A Friend's Debt part 3
Chapter 5 "Decisions, decisions."
Dawn approached too quickly for Liss as she made her way back to Grakus's main camp. The previous night's talk with Xena had stirred up thoughts and emotions that she had buried when first becoming a mercenary. Liss looked up into the morning sky and watched as a hawk swooped down on a smaller bird and plucked it from flight.
'Which am I? The predator or the prey?' mused the young woman as she walked to Grakus's tent. 'Who am I going to betray? My family? My conscience? Xena?'
Liss paused outside of the main tent before entering. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. The sounds of the mercenary and warlord camp floated around her. Liss shut them out and thought about her family that was depending on her. The mercenary's eyes opened into tiny slits that revealed a steely determination. 'All right, I've made up my mind and let Hades be my judge if it's the wrong choice.'
Liss pushed aside the flaps of the tent and strode right up to Grakus and Kimon, interrupting whatever they had been planning.
"Well?" asked Grakus expectantly.
The woman didn't answer immediately. She walked over to a table and poured herself a generous cup of wine and downed it in one gulp. Liss slammed the cup onto the table and faced her employer. "I've got the route that they are using to get the villagers out of the area."
"Wonderful! Just wonderful!" exclaimed Grakus. "See! I told you Liss was the best in the business."
"Indeed," responded Kimon as he stroked his blonde goatee. "And how did you go about getting this information when my people couldn't?"
Liss sauntered up to the warlord, stared straight into his eyes and sneered, "You want the best, you pay for the best. Those barbarians you call soldiers out there couldn't find a lost dog if it came up and bit them on the ass."
Grakus guffawed while Kimon turned red, not out of anger, but because the remark struck closer to the truth than he wanted to admit. "Be that as it may, you are going to lead those 'barbarians' tomorrow to the trail the villagers are using."
"Whatever. Just remember the bounty you offered for any heads brought in."
Kimon cracked a sickening smile. "Beautiful AND bloodthirsty." The warlord paused to address Grakus. "My kind of woman. Perhaps after this is all over you would like to come work directly for me. You've already proven your worth, I'm willing to offer you a chance to go some where...with me, that is."
"Don't bet on it," retorted Liss. "I'm in it strictly for the money." She brushed past Kimon and Grakus and left the tent.
"I warned you, Kimon," said Grakus as he sat down on a garishly covered chair and sipped from his cup. "Liss is a true mercenary. Nothing comes between her and her money."
"Indeed," murmured Kimon as he eased himself onto the couch. It wasn't often he saw such professionalism in a mercenary, most were drunken killers out for cheap thrills and blood.
Liss headed straight for her tent as soon as she left Grakus and Kimon. She opened the chest that she had used to store her excess equipment in and removed an oilskin bundle from it. Liss opened the bundle and pulled out the crossbow that she had taken from her father before leaving home. It wasn't especially large, but Liss had found that with practice, she could load and fire twice as fast as an average person. 'I'm going to need that ability if things get messy, and they probably will if Xena is involved.' She spent the rest of the day going over her plans for the ambush in her head. After she was sure she had covered every possible angle that she had control of Liss decided to try to get some sleep. The young scout awoke a few hours before dusk. She was amazed that she had been able to sleep at all considering what was going to happen in a few hours. 'I guess that now that my mind is made up there is nothing left to have nightmares about.'
The mercenary armed herself and walked out of tent. She took a deep breath and proceeded to head into woods. 'With any luck, I can talk myself out of this. I still can't believe I decided to do this.' Liss had barely entered the woods when she came across one of Kimon's warriors swinging a large warhammer. She took a moment to study him. Something tickled the back of her mind, but she couldn't place where she might have seen him. This was the first time she had ever worked for Kimon and she knew that the warrior had never worked for Grakus during her employment with the mercenary leader. The man was extremely large, almost two feet taller than herself and had to weigh nearly three times her weight. The man stopped swinging his hammer and turned to face Liss.
