“Is this an orphanage?!” Gina’s reaction was outrageous. How could Xena do this to her!
“Listen, sweetheart, it’s only for a few days. I can’t risk taking you in the forefront of the battle. There’ll be a mess. Here is the safest place for you,” Xena tried to reassure the child but the girl did want to accept any explanation.
“This is bullshit, and you know it! What a mother are you that gives her child to an orphanage!” the girl flung her arms up. “I don’t give a damn about it!”
“Hey, watch you language, please,” Xena continued politely, though, the girl obviously started irritating her.
“Fine, I don’t care. Go, save the world. I’m glad that I’m not your freaking child because even when I think about it. The very idea of being your daughter makes me sick! You may scatter to the winds, it doesn’t matter. The only thing you are Xena – destroyer of nations, nothing more nothing less. I hate you!”
The girl turned on her hills and went inside a stone, rickety house where she had to spend some days before Xena comes or doesn’t come. At this minute Gina was fed up with everything, this world, people, dirt and lack of simply conveniences that she had in the 21st century. She was tired and lost, and angry. Right now she wanted to be alone.
The worker at the orphanage looked at Xena quite in a shock. She had different kids with different temper but this girl was a Fury. The owner of the orphanage, an old lady, didn’t say a word, when Xena put a purse with coins in her hands. She could crack any kid. Nobody, within her recollection, could take a defiant attitude for long here. She crushed all the attempts in the bud.
“Please, take a good care of her. I’ll try to be back as fast as I can. Here’s payment for a week.” Xena put a heavy purse in woman’s hand.
“Don’t worry. She’s in good hands.” The old woman reassured the two warriors.
Atlanta was the first to interrupt the silence when they were back on horses again.
“I think you should teach her a lesson when we come back. I understand that she went through a lot but I wouldn’t tolerate such behavior if I were you,” the blonde woman spoke sincerely.
“What do you want to punish her for, for being right? I left her on the first day she was born. All her life she used to be with other people, who maybe loved this girl more than her own mother. Why should I blame her for disrespect now?” replied the warrior princess.
“So, you will let your child blame you for everything?”
“I did a lot of mistakes in my life. I can’t rewind back time and change things. I’ll try to be a good parent to her. Maybe one day she’ll understand.”
“Hey, you!” the middle aged woman addressed to Gina.
Gina turned to her.
“Yes, you. Come here!”
The girl obediently approached the nun or whoever she was in this gods forgotten place.
“Today you’ll help girls with washing. Go with Ruby. She’ll explain you what to do,” commanded the woman.
Gina didn’t say anything just followed the girl about her age maybe a little bit younger. They came into a shed where a huge basket full with dirty clothes stood. It contained linen and some bars of badly smelled soap for washing.
“Can you, please, help me with it? I can’t carry it alone. It’s too heavy,” the dark haired girl pleaded.
Gina immediately snapped out of the reverie. She took the grip of the basket, waited for Ruby to take another grip and very slowly they carried the heavy loaded basket to the nearest small river.
“Do you always eat porridge and olives for breakfast?” Gina asked because she seemed her portion of porridge was insufficient. She could only guess if the same portion was enough for boys who were eating together with them. The girl notices that only children of 13 or 14 years old had more porridge than the others.
“Oh, today we had a great breakfast. It’s because the farmer, for whom three of our boys work, gave the orphanage five sacks of millet,” she said proudly.
“What do you want to say? Does every kid in this orphanage works somewhere to provide food? What about the money donated?” Gina didn’t agree with girl’s excitement.
“What money? The orphanage exists because of Hera temple priestesses who take care of the abandoned children. People donate to the greatest Goddess Hera and priestesses take half of the donation for us, poor children. When I grow up, I’ll become Hera’s priestess too and worship the most generous of Goddesses.”
“You mean the king doesn’t give anything to support the orphanage?” Gina couldn’t get what the girl was blabbing about. In reality government had special programs and laws for financing socially vulnerable segment of people.
“I don’t know where you are from. However, we live in a big city and it was an immense honor that the king was merciful enough to provide us with the house we all live in. In other even big cities you won’t find anything like this. Children like us roam the streets, die, end up in jails or gallows sooner or later. Here we have a chance to become somebody,” said Ruby in conclusion.
Gina had never thought about this aspect of life before. There were millions of orphan children in her time. She remembered foster care institutions, different orphanages and adoption programs but this was Ancient Greece. Who thought about children these days? Did anyone care? Ruby was definitely right. Instead of roaming the streets and begging, priestesses of Hera’s temple gave these kids the opportunity to survive and even learn a profession, either farming, washing the linen, sewing or doing more sophisticated work. Every child contributed to their common home. Everybody felt his or her importance. That was worth seeing.
