The Trial

by Keesha

The blonde thief gently flexed his aching shoulder as he lurked in the in the murky shadows. He was still sore from his flying expedition with Hercules yesterday. Who'd have ever guessed that the funky looking container Hercules had been carrying packed a twister inside.

Iolaus had been surprised when Hercules rescued him from the whirlwind, especially since he had tried to illegally appropriate the jar from Hercules only minutes earlier. What Iolaus didn't know was Alcmene, Hercules' mother, was really the person he had to thank for his rescue. It was she who prodded her demi-god son into saving the spinning, airborne thief.

'Maybe the kid does like me,' he thought again as his eyes scanned the thickening holiday crowd. He spotted Markus and Linus easily and little more searching revealed Timon; all were in position. Iolaus allowed himself a smug smile. The four of them made a pretty good team. They had knocked over that jewelry stand yesterday and gotten clean away. The expression on that old man's face as Iolaus "died", bleeding like a stuck pig all over his wares, was priceless.

'In fact, the whole robbery itself was inspired, if I do say so myself,' Iolaus thought patting himself on the back. Ingenious. Iolaus chuckled to himself again over his analogy of bleeding like a stuck pig. That is exactly what had got stuck, a pig, or to be precise, a pig's bladder full of blood that he had hidden under his vest. The old fool didn't realize that Linus had sunk the knife in the pig's bladder and not in Iolaus' hide. While the vendor ran in circles crying for help, the dying Iolaus had cleaned out his jewelry cart. Candy from a baby.

Today's target promised to be just as easy. True, there were more guards in the crowd due to the fact it was a holiday bazaar, but that did not overly concern the blonde thief. Markus, Linus and Timon would distract any guards leaving Iolaus free to let his fingers do the walking though the merchant's wares. Iolaus casually strolled over to the pearl vender's booth. The merchant was not from these parts, having traveled in specifically for the festival. He was offering exotic jewelry made of pearls and other sea related materials not commonly found in Thebes. His booth was drawing a lot of attention and it was easy for the nimble thief to slip into the admiring thong surrounding the wares. Having mentally cased the available merchandize and noting a few pieces he definitely want to pilferage, he glanced back over his shoulder at Linus signaling him to begin.

Linus discretely acknowledged the signal and relayed it to Markus and Timon. Linus rubbed his hands together in anticipation. This was going to be an interesting heist, more interesting than Iolaus could even imagine. Heck, they might not come back with any booty but that didn't matter. Linus, Markus and Timon only had one objective, to make sure Iolaus got arrested and sent to jail.

Everyone had liked the blonde thief when he first joined the Lowlacks. He had quickly proven himself agile, intelligent and capable of pulling his own weight in the gang. Sure, the boy had a cocky attitude, but he had the skills to back it up and that had garnered him a lot of admirers to include Cradus, the Lowlack's illustrious leader. Cradus had assigned Markus, Timon and Linus to show Iolaus the ropes but soon it was Iolaus who was calling the shoots not the three experienced thieves.

Markus and Timon seemed agreeable to following Iolaus' lead but Linus was not content. With each successful heist, Iolaus moved closer and closer to Cradus' inner circle of confidants and Linus felt himself being pushed to the outskirts. In a matter of months, Iolaus was Cradus' de facto second in command and Linus, who had fancied himself as the Deputy Commander in Chief, found himself demoted to one of the rabble. This ate at Linus' craw. He knew he could not bring the cocky blonde pickpocket down on his own so he slowly began recruiting other people to his side.

Markus and Timon had seemed the logical choice since the four boys usually worked as a team. Linus would drop casual remarks in their ears about how Iolaus didn't care about them, and how he always kept the lion's share of the loot and took all the credit for their heists as if the rest of them didn't matter. Iolaus himself had helped put the final nail in his own coffin when after the pig bladder's robbery, he had deliberately made a point of keeping more of the loot and had made a smart ass comment about deserving it for 'dying'. When Iolaus had run off to harass Hercules, Linus had used the opportunity to finally convince the two other thieves that they had to get rid of Iolaus. Markus and Timon, still smarting from Iolaus stinginess and smart mouth, agreed with Linus; it would be better all around to get rid of the cocky, blonde robber and so they set about to devise a plan.

