A Friend's Debt part2
Disclaimer: Normal stuff about who owns what. An important note, I usually write with Smilegal/awatcher, but this work is all mine. She did contribute heavily to the plot, in fact she is the main plot. <VBG>. This story is dedicated to her, if it wasn't I wouldn't be writing about her.
Violence warning: Most of the stuff isn't that bad, less descriptions than what you would expect in a normal episode. Chapter 5 has some pretty nasty stuff though so be careful, it isn't that bad, but I thought I would warn you.
Sex warning: Sorry. No sex of any type here, no hints or anything.
Other works: This is my second solo story. The other story is "A Childhood Solstice" posted at Lynka's and XenaCrazed's sites. The other stories that I've worked on have been co-authored with Smilegal/awatcher, "Three's A Crowd" and "Reluctant Goddess" also at the previously mentioned sites.
Chapter 3 "To spy or not to spy"
Liss entered the village and immediately felt something was wrong. Nothing was out of place; in fact everything appeared to be normal...too normal.". She saw a few women going about their business and a handful of children, but something was still bothering her. Liss walked up to a man fixing a roof. "Excuse me. I..."
"Sorry, no time to talk," mumbled the man quickly as she scampered up the roof and out of sight.
'Strange,' thought Liss. She looked herself over, nothing seemed out of the ordinary in her attire, typical village girl. The woman headed over to a group of children playing under a tree. She leaned over and addressed one of the children, "Hi, I'm..."
"Mama!" screamed the boy as he ran away. The other children quickly followed him.
'I hope the kid just doesn't like strangers.'
The scout made her way to the local inn and ordered an ale. A young girl took her order and quickly rushed to the bar to fill it. She scanned the other occupants of the inn, but failed to notice anything out of the ordinary. The mercenary did notice that the barkeep seemed to be spending an awful lot of time filling her order and kept talking to the girl in hushed tones. She quickly looked the other way when she noticed him staring at her. The young girl returned to her table with her ale.
"Did you want anything to eat today, ma'am?" asked the girl respectfully as she glanced at Liss' belongings, a small traveling bag that looked old and ready to give out. Liss had chosen not to carry her usually weapons, instead she wore a small dagger strapped to her thigh. The woman pretended to consider eating as she observed the various patrons pretending not watch her. Liss decided it was time to find out if her cover would hold up.
"I wish I could, but I can't afford much right now," responded Liss putting a hint of weariness into her voice. "And even if I did, I don't know if I can afford the time."
The barkeeper came over to the table. He appeared to be checking her out again. Finally he spoke, "Where are you from?"
"Why are you asking?" retorted Liss trying to put a combination of fear and mistrust into her voice.
"Just trying to be sociable," responded to barkeeper in a more pleasant tone. "You aren't from around here you look like you aren't planning on staying too long or have that much in the way of belongings."
"Well..." said Liss warily. "I'm from a small farm about a week's walk due east of here."
The man let a low whistle, "Been a lot of fighting going around that area."
"You're telling me," snarled Liss. "My family barely made it out of there. We heard there was a pass that lead to safety on the other side of the valley. They said they would meet me at the local inn, but..." The young woman started to cry. Liss hadn't truly cried in nearly a year. She had hardened her heart to avoid showing any signs of weakness.
"Whoa, take it easy there miss. If your family made it here then it's possible they already made it through the pass before the raiders got them."
"They wouldn't have left without me!" cried Liss going for as much sympathy as she could get.
"Hey, take it easy. I'm sure they didn't want to leave." The barkeep paused as if passing judgment on the woman in front of him. He nodded to himself before making a decision. The man lowered his voice, "Look, you seem kind of tired. Why don't you stay here tonight and look for your family tomorrow?"
Liss started sniffling and used her sleeve to wipe fake tears from her eyes. "I don't have enough money for a room."
The man smiled. "Hey, don't worry about it. I have a daughter about your age, so I know what your parents must be going through. With all the raiding going on I have plenty of rooms so don't worry about paying. I'll have some food brought over. You take your time and when you get tired find me and I'll show you to a room."
