What if he doesn’t like me?
“Thanks for helping.” Nervous energy chirped Hydra’s voice.
“Anytime.” Cancro rushed forward to a pool. Mud splashed up his legs. “Is it that one?”
A brown toad leaped under the water.
Nine heads shook in unison. “Ours has spots on her back.”
Cancro scanned the bog around Lake Lerna. Dragonflies fluttered over tall grass. Crickets rubbed forewings together, shrieking lonely cries for mates.
“Are you afraid?” Cancro skittered ahead to check the pools nearest the lake.
He’s beautifully elegant. Hydra sighed, admiring thin legs that belied true grace. I just want to-
Six nudged One. Focus, he’s looking at us.
One gasped. “Um, what?” A weird giggle blurted from his lips. “Afraid? For the frog?”
“What Hera expects of you.”
Hydra was grateful black scales could not blush. “I’ve trained my whole life.”
“Still, I don’t want anything to happen to you.” Cancro clicked his claws. “If you need me…”
Hydra’s heart skipped a beat. All his mouths felt dry. His tail twitched beyond control. “I don’t have a pet toad.” The words spurted out before his brains could stop them. “Sorry.” Nine heads sagged.
Earthworms crawled in the mud below.
Cancro’s beady, black eyes raked over Hydra’s faces.
A frog croaked somewhere. The morning sun heated the air, raising the smells of wet vegetation.
“I know.” Cancro swished a claw over a puddle, water splashed up at Hydra. “Want to have dinner tonight? There’s a village with the tastiest bards.”
Hydra grinned, eyes dripping tears, fangs dripping venom. He slapped his tail into a large mud puddle.
The crab scampered away from the spray.
Iolaus drew the chariot to a halt. Its wheels sunk into the spongy swampland of Lerna. The horses flicked their tails to drive away biting insects whose buzz thickened the moist air.
“Sir,” Iolaus said, “should we scout the terrain? Make sure of our footing so-”
“I got this.” Hercules flipped his shoulder length locks. “Think up an epic poem to commemorate my deeds while you guard the horses.” He grabbed his bow and arrows.
Striding towards the beast’s lair, he yelled, “Hercules is here! Prepare to be ravished!”
“Sir,” Iolaus called, “ravished may not be the right word.”
Hercules turned. “You sure?”
Hercules scratched his chin. He tried again, “The mighty Hercules comes to plunder your depths!” He turned back to Iolaus. “Better?”
“Whatever. You’ll fix it later.” Hercules lit the cloth at the end of a long arrow then fired at the cave.
Leaves crackled as flames licked the brush. He pelted the opening with burning arrows. Smoke wafted down the mouth of the cavern.
A low growl rumbled out. Water rippled across the surface of surrounding pools of brackish water. The horses whinnied in panic. Iolaus held firm onto the reins.
Hercules threw down his bow then unsheathed his sword. Light gleamed off the golden metal. “Face me bottom feeder!”
The Hydra burst out of the cave. Nine snake heads hissed and swayed side to side.
A high pitched shriek sent birds streaking into the sky. Hercules ran back to the chariot. “Snakes! No one said there’d be snakes!”
“Sir?” Iolaus furrowed his brows. “What did you think King Eurystheus meant when he said the monster was a swamp serpent?”
Hercules’ hands shook as he grabbed the reins. “Like an octopus or something? Let’s go!”
Iolaus glanced at the Hydra. It was stamping out the fires with its tail. “We can’t leave. This is only your second labor.”
“I. Hate. Snakes.”
“Think of your wife and children. The atonement.”
Hercules stared at him, face frozen in wide eyed panic.
Iolaus frowned. “Think of…glory…of how impressed Zeus would be…and, the pretty ladies at the palace.”
“You’re right.” Hercules sighed then lifted his chin. “Hercules is the bravest son of the King of the Gods.” He felt his belt for his sword.