Linus had wanted to kill the boy outright but Markus and Timon would not agree to that. They were afraid of what Cradus might say or do. Disappointed, but not one to lose the upper hand, Linus had suggested they help arrange for the insolent thief to get caught by the guards and thrown in jail. The other two boys had hemmed and hawed but finally agreed to Linus' idea.

Linus brought his thoughts back to the present. Today, my impertinent friend, you go down.

Linus, Markus and Timon created the distraction as planned. The metal merchant's table made a wondrous noise as it crashed to the ground, the clanking and clattering of the pots and pans drawing the crowd's immediate attention. The guards swiftly closed in to see what was going on. Linus moved to the fringe of the crowd surrounding the metal merchant's spilled goods. He looked over at the nearly deserted pearl merchant's booth and saw Iolaus removing jewelry and stuffing it down his tunic.

'Down you go, runt,' Linus thought evilly.

"Thief, thief," Linus screamed within earshot of the nearest guard, as he pointed to Iolaus who was removing items from the jewelry cart across the way.

The guard turned and looked in the direction indicated. Sure enough, the little blonde thief who had alluded them so neatly the other day was there placing a pearl bracelet in his pocket, a bracelet the guard would be willing to bet a month's pay on that the young man did not have a receipt for.

Iolaus, blindly trusting the rest of his team to keep the guards well distracted, was singularly concentrating on removing pieces of jewelry from the cart. However, the instincts born of a person who has spent many an hour in the woods avoiding someone or something kicked in and Iolaus paused to look over his shoulder. He caught the eyes of the guard who was quietly advancing on the thief, sword drawn.

A quick look of panic flashed through the blonde boy's eyes as he whirled and attempted to run off into the crowd. Nimble as he was, the thief found himself having a hard time moving through the ever-thickening crowd. The guards, with their bulk and intimidating ways easily parted the masses that hindered the smaller boy.

Spotting an opening in the rabble, Iolaus spun and bolted for a nearby alley. He had nearly achieved the safety of the passageway when he felt something swoosh through the air and make contact with his head. The power of the blow stunned him and brought him to his knees; his head instantly screaming in pain as stars danced in front of his eyes. Dazed, he looked up to see what had hit him. Linus stood there, holding the staff of wood that had recently been in contact with Iolaus' temple. Markus and Timon flanked the sneering man.

"Why," Iolaus croaked.

"Let's just say you were getting too big for your britches, boy" Linus smirked.

"But----, but I trusted you," Iolaus mumbled, as he attempted to pull himself off the ground.

Linus vivaciously kicked the struggling young thief's feet out from under him, causing him to crash back to the earth. "That was your mistake."

Markus tugged on Linus' sleeve indicating the fast approaching guards.

"Gotta go," Linus announced giving the downed robber one more swift kick. "Enjoy jail Iolaus," he smirked as the three of them melted back into the underworld.

Iolaus could hear the clanking of guard's armor and he valiantly tried to get to his feet. When that failed he started to crawl away but a hand latched on to his back, jerking him to his feet. His head was pulled back and he found himself staring into the eyes of the Captain of the Guard. "Iolaus, I believe."

The small blonde thief struggled to break free of the guard's grasp. A dagger, pressed to his exposed throat, soon ended his thrashing. He glared as defiantly as he possibly could at the Captain of the Guard but his legs, which refused to support his body, spoiled the effect. It was kind of hard to look tough when you depended on others to hold you up.

"Well boy, you have earned an all expense paid vacation to the city jail," the Captain grinned as he reached into Iolaus' tunic and removed the items he had stolen from the pearl merchant. "And based on the--- ah, luggage you are carrying," he smirked as he tossed yet another stolen bracelet to a guard who was placing all the pilfered items in a sack, "I'd hazard a guess you will be a 'guest' of the Grecian penal system for many a years to come." The Captain motioned to one of his Lieutenants who flung the boy over his shoulder and they started back towards the jail.

