A Friends Debt part 4
Chapter 6 "There's no place like home."
"Raiders! Raiders!" shouted a young girl as she ran to the farm house dragging her little brother along. In her heart she knew there was no way they were going to make it. Determined to protect her family, the girl turned around and faced her opponent. As the cloaked figured dismounted from the horse she raised the pitchfork and prepared to take a swing at the lone raider.
"Hey, watch where you're pointing that thing," cried a young woman's voice from inside the cloak. The stranger pulled the hood back to reveal deep brown eyes and chestnut hair.
"Liss!" shouted the girl excitedly.
Liss grinned and enveloped her little sister is a bear hug. "It's good to finally be home, Daphne."
Her younger brother approached cautiously. "Liss?"
"Calais, you've grown so much since I saw you last." Liss bent down and hugged the brother she had not seen in nearly a year.
"Where have you been?" the boy asked innocently. "All Daphne would say was that you left and still loved us."
"Never mind, Liss. It doesn't matter where you have been, or what you have been doing," said Daphne interceding on behalf of her sister.
Liss smiled gratefully, but became somber when she asked, "Where is Father?"
Daphne lost her cheerfulness ask she replied, "In bed. Some days are better than others, but he occasionally is forced to stay inside rather than try to work the fields."
The elder sister looked at the fields and was surprised to see signs of crops poking out of the ground. "How did you get a crop in this year? We lost all of our money trying to get the raise the last one. You didn't borrow money from Alope again, did you?"
Daphne shuddered and wrapped her arms around herself. "No, this year enough farmers were able to band together and loan out seed to those who needed it." She paused and let out a small grin. "Alope is going bankrupt from not being able to make any loans." Liss watched her little sister lose the grin as she continued. "We still owe him the money from last year though, that hasn't changed, and this year's crop won't come in time to pay him back."
"You let me handle Alope, Sis. When I left I told you I would find a way to keep you from working for that monster."
Daphne shook her head. "There's no way you could have earned six hundred dinars, not without you..." Her voice trailed off as she left the implication hanging in the air.
"Relax, I'm not about to let you get sold off to work in a whore house, and I didn't work in one either."
"Then how..." Daphne didn't continue. She took a moment to examine her sister, something she failed to do in all the excitement of Liss' return. Liss noticed her sister's eyes stop at the daggers on her belt and the shield she wore on her arm. The blood stains from her recent adventure were still on her clothes since she had ridden home without bothering to wash them out.
"Let's go inside, I'll try to explain everything." The threesome headed to the small cottage and quietly entered. Daphne nodded in the direction of the master bedroom. Liss tiptoed to the door and gently opened it. She saw her father sleeping with his leg propped up on several pillows and a crutch leaning against the nightstand. A wave of anger washed over her, several deep breaths later she closed the door and made her way to the family room. Liss plopped down in her old chair and smiled gratefully as Daphne placed a mug in front of her. She took a long sip and nearly spit it out.
"What's wrong, Liss?" asked her sister, alarmed that the milk might have gone bad.
"Nothing," mumbled Liss around a mouthful of milk. She finally swallowed and looked her sister sheepishly. "I haven't had milk since I left. It's mostly been ale with some wine from time to time."
"Wow! You got to drink ale?" asked Calais wide-eyed that his big sister had gotten to do grown up stuff.
"Ale?" Daphne's nose crinkled. "You always hated the smell, let alone the taste of the stuff. What made you change your mind?"
"Well, there's not a whole lot of choices in a mercenary army."
'Ouch, I blew the subtle approach right out of the water' thought Liss as she mentally berated herself. "So, now you know where I got the money. I've been working as a scout for various mercenary armies for the past year."
Daphne stared at her sister, not sure whether to laugh at what might be a joke, or cry at what her sister did on her behalf. Calais' voice brought her back to her surroundings.
"Neat! Can I play with your knives? Did you fight a bunch of bad guys?" Calais was hammering out questions before Liss could even answer the first one.
"Did you kill anybody?"
THAT struck Liss right down to her soul. She grabbed Calais roughly by his shoulders. "You listen to me, right now. Killing is nothing to ever be proud off. In answer to your question; yes, I did kill people. It's something I'll always regret."
"But they were bad people!"
"Oh, Calais, you're too young to understand, but not all of them were bad people. Some were men just trying to support their family," Liss' voice became softer, "like I was."
Liss wrapped an arm around Daphne. "I know what you're thinking. Don't torture yourself over what I did."
"But you killed those people because of me!"
"It was my choice, besides," Liss have a small smirk, "I didn't kill anybody that wasn't trying to kill me first. Look, what's done is done. I've come home and I don't plan on leaving again, ever. Certainly not to become a mercenary again."
