Second Chances

by Bwell

Iolaus was led to the dark prison. It took awhile for his eyes to focus on the condemned men there. Some of them were weeping as he walked down the corridor, begging for some kind of help from this stranger who had compassion in his eyes. Some of them cursed wildly, bitterly at someone who had the luxury of freedom. They didn't look into his eyes; they only thought they saw someone flaunting his liberty.

Iolaus drew in a breath sharply as a nagging thought crept into his brain. "This could have been your future, Iolaus. Any one of these men could have been you. If not for..." his train of thought was interrupted by a gentle pleading voice in the corner of a dirty cell.

"Iolaus? Is that you? You did come; I told Teleaus you'd come, but he said you wouldn't sully your reputation for the likes of me. He was wrong! You came," sighed the ragged man clinging to the bars of his prison.

"It was the least I could do, Cradus. There was a time when you were there for me. I only wish the circumstances could have been different. Your mother told me about your conviction. I...I never thought.." Iolaus looked down at the ground.

"Never thought what? That I'd turn out to be a cold blooded killer? I guess I'm a big disappointment to everyone! Look, maybe it was a mistake to ask you to come here before...Maybe you'd better leave," muttered Cradus with bitter tears in his eyes.

Iolaus squatted down and placed a hand on his arm. "I'm not going anywhere, I'm here until...until it's over."

"Thank you, Iolaus. Thank you for what you've already done for my mother; I know this has been really hard on her, and it helps to know that at least one of my so called friends actually cared enough to help her through this. No one else from the old gang has shown a face around here," the prisoner sighed.

"Maybe...maybe they were too busy, Cradus. Maybe they just don't know..maybe,"Iolaus started.

"Maybe they are too afraid to come around...or too dead. You do realize there's only five of us left, don't you? The others have had their throats slit in their sleep, or..or have met my fate. Look, Iolaus...I didn't just ask you.. well, I have another favor. I need you to help Clayus," he begged. "He's just a kid, and well, he wants to be like me. He can't, Iolaus; my son can't end up like this. He needs a second chance at life. Some of us get second chances, and well, some of us don't. Can't something? Maybe if he got into that Academy of yours, maybe he'd have a better chance at life than I did. Perhaps he'll be lucky like you."

Iolaus bit his lip and nodded as he remembered his old days.

Iolaus stopped abruptly at the end of an alley. His breathing was labored, and he placed his hand over his heart as he turned his head back toward the main street. He could hear yelling and running, and Iolaus knew it was only a matter of time before they all came rushing in on him. He looked around for some avenue of escape; then he saw it. He grabbed a signpost and swung up on it before crawling quickly up on the roof. The young thief flattened himself on the roof and smiled wickedly as he watched the constable chase down the alley and look confused.

After he heard them leave cursing, Iolaus sat up and surveyed the jewels he'd stashed in his pouch. They really weren't the best quality; still, they'd serve to provide a meal or two for the gang. He thought of his mother and how he'd make sure she never knew where the money came from. His father was notorious for forgetting to send home some kind of stipend to run the household. So, Iolaus' good humor was quickly becoming foul the more he thought of his father.

He shrugged it out of his mind as he began to shinny down a post. "Cradus will be glad to see this." It took a very short time for Iolaus to become co-leader of their gang. Though many people at first underestimated his intelligence, agility, and fierce bravery, they rarely made that same mistake. But along with those attributes, Iolaus had an easy going way about him that made him attractive to girls and respected by the boys in the gang. So, He and Cradus ran the gang of street kids more like older brothers than bosses. He almost bounced into the makeshift home tossing the pouch like a ball.

The small ones danced around him as he poured the jewels into his hand. "Now then, looks like we'll be eating something more than boar stew for awhile. What do you think? Who's up for roast lamb?"

"Iolaus, remember that has to last us for some time. Lamb is too expensive, and besides, who knows if we'll even be able to get rid of this stuff.

