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Authors: Bernard Evslin

Hercules

BOOK: Hercules
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Hercules
Bernard Evslin

For
GALEAL
eldest grandson and youngest reader

Contents

Those in the Book

The Twins

The Serpents

Chiron

The Vision

The Taskmaster

The Nemean Lion

The Hydra

The Augean Stables

The Blind Man

The Triple Terror

The Spear-Birds Of The Marsh

The Old Man Of The Sea

Hades Asks For Help

The Golden Apples

Zeus Looks Down

The Earth Giant

The Shirt Of Nessus

Those in the Book

Humans

HERCULES
Prince of Thebes, strongest man in the world

AMPHITRYON
His father

ALCMENE
His mother

IPHICLES
His twin brother

EURYSTHEUS
A king and the hero’s taskmaster

COPREUS
Doer of dirty jobs for King Eurystheus

IOLE
A brave girl

DIENERA
A princess who smiles sweetly and weeps prettily

AUGEAS
A fat and filthy cattle thief

NESSUS
A horseman of Calydon

TYRESIAS
A blind seer

Half-humans

CHIRON
A centaur who tutored Hercules

NEREUS
The other half was lobster

Gods

HERA
Queen of the Gods, who hates Hercules

ZEUS
King of the Gods

HADES
Lord of the Dead

POSEIDON
God of the Sea

ARES
God of War

ATHENE
Goddess of Wisdom

ATLAS
A Titan, cousin to the gods

Monsters

THE NEMEAN LION
An elephant-sized beast with ivory teeth

THE HYDRA
A hundred-headed reptile, very poisonous

GERYON
A three-bodied ogre

SPEAR-BIRDS
Huge winged birds with spear beaks and terrible appetites

RIVER-DEMON
Also appearing as giant snapping turtle and horned fish

OCTOPUS OF NER
Giant eight-armed sea creature that guards the island of Ner

LADON
Enormous serpent, guardian of the golden apples

ANTEUS
The earth-giant

THE TWINS

O
NE MORNING, LONG LONG AGO,
when the world was new, all the bells in Thebes rang at once. People rushed out of their houses, shouting and laughing, and began to dance in the streets of the marble city. For the bells were announcing that their tall beautiful princess had given birth to a boy. The old king and the prince and all the court paraded to the temple to thank Zeus for their new little prince.

Suddenly, the bells stopped ringing. People stopped dancing. A terrible whisper sped from mouth to ear. The princess was still in labor; another baby was coming.

Why was this such dreadful news? What’s wrong with twins? Everything—if they’re both heirs to a kingdom. This had happened before in another country close by. Both twins had claimed the crown, starting a bloody civil war.

So Prince Amphitryon stayed in the temple after the others had left. He stretched his arms to the altar and prayed that the second twin would be a girl.

A messenger rushed up the temple steps just as the prince was coming down. The man fell on his knees, stuttering, so frightened he could hardly speak. And the prince knew that his wife had given birth to a second son and that the messenger was afraid of being killed on the spot for bringing bad news.

But Amphitryon, who was very fierce in battle, was a kindly man at heart. He dismissed the messenger and walked slowly back to the castle. Since he was a real leader who did everything possible to drive fear from the hearts of his people, he forced himself to smile as he passed through the crowd. He waved cheerfully, as if he had received the best news in the world. Seeing him this way, the people cast off their gloom and milled about the streets again.

He was still trying his best to look cheerful when he entered the chamber of the princess—where he received another surprise. One baby was three times as big as his brother and different in other ways. He wasn’t bald and squinched and squally like most infants, but had a nimbus of red-gold hair and huge gray eyes and lay there smiling to himself. The prince looked at him in wonder. The princess was radiant! She was brimming with joy. Seeing this, the prince stopped pretending; his joy became real. He swept Alcmene into his arms, and, since she was holding the twins, they were all in his arms, his wife and his two sons.

“We need another name!” cried Alcmene. “Hurry, think of one!”

The name they had already chosen was
Iphicles,
after a great-grandfather. And this they gave to the smaller twin, who had been born first.

“Oh, let us think of something splendid for the other one,” said Alcmene. “No ordinary name will do.”

They thought and thought, and finally named the larger twin
Hercules,
which means “earth’s glory.”

When they went out on the balcony that sunset to face the cheering mob, and Amphitryon held first one boy, then the other, into the red light of the falling sun, the people thought the names had been well chosen. And another whisper began to pass from mouth to ear. “That big one—he looks like he’s six months old. That’s no mortal child. His father must be a god.”

They meant to praise their new prince, but, as it happened, this was the worst thing they could have said. These words were to plunge young Hercules into dangers that no one had ever faced before, making him fight for his life against the most fearsome beasts and monsters and demons in that terrible magical world of long ago.

THE SERPENTS

T
HE ANCIENT WORLD WAS LIKE OURS
in some ways; there were always plenty of busybodies ready to pass on gossip, especially if it might cause trouble. And word soon came to Hera, queen of the gods, about what was being whispered in Thebes. “That son of Princess Alcmene … he’s too big and beautiful for mortal child. He must be the son of a god.”