The mercenary decided it wouldn't be wise to turn down the offer. The man might know something and this was just a way for him to buy some time, besides she didn't get a chance to sleep in a comfortable bed that often. Liss nodded and leaned back in her chair as if resigned to a fate she didn't want. The man headed back to the bar and told one of the serving girls to get some food. He also said something else, but Liss couldn't make it out. He left the building after glancing back at Liss once more. She started to get up to follow him, but a servant brought over a platter of food. Liss had to admit she hadn't had a decent meal in a long time. She quickly finished off the food and decided to quietly search the village when the man returned and lead her to a room.
"This is my daughter's room," said the man as he opened the door. "I don't think she would mind if you slept here. It's more comfortable than the regular rooms."
"After sleeping on rocks out in the elements anything under cover sounds good." Liss paused as she looked around the room. "Where is your daughter?"
"We managed to get her to safety before that damned warlord started attacking villages." His eyes looked upward as if in silent prayer. "My wife wasn't so lucky. She was visiting her family in Dorian when they struck. By the time help arrived, every one was killed, including my wife." He paused again and wiped a tear from his eye as he turned around and headed back out. Liss didn't know what to say. She wanted to say how sorry she was, but deep down she knew how hypocritical it would sound to her ears. It was exactly what Kimon was planning on doing once she found out where and how the villagers were escaping. She closed the door and laid down on the bed. The last time she had slept in a bed was back home. Liss closed her eyes and tried to get some sleep. Her dreams jumped between her family back home and the gentle innkeeper who was trying to help what he thought was a lost and lonely girl. It wasn't long before she found herself truly crying. She lay in the dark wondering if she was crying because of what had happened to her family or what she was doing to save them. Morpheus finally took hold of Liss and she fell into a deep, albeit restless sleep. She woke up early the next morning and headed downstairs. The inn was devoid of the normal breakfast crowd and she could hear the bustle of people hard at work in the street. The scout was about to head outside when she was intercepted by the innkeeper.
"C'mon over and eat something. It isn't much, but it's hot and filling. You're going to need it."
"I am?" Liss inquired innocently. 'Finally I'm going to hear something useful.'
"Look, you seem like a nice, young lady so I'm going to let you in on a little secret." The barkeep paused as if rejudging Liss before continuing. "There's a group of people helping
families escape from the path of Kimon. The problem is they have to move quickly and quietly through a special trail hidden in the valley to avoid those damn mercenaries, Zeus curse the money grubbing lot of them! Anyway, they can only travel on certain nights; if the people helping out found your family then they took them across as soon as possible. I'm sure they are safe on the other side of the pass."
'So there is a secret passage!' screamed Liss mentally. She knew that no matter how well she scouted the valley there were bound to be ways in and out she would be unable to find. The trail was probably in the area that she was planning on scouting personally. The young woman decided it was time to find out exactly where it was.
"Can you..." Liss started to say when the door opened up. She didn't have to pretend to be frightened, this time it was for real when she saw the warrior start to walk towards her.
"Xena!" shouted the barkeep. "I found another one trying to get to safety."
Liss jumped out of her seat and ran for the window with Xena hot on her trail. She sprang through the open window and ran straight past a startled Gabrielle who was just entering the tavern.
"Oh, shi..." Liss started to say, but was cut off as she ran into a man preparing to get on a horse. The mercenary grabbed the man by the neck and threw him to the ground, kicking him in the back as he tried to get up. She quickly mounted the horse and kicked the horse into a gallop leaving Gabrielle choking in the dust. Xena trotted up next to her and pulled out her chakram. The warrior hesitated and then returned the weapon to its place at her hip.
Gabrielle was astounded. "You're letting her go again?!?!"
"Relax, Gabrielle," replied Xena. "Kimon and Grakus had to find out sooner or later that we were sneaking people out of the area. Liss doesn't know exactly where the passage is. She will want to find out for sure before telling Kimon or the information is worthless."
"So now what do we do?"
"We go ahead and move the next group through the pass and keep an eye out for our mercenary friend to show up."