Everyone was pleased to see what Iolaus brought into the house. Children danced around the jewels as if they were the crown jewels of Corinth themselves. “Aw, quit fawning over him; he’ll think he’s done something special,” laughed Cradus as he appeared in the doorway of the counting room. Iolaus laughed as Cradus shooed the little ones out of the room. The golden thief slapped the jewels down hard on the table and stepped back with his hands on his hips.

“Not Bad, eh?”

Cradus picked up one of the nicer pieces and shrugged, “Yeah, I guess they’ll do.”

“They’ll do?! Do you realize what I went through to grab those?” he asked

“Yeah, I heard that you almost got caught! Iolaus, you have to quit worrying about every little stray that roams the streets. When you stopped to help that little girl, that gave the constable and his guards a chance to catch up with you,” he muttered.

“Cradus, what was I supposed to do, let the little girl get run down? Watch that chariot crush a lost five-year-old? Well, I’m never going to let that happen!” Iolaus shouted defiantly.

Cradus sighed and placed a hand on his shoulder, “Look, I understand, but if you’re caught, they’re probably gonna take your hands, or your life, or at the very least you’ll be spending time in some cold dark prison. What will happen to the little five-year-olds in OUR group then? Just be more careful.”

Iolaus smiled and threw his hands up as he said, “Always am.”

A gentle knock at the door interrupted them. “Come in if your nose is clean!” yelled Cradus.

The door opened slowly as Alaina limped inside. Iolaus dashed to the door and picked her up in his arms. “Oh, lovely of you to come for a visit m’lady,” he said charmingly.

“Put her down, Iolaus,” muttered Cradus as he rolled his eyes.

“Why, you’re just jealous, Cradus, that I had the foresight to sweep her off her feet. And pretty little feet at that,” he said turning to the blushing girl.

“As much as I’m enjoying this, Iolaus, I really must insist that you put me down on my ‘pretty little feet’. We have business to tend to, and I must get back to my father,” she whispered as she laid her head on his shoulder for a moment. Iolaus sighed and placed her back down. She kissed his cheek shyly and then hobbled over to Cradus.

Cradus and Alaina were conducting business as usual as Iolaus squirmed. Alaina was beautiful; it was so unfair that she had a cruel, heartless father who sold jewelry from a cart in the square. Alaina’s limp was a result of his callous treatment. The disfigured man grew angry once when she was five. Alaina had inadvertently spoiled a sale to an angry warlord, and her father pushed her out into the street. She wasn’t lucky enough to have had an “Iolaus” in her life to save her from that chariot. Some whispers in the community implied that Alaina would have recovered fully if her vile father had taken her to a healer. Instead, her leg never healed correctly, and she walked with a limp. It was slight unless she was tired; then, it became more pronounced.

“Iolaus?! Hey dream boy, get over here and tell me how much you want for these trinkets. And then I’ll tell you how much my father is actually willing to pay,” Alaina said with a smile.

“Oh...cut to the chase, Alaina, and just tell us what he’s willing to give,” sputtered Cradus.

Iolaus slipped beside her and batted those incredibly blue eyes at her. “Keep in mind, sweetheart,” he whispered as he held her hand, “we’re trying to feed fifteen little ones here.” Cradus rolled his eyes again upon seeing Iolaus work his magic. He’d seen it countless times. His friend had a way of melting a girl’s heart with just a grin. It always worked to their advantage. However, Alaina wasn’t one to be persuaded in that way, but she always loved the show. Cradus knew that she had a good heart and would give them the very most her father would allow.

Alaina gasped Iolaus’ strong hand and smiled, “Okay, Loverboy, just remember whom you owe big time. Father says he’ll give you five dinars for the whole lot.”

“FIVE DINARS?!!!!!” shouted Iolaus. “I risked my butt for five dinars?”

“And a fine one it is, Iolaus, but still father’s a businessman,” grinned Alaina.

Cradus laughed at the two of them and said, “Okay, Alaina, we know what the old man said; now tell us how much we’ll really get from the old demon.”

“Okay, he said five, accept ten, but if I had to, go to fifteen. You know he’ll sell it for forty-five.”

