The temple was a place for prayer and contemplation. At least once a week every person living in the village made the trek to thank the gods for the bountiful goodness they had granted they, the unworthy mortals of Greece. Yet now there was no one attending, other than Ogristes, and Iolaus was grateful. Not just because he wanted to talk with the priest in private but because he planned on doing a lot of loud protesting, if necessary, and the regular folk of the village didnt need to hear it. Iolaus stood at the bottom of the altar, close-mouthed for the moment, listening to the priest present his well rehearsed case.
"The laws and morality of our little community have been the same for hundreds, maybe even thousands of years, and it would go against everything I and the other temple keepers believe in to change what is written in our sacred scrolls." Ogristes went on to say they could not change matters on a whim, not for anyone, and especially not for an amoral dead woman who - because of her sins - was destined for a irreligious burial.
Iolaus grimace and had to force himself to remain calm, "I am the perpetrator of this evil, not Kithia, and if I have to spend time doing hard labor or in jail, I will. Dont make Kithia take all the blame. Let her rest in peace."
"It's not that simple," Ogristes said, moving around the altar podium, his priestly robe swaying. "Men and women are thought of differently here, Iolaus. If Kithia had remained alive she would forever have lived in shame, as would her child. A letter *A* for adulteress would have been branded into Kithias arm, reminding her of her crime." The priest noted the on-lookers incredulous stare and went on, "The child, meanwhile, would not and will not be allowed to associate with other children. We are firm believers that the sins of the mother should be visited upon her children."
Again, Iolaus bit back a biting retort although every fiber of his being wanted to lash out at the silly man and his foolish rules. He asked, "What about the child's father?" and tried to get a foothold on what he could expect.
"I would not worry." Ogristes half smiled, glad to be able to give the visitor what he thought good news, "You might have been a participant in her shame and if you were a resident of our village you would have been banished. But since you arent and will be on your way soon, its not relevant."
"So what youre saying ..." Iolaus wanted it crystal clear, "... is that a woman is branded, physically held down and burned, but the man that shamed her is merely told to *go away*?"
The smile faded from the priest face, "I suppose thats one way to look at it."
"Is there another?"
The men stared at each other for a long moment.
Finally, Iolaus tossed up his hands and spoke with his heart, "I have got to get Lahti away from this crazy place."
Ogristes nodded slowly and thoughtfully, "Perhaps that would be best."
Without warning an angry, shrill cry came from outside. It reached both sets of ears and Iolaus, followed closely by the priest, ran from the temple to see what the commotion was about.
A crowd had gathered around two figures as they spat venomous words at one another. It was a man and woman ... Hypocriticus and Kreela.
"You *will not* spread such rumors, Kreela! I warn you!" the elder shouted, lifting his hands as if hed like to strike the female but knowing enough not to do it. "Your sister was nothing but a lying harlot, the whole village knows it!" he squabbled.
"My sister was an honest woman, a good woman who loved her village despite its foolish and archaic laws!" Kreela cried.
A gasp came from the crowd surrounding the bickering twosome.
Hypocriticus was beside himself now with fury, "I demand this woman be arrested on charges of ..." he searched his cluttered mind, "... malicious mischief!"
Now the crowd, unable to help themselves while witnessing the elders cherry red complexion, chuckled.
"I dont want anything but to clear Kithias name and to ..." she caught sight of Iolaus who stared at her in wonder, "... tell the truth. I've been keeping quiet about something Kithia told me because she asked for my silence. But so much has happened and so many people are being hurt ... and used. I cannot stay still a moment longer."
Ogristes raised his hands and addressed the crowd, "Everyone be on your way. This is a job for law givers." he looked over at Kreela, "Come. Let us go into the temple where we can discuss this matter with clear heads."
Iolaus, understanding the wisdom of these words despite his disagreement with the priest, moved away from his side and walked over to Kreela. He took her by the arm and escorted the now weeping woman into the temple.
Ogristes and a griping Hypocriticus followed.
After a little time passed everyone was calmer.
Kreela sat in a front pew with Iolaus beside her. She told him that she originally came to town to shop for spices and see how he was doing with the purchase of Kithia's headstone. However, when she witness he and Hercules sparring with that gang of hooligans Kreela felt compelled to go to the temple, confess her sins and right some wrongs. Not just to the priest but to Iolaus himself.
