Xena stared at the blonde woman not taking away the sword. Atlanta also didn’t move a muscle piercing the warrior princess with her green eyes.
“Why do you need to free me from my mother?” Gina horned into this tough conversation.
“Your mother?!” the woman repeated as if liking the information with the tip of her tongue.
“Yes, I’m her mother. Let’s talk peacefully,” proposed the warrior princess sheathing the sword.
“I went to Capua when my nephew Damon, ‘the great Spartan warrior’, left home to become a gladiator. I managed to rescue him from octagon when he was beaten black and blue nearly to death. My nephew might be brave but he’s not as strong as he thinks. That was the first and the last time I saw Gina,” told Atlanta sitting on the rug Xena unrolled for their brief rest.
“Why I don’t remember you?” the child asked staring at the woman trying to remember anything but nothing came to mind.
“You were fighting. I don’t think you can remember anybody who was in the crowd. I searched for Damon for three days and each day I saw you in octagon. With every blow you took I thought you’d die. I couldn’t have imagined that a child could have so many bruises. Every time you won it was like a miracle but I couldn’t have helped you,” the woman apologized.
“When did you see her there?”
“It was about a year ago.”
The last words hit Gina like a ton of bricks. She was traveling with Xena for a long time but definitely she couldn’t have been here for a year. The girl began rubbing her temples. “It can’t be true. I’m not from this world. This universe just started playing tricks on me”. Tormenting thoughts struck girl’s brain. If she was here a year ago then she always existed in this damn reality and there was no Gina Conviction Carano – the woman she used to be or maybe this was only her imagination.
“Gina, are you alright?” Xena asked with concern.
“Yes, I hope. My head’s aching a little,” she lied.
How could she tell the truth when the ground was cut from under her feet? When this reality didn’t give the poor child any chance to say what was on her mind. What if those Olympic gods played Old Harry with her and there wasn’t a 32 year old woman in the first place but she is a ten year old daughter of the warrior princess. Would it be possible for Amazons to answer the question of her existence? Her brain blew up. Was she a schizophrenic with a dissociated personality? Who could answer all these questions?! The girl was screaming in her mind even if her childish form was calm in exterior.
The child obediently approached the warrior princess. Xena very motherly put her palm on girl’s forehead to see if she had a temperature.
“Where does it hurt?” She asked with concern.
“At the back of the head.” Gina shook her head trying to get rid of the throbbing pain that began to grow in her head.
Xena pressed some point on girl’s neck and pain eased a little.
“Thanks, now it’s much better.”
“Where are you going, Atlanta. Maybe it’s on the way and you can join us?” Xena turned to the woman wrestler.
Gina only now realized that the woman had even less clothing than Xena. Her leather bodysuit with some small sheets of chain armor barely covering her breasts and some short stripes of the same armor on sides of thighs that was all, that she was wearing. The girl, while travelling with Xena, started to get used to slight nakedness from time to time but Atlanta looked like a body builder who was a participant in a competition and the less clothes she got the better judges would see her muscles. It wasn’t really necessary to dress up like this when you’re in the middle of the woods.
“I’m heading to Azoros. My ‘brave’ nephew again left home in search of adventures and fame. He’s a Spartan, what can I say. King Cleon was gathering an army against a warlord Lyssos who has already seized the city of Potamia and burned down six villages. Damon went to join Cleon’s army. Since death of his father he always tries to prove something. I want to keep him alive. I’ve promised my brother to keep an eye on him and I won’t give up.”
“Kids! They bring trouble and worry, though, one day we, hopefully, will be rewarded for all sleepless nights,” said Xena. “We’re also going that way. Don’t you mind to have a company for your trip?”
“Yes, that would be nice.”
Xena took Atlanta’s backpack and bound it to Argo’s saddle. Two women, a girl and a mare went along a narrow path through the woods.
“May I ask you a question?” The muscular female asked Xena when Gina went ahead a little.
“Shoot,” responded Xena already predicting what Atlanta may inquire.
“How come Gina ended up in that filthy Roman octagon fighting for her life?” The blonde woman wanted to hide her anger but wasn’t successful. “You were too busy destroying lands?”
“I would also want to know that. If you want to accuse me of being bad mother, so it’s your right. First tell me, did you know that I had a child? At least how much do you know about me to judge!” Xena’s water blue eyes stared at the half naked wrestler giant.
“Listen, I know that you’ve changed. Hercules told me and common people also started talking about good deeds of a warrior princess. I want to understand how you could let your child to fight in the pit as a slave?”
“You’re not listening! I didn’t even know that Gina was in Rome because I left her with the northern Amazons. Now we’re going north to find out what’s happened.” Xena explained.