"Honest, a friend taught me that I wasn't really cut out for it."
"How did he do that?"
"She, and she did that by threatening me and showing me that there are things scarier than the monsters we used to worry were under our beds."
Daphne shook her head in disbelief. "I don't believe anybody could scare you, let alone some woman."
"Believe me, Daphne. This is one woman you don't want to tick off. Enough about me, we have all the time in the world to catch up. Right now I want to relax and forget about the past year." Liss tilted her chair back until it was on two legs and the back was up against the nearest wall. She closed her eyes and went to sleep unconsciously keeping one hand near a dagger and her body facing the door.
Daphne decided to let it rest for now and took Calais into the kitchen to prepare dinner. After resting for close to an hour, Liss started to sense somebody was watching her. She opened her eyes to small slits and slowly wrapped her hand around her dagger. Without warning she popped her eyes wide open and jumped out of her chair to face the person observing her.
"Father!" Liss threw herself at the old man, nearly causing him to fall. "I'm sorry, I forgot about your leg."
"Liss, don't worry about me, I'm just happy to see you home."
"Father, I," started Liss, but was cut off by the old man.
"Shhh. I already know what you've been up to." He smiled as he sat down on a well padded couch.
"You do?" asked Liss, her eyebrows furrowing.
"I wasn't always a farmer," sighed her father. "You are too young to remember what I use to do before farming."
"You've always farmed. I do remember when I was young and Mother was carrying Daphne you used to work on someone else's farm and had to leave for long periods of time."
"That's right, daughter. It was about ten years ago and you were about six or seven when I finally quit the mercenary trade. Those long periods of time away from home was when I was out fighting for pay. Your mother hated it, but we couldn't afford to buy enough land to farm so I did the only thing I knew, fight." He paused and gave a grin. "I wasn't half bad until I ran into Tartarus on Earth. That warlord tore through our little band like a hot knife through butter and she was only getting started in the business."
"The Warrior Princess, who else? Back then she was fighting to create some kind of 'defense zone' around her home town. Another village hired us to stop her, we failed, but she was merciful enough to let us join her or swear to give up the sword. I chose the second option, obviously."
"Wow, the Fates work in weird ways," mumbled Liss.
"What was that?" asked her father.
"Huh? Oh, nothing." Just then Daphne and Calais walked in carrying supper and the family sat down to the first dinner they had had together in a year. Liss went to her room and quietly took a look around it. She smiled as she noticed that everything was in the same place she had left it. The retired mercenary changed into a shift and closed her eyes, waiting for the next morning when she could go into town and pay off the loans.
The next morning came quickly for Liss. She put on a simple dress that she had left hanging in her closet and replaced it with her normal green tunic. Her daggers and shield were placed in a small chest next to her bed. 'Won't be needing them anymore.'
Liss hitched up the wagon and climbed in with Daphne following her. "You don't have to come, Sis."
"I know, but I want to see the look on Alope's face when we pay him off. He's been bragging about how much money I was going to make for him."
"Well, I guess we'll just have to disappoint him, won't we?" Liss whistled and snapped the reins to get the wagon moving. The trip to the village was uneventful and Liss took the time to fill her sister in on some of the less violent aspects of her year as a mercenary. Daphne was amazed at the places Liss had been and the sites she had seen. She almost envied her sister until she remembered what Liss had done in order to see those places. The two sisters pulled up in front of Alope's place of business and got off of the wagon. Alope came out the front door to greet them. The moneylender was a weasel looking man with beady eyes and one long hair that he seemed to wrap around the top of his head in an attempt to hide his obvious baldness.
"Well, this is a surprise! You still have a week left, Daphne you didn't have to turn yourself over to me so soon. I'm glad you did, and happy that you brought your sister with you."
"We're here to pay off my family and my sister's loan, Alope."
"How did you manage to raise that kind of money, little girl?" asked an astonished Alope as they walked into his shop.
"How I earned it is my business." Liss tossed the pouch of money over to him. "Go ahead and count it, you slime. Come on, Daphne, let's get out of here."
"Not so fast! There's no way you could have earned this much money honestly. Either you have some old man you've managed to seduce or you've taken to a life of crime. It doesn't matter to me, but I want more money or I'll tell the whole town." Alope sneered at them.
Liss closed her eyes and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. 'Stay calm, Liss,' she told herself.
The weasel continued, "You may have saved your sister, but we all know you must have become some sort of whore or otherwise sold yourself. All I want is to see what you got."
