A SELFLESS DEED
Disclaimer: All the characters were invented by the ancient Greeks, but I borrowed them from the TV series. They definitely don't belong to me.
Disclaimer 1: This is fanfic. That means I do not own any of it. I just borrow it to play with for a little while and let people see the pathetic
results if they really want to.
Disclaimer 2: I'm not making any money from it. It's just for fun.
Disclaimer 3: What isn't borrowed is all made up. None of this is real or most likely at all realistic. Please don't trust any of the information in here.
Most likely you know more about whatever I'm writing about than I do.
Disclaimer 4: Attitudes, views and opinions expressed by the characters or in the story are not necessarily those of the author. Even when writing Science
Fiction or Fantasy I do not tend to attempt to create perfect/better worlds in which everybody gets a happy end ... or whatever is best for them. Please
accept that some characters will have a bad ending or be unhappy.
Disclaimer 5: I intend no insult to anyone. If I offend anyone I'm very sorry. Please understand that it was an accident as I tend to be very clumsy in these
Disclaimer 6: If my characters' conversations seem odd or they appear to be talking past each other the latter might occasionally be intentional, but most
likely it is an accident and I'm not aware that they are. It's just my bad communication skills.
A/N – So why doesn't Ares ever try to kill Iolaos?
I originally wrote this in German years ago, decided to translate it about a year or two later and have gone over it once again now. None of the content has changed, just trying to find all the misspellings and typos. I'm posting the original version as well for those of you who speak German. It's supposed to be set right after the episode 'Stranger and Stranger', but I wanted the original Iolaos for it, so you might consider it an alternate universe. And I'm calling him Iolaos, because that's how the Greeks said it. Iolaus is Latin and this story is set in Greece, not Rome.
In a flash of blue light Ares materialized before Zeus’ throne on Olympus.
“You called, father?”
Anger flashed in Zeus’ eyes. - Not good!
All the other gods were seated around Ares. - Really not good!
They all looked at him darkly. – Really, really not good!
Even his sister Aphrodite, who he usually got along with best, looked obviously displeased.
“Indeed!” thundered Zeus and lightning flashed behind the windows to demonstrate his anger.
Flanking Zeus’ throne on the right and left stood Strife and Discord, Ares’ usual allies and assistants. They looked every bit as angry as Zeus himself.
Well, Discord had never been very loyal. But Strife? It seemed that he felt betrayed because of that last scheme and was sulking.
Let him. Usually he was more trouble than help to Ares anyway.
Still at the moment the god of war was in trouble if he couldn’t find any allies.
“Are you aware that you’ve broken every law on Olympus within the last year?” Zeus rumbled on.
Ares winced: This was about all his misdeeds in the entire year? He had expected only a reprimand for his latest attempt to overthrow the other gods.
“Some laws so often that this jury can’t find time to list much less discuss all your misdeeds!”
Jury!? - He really was in trouble!
Ares shrugged, spread his arms in a soothing gesture and smiled at Zeus’ glowering face. “But Daddy, that’s part of my job.”
More lightning. - Maybe even in big trouble!
“Not only that,” Zeus roared. “You almost got all of us annihilated, …”
“Oh Daddy, don’t overreact! Nobody even got killed.” (Except for the Sovereign and a few peasants. But those had all been from another world and therefore weren’t Zeus’ responsibility. Most likely the other gods hadn’t even noticed.)
“… almost destroyed two worlds, …”
“I’m the god of war, Daddy! Destruction is my job!”
“… attempted to kill your brother Hercules, …”
“Well, that’s my hobby! And he’s still alive. Didn’t even get hurt!” (Sadly, but right now that was good for him.)
“… were allied with our worst enemy, …”
“Now, I do admit that Dahok was a mistake. But on first glance his offer looked really good, and I almost helped Hercules to defeat him!” (More or less.)
“… watched him slaughter scores of our mortals, …”
“Okay, okay, that got a little out of control, but at the time I did think that it was to my advantage!”
“To your advantage!” An unexpected blast of lightning from Zeus knocked Ares to the floor. “To your advantage!” The king of gods jumped up and with two steps stood towering over the dazzled Ares.
“Have you ever in your misspent life done anything that wasn’t to your advantage?! Are you even capable of a selfless deed at all?!”
“A selfless deed?” Ares grinned up at his father. “What’s so difficult about that? Sure I could! If I wanted to! But why should I want it?”
“Well, because I demand it! As punishment for your countless crimes you must perform a selfless deed!” Zeus grinned maliciously.
