"This is the stupidest thing I've ever done!" he exclaimed to the trees, wildlife and anything or anyone else who cared to listen to the exasperated lament. Iolaus stood, knee deep in cold river water, holding an errant salmon upward, in both hands, close to his face. He looked into the round, strangely intelligent eyes. "Will you *please* just cough up that eyeball so I can get back to the academy before I'm recorded AWOL?"
"I'm sorry. I really am." the large salmon apologized with a fishy whine, "I didn't mean to swim away. It's what I do. Instinct, you know."
Iolaus squeezed his eyes shut and suppressed an urge to squash the salmon into a flat, pasty pulp. The academy, with all its rules and regulations, was the Elysian Fields compared to this latest mess Iolaus had gotten himself into. "You told me," he spoke with strained calmness, "you were a beautiful princess, cursed by The Graiae. 'I'm human.' you said." Then, through clenched teeth, "You shouldn't *have* fish instincts!" Iolaus was clearly at the end of his tether.
"Well, I've been this way for months." she mourned, "Can I help that I've developed a water-type's aptitude for survival?"
How could a great Winter Solstice weekend like he just experienced end on such a sour note? Five days ago Iolaus' mother had sent him a note, letting the academy student know that his father, Skouros, would not be home for
Solstice. He had been called away to Crete. What Erythia was trying to tell Iolaus was that she and his foster sister, Lahti, would be all alone and they wanted son and brother to come home for the holiday weekend; instead of
doing what he usually did, following Hercules to Alcemne's for a solstice celebration.
At first Iolaus was indecisive. He used to go to Hercules' home for the holidays because he couldn't conceive of being in the company of his father for too long. Even an hour was awkward. Skouros, the great general, often sneered and voiced disappointment over his son's many short comings. He had wanted a tall, dark, brave warrior-child; a man's man who could proudly stand beside his father and discuss war-time strategy. He wanted someone like Ares. What he got, in no one's opinion but his own, was a short, fair-haired, lily-livered, girly-boy thief. "There's only one thing I can
hope for." Skouros once told an impressionable preteen Iolaus. It was during one of Skouros' few visits home and he was drunk. "When you die, boy, you'll go out the hero you aren't, not the coward you are."
Even after Iolaus had been accepted into the warrior academy ("You were forced to go, boy!") and Chieron told Skouros of his son's many accomplishments, the general was doubtful. However, he beamed his gratitude in front of the centaur. It was later, after mounting his horse to leave,
that Iolaus heard Skouros' sarcastic, "I'll believe it when I see it." to Erytha, who gave her husband a cast-down look.
Maybe it was that visual but never verbalized turmoil that wounded Iolaus most. Why didn't his mother ever stick up for him? Why didn't she tell Skouros that he shouldn't say such things? Iolaus was a good boy. He was a *good* boy! Yet, it never happened and what Iolaus thought of as a refuge during holiday breaks had become pleasurable and comfortable. Alcemne was his second mother, a beautiful lady who loved her own son and treated Iolaus like he belonged in her home. Unable to do different, Iolaus gravitated to Alcemne more and more, asking her advice with simple teenage problems, even at the expense of losing his bond with Eryitha.
Then there was Lahti. Iolaus delighted in the little girl's company but it didn't take a genius to figure out that the foundling Skorous had one day brought to their home was, indeed, his own child. She was born from an affair with another woman. What amazed Iolaus was that Erythia could look at the girl, an example of Skouros' faithlessness, and still love her. Did she ever even question him? Still, it was hard not to love Lahti. She was a sweet and unassuming child. Later of course, when she got older, questions
would be asked but, for right now, Lahti remained naive ... and she worshiped her big brother who, she told everyone, was going to be a great man one day.
Ah, but to the problem at hand ....
"Umh, I hate to ask but could you put me back in the water. It's the air thing. I'm getting dizzy."
Iolaus rolled his eyes and looked down at his prisoner, "Last time I did that I had to chase you two hours up river."
"Well, find a bucket or something because this is getting *really* uncomfortable." The fish began to wheeze heavily.
"Oh." Desperate, Iolaus looked around. He was in the middle of a Corinthian forest. Where the Hades was he going to find a ...? Then he saw a break-off from the river. It was just a tiny hole really but it would serve their purpose. Iolaus walked over to it and dumped the fish unceremoniously
inside. "Better?" he asked, dropping to the ground, sitting cross-legged in front of the water-hole. Then, before the fish could reply, "Better be, because you're going to stay here until you give up that eyeball."
