Disclaimers: The usual Talias not mine, yadda yadda. I dont own anyone from XWPheck, who does? Anyway, Im just borrowing them. Ill give them back when Im done.
Sex: Well, probably not this time around, but you never know when the subject of two women being in love with each other may come up. So, if thats not your thing, move on.
Violence: Yep. Nothing more than you would see on TV and not as graphic as you would see on CNN more along the lines of an episode of Xena. <g>
Feedback: You dont know who I am. <g> But when you do, feedback would be great.
A trail of dust kicked up around his feet as he entered the saloon. He stopped at the edge of the bar and waited patiently for the barkeeper to walk over.
"Whatll ya have?"
"Im with the Grecian Express. I have a delivery for Talia of Pindus."
Anyone that had been talking grew silent at the mention of Talias name. The barkeeper simply pointed to a corner of the saloon and went back to wiping off the bar.
The corner was dark, but there was enough light for the young rider to see the black clad figure, her boots propped up on the table, chair tipped back and the brim of her hat just barely obscuring the features of her face. He couldnt see her eyes, but he could feel them on him as he made his way across the room.
"Talia of Pindus?"
The woman slowly raised her glass and finished off a shot of whiskey. "Who wants to know?"
"Grecian Express. Ive got a scroll for you." He reached into his bag, removed the scroll and placed it on the table. "Have a nice evening."
The young rider turned and ran out of the saloon, mounted his horse and headed off for his next destination, kicking up more dust as he left.
Talia put her glass down on the table and reached for the scroll, curious as to who would possibly send her a message. Most of her friends were either dead or in prison, and her family had died years ago.
She carefully unrolled the parchment and read it.
TO: Talia of Pindus
FROM: The Committee
Your presence is required in the city of Orlandopolis. Please begin your journey immediately and make your best possible speed to join us.
Talia rolled the parchment up and stood, causing most of the patrons to avert their curious gazes. She shook her head at them, tossed a few dinars on the bar to pay her tab and walked out of the saloon.
The sun was beginning to set on what had begun as just another boring day in a very boring town. Talia headed for the stables, glad to finally have a chance to get out. She needed some action. Something that had been seriously lacking in Pindus ever since she defeated a warlord called Cresue.
"Good evening Sheriff." The stable master greeted her with a smile. The old man was one of the few people in Pindus that wasnt afraid of her.
"Hello Bick." Talia went to her horses stall. "So, you ready for a ride, girl?" She asked the animal, receiving a nod and a snort in response. Mages nostrils flared slightly and Talia could see just a hint of excitement in her ebony eyes. "Yeah, youre as ready as I am."
"Going for a ride, Sheriff?"
"You could say that." Talia retrieved her saddle and settled it on Mages back. "Im leaving Pindus, Bick. I think its time for me to move on."
"Off to find new adventures, eh?"
Talia smiled at the old man and cinched the saddle up. "Oh yeah." She secured her saddlebags, glad that she always kept them packed and ready for travel. It was something Xena had taught her many years before. "I dont know that Ill be back any time soon." Talia mounted her horse. "Let Graves know that hes the sheriff now. Im sure hell do a fine job." She started to remove her badge, but Bick stopped her.
"Keep it as a souvenir. Its the least we can do for you after all that youve done for us."
"Good journey, Talia."
The former sheriff waved at the stable master as she set Mage into motion and rode out of town just as the sun disappeared behind the night sky.
The first week of her journey had been uneventful and Talia was beginning to wonder if the trip was going to be a waste of her time. She was almost to the port city of Eclisi where she planned to get a fast ship to Orlandopolis. Talia pulled Mage to a stop when she heard a set of riders coming toward them on the narrow trail.
The first man was whooping and hollering in celebration, his grin revealing all of three teeth. He was covered in what looked to Talia like soot and never slowed as he passed her. His companion didnt look much different, though he wasnt as celebratory.
"Ive got a bad feeling about this, Mage," Talia remarked as she watched the men continue along the trail. Mage replied by stamping her fore legs, drawing Talias attention ahead of them.
There was an orange glow coming from the same direction the riders had come from. It flickered and grew, its shape unmistakable. Talia urged Mage forward, riding hard and fast toward the glow.
They reached the house in a few minutes, but it was already engulfed in flames. If anyone had been inside, they would certainly be dead by now. Talia dismounted and let Mage wander away from the heat of the fire as she began looking around the home for any sign of survivors.