"Hey little girl, want to see what a real man can do?" asked the warrior. Without waiting for an answer he swung the hammer around his head twice and then directed it toward an unsuspecting oak tree. The head of the hammer collided with the tree trunk causing it to splinter in all directions. A few seconds later, to her amazement, the large tree fell with a resounding crash that shook the ground under Liss. "So, what brings you out here?"
"Just going for a walk before the attack."
"Oh yeah, you're the chick that's going to lead the ambush on those villagers. I've gotta admit, I can't wait to get my hands on them. It's been too long since I had a chance to do some damage on easy targets. Kimon's had me fighting on the front lines so I haven't had a chance to have fun. Not since last year near Rhion, anyway."
Liss froze as the implications of what the brute had said hit her. She forced a polite smile on her face. "Rhion? Kimon raided Rhion a year ago?"
"Yeah, what's it too you?"
"Nothing, it's just that I thought Kimon went after bigger targets than simple farming communities." Liss' stomach started to turn. It finally hit here where she had seen the large warrior. A memory that had haunted her for the past year came unbidden into her consciousness.
"Father!" shouted a young girl, no more than seventeen summers old. A farmer
ran from a mounted warrior swinging a large warhammer intent on killing the
defenseless peasant. "Liss! Run!" shouted the farmer. He turned his head to
get a better view of the warrior chasing him. The warrior swung the warhammer
and caught the man behind the left shoulder. The farmer hit the ground hard and
was getting up when the warrior leapt from his horse and continued to pummel him with the hammer. The girl watched as her father was beaten to a bloody
pulp and left for dead by the warrior, just like her mother whose body was
in the barn.
Liss shook her head to rid herself of the memory. This was the man that had killed her mother, crippled her father and forced her sister to risk her life in order to repay Alope. Liss' eyes narrowed as various scenarios ran through her head about what to do.
"You should have been there, kid. It was so easy. I remember this one farm where I toyed with peasant and beat him in front of his family. Poor bastard will probably never walk again. Heh, heh, I wish I had more time, there was this cute girl I would have loved too..."
Liss couldn't take any more. "Do you remember what she looked like? Did she have brown hair, like this?" Liss twirled a lock of her own chestnut colored hair.
"Huh? I wasn't exactly looking at her hair, but yeah, it looked like that."
"I see," replied Liss through gritted teeth. "And did she have brown eyes like these?" The young woman opened her eyes wide so the man could get a good look at them.
"Well, I guess so. I wasn't going to court her, I was going to..."
"I know exactly what you were going to do you bastard. I was there." Liss lowered her hands so they hovered right above the handles to her daggers. Half of her prayed the man would try something, the other half hoped he would just turn away. The Fates chose the former. Recognition finally dawned on the man as he grinned and started swinging his hammer.
"Well, well, well, it looks like I get to have some fun after all. C'mere little girl, what are you going to do with those little toys? You might poke your eye out. Put them down and I won't hurt you...too much that is." He snarled and charged at her. At the last second Liss dodged to the left and stuck her foot out causing the man to slam head first into the ground. He quickly rolled over and edged toward Liss again. This time Liss had pulled her daggers out and was eagerly looking forward to the confrontation.
'This is all your fault!' she mentally screamed at him. 'None of this would have happened if you had just left us alone.'
"What's the matter, girl? Cat got your tongue?" taunted the warrior.
Liss knew better than to try to fight him head on. He was much too strong and his hammer could kill her with one blow. She had to fight faster and smarter in order to win. The scout dodged blow after blow, each time the hammer came closer to her.
"You think you're better than me, don't you?" snarled the warrior. "You're not, you are going to end up just like me, cold and heartless."
