It didnt take long for Hercules to clear the brawl but Iolaus, who was not fighting up to his usual standards, had taken the wrath of Croteus anger with a few well placed punches.
A few minutes later the young hoodlums that had come, for whatever reason, to the confrontation were gone. Either they hadnt expected it to go this far or suddenly realized they were fighting a losing battle with Hercules, the strongest man in the known world.
Moments after this Hercules was dragging both Iolaus and Croteus into Kreela and Thaddeus home.
"You big oaf, what were you thinking?" Kreela peevishly asked her brother as she dabbed at a cut across his left cheek, "You know how willful Kithia could be. It was not just Iolaus fault. I think it says a lot for him to come to our village, speak with Kithia and claim his child at all. I know those vermin you call friends wouldn't ...." she cut herself off and jammed a cool, wet rag into his hands, "Hold that against your cheek. Its beginning to turn colors and swell."
Meanwhile, on the other side of the room, Iolaus was being tended to by Thaddeus and Hercules. Croteus had succeeded in splitting his lips and blackening an eye. He too held a cloth to his head and nearly smiled when Hercules asked him if he managed to lay one finger on Croteus. Iolaus said he felt one slug then stars. He hadnt been expecting it, thinking he could talk his way out of the mess.
"I'm a piece of work, arent I?" Iolaus remarked more than asked.
"You didnt put up much of a fight, Iolaus." Hercules commented, "Part of me thinks you were hoping Croteus would beat you to a pulp. Maybe you thought you deserved it?"
Iolaus said nothing.
"You shouldn't feel that way." Thaddeus asserted, "Croteus didnt beat you because you deserved it, he did it because he hoped it would take care of some inner demons. He feels he failed Kithia and has to take it out on someone. Let's hope he got it out of his system."
"Yeah, lets hope." Iolaus murmured.
"Besides that," Thaddeus went on, ruefully. "We learned that she wont be burned by the village then buried in the temple cemetery. According to the temple elder, Hypocriticus, Kithia has sinned mightily in the eyes of the gods. He wants her to be an example and has convinced the head priest, Ogristes, that its a good idea."
"I'll talk with him." Hercules said, perturbed. "Maybe, as the not so legitimate son of Zeus, I can make him see sense." He patted Iolaus on the shoulder, "Take care of him, Thaddeus." Hercules exited out the front door.
"Thaddeus," Kreela approached, "Go help Croteus. I need to speak with Iolaus." She watched as her husband did as he was told then she looked at the blond hunter. She smiled. His chair was leaning a bit and the back of his head was against the stone wall. His eyes were closed as he held the damp cloth to his face. "Iolaus," Keela sat in the chair Hercules vacated and spoke in hushed tones. No need to upset Croteus again. "I know youre a good man and I know Kithia must have felt something deep for you. You shouldnt feel at fault. She never felt you were fully responsible for her situation."
Iolaus opened his eyes and sighed. Kreela was a good woman and smart. He liked her and he liked that she was no nonsense. He knew she was expecting the same directness from him. "Kreela its not my way to take *untouched* girls. I guess I was so out of it that night I didnt know what I was doing, and Kithia paid the price." Iolaus closed his eyes and shook his head back and forth, "She was a lovely girl, with a pure heart." he paused, "I did care for her too even if we only had ...."
"And now you have a child that needs you." she smiled at his slightly lost expression. It made him appear like a small boy, with his blackened eye and split lip. Kreela took Iolaus hand and suddenly appeared troubled, "So tell me, when will you take the baby away?"
"Soon." Iolaus told her, "Right after the funeral."
Kithia lowered her head slightly in regret. "Oh."
Hypocriticus paced back and forth in front of the altar as Hercules spoke diplomatically with Ogristes, the temple priest. It wasnt as if he disliked Kithia. She had seemed a nice enough girl, a few years older than his own son, and had come from a good, respectable family. If it wasnt for the fact that she was a strumpet he might have liked to seen his eldest, Jensen, married to her. As it was he was relieved they had dodged an arrow. Nothing spoilt the family name faster than having a harlot in the mix.