“All right, fifteen it is,” laughed Cradus. “Let him take the larger profit and the larger risk.”

“Wait a minute, Cradus,” Iolaus said with his hand up. Turning to Alaina, he asked, “And what will he do to you if you have to pay fifteen?”

Alaina looked down at the ground and bit her lip. They barely heard her whisper, “I don’t care. You need the money for the children, and you need to send a little for your mother, Iolaus.”

“They don’t need it that badly. And my mother wouldn’t take it at all if she knew that!” growled Iolaus. “There’s no way we’re taking fifteen!”

Cradus shrugged his shoulders. Iolaus was just a bit too passionate. What did he care if the girl wanted to take a beating for them. After all, it was her choice. But he also knew that he was fighting a losing battle where Iolaus was concerned. "Okay we'll take thirteen."

"We'll take ten, "Iolaus said defiantly as he glared at Cradus.

"Look, I'll give eleven; Father will think I'm brilliant because I 'talked' you down from twenty-one," she reassured Iolaus.

Iolaus still frowned as she quickly laid the money on the table and scooped up the jewels. "Promise me he won't hurt you for that dinar," Iolaus said as he laid a gentle hand on her wrist.

She shook her head,"I promise you he won't. Now, he might if I'm much later."

"Here! I'll escort you to the alley," he offered.

She slipped the jewels into the deep pockets of her skirt and held out her arm to him. Cradus just laughed and shook his head . As they reached the doorway, the leader quietly said, "Iolaus, remember to lay low for a couple of days. The constable is sure to be looking for you."

"You almost got caught, didn't you? I mean 'for real' this time. It's a good thing that little girl is the daughter of the magistrate. I don't think he'll be having the guards look that hard for you. Still, Iolaus, I wish you wouldn't take so many risks," she sighed as they entered the alley.

"Hey! That's part of my charm. Same place tonight?" he asked raising his eyebrows.

"I can't. Father's getting suspicious."

"How's a guy supposed to get good at it if he doesn't practice? Please, Alaina. I promise it won't hurt as much this time. I'll be careful," he pleaded.

"Oh all right! But why you want someone like me to teach you to dance is beyond me."

He kissed her cheek and whispered, "I'll be there tonight. See you there."

Iolaus watched her hobble down the street, and his heart ached for her and what she was going through. He wanted her to join run away from that abusive situation, but she was terrified of what her father would do. She was certain that he would, at the very least, turn them over to the law. The word of a "respectable" disfigured war veteran carried more clout than a scraggly group of young thieves. So she stayed at home, endured the abuse, and did his dirty work.

That night at supper, the small gang ate the boar stew with little complaint because Cradus managed to acquire some honey cakes from the baker. "You're not the only sweet talker in the group," bragged the leader.

"Yeah, good one, Cradus," mumbled Iolaus with a mouthful of cake.

After the house was asleep, Iolaus slipped out and headed for the hidden glen by the little creek. His brisk humming stopped abruptly when he say HIM sitting at the edge of the creek with his feet in the water. Hercules...Iolaus frowned and almost left the glen when he nearly ran down Alaina. "Hey! Watch where you're going, Sweetfeet."

Hercules jumped up and spun around at the sudden voices. "Iolaus?! I....didn't expect. I mean no one uses this place much."

Iolaus turned with Alaina in hand and said, "Yeah, this used to be a good place to fish and just..."

"Iolaus, aren't you going to introduce me to your friend?"

"You mean Herc? Well, I guess we were friends, once, when we were kids. Alaina, this is my ex-best friend, Hercules. But I just call him Jerkules now," Iolaus sneered.

"I don't think I deserve that from the likes of you!" muttered Hercules rather loudly.

"And what's that crack supposed to mean? 'the likes of me?' Like I'm some kind of garbage?" Iolaus shouted back.

"Everyone knows you're nothing but a common criminal these days, Iolaus," Hercules said as he turned to walk away.

Iolaus grabbed him by the shoulder and spun him around, "Look, I'm ANYTHING but common, and I don't want to hear anything from a 'Momma's Boy' who has everything handed to him on a silver platter just because of who is father is!!!"

