An Eye for Trouble
by Martha Wilson

Part of The Less Than Legendary Journeys at
http://www.rtis.com/nat/user/chimera/legends.htm


Hercules blinked and gasped, already trying to push himself
up as consciousness returned. He registered the long stretch of
beach bleached white by scattered moonlight, the dark cliffs, the
tossing wind, the wet sand under his hands and the roar of the
waves. Memory of the immediate past returned in a rush. He shook
the dripping hair out of his eyes and looked for Iolaus.

His partner was sprawled face-down only a few yards away, a
dark lump against the lighter sand. The splintered ship's spar
that had saved their lives during the long night at sea lay
between them. Hercules staggered to his feet.

He limped to Iolaus and awkwardly knelt at his side, rolling
him over. Hercules brushed the sand off his partner's face,
frantic to see if he was breathing. Iolaus twitched without
waking, turning his head and lifting a hand to push Hercules away.

Hercules sat back in relief, keeping one hand on Iolaus'
chest. That settled, he was able to take stock of his own
situation. His right leg was still bleeding sluggishly above the
knee and the wound stung from salt and sand. Hercules had been
bitten by a lot of things in his time but this was a first for a
shark; he was just lucky the thing hadn't been big enough to take
his leg. The shark had harried them for what had felt like hours,
until Iolaus had been able to distract the creature long enough
for Hercules to kill it. He wasn't sure how long they had lain
unconscious here but the storm seemed to be dying away now.

The wind changed and Hercules froze, listening. Voices. For
a moment he hoped it was the Argo, that the ship had survived the
storm intact and somehow already found them. Then he realized the
voices were speaking Phoenician. _The pirates,_ he thought in
grim resignation. _Of course._ And neither he nor Iolaus were
in any condition for a fight.

At Iphicles' request they had been on the Argo with Jason and
a crew of Corinthian sailors, chasing the pirates who had been
harassing the coast. The storm had caught them unexpectedly and
while Hercules was trying to keep the mast intact he and Iolaus
had been swept off the deck by a falling spar. The pirate ship
must have either gone aground or made landfall near here.

A gust of chill wind brought another spatter of rain and the
moon dimmed as a cloud crossed it. Iolaus groaned low his throat
and pushed at Hercules' arm, trying to sit up. Still listening
intently for which direction the voices were coming from, Hercules
squeezed his shoulder. Iolaus immediately went still, blinking
uncertainly in the dark.

Hercules saw a flicker of movement down the beach then the
wind died a little and he could tell the sound was coming from
that direction. _Uh huh._ They needed to get to the shelter of
the cliffs. He leaned over Iolaus and whispered harshly, "Can you
walk?"

"Yeah." Iolaus twisted around in the wet sand, pushing
himself to his feet as Hercules staggered up. Iolaus caught him
under the arm, supporting him when the demigod's leg buckled.
"You didn't say you couldn't," he added accusingly.

Hercules grimaced in pain, glad for Iolaus' support. "As
long as one of us can."

They made it across the beach to the rocky verge of the
cliffs at a staggering run. The thick sand made the footing
awkward but it also let them move silently.

Just in time they sank back against the rocks. Shadows moved
up the beach, solid shadows that cursed and called to each other
in Phoenician. The fitful moonlight might reveal tracks in the
sand but the pirates weren't bothering to look. Instead they were
spreading out near the waves to poke at the storm-wracked wood and
seaweed for bodies. There was a depressingly large number of them
and they were armed, Hercules could see moonlight shivering off
swordblades.

"Twenty-three." Crouched next to him, Iolaus whispered into
his ear, "We can do twenty-three."

More figures moved in the darkness and Hercules added to the
total grimly. "We can't do forty," he whispered back. "Not
tonight."

"Well not tonight, sure." Iolaus sounded as if he had taken
that part for granted but Hercules wasn't certain.

After a time of crouching quietly in the dark, they watched
the Phoenicians move further up the beach. Hercules nudged
Iolaus. "Let's find some shelter."

***


Iolaus started awake, scrambling half-upright in the sand.
Just in time he remembered the low ceiling of the rocky crevice
and sat down hard. Next to him Hercules had risen to his knees.
"What was that?" his partner demanded, keeping his voice low.