"Hercules," The priest, an elderly man with silver hair and a slightly bowed body, raised to his feet from the chair he had been sitting in at the front of the altar. "I realize the laws of this village may seem extreme and out of touch to someone as worldly as you but they have served us for many, many years. Weve always had peace in our village as well as good rapport and trade with neighboring villages. We like to think the gods are smiling down upon us because of our morality. Perhaps the goddess Fortune herself is watching over us."
"I have no problem with the laws of this village, Ogristes, as long as theyre just, but I also think what might be considered wholesome and good for a village can be perverted into something corrupt. Kithia endured a great hardship, scorn from men and women who once loved and cared for her before they realized she was going to have a child. She wasnt evil. She made a mistake. One which, in the end, cost Kithia her life. And now you wont allow her, a woman who has prayed in this very temple, to be buried in the cemetery because of those laws?"
Hypocriticus cleared his throat a bit roughly behind the demigod, "Those are sweet words, Hercules, but if we toss the laws of the village and rules of our temple aside this time then we'll have to do it again and again. Where will it stop? Will we eventually allow cut throats and thieves to be buried right next to our honest, innocent citizens?"
"Thats a rather large leap, dont you think?" Hercules turned about incredulously and questioned the elder then looked back at the priest, "Look, Im just asking you to take a night, think it through, and reconsidered. This is not an open and shut matter. After all, forgiveness is a virtue as well."
Orgristes stared at the demigod for a few moments, "I will *promise* you nothing, Hercules, but yes. I will take a another night and think on it. But I warn you," he lifted a finger when he saw the start of a smile on the demigods face, "Whether you are the sone of Zeus or not, my answer may be the same tomorrow as it is today."
"As it should be." Hypocriticus flared at the two men before him, "My family has always kept to the laws ...." He then turned when seeing the large temple door open and a figure approach. A small smile upturned his mouth, "And here comes my eldest now. Right on time to clean the temple pews."
"And with pleasure, Father."
Hercules looked at the young man approaching and would have laughed if it hadnt been so sickeningly perverse. He was the same kid that had shown up this afternoon with Croteus, the big talker amongst cowardly thugs, who was causing trouble; egging on the fight between Iolaus and the woodsman.
"This is my son, Jensen. A finer and more loyal lad you'll never find anywhere!" Hypocriticus announced proudly, taking his boy by the shoulders and thumping him good naturedly on the back.
The boy-man stared at Hercules, his head raised high, daring him to say anything to his father.
Iolaus sat at the kitchen table, holding the baby and feeding her with a makeshift milkskin Kreela had warmed. She was a good eater, this little Amazon, and a small hand held onto his knuckles as she nursed. *Daddy's girl*. Iolaus couldnt take his eyes off of her. He was going to teach her so many things, most especially to stay away from men like him.
Thaddeus watched Iolaus closely, and with mild envy. "Kreela and I have always wanted a family but weve been married for ten years and nothing's happened. He glanced at his wife who was busily working in the kitchen, "We've heard there are healers in Athens that can help us but we can't afford them. So, we just keep trying." He took a gulp from his cider mug, glancing again at Kreela. She didnt seem to have heard so he went on, "Have you thought of a name yet?"
Distracted, Iolaus nodded, "Lahti."
"Someone very close to me was named Lahti."
Thaddeus was about to further question their guest when Croteus lumbered in from outside. In one of his meaty arms was a stack of wood for the evening fire. Chopping needed to be done, Thaddeus knew, plus the exercise always helped his brother in law work off a bad mood.
Silently, after dropping the wood and ax in their box and washing his hands, the big man sat at the table right beside Iolaus and Lahti. He glanced once at the hunter-warrior and the baby then, as Thaddeus uncertainly handed him a cider mug, he cleared his throat. In a voice that was remarkably gentle Croteus said: "Kithia. She was my baby sister."
Iolaus understood. Croteus was attempting an apology so he listened.
"A man does crazy things when hes drunk and I was disturbed and sorta talked into fighting you. Some of the guys in town, you know. You get it, dont you?"
Iolaus took his eyes off the baby long enough to nod at Croteus. He knew all about how excess can cause an error in judgment, "I once had a little sister." Iolaus nearly murmured (for the baby was almost asleep), "She died long ago when we were both still children. She was swept away, down a river. She was found a few days later." Then, "I understand."
Thaddeus, who had been listening, instantly knew where Lahti got her name.