"Take that BACK!" Hercules said through clenched teeth.

"Make ME!"

"Oh, I think you'd better be careful what you ASK for!"

"Oh you think I'm scared because you have the strength of ten men. Well, think again DEMI-boy!"

Alaina stepped between them and put a hand on each chest. When she did, Iolaus saw a huge purple bruise in the shape of a handprint around her wrist. He quickly forgot about the insults flying and gently took her by the shoulders, "It was for that one extra dinar; wasn't it?" Iolaus asked even though he knew the answer. She just looked at the ground.

"Alaina, what happened? Who did this to you?" asked the concerned demigod. Iolaus glared at him and said, "I don't know that any of this is your business."

"Iolaus, please. Can't you see he's just concerned? I'm sorry Hercules. Iolaus gets a little defensive about me and my father," she explained. "Yes, Hercules, my father did this to me because I paid one dinar too much for ...merchandise. But Iolaus, it's not your fault. If it wasn't for this, it would be for something else. You know how he is," she said gently placing her hand on his shoulder.

"He beats you for paying too much for stolen goods? Now, there's morals for you," whispered Hercules.

"How dare you sit in judgment of Alaina! You still don't have a clue what it's like. Just leave, or better yet, we'll leave!"

"Look, Iolaus, Alaina, I wasn't..I'm sorry, I didn't mean for it to sound that way. I'll leave. It was nice meeting you Alaina. See ya around, Iolaus," he said sadly as he walked off.

"Good! He's gone. Self-righteous..."

"Iolaus, don't. Actually, I think he looked kind of sad. Yeah, sad and lonely," she said wistfully.

Iolaus was beginning to feel guilty. "How do you do that? I mean you make me feel sorry for a guy who is half a god."

"What happened between you two?" she asked curiously.

"Well, I don't want to talk about it," Iolaus growled.

"And I never wanted to talk about my father beating me, but you made me face that. Isn't this the same thing?" she smiled as she batted her long eyelashes at him.

Iolaus sighed and began, "It was over our fathers. We both said some stupid things. I told him that he should be glad that he'd never met his. At least his mother was provided for. I mean, his crops NEVER failed. He never had to struggle for anything, and his relatives made sure of that. I'm sorry, I really like his mom. She's one of the few 'respectable' people who still talk with me. She's the one I really miss when our friendship ended."


"No, I miss him too, kinda. But gods, Alaina! He doesn't have a clue what it's like to be pounded on because someone is bigger than he is. No one tries to bully him. Especially no one who's supposed to love him. I'd go see him after Dad was particularly know, black eye..fat lip..broken collar bone. And He'd sit in judgment of me every time I'd say that I hated him."

"But Iolaus, did he really know that your father did that to you? Did you actually tell him? What did he say when you told him?"

"Okay...okay, I never actually told him in so many words. But Alaina, I always had a bruise or a couple of broken bones. You'd have thought someone who was part god could have figured it out. Anyway, the last time...when I ran away from home, he really came down hard on me. Told me I was hurting my family. Can you imagine that? Well, I told him right then and there that if he couldn't understand..then our friendship was over. And that's how it ended; I walked away," Iolaus said emphatically. But Alaina recognized the tinge of sadness as he continued, "Now Cradus is my best friend, and Herc...he's just a memory. Now, can we please stop talking about my friendships and discuss what we're going to do about this?" he asked as he tenderly kissed her wrist. She winced a bit and shook her head.

"No, there's nothing to discuss. Just drop it, Iolaus. Drop it," she sighed.

"I will not drop it! If he touches you again...I'll.. I'll.."

Suddenly Alaina's eyes grew huge as Iolaus was jerked off his feet. "You'll what, you little punk? Now I see why you're givin' away all my money, Girl! Runnin' around behind my back...doin' what a common tramp would. I oughta turn your loverboy over to the constable right now," growled the hideous man.

"No, Father, please!" she pleaded.