“That’s all? That’s supposed to be a punishment?” Ares laughed.
“You will perform a selfless deed!” Zeus repeated. “As a mortal! Only then will you regain your godhood!”
“Hey, wait a moment! As a mortal! That’s not fair! I could be killed!”
Zeus’ eyes flashed evilly. “Well, if that’s not fair, we’ll make it a little easier: Hercules may help you, if you can convince him to.”
“Hercules?!” Now this was truly an impossible task. Hercules was his worst enemy. he would most likely be the first to attempt to kill him. Somehow Ares had to avert this fate!
Suddenly he remembered something: “But father, who’s to see to my duties as god of war in the meantime? Have you forgotten all that happened last time I was mortal? Those mortals who had never learned to control their aggressions fell upon each other! It was mass-slaughter! This world can’t function without me. You need the god of war!”
“In that case,” Zeus replied undaunted, “I’m appointing Strife the new god of war.”
“Strife!!!” exclaimed Ares and Discord as one.
“Father Strife is absolutely incompetent! He’ll only trip over his own feet!” Ares protested.
But Zeus waved his hand and the former god of war disappeared.
Ares found that he was standing outside a small village near Athens. He distantly remembered the place, as it had been burned down during the Spartans last march against Athens. It had however not been particularly entertaining as the villagers hadn't defended their homes. Instead they'd fled to the city with everything they could carry long before the first Spartans had arrived.
But Ares knew where he was: A peaceful hovel where nothing ever happened unless the Spartans were marching against Athens, which was absolutely impossible right now as the two cities had only just signed a peace treaty. That would hold a few years.
So what was he doing here? He decided to teleport to his temple in Athens, but nothing happened. Strange! Why not? - Oh right! He was mortal now. Mortals didn't teleport. They walked.
So where was the road to Athens? Should he leave the village at this or at the other end? One way led to Athens, the other through many similar villages to distant Sparta. The later was no doubt a nice city and so wonderfully warlike, but it did seem a little far to walk.
If only he had a better memory of the Spartans' march through here! What direction had they gone? He decided to ask a local for directions. They had to know which way they took their goods to the market.
Ares looked around. Nobody there. Alas he followed the path into the village and soon met an about ten year old farm girl.
He decided to be polite even though it went against his nature. (Being mortal truly was a terrible punishment!): "Greetings, good child! Could you tell me the way to Athens?"
The girl stared at him wide eyed and open-mouthed.
Ares glanced down at himself. What was there to see? Well, his black leather outfit was a little unusual for the region, but there was certainly no reason to stare at him like that. He looked back at the girl.
She had calmed down a little. "You don't know how to get to Athens?" she asked incredulously.
"No!" admitted Ares who was beginning to feel a little embarrassed. "I'm not familiar with this region and afraid that I've lost my way. Can you please tell me which is the right direction?"
"Oh, that's easy!" exclaimed the girl. "You're on the right road. Keep following it for half a day and you'll reach the walls of Athens. It can't be overlooked. Athens must be the largest city in the world!"
After thinking for a moment she added: "Maybe you shouldn't go there if you get lost in our little village."
Ares suppressed the urge to burn the insolent child to ashes with a flash with difficulty. He wouldn't have been able to anyway. "Pah, I'll find my way!" he scoffed and strode on.
The girl looked after him shaking her head, then shrugged and ran off.
Ares crossed the small square in the village center. There was a strange feeling in his stomach. As if there were an emptiness in there. Strange! What was that? He thought. Sometime he had already felt that. Right! That had been the last time he'd been mortal. What had it been? Oh right, hunger!
There was a tavern on the other side of the square. Excellent. He'd just buy something to eat. He slid a hand into his pocket. Ups, no money. He couldn't make any appear either.
Ares sight. That left only hunting in the forest. His sword wasn't very useful for the hunt. What else did he have with him? Several daggers and knives, but no bow nor spear. He'd have to try setting traps. That took a lot of time which his stomach wouldn't allow him. Maybe he could find some berries somewhere.
"Help!" he suddenly heard a woman scream. "Help! The shed's on fire! My children! Oh Gods, my children!"
Ares stopped: Children in a burning shed? - The opportunity for a selfless deed! If he saved the children Zeus would return his powers to him and the food problem would be redundant.
He ran towards the voice. He could already see the light from the fire. Hopefully nobody would be there before him! He ran faster. And didn't look where he was stepping. He slipped on a pile of horse dung and with a loud "Splash!" fell headfirst into water.
