Katouna

by Chalciope

It was a good spot. The trees were in exactly the right location to give shade in the afternoon and yet not block the morning light. They weren't too close together either. The gentle breeze drifted through the small valley unimpeded. The bend in the stream was so sharp here that it had created a small pool of slow moving water. It was a perfect place for a little fishing. Just right for sitting quietly and contemplating life while dangling a baited hook.

Iolaus sighed. There was just one thing wrong with it. He was the only one here. Once again, Hercules had been called away at the last minute. Iolaus had offered to go with him of course, but Hercules had insisted that he go enjoy himself. So here he was, by himself.

It seemed like the only time he saw his friend anymore was when they were in the middle of a fight or on their way to one. Knowing that Hercules was off in the middle of something took all the joy out of fishing. Being lazy wasn't any fun when he felt guilty about it.

The fish appeared to have picked up on his mood. He hadn't had a single bite all day. He hadn't brought much in the way of supplies either. He'd planned on eating fish afterall. It was beginning to look like he'd have to go buy something if he wanted anything to eat today.

He pulled his line out of the water with another disappointed sigh and collected his things. At least he wasn't far from town. A nice cool mug of ale would go a long way toward setting things right today.

"Yup, a nice mug of ale sure would be good right now," Iolaus said to himself a few hours later.

There was another resounding bang as the mob outside tried, once again, to break down the door. So far the barricade was holding, but it wouldn't last forever.

"Iolaus, how do you get yourself into these messes?"

He had strolled into town a little over an hour ago. He'd wanted nothing more than a simple meal and perhaps, a pretty barmaid to flirt with. Simple, uncomplicated, something he'd done countless times before, but not this time. Leave it to him to take a vacation near a town devoted to Hera.

He glanced over at the girl he was trying to protect. She was still out cold but at least her color looked a little better.

He'd noticed her the moment she'd walked into the tavern. She was pretty rather than beautiful and she looked very fragile. She didn't seem quite real, she was that delicate. Then she looked at him. The fear in her eyes was all too real.

Iolaus didn't know why she'd come to him. Maybe it was just because he was a stranger. Whatever the reason, she'd walked straight over to him and asked for his help. Before he could even ask her what the problem was, a group of Hera's soldiers burst in looking for her.

There was no way he could fight them all and quick look showed him that the townsfolk weren't going to help him. Then to make matters worse, the girl had fainted. He'd done the only thing he could think of at the time. He picked her up and ran for the nearest door.

That door had opened into the tavern's storage cellar. There was no way out except the way they'd entered. Iolaus got the door barricaded just in time.

"Now what, Iolaus?" He searched through the contents of the cellar, looking for inspiration.

The girl finally stirred. Iolaus was at her side in an instant. "Hi. Are you all right?"

"I, I think so," her voice was soft and hesitant. "Where are we?"

"In the tavern's cellar." Iolaus studied her for a moment. "So, what do Hera's soldiers want with you? I'm Iolaus by the way."

"Iolaus," she seemed to be testing the sound of it. "My name is Katouna."

"Well, Kat...Wait a minute! Isn't that the name of this town?"

"Yes. It's deliberate."

"Does it have something to with why they're after you?"

There was another loud bang at the door. Iolaus got up and added a few more items to his barricade.

"I'm sorry I got you into this mess, Iolaus."

"Don't worry about it," he smiled. "It was my choice. So," he came back over to where she sat. "You were going to tell me why they want you."

"It's all because of a prophecy. I'm supposed to be the spirit of Katouna. According to Hera's priest, they need to sacrifice me to her to insure the prosperity of the town."

"And you don't want to be sacrificed?" He smiled at her nod. "Well, I better get us out of here then." He started to rise, but stopped when she put a hand on his arm.

"Thank you." She looked like she was about to start crying.

Iolaus smiled again. "My pleasure. Besides," his grin widened.. "It gives me a chance to mess up Hera's plans and that's a hobby of mine."

Iolaus went back to examining the cellar while Katouna watched. He was walking along the walls for the third time when something clicked. He walked back to the far side of the cellar, examining the ceiling as he went.

"Iolaus, what are you looking for?"

"This cellar," he said. "It's longer than the tavern's common room. Which means..." He took a few more steps and stopped. "From here on, we're under a different room."

He moved a crate over to stand on, then pulled out his boot knife. After a few minutes of careful prying, he had one of the boards loose. He lifted it slowly and peeked through the opening. A moment later, he replaced the board and crossed over to where the girl waited.

"Looks like the kitchen," he told her. "I didn't see or hear anybody. If we're lucky, they're all in the front room watching the soldiers. I'll go first. Be ready. As soon as I've made sure it's safe, I'll pull you up. From there it's out the back door and out of town, okay?"

"Okay," she smiled gratefully.