"I shoulda known you'd turn out like that mother of yours. I'll take care of you later!" He spun around and clubbed Iolaus with a branch he'd held in his hand. Iolaus blacked out as he saw the older man knocked Alaina into a tree.

When the gray shards of pain began to clear, Iolaus looked desperately around for Alaina. "Alaina! Alaina!" he called. His last shout was closed in his throat as he saw a delicate foot lying on the bank of the creek. "Alaina, NO!" Iolaus dashed into the water and dragged the rest of her lifeless form out of the water. He held her close to him and cried into her hair. The young man reached shaky fingers up to her eyes, and closed the blue that could see into his heart forever.

He carried her waterlogged body back to the house, and even cynical Cradus cried like a six year old child. "Cradus, I'm going to wrap my fingers around his throat and squeeze until his eyes pop out!" he snarled after he'd laid her body on his makeshift bed.

"Iolaus, I'm as angry about this as you are, but you can't kill him in cold blood! Your emotions, hot-headedness, and your desire for revenge is dangerous for us all."

"First of all, it wouldn't be in cold blood; it's justice. A justice you know we'll be denied! If we just turn him over to the magistrate, he'll walk out with such a smug look. And, secondly, You and the rest will not be involved, so if it's dangerous for anyone, it's for me alone!" he yelled.

The little ones were beginning to cry and shiver under the tables. Iolaus saw through his anger to the children who were now frightened. "Oh, gods, Cradus!" Iolaus sank to the ground and put his head in his hands as he let it go. Suddenly, Iolaus was surrounded by everyone in the house. They were hugging him, laying comforting hands on him, stroking his hair. "Who'd believe a thief? He'd probably say that I did it...How could he do that to his own daughter...someone as sweet and pure as anyone I've ever known?" Iolaus looked up at Cradus who was fighting his own demons. "It was for the extra dinar, Cradus. Her life was worth one stinkin' dinar to him. I can't just sit back and let him get away with it."

"Look, Iolaus, let's give her a proper burial, and then we can think this out," Cradus suggested as he knelt in front of Iolaus. The young thief nodded and allowed the others to comfort him.

They were going to use a coarse woolen blanket to use as her shroud. Iolaus never left her side as the girls in the group carefully braided her hair. A strange knock at the door startled most of the children, but Cradus went to open it slightly. "I understand there's been an...acident. I'd like to donate this blue silk for her shroud. If...if you don't mind," whispered a fragile voice behind a veil. "I'd like to see her." Cradus started to turn her away, thinking she was just one of those weird people who had a macabre interest in death. But Iolaus turned tear stained eyes to her and nodded. She walked like she was a million years old, though Iolaus knew she was much younger. She stumbled against her assistant when she saw the poor dead girl. Turning to the assistant, she passed the blue silk over with shaking hands. Iolaus swore he heard her say as they left, "She always looked lovely in blue."

So, nestled in the soft fabric, Alaina was buried beneath a willow tree in that hidden glen. The tree served as her headstone, and Iolaus carved her name in the tree along with a heart. "That's because you had such a good one, Alaina," he whispered after the others left. I'm so sorry, Alaina." He sat there for hours just patting the loose ground, drawing her name in the dirt, and whispering her name. He never heard him coming. A shadow blocked the late afternoon sun. "What do you want Herc?"

Hercules dropped to his knees and looked at him. "I'm sorry, Iolaus. I'm so sorry. She seemed so sweet. Someone said she slipped and hit her head on a rock in the stream. It's so senseless."

"Slipped? Slipped?" Iolaus started laughing hysterically, and Hercules grasped him by the shoulders and gently shook him.

"Stop it, Iolaus...Stop!" he called.

Iolaus took a deep breath and looked Herc dead in the eyes. "It was no accident, Hercules. Her father killed her. For a stinkin' dinar..he killed her. Still think it's better to have a father you know than one you don't? Oh gods, Herc! It hurts so bad!"

The truth of what Iolaus had been through his whole life came crashing in on his former best friend. "Iolaus...Iolaus! Your dad did the same thing, didn't he? Those times with the wrist, black eyes..oh gods in Olympus, Iolaus. He could have killed you!" he gasped with tears in his eyes.

