Disclaimer: This is only a reimagined version of one of the most famous Greek myths of all time. I'll understand if I'm a little bit off in my understanding of Greek myths, but this is my retelling of Heracles or Hercules as most people in the world would call him now. So please, forgive me if I'm taking a few liberties with this retelling.
Now this chapter may include some graphic violence and gore as told in a flashback, so you've all been warned.
Chapter Three: Tales of War and Chiron
As Hercules and Meg walked towards the royal palace, the boy could barely keep his eyes off the girl that he was in love with and neither could the girl keep her eyes off of him. Never before in Thebes had anyone ever been so in love and so young in age. While many people found it odd for a princess to be in love with the son of a general, supposedly, it was not unusual. Hercules actually was a prince in all but title as his mother Alcmene was a member of the royal House of Perseus.
Once they reached the palace, Hercules said, "Well, here we are. Home and just in time for dinner--." As he said those words, Meg quickly kissed his lips, much to his surprise as he gently kissed back. After the kiss, Meg and Hercules smiled at each other. "I'll definitely see you tomorrow, Wonder Boy. I love you." Meg said to her sweetheart as she went to speak with her father, King Creon. "I love you, too, Meg." Hercules whispered to himself.
"Hey, Herc!" A boy's voice cried out as Hercules turned to see a ten year old boy with tan skin, long dark brown hair and dark blue eyes, wearing a white chiton and in his hand was a scroll. "Oh, hey, Iphicles." Hercules said, for this was his younger triplet brother, Iphicles. "How was your day with Meg? I can definitely tell that you're blushing." Iphicles said with a smirk on his face.
"Iph. I wish you wouldn't tease me so much about my feelings for Meg. You know how I value our friendship." Hercules said with a blush, even though he knew his teacher's pet of a brother was trying to be supportive. "Yeah, I know. However I did just see you and Meg playing kissy-face with each other. Does King Creon know about this?" Iphicles asked.
"No. Not yet, Iph. I just don't want the King to get the wrong idea about us. I love her." Hercules said nervously as Iphicles patted his taller brother's shoulder. "I know. You've told me, Laonome, Mom and Dad one too many times. I'm actually happy for you, bro." Iphicles said. "That's not the problem, Iphicles. She's a princess and we're--."
"Of the House of Perseus, Hercules. So in all terms we are of royal blood save for the title." Said a rich voice as Hercules turned to see a man in his late thirties to early forties with dark brown hair and dark blue eyes, a thick dark brown beard, wearing a bronze cuirass, bronze greaves on both legs, a Corinthian helmet with purple dyed horsehair that extended from side to side, a reminder of his former life as a Mycenaean general, and a dark green cloak, the colors of Thebes. This man was General Amphitryon, the father of both Iphicles and Laonome, husband to Alcmene and Hercules' adopted father or stepfather.
"Dad? You listened in? I...I'm sorry I overstepped my bounds with Megara. But I love her--." Hercules said, nervous that Amphitryon would punish him. "I know that you do. Princess Megara cares about you. She always has, Hercules. However, not everyone in Greece will see your relationship the way we do and the way King Creon does." Amphitryon said as he put his hand on his adopted son's shoulder before he heard Iphicles clearing his throat. "Oh, sorry. Hello, Iphicles. How has studying been under Master Daedalus?"
"Studying's been great, Dad. Daedalus is truly a genius when it comes to teaching." Iphicles said with pride, though Hercules was sweating heavily. "Hercules, have you and Megara been ignoring your studies again?" Amphitryon glared at Hercules, knowing his son only too well.
"Now, now, General Amphitryon. Hercules and Megara already had their lessons earlier today, I let them have the afternoon off." Said another voice as they all turned to see a man in his mid forties with grayish-black hair, a short grayish-black beard, grey eyes, and clad in a silver tunic. This man was Daedalus, a native of Athens and the greatest inventor and genius in all the Hellenic world, yet he did not believe that about himself.
"Ah, Master Daedalus. I trust you've been teaching my children and the princess well in my absence?" Amphitryon asked of Daedalus who nodded. "I have, sir. Your sons and daughter are learning quite well. Especially Master Iphicles. He's quite the scholar." Daedalus said with a slight smile, which he rarely did. For Daedalus had a tragic past that cost him everything, yet he rarely told his story to anyone for his story often brought up memories that he wanted to forget.