Liquid entered into his mouth and nose. In panic he thrashed about and jerked up his head. Ah, air! Then he realized where he was. In a watering tank for horses! How embarrassing!
Ares got up onto his elbows and looked around. Nobody had seen it. Everybody was at the burning shed. It was obviously too late to do a selfless deed. From his place in the watering tank he could clearly see the small blond man who was gently holding the hysteric mother and talking to her soothingly.
"Damned! Iolaos!" swore the former god. Hercules couldn't be far.
Indeed the half god was just stepping out of the burning shed, a little dirty from soot, but unharmed one saved boy under each strong arm.
"Damned!" repeated Ares. That was it for his selfless deed.
Angrily he banged his forehead against the wall of the tank. He discovered two things doing this. First: That hurt. Second: He was still lying in a watering tank.
Alas he first rubbed his forehead and then climbed out of the tank.
He pulled off his boots and shook the water out. What should he do now? It wasn't likely that a second chance to perform a selfless deed would present itself around here soon. And in addition to that Hercules was here.
The best thing to do would be to return to his original plan and go to Athens.
He put his boots back on and was about to return to the road when he heard the hated voice of his half brother: "Ares! What the Tartarus did you do in Athens!" Hercules jelled and grabbed Ares by the collar. The former god of war swung helplessly in the air as the half god pulled him up.
"A-Athens?" Ares tried desperately to remember when he had last been in Athens and what he had done there. "I'm certain that I haven't been in Athens lately, Hercules!"
"Quit lying!" roared the half god and shook his brother angrily. "Reestablish the peace with Sparta, or I'll …"
"Athens and Sparta are at war? But how did that happen? I didn't even have plans for a war between Athens and Sparta ready yet."
Hercules looked at Ares' face closely. "But, you're bleeding!" he stated surprised and put him back down carefully. "And why are you so wet?"
Ares gently felt his forehead and then regarded his hand. Indeed: A little bloodstain. He seemed to have suffered a small cut.
Hercules too was staring at the blood on Ares' hand in surprise.
"So what!" spat the former god of war. "I can do whatever I want! As for your little war: Try Strife. He always had a thing for Athens."
Ares turned around to leave, but Hercules grabbed his shoulder and held him back. "Just a moment! You're mortal. Why?!"
"Oh, forget it! A temporary setback. I just have to perform a selfless deed and Zeus will return my godhood. No problem."
Iolaos who was standing behind Hercules started to giggle. "A selfless deed! The god of war performs a selfless deed! I have to see it or else I wont believe it!"
Hercules was less amused. "But if you're mortal, then there isn't a god of war and if there isn't a god of war who started that situation between Sparta and Athens?"
Ares shook his head. "Oh no, no, no, Hercules! That's not the way it works. The world can't survive without a god of war. Father chose Strife as my replacement."
"Srife!" Hercules exclaimed horrified. "But Strife is absolutely incompetent! That's a catastrophe! And what's going to happen when Discord takes over the position? No Ares, that can't be. You have to get back on Olympus as fast as possible!"
"That's what I was going to do anyway. If you hadn't saved away those children right from under my nose, I'd already be back there. So be so kind as to get out of my way that I can go look for another selfless deed."
Hercules shook his head doubtfully. "Are you sure you can do that? Do you even know what you want to do?"
"Of course! I just have to save some stupid mortal's life. No big deal! You do that every day after all!"
"Maybe Iolaos and I should accompany you. Just in case you should need help nevertheless?" the half god offered.
"Me need help! Do I look as if I need help?"
Hercules looked up and down the dripping wet Ares, then regarded the watering tank closely then once again the former god. Then he turned to Iolaos. "He needs help. Don't you think?"
"He definitely needs help!" Iolalos responded promptly.
Ares wanted desperately to teleport away (no matter where!), but it still didn't work.
Iolaos winked at him conspiratorially. "I'll tell you a secret: Hercules magically attracts people who need help. They show up wherever he goes. That means you'd best stick with us if you're looking for somebody you want to do your selfless deed for."
Was Iolaos trying to make fun of him? Or did he really mean it? Hercules was no doubt the expert for selfless deeds after all.
"I will gladly leave the next person in need who crosses our path to you." promised Hercules.
Ares thought it over. Zeus had said that Hercules could help him and he couldn't deny that he'd been terribly clumsy so far. In truth he could really use their help. But to admit that! And to Hercules and Iolaos at that! On the other hand they'd most likely give him something to eat.
"Well, since you just stole a perfect opportunity for a selfless deed from me, you owe me a new one anyway. But still I can't stand you despite that! - So, where are we going?"