"No!" The scream came from behind Talia. A young girl was running directly for what used to be the front of the house. Talia rushed to stop her, grabbing the girl around the waist and pulling her well away from the flames.
"Let me go! I have to get to my father! Hes still inside!"
"Its too late for him!" Talia wrapped both arms around the struggling girl, using all her strength to keep her from going near the house. "Im sorry."
The girl collapsed in Talias arms and slipped to her knees. She covered her face with her hands and succumbed to her tears.
Talia had no idea what to do for the girl except to stand there with a hand on her shoulder. Anything she could have said would have sounded trite, so she kept silent as the girl dealt with her grief.
After a few moments, Talia left the girl alone and went to find Mage. She came back with a cup of water and handed it to the girl. "Drink this."
"Wha-what is it?" She asked shakily.
"Its water. Go on."
The girl narrowed her dark eyes at Talia as if trying to decide if she could trust her. After a moment of thought she carefully drank the water. "Yuk! Whats in that?"
"Just an herb to make you relax for a while." Talia spread out her bedroll and helped the girl lie down as the herb took affect. "Ill take care of things here for you."
The girl started to speak, but was asleep before any words could form. Talia covered her with a blanket, taking a moment to smooth back the blonde hair from her forehead. "Cant be more than 15," Talia thought. She sighed, then headed for the house to begin the grim task of finding the body of the girls father.
Talia was preparing their meal when the girl finally awoke. Shed slept for a few hours and now it was nearly sundown.
"Welcome back." Talia smiled at her. "Would you like something to eat?"
"I guess so."
Talia pointed to the log she was sitting upon and the girl joined her. "Im Talia."
"Daphne." She looked back toward the remains of her home. "Is my father"
"I found a gravesite not far from here. I buried him next to it."
"My mothers. Thank you."
Talia shrugged, handing Daphne a bowl of rabbit stew. "Do you have any idea who may have done this?"
"Im not sure." Daphne stared at her bowl and Talia wondered if the girl was being truthful.
"Im a sheriff, Daphne. I can help find whoever did this to your father and bring them to justice."
"Justice?" Daphne put the uneaten food down and stood. "Is justice going to bring my father back?"
"Will revenge?" Talia watched the anger in those dark eyes flare. "Revenge is never the answer, Daphne. I think you know who is responsible for doing this and if you go after them on your own ."
Daphne shook her head, but sat beside Talia again. "But I want to hurt them for what theyve done. I want to make them pay!"
"I know you do, but the only thing youll get out of revenge is their blood on your hands. Would your father want that?"
"No," she said quietly, staring into the fire. "Lancor. His name is Lancor."
Talia gently rested her hand on Daphnes shoulder. "Good. I think I got a good look at him as he and a companion were running away. Any idea who the other man was?"
"Probably his brother, Wancor." Fresh tears fell down Daphnes cheeks. "They told my father that if he didnt sell them his land they would take if from him."
"Whats so important about this land?"
"Its not just our land. Those two have bullied some of our neighbors into either selling or giving them their land. Now they own most of whats around us. They want to add to their goat farm even though they already own all the goats here."
"First thing in the morning well head into town and find these two and get them to the local Sheriff."
"No." Daphne stood up again, her voice full of urgency. "No. We have to go now. I forgot that the Sheriff is planning to take some prisoners to the island of Harang in the morning. If we dont"
"Okay, okay." Talia put out the fire and quickly cleaned up the camp. "Well go now on one condition."
"That you do exactly as I tell you. No matter what."
Daphne narrowed her gaze at Talia, but nodded. "Sure. Deal."
Talia mounted her horse then held her hand out to Daphne. "Cmon."
Daphne didnt hesitate in climbing up behind Talia, wrapping her arms around the older womans waist as they galloped toward town.
Mage slid to a stop in front of the Sheriffs office, where Talia deposited Daphne. "Have the Sheriff meet me at the local tavern."
Talia smiled. "Because thats where maggots always hang out." She spurred Mage toward the tavern at a gallop.
Two very worn and familiar looking horses were tethered outside the tavern. Both were covered with a thin layer of soot. Talia casually ran her finger across one of the saddles as she walked up the steps to the tavern, purposely making a very noisy entrance. Everyone there stopped what they were doing to see who had just walked in.