Iolaus shook his head, still sleep-dazed. "I don't know."
He could hear the surf, his own pounding heart, and the wind
groaning through the walls of the canyon that led up from the
beach. Stumbling in the dark, they had found the canyon's
entrance and collapsed in the shelter of a narrow crevice in the
side, out of sight of any pirates that might wander by. Iolaus
couldn't remember the sound that had woken him, just that it had
been...big. But he couldn't hear it now. He said uncertainly,
"Maybe I dreamed it--"

"No, no, I heard it too," Hercules assured him, head cocked
as he still listened for whatever it was. "Something growled."

"Something?" Iolaus couldn't see Hercules' expression in the
dimness but he could sense the tension in his body. "Like a wolf
or a lion or--"

"More like a hydra, but bigger."

Iolaus eyed the crevice's opening warily. All he could see
was a patch of moonlight against the bleached stone. "Close?"

"No. Somewhere above us, up in the air."

"Oh." Iolaus subsided, relieved. If it was far away he was
willing to worry about it later. The temporary burst of energy
from being shocked awake was fading and his body was remembering
just how exhausted it was. And he was worried about Jason and the
others. He knew Jason was a good enough sailor to keep the Argo
afloat during the brief storm, but it would be nice to know for
certain. He settled back down, propping his head on his arm and
scratching absently at his chest. His clothes were damp and stiff
with salt and the sand was everywhere. "A dragon, maybe? Don't
they nest in these islands?"

"Yeah, they do." But Hercules didn't sound entirely
satisfied with that explanation. He eased down next to Iolaus,
grunting as he stretched his injured knee.

"How's the leg?" Iolaus asked, trying to sound casual about
it.

"Better." Hercules sounded casual too, so that didn't really
tell him anything.

The night air was cool and the sun had never reached back
into this crevice during the day to warm it. Rolling over as he
tried to decide whether he wanted a cold back or a cold front,
Iolaus gave up and shifted close to Hercules' side to share body
heat. Wiggling to hollow out another place in the sand for his
hip, he said, "No food, no fire, no water. We're not doing so
good."

"I've had worse nights." Hercules waited until Iolaus
stopped fidgeting then settled in next to him with a sigh.

"When?" Iolaus demanded, glancing up at him.

Hercules snorted. "As long as nobody's dancing around
calling me the Chosen One I'm fine."

The wind groaned up through the gorge like a giant in pain.

***


The next day started much more promisingly.

Iolaus cautiously poked his head out of the crevice, then
crawled out into a sunny morning. He paused to listen for
pirates, but the area seemed deserted. The walls were about fifty
feet high at this point, pocked with crannies. Small determined
plants grew out of chinks in the rock and in pockets of soil down
the center as the canyon wound back up into the interior of the
island.

"No pirates, no dragon scat," Iolaus reported as Hercules
climbed out of the crevice behind him, having to move more slowly
to maneuver his larger body through the small opening.

The demigod eased to his feet, straightening his bad leg
carefully. "That's good."

Iolaus gave his partner's wound a thoughtful glance but it
did seem better this morning. The gouges from the shark's teeth
were less livid and it looked like the swelling had gone down. If
Hercules continued to heal at his usual semi-divine pace they
should be able to tackle the pirates by this afternoon.

Hercules looked around, shading his eyes from the bright sun.
"Well?"

Iolaus studied the greenery on the canyon floor for a moment,
sniffed the air thoughtfully, then jerked his chin down toward the
beach. "That way."

After a short walk they found a fresh water spring. It came
up from between the rocks above the canyon's mouth, amid a cluster
of ferns and small palms that clung to the cracks in the stone.
It ran down to mingle with the seawater in the tidal pools near
the beach but the water at the source was sweet.

A little later Hercules sat on the warm stone with his leg
stretched out. With the salt and grime washed away and no worry
of dying of thirst, things had started to look up. He was
watching Iolaus, who had shed boots and vest and was prowling
among the tidal pools, some of which were fairly deep. They were
ideal traps for fish and other sea creatures and Hercules expected
breakfast soon.

Pacing along the edge of the largest pool, Iolaus froze
suddenly, poised on one foot, head cocked. It was an
unconsciously graceful pose, the sun glowing on his bronzed skin
and the wild mane of his hair. Something about the way he was
standing reminded Hercules of a stalking cat. _He needs a tail to
twitch,_ he thought with a smile.

Iolaus sat on his heels, studying something under the
surface, then slipped into the pool.