"You think she is going to try to follow us?"
Xena lead her friend towards the woods where a small group was waiting. "Yeah, I do. Like I said, just knowing we are getting people out is worthless. Liss needs to find out how we are doing it before Grakus or Kimon will pay her."
The bard let out a sigh as she gathered her gear and started walking, gently pushing some children who were walking too slow. "It all goes back to money with her, doesn't it? I know she needs to get some dinars to pay back the loan, but no farm is worth cashing in on the lives of women and children."
Xena didn't answer. She knew there was more at stake than a farm, but it wasn't her place to tell what she suspected about Liss' family's debts. The warrior looked at the setting sun and started thinking about how she might help Liss. 'Why should I help her? If she wants to kill to save her family so be it. I'm not one to judge,' mused Xena to herself. Deep in her heart she knew she was kidding herself. Just like with Tara and the Urn of Apollo, she would help not because she had to, but because it was a chance to help somebody turn her life around. Xena watched the sun set and contemplated her next move. Liss wasn't just a kid looking for trouble like Tara had been. The mercenary had reasons for actions that went beyond petty trouble making. Xena figured she had one shot, and one shot only to help Liss. She just hoped that the woman would take the help.
Xena quickly decided what to do and called her traveling companion over. "Gabrielle I want you to take these people on ahead. Use the path we designated 'purple', got it?"
Gabrielle frowned. "I got it, but I don't understand. Purple is the path that has the least amount of cover. It maybe the fastest route, but with Liss hanging around shouldn't we be more concerned about her spotting us than speed?"
The warrior gave a feral grin, her teeth shining in the darkness. "That's what I'm counting on. I'll meet you at the campsite we used the first night. Drop off the women and children and double back and meet me there."
The bard nodded and took charge of the group. Xena waited a few minutes and watched Gabrielle lead her group down the left fork of the trail. She took off in another direction slightly parallel to Gabrielle, but a little farther north and higher in elevation. The warrior shadowed the group for several hours until she finally saw Liss hiding behind an outcrop. Xena grinned and gave a silent nod of admiration to the young woman. The site that Liss had chosen would have been perfect for an ambush, but Xena knew that the mercenary wouldn't have brought any soldiers without first confirming that this was the correct path. The ambush would come the next time around. Xena quietly snuck around the scout until she was no farther than a stone's throw away, which was exactly what the warrior did. : Liss instinctively turned, sensing something was wrong. She had but a second to realize a stone was heading directly at her before everything turned black. The next thing Liss saw were stars before everything went black
Chapter 4 "The whole story"
"C'mon, wake up sleepy head," teased a woman's voice. Liss groaned slightly and raised her hand to feel the bump on her head.
"C'mon, rise and shine," repeated the voice in the same irritating manner as if talking to a small child.
"I'm up, I'm up," retorted Liss. She looked at the woman and her scowl quickly fell from her face and was replaced by concern. The pair of deep blue eyes she was staring at told her all she needed to know about her situation. The main thing being it wasn't one she wanted to be in.
"I'm in trouble, aren't I?" asked Liss rhetorically. Xena gave a lopsided grin and handed the young woman a waterskin. While she was drinking Liss took the chance to take in her surroundings. It was dark, but she could see that they were still in the valley. Gabrielle was tending the small fire and shooting unfriendly glances at her. Liss looked again at Xena and noticed that while the warrior was certainly being cautious she didn't seem at all hostile. She finished drinking and handed the waterskin back.
'What does she think this is? A picnic?' thought Gabrielle. 'And I thought she was going overboard with Tara. Sheesh!'
"Why am I still alive? Now that I know about the pass I'm a liability to your safety."
"I'm touched by your concern," replied Gabrielle sarcastically.
"Gabrielle..." started Xena. 'What has gotten into her? I know she doesn't like people getting away with crimes, but if she saw the potential for good in me why can't she see it in Liss?'
"She's right and you know it. THAT woman is going to spill her guts for a couple of dinars and probably get a group a villagers killed," continued the bard.