Iolaus' face burned with humiliation as the guard carried him like a sack of grain, through the market place; people pointed and laughed at him. Life had dealt him some tough blows but in the past, he had always managed to land on his feet. However, for the first time in his life, he wondered if he would survive this trial.

He got the distinct impression the guard enjoyed his job of searching new prisoners. Violated was the word that came to the small, blonde thief's mind after the man was done searching him for weapons.

Down the dark, dank, dungeon steps he went into a cavern. A large chamber had been carved out of the earth. It was closed off with iron bars that had rusted in the damp environment. The guard stopped in front of the rusty bars and searched his ring of keys for the one that would unlock the door to Iolaus' new residence.

The last of Iolaus' bravo fled him as he faced the sullen men on the other side of the bar. They didn't look like a sociable bunch of people. The guard finally found the proper key and inserted it in the rusting lock. The hinges groaned as the door was opened to admit the new occupant. Iolaus tried to hang back but a quick shove sent him sprawling through the door. He quickly rolled to his feet though his muscles protested after the beating they had taken earlier in the day. Somehow, it did not matter. It was better than lying at the feet of the crew in this cell. They were not the kind of guys you would want your sister to date, or to turn your back on.

The cellmates stared at their new roomy. Iolaus decided to give friendliness a try so he flashed his trademark smile at his new bunkmates. "Hi. Swell place you got here. How did a nice group of guys like you get in a place like this? By the way, what time do we eat?"

Not a single person cracked a smile, or even an attempt at a smile. Iolaus began to wonder if these guys were capable of smiling.

"Ok. I'm just gonna go sit over there in the corner and mind my own business," he smiled warily as he sidled down the wall and sunk onto the floor in the corner. He hugged his knees tight to his chest and hoped he wasn't quivering on the outside like he was on the inside.

Every single man in the cell was at twice his height, weight and age. None of them looked like they belong to the Rotarian Club and in fact most looked like they belonged to the barbarians club. Each one looked more dangerous than the next and he'd bet dinars to doughnuts these gentlemen were not in here for shoplifting. Murdering, looting, pillaging, maiming, well yes those were occupations Iolaus could see these men employed in. He got the distinct impression that each and everyone one of them could beat him to a pulp in a matter of minutes and not lose a minute sleep over it.

"A fine mess you have gotten yourself into now Iolaus," he muttered to himself.

To himself he would admit it; he had never been so scared in al his life. He sat in the dank jail cell, in a corner; back pressed tightly to the hard, unyielding walls trying to gather what comfort and security he could from them. At least he knew what was behind him and that was a whole lot better than what was in front of him, his cellmates.

Every hour that passed in that miserable hellhole taught Iolaus something. Meal times were interesting he learned. The guards would place a bucket of slop (he couldn't begin to think of it as food) in the cell along with a bunch of dirty bowls and a few loaves of stale bread. The rules of dining were simple. He, who got there first, got the most; Johnny come latelys got to listen to their stomach's growl all night. And technically, it wasn't the fastest that got to the food first. No, it went in the established pecking order of the cell, where Iolaus found himself on the bottom. He was lucky if he ended up with a scrap of hard old bread most meals. Trying to move up his standing in the order had only resulted in a sound beating where he was lucky to escape with just bruises and not broken bones. So like the runt of the litter, he waited until his littermates finished eating and then he crawled over and licked the near empty bowl clean.

He had never really contemplated what the results of his thieving ways could be. Now, locked in the prison that had become his new home, he had a lot of time to think on the errors of his ways. He had really screwed up this time and he vowed if he ever got to see the sweet light of day again, he would mend his ways or at least make sure he never got caught again.

He knew his bunkmates were up to something. They had taken to gathering together in a close knit circle and having lengthy discussions, something that their general education level, not to mention the stench of their bodies did not support. Iolaus kept to himself, not wanting to be involved in any half-brain scheme these thugs would come up with.