A pleasant smile came across Liss' face. She smiled sweetly and said, "You want to see what I've been doing? Sure, no problem." Liss walked over to Alope and put her right foot up on a nearby chair. She pulled her skirt up slowly, teasing the Alope. When her skirt was raised nearly mid thigh she pulled the small knife she had strapped to her leg with her right hand and grabbed Alope's throat with her left. Liss threw him against the wall and held the knife to his throat. She whispered into his ear, "This is what I've been doing. I've been working as a mercenary and you want to know something? I'm damn good at it. I have killed and probably would have killed more if I still had money to raise. A friend of mine told me killing gets to be too easy, she was right, but so help me if you ever talk trash about me or any member of my family I'm going to come out of retirement. You got me?"
Alope nodded vigorously. Liss pulled the knife away from his throat and stepped away. She smoothed out her dress and held her hand out to her sister. "C'mon Daphne, let's go home."
They walked out of the shop and left Alope staring at the puddle he was standing in and the stain on his pants.
A few days passed by as Xena and Gabrielle found themselves on the road that lead to Rhion.
"Xena, aren't we near Rhion?" asked the blond bard as she scribbled on her scroll. Gabrielle had discovered that if she put a small board underneath her parchment she was able to write while she walked.
"We'll never reach the bend in the road at the rate you're walking," retorted the warrior.
"You're just jealous because of my invention." Gabrielle stuck out her tongue.
"Oh yeah, I'm jealous you found a way to walk even slower than before. Look, that idea of yours is great when you have to write and there is nothing to put the scrolll on, but it's not ideal for traveling. Why don't you wait until we make camp?"
Gabrielle sighed and rolled up her scroll, making sure to place the board in her pouch along side it for future use. "There, happy?"
"Why don't we stop and pay Liss a visit?"
"I thought you didn't like her?" asked Xena arching an eyebrow.
"Not at first, but she kinda grew on me. Besides she wasn't an evil person, just a kid that got stuck in a bad situation." Gabrielle paused in reflection. "I guess I was just preoccupied with how the end justifies the means. The way she was so determined to do whatever it took to save her family was inspiring, but so wrong."
"It's not like you to judge people like that. Remember who you travel with?"
The bard kicked a stone in the middle of the road. "Yeah, but..."
"But what? That can't be what's really bothering you about Liss." Xena nudged her companion gently in the ribs. "C'mon, you can tell me."
Gabrielle stopped and looked up into Xena's eyes. She stood there as if weighing the pros and cons of telling her friend what was really bothering her. Finally she blew out a deep breath. "I was jealous."
"Of what? Liss? That's crazy, Gabrielle. She turned out to be a friend, but you know you're my best friend. Nothing, and nobody, is going to change that." Xena was shocked that Gabrielle could be jealous of Liss.
"No, you don't understand. I wasn't jealous of her, I was jealous of you." Gabrielle was relieved she had finally gotten her little secret out in the open.
"Me?" exlaimed the warrior. "You have no reason to be jealous of me."
The bard / Amazon Queen merely stared at her friend in annoyance, letting the silence be her answer.
"Okay, so I fight better than you do, that's never bothered you before."
"And you run faster, jump higher, have traveled all over the known world, but that's not it."
"It's not?" Xena was confused more than ever.
"Of course not. I'm not a warrior so I've never expected to be able to match you physically and you're older so I know you have been places I've only dreamt of. It's that fact that in all our travels you've always been the one who has been the fighter and me the talker. This time..."
Xena nodded in understanding. "This time I'm the one who did the sensitive talk and you're a little upset that I did so well. Is that it?"
Gabrielle nodded sheepishly. "I'm not jealous that you did so well, it's just that it was one area that I was better than you."
The warrior grinned and ruffled her friend's hair. "I had a good teacher."
This time it was Xena's turn to stare.
"Really?" asked Gabrielle, echoeing herself.
"Yes really," confirmed Xena. "I've still got a long way to go before I'm in your league, but maybe someday I'll get there." The two friends walked in silence as they continued down the road to Rhion.
The sun was slowly setting as the two travelers reached the outskirts of Rhion. Not a large town by anybody's definition, but fairly selfsupporting and nestled nicely between two mountain ranges that sheltered it from severe storms. Xena fell into an old tradition of scouting out the town for weak points. She smirked when she noticed her fair haired friend doing the same. Gabrielle had gotten into the habit of checking out a village's defense when they entered, it made it easier when a warlord threatened the village since she would already know the area.
"The shrubbery is too close to the village on the north side. It would make it easy for a small group to sneak up from that side," was the reply.
"And too many of buildings are close together. If a fire started it could cause the whole town to burst into flames."