After a moment Iolaus surfaced, tossing wet hair out of his
eyes. He drew his knife, gripped it between his teeth, then
climbed stealthily out of the water onto the flat smooth rock
between the pools. Crawling on his belly, he crossed the stone,
pausing at the edge of the other pool like a lion about to launch
itself after prey. Then he slid in headfirst with hardly a
ripple.

Hercules watched, smiling faintly. Iolaus surfaced again,
tossed a green lizard about two feet long up onto the rock, then
went under. When a few crabs and another lizard had joined the
collection, Iolaus climbed out and flung himself down on his back
next to Hercules, shaking out his wet hair. "Lunch," he said
succinctly.

Hercules nodded. "After lunch, hunting."

Iolaus opened one eye to regard him questioningly.

"Pirate hunting," he clarified.

***


"So what's the plan?" Iolaus asked, studying the men
scattered on the beach below. He and Hercules were stretched out
on the sun-warmed rock at the edge of a bluff, watching the
pirates. They were gathered around their ship which had lodged on
a sandbar. It had a high stern and a ram on the bow and the
single mast was broken and hanging over the starboard side. Some
of the men were working to cut the mast free of the tangled ropes
and the shredded sail, while the others were laid out up on the
beach passing wine jugs around. With luck they didn't realize yet
that the two Greeks were on the island at all.

"We pick them off a few at a time, until they're down to a
more manageable number, then go after the rest. Then build a
bonfire to signal the Argo." Hercules nodded firmly.

Iolaus shook his head with a judicious expression. "That's
not a plan."

Hercules gave him an offended look. "Yes it is."

"It's not a plan. It's a--" Iolaus gestured helplessly, "--a
statement of intent. A plan is complicated, with strategy--"

"My plan has strategy."

"It does not. We never have strategy. All our plans are
like 'you go this way, I'll go that way.' They're never
complicated."

"So you want something with costumes and props--"

"Of course not. But something clever--"

"Clever would be wasted on these guys."

Iolaus had to give him that one. He looked over the men
below, frowning. They were the usual unprepossessing lot, some
with wild ragged hair, some with shaved heads, all with battle
scars. Most had shed their leather armor and were just wearing
ragged kilts or tunics. But there wasn't enough of them. "How
many did we say there were last night?"

Hercules studied the men below with narrowed eyes. "Forty."

"So how comes there's only...." Iolaus counted. "Twenty-
seven now?"

"Could be some are out looking for food, though with those
tidal pools right there...." He paused, considering. Iolaus
didn't have to point out that the small pools between the sandbars
and the beach were teeming with crabs and trapped fish. There
wasn't much point in going inland past the freshwater springs in
the canyons. "They must've fought among themselves last night and
split up." Hercules shrugged. "That makes it easier. Look, you
go back down into the canyon and let them see you. They'll split
up again to go after you and I'll take the ones--"

"Yeah, I got it." Iolaus gave him a wry grin. "You go that
way, I'll go this way." He chuckled at Hercules' disgruntled look
and pushed away from the edge.

***


Iolaus worked his way down the tumble of rock that led to the
canyon floor, picking his way carefully to avoid the slides of
loose pebbles that would announce his presence before he was
ready. Crouching, he dodged behind the concealing boulders,
reaching the point at the canyon mouth where he had a good view of
the pirates. He had only waited a few moments when he saw a
flicker of movement from the rocks below the bluff. Hercules was
ready.

Iolaus stood, found a foothold and swung lightly to the top
of the rock. "Hey!" he shouted, waving his arms. "You guys seen
any pirates?"

They whirled around, pointing and shouting. Several broke
off and bolted toward him. Iolaus grinned, jumped down and the
chase was on.

He splashed across a rill, ducking and weaving through the
rocks as they howled in pursuit behind him. He led them up the
canyon and around a bend, wanting to make sure they wouldn't hear
any fighting from the beach and be drawn back before he was ready.
He came on a wide area where the rock sloped sharply upward to
join the cliff face and turned at bay on the flat ground just
before it. _Sword, sword, need a sword,_ he thought, as the
frontrunner came at him. The guy was tall and wiry, wild-eyed
with bloodlust. Iolaus let him get close, ducked under the first
swordstroke then came up to slam a punch into the man's midriff.
He trapped the swordarm, snapped it, and snatched the weapon from
the pirate's dangling arm as the man dropped to the ground.
_Check, got a sword._

He twirled the weapon to check its balance and brought it up
to meet the next three. He smashed the first blow aside and
rammed his swordhilt into his opponent's head, slammed a kick into
the next one and spun out of range of another swordthrust. The
others howled and charged.