“Why? Can’t Gina tell you the story?” Atlanta was confused. Maybe the girl didn’t trust the warrior princess, so her intention was right to take the child away and protect her from this cold-hearted murderer even if the warrior has changed.
“She doesn’t remember anything except octagon and her opponent probably knocking her out. Though, I didn’t believe it, because she went out of the woods right to a tiny village near Capua. There wasn’t a place on her body that wasn’t bruised. That’s how I unexpectedly came across my own daughter. You can blame me but from now on I will always be by her side. I don’t want to lose her again.”
“I’m sorry. I think I jumped to a conclusion too quickly when I saw her with you.” Atlanta found her feet really interesting at the moment. She avoided Xena’s piercing steel stare.
The day went by. Gina was silent. She spoke only when Xena or Atlanta asked her to bring something. At lunch and dinner the child didn’t say a word, only “thank you” after she finished her meal. In the evening Atlanta was watching Gina punching and kicking a great ash tree. The kid used all her power and aggression to peel away the bark. At this very moment Gina thought about her real life: parents, whom maybe she won’t see ever again; sisters, who remained without her; wins and loses at various competitions all over the world. With every blow that the tree took stoically Gina wanted to change everything as it was before. It was amazing to watch Xena on TV but to be a part of this universe was a cruel mockery.
“Is she always like that?” Atlanta asked Xena.
“She needs to work out every day. We’ve already met a bunch of outlaws and criminals. To travel with me she has to be a fighter,” explained the woman, though, she didn’t like how furious Gina whacked the blameless ash.
Atlanta shook her head. She would never understand this woman and her purpose in life. For many years the towns and villages in Greece whispered her name in fear. Now she was looking at her daughter’s workout as if it is the most obvious thing that a child should do. Was she preparing a new generation that would lead numerous, merciless army in the future like Julius Caesar in the Roman Empire?
“Don’t you think you’re too fierce to this tree?”
Gina didn’t answer too deep in thoughts. She delivered blows automatically not even noticing that Xena was standing near. When the woman touched girl’s shoulder, the child jumped away a little of the unexpected touch.
“Sorry, didn’t hear you coming,” she apologized.
“I see. Would you like to talk?”
“About your stay in that gods’ forsaken ludus?”
“I don’t know what to discuss. I don’t remember anything. I don’t know who I am anymore,” Gina told at loss and Xena saw it in girl’s eyes.
“You are my little girl and I will always love you.”
Xena hugged her child and kissed her in the forehead. The truth of these words Gina feared the most.
It took them one more day to get to Azoros. The city was calm and quiet. The army had already gone to fight the warlord and citizens lived their ordinary lives: working, raising kids, selling and buying things on the market, etc. Xena paid for a room with three beds in an inn. Atlanta returned from the palace where recruiting soldier told her that Damon, her nephew, definitely joined the armed forces and went to protect the land. The army headed the north-west in the morning.
Atlanta was collecting her things in a hurry when Xena came in the room with the meal.
“Where are you going at this time of night?” asked the warrior princess
“I must reach the army and find Damon until he’d done a vital error,” the blonde woman told dramatically.
“It is dark outside. How are you going to find the road when even the moon is nowhere to see in the sky? Have you seen those stormy clouds? It’s going to be a thunderstorm. They won’t go too far and tomorrow at dawn we can set off,” Xena explained wisely.
Atlanta looked outside through the open window. A blast of wind banged the shutters against the wall. The athlete woman reached to close them. She saw the lightning at the horizon followed by the clap of thunder.
“We won’t catch up with them on foot,” Atlanta disagreed stubbornly buckling leather stripes of the backpack.
“I’ve already talked to the inn-keeper. We can hire a horse at the stables near the palace.”
“I don’t have so much money with me!” Atlanta spoke in despair.
“Don’t worry. I have. After dinner I’ll go and bargain you a horse. I need to find a place for Gina as well,” said Xena sitting at the table.
“Find a place for me? I can go with you!” Gina didn’t catch what Xena was talking about.
“You’re not going at war. If Lyssos has seized Potamia, it means he has a great army. I don’t want you to be anywhere near those mad soldiers. I’ll find you a place where you can stay until we come back preferably with Damon.”
“You told me that you won’t leave me ever! Now you are doing the opposite!” Gina felt strongly about Xena’s promise and was really disappointed that the woman failed to keep it.
The girl shook her head. Xena tried to calm her child down but in vain. The rest of the dinner continued in silence. A thunderstorm started outside. Nevertheless, Atlanta went to the stables alone. She didn’t want the warrior princess to get wet in such weather. The warrior princess went downstairs to bring back empty plates and mugs and find out more about the place where she can leave Gina safely for a few days.