Barbara's Art

A Dog's Life

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Note to self: don't piss Artemis off.

I sat down and lifted a hind leg to scratch behind a floppy ear. Great, I had fleas.

I'd made the supreme mistake of letting some of Artemis' animals free from her Sacred Grove. Hey, they'd been bored and wanted to know what it was like ‘outside'. How was I supposed to know there was a hunter in the vicinity? Too bad about the buck...

Now I sat on a dusty road, no longer a god, but a small mud-colored mutt. I guess it was better than being a chicken. At least no one was going to throw me in a stew pot.

I stood up and shook myself. Since I couldn't change back, and I couldn't access my godly powers, I figured I'd better hoof to speak. I needed to get to the nearest temple dedicated to Gaia. She either wasn't listening to me, or couldn't hear my silent cries. If it was the former, I was screwed. It meant she agreed with Artemis regarding my actions.

I was fairly footsore by the time I reached the village. I was also thirsty. Let's not forget hungry as well. I couldn't exactly ask anyone if they could spare a bit of bread, a boar's haunch, a ten-course meal...I guess I was a bit more hungry than I thought. I wandered up to the nearest likely mark and pawed at his leg. I got a foot in the muzzle for my efforts. Marking him down for later vengeance, I went along to the next likely source of food. An hour later I was still hungry, but I had quite a lengthy list of mortals who would feel my wrath.

It had become evident I'd have to take matters into my own hands...or paws. I headed into the market place. The area was loaded with tantalizing smells. With all the people and noise, no one would notice one small brown dog filching a bite or two.

Like the rest of my day, this plan went to Tartarus and a handbasket as well.

There was this nice, fat fish at just the right level...if I stood on my hind legs and sort of hopped a little...piece of honey cake. Apparently Fortune was in league with Artemis. I got the fish all right, along with about a dozen others. How could the owner of the fish stall not notice that?

I found myself dodging legs with a large fish clamped between my jaws, and a mad mortal hot on my heels. It wasn't that I was afraid of him, just that large knife he was brandishing as he pursued me.

So it was I found myself running from the market into the main thoroughfare. Bad choice. I heard the pound of hooves before I saw them. Soldiers or mercenaries of some kind. No matter; what did matter was the hooves I suddenly found myself trying to avoid.

Once again Fortune's toss of the coin didn't favor me. I lost the fish as I was clipped in the side and then kicked yet again while I was down. I vaguely remember hearing some shouting, and then something lifted me up. I must have lost consciousness because I was suddenly listening in on the middle of a conversation.

"-crazy? You could have been killed!"

"But I wasn't, and if I hadn't gone after him, he would have been trampled to death."

"It's just a stray. You're life is worth more than a dog's," the first voice continued to argue. "Besides, he got kicked at least twice. He could be injured inside and die anyway." It was a young male voice, one that seemed vaguely familiar.

"Herc, if I was a stray, would you let some horse run me over?"

"Of course not! But you're not-"

"See? I could do no less." As if there was some real logic in there, the second voice held a note of triumph. Apparently he thought he'd scored a point.

‘Herc'? There was only one person I knew who answered to that name, which meant the other voice had to belong to...

"Iolaus, you aren't a dog. Your logic is all turned around here."

"Guess I fell asleep in that class, too." Iolaus followed that with a giggle. I felt a hand run along my side and whined when it passed over my ribs. That hurt. I wondered if my immortality had gone out the window as well.
"Broken ribs," Iolaus murmured. When he touched one of my back legs, I growled and snapped at his hand. Instinctive reaction...I didn't mean to try to bite the hand of my rescuer.

"Careful," this from Hercules, "he doesn't know you." Then, with a resigned sigh, he asked, "How bad is it?"

"Broken, I think. But it's not poking through the skin, so all we need to do is splint it up. It feels like the bones are in place..." Strong hands passed over my leg again, accompanied by phrases and sounds apparently meant to calm me. Oddly enough, I found myself relaxing. My tail started to wag slightly, quite by accident, I assure you.

"See, Herc? He likes me. Get some sticks about this long, would you?"
I eyed the blond mortal as he rummaged through a pack and pulled out some bandages. "You know," he spoke to me as if I could understand, probably thinking just the sounds would be reassuring, "old Fiddle-face's lectures about being prepared are actually paying off. I wouldn't have thought about bringing bandages on a trip home. Well, not my home; we're on our way to Hercules' home. He's the big guy. I'm Iolaus. You have a name?"