"Yeah, Herc...yeah, just like Alaina's dad killed her. My dad..I don't think he would have killed me on purpose..but Alaina's dad. For a stinkin' Dinar!" he cried out. Iolaus tried to get up, but Hercules wouldn't let him.

"I'm sorry, Iolaus. I'm sorry I defended him to you. All you ever wanted was someone to listen, and I..I was jealous of you knowing him. Never, Iolaus...I know I'm clueless sometimes, but NEVER would I have said those things if I'd known that he hurt you. I'm sorry, sorry," he sobbed. Iolaus looked at his friend and all the hatred, bitterness, and confusion started to fade away.

"It's okay, Herc. I." he looked back down at the grave. Iolaus felt himself going limp and the world tilting.

"Iolaus! Iolaus!"he gasped as his friend passed out.

Iolaus woke up with a small hand moving his hair out of his eyes. The world seemed spinning still as his eyes tried to focus. Alcmene whispered, "Shh, Iolaus. It will be all right; everything will be okay; just take a few deep breaths."

Iolaus nodded painfully to her, and the overwhelming grief washed over him. "Alcmene, I've never been responsible for anyone's death before. I..."

"Go ahead, Son. I'm here to listen if you need to talk," she reassured him with her hand on his shoulder.

"I feel like my heart's been ripped in two. Everything my father ever...I mean with all the ..I'm sorry, I can't do this," he said as he covered his tear stained hand with his face.

"I know, Iolaus. You're feeling guilty about that girl..responsible for her death. And as painful as that is, realizing that at any given moment, that could have been you cuts you to the quick. Your father never could have done that to you, Iolaus. In spite of his brutality, I think he loves you too much."

"Loves me? Oh please, Alcmene. Sometimes you can be as naive as your son. Love me? I don't think so. How can someone love someone else and do...You just don't understand.." his voice trailed off with a quiver.

"I do understand, Iolaus. I've spoken with Erythia, and I know what he did to you and why you ran away. Believe me when I say that we both tried to stop him. Unfortunately the law is on his side, and even his superiors wouldn't do anything to keep you safe. Skouros was furious to find out what we did, and that's when..."

"When he beat me so hard I thought he would kill me. Why? Why does he have to act like that? I hate him!" he cried out.

"Do you really, Son? Or do you hate yourself for caring what he thinks? For still loving him in spite of it all?" she questioned.

This was getting too introspective for Iolaus, and he rose from the bed. "I'm sorry for taking up your time, Alcmene. Tell Herc...Tell him...I'll see him around." As he reached the door, Alcmene's gentle voice caused him to wait.

"Iolaus, I'm not sure you will."

He spun around and looked into her eyes. Did she know his plans for his friend's father? "What do you mean, Alcmene?"

"Well, a couple of reasons come to my mind. Iolaus, Hercules leaves in three days for Cheiron's Academy. He'll come home when he can, but he won't be around much," she said wistfully. Alcmene noticed the crestfallen look that Iolaus was trying to hide. She knew the boy hadn't turned into a hardened criminal in spite of the rumors she'd heard. The truth was she had been one who suffered along with her son when his friendship with the blond whirlwind had cooled. She missed his joking, politeness, and kind heart, and Alcmene knew that deep down he'd missed her as well. She took a deep breath and tried to think of a way to approach the subject without alienating him. "Iolaus," she said tentatively, "I'm worried about the path you're choosing. Now, wait, hear me out. When you first came into our lives, you helped to fill a terrible void left by my in-laws legal abduction of Iphicles. My home was destined to be the playground of two rambunctious boys, and until that time, life was pretty difficult for Hercules and me. People loved to talk about us, and none of the parents of this place would let their children into our home. Your eyes were one of the few that didn't hold any condemnation for me. At first I thought it was because you were too young to understand our unique situation. But that's not true is it?" she asked as she looked into the face of the young man.

