I helped myself to his supply of herbs. I was looking for motherwort to make the tea for Niobe, and I found a parcel of white camas. I thought it was a strange plant for a healer to have among his herbs, but I didn’t really think anything of it until now.”
“I don’t get it,” the hunter told her.
“Camas is poisonous, Iolaus. Deadly, in fact.”
“You mean Hymericles has been poisoning Hector?”
“It makes sense,” the healer continued. “I couldn’t understand why Hector’s wounds were healing as his condition worsened. Why he was lost to unconsciousness, unable to awaken. Gods, I have to go see him.”
“What if Hymericles is there?” Iolaus asked with a frown.
“Then I’ll come back here,” she promised. “But I have to go do what I can for Hector. If it’s not already too late.”
The hunter squeezed her hand and watched her dash off down the long corridor before he continued on his mission to the throne room. It was dark and silent, so he took a torch down off the wall and brought it in with him. He found the charter easily enough. It was difficult to miss, and he now remembered why he hadn’t read it before. It was several inches thick, volumes of parchments bound together. Very long and rather heavy. Heaving the charter under his arm, Iolaus took the torch and headed back to meet Hercules, who was already waiting for him with Niobe.
“What is going on?” the queen asked.
“We think Hymericles has been poisoning Hector,” the hunter explained to her. “And probably you, as well.”
“Me?” Niobe was shocked.
“Something to make you see things. To make you act a little off. Our best guess now is that your advisor put him up to it.”
“Why would Myrtilus...?”
“If he could prove that you were mad, then he could revoke your right to rule and take the throne for himself,” Iolaus told her gently.
“I don’t know what to think,” the queen murmured, rubbing her slender fingers across her temple.
“It’s over, Niobe,” Hercules promised. “We’re going to get Linus to come and guard you, then Iolaus and I are going to find this weasel.”
She nodded, overcome but trusting the two men before her implicitly. Linus was quickly summoned and briefed, and he vowed to guard the queen with his life.
“Herc,” Iolaus said urgently as they left the queen in the safety of her guard. “Before we go have our little chat with Myrtilus, I want to go by Hector’s room. Elissa went to check on him, and I want to make sure she’s all right.”
“Let’s go,” the demigod complied, veering off to the right instead of left.
The two partners found that Hector was still alive when they reached their destination, but Hymericles was not. He was lying on a heap in the middle of the floor, blood pooling underneath him from a large wound in his chest.
“He hasn’t been dead long,” Hercules informed his friend as he checked the body for a pulse and felt the warmth that it still held. “I’d say only a few minutes.”
“But where’s Elissa?” Iolaus said desperately, seeing no signs of his wife.
“Don’t panic,” the demigod commanded, laying a reassuring hand on his partner’s shoulder. “We’ll find her.”
They split up, quickly checking the adjacent rooms before reconvening in Hector’s room.
“She isn’t here,” the hunter fretted.
“It’s a big castle,” Hercules tried to reason with him. “She could be anywhere.”
But Iolaus shook his head vehemently.
“She wouldn’t have gone anywhere else,” he protested. “She’d either be here or back with Niobe. Something’s happened to her, Herc. Whoever did this to Hymericles must have gotten her, too.”
The demigod sighed, running a hand through his hair. He was trying to stay calm and logical, for worrying wasn’t going to help them find the missing healer. But Iolaus rapidly working himself into a frenzy was not doing anything for his nerves. Hercules took a deep breath, trying to think, but an almost imperceptible movement caught his eye.
The hunter turned his gaze to where his friend was pointing. On the desk next to them, a feathered plume stood in an ink bottle. Iolaus immediately saw to what Hercules was referring. The weightless veins of the feather were stirring slightly, ruffled by a breeze so slight that they hadn’t even felt it. Iolaus followed the stream of air over to the wall, feeling it grow stronger as he identified the miniscule cracks that outlined a door. It was built so flawlessly into the designs on the wall, it was impossible to see if you weren’t looking for it, and not much easier to pick out once you knew it was there.
It took some time, but they finally found the trigger that unlocked the door. With a click, it swung open without fanfare, merely a slight scraping noise. Hercules and Iolaus peered into the black, yawning tunnel before them.
“Elissa?” the hunter called out.