"Gabrielle..." began Xena again.
"How much? How much are they paying you to kill helpless women and children?" interrupted Gabrielle. She was starting to lose her patience with Xena. It was one thing to try to straighten out a screwed-up kid like Tara, but it was a completely different story with a killer like Liss. There was no way she would even think about killing women and children in order to pay off some debt, even if her family's farm was at stake. No piece of land was worth that much.
"That's enough," growled Xena cutting her friend off before she could continue.
"A hundred dinars if I tell him how you are getting villagers out of the area," sighed Liss. Gabrielle looked like she was about to start up again when Xena gave her a warning glance.
"How much does your family owe?" asked Xena.
"What difference does it make? It doesn't look like I'm going to get a chance to give them one dinar."
"Yeah, what difference?" echoed Gabrielle still upset with the mercenary and beginning to get angry with her friend.
Xena sat down next to Liss and motioned for Gabrielle to join them. "How much?"
Liss let out a long sigh. "Okay, we had to borrow three hundred dinars from the moneylender, Alope, in order to pay for Father's medical bills. We had to put up the farm as collateral. After we paid for Father's expenses we still had to find some way to pay Alope back. The simplest way was to get the farm going again, but with everything destroyed in the raid we had no way to farm again. My sister took out personal loan for four hundred dinars with Alope in order to get the farm up and running. Unfortunately there was a drought and the crops failed this summer." Liss felt a tear roll down her cheek as she thought about her sister.
Gabrielle was still angry. "Okay, so you lose your farm. That's a good enough reason to kill villagers?"
"You don't understand," responded Liss.
"I do," said Xena as she wiped the tear off the young woman's face. 'No matter how tough she tries to act, she's just a kid,' thought the older woman.
"This isn't about the farm, is it Liss? This is about your sister's debt," replied the warrior softly. Liss nodded silently. Xena turned back to the bard. "You see Gabrielle, Rhion has some harsh laws regarding debts. If the debt is not paid off in time the person who made the loan has the right to force the person to pay back the money through servitude."
"I see, I think," replied Gabrielle. It wasn't that uncommon of a practice in Greece and she didn't understand what was so special about the situation now.
Xena continued, "I don't think you do. In Rhion it is the choice of the lender to decide what job is to be performed in order to earn enough money to pay off the debt."
"I still don't get it." Gabrielle shook her head.
Liss held back a sniffle and responded, "The fastest way for a woman to earn money is to work in a brothel and under Rhion law Alope has the right to make her work in one until he is paid back."
"A brothel! That's barbaric."
The young woman's head dropped. "So is trading in on the lives of women and children."
Gabrielle was silent. Once again she had passed judgment on somebody when she should have been trying to help them. 'I'd say I've been hanging around Xena too much and becoming cynical, but this time she figured it out and I am the one who doubted somebody.'
Xena watched her friend think about what she had just been told as well as Liss who was still quietly crying. Gabrielle would eventually get over it, but Liss had to be helped quickly before she started down the wrong path for good.
"Liss I know you are trying to save your sister, but you know as well as I do that what you are doing is wrong."
"There is nothing wrong with being a mercenary," retorted Liss starting to get angry.
"That's not what I meant and you know it," replied Xena sternly. 'Okay, if she wants to be treated like a child then so be it.'
"And who are you to judge me?" asked Liss impudently.
Xena grabbed Liss by her tunic and pulled her so she was only inches from the warrior's face. "I'm older, bigger, wiser and a whole lot meaner than you so knock off the tough warrior act, little girl."
"I...I..." stammered Liss too afraid to think straight. This was the Warrior Princess that tales were told of, not the kind, gentle woman that had just moments before wiped the tears from her face.
"Don't you dare ask me who am I to judge you. I've done things that would make you stomach turn. Do you know how I started out?"
Liss shook her head silently. Xena lowered her down and forced her to sit on a nearby log, but kept her eyes locked onto the young woman's and refused to relinquish her grip on the tunic.