"Sparta." declared Hercules laconically.
"Sparta! Isn't that a bit far? Why Sparta of all places?"
"Well, unless we happen to meet Strife and talk him into reestablishing peace, we'll have to negotiate with the rulers of both cities." Iolaos explained patiently.
"Good, then lets start with Athens. That’s much closer!"
"We just were in Athens. They're going to wait until we've talked with the king of Sparta. And guess where one usually finds the king of Sparta."
"Okay, okay, lets go!" Ares once again turned to return to the road.
"Hey, wait!" called Iolaos after him. "Don't you want to put on some dry clothes first?!"
"No, I don't!" hissed Ares without even looking back.
"You're going to catch a cold."
"No, I wont!"
Hercules and Iolaos exchanged a look.
"What have we gotten ourselves into this time, my friend!" sighed Hercules.
"Hey, don't blame me for it now! He's your brother, not mine!"
The journey turned out to be rather boring since Hercules and Ares weren't talking and Ares was also still sulking over Iolaos' well meant advice.
As evening drew closer the former god promptly began to sneeze which did nothing to improve his mood.
Iolaos finally gave him a handkerchief. Ares seemed slightly more mellow after that. But maybe he was just tired.
About an hour later they suddenly heard loud sobs. They originated from two girls who were sitting by the side of the road. The smaller might have been eight, the older ten years old. It was the smaller one who was crying so badly while the bigger one was feeling her right ankle grimacing with pain.
Hercules nudged Ares with his elbow. "That seems like a good opportunity for a good deed."
Ares regarded the child and her inured leg with distaste. "That looks more like a case for Asklepios to me. Without my powers I can't possibly heal her."
"No you can't, but maybe you could help in some other way."
Ares stared first at Hercules, then at Iolaos. "How?"
Iolaos rolled his eyes. "How about, you ask the little one why she's crying."
Ares walked towards the children tentatively.
"Hi, little one! Say, why're you crying?"
"Uuuuuh … My sister's hurt herself! Uuuuuh …"
"But that's no reason for you to bawl!" Ares said confused. "Or are you hurting as well?"
"She can't walk! Uuuuuh … And I can't carry her! Uuuuuuh … We'll never get home again! UuuH Uuuuuuuuuuuh ..."
Was it a selfless deed to carry an inured child home? It wasn't as heroic as saving somebody's life, but it was no doubt something Hercules would do it and Hercules was the master of performing selfless deeds. Yes, it was definitely selfless enough.
"No problem!" he told the children and lifted the inured one carefully. "Just show me where you live."
Iolaos grinned at Hercules relieved. "Well, we're rid of him."
The half god laughed too. "That was really easier then I thought. Hard to believe he came up with that idea all on his own."
"I suppose the other gods didn't think him capable of that either."
"No." said Hercules decidedly. "Or else they'd have made it more difficult. Zeus' punishments are usually very severe."
The two children's mother had been very worried by then and was overjoyed to have the girls back. In thanks she offered the three saviors a meal and a bed for the night, but even though it was beginning to get dark, they politely declined.
Not far from that village was a temple of Zeus.
By the time they reached it, it was already dark. Hercules and Iolaos would have to camp in front of the temple entrance tonight, but first they wanted to 'hand back' Ares.
"Father!" Ares called as they entered. "I have done as you told me!"
"Oh no, you haven't!" Zeus materialized in front of them out of nowhere. He decided, as he did most of the time, against any visual or acoustic effects when teleporting. His sudden appearance, he thought, was awesome enough. "You, no doubt performed a good deed which I hadn't thought you capable of either," he admitted lifting one hand to prevent fervent protest's from his sons. "But it wasn't selfless!"
"Just a moment!" called Iolaos.
"Ah, and where pray is the difference?!" Ares drowned his words out beside himself with anger.
"I should have known," murmured Hercules under his breath. "That was much too easy."
"A selfless deed," explained Zeus. "means to do something without the intention to gain anything for oneself. You may have helped the girls, but you only did it to regain your powers. Even you," he turned to Hercules and Iolaos. "Have to admit that that wasn't selfless."
"But Zeus, isn't that a little overly strict?" Iolaos hoped the father of the gods might be swayed by begging.
"But that's the exact meaning behind the task we set for Ares. I have talked the situation over with the other gods. We all agree that Ares has not fulfilled his task." Did Zeus' voice sound slightly spiteful?
"So to regain my godhood I'm supposed to do a good deed without doing it to regain my godhood? Without even thinking that I might regain my godhood through it?"