"NO!" shouted Liss. She charged him and through sheer strength of will managed to tackle him to the ground, his hammer flying into a nearby tree. They rolled on the ground until the warrior used his strength to throw Liss against a tree stump. Liss shook her head to try to clear it before he attacked again. She saw a shadow loom over her and without looking thrust one of her daggers into the air. The girl heard a grunt and saw the shadow fall back. Liss got up saw that she had managed to stick her dagger through her opponents right arm. The dagger's hilt was barely visible under his armpit while the tip stuck out of the shoulder blade. She had seen enough battle wounds to know that even if he survived the blood loss he would never regain total use of his arm. Liss kicked him in the gut several times until he was on the ground, half unconscious. She reached down to remove her dagger, but was stopped by a large hand that grabbed her throat.
"It's going to take more than a little pin prick to stop me you tramp," mumbled her opponent. He pushed Liss onto the ground, pulled her dagger out of his own shoulder and stood over her menacingly. "Now to finish what I wanted to do a year ago." He jumped on top of Liss, suddenly the sickening grin that had been on his face was replaced by one of shock. The man rolled off of Liss and looked down at his chest and saw another dagger imbedded a few inches from his heart. Liss got up on her knees and took her dagger from the man's hand. She reached over for the one she had stabbed him in the chest with and twisted it watching his face contort in pain. Gradually his expression went blank and Liss knew he was dead. She removed the remaining dagger and wiped them both on the dead man's shirt before returning them to their sheaths. Liss got up and started walking back to camp. "I guess Xena was right, it does get easier and easier. There is only one thing more to do before going home."
As she reentered the main area of the camp she saw a dozen men preparing horses. One of the warriors walked over to her. "You're the scout, right?"
"Yeah, what's it to ya?" she retorted.
"Whoa, take it easy. We're the ones assigned to help ambush the villagers. There is still one person missing, a warrior named Titus, seen him around?"
Liss sighed. 'These guys are incompetent. They can't even keep track of their own people.' She turned and asked, "What does he look like?"
"Real big and ugly, carries a warhammer."
Liss blinked and said, "Nope, haven't seen him around. I guess we'll have to go without him."
Liss got on horse that was being held for her and lead the small group out of camp. She watched the sun set and said a quick prayer, to what ever god might be listening, if any. The ride into the valley where Liss had spotted, and been captured by, Xena took nearly three hours to reach. Liss had little difficulty in figuring out which trail the warrior had used to escort the next group of villagers.
'It looks like she took a different trail this time. Unfortunately, now that I know the basic route, it is easy to find the specific way they went.' Liss sighed and led her group down the left fork of the trail. Something stirred in the back of her mind as they made their way in the dark. They went about a quarter of a mile before Liss realized what had been bothering her. 'This is too easy. It's almost like...' Before Liss could finish the thought the lead warrior called out to her.
"Fresh tracks, a lot of them. The villagers can't be very far ahead," he exclaimed excitedly. Liss could see the greed in his eyes. 'The bastard can't wait to get his hands on the villagers.' She gulped when she realized that her goal was the same as his. She watched him head off down the trail with the rest of the group following him and her bringing up the rear. Liss scanned the trees on either side of her and watched as they came closer to the trail as it approached a narrow section between two boulders. The lead warrior started shouting and waving his hands. "I see them. I see them, just ahead."
Liss craned her neck and saw the heads of some of the taller villagers bobbing up and down as they ran like mad from the warlord's band. Her eyes followed the group until she spotted movement in a tree off to her left. She strained her eyes, but failed to see anything until she recognized two bright blue orbs staring at her. Eyes that had both frightened and comforted her the night before. Liss looked at the narrow section ahead and saw several soldiers rushing to get into position to ambush her party. She saw Xena's eyes track the lead warriors as they approached the boulders. Time seemed to slow down for Liss as she weighed her options. If she shouted an alarm most of the men from Kimon's group would be able to get through the ambush and kill the villagers before Xena and her followers could stop them. Liss realized why Xena kept such a close eye on the lead warriors, the soldiers weren't in position yet. The same warrior that had seen the villagers would spot the soldiers before the ambush was ready and shout his own alarm with the same result, most of the warriors would be able to reach the villagers. Her eyes locked with Xena's again and in her mind she heard the conversation of the night before,
"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."
