Xena pressed the spots that blocked the blood flow and the child could inhale deeply again.
“I’m sorry. I though, you were a goddess. You know, sometimes gods want to play tricks on us and disguise as people we trust,” the woman apologized.
Gina was horrified, though. She crawled back from Xena trying to gulp air. She sat on the ground and curled in a ball hiding the head in her knees. The child burst out sobbing. The feeling of suffocating wasn’t new for her. She experienced that so many times during the training and fights, so, she got used to it. Gina herself choked so many people that she knew exactly when to stop to not to kill the person. The thing was, she remembered her last fight when she couldn’t get rid of her opponent’s grasp even when she struggled hopelessly to find a way out of it. Her body betrayed her. Gina was too tired. Power fled from her arms she was knocked out.
“Gina, I’m sorry. If you were a goddess you would have used the powers. I had to check. I’m so sorry,” Xena kneeled before the sobbing child and embraced her. “I won’t do it ever again. Please, don’t cry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”
But the girl couldn’t stop crying. She kept too much pain for too long. Now came the time to let go, to set her feelings free. She hasn’t seen her parents since the fight. It was horrible not to know how are they and how did they cope with her death or coma because there was no other way of her appearing in this strange universe. This frightened her to death. The tragedy was that Gina couldn’t tell the truth to Xena or anybody. The world didn’t let her do that. She was stuck and it only intensified her sorrow.
“Shh, it’s alright. Everything is going to be fine. I promise you,” Xena lulled the girl.
“May I take some water to wash my face,” the childish voice spoke after 20 minutes of sobbing the soul out.
Xena poured some water and Gina washed her face.
“Drink some. It’s hot today,” the woman proposed.
“Can we walk for a while? My legs became so numb on the horse,” the girl begged.
“It’s because you didn’t ride much, did you?” Xena asked taking the reins making Argo follow her.
“No, I didn’t. May I ask you some questions?”
“Where is Gabrielle?”
“Who’s Gabrielle?” The woman definitely didn’t understand what the girl is talking about.
“How long have you been travelling alone?” Xena’s answer put Gina on guard.
“For six months or so.”
“How many villains have you killed since you abandoned the army?” This started to become more and more interesting.
“I don’t know, a dozen or two. I didn’t count.”
“Who was the last one that you killed? Gina fired the questions.
“For a child you’re asking strange questions.” Xena glowered at the girl.
“Five minutes ago you nearly killed me. I need to know who I’m travelling with.”
“It wasn’t five minutes ago. I’ve listened to your whining for an hour,” Xena teased the girl.
Gina bit her lip and became silent again. She passed a little bit faster to break away from Xena. The warrior princess rolled her eyes. When the girl approached the turning on the road Xena called.
“Gina, it is now safe to go through the forest alone.”
“I was here before and I’m alive. I can take care of myself,” followed the reply.
Gina didn’t do even few steps when five tall and very fit men appeared from behind the trees.
“Whom do we have here? Oh, a child ran away from her family because they beat her black and blue. Tell me, Graham, what do we do with children?” The ugliest of them spoke.
“We eat them at breakfast,” the man spoke leaning on a long stick on the other side of which was a big ax.
The others grinned.
“Believe me, I’m very tasteless. Besides, I’m not even fat. There is nothing to eat.” Men’s guffaw made her flesh creep.
“Oh, don’t worry. I already like you,” one of the men came closer and bowed to smell her hair.
The girl shivered. She could smell the reek of his breath on her face. Her stomach knotted. It was dangerous to hit him in the nose. She was too small and her knuckles still hurt from the last fight but his neck. Without thinking Gina punched him in the neck with all the power she had in her arm. Then the girl ran at the top speed while the man was trying to restore breathing.
“Xena!” She has never thought that she could scream like a piglet but Gina didn’t care right now. The girl definitely saw what she saw in man’s face and it wasn’t hunger, it was lust and animal desire. She had to run away from them.
“Hey, where are you going?” one of the outlaws shouted.
“A quick little pimp!” The other cried.
When one of the bastards was just behind her back and stretched his hand to grab the fabric of her dress, the girl heard a warrior cry and saw Xena making somersault right above her head. The woman landed face to face with the villain who already unsheathed the sword.
“Like to scary little children try to scary me,” Xena made a fake smile. “Gina, run!”