“Iolaus?” It was faint and muffled, but it was the healer’s voice.
“Hang on, Lis,” Iolaus shouted into the blackness. “We’re coming for you.”
His heart soared as Hercules grabbed a torch, waves of relief washing over him as he realized that his beloved healer was still alive. Staying very close together, the partners began making their way into the tunnel. They moved quickly, but carefully, realizing that the tunnel could be set with traps and the poor visibility would make spotting them difficult. But as it turned out, they encountered no problems as they came upon the healer. Her right wrist was secured to the wall of the tunnel with a manacle, which Hercules immediately broke open.
“Are you all right?” Iolaus asked worriedly, sweeping her into his arms.
“I’m fine,” she assured him, hugging him back tightly.
“What happened?” the demigod asked as they began making their way back out of the tunnel.
“I walked in on Hymericles and Myrtilus,” the healer explained a bit sheepishly. “Hymericles was saying that he couldn’t do it anymore. That he wanted out. Myrtilus told him there was only one way out, and stabbed him right in the chest. I tried to get out of there, but Myrtilus saw me and grabbed me. I told him that it was over and we knew everything. So he said that he was leaving while he still could, and that he was taking me along as insurance. Then he dragged me into this tunnel, chained me up, and left.”
“He’s gone,” Hercules said disgustedly. “He knew we’d be preoccupied with finding Elissa, and he used that as cover to escape. I’ll follow this tunnel through, but I’m sure he’s made it out of the castle by now.”
“What are you doing out here?” Iolaus asked, finding his wife out in the palace gardens.
“Wrapping up the loose ends,” she commented. “I think I’ve found what Hymericles was using on Niobe.” The healer had not found anything in the deceased man’s herbal collection that she believed was administered to the queen, but she had remained convinced that Niobe had been drugged.
“Morning glories?” the hunter questioned, looking up at the vines covering the trellis that boasted the bright blue trumpet shaped flowers.
“The seeds have a hallucinogenic effect,” Elissa confirmed. “They would have been the cause of her unease, and thinking that she was seeing strange things. I think he started out giving her a small amount, but I suspect he would have kept increasing the dose. I’ll bet his plan was to have her go from having slightly paranoid delusions gradually up to raving lunatic. A natural progression, which would be less suspect.”
“Will she be all right?”
“She’ll be fine,” the healer assured him.
“What about Hector?”
“His outcome is more questionable,” she sighed. “There’s nothing I can give him to counteract the damage that the camas may have done.”
“What kind of damage?” Iolaus asked with trepidation.
“To his heart and lungs,” Elissa told him quietly. “I won’t know to what extent until he wakes up. He could be fine, or...”
The hunter nodded, not needing her to finish the sentence. He hated to think of his friend incapacitated in any way, so he quickly changed the subject.
“We’re getting ready to leave. Are you sure you don’t want me to stay here?”
“No,” the healer told him with a shake of her head. “There’s nothing you can do here. Go on with Hercules. He needs you to track Myrtilus.”
“I know,” Iolaus declared theatrically. “I’ve tried my best to impart all of my vast hunting expertise on him, but the poor guy just can’t seem to get the knack of it. I don‘t know what he‘s ever going to do without me.”
Elissa rolled her eyes, but she smiled and linked her arm through his.
“Come on. I’ll walk you to the gate.”
“Duty calls,” Hercules joked, but his grin held a hint of sadness. The same sadness that was mirrored in his partner’s blue eyes as he handed him a generous parcel of food.
“Why do I feel like that was our last adventure together?” Iolaus whispered.
The heroes had returned to the castle three days ago, with their quarry in tow. Myrtilus was currently tucked away in the palace dungeon, awaiting a trial which would undoubtedly find him guilty. It was safe to assume that the former advisor would not be making any further attempts on the crown of Attica. But with everything taken care of, Hercules had rapidly grown restless, and it was almost a relief when word had come in of a warlord terrorizing a small village to the east. The demigod was eager to get back to his travels and his mission of helping people, but it was extremely hard for him to leave his best friend behind.
“Don’t say that,” Hercules urged the hunter. “I refuse to let our last adventure consist of tracking down an overweight, middle-aged man who cried like a girl when we caught him. Besides, I’m sure Elissa will let you off the leash now and then to fight monsters or take on the gods.” He laughed, but his partner’s expression remained serious.