I automatically tried to respond. Somehow, I don't think the yip that came out was very edifying. His hand reached out and ruffled the fur on my head.

"No...oh, no..." Hercules had returned and was shaking his head as he stared at his friend.


"I know that look. No way can you bring this dog to the Academy. We're not supposed to have pets."

"Aw, come on, Herc. He's hurt. We can't just leave him. Besides, we're not on our way to the Academy." Eyes wide, Iolaus gave his friend an innocent look. As soon as Hercules' back was turned, he muttered to me, under his breath, "Yet." The demigod managed to hear it. Thus started a huge debate between the two as Iolaus splinted my leg, and it lasted well on our way to their destination.

They took turns carrying me. In spite of his protests, Hercules warmed up to me along the way, if the constant petting was any indication when it was his turn to be the beast of burden. We eventually arrived at Hercules' home. I recognized the place by scent before I saw it. Hercules' mother had a green thumb, and that was putting it mildly. Alcmene's garden was cream of the crop in the area. No one could match hers for variety and health. Personally, I think she was Gaia's favorite.

Before long, I found myself settled on the hearth before a small fire, a bowl of water nearby. Her son and his friend bringing home a wounded stray didn't faze her in the least. The gods know she'd been inundated with such when the two young men had been but boys. I drowsed off to the sound of human chatter as Hercules' told his mother about their latest exploits as cadets. Iolaus punctuated the conversation with observations that alternately left Alcmene laughing and Hercules protesting.

Thus began my stay with Iolaus and Hercules. I was watered, fed-no dog had eaten as well as I did from the scraps of Alcmene's table-petted, exercised, and even bathed. Let me say, as a god, I liked baths, but as a dog, they left much to be desired. Wet fur wasn't fun. Licking it dry was even worse. The ribs healed fairly quickly, but the leg was taking its own sweet time. I three-legged it as much as possible. Other times, Iolaus or Hercules carried me with them. We spent a lot of time fishing, lazing under trees, eating either what was caught, or what Alcmene had sent with us. Iolaus had even named me:  Hermes. He'd explained to his friend that it fit; after all, they'd found me in the midst of a theft. Hercules pointed out that I'd failed, but Iolaus insisted that was what they would call me. I was a clever dog in his opinion. I thought it ironic to be named after my father, not that they had any inkling of what and who I was.

It was an ideal time, and like all such times, it couldn't last. Their break from cadet life was all too soon ended. I sat on the end of Iolaus' bed, watching the two pack their travel packs. As usual, they were arguing. Most of the time, it was more like a heated discussion; this wasn't one of them.

"We can't take him with us. I told you that when we found him."

"But Herc, he _needs_ me-us! He needs us. His leg isn't fully healed yet." Iolaus stopped shoving his things into his travel pack and patted my head. I returned the sign of affection with a sloppy lick of his fingers.

"He'll be fine here. Mother will watch out for him." Hercules carefully folded his extra shirt and just as carefully arranged it in his travel pack.. Alcmene had a soft heart and it hadn't hurt that I'd proven useful in ‘chasing' off poaching rabbits in her garden.
"He'll miss us, Hercules. We can't abandon him. He'll have issues."

"What issues? He's a dog."

"A smart dog. A really smart dog. We could train him at the Academy to sniff out criminals or something. We just have to convince Cheiron." Iolaus resumed packing, shoving yet another doomed shirt into the depths of the sack before shoving some leather ties in after it.

"That's where your idea stalls and dies, Iolaus. He won't
go for it. Then what happens to Hermes? We won't have time to bring him back here." Hercules carefully sealed his bag and turned back to his friend. "Face it, he can't come." That said, he headed out to say his last goodbyes to his mother.

I watched the emotions that flew across Iolaus' face. The only one who had issues here was the blond cadet. From my long time observation of him, I knew he had a strong need to protect those who were weak, abandoned, the underdogs of society. He knew what it felt like to not be wanted. He operated often from an emotional base, far more than Hercules, who tried to approach things logically.