“You dropped it back there.” Iolaus jerked a thumb in the opposite direction.
“Right.” Hercules flipped his hair. “Give me a line.”
Iolaus tipped his head backward. Gray clouds darkened the afternoon skyline. “Um, here comes…er, doom?”
Hercules stilled his shaking hands and pushed thoughts of slimy, slithering snakes out of his mind. He bellowed, “Here comes, death!” He charged forward. Over his shoulder he yelled, “I adlibbed.”
Hercules swooped up his sword from the dirt. Swinging wildly, the blade cleaved threw one meaty Hydra neck. The serpent reared back. Black bile gushed from the wound. Hydra’s hissing cries raised the hairs on Hercules’ arms.
In a blink, two scaly snake heads popped from the stump.
Hercules’ heartbeat galloped in his ears. He squeaked, “Holy Athena.” He whipped the sword around, slicing and dicing. Nine heads became eighteen, then thirty-six. As soon as one head plopped onto the ground, two more grew to replace it.
This is why I hate snakes, Hercules thought, dodging a snapping jaw. At least there are no crabs. Most creepy!
A sharp pain pulsated up his leg. Hercules groaned and looked down. To his terror, a wolf sized crab snapped pinchers at his heels. He squealed and almost pissed himself.
Without thinking, Hercules kicked the crustacean as hard as he could, then bolted.
The crab’s shell cracked in two when it slammed into a tree. Green slime oozed out of the halves.
“Iolaus, Iolaus!” Hercules warbled. “Get me out of here!” He tossed the sword into the back of the chariot.
Iolaus caught Hercules in his arms. “But, the Hydra.”
Iolaus turned back. “It’s dead, I think. Sir, the monster is-”
A deafening roar shuttered through the swamp. The Hydra nudged the crab with its tail. The claws laid limp. The Hydra roared again. Its eyes fixated on the pair.
Iolaus felt his insides melt under the glare. “Please, sir.”
“It won’t die,” Hercules sobbed. “Two heads grow after one’s cut off.”
Hisses of forty-five serpent heads tingled over their skin.
Hercules whimpered and pulled Iolaus towards the chariot.
“Wait.” Iolaus snapped his fingers. “We use fire to cauterize the stumps.”
“There may be more crabs.”
Iolaus shoved the sword into Hercules’ hands. “Come on.” He found the flint and torch from the chariot.
The Hydra was almost upon them. Gases from its breath watered their eyes and burned their throats. The horses nickered in fear, ready to sprint at any moment.
Iolaus trembled as he lit the torch. For a second, he feared Hercules was not with him. He looked back.
“I am Hercules!” Hercules ran passed Iolaus. He whisked his sword, cutting off a snake head.
Iolaus rushed to burn the headless neck.
Hercules fought like a giant possessed with bloodlust. Iolaus struggled to keep up. Sweat soaked the front of his tunic. The stench of burning flesh filled his lungs. Mud sucked on the soles of his sandals. Snake heads floundered on the ground, wheezing as they expired.
One head remained. Hercules held the Hydra’s muzzle as he hacked at the neck. The sword made a wet tearing sound as it ripped the last sinew.
Holding the severed head high, Hercules screamed in triumph.
The Hydra’s body writhed before flopping a final time. Grime spattered up, drenching Hercules’ bare legs.
Iolaus drooped to his knees. Every muscle ached. His breathing was labored. Looking up at his uncle, pride swelled his chest. Clouds parted, a sunbeam bathed Hercules in an ethereal glow. Zeus himself smiled on his son’s victory.
“Quick.” Hercules’ gaze darted around the swamp. “Let’s bury this thing before more crabs come.”
Hope you liked this week’s post and my take on Greek mythology. You can read last week’s blog to learn about the Chimera. You can also read the first chapters of my urban fantasy series The Children of Ekhidna and Typhoeus on the books page.
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Next week’s blog will share information about Ladon, guardian of Hera’s golden apples.