"Thank you, Master Daedalus...and proud of it, too." Iphicles said with a grin. "Hercules, Iphicles. Dinner is nearly ready." Said a woman's voice. Then Hercules and Iphicles cried out jinxing as they walked towards their quarters of the palace, "Coming, Mom."
Inside the kitchen was a woman in her mid to late thirties with long flowing black hair, dark brown eyes, olive skinned and wore a dark purple chiton and on her head was a laurel wreath crown. This woman was Alcmene, wife of Amphitryon, mother to Hercules, Iphicles and Laonome, and formerly a princess of Mycenae. When her husband was not at home, she served as an adviser to King Creon on matters of Mycenae and wore the chiton in her relationship to Amphitryon, not that the General minded. She also believed in giving more rights to Greek women; rich or poor, citizen or slave, all women deserved a chance to make their own destinies.
She was making one of Hercules' favorite meals, marinated chicken seasoned with rosemary, garlic and onions and fresh bread on the side, but in a world without electricity it was not easy to make this dish. Hercules did not mind at all. He understood that cooking, like love, had to be handled with care as his mother had always told him. Also while he enjoyed eating a lot, he preferred poultry and fish over red meat.
Helping Alcmene in the kitchen was a ten year old girl with curly black hair, dark blue eyes, olive skinned, and dressed in a bright pink chiton named Laonome, the youngest of the triplets. While she was the light of both Alcmene and Amphitryon's lives, she was kind of a spoiled little princess and not without reason. She believed that as a daughter of the House of Perseus, she was above the four things that Greek girls were supposed to do in life; marry a Greek boy, make Greek babies, be a housewife, and to feed everyone until the day she died. She hated the fact that most girls like her were only seen as property value or breeding stock instead of as people, she was not even that great a cook and she loathed having her clothing smell of food.
She was definitely kneading the bread too hard as Alcmene noticed and said softly, "Laonome, you're kneading too hard. You need to work gently with bread. You must learn to handle food carefully." Laonome sighed in annoyance, "Ugh. Mom...this is entirely beneath a daughter of the House of Perseus to cook and clean after my father and brothers."
Alcmene sighed as she spoke, "I know that it isn't fair for you, Laonome, but life as a woman in these lands is unfair, even if King Creon is trying his best to rewrite the laws of Thebes. We cook, we clean and we let the men do as they please. That's our lot in life, dear daughter. It's not a lot, but it's our life." Alcmene laughed a bit, while Laonome frowned at that comment. "Yet Her Prissiness, Princess Megara, can just get away with what she's doing especially with how she's trying to take Hercules away from us?"
"Now who said that she was trying to take Hercules away from us, Laonome? I never said that. Besides you know how close Megara is to your brother. They have each other's backs no matter what the situation." Alcmene said, but Laonome was not convinced. "It's not fair that Hercules prefers spending time with her over spending time with us, his real family. What does she have that we don't? Huh?"
Alcmene was about to answer when Hercules spoke up, "You worry too much, little sis. Meg and I are the best of friends--." Laonome then noticed his lips and grinned in a teasing manner, "Oh? 'Best of friends', huh? Have you been kissing her behind our backs, Herc?"
Then Alcmene said, "So what if he has? It has always been clear to us and to the King that Hercules and Megara love each other as more than just friends. I have no objection to him loving her in that way, even if the rest of Greece says otherwise." Hearing those words made Hercules smile, "Thanks, Mom. At least you, Dad and Iphicles support me."
"Hey, I never said that I didn't support you, Herc. I'm only saying that Meg has it easier in life than I do." Laonome argued. "Uh wait, no she doesn't, Laonome. She never knew her own mother, so saying that she has it easier in life isn't exactly true." Alcmene said. "Fine. Doesn't mean that I have to feel pity for her or like my lot in life." Laonome sighed in defeat as she went back to kneading bread.
After dinner, Amphitryon had begun to tell his family about the recent battle that he had taken part in, the Battle of the Cithaeron Mountain Range.
It was a bleak and rainy day as the Theban army clad in green and numbering at least two-thousand to two-thousand-five-hundred strong held the high ground. Amphitryon had ordered his hoplites to form a strange formation at the base of the mountain range in the shape of a waning crescent moon.
In the center of the phalanx were the Sacred Band, noted for their longer spears and their more ornate armor. Behind the phalanx were the skirmishers, including slingers, javelin men and well equipped archers. Leading the army was Amphitryon himself as he grabbed his shield and spear.