“Herc, when are you coming back home?” The hunter desperately tried to keep the tone of his voice casual.
“Don’t worry,” the demigod reassured him. “I’m not about to miss the arrival of your first child.”
Iolaus smiled then, and stepped forward into his friend’s outstretched arms.
“Be careful, Herc,” the hunter advised as they hugged tightly.
“I’m always careful. You’re the reckless one, remember?”
“Don’t stay away too long.” Iolaus tried to furtively wipe the moisture from his eyes as they separated. Hercules mimicked his gesture as he busied himself with gathering up his supplies.
The demigod began walking, turning and waving once before he was swallowed up in the bustling crowds of the marketplace. Niobe and Elissa had said their goodbyes to him inside, but Iolaus had walked with him out into the city, and he stood watching long after his friend had gone.
“Well, I guess this it,” the hunter said to himself. “This is how it’s going to be from now on.”
Taking a deep breath, Iolaus turned and went back to the castle. Elissa soon found him, perched on a windowsill staring out into the bright afternoon. Understanding, she went to him and took his hand.
“Go with him, if that’s what you really want,” the healer said quietly.
“I’m not going to lie to you and say it was easy watching him go,” the hunter told her, not removing his gaze from the valley below them. “Being with Hercules and doing what we did was a big part of my life for a long time. It WAS my life. And there was a time when I never could have imagined giving it up. But things are different now. And as hard as it was watching Herc go off without me, it was ok. This is what my life is about now. It’s just going to take a little getting used to.”
“I know how much you’ll miss being out there with him,” she whispered, running her fingers through his golden curls. “So maybe you should go. Otherwise, I’m afraid that you’ll come to hate being tied down, and you’ll grow to resent me.”
“Elissa, you are the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” Iolaus turned away from the window then, to look at his beautiful healer. “I’ll miss the adventure, but every time I look at you I’m reminded that I’m right where I’m supposed to be. I love you with all of my soul, and I could never, ever resent you. You are my life now. You and our baby. And that makes me happier than I ever could have dreamed, and makes that old life seem cold and empty. Being with you is what I really want.”
The healer could see the love and sincerity shining in her beloved husband’s eyes, and she believed him. Elissa welcomed his arms around her, sinking into his warm embrace with a sigh of relief, for she had been afraid that he would decided that his place was with Hercules. She would never deny him that choice, but the thought of him being gone for weeks and months, risking his life at every turn, terrified her.
“I promised you long ago that we’d always be together, and I meant it,” the hunter whispered in her ear. “We’ve been through a lot, but we’ve gotten through it all. I’m not going to leave you now. Not now, not ever. You are stuck with me until the mountains fall and the rivers all run dry.”
Elissa had no words, for her heart was too full, but she hugged him back tightly in response. Sending out a silent prayer, she asked the gods to please watch over her golden hunter, for she didn’t think she could ever bear to go on without him.
“We’ve been out here walking for almost an hour,” Niobe observed, shooting a look at the hunter by her side as they passed by the calm lake for the third time. “You’re trying to figure out how to tell me that you’re leaving, aren’t you?”
“I never could hide anything from you,” Iolaus replied with a grin. “Elissa and I have really enjoyed the last few weeks we’ve spent here, but it’s time for us to go. You don’t need us anymore, Niobe, and we still have a lot of work to do at home before the baby comes.”
“You don’t have to rush off,” the queen began. “You and Elissa are welcome to stay here, Iolaus. She could be comfortable and cared for until she gives birth.”
“And then what?” he asked gently.
“Well, I am in the market for a new palace healer. Elissa would be wonderful. And Iolaus, you would make a great advisor. There’s nobody that I trust more, and you would do an admirable job.”
“I’ll talk to Elissa,” the hunter stated. “But I don’t know, Niobe. I’m not really one for palace life.”
“It’s not so bad,” she continued. “And you should think of your wife and baby. They would always have every luxury here, and they would never want for anything.”
“I’ll think about it,” Iolaus promised absently. He had to admit, the queen did have a good point. The hunter did want the best for his family, and he certainly would never do any better than Niobe’s offer. He spent the rest of the day trying to think of a casual way to bring it up to Elissa, but as they retired to their room that night, she provided him with an opening.