"What wrongs?" Ogristes stood before the sitting twosome. He spent some time attempting to get what was said between she and Hypocriticus out of his elder but the man was strangely closed-mouth, sitting and looking away from the priest as if he couldnt bring himself to speak such sacrilege.
Kreela closed her eyes and sought the strength of Iolaus hand as she started to explain. She could only hope hed forgive her: "Nine months ago Kithia came home looking a frightful mess. She had been in the village, making her twice weekly sojourn to the temple to wish friends and loved ones well. Her dress was torn, her hair disheveled, her face dirty and she was crying." Kreela gulped slightly, "She told me it was nothing, she'd slipped while walking home, but after a couple months we found Kithia was pregnant. She ... she admitted to me she had been ... attacked."
Iolaus stiffened. "Raped?" he whispered, his tone uneven and barely above a whisper.
Tears threatening to surface, Kreela nodded carefully, "She swore me to secrecy, Iolaus, but would not tell anyone who the father of her child was Yet, as the months went along, she realized there would be no peace for she and the baby if they stayed in our home village. Kithia knew she would be branded but could live with that. Her baby was another story. She made plans to leave."
"But she came up with an idea, didnt she?" Iolaus started to fit pieces of the puzzle together.
"Not right away. At least, not the way youre thinking. During her final weeks of pregnancy Kithia was determined the child would not be brought up tainted. She felt she must have did something awful and the gods were punishing her ... But even more than that, she didnt want to live in the same village as her violater -- seeing him day after day. She feared he would eventually piece things together himself and any number of ghastly things could happen. But ... but she was becoming so ill ...."
As Kithia grew weaker and weaker she knew, by instinct, she was going to die giving birth. As good as Kreela and Thaddeus were she could not leave her baby with them, to face the horrors of the village and the possible recognition of her father. It was then that she came up with the idea of saying Iolaus was her childs father. She remembered him as a good man, a hero - fighting along side Hercules to rid their village of horrid warlords - and capable. She wanted him to take the child away from the evil surrounding her.
"Iolaus," Kreela looked sympathetically at him, "Nothing happened that night between the two of you. It started to rain when she took you up to the room and you fell asleep the moment your body hit the bed. Kithia didnt want to walk home in the rain, so she stayed with you -- but you both slept and that was all."
Iolaus nodded, his suspicions finally confirmed. Yet, there was also a deep sadness in his eye.
Hypocriticus bristled, "And you really expect us to believe this story?" he spat, "Kithia was assaulted you say. Where are your witnesses? And how convenient that Kithia never told you who the father of her child really is. If not this man it could be anyone in the village! Anyone of a hundred adulterous affairs."
Iolaus stood quickly, "Dont make me come over there!" he warned and relaxed only when Ogristes hand lay on his shoulder.
The priest appeared troubled but not necessarily disbelieving. "If what you say is true, Kreela, then this changes the complexion of everything that has happened. But I must ask you why she would not reveal who it was that raped her?"
Kreela shrugged desperately, "I dont know. Part of Kithia was still a trusting child. I think she thought as long as she didnt acknowledge her abuser he wouldnt exist. I just dont know what she was thinking." she glanced at Hypocriticus, But I have my suspicions.
With an arrogant and nearly reckless air, Hypocriticus stepped down the few temple stairs to stand beside the priest. He stared at the woman and his tone held warning, "Well, you need proof and have none. Im not convinced and before you start rumors and attempt to sway us away from your sisters considerable guilt I think we should just leave this whole topic behind and ...."
"That wont be necessary." Hercules walked in with both Hereus, who scampered timidly beside the demigod, and Jensen, who he held by the scruff of the neck
"What is the meaning of this? What are you doing with my son?" Hypocriticus questioned with an cantankerous shout.
Ogristes moved his head just slightly to the left and studied his elder. He was behaving very strangely.
Iolaus and Kreela stood and acknowledged Hercules nod.
"Do you want to tell them?" Hercules shook Jensen slightly but looked as if he would like to do far more. After he and Hereus talked in the barn they went to find his big brother. Jensen was with his friends, of course, who didnt look as anxious to pick a fight as they had earlier in the day. Hercules confronted Jensen with a little piece of information Hereus imparted and told the struggling boy they were going to the town temple to sort matters through with an audience.
"They're lying father! Dont listen to them!" Jensen howled, attempting to shake free of Hercules grip.