He was surprised when one afternoon, or at least he thought it was afternoon since the lunchtime slop bucket had come and gone, one of his fellow cellmates approached him. Iolaus quickly reviewed the last few days; he didn't recall doing anything that would have pissed his bunkmates off and necessitated a "talk". No, he had already learned his lesson in that department when he overstepped his bounds in the cell and his roommates quickly and completely showed him the errors of his ways. He only needed to be taught that lesson once.

The blond thief tried not to cringe as the barbarian made his way over to his corner of the cell. As usual, his tongue moved quicker than his mind and Iolaus heard himself asking in a most patronizing tone "May I help you?" The thug stopped in his tracks and narrowed his eyes, trying to determine if he had just been insulted. Iolaus sat there mentally berating himself for his stupid behavior all the while praying to the Gods that his insult would pass over the barbarians head, way over his head. Scowling, he continued forward until he was towering over the huddled boy on the floor.

"You, listen."

Iolaus bit his tongue from making any further comments and simply nodded his head.

"We're planning on breaking out of here. You are not to interfere or get in the way or we'll kill you. Got it."

Iolaus nodded his head up and down to indicate he "got it."

"Good," and with that the thug moved back across the cell and Iolaus expelled the breath he did not realize he was holding. So, that was what they were up to, he thought. He didn't give them much of a chance for success. Planning did not look like their strong point though he supposed if they could get the cell door open somehow, their brute force would win them their way to freedom. In any case, Iolaus wanted to be as far from the action as possible. He was quite comfortable in his corner and he vowed to remain there throughout his bunkmate's escapades.

He watched with great interest as his cellmates executed their escape plan. He had to give them credit; it really was a much clever idea then he thought they could come up with. When the guard brought in their evening meal, one of the thugs shoved a small piece of rag into the locking mechanism. The rag stopped the cell door from latching tightly and the guard, who did not check it further, went on his merry way thinking his charges were safely tucked in for the night.

Iolaus gave the barbarians even more points when they managed to wait until well into the wee hours of the night before making their break. Iolaus had really doubted they had the patience for such a long wait but after 'dinner', the band of thugs had sat around until the deepest shadows of darkness had claimed the night before leaving the cell.

Iolaus remained in his usual corner while his bunkmates made their way out of the door and up the stairway to freedom. A cut-off scream and a muffled thump lead the blonde thief to surmise any remaining guards at the top of the stairs had been neutralized. A few more muffled thumps followed the first and then silence descended.

The moment of truth arrived for Iolaus. The cell door was still open and it sounded like all the guards had been subdued. He could easily escape into the night. Surely the choice was simple. Freedom--- well of a sort, he amended. He would be an escaped prisoner, a wanted man in Thebes for the rest of his life if he left now, but hey, what the heck, Greece was a big place. There were plenty of other places to go besides Thebes, places that wouldn't know of his criminal past.

But, that niggly little voice in the back of his head nagged at him. 'You would not really be free. You will always be haunted by your past, unpaid for crimes.'

'Yeah, well I can handle that,' he answered the pesky voice.

'Iolaus, you are a better person than that.'

'How in Hades can you say that? I have lied, cheated and stole. Pardon me but I don't see the good in that.'

'True, your past has been a bit rough, but I am speaking about your future. You have the potential to be a good person, even a great person; a hero in your own right.'

'Yeah, like that goody two sandals Hercules. Naw, I don't think so. My father was right when he said I'd amount to nothing.'

'Your father will only be right if you let him be right. You have the ability to change; it is not to late.'

'Ah, what do you know.'

'I know deep down, in the very soul of your being you want to change, you need to change, and you have to change.'

Iolaus scowled to himself. This was getting way out of hand. Here he was sitting having a philosophical debate with himself while his chance to escape was ticking away. He pushed up from the wall only to sink back down again. Damn, that voice had gotten to him.