"Yes, that is your exact task." Zeus grinned triumphantly. "You said it was easy. Now prove it!"
"But that's completely impossible!" Ares raged. "I can't do something without thinking about why I'm doing it!"
"You aren't supposed to do it in order to get something for yourself. If you do it for somebody else you're allowed to think about that, just not about the consequences it might have for you yourself."
"How could I ever not think about that something could bring me back my godhood! You knew from the beginning that I can't do that!"
"It was you yourself who claimed you could do it!" laughed Zeus.
"But then I didn't understand what you really meant!"
"Well, that's your problem. Solve it, if you can!" with these words Zeus disappeared.
But Hercules' call brought him back at once. "Wait, father! Do the other gods know what exactly you're demanding of Ares? Do they share your opinion?"
"As I already said: I talked the situation over with them. We all agree on this matter. Ares has to perform a truly selfless deed, or he will remain mortal for the rest of his life."
"Are really all of the gods of this opinion?" Hercules asked again.
"What about Discord?" asked Ares. "Did you talk with her?"
"I already said: With all the other gods!"
"And she too insists on this impossible task?"
"Yes, and all others with her."
"Yes, even Hera for once agrees with me."
"Are you going to ask me for every god one by one?!" Zeus jelled at Ares. "Aphrodite thinks the same as all the rest of us. There wasn't a single vote against."
"Not a single vote against!" Ares couldn't believe it. "Not a single one!"
"But Zeus." Hercules tried to build a bridge. "As hard as it is for me to admit it: The world needs Ares. The humans can't live without a god to steer their aggressions and wars. Without him the world is spinning towards a catastrophe for without war there is no peace father!"
"Oh no, my son, you're wrong. The world needs a god of war, not Ares. Strife as well as Discord are interested in the position. We are already holding a competition to determine which of the two will be the new god of war."
"Competition?" A nasty suspicion dawned on Hercules. "What exactly is that competition?"
"Well," explained Zeus. "It's simple: Each of the two is to arrange a war and in one year the council of gods will decide whose war was better. The winner will be declared the new god of war. Until the decision they have to share the position."
"One whole year of war! But you can't possibly justify this with your conscience!" Iolaos exclaimed horrified.
"You don't even want me to fulfill your task!" shouted Ares. "You just want to get rid of me!"
"You guessed it. That was the plan from the very beginning!"
"One last question, father." said Hercules seeming calm. "What exactly are the entries of Strife and Discord for that competition?"
"Oh, Strife decided for a bloody rebellion of the farmers in Corinth while Discord is going for the classical grand war between Athens and Sparta. Both are very entertaining so please allow me to return to my duties as head judge of the competition. Fare well, children!"
The moment he'd disappeared Hercules turned to Ares who was staring at the spot where his father had just been standing in despair. "What do you think of those wars? Do we have a chance to end them?"
"If it's all about an official competition of the gods? Not the slightest! None of the three cities will survive the competition." Ares shook his head resignedly.
"What, why not?" Iolaos exclaimed shocked.
"Neither Sparta nor Athens are prepared for a war of that scale. They do not have the necessary resources and will destroy each other before the end of the year. Corinth can throw down the farmers' rebellion, but that means it has to kill of it's food suppliers and will starve itself to death."
"Our only way to save the tree cities is to end the competition," mulled Hercules.
"How are we supposed to do that? It's a decision of the gods!"
"If Ares were a god again the competition would be pointless. We have to find a way to fulfill Zeus' conditions."
"There is no way, Hercules. You heard it yourself: The gods don't even want me to do it and they set me an impossible task."
"Lets try to talk to the king of Sparta anyway," suggested Iolaos. "We did have a small success in Athens after all."
"It's worth a try," agreed Hercules. "Sometimes humans can resist the gods."
A little later Hercules and Iolaos were sitting in the clearing in front of the temple by a campfire. Iolaos was feeding the fire and poking around in the flames while Hercules was thinking up more and more plans how they might get Ares to perform a good deed without noticing it. "How about, we send him to negotiate with the king of Sparta without telling him why him. Would that be selfless?"
"No Hercules, that would be senseless," emphasized Iolaos. "He wouldn't achieve anything. And you'd have to give him a reason or he won't do it. And if he does it to suck up to improve his relationship with you, then it wouldn't be selfless. - Give it up, my friend! Ares is right: It's impossible."