Four of the pirates lay sprawled in the dirt when Iolaus
landed from a kick and found the ground shaking. Thrown off-
balance he tumbled headlong, skidding on the loose gravel.
Fortunately the remaining pirates weren't doing so good either,
staggering to stay on their feet.

_What in Tartarus...?_ Iolaus thought, as he struggled to
push himself up. He made it to his knees. The tremor came in
waves, increasing each time until Iolaus was afraid the cliffs
were going to come down right on top of them.

Then the shaking stopped as abruptly as it had started.

Before Iolaus could surge to his feet he saw the pirates
staring in horror at something up on the bluff behind him. One
pointed, his mouth hanging open. _Oh, I have a bad feeling about
this,_ Iolaus thought. He remembered Hercules' words from last
night: _bigger than a hydra._ He swallowed in a dry throat and
turned his head to look back. Then up. And up.

It wasn't above them on the bluff, it was standing on the
canyon floor. Iolaus' gaze travelled up two legs like tree trunks
with mottled, scarred and reddened skin to a heavy torso then to
the head. It was a Cyclops, its one sallow eye glaring and red-
rimmed above a flattened nose and a wide mouth barring yellowed
and jagged teeth. It towered over the cliffs, as big as the
tallest giant he had ever seen. "Uh oh," Iolaus gasped. He had
just figured out what had happened to the missing pirates.

The other men scattered and instinctively Iolaus went in the
other direction, certain the Cyclops would follow the larger
group. Unfortunately the other direction meant scrambling up the
slanted rock.

The Cyclops stepped forward, causing a tremor that almost
knocked Iolaus off his feet again. Instead of following the
pirates it just stood there.

Iolaus scanned the cliff wall above him rapidly but there
were no openings in reach. Cursing, he swung off the edge of the
slanted rock and hung off the side. The canyon floor was lower
here and it was too far a drop.

His hands slipped on the stone, sweat stinging into all the
little cuts and scrapes, and he clung to it more tightly. _Just
let it leave._ Cyclopes had bad eyesight and he couldn't believe
it was searching the rocks for him when the pirates had been
foolish enough to bolt across open ground. He knew the creatures
hunted by scent but he had had a bath in the tidal pool and the
pirates all stunk like harpies. A shadow fell over him and he
swore under his breath. It was leaning over the rock right above
him.

He closed his eyes. _Don't see me, don't see me._ The
shadow grew darker and hot fetid breath ruffled his hair. _It
sees me._ Iolaus swung sideways, making a desperate bid to avoid
it. If the Cyclops was like the giants that pulled your arms and
legs off before they ate you, it would be better to take the
broken neck from the fall. He cast a wild look down and saw a big
hand move under him, slightly cupped to catch him.

He scrabbled for a hold to the right but the rock crumbled
under his hand suddenly and he fell. He landed on the warm hard
surface only a few feet below and suddenly it was hot, dark, and
the world was moving rapidly.

The jolting from the Cyclops' gait made his head swim and the
stink of its sweat was enough to make his gorge rise. He managed
to lift his head but the creature's other hand was cupped over
him, sunlight penetrating the gaps between its fingers, and he
couldn't see anything. _I'll just escape,_ he told himself,
ignoring the sick feeling that settled in the pit of his stomach.
His heart was pounding so hard he could barely hear himself think.

The movement stopped abruptly, sending him tumbling
helplessly, and the massive hands shifted, dumping him out onto
hard stone.

Iolaus landed in an awkward sprawl, no chance to brace
himself. He pushed up on his hands and knees, dazed, shaking his
head. The Cyclops had dropped him onto a big flat rock some
distance off the ground, shaded by the roof of a cavern arching
high overhead. A blast of hot fetid air washed over him and with
a gasp he twisted around. The Cyclops was leaning over him,
barely six feet away, its eye focused on him with malignant
intensity. He scrambled backward, panic closing his throat. He
shoved to his feet and threw himself toward the edge. A hand came
down like a wall of mottled flesh, batting him back. He hit the
ground again, sliding on the rough surface of the rock and rolling
to a stop, winded. The hand lifted to hover over him.
Breathless, Iolaus dug his heels in to push away from it.