He shook his head and blushed. "It was unfair, Alcmene. My mom taught me that it wasn't right to judge people before you've met them. When I met you, made me feel at home, and there have been many times that I even didn't feel that in my own home," Iolaus mumbled.

"Well, good, I'm glad you've felt at home here. And now I'm going to talk to you the way I would talk to Hercules if he was facing this problem. I know there's an anger buried very deeply underneath that easygoing spirit. I know that you're bound to have something planned for Alaina's father, plans for revenge that in your eyes may seem just, but that kind of justice is only a phantom. There's no substance to it. It will only hurt you in the long run. Her father will get off free, and you'll be the one in prison or worse. Is revenge worth it?" she asked painfully.

"It would be if I can really get him," he muttered under his breath.

"Iolaus! Do you think Alaina would want that? For her sake, Iolaus, don't do anything stupid. Don't take this path you're planning. This one event could color your whole life," she pleaded. "Promise me you'll take what I've said into consideration. Please."

Iolaus saw the look of panic in her tear-filled eyes and felt guilty. He wouldn't let her worry about what he was going to do, and Iolaus was sure that she would get over his decision eventually once the deed was done. So, for the first time in his life, he lied to Alcmene. He nodded his head.

"Thank you, Iolaus. I'll be able to sleep tonight," she said as she smiled weakly.

Iolaus took the food that she offered to him for the whole ragged group. Alcmene also threw in some outgrown clothes (of which she had plenty) and some blankets. Iolaus felt bad for deceiving such a good woman... a woman that he thought of as his second mother, but he had to do this for Alaina.

The next day a plan was made to set the old man up for a fall. They would effectively reveal him for the crook that he was, and the group would make sure that the magistrate had a dark dank cell reserved for him. Iolaus devised a plan in which he would feign a stab wound and plant a piece of jewelry that he'd snatched from the magistrate's home on a dare about a month ago. That was the plan...Cradus' plan, anyway. No one knew Iolaus' hidden agenda. He'd decided that somehow the old man would weasel his way out of any punishment, so he was going to act as judge in this case. When he pulled the knife from the pig's bladder strapped to his body, he would plunge it into that black heart. Iolaus thought long and hard about how it would feel to end the life of such an evil man, and he vowed to make sure he paid for his crime.

The morning came quickly for them all. Cradus was nervous all night, and even though he felt confident in his plan, he had no confidence in his partner. He had noticed Iolaus' quiet, uncharacteristic behavior, and he knew his friend could jeopardize their whole set up. He'd tried to talk with him earlier, but Cradus had seen that stubborn "I'm not really listening" look before. So with a sigh, he watched his plan put in motion.

Iolaus strode down the street in confidence, but truth be known, he was terrified inside. After all, he'd never killed a man before, and as hideous as this old man was, Iolaus still felt nervous for planning to do something he inherently knew was wrong. As he passed through the streets, he saw her...Alcmene. Guilt ran rampant through his veins, and he had to remember how Alaina looked submerged in that awful water in order to steel his courage. He tried to not think too much about how she would feel as he robbed someone not of trinkets, but his life. Suddenly it was all in motion. Teleaus pretended to stab him and run off. Iolaus held onto the knife, and in one swift motion, he was prepared to end the old man's useless life. What stopped him was one glance. His eyes locked with Alcmene's, and he saw the look of horror on her face.

He tried to plant the jewel, but the old man moved away quickly from him, and Iolaus was stuck. Suddenly he saw Hercules running toward his mother in excitement with a green jewel in hand. Iolaus forgot about the plant, and tried to slip off with that one. Hercules thought he was really trying to steal it, but Iolaus and Alcmene knew it was a ploy to separate himself from a plan gone wrong and about to roll over him. It caused a huge ruckus, with the tornado being released, and Hercules having to save Iolaus. When things settled back to normal in that dusty street, the magistrate ran out to see what had happened. Alcmene sent Hercules home in order to talk with Iolaus again, and as her son left the village square, it fell from Iolaus' jacket. Alcmene sighed deeply as the magistrate's jewel rolled on the ground and landed at the official's feet. His sharp look directed at Iolaus would have caused him to melt if it hadn't been for Alcmene's steadying hand on his shoulder.