The salmon balanced it's upper weight against the edge of the leaf-leveled edge, shrugged her gills, and poked her head out of the water, "Grumpy." she commented, "I got this way because I was having a little fun where there was
no sense of humor. What's your excuse, He Who Has Much Hair?"
Iolaus glowered and bit his tongue, afraid he might say something indecent. Closing his eyes, the young warrior in training thought of happier times ....
The solstice holiday had been great, despite the fact there was no Hercules or Jason to hang with. Iolaus, at the last minute, bought two cheap quills and three rolled, blank parchments at the student store. He wrapped them awkwardly, and presented them to Erythia as a present. For Lahti he
whittled-out a very small wood doll on his way home. It was respectable work, on the run, if he did say so himself. Both females were thrilled, more by his appearance than the gifts, but they gushed their pleasure anyway, expecting nothing but a hardy appetite from the wayward member of their small family.
Later, after a satisfying meal of wild pheasant, bread, garden greens and hot apple cobbler, Lahti bestowed a gift to Iolaus. He smiled, expecting a quickly drawn picture of some kind but, instead, she presented her brother with a single gold earring.
"Skouros ordered me a set, one for each ear, from Athens." She piped innocently, "But I want you to have this one." she dangled the glittering loop in front of his face, "Wear it always, Iolaus. It will be our bond as brother and sister."
"But I don't have a pierced ear." Iolaus smiled, awed by the generous offering.
Erythia pulled out a sharp tipped needle from her sewing basket and passed it over the flame of a candle, "You will."
Slightly nervous, Iolaus looked from Erythia to the earring and back to Lahti again. His half sister, only eight years old, had grown so profound and proud. It tugged at his heart. "Thank you." Iolaus took the gift from the girl, then reaching forward suddenly, he hugged her. Skouros had managed to get one child right anyway, Iolaus thought. He then gently tickled the little girl's ribs.
It produced a delighted giggle.
Erythia watched and wiped a silent, undetected tear from her cheek.
"How did you swallow that thing anyway?" Iolaus questioned, watching the fish swim back and forth in front of him.
"I'm enchanted. This sort of thing comes with the territory. I was hungry, the eye rolled into the water and I opened my mouth. Boom. Instant lunch. Would have tasted better with salt." she told him during her laps. Earlier
the salmon, who Iolaus dubbed Pinky, said if she moved around, shaking up the magic eye as it rested in her stomach, it might pop out on its own.
It was worth a try. Iolaus was willing to wait a little longer. He really didn't want to pull his dagger and commence with surgery, despite what was demanded. He knew he'd regret it for the rest of his life. Especially if
she was a girl, as she claimed. Distracted, he looked over his shoulder to see if *they* were lurking. So far, so good. 'Why didn't I just keep walking?' he thought, bitterly.
The trek back to the academy had been filled with fond memories. Iolaus reached up and touched the gold erring as it dangled from his freshly pierced ear. Erythia had been thorough, accurate and he healed quickly. The guys, of course, would probably tease him about it.
"Oh Iolaus, earrings are so .... *pirate*." He could practically hear the mock causticity spewing from Jason's patrician mouth.
Hercules, on the other hand, would only nod, "You know what they say, Jase: *Pirates can happen to anyone*. It's nice, Iolaus."
And that'd be pretty much it.
But it didn't matter what they thought. Iolaus promised Lahti he'd wear it and he would.
Then: "Help ... oh, help us please."
Iolaus halted in his tracks and looked from side to side. He then looked down a gently sloping rise and saw the Hestian River. What met his vision was at once comical and weird. Three old ladies, all in ratty-draped clothing, stumbling and falling all over themselves at the river's apron. They were attempting either to go somewhere or stand their ground. Whatever they were doing they seemed very confused.
"Oh no." Iolaus whispered as recollection hit him like an Olympian thunderbolt. He knew them. Pephredo, Enyo and Deino. The Graiae. Or, as Hercules called them, The Witch Sisters. They'd met them once before, when an uncharacteristically calculating Hercules ran off with the sisters' lone eyeball. In retaliation, they turned Jason into boar and made Iolaus life Tartarus by having live foliage attack him at every turn. He thought he'd seen the last of these three crones but, as The Fates would have it, here they were again. And, from the looks of them, they were in trouble. "Turn around, Iolaus." he told himself, "Nothing but trouble here." But, as he watched the old women from the hill, saw how helpless they appeared, as they dropped on all fours, searching for something, his good heart couldn't ignore the obvious need for assistance. With a sigh, he walked slowly down the hill. "Can I help you?"