After a long long moment it changed its mind, drawing its
hand back and turning away.

Iolaus sank back on the stone, trying to get his lungs to
work right, woozy from what was sure to be an all too temporary
relief. The Cyclops had moved to the other side of the cave and
he cautiously pushed himself up and crawled to the edge of the
rock.

It was too high to jump and the sides where smooth and
straight. He cursed softly, afraid to attract the creature's
attention again. Then he saw the cave floor.

Piles of human bones were scattered around a firepit with a
spit rigged over it. Six of the missing pirates lay sprawled on a
flat stretch of sand near the pit. They were pinned with
sharpened stakes driven through their bodies into the blood-soaked
sand. Iolaus choked back a cry, feeling his stomach trying to
turn over.

He drew back from the edge, swallowing down bile. He took a
deep breath and told himself, _okay, think. So why aren't you on
the menu yet?_ Maybe because he was still active enough to be
tortured for the Cyclops' amusement. That wouldn't last long, not
without water.

He edged back to look at the cave floor again. Against the
far wall past the firepit there was a primitive sheep pen made of
stacked logs, crowded with wild mountain sheep. The commonplace
sound of their bleating made a sickening contrast with the sight
of the Cyclops' larder. This creature bore little resemblance to
the Cyclopes that forged Zeus' thunderbolts; they could be cranky
or dangerous but nothing like this. There was nothing in the cave
but the firepit, the sheep pen, and the bones of past meals. No
pottery, no metal, no weaving. But for its penchant for cooking
its food, the creature might have been an animal.

The Cyclops checked the security of its makeshift pen, then
sat itself heavily down on the cave floor for lunch.

Iolaus turned away, sickened. The thought of praying
actually crossed his mind; it was something he hadn't done in
years. But this was probably too far away from Greece to get
Zeus' attention and the only other gods who might be mercifully
inclined were in Egypt. And all things considered, Iolaus would
rather be eaten than owe a god a favor. Half-gods being
exceptions, of course. As long as a certain half-god got off his
ass and got here in time....


***


Hercules charged across the beach toward the ship. Yelling
battle cries, the pirates ran to meet him, splashing across the
water from the sandbar. As he reached them Hercules dived and
rolled, coming up with a splintered piece of wood. He slammed it
at the first sword to come at him, knocking it out of the
wielder's hands and ducking aside from a wild blow with a club.
His wounded leg twinged a little but not enough to slow him down.

The pirates circled him and he scanned their faces
thoughtfully. Some were snarling with battle rage but several had
a wide-eyed, staring look as if they had seen something that had
terrified them. And he smelled fear in the stink of their sweat.
_That's odd._ He usually didn't get that reaction, especially
from hardened warriors like these men. If he had woken that
morning looking particularly ogre-like Iolaus would surely have
commented on it.

He ducked away from another swordstroke, slammed the man with
his makeshift club and took out another one with a kick. He
turned for the next opponent when a roar echoed down the beach.

The startled men scattered back and Hercules whirled, staring
up at the cliffs. "What the...." The sound turned his blood
cold. _That was it. That was what we heard last night._

He turned to the pirates. A few had bolted toward their
wrecked ship and the others were crouched warily, braced to move.
"What was that?" he demanded.

One of the brave ones shook his head and said in broken
Greek, "Big thing that lives here. It's hunting."

Oh, no. Hercules felt sick. "A dragon?"

"No." The man looked toward the canyon, his bloodshot eyes
wide with fear. "Some kind of giant. It doesn't come down here."

"Then why did some of you chase my friend?"

One of the others spat in the sand. "We saw it in the night,
when it killed the others. They didn't believe us."

Hercules threw down the club and ran for the canyon.

***


The horrible day wore on. Iolaus wasn't at the rocking back
and forth and talking to himself stage yet but he figured it
wasn't far away. After the Cyclops had eaten it had seemed to
doze off, leaning back against the cave wall. Knowing this was
his best chance, Iolaus had scouted the rock rapidly, finding a
spot that seemed to offer a few handholds in the otherwise smooth
sides. The climb was grueling and his hands were scraped raw from
working his fingers into the tiny chinks in the rock. Covered
with sweat and feeling his fingers slipping from his own blood, it
seemed to take forever. He was almost halfway down when he heard
the Cyclops move.