"I want to know who owns those two horses out front."
"Whats it to ya?" One man shouted from somewhere in the back of the place.
"Well, I intend to arrest them both for murder." Talia rested her hands on her hips, ignoring the laughter around her. One finger loosely rested upon the dagger on her right side. "So, who owns them?"
"We do." The two grubby men shed seen earlier moved closer to her. Several of the taverns patrons got out of their way, then formed a circle to surround the three of them. "What you gonna do about it?"
"You know, I was really hoping that you werent going to be a typical maggot and just let me take you to the Sheriff." Talia sighed dramatically. "Guess I was wrong."
The taller of the two, who Talia figured was Lancor, drew his sword. "Look, you gonna fight us or what?"
Lancor never saw the dagger thrown, only felt the pain as it pierced the skin of his sword hand, forcing him to drop his weapon. He stood there in shock looking at the blade that had gone through his hand, unable to believe what had just happened.
Talia retrieved Lancors sword, holding her own near his chest. "Or what. Now you two either come quietly or Im going to have to get rough."
"Well come." Wancor gave her his weapon and meekly followed his injured brother out of the tavern.
They walked into the street and were greeted by Daphne and the Sheriff.
"These the two?" He asked Talia, who simply nodded and handed over their weapons. "Okay. Ill get the judge on it first thing in the morning so we can take them to Harang with the others."
"Thanks, Sheriff," Daphne said.
"No problem." The Sheriff took note of the badge on Talias coat. "Where are you a sheriff?"
"No where at the moment. Why? Got a job opening?"
The older man laughed. "Nope. But I heard Thesian was looking for a Sheriff."
"Hmm. Ill keep that in mind." Talia moved to Lancor and grabbed his hand and pulled her dagger free. "Thats my favorite dagger."
The man snarled at her as the Sheriff led him and his brother away.
Daphne stared after them for a moment. "I cant believe it was that easy. You just went in there and got them. How did you do that?"
Talia shrugged. "Practice I suppose." She looked around as the tavern patrons started moving back inside, the excitement of the night now over. "So, there any place to get a room around here?"
"Theres a decent Inn at the end of the street."
"Good. Lets get a room and some rest."
Daphne smiled at the invitation and led her new friend down the now deserted street.
The trial lasted less than an hour as the judge convicted both men, sentencing them to a life of hard labor on Harang Island. Talia stood with Daphne outside the Sheriffs office as Lancor and Wancor, along with five other prisoners, were taken to the docks.
"Sheriff," Daphne grabbed his arm as he went past her, "can I go along? I want to see them make the journey to the island."
"Its not a trip that a young lady should take, Daphne." The Sheriff patted her hand kindly. "You need to return home and start rebuilding before the rainy season sets in." He tipped his hat to her and followed his prisoners.
"He doesnt understand." Daphne shook her head. "I want to make sure they get there. I have to be sure they are going to pay for what theyve done."
Talia didnt comment. Instead her gaze was steadily following the Sheriff and his two prisoners. He seemed to be talking in low tones to both of them as he prodded them toward the ship. Something wasnt right.
"Talia? Are you listening to me?"
"Who owns the land around your house?" Talia looked away from the Sheriff for a moment. When she looked back, the older man was standing by himself next to the ship.
Daphne looked quizzically at Talia, but answered, "Lancor. I told you"
"No. Hes not smart enough to build a goat farm bigger than a hut. He and his brother work for someone else. Any ideas who that someone might be?"
"Malen is the richest man in the area. But I dont think he owns any goats. What are you getting at?"
Talia pointed to the prison ship, which the Sheriff was now boarding. "Do you see Lancor or Wancor over there?"
Daphne scanned the area Talia was pointing to, but could not see the brothers. "Maybe theyre already on the ship."
"Or the Sheriff has already set them loose." Talia ran to the ship, reaching the boarding plank seconds before the ships crew was to pull it up. She went halfway up the plank. "I need to see the Sheriff! Its urgent!"
The Sheriff appeared behind the startled sailor, moving him aside to speak to Talia. "Were about to get underway. What do you need?"
"I need to speak to the prisoners."
"No one is allowed to speak to the prisoners." The Sheriff smiled down at her. "You should know that."
"Yes, but I think theyve got answers to some very important questions." Talia took another step toward the Sheriff.
