His best friend and partner had died in that battle.
The hero knew the villagers didn’t forget that. They mentioned it every year. He guessed they believed the passage of time made it easier.
Every year he relieved that desperate stand on the nearby knoll...warriors who knew they had to succeed...even at the cost of their own lives. For several years, he hated the celebration because it continually reminded him that he lived...and the best part of him hadn’t.
No one had believed the Horde would be able to strike this close to Thebes and Corinth. But they had. And they were stopped at this tiny village. But the cost had been almost too much to pay.
The hero gradually made his way from the village towards the knoll. It was another tradition. After the celebration, he would make his way there. He’d made it clear years ago he wanted no company on this journey. Most of the times, they respected his wishes.
But for the last ten years, one person had tried to prevent him from climbing the knoll. For the last five years, that person had tried to accompany him.
His daughter was nothing if not determined.
“Alone, Lilith. You know that.”
“Father, what good does it do you?”
The hero sighed. There were times he greatly admired his daughter for her stubbornness. Other times, he wished he’d been more strict when she was a youngster. “You’d understand if you’d known him.”
“Well, I didn’t. But I know he was a great hero.”
“He was my friend...my brother. Death hasn’t changed that.” The hero gave her a sideways look. “Would you stop loving Miklos if he died?”
Lilith slowly shook her head. “No, Father, of course not. I just hate seeing you put yourself through this every year.”
“It’s little enough...to remember.”
“You always remember.”
The hero smiled at his daughter. “Every day.” He kissed her cheek. “Go back to your family.”
Lilith reluctantly turned and walked back to her husband.
“No luck?” Miklos sympathetically hugged his wife. When she shook her head, he watched as the hero slowly climbed the knoll. “It can’t be easy.”
“He makes it harder than it needs to be,” Lilith frowned. She uncertainly glanced at her husband. “Do you think they were really as close as the stories claim?”
Miklos included his head towards the knoll where the hero was kneeling almost reverently. “There’s your answer.”
The hero took a deep breath as he knelt in the soft grass. “Hey, buddy,” he softly murmured. He closed his eyes for several moments. Then he relaxed and sat cross-legged. “My daughter’s upset again.” He eyed the surrounding area with a wounded air. “So explain to me why my sweet-natured daughter, Alcmene, married a traveling bard and is never around and I have to contend with Lilith...the feisty one.” He smiled to himself. “Guess it’s my fault. I’m the one who named them.”
He silently watched as his daughter bent and spoke to a child.
“People remember you,” he softly continued. “I make sure of that. At least here. I mean they all know about the battles with monsters and the gods and all. But the little stuff like saving a village from fire or rebuilding a village after a flood. I make sure they don’t forget the little things...the stuff that meant everything to a lot of people.”
He smiled as the child began running towards the knoll.
“They always ask where you’re buried. I took you away from the battlefield, you know. Well, maybe you don’t know. I guess you were a little busy with Charon and Hades at the time to know what was going on. Anyway, I hid us in the woods for a long time. I guess I thought we’d find a way to bring you back. Hades finally came and told me there was nothing I could do and to stop bothering him. Well, maybe he didn’t exactly say it that way. But I know he meant it. So I brought you back here...where you died.”
The hero waved his hand to his daughter and her husband who linked arms and walked back towards the village.
“Where’s the best place to hide something but right in front of them?” He broadly smiled. “Autolycus would have been proud, wouldn’t he? No one was around when I buried you here. I think maybe Artemis gave some protection that night. Maybe it’s still here.” He took a deep breath. “All I knew was I didn’t want our enemies finding you. There’s only one other mortal besides me who knows you’re here. And I still don’t understand how he knows.” He patted the firm ground next to him. “Did you have something to do with that, buddy?”
He suddenly smiled. “Lilith’s sent the reinforcements. You know, you’d be proud of my grandson. I think maybe the best of all of us is in him. Including you.”
“Grandfather! Mother says I can stay with you!”
The hero held out his arms as the child of ten summers flung himself into them. “Then we’d better make the best of this time, hmmm?” He tickled the child’s ribs relishing the peale of laughter that resulted. After a few moments, he released the child who gulped air and sat beside his grandfather.
The child gently patted the grass and stared up at him. “I have his name, don’t I?”
The hero grinned. “But that’s our secret, right?”
The child nodded. “A secret name.”
The hero ruffled the boy’s hair. “You’re almost the age I was when I first met him.”
The boy’s blue eyes widened. “Do you think I’ll find a friend like that?”
The hero sighed. “I hope so, Xavier. I honestly do.”
The boy smiled. “Mother’s not here. You can call me by the secret name.”
The hero laughed and pulled the boy onto his lap. “What story do you want?”
“The hydra!” Xavier’s eyes danced with anticipation.
The hero groaned. “You know that story as well as I do.”
“But I like it,” Xavier pouted with a twinkle in his eyes.
The hero sighed. He wrapped his arms around the boy and hugged him. “Listen well, little Herc, and hear my tale.” His eyes took on a distant look as though he could see back in time. “Hercules was returning from a long journey to be best man at my wedding...”
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