Xena and Atlanta reached King Cleon’s army only at night. Unfortunately, the scene that they saw was far from being pleasant to the eye. Soldiers’ tents were on fire, people were rushing from tent to tent trying to put it out. While there was panic in the camp only few saw Lyssos’s men who were killing Cleon’s educated soldiers. Of course, warlord’s men had the same skills as soldiers themselves and were even fiercer because war and robbery was their religion. Xena examined the situation for a minute and ordered the blonde woman:
“Atlanta, find the commander of the army, tell him to organize his men and stop the panic. Find Damon, he might be in real danger in this mess. I’m going to pay a visit to warlord Lyssos.”
“What? Are you crazy?!” retorted the woman but ferocious fire and screams of dying soldiers swallowed her words.
Xena dismounted Argo, ran into the battle. It took time to kill a great part of the Lyssos’ men. It wasn’t her goal, though. The warrior princess decapitated a man and the other fell down taking the blow of her sword right in the stomach. While outlaws were battling with king’s soldiers, Xena took off the clothes from the body that looked approximately her height. Very quickly she disguised in them and put on the helmet that covered half of her face. The tunic was a little bit big but Xena didn’t have time to take care of it right now. She understood Lyssos tactics, while the army was resting in piece thinking of the tomorrow’s attack, the warlord planned a brilliant interference. He sent twenty or thirty men to destroy the adversary in the sleep. He knew quite well that there would be minimum guards because commanders always want their men to be in the best shape at tomorrow’s attack. That’s why, a few burning arrows and some men could tip the beam. At the same time Lyssos could stay nearby and enjoy the view of slaughtering people. If she were in his shoes, she would choose the height over there, where she was marching at the moment.
Nobody stopped her at the enemy’s camp. Everybody was so deeply absorbed with fire and cries on the other side of the field that the guards noticed that something was wrong only when Xena was in front of the Lyssos’s tent. There were three men there and one woman. The warrior princess didn’t take prisoners. She killed all of them with a single flourish of her chakram. Xena didn’t care if the woman was innocent or not, that was not important anymore. She wanted to accomplish her mission as quick as possible and return to Gina. That’s all that mattered. Other things were mere insignificant. Silently the warrior princess entered the tent and left it the same way.
In three hours she appeared before the commander of Kind Cleon’s army and dropped the head of Lyssos at his feet.
“This is the man you were looking for. Now his army will need another commander. So, you won’t hear from them for a while but don’t think it is over. Protect Azoros from any possible attacks. Lyssos’s army might come back for revenge if he were a good warlord.” Xena’s speech was laconic and sufficient for the commander to admire the woman and thank her for the good job.
If Gina thought that all the kids shared Ruby’s opinion about work she was grossly mistaken. After approximately two hours of drudge work two girls about 12 or 13 approached Ruby with the basket still nearly full with dirty linen and without hesitation dropped everything in Ruby’s basket that was already half empty. Ruby watched the scene pitifully but said nothing. When the girls were ready to leave, Gina jumped out of the river where she was standing in water to her knees rinsing the washed clothes.
“What do you think you’re doing?” the girl shouted furiously.
Her hands wrinkled because of hard work and soft corn appeared on the palms and fingers from constant rubbing.
“Leaving you to do our job, don’t you see, fresh blood,” the fat girl smirked.
One of the girls had a big size. The wrist of her arm was twice bigger than Gina’s leg. The other was tall and spindling, though, she wasn’t thin. The other girl looked like an ordinary 13 year old if not her height.
“What’s your name?” Gina asked in rage.
“Penelope, who’s asking?” The fat girl made a wry face.
“My name’s Gina. You’d better take out the linen you’ve just put in our basket or…” She didn’t finish when the tall one interrupted.
“Or what? You’re going to tell priestess Flavia? Don’t forget that tonight you’re sleeping in one dormitory with us.. Who knows what might happen to you at night,” grinned Penelope.
“Take out your dirty linen, I won’t repeat once again,” warned Gina.
“Gina, don’t do that. I’ll do the washing. Let them go,” Ruby whispered fearfully trying to take Gina by the hand and take her away.
“You already repeated, squirt!” said the tall girl.
Gina shook away Ruby’s hand.
“How many times did these two make you do the washing for them?”
Ruby hesitated to answer. Either she couldn’t remember or tried to count in panicky haste. Gina didn’t wait for the dark haired child to reply. Without warning she kicked the tall girl in the solar plexus, smashing the nose of the fat one on the way. Some more blows and both defeated teens implored quarter.
“You may go peach to priestess Flavia. If I were in your shoes, you would think twice. My mother is Xena - the warrior princess. If you care for your own safety and wellbeing, by wellbeing I mean surviving this night in our common dormitory, I would recommend you to take your linen and wash it. Got it!” She shouted at both bullies. The nose of the fat kid was bleeding, and the tall one nursed her belly.
Coldly Gina threw the linen back into the basket and pushed it towards the girls. Ruby stared at her with pride and amazement.