"Not that I can see, Xena. How did I do?" asked Gabrielle as her eyes continued to roam around the town.
"Not too bad. You missed the checkpoints that are hidden, but unmanned in the trees, but other than that you did fine," replied Xena. Gabrielle had pestered her into teaching her what to look for when attacking a village. It was not something the warrior liked to think about, but her persistent companion pointed out that knowledge itself wasn't good or bad, only what was done with it. "Isn't that Liss over by the tavern?"
"Yeah, I think it is." Gabrielle paused as she squinted her eyes. "And it looks like she might be in trouble."
The two heroes hastened their pace as they headed for the tavern. The group of people Liss had been argueing with had forced her into the tavern so they arrived unseen. Xena and Gabrielle started to hear voices the closer they got.
"You're going to pay for what you did!" came an angry voice of an man.
Xena hear Liss respond, "We paid you, now leave us alone!"
"You owe me interest."
"What! I paid the amount agreed on. I'm not paying you one more dinar, Alope." Xena could tell that Liss was starting to get angry. The warrior peeked in an open window and saw Liss backed into a corner with a young girl, whom Xena assumed was her sister, and several thugs surrounding her. A small man was shaking his fist at the females. A group of tavern patrons were looking on nervously, afraid to try to stop something they obviously didn't approve of. The man held his hand up as if to give a signal. That was enough for Xena. She walked over to the door and kicked it in with enough force to tear it off its hinges.
"Take one more step and it will be your last," Xena growled as she made her way to where the men were standing. "Nobody, nobody threatens my friends," she paused to wink quickly at Liss, "or my family."
"Fa...fa...family?" squeaked Alope.
Xena snatched a sword from one of Alope's men and gripped it with one hand on the pommel and the other on the flat of the blade. She added more pressure until it snapped. "That's what I said, family. You weren't doing anything like that, were you?" Xena practically purred the question, her eyes never leaving Alope's. Alope's eyes on the other hand never left the sword, now broken into two pieces. Xena dropped the pieces of the sword and lifted Alope up by the collar with one hand. The moneylender's feet were dangling nearly a foot off the ground for several moments before Xena spoke again. Her voice dropped and she snarled, "I asked you a question, and I want an answer. NOW!"
"Nnnnnn...no. My mistake," muttered Alope.
Xena dropped him, but didn't let go of his collar. "Good, if anything, and I mean anything happens to Liss or her family I'll hear about it."
Gabrielle cleared her throat, "Ummm...Xena? You might want to let him go before the tavern keeper has to clean up the floor." The bard nodded to a stream running down Alope's pants leg.
"XENA?!? Oh Gods, please don't kill me," shouted a now hysterical Alope. "I swear I won't even look at her, just don't kill me."
Xena shook her head in disgust as she threw him towards the door. "Get out of here, and don't forget to pay the owner for the door."
The moneylender scrambled out the door with his lackeys following close behind. Gabrielle couldn't keep from letting out a small giggle at the sight. Even the normally stoic Warrior Princess had a grin on her face. Xena shook her head as she walked over to Liss.
"Thanks for the help, Xena."
"What are big sisters for?" replied the warrior as she wrapped her arm around the former mercenary.
"Big sister?" asked a stunned Daphne.
"Daphne, meet Xena my adopted big sister. Xena meet Daphne, my little sister," said Liss. She pulled Gabrielle over and introduced her as well.
"I get the feeling you left some details out of your stories, Liss," said Daphne as the group sat down.
"Well, I figured you didn't need to hear everything."
"So you left out about adopting one of the greatest heroes Greece has ever known?" retorted Daphne. "I want to hear everything, the good and the bad."
Liss blew out a long breath and started telling her story to Daphne from the beginning, complete and unedited. Daphne listened intently, not wanted to risk sounding judgemental. When the tale was finished Liss turned her eyes to the ground, not wanted to see her sister's reaction. Daphne, to her credit, turned to Xena and said, "Thank you for helping Liss. As far as I'm concerned you're always going to be a member of this family." Daphne hugged Liss and held her tightly as Xena and Gabrielle got up.
"Hey! Where are you two heading?" shouted Liss.
"Monster's to kill, warlords to crush, you know, the usual stuff. Don't worry, we'll be by for a visit," replied Xena. Liss and Daphne waved as Xena and Gabrielle left town.
A few leagues down the road Gabrielle turned to Xena. "I think I finally got the story down, all except the title. How about 'Liss' Debt'?"
Xena turned to look at her friend. "Why don't we leave Liss' name out of it? I think she deserves some peace and quiet. How about 'A Friend's Debt' instead?"
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