And jealous Hera immediately decided that this wonderful child’s father must be her own husband, Zeus. For, as king of the gods, he had always felt free to take as many wives as he liked. When she accused him of being Hercules’ father, he denied it; but she didn’t believe him. And as more and more tales came to her of how big and strong and brave the boy was growing, she decided to kill him.

“My brother Poseidon owes me a favor,” she said to herself. “I’ll get him to lend me a sea serpent or two.”

As it happened, that afternoon, Alcmene had told the boys’ nurse to take them into the castle garden to play. They crawled about the edge of the flower beds awhile and played with pebbles and pine cones, Iphicles always grabbing whatever his brother had. For he was a greedy, aggressive child, while Hercules, although so much bigger, was very gentle. He seemed to know that he had to be careful not to use his strength against his little twin.

The children were sleepy, and the nurse put them into their bull-hide cradles that were slung side by side between two trees. They slept. The cradles swung softly in the wind. Then something crawled into Hercules’ sleep. He smiled. He didn’t know what a dream was and thought everything he saw was real, sleeping or waking. And this worm was very handsome, not pink and slimy, but seeming to be made of hard smooth leather, blue and green, the colors melting into each other like water when the sun shines on it. What’s more, the worm was growing very fast, sprouting out of itself. It was as big as he was and growing longer as he watched.

He opened his eyes. There, curled around the trunk of the tree, and stretching over the cradle to look down into his face, was a huge serpent. It unwrapped itself from the tree and slithered into the bull-hide cradle, rearing up from its own coils and dipping its wedge-shaped head to look at him out of flat black eyes.

Hercules smiled. He thought it was a big worm. He reached up to pat its face. The coils shifted and more snake came out and cast a loop about his waist. Hercules thought the snake was hugging him and gurgled with joy. The loop tightened. The snake was hugging him tightly, too tightly. He could hardly breathe.

Then he heard his brother screaming. Another serpent had come into the other cradle and was wrapping itself around his little twin.

Now, a child always finds it very hard to understand the first cruel thing that happens, and Hercules had been treated with great love and kindness by his mother, his father, his nurse, and everyone in the castle. So although his breath was being squeezed out of him, and his ribs were about to crack, he didn’t understand that evil had come into his life, that someone’s jealous hatred had taken the form of a serpent that was trying to kill him. He couldn’t realize it; he was much too young. His breath was like fire in his lungs, and the loops were squeezing tighter and tighter.

Then his brother’s scream pierced the fog.

That scream was pure fear. It was a cry of terrified pain, and, coming from someone else, it made the fighting blood boil up in little Hercules for the first time; powers that had been sleeping in him began to awaken.

He drew a big breath, deep, deep. At first, the pain grew worse, because deep breathing made the coils tighter. But he tried to ignore the pain and kept drawing more air into his lungs. He felt the coils loosen a bit, enough for him to slip his hand out and grasp the serpent under the head. Then he began to squeeze.

Iphicles was still screaming. And that screaming, that terror, that pain, made Hercules’ hand grow tighter and tighter. He felt the coils loosen as the snake began to strangle.

Still not quite knowing what he was doing, he climbed to his feet, balancing himself on the swinging cradle, and leaped into his brother’s cradle. Iphicles’ head was lolling now; the child had fainted. With his other hand, Hercules seized the serpent that was throttling his brother—caught it under the head in the same terrible grip—and began to squeeze. And thinking that his brother was badly hurt, a wild grief made his left hand tighten and tighten, squeezing the breath out of this second snake.

The loops fell away from Iphicles, and young Hercules crouched in the cradle holding both serpents. He didn’t want to kill them; he had never killed anything. But they couldn’t live either. They were too evil. So he braided them about each other and tossed them out of the cradle. They fell to the ground still wound around each other. And the braided serpents, trying to untangle themselves, choked each other to death.

When the nurse ran up, shrieking, followed by the gardeners, followed by other servants of the castle, they saw two huge dead sea serpents still wound about each other. A curious bellowing sound came down out of the tree. They looked up and there in the cradle they saw the young Hercules, holding his brother in his arms, sobbing, trying to wake him up.

Iphicles had three broken ribs. The best healers were called to the castle. And the child came of strong warrior stock. He slowly mended, although forever afterward, he was afraid of snakes. As for young Hercules, his body was blotched with black and purple bruises, but the springy keg of his ribs was unhurt.

However, the child had changed. He seemed to have grown another six inches since his battle with the serpents. He was less a baby now, more a little boy. Nor did he always smile now. Sometimes his face would grow solemn, and a tiny furrow would come between his gray eyes. And his mother knew the child was trying to understand the evil that had come crawling into his life, and that he couldn’t do it. She was very proud of him and loved him more than ever, and so did his father. But they felt grief mixing with their pride. For dimly they knew that this child was truly different in some marvelous dangerous way, and that the difference was making him the target of some unknown wickedness—something more fearsome than a human enemy, something full of mysterious strength and surprise. They also knew that there was nothing much they could do to help their child except try to prepare him for what he would have to face.

BOOK: Hercules
8.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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