"You'll see, Iolaos, I'll find a way. Maybe if we … no! … but if …"
Iolaos couldn't take it any more. He got up and walked over to Ares. The former god was sitting on the steps leading up to the temple entrance and staring morosely into the darkness.
Iolaos sat beside him silently for a while. Finally he asked: "Do you really find it so bad to be mortal? I've been my whole life and feel quite happy that way."
"That may be." answered Ares softly. "But I'm used to having all this power. Without it I feel helpless. I just can't find my way around. How am I supposed to make a living? What can I even do without my powers?"
"This might be a good opportunity to find out. I could show you how to hunt or how to work the forge. You could learn a trade or simply sign up as a soldier."
"Without my powers I'm not that good a fighter," Ares admitted. "And I'm bad at taking orders on top of that. I always have to be boss. That's what got me into this situation in the first place."
Carefully Iolaos put one hand on Ares' shoulder. To his relief the former god of war accepted that without comment.
"We'll find something. If we don't come up with anything else you can always stick with us. We can use all the help we can get."
Ares laughed bitterly. "Hercules would like that! He hates me even more than my family does. - I had never thought that they'd all be against me. Sure, I never got along well with my siblings. We're a very quarrelsome family. But I always thought Aphrodite liked me. And my parents. Can it really be that parents don't feel anything at all for their child? They never did give me much attention, but I always thought father would love me anyway. Mother's a different case. I think she never liked any of us, because we all remind her of Zeus. I can't remember a time when our parents got along, but they must have some time. How else would they have this many children? But maybe it's the other way around: Maybe they hate me so much that they can't stand each other anymore."
"Nonsense!" Iolaos declared with conviction. "Hera and Zeus' problems have nothing to do with you. They just aren't particularly lovable people. Sadly none of you gods are. You know, I never got along well with my family either, but Hercules and his mother were always there for me. Sometimes friends can mean much more than relatives."
"Friends? Strife and Discord were my friends. - More or less. - At least I thought so. Now I know that I'm all alone. That's much worse than just to be mortal: To know that there's nobody who cares what happens to you."
"I care!" with that statement Iolaos surprised even himself. "If nobody else wants you, at least I will be your friend. Besides I'm sure Hercules likes you too. He just doesn't want to admit it. Just stick with us for a while and you'll see that he's your friend."
Ares shook his head. "You don't really believe that yourself. Still it's kind of you to say that - and very selfless, I'm sure."
That made both of them laugh.
They sat there on the steps for a while longer. Iolaos wished he could do more for Ares, but at least he'd managed to cheer him up a little.
Hercules woke them before sunrise. "I have the solution! We have to hurry!"
Iolaos yawned. "Did you spend the whole night thinking about possibilities to turn Ares back into a god, Hercules?"
"Yes, and I found it!"
Ares blinked at him sleepily. He had a headache and his throat felt so odd and scratchy. "There is no solution," he croaked. "I can't perform a selfless deed. It's against my nature."
"You don't have to," laughed Hercules. "There's another way. I'll tell you on the way."
Iolaos shook his head. "You'll have to tell us here by the fire. I'm not leaving without breakfast in the middle of the night and Ares needs some herbal tea or else he won't have any voice left by noon."
Ares grimaced at that announcement, but this time didn't protest.
Grudgingly Hercules sat down by the fire while Iolaos began preparing breakfast.
"So, what about your grand solution, little brother?" asked Ares.
"About three days travel from here, in the direction of Sparta, there's a fountain that used to be a sacred place of the Titans. A mortal who drinks the water from the fountain out of the cup of Chronos is turned into a god."
"But Hercules," sighed Iolaos. "Zeus won't accept that. He'll turn Ares right back!"
"He can't. If Zeus had power over the magic of the Titans he'd have destroyed the fountain long ago."
Ares began to hope again. "With the power of the Titans I'd have a chance to retake my position as the god of war and end Zeus' competition, but I can't guarantee success."
"A chance is more than we've had so far," declared Iolaos decisively handing Ares a cup of tea. "Drink that and then we'll go to that fountain!"
"Not so fast, my friend." Hercules held him back. "First we need the cup of Chronos and that is hidden in a cave in the opposite direction guarded by two giants.
"Um … Hercules …" Ares' voice already sounded a little better. - The tea seemed to help. "I don't think I can handle two giants as a mortal."
"Don't worry! I'll take care of the giants. You two just have to sneak into the cave and get the cup."
It took them about half a day to reach their destination. The cave lay a little way off the road in the forest. In front of the entrance there was a small clearing which had most likely been created by the giants so they could go in and out more comfortably and had some room to fight.