“I think I’m going to miss it here,” she yawned, climbing into their bed.
“Well, I was talking to Niobe today,” Iolaus began, sitting on the edge of the bed and unlacing his boots. “I told her we were leaving soon and she offered us positions here. She wants you to be the palace healer.”
“What did you say?” Elissa had been tired, but now she sat up, very wide awake.
“I told her I’d talk to you,” the hunter answered. “What do you think?”
“Palace healer,” she murmured thoughtfully. “That’s quite a prestigious title. One I never thought I’d ever obtain. What do you think?”
“I think maybe we should do it.”
He’d deliberately had his back to her as he replied, and Elissa noticed the slump of his shoulders.
“Ok. Why don’t you look me in the eye and tell me what you really think?”
“I’ll do whatever you want to do,” he told her, turning to face her.
“Iolaus, how many times have you told me how much you would hate to be cooped up in a castle like this?” she demanded. “And now you expect me to believe that this is what you want to do?”
“I wouldn’t be cooped up here,” he argued. “It’s not like before, when I was pretending to be the king. I’d be free to come and go as I wanted. And it would be an easy life for you and our child. You wouldn’t have to work so hard, Lis. And we’d always have everything we needed for the baby.”
“I never wanted easy,” she whispered, resting her hands on his shoulders and squeezing gently. “All I’ve ever wanted was to be with you. I don’t mind the work, as long as I have you. Iolaus, I know how worried you are about this child. But we’ll make it, I promise you. We might not have a lot, but we’ll do all right. Don’t sacrifice your happiness just because you think you’re hurting your family if you don’t. I know as well as you do that this castle would be a prison for you. You would be miserable here, and all wealth and perks in the world wouldn’t be able to change that.”
“But this is the kind of life you deserve,” the hunter persisted. “You deserve to live in a place like this, with beautiful things and people to take care of you. I’ve always felt that way, but I never thought I’d have the means to make it happen. Now Niobe has given me a way to give this to you. How can I say no to that?”
“You know I’ve never cared about material things. I suppose it might be nice to have a new gown every day, and a feast waiting on the table every night. But that’s just not me. If it was, then we wouldn’t be together. I want to go home, Iolaus. To our home in Acheron. I want to have our baby there, and carry on like we’ve been planning, with the life that we’ve been building. It may not be a life of riches and royalty, but we were happy, and that’s all that matters.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’m sure,” she confirmed.
Iolaus snuggled up to his wife, his heart beating with love for the wonderful woman who understood him like no other and was willing to sacrifice all for him. He wrapped his arms around her, his hand moving down to her abdomen. They had been in Attica for a few weeks, seeing Hector through to recovery, and Elissa’s stomach had begun to grow. She had been gaining a little weight, her form becoming rounder and her breasts getting fuller, in anticipation of the developing child inside her. The hunter eagerly approved of her new enhancements, but more than anything, he loved caressing the small bulge that was once her formerly flat stomach. It was a constant reminder that he was going to be a father, even if he could never feel the tiny movements that Elissa insisted the baby was making.
Contentedly, the hunter drifted to sleep. He’d been having horrible nightmares lately, about turning into his father. About Elissa and their baby, cold and hungry, cowering in fear as he raged at them. But on this night, his dreams were peaceful, filled with the love and warmth of the happiness that he finally began to feel was within his reach.
“You’re up early.”
Iolaus looked up to smile at the queen as she entered the room.
“I’m just practicing,” he joked. “From what everyone’s been telling me, once the baby comes sleep will no longer be an option. But I could say the same for you.”
“I just couldn’t sleep, I guess,” she stated.
“Do you want Elissa to make you something to help?”
“No, thank you. I think I’ve had all the medicating I care to for awhile.” Niobe’s smile quickly faded. “You’re still leaving, aren’t you?”
“Tomorrow,” the hunter replied. “It was a generous offer, and we were honored. But I think we decided that a castle wasn’t really the place for either of us. And if we wait too much longer, I’m afraid the trip will be hard on Elissa. I’m sorry, Niobe.”
“For what? You need to do what’s best for yourselves.”
“I think Hector would make a great advisor.”
