The festival was in full swing by the time Iolaus reached the small town of Drelos. After his long journey, he was parched. Heading for the nearest tavern, the warrior did not see the small child who ran right underfoot until it was too late. He stumbled over the girl, who fell on her rump.
Iolaus hopped on one foot, trying to regain his balance. When he accomplished that feat, he turned to the child on the ground. "Are you okay, sweetheart?"
"I'm sorry, mister! I was chasing my ball and didn't see you. I'm sorry!"
He knelt next to her, a grin on his face. "That's okay." He picked up the air filled bladder and handed it to her. "Is this your ball?"
"Yes, thank you!" She gave him a quick peck on the cheek.
"Matina!" A heavyset man came rushing over. "What are you doing?" He threw a dark look at Iolaus.
"I'm sorry, Papa. It's my fault. I ran after my ball and I made this nice man trip. It was an accident."
The hunter grinned up at the worried man, whose frowning face looked very familiar for some reason. His name hit Iolaus like a bolt of lightning. "Vasso?"
"Do I know you?"
"I'm Iolaus, son of Skouros," Iolaus stood up and held out his hand to the man who had once helped him set his life on the right course.
"Iolaus, son of Skouros!" called the magistrate
The boy walked hesitantly towards Vasso.
The man's jowls bounced as he shook his head gravely. "Iolaus...this court has been very lenient with you in the past because of who your father is."
"Yeah, you know who he is? I barely do," muttered the boy.
"What was that, young man?"
Iolaus hung his head as his mother slipped into the courtroom, not wanting to meet her eyes. Erythia's sad face was the last thing he needed to see. He knew how much he had hurt his mother with his actions.
What had it all brought him? Shame. Nothing more. Certainly not the respect of his mostly absent father.
Erythia had hoped that Iolaus would straighten out on his own and had often tried to talk to him about the direction his life was taking. At one point, her son had become friendly with Alcmene's child, but then Iolaus had fallen in with a street gang. Erythia had tried to encourage Iolaus to spend more time with Hercules, but the mild mannered woman was no match for the persuasive personality of the gang's leader and soon her son was a stranger to her.
The last time Skouros had been home, Erythia had discussed Iolaus' problems with the general. Skouros had stalked out of the house in search of his son. Erythia had hoped that her husband could talk some sense into their child.
Instead, Skouros had come back an hour later, grumbling about his obstinate son. He headed straight for his bed, ignoring his wife's queries. Iolaus had not come home for a week after that.
When he finally did, the bruises on his body were fading into the sickly yellow of healing. Erythia had been astonished and had not wanted to believe Iolaus when he told her who was responsible for his injuries.
The boy had gathered a few items and left the house. Erythia had not seen her son since, not until she stepped into the courtroom.
Iolaus waited tensely, certain that he was going to jail this time.
Vasso cleared his throat. "It is the sad duty of this court to pass sentence on you, young man -"
Astonished murmurings filled the courtroom. Cheiron trotted to stand between Iolaus and the magistrate. The centaur towered over the boy, standing almost eye level with Vasso on the dais.
"Cheiron, what is it?"
"Let me take Iolaus into the Academy."
Erythia gasped. The centaur was giving her son a way out of trouble! One she would have never thought of.
"Do you really want to take responsibility for this ruffian?"
"I do. I've seen him around town. The boy has a good heart, Vasso. To send him to jail would only make that heart turn to stone. The training at the Academy will be beneficial to him. Wouldn't you rather have another warrior to fight for Thebes instead of another prisoner to feed?"
Stroking his beard thoughtfully, Vasso nodded. "You have a valid point there, Cheiron."
"Iolaus," the magistrate pointed down at the boy, who was watching them with interest. "If you are to go to the Academy, you will abide by the rules Cheiron has set there. You will work to earn your tuition, as well. If you fail your courses or fail to pay your way, you will be remanded to the custody of this court."
Fiddling with the edges of his vest nervously, Iolaus looked puzzled, not quite understanding what Vasso was saying.
"That means that you'll go to jail if you mess up, son. It's your choice, Iolaus. Are you willing to abide by the Academy's rules instead of going to prison?"
Iolaus nodded enthusiastically, accepting the unexpected offer. He was not going to go to jail! He was going to become a warrior instead! A huge weight lifted from his shoulders as he mentally resolved to make it through the Academy with a sterling record, or as close to one as he could manage.
Cheiron turned towards Iolaus and placed a hand on the astonished boy's shoulder. "Come, then. You have much to do." He steered Iolaus out of the courtroom.
It was not until later that Iolaus had discovered that Vasso and Cheiron had planned the setup beforehand. Late one night, the magistrate had come to the Academy, long after the cadets were asleep.
Except for one cadet, who lay awake in his bunk, listening to the quiet talk from down the hall.
"Cheiron, I never did thank you properly. Sending Iolaus to jail would have been such a mistake, but I didn't know what else to do."
Iolaus sat up in his bed, listening intently.
"It was my pleasure, Vasso. You were right, the boy has the makings of a fine warrior. I assure you, one day you will hear his name spoken throughout the country. Between Iolaus and Hercules, Greece will have little to fear."
Iolaus had sunk back onto his pillow, a smile across his face. Cheiron said he had the makings of a warrior! And it was Vasso who had approached the centaur about having Iolaus attend the Academy instead of sending him to jail. No one had ever gone out of their way for him before.
He drifted off to sleep, dreaming of the life before him. One that would not have been possible if not for Vasso and Cheiron.
"Iolaus!" Vasso grabbed the warrior into a bear hug. "I told Cheiron that all of Greece would know your name someday. I'm proud of you."
Matina tugged on the older man's vest. "Papa? I'm hungry."
Laughing, the magistrate turned towards the child as Iolaus dashed away the dampness from his eyes. Vasso was proud of him! The knowledge made his heart sing.
"Would you care to join my granddaughter and me for lunch, Iolaus? I'm sure Matina would love to hear some of your stories."
"Sure!" Iolaus swung the little girl up on his shoulders. "Lead the way!"
Vasso smiled up at his granddaughter, perched on the strong shoulders of the hero. Long ago, he had seen the heart of gold that beat inside the warrior beside him. Because of that, he had done something he had never done before and would never do again. And he was glad he had.
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