"I started out trying to save my village from a warlord named Cortese. After that I created a militia to defend the village. That militia for defense became an army, one that I lead to conquer neighboring villages all in the name of protecting my home. After a while I got used to the blood and death until it became second nature to me." Xena paused and let go of Liss. She turned away and looked into the surrounding darkness and continued to speak, almost as if she was talking to herself. "It wasn't long before I gave up all notions of being a hero and defending my home. It became all about power. I lost my way. Don't lose yours." The last sentence came out almost as a plea.
"It's not the same thing!" exclaimed Liss. "I'm not trying to build an army or conquer anybody. I just want to raise enough money to pay off Alope. After that I'm retiring for good."
Xena's anger rose again, Liss could feel it emanating from the warrior. "You think it's that easy do you? And just how many people have you killed in your short life?"
"What does that matter? After I get the money I won't kill again."
"Answer the Hades cursed question, kid." Xena towered over Liss again. The girl felt the warrior was on the verge of striking her if she didn't answer.
"A dozen, maybe a few more," replied Liss quietly.
"Maybe a few more?" mocked Xena. "You don't even know for sure!"
"Oh and you remember every one of your kills?" retorted the mercenary. She cringed at what Xena might do for such insolence.
"I've killed more people than you've met in your whole life. A lot more than 'a dozen maybe a few more' so don't get sassy with me."
Liss looked right into the warrior's eyes and she saw the conflicting emotions inside Xena. Gabrielle was awestruck. This was the first time she had heard her friend open up like this to a complete stranger. She was both impressed at Xena's determination to help this girl and also a little confused at why she was telling the story to begin with.
"I..." Liss blurted out, but was unable to complete her sentence with Xena's constant glaring. Finally the warrior let her go and Liss sunk back onto the log. Xena walked over to her gear and pulled out Liss' daggers. She unsheathed them and casually tossed them into the air as if they were nothing but toys, which they were to someone as experienced as her. Xena gave them a final toss and threw them at the log that Liss was sitting on. They embedded themselves less than an inch on either side of the young woman. Liss jumped up to face Xena. She was angry, but fear had a tighter grip on her.
'What does she want from me?' Liss asked herself mentally. 'I guess those rumors of her going soft must be wrong.' She finished off with the thought, 'I'm going to die.'
Xena strolled over to Liss and pulled the deadly daggers out of the log and held them at the mercenary's throat. "Like how this feels?" she asked with venom in her voice. Liss tried to shake her head, but ended up cutting herself on her own weapons. "Do you realize how easy it would be for me to slit your throat? Nobody would know and nobody would care. Is this how you want to lead your life? Is this how your sister would want you to save her? As a killer who will some day end up dead from somebody better?"
"I don't want to kill any more," cried Liss as tears fell from her eyes. "I don't want to kill," she repeated as Xena removed the daggers from Liss' throat and embraced her.
"Let it out, just let it all out," whispered Xena as she comforted the girl. The warrior held her tight as Liss out over a year's worth of pent-up emotions. Xena looked over at Gabrielle and received a smirk. The bard waved her hands as if to indicate that Xena should continue and that she was not going to interfere.
"C'mon, why don't you sit down and relax. Let's see if we can't figure out another way to save your sister." Xena sat down and pulled Liss down with her. The warrior put her hands in her lap to show she had no intentions of hurting the girl.
"She's going to hate me," stated Liss.
"Don't say that. You don't know what she is going to do."
"What am I going to do? If I don't report in what I saw I'll lose whatever chance I had of making enough money to help her."
Gabrielle came over and sat on the other side of her. The bard reached over and gave the girl a comforting squeeze on the knee. "Why don't we start with how much money you need and work from there."
"Okay," Liss paused as she did some calculations. "I need a total of seven hundred dinars."
Gabrielle let out a slow whistle.
"I need three hundred dinars to pay off the mortgage on the farm. That money I can get from doing scouting for Grakus. Aside from having to work for that bastard I can live with myself, even if it means killing in defense." Liss paused and looked at Xena, "Honest, that's the only time I've ever killed."
