Iolaus found them shelter for the night, a pine-needle-strewn hollow under a great shelf of rock. They settled into the usual division of labor: Hercules gathered the least-damp pine branches he could find, while Iolaus went deeper into the woods to hunt.
"Sorry it took so long," Iolaus said when he came back at last, two partridges dangling from his belt.
Hercules shrugged. "It nearly took me this long to get the fire going."
They grinned at each other, tiredly. It had been that kind of day.
"I did see some deer spoor," Iolaus said later, munching on a bony wing. "But I decided to spare your feelings."
Hercules punched him in the shoulder. Gently.
After dinner, Iolaus rooted around in his bag and produced a scroll. Hercules recognized it instantly; as if the garish imitation-goldleaf designs on the holders weren't enough, it was labeled with Salmoneus' sigil.
"Where did you get that?"
Iolaus smiled brightly. "Guess."
If Salmoneus had actually had the nerve to send Iolaus that...that thing, Hercules would be very surprised. Who else? Oh. Of course. "Gabrielle."
"Uh-huh." Iolaus gave him another of those bright, dangerous smiles. "She thought I'd be interested. Unlike some people."
Hercules rubbed his neck. "Look. You know what Salmoneus is like. I tried to stop him from selling these, but--"
"Yeah, that always works so well." Iolaus shook his head, then unrolled the scroll and began to read.
Hercules thought about stealing the scroll and throwing it in the fire, but he couldn't justify it to himself. Instead, he watched Iolaus' gaze dance down the long, closely-written scroll, watched his expression change from gleeful to mystified to incredulous and back again, until he stopped reading and frowned. Uh-oh.
"Hercules' faithful servant Iolaus helped him kill the hydra?"
"Well, you did," Hercules pointed out. "Want to peel me a grape? Ow!"
"I'm going to have a word with Salmoneus," Iolaus said, shaking his hand to get rid of the stinging. "If he calls himself your official biographer, he's got to do better than this. And where did he get that stuff about hydras having immortal heads?"
Hercules shrugged. "Maybe he just didn't want to write 'And then it exploded'. Again."
"Oh, now this is interesting." Iolaus' eyes widened as he read on, and Hercules braced himself. "King Thespius really had that many daughters? Fifty beautiful princesses who wanted--"
Hercules shuddered. "Oh, yeah." He poked at a smouldering log with a long forked stick.
"Wow." Iolaus shook his head as if to get rid of a delirious vision. "And you -- they -- all in one night?"
Hercules coughed. The campfire crackled back at him with a sound like laughter.
"Herc?" Iolaus cocked his head, his eyes gleaming in the firelight. "Don't hold out on me, buddy."
"Okay, no, I didn't sleep with them. Whatever Salmoneus says," Hercules said at last, trying for dignity. He knew what Salmoneus had said, and the thought was enough to make him blush.
"You said no, did you? To all fifty?" Ouch. Iolaus knew him too well.
Hercules poked at the log again until it rolled over, sparks flying right and left, nearly smothering the fire. "I, um. Ran away."
It seemed like Iolaus would never stop laughing, so Hercules just sighed, stood up and went in search of more firewood. When he returned, Iolaus had quieted down a bit, and it had started to drizzle.
The fire sputtered, and Iolaus hunched forward to protect the scroll as he unrolled it further. "Hey, is this King Midas story true?"
"Which story?" Hercules asked cautiously. He hoped it wasn't the one where he had been forced into putting on a floor show for Voluptua. He would prefer to forget about that one himself.
"King Midas was the most fortunate of men, and the most unfortunate: he could turn everything he touched into gold," Iolaus recited.
Hercules blinked. "Let me see that."
He sat down close to Iolaus and rested his chin on his shoulder. "Huh. Well, Midas did turn everything he could find into gold, but that's because he was a gambling addict." He shook his head. "Salmoneus was right there with me. Why couldn't he write the truth?"
Iolaus grinned at him. "Because his version sells better?"
"Good point." Hercules grinned back. "Plus, I think he didn't want that bearded lady he met there to track him down."
Iolaus snickered. "Maybe we should start writing the Heroic Adventures of Salmoneus, instead."
"And make Gabrielle write them down," Hercules said thoughtfully. "I like it."
"Hah! Did you see this? He says Theseus killed the Minotaur!"
Hercules rolled his eyes. "I know, I know."
When Hercules had first gotten hold of the scroll, he'd been embarrassed, irritated. Angry. And of course there was no way he could make Salmoneus see the problem with his 'bardic license' and 'creative embellishment'.
Now, reading over Iolaus' shoulder, listening to him giggle at the more ludicrous bits, it didn't seem so bad. A lot of it was funny, or it made a good story, and if it hadn't actually happened that way, well, the people who mattered knew better.
"He did get some of the monsters right, at least," Iolaus said. "The Nemean lion, Echidna, the Stymphalian birds--"
"Bird." Iolaus hadn't been with him for that one.
"Heh. Well, almost right. And...oh. The Enforcers."
Hercules caught up with what Iolaus was reading, and stilled.
"That seems pretty accurate," Iolaus went on, sounding surprised. "Except for the melodramatic bit, here, where you start yelling for Hades like a maniac."
"That's...pretty accurate, too," Hercules managed. He didn't want to remember that. Not even sitting like this, with Iolaus' warmth against him.
"Really?" Iolaus turned his head just a little, met Hercules' frozen look, and apparently thought better of it. "Huh. Salmoneus must've gotten Alcmene to talk."
"He's good at that," Hercules said, trying for normal.
"Of course, he's still calling me your faithful servant," Iolaus muttered.
Hercules winced. "I tried to make him see sense, but he just--"
"--he thinks that's what the public wants, yeah, I know." Iolaus let the scroll roll back on itself, then dropped it into his bag and leaned back against Hercules. "I noticed he didn't mention that you turned into a pig, either. Of course, he wasn't there for that one. Think I should tell him?"
Hercules tugged at his hair. "How about when you were purple for a month? Or when Ares chained you to Autolycus?"
"As long as he includes the bit where I shot Discord and she turned into a chicken, I don't mind." Iolaus laughed, low and delighted, and Hercules had to grin at the sound.
He wrapped his arms about Iolaus and said into his ear, "You know, I think I like this faithful servant idea."
Iolaus sucked in a breath and leaned back a little more. "Oh yeah?"
"Uh-huh. I always wanted a body slave."
Iolaus' weight shifted, telegraphing his next move; the earth wheeled about them, and then Hercules was on his back, Iolaus straddling his hips, teeth bared in a feral grin.
"That's funny. So did I."