Iolaos insisted that they returned to the road once more to rest.
Hercules was against anything that might cost them time, but he had to agree that Ares couldn't possibly sneak past two giants in his current condition.
Ares' cold, that had gotten a little better after the herbal tea in the morning, had once again gotten a lot worse on the way. The former god of war could
barely croak anymore and had to blow his nose or cough every few steps. Another cup of herbal tea was needed to take care of that.
After their rest they returned to the cave well rested and with a fully developed plan of action. Hercules waited in the forest across the clearing from the cave entrance whiles Iolaos and Ares were sneaking through the bushes around the clearing to get as close as possible to the entrance.
Ares could hardly believe with what ease Iolaos slipped through the bushes. If only he could have done that so well too! Every few steps he got tangled up between the branches or scratched by thorns.
"How do you do that?" he whispered when he'd finally caught up with Iolaos.
"An old hunter's trick," Iolaos said matter of factly. "I could teach you, but once you're a god again you won't need it anyway."
Iolaos quickly slipped out between two bushes to give Hercules the agreed upon signal. Then he quickly ducked back under the bushes so he wouldn't be seen by the giants. But that caution proved to be unnecessary.
The moment Hercules stepped into the clearing the two giants rushed out of their cave roaring loudly. They never even thought about looking around for any other intruders.
Originally Hercules had planed to only distract the giants without getting into a fight, but Ares and Iolaos didn't doubt that he could handle them.
They slipped into the cave unhindered. Inside a surprise awaited them. Torches were burning on all walls of the cave lighting it brightly.
"Our giants must use up quite a lot of wood if they always keep their cave lit like this." Iolaos said uneasily. "Maybe they're expecting visitors?"
"Well, it saves us the trouble of having to light our own torches so don't complain!"
Slowly they walked deeper into the cave and suddenly found themselves in front of a deep chasm. A giant could cross the tear in the rock with one step, but for a human it represented a dangerous obstacle.
But once again they found the solution already provided: A makeshift bridge made of ropes led to the other side.
"It seems they often get visits from humans," commented Ares.
"The way they great people?" Iolaos said doubtfully. "It looks more like a trap to me. Be careful!"
Even though the freely swinging bridge wasn't exactly comfortable they crossed it without problems and stood right inside the home of the giants.
It consisted of a simple fireplace and several animal skins that served both as places to sit and to sleep on.
In the back of the cave they found the storage and treasure room. Between the rests of a deer and several large clay vessels that looked like they contained mead or wine, stood several chests filled with gold and jewels.
"That there has to be it," whispered Iolaos pointing at a big, golden cup on top of a few chests.
Ares didn't answer. His nose was twitching. If he sneezed in here the echo might increase the sound so much that the giants would hear him even over their own roars.
He tried not to breathe while Iolaos snuck over to the cup and carefully lifted it. It was heavier than he'd thought it would be. It had to be made of pure gold.
Ares nodded at him. The twitching was getting better. He could talk again. "Come on, lets get out of here."
They returned to the bridge of ropes. Ares crossed it as quickly as they had come in, but Iolaos didn't get over that easily. The heavy cup in his hand was hindering him He could use only one hand to balance himself on the swinging bridge. Iolaos waited until Ares had reached the other side. His fast movements had made the bridge swing wildly. Now it was easier.
Iolaos had almost reached the end of the bridge when Ares suddenly sneezed. The echo threw a roar back through the cave, that no giant could miss.
"Oh damn! Run!" shouted Ares. He held his hands out to Iolaos to help him.
Iolaos hasted on and was just about to reach for Ares' hand when a giant came dashing into the cave.
The monster's steps made the ground shake. The bridge was bucking like a wild horse. Iolaos was thrown through the air. Instinctively he clung to the cup and threw himself forward. He managed to get a grip on Ares' right hand, then he fell.
The sudden weight on his arm tore Ares off his feet and he almost would have fallen into the chasm with Iolaos, but at the last moment he managed to hook his feet into a niche in the rock.
At the same time he tried to grab Iolaos with his left hand as well, but he only caught the cup.
Iolaos slammed into the rock wall. His toes found some resistance. It had to be a small rim. He felt around carefully. No, to small to actually stand on it. But he could get a little leverage there and hope that Ares could hold him.
The floor was still trembling and Ares expected to be grabbed by an angry giant at any moment, but nothing happened.
Then there was another hard impact accompanied by a loud crash as if the giant had fallen. Hercules must have caught the monster! But where was the other giant? How long could the half god keep both of them away from him?