Hercules leaned down slightly and placed a gentle hand to the back of Hereus head, "Tell them." he urged.
"Frightened," the boy took two tentative steps toward the priest but did not look at his father. He could hear Jensen cursing him in an undertone, threatening to hurt him, but he couldnt be a coward this time. He had to say what he knew. "I saw ...I saw Jensen hurt Kithia!" Tears now spilled from his eyes, "I was in the stable one night, helping the stable master to clean stalls, when I heard Jensen drag her inside. She was frightened and crying and "I wanted to do something but ..." he broke off and sobbed, "Then the next day I heard Jensen bragging to his friends. He could tell I knew and he told me if I ever said anything to our father, or anyone, he would kill me!"
For months Hereus watched as Kithia was berated by the village and it tormented him. When Kithia died, as a result of her pregnancy, the boy fell into an even deeper melancholy. He had seriously been considering suicide when Hercules found him
Hypocriticus whispered, "How could you do this? How could you ...?" But for the first time it was not directed at his youngest, who he all at once realized hed been ignoring in favor of his brother, Jensen. He could only stare at the burly boy-man who now looked back at his father in both fear and contempt. "I believed in you!" the elder shouted, advancing. "You blasphemer ... evil son of Hades ... lowest of all harpies ...."
Suddenly outraged, noting Jensen uncomfortable but defiant smirk, Hypocriticus charged the young man, wrenching him from Hercules grip, and began beating him.
Terrified, Hereus ran to Kreela who hugged the boy to her, making him feel protected.
Iolaus moved to help Hercules pull the raving elder off the boy. If he were at all honest with himself he would have loved to seen Croteus attack the boy instead.
"Stop it, Hypocriticus. Its not just his fault." Hercules attempted to reason, "If you had been paying more attention to your children - to the lost righteousness in your own home - rather than worrying about the insignificant sins of the entire village, it may never have happened."
Ogristes, making sudden eye contact with Iolaus, realizes that the comment was partially directed at him as well.
Changes would be made.
Two days passed.
Hypocriticus watched as his eldest son was taken away in a heavily boarded chariot to prison. He could hear Jensen cursing inside of the transport and felt a deep regret, but there was nothing he could do for him now. The elder lay a gentle hand on the shoulders of his youngest child, who stood with him, and vowed again - in his mind and to whatever diety who might take pity on him - that he would never allow snap judgments to interfere with what was genuinely good and righteous. "Come son," he told the boy gently and very sorrowfully, "Its time for the funeral."
Hereus softly slid his hand into his father's and squeezed gently.
Kithias body was burned early in the morning and the funeral ceremony, which took place that afternoon at the village cemetery, was presided over by Ogristes. She was laid to rest and it was witness by most of the villagers, some who had treated her terribly. Ogristes explained as eloquently as possible the circumstances of the young woman's death and more than a few mourners cried openly. Her big brother, Croteus, was among them.
Afterwards, Iolaus walked a bit away from the scene and held Lahti in his arms. He cuddled the baby and gently spoke as if to his own daughter, "Things are going to be good here for you, little Lahti or I would never think of leaving you behind. But your Aunt and Uncle are good people and they'll take care of you like you were their very own. They love you almost as much as I do. But let me tell you, Uncle Iolaus will come back and see you again." Touching her tiny fingers as they extended for him he went on, "If ever you need me all you have to do is shout and Ill be there for you."
Feeling a presence behind him, Iolaus turned and gently deposited the baby into Kreela's arms.
"Thank you, Iolaus." she whispered sadly and watched as the hunter shook hands with Thaddeus. It broke her heart to see him so unhappy and used but, Kreela had to confess, she was also delighted that Lahti was staying with she and Thaddeus. They finally had their family and she knew her husband was thrilled with the prospect of bringing up the little girl. He was a good man and she loved him.
Somberly, both Hercules and Iolaus walked from the area and made their way down the path that would lead them from the village.
"Are you all right?" Hercules asked, noting his friends quietness.
"I'll be fine. But I have to tell you something ... I know now how you must have felt when you left Evander for the first time. Please tell me this pain will go away."
"It will." Hercules promised, gently placing an arm around Iolaus shoulder as they walked.
It would take awhile but Iolaus would come through. He always did.
No pious temple elders or their errant sons were hurt during the production of this episode ... darn it!