Iolaus sat in the prison watching rats and filthy criminals make rude abusive jokes at his expense. "Is this the way my life is going to end up?" he asked himself in shame. He felt like a failure at life, just like his father promised he would. He was so deep in his self loathing that he didn't even hear the key to the cell open.

"Come on , Boy!" called the voice. Iolaus jumped because for a moment he thought Skouros was there. Instead he saw a burly guard standing with one hand on his sword. Iolaus nodded and rose moving slowly. For the briefest of moments, he thought about making a break for it. That was until he saw Alcmene standing in the doorway to the prison. There was no way that he was going to risk her being in danger. So, Iolaus marched along the guard with his head down.

He was standing with his head down before the magistrate. The magistrate read the charge against him in sadness. He had recognized Iolaus as the young man who had saved his child, and had no wish to punish the lad severely. Still, the law was the law, and the lad had to be punished. He listened intently as Alcmene offered her support for Iolaus. She vouched for his behavior, and promised to be responsible for him. The old man stood in the wings to accuse him of all sorts of evil. He would reveal the names of the little group, accuse Iolaus of killing his daughter, and of trying to kill him as well. His hope was that Iolaus would end up at the end of a noose. However, he never got the chance. Cradus slipped up to him and whispered in a very threatening voice. "Don't you say one thing to accuse him, Old Man, or I'll bring proof to the magistrate that you've been selling stolen goods. And don't even think about saying it's your word against mine. It seems one of your old drinking buddies sobered up and signed a document to prove it. I suggest to leave this place before I do to you what Iolaus was going to." Just then, the magistrate called the Old Man in.

He looked nervously to the humbled Iolaus and then to the magistrate. "Well, what do you have to say concerning this boy?"

"Nothing, your honor, wrong boy. Sorry for taking up your time. Now I need to leave sir." And with that the old man disappeared from the courtroom.

"Does anyone have something else to say against this young man?" he said. Silence filled the room. Suddenly small feet padded into the courtroom and a small child threw her arms around Iolaus' legs.

"It's him, Daddy. He saved me. Can he come to dinner?" she asked innocently. The magistrate's heart broke at the scene, and he dismissed everyone except Iolaus and Alcmene from the courtroom.

"Iolaus, don't think I'm blind as to what you've been doing this past year. I know you're on your way to becoming a common criminal; however, two ladies seem to have a lot of confidence in you. Me, I think you're bound for some dark cell somewhere, but I have been known to be wrong. And so, what I propose is a little experiment. Alcmene believes that you would do best if you were removed from this setting and placed in one with much more discipline and where you can continue your education. Here's the deal, as long as you keep your grades up, you can stay out of prison. But the moment you fail, you will spend a great deal of time in my jail. Understood?"

Iolaus nodded and then stopped, "Where's this place?"

"Cheiron's Academy," he said with a smile. Iolaus snapped his head over in Alcmene's direction, and he saw her quietly laughing.

A harsh laugh outside brought Iolaus back to the present, and he looked into Cradus' eyes. "What happened to the old man, Cradus?"

Cradus looked at his former friend and said, "Well, let's just say the first one's the hardest. I heard they found his body submerged in some stagnant swamp about a year later."

Iolaus said nothing else about it. His friend had been responsible for silencing anyone who could hurt him. And now, there was nothing he could do to stop this hurt. Nothing except his vow.

Iolaus was there as they led Cradus to the gallows. He put his arm around Clayus and said, "He doesn't want you to see this, you know.

Clayus nodded and said, "But I have to be. He's my father...I need to be here."

Once it was all over, Clayus and Iolaus claimed the body and gave Cradus a decent burial. Clayus sighed, "Well, it's back to work for me. Why don't you join us? We can always use an experienced guy like you. Dad always said you were the best around."

Again Iolaus draped his arm over the young man's shoulders began walking in the opposite direction, and said, "Your father and I have another idea. Ever hear of a place called The Academy?"

Go on to the next story in the challenge.

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