He sat there in the lengthening shadows contemplating and was amazed to find the voice was right. If he looked way down deep in his soul he did want to leave his life of crime. A hero; the idea appealed to him. Besides he rationalized with himself. Hero's made money too didn't they? People showered them with gifts. Everyone knew women were suckers for a hero. Heroes had power too. Hmmm, money, gifts, women, power and last but not least, respectability that is what a hero got. A thief got a life of running, hiding, scorn and an early grave.

So he stayed, where he was, in the corner of the cell, while the door swayed gently in the drafts of the dungeon.

It was an odd sight to say the least.

The Captain of the Guards was not having a good day. He had returned to work in the morning to find one of his guards dead, the others incapacitated, and all his prisoners gone, well he mentally amended, almost all of them.

After checking on his guards the Captain had made his way down to the holding cell. He didn't know what he really expected to find. Logic dictated it was a pretty sure bet that all the prisoners had escaped. That is probably why he was so shocked to find one lone sole still sitting in the cell. The Captain rubbed his eyes but the figure did not disappear. It sat there, in the corner, knees drawn up to the chest, waiting.

"Is it time for breakfast?" the lone figure questioned.

The Captain walked closer; half his mind trying to figure out if this was some sort of trick. His eyes swept the room, trying to determine if there were other men hiding somewhere waiting to ambush him.

Iolaus saw the Captain glance about. "Oh, don't worry. They are all gone. Been gone about an hour or more I'd say. They have a pretty good head start and I doubt you'll catch them. You know, they were pretty smart for barbarians. Really surprised me."

The Captain stopped in front of the open cell door and stared down at the dirty, blonde boy sitting on the floor. The thief they caught in the market place his brain finally recalled. Not knowing what else to do, he reached out and pushed the open cell door shut.

"You have to remove the piece of rag in the lock if you want it to latch," the thief helpfully provided. "That's how they got out. Placed a piece of rag in the lock when the guard brought in dinner. Then, the door never latched completely and they bid their time and made their escape."

Not knowing what else to say, the Captain simply said, "Thanks", as he removed the piece of cloth, before relatching the door. When it was closed he pulled on it and was happy to note it was secure. Somehow this made him feel better even though a portion of his rational mind realized this thief could have left hours ago with the rest of them.

Finally, unable to contain himself anymore the Captain blurted out, "Why are you here? I mean how come you didn't take off with the rest of them?"

The boy shrugged his shoulders. "To be honest, I know, something you wouldn't expect from me, I don't know. Somehow, it just seemed wrong."

The Captain nodded his head, having no better idea what to do or say. He stared at the boy for a few more seconds and then turned on his heels and headed upstairs.

"Hey, I will still get breakfast, won't I? I'm starving."

The Captain stopped and turned to stare at the boy again. He cleared his throat. "Yeah, someone will be down with it soon."

"Thanks."

The Captain merely nodded again before turning for the stairs. What a weird day this was turning out to be.

"You found him sitting there?"

"Yes sir."

"In the cell?"

"Yes sir."

"With the door open? Unlocked and completely open?"

"Yes sir." The Captain could feel the sweat dripping down his back.

"And the prisoner was not in anyway fettered?"

"No sir."

"And this prisoner, this Iolaus, he was not in anyway incapacitated, I mean he was capable of leaving that cell under his own steam if he wanted to."

"Yes sir. The prisoner was perfectly healthy."

"Mentally too? Was the prisoner capable of reasoning that the door was open and he should escape."

"Yes sir. In fact he told me how the other prisoners escaped sir." Boy was it getting hot in here.

"I see," said the magistrate even though he did not get it at all. The Captain squirmed as he stood before the man.

Drumming his fingers on his desktop, the magistrate finally got to the heart of the matter. "Captain, then would you be so kind as to explain, WHY, this, this, thief," he said consulting the scroll on the desk in front of him, "when given the opportunity to escape, chose to remain, in his unlocked cell."

As the floor did not appear to be going to open up and swallow him, the Captain, reluctantly, answered the question. "Because, sir, he said it was wrong."