"Don't worry, Hermes. I'll think of's coming to me..." The next thing I knew, he was dumping out his sack and rummaging through it, tossing some things aside. After reducing his stock to bare necessities, he shoved it all back in and then, to my surprise, grabbed me and stuffed me in on top. It was a good thing I was small. Even so, I was rather cramped. Arranging the flap over it to give me enough air, he hoisted me up on his back. "Whoa, you're heavier than I thought. Must have been Alcmene's cooking. Now be quiet."

As plans went, it wasn't first rate, but it worked. I kept silent like no real dog would and we were on our way.
Midway to Cheiron's Academy, Iolaus gave his partner an excuse of nature and made his way into the woods lining the path. He let me out, apparently satisfied that Hercules couldn't see him. I tumbled out of the pack, my legs prickling with renewed circulation. Trying to shake my body awake, I only succeeded in losing my balance and falling over. Iolaus stifled a giggle.

"Iolaus? You okay?"

"Um, yeah! I'll just be another minute!" He poured some water into his hand from his waterskin and let me drink. That done, I took care of nature myself. He was just trying to get me back into the pack when we were both startled by another call.


I was roughly grabbed and shoved into the travel pack. "Coming!" After a few moments of jouncing about in the dark, I finally found a less uncomfortable position and settled in for the rest of the journey.

We hadn't gone far when Hercules cleared his throat and asked, "So, how long are you going to smother Hermes in your bag?" We came to an abrupt halt.

"You know?!"

"Iolaus, I've known you since we were kids. I know how you are."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Suspicion colored his voice. I poked a nose out of the air hole and snuffled. Maybe now I could be carried properly and in more comfort.

"It means I know you have a soft spot for animals. When were you going to let me in on your scheme?"

"Um, when we got there?" I found myself being pulled out by the demigod and cradled in his arms. A hand absentmindedly petted me.

"You know what Cheiron's answer will be." They resumed walking. This was much more like it. Fresh air, and hand to scratch me behind my ears...if it wasn't for the fact I was actually a god, I'd have been content.

"We can hide him...maybe in the barracks. The others will be okay with it...right? Everyone likes a puppy."

"I don't think he's a puppy. He's just little."

"He has a big heart," Iolaus grumped. I'd noticed he had this thing about being small and seemed inclined to foist the same dislike off on me. "You saw how good he was; he kept quiet all this way. He can hide from Cheiron until we get him trained-"

"Not that idea again! Iolaus, what's he going to do once he's sniffed out a criminal? Pee on his leg?" That did it. I might be small, but I wasn't totally helpless. I bit Hercules.

"Ouch! Ow! He _bit_ me!" I almost got dropped.

"You shouldn't have called him little," Iolaus reminded him. "We'll think of something. Plan Alpha is to hide him in the barracks. You come up with Plan Beta."

"Great. We'll be expelled because you can't leave a dog behind." I noticed that in spite of the grumbling, Hercules kept walking

I got a rescue of a different sort when we stopped to set up camp. They weren't due back till the next day, and rather than start extremely early or walk late into the night, they'd decided on camping overnight. Alcmene had packed them enough food for an evening meal. One small bundle turned out to be a bone. Got to love that woman. She knew her adopted son quite well.

I'd contented myself with gnawing on the bone for a while until the sounds and smells of the night intrigued me enough to set my canine tendencies to the fore. So I heaved myself up and hobbled off to investigate the source of the smells that tickled my nose. One in particular led me further from the campfire than I'd planned on.

Nose to ground, snuffling in the rich scent of earth, I ran right into a sandaled foot. With a yelp, I jumped back, lost my balance, and toppled over at the feet of Artemis, Goddess of the Hunt.
"Have you had enough?" The stern look she caste down on me made it pretty clear she was still miffed over the Sacred Grove escapade. I yipped at her. I also had the feeling she wasn't here out of forgiveness, but more likely someone with more clout than she had coerced her into seeking me out. "Hold still and I'll return you to your natural form."

I flinched as she drew her bow and struck me with one of her arrows. The transformation wasn't without its pain. I found myself stretching and remolding at a rapid rate. Now, I can shapeshift in a limited way, but it's usually much slower than what I was subjected to at that point. I stifled a groan as I uncurled and stood up. Digging my bare toes into the soil of the forest, I fed upon the earth to pull the energy needed to heal my leg. The bindings had broken as I grew and the sticks Iolaus had used to set my leg lay abandoned at my feet.