The plan worked, almost. They made it out the back door without a problem. Once outside however, they were spotted. They had no choice but to run for it.

It was like a demented game of hide and seek. They would dart into some hiding place to catch their breaths. Sooner or later they would be found and the chase would start again. A few times Iolaus had to fight through a group of soldiers. He was too badly outnumbered to do more that clear a path and flee.

Eventually, they made it out of town and into the surrounding forest. Their pursuers were still hot on their trail. As they ran, Iolaus kept looking around, searching for anything that might help them escape. There wasn't much time, he knew. Fear had carried them along so far, but Katouna was starting to slow. She wasn't used to this sort of thing.

'Not like me,' Iolaus thought. 'Getting chased by Hera's goons is practically my job.' His thoughts were interrupted when Katouna cried out.

She had tripped. When he turned to help her up, Iolaus spotted something through the trees. Water. There were all sorts of possibilities. As soon as she'd regained her feet, he led the girl off in that direction.

He'd thought it was going to be another part of the stream he'd been fishing in earlier. It turned out instead, to be a small lake.

"Even better."

"What?"

"Come on." He took her hand and headed toward a stand of reeds. Once there, he waded in and began searching through the plants. He found some he liked and used his knife to cut two good lengths.

Katouna was mystified by this behavior. "What are you doing?"

He turned to her, grinning. "We're going to hide," he said. Iolaus stretched out a hand to her and after a moment's hesitation, she joined him in the water. He handed her one of the reeds he's cut.

"What's this for?"

"To breath through," he told her. She still looked puzzled, so he demonstrated. He put the remaining reed in his mouth and sank down into the water. A moment later he resurfaced. "Get the idea?"

"Yes," she nodded. "But I can't swim."

"That's okay. We won't go too far out. You'll be able to walk and I'll be there to help you." He took her hand and led her a little further out into the lake. Iolaus stopped when they got near the edge of the reed patch.

They could hear the shouts of their pursuers getting closer. They were still hidden from view but wouldn't be much longer. It was time to hide.

"Okay, Kat," he turned to her and smiled. "Whatever happens, stay under water until I pull you up."

She nodded her agreement, smiling nervously. They sank from view just as Hera's soldiers cleared the trees.

The men spent several minutes searching for their quarry's trail but Iolaus was more skilled than they were. He had been very careful to stay within the shelter of the forest until they reached a rocky stretch of lake shore. Only then did he lead Katouna out to the water. The signs of the couple's passage were so slight, even Iolaus would have had trouble following their trail.

In the end, the soldiers had to admit defeat. They returned to the temple to face the wrath of a vengeful goddess.

Iolaus and Katouna stayed in the water for a long time. He squeezed her hand occasionally to reassure her that everything was okay. Finally, as the sky above them began to darken towards evening, Iolaus raised his head. He moved slowly, scanning the shoreline and listened carefully. Nothing, or rather, just the normal sights and sounds of the forest. That was even better. The birds would be reacting if Hera's men were still searching nearby.

He pulled the girl up by the hand that he had never released.

"They're gone?" She kept her voice to a whisper.

"They're gone," he confirmed, flashing a bright smile.

Katouna threw her arms around him and hugged him close. "Thank you. I don't know how to say it better, I..."

"That was perfect," he told her. "And now, I think it's time we got out of this lake and out of this area."

They moved off quickly. The town was to the south, so Iolaus headed north. They traveled for a little over an hour before the gathering darkness made it too difficult to continue. As they settled down for the night, Iolaus finally had the opportunity to regret having to leave all his things behind.

"Good thing I travel light," he commented to himself.

"What?"

"Oh, sorry. I didn't realize I said that out loud. I was just thinking that it's a good thing I don't carry a lot of stuff. I didn't have to leave much behind when we ran."

"I'm sorry," she turned away. "I didn't mean to cause you trouble."

"Kat, look at me." He waited until she did. "It's okay, really. I didn't loose anything important. I can replace everything at the next village I come to. Besides," he was grinning now. "I really do enjoy messing up Hera's plans."

She smiled in response. They were silent for a while, each lost in their own thought. Katouna was the one to break the silence this time.

"Iolaus?"

"Hmm?"

"I...What am I going to do now?" She sounded close to tears. "I can't ever go back, not that I'd want to, but I've never been anywhere else."

"Hey, it'll be okay," he moved closer and drew her into a one-armed hug. "I'm not going anywhere. I promise, I'll stay with you until we find a safe place. Someplace where you can do what *you* want. All right?"

"Thank you."

"Hey, I know! We'll go to Corinth. It's perfect. The king is a friend of mine and no friend of Hera's."

"That sounds good."

"And as long as we're going that way...We'll be going right past this little stream that's just loaded with fish."

"I've never been fishing."

"Well then," Iolaus smiled at her. "I'll just have to teach you."

--The End?--

Go on to the next story in the challenge.


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