Desperate, Iolaus let go to drop the rest of the way but the
thing had caught him and dumped him back on top of the rock. Then
it had poked at him for a while, apparently just for the amusement
of watching him scramble to avoid it. This had occupied it for
the rest of the afternoon.

The Cyclops had tired of that finally and gone back to sit by
the fire, adding more logs from the wood pile. Breathing hard,
aching, exhausted, Iolaus cursed the thing under his breath. He
knew it had been watching him climb down the rock all along;
despite the lack of clothing and any intelligible speech, the
thing wasn't an animal. Only something with at least a
rudimentary intelligence could be that cruel.

He looked at the cave mouth and saw from the angle of the
light that the sun was getting low. The Cyclops would need to go
out hunting again soon and it couldn't leave the cave with him
alive.

Suddenly the sheep bleated loudly and he heard a crack of
wood from the pen. He sat up, craning his neck, and saw the sheep
breaking out and making their own bid for escape, running for the
cave mouth. Grumbling, the Cyclops shoved itself upright and
strode after them.

Iolaus came to his feet, heart pounding. That had to be
Hercules. _That better be Hercules._

The Cyclops stopped at the cave mouth, stooping to herd the
sheep back with its hands.

Iolaus heard a faint hiss from the cave floor. Eyes never
leaving the creature, he backed toward the rock's edge, crouching
to cast a look over the side. At first he didn't recognize the
figure flattened against the base. It looked like it had some
kind of blotchy skin disease for one thing; it was covered all
over in brown patches that might be smears of-- "Herc?" Iolaus
mouthed, incredulous, when it looked up at him with familiar blue
eyes.

Hercules nodded impatiently, stepping back and holding out
his arms, mouthing, "Jump."

The Cyclops roared and Iolaus twisted around to see it
ducking its head to reenter the cave. Knowing they had just run
out of time, he rolled backward off the rock.

The thud when he landed in Hercules' arms was enough to knock
the breath out of him but it was much better than the broken bones
would have been if he had hit the ground instead. Hercules dumped
him on his feet and they bolted across the cave floor.

The ground shook underfoot and Iolaus heard thudding
footsteps and a booming roar; he didn't bother to look up. He
realized Hercules had one hand knotted in the shoulder of his vest
to guide him. That was a relief since it seemed to indicate they
actually had a goal and weren't just running wildly.

In the next heartbeat he saw the narrow opening in the cave
wall and the shadow of the Cyclops' hand above it as it reached
for them. Hercules suddenly shoved him forward and since this was
no time for an argument Iolaus let him. He entered the crevice in
a tumbling roll, twisted around, grabbed Hercules' arm and threw
his weight back. The entrance was barely wide enough for the
demigod to squeeze into but the extra forward boost from Iolaus
yanked him inside with barely a pause. Iolaus collapsed, smashed
into the rock with Hercules' elbow in his neck, his ears ringing
with the Cyclops' frustrated roar.

With an "ooof" noise Hercules pushed himself off and Iolaus
sat up. He saw the opening filled with an enormous red-rimmed
sideways yellow eye, as the cyclops angled its head to try to see
in. Iolaus made a strangled noise and pulled back, exchanging a
desperate look with Hercules. The light was dim but he could see
the crevice ended only a few feet further back.

It tried to push its fingers through after them and they both
scrambled back. The eye returned, then retreated with a low
frustrated grumble.

Iolaus sagged with relief, running a hand over his face.
That had been way too close.

Hercules let out his breath, shifting forward a little to
give Iolaus more room. "You all right?" he asked.

"Yeah, uh huh, oh yeah, I'm fine." Iolaus straightened up,
nodding rapidly.

Hercules reached back and wrapped an arm around him, pulling
him against his side. Iolaus twitched in reflex, trying to pull
away, part of his mind still so focused on escape that he couldn't
yield even to friendly restraint. Hercules waited patiently until
he subsided, then gave him a reassuring squeeze. Iolaus gave in,
sinking into his friend's side and closing his eyes in relief. He
didn't know how long it had been since he had been able to rest.

***


Something smelled bad. Iolaus sniffed, blinked, and realized
he was curled on his side, the rough rock grating into his arm,
his head pillowed on Hercules' thigh. He rolled onto his back to
look up at him, squinting in the dim light. "Huh?"

"You've been asleep," Hercules explained calmly, ruffling his
hair. "Not long."

Iolaus batted his hand away in annoyance and sat up. He was
cramped from sleeping in the confined position and his sore
muscles ached. "Why didn't you wake me?"