"You do what you have to do Xena, and I'll do what I have to," Liss muttered under her breath. She raised her crossbow and fired it. Liss didn't have a chance to see if she had hit her target or not, she felt more than heard a buzzing sound and saw a reflection of sunlight off of a flying metal object right before it smashed into her head an sent her tumbling off of her horse and blacking out. Liss passed in and out of consciousness and she heard the sound of battle all around her. She heard men screaming as they died and she smiled slightly knowing that she had succeeded before she passed out for good.
Liss woke up to the same annoying sound that had woken her up the last time she had been knocked out.
"C'mon, waky, waky."
She groaned and felt a bump on her forehead. "What happened?"
"You, that's what happened."
Liss opened her eyes and saw Xena kneeling over her smiling. She looked beyond the lady warrior and saw Gabrielle talking to a soldier who nodded and took off down the path. Surrounding her were the bodies of Kimon's warriors.
"Hey, how are you feeling?" asked Gabrielle as she approached the two women.
"What hit me?"
"Well..." mumbled Gabrielle.
"I did," replied Xena. "It was the only way to make sure you didn't get killed in the ambush."
"So you took me out of the fight and made it look like I was already dead so nobody else would come after me, right?" asked Liss to make sure she had the facts correct. She shook her head to clear out the excess cobwebs.
"You really had me going there for a while, Liss. I mean, I thought you were planning on attacking those villagers, but Xena had faith in you the entire time." Gabrielle grinned. Liss smiled weakly and nodded, but didn't say anything.
"Do me a favor and catch up with the villagers. I don't want them getting lost out here and accidentally stumbling into Kimon's men."
"Sure, but what about you and Liss?"
"We'll be fine."
Gabrielle hefted her staff and took off after the villagers, taking the rest of the militia with her. An awkward silence fell between Liss and Xena as they watched the others leave.
"Shhh, you don't have to say anything," hushed Xena as she helped Liss get to her feet and lead her over to a tree stump to sit on.
"Yes I do. Gabrielle was wrong, I planned on attacked those villagers the whole time."
"Oh you did, huh?" asked Xena with an amused expression on her face.
"I'm not kidding!" Liss exclaimed angrily.
Xena placed a hand on the girl's shoulder. "And your master plan to ambush the villagers involved shooting one of your own men in the back with a crossbow bolt?" asked Xena still smiling, but with a touch of seriousness in her voice that indicated she knew exactly what had happened.
Liss sighed and covered her face with her hands. "Okay, so I couldn't go through with it. I saw that he was going to discover the trap, so I shot him."
"And when you did that you sent the rest of the group into such confusion that they didn't realize they were in a trap until it was too late." Xena paused. "You knew exactly what you were doing."
"Not until I saw you."
Xena shrugged. "I guess I made a bigger impression than I thought."
"You knew I couldn't go through with it, didn't you?" asked Liss as she watched the warrior start sifting through the dead's' belongings.
Xena picked up a large mace and looked back at Liss. "I figured you would make the decision that was right for you."
Liss snorted, "Yeah, right for me, but not for my family. Now what am I going to do?"
"I told you I would be there for you." Xena walked over to Liss and knelt down next to her. She looked Liss straight in the eye and said, "You needed to kill six women or children in order to get the bounty from Kimon, right?"
"Or a dozen soldiers," continued Xena.
"Which would be impossible, so I went for the easy...kill. It doesn't matter now."
"Take a look around you, Liss. There are a dozen dead men lying on the ground."
Understanding dawned on the girl as she followed Xena's line of thinking. Reality hit her when she realized that Kimon would easily recognize his own men, dead or not. "It won't work, Xena. He's going to know his own men."