"I hope you learned your lesson," Artemis scolded.

"I learned a lot of lessons," I retorted. "But what about Iolaus and Hercules?"

"They'll get over losing the dog. Strays are like that. Here one day, gone the next." So saying, she disappeared in a subdued display of sparkles. No sense attracting anyone's notice.

I wasn't so sure about this. I couldn't stay a dog, true, but I'd watched mortals enough to know they got unusually attached to small animals. With Iolaus, it could well be stronger, and where Iolaus went, Hercules followed. And the reverse. I sunk into the earth and returned home only to make myself stay away from watching the two in a convenient mud puddle. That lasted until dawn.

Opening up a window on my obsession, I tuned in just in time to see Iolaus yelling for, me-as-dog, that is.

"Keep that up, Iolaus, and you'll have the real Hermes here. We've got to get going if we're going to get to the Academy at a decent hour."

"But, Herc, he's injured. We can't leave him out here. He can't fend for himself."

"We've been calling for him since we got up." Hercules picked up his travel pack and refrained from pointing out that he'd told Iolaus they couldn't bring the dog with them.

"Go on ahead. I'll catch up. I'll just track him down. He could be hurt again. You don't think there were any wolves nearby, do you?" The blond started searching the campsite for signs to indicate what way I'd gone. I'd forgotten how good he was at tracking. He picked up my trail and began tracing it, oblivious to the demigod rolling his eyes and finally shrugging and following him.

In a flash, I was back at the spot where I'd returned to my original form and erased the presence of my bare feet where little dog prints had stopped. Then it was a simple matter to continue those tracks on to a nearby stream. I wondered if I should make them head on back all the way to Thebes, and then decided to leave them ending in the stream. It wasn't deep, so he wouldn't think I'd drowned.

I returned to my scrying puddle and watched the two come upon the torn bindings and sticks from my makeshift splint. Iolaus knelt down and picked up one of the linen strips. "He must have torn these off..." He touched a print that led away from the spot. "Doesn't seem to be limping badly..."

Hercules didn't answer but simply followed his friend, casting worried glances at his back the whole way to the stream. Once there, it became evident to the two that I'd walked into the stream and not back out any time soon. Finally, after they'd gone some distance up and down it, Hercules finally called a halt to their search. "He's gone, Iolaus."

", he's around here...somewhere..."

"Iolaus." When the demigod wanted, he could put a lot of command into one word. Iolaus looked up at him, then his shoulders slumped in defeat. Hercules reached out and gripped his friend's shoulder and tried to comfort him. "He's probably gone back home. He'll be okay. If he could tear off the splint and make it to here, he's fine. We have to get back on the road to Chieron's. We can send a note to mother from there to keep an eye out for him."

Iolaus nodded quietly and followed at Hercules' heels, stopping only once to look back at the stream.
I watched over them all the way back to the Centaur's school. Iolaus was uncharacteristically silent, leading Hercules to worry and try repeatedly to engage him in conversation, any conversation. Finally, even he gave up and simply trudged next to his friend in silence.

That evening found Iolaus at the gate, eyes searching the land for some sign of a little mud-colored mutt. I felt bad and was wondering if I should ask Artemis to change me back into a dog. I didn't want to spend the next ten years as an animal, but I didn't like letting the small human suffer either. I should have realized then that my obsession had transcended curiosity into something more.

Before I could make a decision that would affect my life profoundly, Hercules sought out and found his friend. Quietly approaching, he leaned against the opposite gatepost and took up watch with the other cadet. It was Iolaus who broke the silence.

"You think he's all right?"

"I think Artemis takes care of all animals, even little stray dogs." Hercules straightened up and joined Iolaus, resting an arm across the smaller youth's shoulders.

"You think so?" Iolaus looked up at his friend and there was no mistaking the hope in his eyes.

"Yeah." Hercules emphasized this with a slight tightening of the arm around Iolaus' shoulders.

I left them then, confident that, though Iolaus would worry for a while, Hercules would be there to help him through it...and no little glad that I didn't have to spend more time on four legs.
The End