“He would,” the queen agreed. The guard had recovered from his ordeal very well. Elissa suspected there may have been some damage to his heart, as he remained weak and tired easily. But as long as he didn’t overexert himself, he was fine. A position as advisor would suit him well. “Which means that I have a lead guard position open. How do you think Linus would do?”
“I think he would give his life for you,” Iolaus answered.
“I think he’s ready.” Niobe paused, then looked at the hunter seriously. “He told me about the suspicions he had for my behavior, and that you refused to believe him when he said I might be going mad. Thank you for that, Iolaus. Your faith in me means more to me than you ever could have known.”
“I’ve always had faith in you,” the hunter assured her. “I’ve always admired you Niobe. Your strength, your courage, your grace, and your passion inspires me.”
“Linus was right about one thing,” the queen confessed. “I never stopped loving you, Iolaus. Even after all these years had passed, I still held on to the hope that one day you would come back to me. If I could have one wish, I’d turn back time to the day when I asked you to stay, and you asked me to go with you. If I could do it all over again, I’d leave Attica in a heartbeat.”
“But you wouldn’t have been happy,” Iolaus reasoned. “Just like I could never be happy here. Our destinies lie on different paths. It just wasn’t meant to be between us.”
“I was crushed when I heard you’d been married,” Niobe whispered. “And then, when you brought Elissa here, I wanted to hate her. But I just couldn’t. Not once I saw the way that you looked at each other. I realized then that it was over. The fantasy I carried for so long about you returning had come to an end. I didn’t want to admit it, but I knew that I could never make you happy the way that she does.”
“She does make me happy,” Iolaus said softly. “I love her more than I ever thought possible.”
“She’s lucky,” the queen told him, a bit sadly but with no bitterness.
“No, I’m the lucky one.” The hunter stepped forward and drew Niobe into his arms. “And I do love you, Niobe. We shared something special once, and I carry that around in my heart. I’m never going to forget you, and you know that if you ever need anything, all you have to do is call. I’m always here for you.”
“You would have made a great king, Iolaus,” the queen sighed, resting her head on his shoulder. “I know you never wanted that for yourself, but you do embody everything that a great king should be. Promise me that you’ll always try and remember that.”
“Iolaus! Come here! Hurry!”
The hunter knew what the excitement in his wife’s voice meant, and it failed to garner such a reaction in him. But, with a dutiful sigh, he went to her and held out his hand. Elissa took it eagerly and positioned it against her stomach. They had been through this drill countless times, and each time he had been too late to feel what she had felt. He was starting to think that the baby just had something against him, and this rushing for nothing was starting to wear thin.
Several moments passed, and Iolaus was about to give up. But Elissa held his hand firmly to her stomach. A few more moments, and the hunter was opening his mouth to say that he’d try again next time when he felt something under his hand. Iolaus held his breath as he waited, unsure as to whether or not he’d actually experienced what he though he had. Then it came again. A tiny flutter against his palm. His baby, moving and kicking. With tears in his eyes, the hunter looked at Elissa’s beaming face.
“I felt it,” he whispered, his voice tight with emotion.
She nodded her confirmation, giggling as he hugged her.
“I told you I wasn’t making it up.”
“That’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever....” The hunter trailed off, his eyes wide with wonder. “We’re going to have a baby!”
“What did you think was happening all this time?” Elissa demanded.
“No, it’s just.... That little kick just made me realize.... There’s a life growing inside you. A new little person, that’s part me and part you. Our baby is in there, alive and well. I just never thought of it that way before. About what is going on inside of you. How you are creating and harboring this new life. It’s just incredible, Lis.”
“It’s nothing special,” she told him. “All women do it.”
“It is special,” he insisted. “It’s a little miracle. I don’t care how many times it happens. How much longer is it now?”
“We’re about halfway there,” the healer replied.
The hunter gave her a brilliant smile, reaching up to touch her cheek. He wasn’t worrying about how he was going to provide for his family, and he wasn’t thinking about all the work he needed to accomplish in a few short months. Iolaus was thinking about Elissa bringing forth his child into the world, and the day that he would get to hold his baby in his arms for the first time.
“Lis,” he whispered, blue eyes radiating happiness and excitement for their future together. “Let’s go home.”
Disclaimer: No healers (even though they may have severely gone against the Hippocratic Oath) were harmed during the writing of this story.
The Iolausian Library