"You need to step off the plank, Talia, before you end up going for a swim." There was some raucous laughter from the sailors, but Talia took another step forward.
"Then maybe you can answer some questions, Sheriff." He started to protest, but Talia stopped him. "Such as how is it that the prisoners you were escorting a few moments ago never made it to this ship? Or perhaps you can tell us who is really behind the killings that have been going on here lately?"
"What killings?" He asked, looking up as a crowd began to gather around the dock.
"The killings of farmers who refused to sell their land." Talia took one more step forward, then slipped her coat behind the hilt of her dagger, resting her fingers along the familiar grip.
"I have no idea"
"You dont have to answer to her, Sheriff." A man parted the crowd and now stood at the end of the plank. He was very well dressed and held himself like he was royalty. From the reactions of those gathered around, Talia figured he was probably the closest thing to royalty this small town had.
"And who are you?" She asked, turning sideways so she could watch him and the Sheriff.
"I am Malen. I own most of this town."
"So youre the one that paid Lancor and his brother to buy up all the farmland in the area, right?"
Malen laughed mirthlessly. "I have no idea what youre talking about."
"Yeah. Ive been hearing that a lot lately." Talia was about to turn to the Sheriff when she saw a barely perceptible nod come from Malen. Quick reflexes were the only thing that kept her from plunging into the water as the Sheriff jumped at her.
Talia used the older mans momentum against him and sent him into the water, where he sputtered and struggled to get his big bulk back onto the dock. Most of the crowd laughed, but a couple of the sailors leapt onto the plank.
"You boys have no idea who youre dealing with," Talia muttered as she ducked the first sailors fist, coming under his swing to drive her fist into his gut. He doubled over and she tossed him off the plank. He landed in the water and grabbed hold of the Sheriff, who was nearly onto the dock, pulling both men under.
Two more sailors came at her, figuring two against one was better odds. Talia smiled at their bravado, jumping over both men to stand behind them where she knocked their heads together. They both lost their balance and fell into the water. It was now a mess of arms and legs below the plank.
A few more sailors joined their friends as they continued to try to get Talia off the plank. After a dozen ended up going for a swim, the other sailors decided it wasnt worth even trying.
Talia walked back onto the dock and pulled the Sheriff up as he tried for perhaps the fifth time to get out of the water. She led him into the crowd, stopping when they came to Malen. "Look, I dont have a lot of time here. Now, is this the guy thats been paying you to look the other way while the farmers have been bullied into selling their land. Or in the case of Daphnes father, killed to get their land?"
"No one was supposed to die." The Sheriff coughed and spit out some water while he tried to catch his breath. "Lancor set the house on fire to scare him. The guy thought his daughter was inside and ran in to get her. Wancor tried to stop him, but it was too late."
Daphne came forward upon hearing this bit of information. "He was trying to save me?"
The Sheriff nodded. "But how do you know they were telling the truth?"
"Because I was there." The Sheriff met the gazes of most of the people around them, but could not look at Malen. "Im sorry."
"Is Malen the one who paid you to do all this, Sheriff?" Talia asked again, her gaze leveled at Malen.
The townspeople reacted almost immediately, demanding that Malen be hanged for his crimes. Talia gave the Sheriff over to a couple of his deputies and tried to move the crowd away from Malen. "This is for the law to handle."
Malen drew his sword when someone grabbed his arm, swinging at the man and slicing him across the chest. The crowd finally gave the angered man plenty of room. "Im not going anywhere."
Talia stepped toward Malen. "Yes, you are. Youre going to jail. Youll get a fair trail and justice will be served. Youll get what you deserve, Malen. Youve done enough to the people here to keep you away for the rest of your life."
"Not a chance in Hades. I will not be going to any prison." Malen had maneuvered himself around the edges of the crowd, coming to a stop near Daphne. Talia realized what he was planning and moved with him. She pulled her dagger from its sheath a second too late.
Daphne released a startled cry when the man wrapped his arm around her throat. He rested the edge of his sword across her body, the tip near her chin. Daphne grasped his arm with both hands, but could not dislodge it.
"Youre making a big mistake, Malen."
"No, Im making a getaway." He was steadily backing up, Talia carefully following him. "All I need is a horse and Im out of here."
"Not going to let that happen." Talia gripped her dagger, judging the distance to Malen and if she could hit him between the eyes without hurting Daphne.