The magistrate's fingers stopped drumming on the desk. "Wrong?"

"Yes sir, wrong."

The magistrate made a steeple out of his fingers and tapped them against his chin in an aggravated manner. "Let me get this straight. This boy you locked up for stealing, let's refer to him as a thief shall we, this thief said it was wrong to escape jail?"

The Captain miserable shook his head in an affirmative manner.

"So then, this thief believes it is alright to steal things, but if you get caught and go to jail it is wrong to escape."

"I don't know sir."

"You don't know? But you just told me this thief said it was wrong to escape jail."

"Yes sir, I did. But I did not ask him if he thought it was wrong to steal. I am not clear what his views on that subject are--- sir."

"Well now, you'd best go get this thief and bring him here so we can clear this whole matter up once and for all."

"Right away sir," the Captain replied as he beat a hasty retreat from the room.

The magistrate and the blonde thief were having a staring contest, or so it appeared to the Captain. The magistrate's steely blue eyes were boring into the sea blue eyes of the thief who did not flinch a muscle. After what seemed like an eternity to the Captain, the magistrate finally spoke.

"What is your name boy?" the magistrate demanded even though he knew what it was.

"Iolaus."

"Son of Skouros," the Captain added.

Iolaus turned and threw a daggered look at the Captain of the Guard. He did not like to be reminded of that fact, even if it were true.

"Skouros, Skouros," the magistrate pondered for a few minutes trying to place the name. "Ah. You mean General Skouros?"

Iolaus dropped his gaze to the floor and muttered something.

"Speak up boy," the magistrate barked.

"Yes," Iolaus answered sullenly.

"Sir," the Captain hissed in Iolaus' ear.

"Yes sir," Iolaus amended.

"Hmmm, you are not exactly what I expect for the son of a General."

Iolaus' gaze stayed locked on the floor but the magistrate could see the tightening in his jaw-line. He guessed General Skouros did not see him as the son he expected either.

"The Captain tells me you were picked up for stealing. Is that true?"

"Yes--- sir," he finally added.

"And is it also true that when your fellow cellmates escaped, you choose to remain behind, even though you could have easily escaped?"

"Yes sir."

"Why?"

Iolaus raised his eyes from the ground and stared into the face of his judge again. "Because, it was wrong."

"Wrong to escape prison?" the judge clarified.

Iolaus nodded his head yes.

"I see. But is it not also wrong to steal? And yet you did that."

The blonde thief's shoulders slumped and his whole body took on the look of dejection. His gaze sunk back to the wooden floor beneath his feet again.

"Well?" the magistrate prompted. "I am waiting for an answer."

Iolaus sighed before he responded. "Yes, it is wrong to steal too. I am guilty. Punish me how you will."

"Do you know what the punishment for thievery is in certain parts of Greece?"

A shudder passed through the boy's slight frame. He had heard--- nasty rumors.

"They cut the hand off the thief," the judge continued. "Not prison. Just chop and then release the thief. Sometimes they even live to enjoy their freedom as it is."

The magistrate saw the boy blanch under his tan. "However, we are a little more enlightened here in Thebes. Typically, we lock thieves up--- for a long, long time." He saw the boy's adam apple raise and fall swiftly.

Waving a hand to the Captain he said, "Take the prisoner back to his cell to await sentencing. Oh and Captain, check to be sure the door is locked--- tightly."

The magistrate sighed. This was not an easy case. Iolaus had to be punished; after all he had been caught red-hand stealing the jewelry. Of course, on the other hand, the boy did not escape when he had a chance and that should be worth something too.

He had asked his Captain to check around the town and find out more about the boy. What the Captain had discovered was interesting. This boy seemed to be a paradox.

Quite a few of the merchants the Captain talked to confirmed that Iolaus was a thief, but they also said he wasn't really a bad person. When asked to explain what they meant they said while yes, he was known to steal, until recently, it was mainly small things, food and the necessities of life. Things, they said, a person that had no place to live might need to survive.