Down in the valley below clad in blue and gold was the Cretan army who numbered four-thousand strong and had camped out in the rain and muck. They did not know the territory as the Thebans did, but they had the advantage of numbers and the dreaded Bull Guard, an elite corps of five-hundred-men, at their disposal. What had made the Bull Guard so dangerous was that instead of fighting in the phalanx like the rest of the Cretan hoplites, they preferred to charge at their enemies.
They, like all Cretan soldiers, had helmets that were adorned with nasty looking bull horns, yet unlike their hoplite counterparts they wore little to no body armor, filed their teeth down to sharp points, scarred their own bodies, and instead of carrying spears and shields, they carried exotic looking swords known as khopesh and giant battle axes. These soldiers were not exactly right in the head and they had a tendency to ignore pain and collect the heads of their enemies. Most troops who faced these fanatical soldiers normally downed their tools and ran for the hills, save for the Spartans and the Theban Sacred Band. To say that these soldiers were more beast than human would be an understatement.
Also among the Cretan numbers were the renowned Cretan archers, who carried a shield and a long recurved bow.
Expecting a quick victory, the Cretan commander Daikantos had ordered the Bull Guard to make the first move. Roaring and howling, the battle-crazed Bull Guard charged up the slopes of the mountain in spite of the rain and mud. Anticipating that the Cretans would send the Bull Guard up first, Amphitryon ordered his archers and slingers to let loose their ammunition on them.
Soon the rain was blocked out by a hail of stones and arrows as they flew down upon the Bull Guard, many of whom had been hit on the head with a sling stone causing either an instant kill or a sure bet to make them angrier and being peppered with arrows whilst not wearing any protection was a death trap. However it was not enough to kill them all, as many were still eager to fight despite the number of arrows in their chests and bodies. They even ignored the comrades who had been shot in the throat.
Amphitryon ordered the Sacred Band to form their phalanx and march towards the advancing Bull Guard, for he had a plan. Once the Bull Guard were in reach, they raised their weapons and charged once again whilst Amphitryon ordered the Sacred Band to hold their ground.
The vicious Cretan Bull Guard crashed against the shield wall, only to be pushed back and brutally impaled by Theban spears as blood spattered the ground and the Sacred Band's armor and shields. In spite of the Sacred Band's best efforts, they needed their fellow hoplites. When Amphitryon cried out, the regular hoplites surrounded the Bull Guard and cut them down to pieces.
Daikantos and the Cretan army were taken aback by surprise. So in their haste, they started to march up the hill and in doing so the Theban hoplites made a formation in the shape of a waxing crescent moon which confused the Cretans yet again. When they clashed once more, it was the beginning of another bloodbath. Screams filled the air, torrents of arrows, javelins and slings blackened the sky, rain and blood filled the ground that both Cretans and Thebans were beginning to lose balance and fall to their deaths.
The tide of the battle turned when Amphitryon saw Daikantos rallying his men. Thinking quickly, he grabbed a javelin and aimed it directly at the Cretan commander. His aim was true that day and the javelin lodged itself straight at Daikantos's throat, killing him immediately. The Cretans upon seeing their commander killed fled the battlefield back towards their ships with the Thebans in hot pursuit.
As the Thebans chased their Cretan counterparts Amphitryon found Daikantos's corpse, drew his sword and with one swing decapitated him as a further insult to his enemies.
"And when I decapitated Daikantos, the Cretan army returned to their ships and sailed back to that barbaric island kingdom of theirs. Victory was ours, but we nearly lost half our own men. The Cretan archers and the Bull Guard had done a number on us. I was not certain that my plan would work." Amphitryon said with a grim tone in his voice.
"Yet you survived Amphitryon. The Gods had willed it so, Zeus willed it so." Alcmene said trying to cheer her husband up and Amphitryon smiled at his wife's confidence. "If the Gods had willed it so, perhaps it's also because you willed it so, Alcmene. I have everything to come home to; a loving wife and three wonderful children."
"What if Minos were to raise another army and seek out his revenge on you, Dad?" Hercules asked in concern. "Then we will need to prepare for another Cretan invasion, Hercules. King Minos is determined to dominate all the city-states by any means necessary. He has Athens under his boot already and intends to inflict the same fate on the rest of the Greek mainland." Amphitryon said reassuring his adopted son.