Xena smiled, "I believe you. I just don't want you to become too attached to the power that comes with being able to kill."
"I think I understand, each time it becomes easier and easier. That thug I killed when helping Gabrielle didn't even phase me. It was natural." Liss stopped talking suddenly and hung her head. "That's what you meant by losing my way, isn't it? When the killing becomes just another chore, right?"
The warrior nodded, but didn't comment.
"Well the money from Grakus for just scouting covers the entire mortgage, all three hundred dinars. He was going to pay me an additional one hundred dinars for reporting how the villagers were escaping to the other side of the gap." Liss stiffened and went quiet again.
Xena knew there had to be more to it than that, but didn't want to push too hard. She got up and walked over to the fire, Xena felt Liss' eyes follow her around the camp. It wasn't fear she saw in them, but rather a hurt expression that the girl was quickly trying to cover up. Xena glanced over at Gabrielle hoping her friend had a clue as to what she was doing wrong. Gabrielle quietly motioned for Xena to return to Liss. The warrior's eyebrows furrowed as she tried to figure out what Gabrielle was getting at. The bard got up and walked over to where Xena was making tea.
"You were on a roll," said Gabrielle. She muttered quietly, "Right up to where you screwed up and walked away."
"I thought she needed some space."
Gabrielle shook her head fervently. "What she needs is her mother to hold her and tell her everything is going to be all right."
"Well I'm not her mother," exclaimed Xena in a hushed tone.
"No, but you make a pretty decent big sister. Just go back there and hold her and tell her things will work out," ordered Gabrielle in equally hushed tones. She emphasized her point by quickly jabbing Xena with her elbow when the warrior hesitated.
"Look, what if things don't work out?"
"You don't know they won't."
"And you don't know they will."
"That isn't the point," responded Gabrielle. "She just needs to be comforted. We can deal with reality later, right now let's shore up her emotional defenses."
Xena let out a sigh and got up from the crouch she was in. She took a deep breath and turned around and started to walk back towards Liss.
Liss wasn't sure how she should feel. When Xena had left she felt both relieved and abandoned. One second the woman acted like she was going to kill her and the next held her while she cried. Liss watched as Xena went to the campfire and prepared tea. She attempted to hear what was being said between Xena and Gabrielle, but all she could make out was Xena was angry at something or someone. The girl watched as Xena walked back to her and sat down beside her. Liss nearly jumped when she felt Xena wrap her arm around her shoulder and smile at her.
"Umm..." said Liss. "What were you and Gabrielle arguing about?"
Xena smirked, "You." Before Liss could say anything else the warrior pulled her closer. "Relax, she was just upset that I left you alone when I shouldn't have."
Liss nodded. "I don't blame her. She was probably afraid I would take off."
"Actually she was telling me that you needed a shoulder to cry on and since I my shoulder is bigger..."
"Thanks. I haven't cried like that in long time. Not since..."
"Not since this whole mess started," finished Xena. Gabrielle returned from the campfire and handed Liss a cup of tea. Liss nodded and was about to drink when she started crying again. Xena gave Gabrielle a panicked look as if saying 'what do I do now?'. The bard glared at her and motioned for her friend simply to hold the girl.
Xena took the cup from Liss' hand and held it until the girl calmed down again. "I think it's time you finished your story," said Xena gently, but firmly.
"How about telling us where you planned to get the remaining three hundred dinars?"
Liss let out a deep breath. "I can't tell you."
"Can't or won't?" asked Xena. "I promise that no matter what you say I won't get angry." She gave Liss an encouraging smile and another hug. "I'm not going anywhere, so relax and talk to me."
"Kimon promised twenty five dinars for the head of every militiaman that was brought to him."
"That's monstrous!" fumed Gabrielle.
"You want to tell me what is REALLY bothering you?" There was no trace or sarcasm in Xena's voice, only concern. Liss looked up into her eyes and saw how much Xena cared and it was about more than saving villagers, it was about her. It was like talking to her mother, albeit a mother with a large broadsword, but her mother none the less. Xena smiled encouragingly, but didn't push.