Hercules smiled faintly. "Why, have you got an appointment?"
As Iolaus glared at him he shrugged a little and admitted, "I
haven't figured out how we're getting out of here yet."

"Oh, is that all." He rubbed his nose, wincing, and leaned
to look warily out of the opening. "What is that smell? Did the
damn thing take a shit out there?"

"Ah.... That's probably me."

Iolaus stared at him. He could still see the dark smears all
over Hercules and now he realized that it wasn't just dirt.

"There's another sheep pen outside the cave on a ledge lower
down the cliff," Hercules explained, leaning to look out the
opening thoughtfully. "I rolled around in it so the Cyclops
wouldn't smell me. The color also helped me blend into that side
wall. I had to creep along just a few steps at a time so it
wouldn't spot me. That's why it took me so long."

"Oh." Iolaus scratched the stubble on his chin, considering
their situation. "You think we could get out the same way?" he
wondered, then shook his head. "But it'll be watching this hole
like a-- like a--"

"Like a Cyclops." Hercules pressed his lips together. "I
saw what it did to you."

Iolaus shook his head. "I don't know why it didn't eat me."

Hercules gave him a rueful look. "The Phoenicians are all
dark haired. You must have looked...different."

Iolaus rolled his eyes in disgust. "Great."

Obviously deciding a change of subject was in order, Hercules
said, "If we try to sneak out it'll wait until we're halfway to
the entrance and then pounce. We need to distract it."

Iolaus nodded. "It's only got one eye. It can only watch
one of us at a time." He took a deep breath. It was going to be
the distraction ploy and they better not screw it up; there was no
margin for error. He really, really didn't want to end up in that
thing's hands again. "You think you can kill it?"

"I've taken on a couple of giants that were nearly that big,
but its hide looks a lot tougher." Hercules tapped his chin
thoughtfully. "I'd feel better about it if I could get above it
with some boulders, or if I had something sharp...."

Iolaus sat up straight. "The spit it was using in the
firepit. That had a sharpened end."

Hercules' brows lifted speculatively. "So it did."


***


"You ready?" Hercules whispered.

Iolaus snorted. "No." It had to be him first because it
would take Hercules longer to get his bulk out of the narrow
crevice. Iolaus had had to explain that to the demigod three
times.

"Right." Hercules nodded. "Let's go."

Iolaus rose to a crouch, then did a forward roll out the
opening, coming to his feet running. He heard the Cyclops'
startled snarl and ducked and weaved, heading for the loose rock
at the base of the other wall. Hercules would be out of the
crevice by now, making for the firepit.

Iolaus reached the far wall, dodging among the rocks, the
huge bulk of the thing directly above him. Then from across the
cave Hercules shouted and slung a stone at it, cracking the
creature in the back of the head. Distracted, the Cyclops turned
away from Iolaus but lunged with sudden speed, raising one hand to
swat at the demigod.

Iolaus yelled in horror. That hadn't been in their plan at
all. Hercules dodged but the blow caught his shoulder and sent
him flying into the woodpile near the firepit. That blow would
have squashed a mortal like an ant.

The Cyclops stepped forward, squinting and peering, looking
for Hercules. Yelling like a madman to attract its attention,
Iolaus ran forward, scooping a rock off the ground and shying it
as hard as he could, bouncing it off the Cyclops' calf. It turned
again, growling and reaching for him.

Iolaus slid to a stop, then bolted back in the other
direction. He dodged back among the rocks but the Cyclops was
right on top of him. It swiped at him, its fingers barely
brushing his back but it was enough to throw him off balance and
he fell, skidding forward in the loose dirt and gravel.

Desperate and certain this was it, he rolled over to see the
huge hand reaching for him. But past the hand Iolaus saw Hercules
back on his feet, lifting one of the smaller logs from the
woodpile and slinging it at the Cyclops.

The log struck the back of the creature's knee and the
Cyclops jolted forward, a startled expression on its face. Iolaus
leapt to his feet and ran toward it as its arms waved wildly for
balance. He pelted between the massive legs into the open just as
the Cyclops toppled forward. It hit the ground with a thump that
knocked Iolaus flat. Shaking his head dazedly, he pushed himself
up and twisted around to look, inadvertently getting a view of the
Cyclops from an angle nobody should ever have to see. Iolaus
grimaced and looked away hastily, muttering, "Oh brother." _Put
that down on the list of life experiences I could have done
without._ He shoved to his feet and ran to join Hercules.