Xena had a blank, almost sad expression on her face. "I want you to listen to me, Liss. You know about my past, right?" She received a muted nod in response. "And you know I did some things that are best left not talked about in polite company, right?" Another nod. "This is one of those things that should be left unsaid, especially to Gabrielle." Xena walked over to one of the corpses and took a deep breath. She pulled the battle mace in a long, slow arc back near her head and held it there for a second. Xena brought the mace back down and smashed the face of the corpse into a bloody mass of goo with one blow. The warrior repeated the process with the remaining eleven bodies sometimes using her sword, sometimes the mace, and sometimes both. Liss sat there during the entire event, wide eyed at the brutality of what she was witnessing. The same woman that had held her while she cried about here sister was mutilating the bodies of the men she had ridden with only hours before. Xena finished her task by going to each body and severing the head from the shoulders and placing it in large sack. She tossed the sack near the ground where Liss was sitting and walked over to her. To her credit, Liss didn't back away, but sat there and watched as the Warrior Princess approached her.
"I don't think I could have done that," she remarked solemnly.
"Good, because it took a lifetime of death and destruction for me to get used to it. Promise me this is the end of your career as a mercenary, Liss," demanded Xena.
"I promise, Xena." Liss leaped off the stump and hugged the warrior who was still drenched in the blood of the men she had mangled. "I promise." Liss cried as Xena held her. Several minutes went by before either wanted to let go. Eventually Liss broke free and wiped the tears from her face. "Now what?"
"Now you go to Kimon, get your bounty, and go home to pay off your sister's debt."
Liss nodded and grabbed the sack, she was amazed at how heavy it was. She tied the sack to a horse and got on her own. "Will I ever see you again?"
"Are you sure you want to after all of this?" Xena held her hands off to her side to indicate the blood and gore that covered her.
"Yes. I want you and Gabrielle to visit me and my family in Rhion. I want you to meet my sister."
"We'd be honored to."
Liss nudged her horse into a gentle gallop and headed back to Kimon's camp. She collected her thoughts and tried to come up with a plausible story of how her entire party was killed, but she managed to escape without a scratch.
'Well, not with out a scratch,' thought Liss as she rubbed the knot on her head that had come from Xena's chakram. 'I better come up with something other than, "whoops we got ambushed and here I am to collect my reward."'
Liss entered the camp and rode up to Kimon's tent. Grakus was just exiting with Kimon as she dismounted. "Liss, what happened to you?" He pointed at the blood all over her tunic, blood that had come from crying in Xena's arms.
"What do you think happened? We were ambushed by Xena."
"Where are my men," demanded Kimon entering the conversation.
"Dead," responded Liss a-matter-a-factly.
"What?!?!" screamed Kimon.
"We got ambushed because those idiots got drunk and were shouting so loud the dead in Tartarus could hear them. It's no small surprise that Xena and the militia were able to sneak up and attack us."
"So why aren't you dead?" sneered the warlord.
"Because I had enough common sense to head into the deep woods and pick off the militia one by one. I'm just lucky your boys kept Xena entertained long enough for me to pick up these." She cut the rope that held the sack onto the horse. The sack dropped and several heads rolled out of it. Grakus jumped back, but Kimon walked over and kicked one. He watched it sail across the encampment and strike an unsuspecting man in the back.
"Oh, well. Men are easy to replace. How much do I owe you?" asked Kimon in a business like fashion.
"There are a dozen heads in there, or there were before your started playing with them. That comes to three hundred dinars."
"Well worth the price. Come inside while I get your money." Liss followed the warlord into the tent with Grakus trailing them. Kimon picked up a sack of dinars and tossed them to Liss. "There is a little over four hundred dinars in that bag, consider the rest an incentive to work for me again."
Liss nearly lost control. The knuckles on her right hand turned white as she gripped her dagger. She remembered her promise to Xena about leaving this lifestyle and returning home. Killing Kimon might make her feel better in the short term, but it was still another death on her conscience. "No thanks, I think it's time I took a well deserved rest."
Grakus spoke up, "Does this mean you're leaving my employ as well?"
'You bet you son of a bitch,' she thought. "Yup, time to go on a vacation," is what she said. Liss wheeled around and walked out of the tent. She grabbed the reins of the horse and spurred it into a run in order to put as much distance as possible between her and the warlord.
continue to chapter six
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