"I knew I couldn't kill a dozen armed soldiers so I figured I would go for the other method of getting the bonus." Liss paused to take a breath. "Fifty dinars for every woman or child."
"Bastard," muttered Xena under her breath. She looked at Liss suddenly hoping the girl didn't think she was referring to her. Liss gave a weak smile to make Xena aware that she knew the anger wasn't directed at her.
"I was still arguing with myself over whether I could go through with it or not when you captured me."
"Trying to figure out if you should or if you could?"
"Both. Part of me realized just how wrong it would be to cash in on the lives of innocents, but another part argued that they were strangers and my sister was more important. Another part kept asking if I could even go through with it if I decided to kill."
"Did you reach an answer?" asked Xena softly.
Liss sighed and nodded her head. "Every time I would talk myself out of it I would see my sister and convince myself I was justified. That's why I was following you. I was hoping to find you path and ambush the next group." Liss hung her head in shame.
"And now?" prompted Xena.
"Now? Now I'm more confused than ever. Part of me still wants to do anything in my power to save my sister and the other part doesn't want to do something that she wouldn't want me to do." Liss hesitated before carrying on. "Or that you wouldn't want me to do."
Xena wiped the girl's eyes and lifted her chin up so she could look into them. "I'm honored that you feel that way about me, but the bottom line is whether or not you could live with yourself."
"What should I do?" asked Liss as she looked between Xena and Gabrielle.
"I'm not as good with this sort of thing as Xena, but let's look at all of your options," replied Gabrielle.
'Oh, sure "I'm not as good with this sort of thing as Xena"' thought Xena, mocking Gabrielle's words.
"I only have two options, kill or don't kill," retorted Liss.
"Hey, calm down. Gabrielle is only trying to help."
"Sorry," mumbled Liss.
"That's okay. Now, is there another way you could earn the money?"
"Not quickly enough."
"Okay, will Alope extended the deadline?"
Both Liss and Xena gave the bard a knowing look.
"Okay," said Gabrielle drawing the word out.
"I appreciate it, but this is something I'm just going to have to figure out alone."
"You're not alone, not anymore," said Xena. The group became quiet as everybody tried to figure out what to do. It wasn't long before Xena noticed Gabrielle trying to keep her head from drooping.
"Why don't you turn in? It's getting late and we have to start early tomorrow to get another group across the gap by nightfall."
"Uh, fine with me, replied Gabrielle out loud. 'What is she? Nuts? Liss hasn't said one way or another what she plans on doing and Xena goes and says we are bringing another group tomorrow. I hope she knows what she is doing.'
Gabrielle unrolled her bedding and fell asleep faster than she could have imagined.
"What are you? Nuts?" said Liss echoing Gabrielle's unsaid thoughts only minutes before.
Xena's eyebrows rose in amusement at the girl's tone, but she kept quiet.
"You don't know what I'm going to do and you go and tell me you are bringing another group tomorrow. What if I decide to set an ambush?"
"Are you?" asked Xena innocently.
"You don't know, do you?" inquired Xena already knowing the answer.
Liss didn't respond. She gently shrugged off Xena's arm that had been around her the entire evening and walked over to her equipment. The mercenary replaced her daggers in their sheaths and buckled on her small shield onto her forearm. She expected a blow from behind at any moment, but it never came. Liss finished arming herself and turned around to see Xena still sitting on the log.
"You're not going to stop me?" asked Liss in astonishment.
Xena shook her head slowly. "I'm not your mother, I can't tell what to do and I won't force you either. It is your decision and your conscience that you have to live with."
Liss walked over to Xena and bent down to embrace her. She whispered into the warrior's ear, "You may not be my mother, but you make a good big sister."
Xena smirked and returned the embrace. When they broke apart she wiped the tears that were starting to fall from Liss' face. "What ever happens tomorrow I want you to remember that I'll always be here for you."
Liss was too choked up to reply, she simply nodded and headed into the woods. Xena watched her disappear and tracked her with her hearing until she was out of range of that as well.
continue to chapter five
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