"Who are you?"
"What are you?"
"Where are you?"
"The name's Iolaus. Er, we've met before ..."
"It's the shaggy boy!" Deino announced.
"Should have known!" cried Enyo.
"Did you steal our eye, boy?" asked Pephredo.
"No!" Iolaus stated quickly, having always hated being called 'boy'. "You lost it ... again?" he asked, noting the way the semi-divine sisters wavered and cackled, feeling the ground with their talon hands.
"Enyo dropped it." Pephredo accused.
"Did not. It was Deino."
"It should be near the river here somewhere."
Iolaus studied the situation and realized there might be an opportunity involved with this predicament. If he did the right thing, helped The Graiae find their eye, thus scoring possible point with the Olympians, he might have an interesting tale to relate to academy students. Heck, he might even be able to write home and tell his Mom about it. And if Skouros happened to be around when she got the parchment he would know just how brave and heroic Iolaus was.
On the other hand, he could always turn tail and run as fast as he could to the academy before something went wrong. It usually did.
Iolaus sighed, "Can I help you find your eye, ladies?"
"What a sweet boy." Enyo crooned.
"He probably stole it in the first place." Pephredo accused.
"Did not." both Iolaus and Deino said simultaneously, startling each other.
Iolaus hunted with the three sisters for over an hour but could find nothing. Only the occasional jump from a merry fish splashing about in the rushing river announced that there was anything to see on or near the smooth riverbank.
Then curious, he watched the fish do its tumbling act. Iolaus could have
swore he heard a voice coming from the river. He stood erect and watched the
salmon closely. Was it actually laughing? Iolaus then caught sight of
something really odd. That fish, as it leapt about and managed to stay in
the same place, had a tremendous belly. It was almost as if it had swallowed
something whole or ... "Oh no." Iolaus whispered and not for the first
"What is it?" Pephredo asked, alerted by the alarm in his voice.
"I hate to tell you this but I see a fish out there, much bigger than the
rest, and it has a mighty distended stomach. I think it swallowed your eye,
"WHAT?!" the crones cried in unison.
"I'm sorry." Iolaus sighed, brushing damp hands against his trousers. "I
guess you'll have to find another."
"What, another eye?" Enyo exclaimed.
"Stupid boy, you think these things grow on trees or something?"
"Go get our eye!" Deino demanded.
Iolaus stared at them, "How am I supposed to do that? With a fishing pole?"
"No, go in the water and catch that fish with your hands." Enyo insisted.
"Then cut it open and pull out the eye."
"And give it back to us!" Pephredo added.
Feeling ill used, Iolaus placed indignant hands on his hips. Being helpful
was one thing and trying to impress his father was another, but this was
just too strange. "Look, I'm sorry you lost your eye and if it were possible
for me to get that fish and and bring it back, with the eye, I'd do it. But
there's really no way I can ..." Iolaus trailed off as he noticed the
sisters moving gently back and forth, distracted, almost as if they were
lulling themselves into a trance. He heard a murmuring of words then an
almost violent tug at his ear, "Hey!" he cried.
Pephredo opened her clawed hand to reveal Iolaus' gold earring.
"What the ..." Iolaus felt his ear. Nothing torn or bleeding but the earring
"An earring?" The sisters all felt it with their arthritic hands, "*This* is
what is most precious to you?" Deino questioned and lifted her eyebrows,
"My, you lead a rather shallow life, Shaggy."
"That came from my baby sister. It was a Solstice gift. You give it back!"
The sisters all nodded and smiled, understanding.
"Right now this object is what is most precious to you. When you catch the
fish and bring us back our eye, you will get your earring back. Don't
disappoint us, boy, or there will be dire consequences."
"And what's to prevent me from walking over there and taking it from you?"
Iolaus asked, fed up.
"Wanna be turned into a chicken?" asked Enyo.
The water was cold as Iolaus waded in. The fish was still there, happily
flipping about and, yes, laughing. "I don't believe this." Iolaus whispered
to himself, feeling foolish. The Graiae explained to him that the salmon had
been enchanted the moment it swallowed their eye. "I guess that makes
sense." he said. It didn't really. Still, when your best friend was a
halfgod you took this sort of thing in stride. Sure, the eye of The Witch
Sisters had enchanted the fish that swallowed it. Why not?
There was a time he didn't believe in dragons either.