The merchants also said Iolaus would be the first to lend a helping hand to people who needed it. Cocky, oh yes, he was cocky, but he was also kind, generous and had his own brand of loyalty.

The magistrate sat in his office pondering his dilemma when a knock sounded on the door. One of the guardsmen stuck his head in and announced that a woman named Alcmene was requesting an audience with him.

The magistrate recognized the name. Alcmene was Hercules' mother--- mother of a half God. Now what did she want he wondered? He waved at the guard to show her into his office.

Alcmene daintily walked into the room and sat in the chair he gestured to by the window. The magistrate took the chair opposite her.

"What do you wish to see me about Alcmene?" the magistrate asked.

"I understand you have arrested a boy named Iolaus for stealing."

The magistrate sat back in his chair and steepled his fingers, his favorite habit. After a few minutes he replied, "Yes, we do have a young man named Iolaus in our prison, arrested on the charge of thievery."

Alcmene sighed. Even though she knew it was probably true, she had hoped the magistrate would have said she was wrong. "I have come to plead for his case."

The magistrate raised an eyebrow at her. "He is guilty. He was caught by the Captain of my guards, red-handed."

"Yes, I know," she whispered.

She had been shopping in the market earlier, when she had come across two of the town gossips discussing the subject. It would have been a lie to say she was shocked by the news. She had known Iolaus a good portion of his life. He and her son, Hercules, had been friends growing up, though they had drifted apart in the recent year. Hercules was now obsessed with getting the attention of his father and Iolaus--- well she wasn't sure what happened there. He had always been a mischievous child, prone to attracting trouble like a magnetic. But he wasn't malicious in nature, he just--- well, lived life to it's fullest and didn't worry about the consequences. Something had caused the boy to go way past mischievous though.

Alcmene knew enough about Iolaus' home life to realize that a lot of his problems were caused by a scared little boy trying to cope. His father, the General, was not a patient or man who had much tolerance. She had seen things, bruises, marks, and welts that she firmly believed, were inflicted on the boy by his father. Though, when she had tried one time to question the child on the subject, he had insisted it was his own clumsiness that caused the markings. However, there really wasn't much she could do other than offer the child a sanctuary and comfort when he needed it. She had grown very attached to the tow-headed boy, with the sunny nature and the quick smile.

She had been disturbed last year when Iolaus and her son Hercules seemed to have a major falling out. Alcmene knew, even though she had never told either of the boys, that Iolaus and Hercules were destined to be friends. She knew that the two men would develop such a bond between them that one wold gladly risk death to save the other. She knew--- she had been there--- she saw it. Iolaus had saved her and her son. Now it was her turn to help him.

She turned her attention back to the magistrate. "I know," she repeated again, "that Iolaus is guilty. I realize that he has to be punished. But I am begging you to be lenient on him. He is not really bad. I have known him since he was little and yes, I admit he has always been mischievous, but he is also gentle, kind and loyal. Underneath, he is a good boy, one that has wandered off the path and I want to help him find his way back. I know he can do it and I am begging you to help me help him."

"Do you know," the magistrate stated slowly, "that there has been a prison break? And that all the prisoners escaped?"

Alcmene drew a sharp breath. Oh no. Iolaus was gone. What was she going to do? How could she help him now?

"All," he added, "but Iolaus who remained, of his own free will, in his unlocked cell, until the morning guards showed up."

Alcmene expelled the breath she did not realize she was holding. "Then you mean he is still here?"

"Yes. Even though he had every opportunity to escape, and probably not get caught I might add, he chose to remain in his cell. And, do you know what he said when I asked him why he remained behind?"

She nodded her head no.

"He said it was wrong."

A small laugh inadvertently escaped her lips. That sounded like typical Iolaus to her. He always saw life a little different than the rest of the world.

"Needless to say," the town lawmaker continued, "I have been in a quandary about what to do with him. On one hand he must be punished for he did steal. Yet, he does deserve some leniency for not escaping when he had the opportunity. I have been racking my brain to find a solution to this dilemma."