"Is it true what they say about him? That he sits on a throne of gold, his left hand is bitten off and wields a serrated kopis as a weapon?" Iphicles asked. "And that Minos sacrifices his own people to his monstrous pet, the Minotaur?" Laonome asked. Amphitryon simply shrugged at the questions as he said, "Who can say? I've never seen Minos face to face, nor do I hope to. One thing I do know is that he is the most ruthless King ever to sit on the Bull Throne of Knossos."
As Hercules and his family were having dinner, Meg was talking to her father King Creon, a man in his early to mid fifties with light skin, a dark grey beard and light brown eyes who sat upon his marble throne clad in a dark purple cloak and a golden laurel wreath crown on his head. "Megara, my daughter. Whilst I am glad that Hercules was around the area when you bathed, there may come a time when he's not there to protect you should someone else stumble upon you bathing." Creon scolded his youngest child and the last living reminder of his late wife, Henioche.
"Daddy, we've had this conversation before. I'm not a helpless baby, I'm ten years old--." Meg groaned in annoyance until Creon frowned and spoke, "Take it seriously, Megara!" As he said those words, Meg was shocked until Creon softened his face, "I say it only out of love, daughter. You are the only thing I have left to remind me of your mother."
"Was she really like me, Daddy?" Meg asked hopefully. "I wish that I had known her." Creon smiled as he got up from the throne and said as he hugged her, "Yes, Meg. She was exactly like you. Fearless, unafraid to speak her mind, kind and I loved her greatly for it, even if I didn't always show how much I cared, she knew."
Then one of the Sacred Band cried out as he ran towards the King, "King Creon! King Creon!"
As the royal guard panted heavily, the King spoke, "Yes? What's the problem? And catch your breath, son." The grateful soldier, still breathing heavily, nodded as he spoke,"Yes, Sire. Chiron has come to Thebes. He says that there is a demigod in our city and he wishes to speak to you personally." Creon was surprised, yet felt honored at the same time as he instructed the guard, "Then let him approach. This is a rare honor that Chiron, Aleph of the Sky-Watcher tribe and the Trainer of Heroes, should come to Thebes."
The people of Thebes were in for a great surprise as the Seven Gates opened all at once and in came Chiron, the Trainer of Heroes, Aleph, chief in the Centaur language, of the Sky-Watcher Nisyros, tribe in the Centaur tongue, and the wisest of all Centaurs.
Humans were not the only inhabitants of the Greek mainland, for they shared Greece with some of the most unusual beings in existence. Among those beings were the Centaurs, beings who were half-human and half-horse. Of course the only physical parts of them that were human included their faces, teeth and hands. The rest of their bodies were completely equine in appearance, including their ears, noses and skin, the latter of which matched the color of their lower horse body.
Also unlike their human neighbors, the idea of clothing to them was incomprehensible even in times of war and they had a secret technology that the humans were yet to discover; iron. Stronger in quality than bronze, but rare to find for iron was a gift from the Gods of Olympus to those whom they had trusted. They believed that mankind was not yet ready for iron technology or iron weapons, particularly the Spartans and Crete whom they knew would misuse this gift to conquer all of Greece.
Yet Chiron, whose body was as white as his lower horse body, his dark grey hair stretching across his back as a mane, was more than just the Trainer of Heroes. He was respected as the most noble of his people, yet it often earned him the ire of his rival chiefs, including his own half-brother, Nessus. He was firm, but fair in everything that he did. He was kind, civilized and intelligent. He only fought when he had to and was ever dedicated to the will of Zeus.
His eyes which were as dark as night could definitely sense a lie and at his side was a type of sword that would one day be associated with Roman cavalrymen called a spatha. To see Chiron in person was a rare honor, though many people were wary of him. For he could not deny that his kind had earned a reputation that would give most humans pause.
The Centaurs, who roamed the wild forested plain-lands of Arcadia in the Peloponnese region of Greece and fiercely guarded it, were rather infamous for their hostility towards humans; particularly towards their neighbors to the south, their sworn enemies the Spartans. Some Centaurs were more bestial than others preferring to capture and rape innocent girls, whether they were human girls or Nymphs. Some Centaur tribes preferred to help their human neighbors, others wanted to wish them harm and this often led to violent clashes between themselves.
Chiron had not come for a fight, because otherwise he would not have come to Thebes all by himself. Nay, he had come for another purpose. His purpose lay within the palace of King Creon himself, yet would the King hear his plea or would fate have other plans?