Ares tried to pull Iolaos up. His arm muscles burned with the effort. Iolaos tried to help by pushing himself off the small rim, but it didn't help much. He was too heavy.
Ares was feeling desperate. If only he'd had his powers! Then it would have been easy to lift a simple mortal.
If he'd at least had a better grip with his left hand! Ares thought. Could he let go of the cup and grab Iolaos' arm instead? No, only if Iolaos too let go of the cup and then he'd have to remain mortal forever. But if he pulled up the cup first it might work.
"Iolaos!" he panted. "Let go of the cup!"
"What!" Iolaos felt a pang of fear. Was Ares intending to drop him? He needed only the cup.
"I can't lift both of you together! Grab my other hand and I'll be able to pull up the cup first and then you."
Iolaos hesitated. What would stop Ares from letting him fall to his death as soon as he had the cup? Human lives meant nothing to the god of war. But he had no other choice. He let go of the cup and threw himself to the left. With both hands he clung to Ares' right wrist.
For a moment Ares thought that his arm would be torn off at the shoulder, then Iolaos' feet found the rim once again and it got a little easier.
He tried to pull up his left arm, but the cup was heavier than he'd thought. He couldn't lift it over the edge. With both hands it would be possible, but to do that he'd have to drop Iolaos. Maybe he'd manage with the right hand alone. Ares stared down at the small rim Iolaos was using for leverage. Could Iolaos stand on that long enough that he could switch the cup into his other hand? Impossible.
"Ares!" shouted Iolaos. "Do something! I'm slipping off!"
He had to drop one of the two! Ares stared at the cup. It was his salvation. Without it he would never be able to return to his old life. He'd never see his family again. Iolaos had been nice to him yesterday evening, but …
Slowly Ares opened his hand.
With the cup all his hopes tumbled into the seemingly bottomless depth. Iolaos stared up at him. "Ares, why …?"
"It was too heavy. I couldn't save it," Ares answered tonelessly. "Come on! Give me your hand!"
With both hands it was easier. Iolaos pushed himself off with his toes and Ares pulled him up centimeter by centimeter. Finally the exhausted Iolaos climbed over the edge. Panting they lay side by side on the floor.
Hercules came running over from the entrance. "Iolaos, are you all right?"
"Yes, I'm fine." They climbed to their feet laboriously.
"Where's the cup?"
"Down there." Ares pointed at the chasm.
"Ares, we desperately needed that cup!" jelled Hercules. "How are we going to save the three cities now?!"
"Hey, would you prefer if Iolaos was lying down there?! I don't have your superhuman strength! I had to choose one of the two. You might have been able to save both, but you preferred to play with your giants! Do you think I threw my last chance to become a god again away just for fun?!"
"Er… what did happen to those giants?" Iolaos interrupted hastily before the half brothers went at each other's throats right here by the edge of the chasm.
"The giants!" the half god remembered all of a sudden. "We'd better get out of here before the giants regain consciousness!"
They ran out of the cave straight into a thunderstorm. The sky was almost black even though it was only early afternoon. Angry lightning flashed in every direction.
"But there was hardly a cloud in the sky a little while ago." Iolaos stated confused.
"Daddy has to be really mad," confirmed Ares. "But it can't be our fault. We didn't get the cup after all and he can only be happy about the loss."
"Maybe those giants are special favorites of his," joked Hercules.
Then the lord of the gods suddenly stood before them in person. Hercules had never seen his father this angry before.
"Ares!" the father of gods thundered. "Come with me!" And in a flash both of them were gone.
Iolaos looked at Hercules worriedly. "Do you have an idea what that might be about? Do you think he'll harm Ares?"
At first Hercules looked as clueless as his friend, but then he suddenly started laughing. "No, Iolaos! Ares did it!"
"He gave up the cup and with it his chance to become a god again to save your life. That was a selfless deed. Now Zeus has to keep his word and return his
powers to him. That means the competition is over. Athens, Sparta and Corinth are saved!"
To stand in front of the gathered gods as a mortal was pretty scary. His family welcomed Ares with icy silence.
"As you unfortunately fulfilled the task we set for you we have no other choice than to return your godhood to you." Zeus announced.
Angry murmurs rose among the gods. Strife called: "Oh Zeus, can't we demote him anyway?"
Several gods nodded approval, but Zeus denied.
Ares looked around the gathered and decided to say nothing. He was reaccepted into the family, but nobody was happy for him. Now not even Iolaos would want to be his friend anymore.
He was still alone. - All alone!