The demigod was down in the firepit and Iolaus dodged back
from the edge as the spit came flying out. The ground shook as
the Cyclops began to climb to its feet and Iolaus eyed the
creature warily, saying, "Anytime, Herc."

"I'm coming." Hercules hauled himself up over the side and
Iolaus grabbed his arm to help.

On his feet again, Hercules looked at the Cyclops as it
regained its feet, nodded to himself and muttered, "Right." He
leaned down to pick up the soot-stained spit, missing the first
grab but then getting a hold of it on the second try.

Iolaus watched this worriedly, demanding, "You all right?"

"I have two loose teeth and I don't want to talk about my
headache." Grimly Hercules balanced the spit in one hand, lifting
it to his shoulder like a giant's javelin. "You're going to have
to aim it for me; right now I see three of him."

"Right." Iolaus ducked under the spit so he could sight
along it. "You going for the eye?"

"I thought I'd aim for the chest, it's a bigger target."

"Good thinking." He pulled on Hercules's arm to guide him
down and to the left as the creature turned toward them. A low
growl reverberated in its throat, making Iolaus' bones shake. As
the Cyclops loomed over them he ducked out of Hercules' way and
yelled, "Now!"

Hercules drew back and threw, the force of it sending the
demigod staggering forward. The spit slammed into the Cyclops'
chest dead center and Iolaus whooped in delight. The Cyclops
jerked back, clawing at the wood, its howl of pain echoing through
the cave. Iolaus winced and Hercules stumbled again, pressing a
hand to his head. The Cyclops wavered back and forth then, its
eye going dim, and they both began to back rapidly away, dodging
around the firepit as the creature slumped forward.

The Cyclops fell across the firepit and the impact as it
struck the ground knocked Iolaus down again. He sat up as
Hercules stood nearby, watching as the creature twitched in its
death throes. It was like seeing hills rolling in an earthquake.
Then finally the Cyclops went limp.

Hercules sat down hard next to Iolaus, wincing at what the
impact must have done to his aching head. Then he looked at him
and said, "Let's call it a day."

Iolaus nodded wearily. "Yeah, let's."

***


Hercules knocked down the wall of the pen to let the sheep
wander out and they left, not looking back.

It was late evening now, the stars starting to appear in the
darkening vault above. The sky was purple, deepening to dark
blue. Iolaus paused to take a breath of the sweet night air and
think how beautiful the world was.

They climbed down to the canyon floor, moving at a pace much
slower than they usually travelled; Hercules was still a little
punch drunk and Iolaus had bruises on top of bruises.

There was another spring below the cave and they stopped
there so Hercules could scrub the sheep shit off. "How's your
head?" Iolaus asked him, squatting down in the shallows to splash
water on his face. It was colder than he liked but he wanted to
get rid of any remnants of the Cyclops' scent. And besides, close
contact with Hercules hadn't left him smelling so good either.

"It's still attached," Hercules responded. "At the moment
I'm satisfied with that." He had waded waist deep into the pool
and was scrubbing at his stained arms with a handful of sand.

Iolaus scooped water over his head, shaking out his hair and
scattering droplets everywhere. "How many of me do you see?"

"Why?" Hercules grinned at him. "How many more of you are
there?"

"Ha, ha." Iolaus splashed him. "Very funny."

***


Jason paced impatiently on the beach. The Argo was moored
out past the sandbars and they had just finished a small battle
with the pirates. His men were rounding up the stragglers now and
he was anxious to start the search for Hercules and Iolaus. It
would be more difficult in the dark but he didn't want to wait
till morning; he had expected to find them here, the pirates
already vanquished, and their absence couldn't mean anything good.

"Captain!" one of the men shouted, pointing up the beach.

Jason looked and saw two figures coming toward them, just at
the edge of the torchlight. Then he recognized Hercules and
Iolaus, ambling over the sand as if nothing had happened and they
had all the time in the world.

"Hey!" Grinning with relief, he waved and started toward
them. "Where've you two been? You missed all the excitement."


end

http://www.rtis.com/nat/user/chimera/legends.htm

Author's Note: I've long had the urge to put Iolaus and Hercules
into a Ray Harryhausen movie, so here it is. Thanks to Liz Sharpe
for the title and the cyclops information.