"Wrong again. Were leaving and theres nothing you can do about it. One wrong move and Ill kill this lovely girl."
Daphne met Talias eyes and winked at her. Talia stopped in her tracks, wondering just what the girl had in mind.
"Um, I think I have something to say about all this."
"Shut up girl!" Malen tightened his grip around Daphnes throat. "Cooperate and Ill let you live. For a while."
Daphne went limp in Malens arms, forcing the man to release his hold on her throat to hold her up. He moved his arm to around her waist, which was the same instant that Daphnes head shot upward, connecting with Malens nose.
Blood poured from his face when she turned and slammed her fist into his nose, causing him to release her and stumble backward. Malen held one hand over his face, screaming from the pain and trying desperately to find Daphne. He swung his weapon around, but she easily stepped out of its path.
"Good one," Talia commented when she joined Daphne. "Put the sword down, Malen. Its over."
"No!" He rushed Talia, heading for her voice because he was partially blinded by his own pain.
Talia met his attack, using her sword to twist his weapon from his grip, sending it several feet away. She then kicked out with her left foot and hit Malen behind the knees, sending the man to the ground.
He was on his knees, leaning forward on his hands, blood still dripping from his face. Slowly Malen got to his feet and revealed the dagger that he held in his hand. "I wont go."
"You dont have a choice, Malen."
"Life is full of choices." He rushed Talia again, but at the last second changed direction and headed for Daphne. Talia had no choice but to cut him down with her sword before he could reach her young friend.
Malen fell soundlessly to the ground.
The crowd had followed them from the docks and now cheered, chanting Talias name. Talia ignored them all, going to Daphnes side. "Are you okay?"
"Sure." Daphne was staring at the man responsible for her fathers death. "I suppose justice did get served, huh?"
"Yep. Not the way I would have liked, but sometimes things dont turn out the way we want them to."
"Well, looks like youre ship is ready to go." Daphne stood on the dock, holding Talias saddlebags as the older woman finished paying for her fare.
"Take me with you."
"What?" Talia took the saddlebags, slinging them over her shoulder.
"Take me with you." Daphne repeated. "Theres nothing for me here, Talia. Ive always wanted to travel and the only reason I havent left is my father." Daphne choked back sudden tears. "Now that hes gone I just want to go. Find a new place, a new life."
Talia looked down into deep brown eyes that had seen more pain than anyone so young deserved. Would it hurt to take her to Orlandopolis? Even though she had no idea what the Committee had in store for her when they arrived? Would it really be fair to drag this young girl along into a potentially dangerous situation?
Talia shrugged and handed some more dinars to the ships steward. "Well, it worked for Xena and Gabrielle. Why not?"
Daphnes face brightened and she smiled the first genuine smile since Talia had met her. "You know Xena?"
"Oh yeah. We go way back." Talia laughed as they walked onto the ship.
"So do I!"
That comment nearly stopped Talia in her tracks. "How? Youre just a kid."
"Oh have I got a story for you!"
Daphne was already on deck when Talia came up from the cabin. They stood in companionable silence as the captain maneuvered the ship to the dock. Daphne was the first one down the plank and onto shore.
Talia laughed at her exuberance. "Whats the hurry?"
"I want to see every inch of Orlandopolis! Do you realize this is the first time Ive been to another land? Ive never traveled more than a days ride from home before."
Talia paid one of the dockhands to stable Mage, then joined Daphne. "Well youre certainly in for an interesting experience."
"The Waldorfus Astorian is just around the corner. It wouldnt be much of a race."
"Afraid that Ill win?"
Talia smiled and shook her head. "Nope. Id much rather we take our time so you can tell me your story again."
"Again? But Ive told it to you twice already!"
Talia nudge her toward the inn. "Yes, but Im fascinated by it. Ive know Xena for many years, but you got to know her in a way that I dont think anyone but Gabrielle could know her."
"She really does love Gabrielle you know?"
"Yeah, I know." Talia sighed. "So, tell me!"
"Okay, okay!" Daphne cleared her throat. "Well, I was close to dying when Xena and Gabrielle found me in Aphrodites temple. Xena entered my body and "
"You shared the same body and she convinced you to make peace with your father."
"Hey! Whos telling this story anyway?" Daphne laughed, continuing her tale as they strolled to the Inn.
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