"If I may, perhaps I could offer a suggestion?" Alcmene said hesitantly.

The magistrate waved her to continue.

"My son, Hercules, is attending Cheiron's Academy. It is a very fine military academy where both academics and discipline are strictly enforced. Perhaps sending Iolaus there, instead of to jail, would be a good solution."

"As you know, that school is not free. Who would pay for the boy's tuition? I am not under the impression that the boy's parents would be of any help in this matter."

"No, they would not," Alcmene agreed. She knew Iolaus' mother was struggling to make ends meet as it was.

"And surely, you do not expect the city of Thebes to pay for this."

"No, I suppose not, though if you were to send him to jail that would cost the city money to house and feed him there," she pointed out.

"You make a good point Alcmene, but it would be by far cheaper to jail him then send him to a private academy."

Alcmene thought desperately. "Well how about this. What if the city gave the money it would have spent to jail Iolaus to the academy for his tuition and have the boy earn the rest himself. I'll help pay too."

"You are a single woman, sending your own son to school. I have to believe that is a large financial burden in of its self. Yet you are willing to take on more debt for this boy--- this thief?"

Alcmene nodded her head vigorously. "He is worth it. I know he is. He is not a thief. He just needs a chance to straighten himself out."

The magistrate leaned back in his chair and thought about this proposal. It was highly irregular and yet, it did have some merit. If he jailed the boy no doubt when he got out he'd end up going back to a life of crime. The magistrate had been doing his job for a long time and he knew that prison was rarely the right avenue for a first time offender and especially a juvenile.

"I think, there must be a few more conditions on this 'sentence'. First, the boy must work and must help pay for the cost of his tuition. Second, he must pass all his subjects. Third, he must graduate. If he fails to meet any of these criteria, he will be immediately returned to jail to serve his sentence, in full, and I declare that sentence to be 8 years. Do you think Iolaus will agree to these terms and conditions?"

Alcmene shook her head in agreement. "There is only one thing I ask. I would prefer Iolaus not know I came here to you. I think it would be best."

The magistrate did not truly understand why she wanted it that way, but he agreed to comply with her wishes.

Alcmene thanked the judge profusely and departed.

After she left, he instructed the Captain of the Guard to saddle his horse. He had a visit to Cheiron's academy to make.

Iolaus stood outside the front gates of the Academy. A new chapter in the book of his life was about to begin. He knew he was lucky to have this second chance. By all rights he should be rotting in a jail cell.

Taking a deep breath, he strolled through the gates and asked the first cadet he came to where to find Cheiron's office. After receiving instructions he set off again. He passed thorough the exercise arena and was pleasantly surprised to see there were girl cadets. Kewl, he thought.

Eventually, he found Cheiron's office, knocked and entered upon command.

Cheiron greeted the boy and then got down to business. He told Iolaus what the rules of the academy were and how he was expected to behave. When he was finished, he asked Iolaus if he had any further questions.

"I have one, sir. Do the other cadets, well, do they like know how I came to be here?" he inquired.

"No Iolaus. They do not. Nor do I plan to tell them. That is a decision you will have to make on your own."

"So, you mean I could choose not to say anything about my past?"

"If you think that is best. But remember Iolaus. The path to truth is full of sharp rocks but the soul is made strong by the convictions of one's ways."

"Ah--- yeah right. Whatever."

Cheiron dismissed the cadet and watched him leave to go find Thaddeous who would show him to his sleeping quarters. Cheiron's instincts told him Iolaus was going to be a handful. But, like a diamond in the rough, with the right amount of both abrasion and polishing, Cheiron's instincts also told him this boy would turn out to be brilliant. He would need the right partner though.

Cheiron thought about his current crop of students. After, examining many candidates in his mind, he finally settled on Hercules. Yes, that somehow felt right. Like ying and yang. Iolaus and Hercules would be partners.

The End
14 May 1999

Go on to the next story in the challenge.


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