The girl ran to Argo but then stood still enjoying the view. Back flips, handsprings. It seemed as if there was no gravity at all. Still it wasn’t child’s fight. She watched the woman attentively. The warrior princess shouted again for Gina to run but the girl couldn’t take her eyes of the scene even when Argo ran away in the forest. Xena did everything not to hurt three men who were already attacking her at the same time. She blocked a sword, kicked the second man in the groin and parried the ax. Unfortunately, the man with the sword tried to hit her again from behind. The woman didn’t have time to think, so she jabbed him with her sword while ducking lower to make the ax slide above her head. The man dropped the sword and fell on the ground blood coming from a deep gash in his chest. The fight was at its height when two other men appeared. One was stabbed with chakram another lost his sword and got some impressive kicks to his stomach and groin. He lost consciousness. The one remained, decided to run away. In the conclusion, two were lying dead, one unconscious and two left their friends and weapons to run away as fast as they could. Xena was covered with dust and was sweating but no obvious harm was seen on her body. The princess warrior took the chakram from the dead man’s neck and turned to Gina.
“When I tell you run it means you must run for dear life not to stand here like a statue,” Xena scolded the child.
“Are you alright?” the warrior asked the girl.
Gina gulped recovering from the shock.
“Yes, I’m ok, thanks. Are they dead?” The metallic smell of blood made her sick but she didn’t vomit.
“Those two? They are very dead. They could have been alive if you were somewhere in the forest together with Argo,” Xena said angrily wiping blood from her chakram and the sword.
Gina saw the series on TV hundreds of times. She knew very well how many people died in each episode but now it was the reality. This was the first time she saw people dying right here right now. It was frightening and disgusting. She wasn’t afraid of blood. She got used to it during her own fights and training, but nobody died in MMA fights. There was a referee who stopped it when the person couldn’t defend himself. Here the death was real.
“Next time don’t go away from me, understand?”
“Yes, Xena. I’m sorry.” Gina looked at the woman as she was an alien.
The next thing was the most horrible Gina has seen in her life. The woman warrior came to those dead outlaws and checked their pockets. She found some coins and took the necklace from the man’s neck. Xena took the ax, two swords and two daggers that were lying on the ground. She put the daggers in her bag on the horse, tied the swords and ax together with a rope and bound everything to the saddle.
“Do you always rob the dead people?” Gina asked really disgusted by the scene she was the witness of.
“They don’t need these things anymore. We can sell them to any armory and eat for several days on the money. They used weapons to rob people if I defeated them then everything they have is mine. Don’t you agree?” Xena looked sternly at the child. Gina’s questions irritated her more and more.
“When I asked you how many people you’ve killed in this half a year, you told one or two dozen but you’ve already killed two more.”
“I thought you asked about great villains. I didn’t count robbers, swindlers and other riffraff.”
Suddenly they heard a slight moan coming from the unconscious man. Instead of giving him a chance to recover his conscious Xena punched his hard in the face. He didn’t open his eyes and remained lying calm on the ground.
“Shouldn’t we help him?” Gina asked in a small voice.
“You may try. I’m going further.”
“Yes, whatever,” Gina took one last look at two dead bodies in puddles of blood which soaked into the soil and followed the woman and the horse that already reappeared from nowhere.
“How do you think, how many robbers can we meet in this forest?” Gina asked not only of curiosity but of suspicion that rose in her mind.
“Who knows, two of them got away. They may let others know that we are coming and make a trap. If they don’t have a lot of men we’re lucky and they won’t attack us again. There are always two possibilities,” the woman explained.
“What would we do?”
“Go back on the horse and try to move faster.”
“Will that work?”
“Let’s find out.”
Xena lifted the girl up on the horse, jumped on its back and trotted. They rode like that for half an hour then the princess warrior started the horse at a walk. They rode all day. Only once they stopped to have a break, eat some cabbage and apple pies and go into the bushes. At the end of the day Gina’s body ached because of spending the whole day on the horse. Xena had a compassion on the girl and they walked for two hours until twilight.
“We’ll make a camp here. Soon it will be dark. Gather some wood. I’ll make a fire. There is a spring over there. I’ll fill in the water-skins and our pot. It’ll be fine to eat something hot.”
Gina nodded and went for some dry branches. When she came back Xena was flaying a rabbit that seemed to appear from nowhere because the girl didn’t remember seeing any game on their road through the forest. Again it was a shock. In the 21st century people see food half prepared and already dead. When you see chicken without a head and prepared to be cooked it’s one thing, though, to see the animal which was jumping two minutes ago and now the woman took off its skin, it’s another.
“What, never seen a rabbit before?” She asked chopping off the paws of the poor animal because the skin didn’t get off of them.
“I’ve seen. I’ve never seen it to be flayed,” the girl dropped the dry wood on the ground.
“Didn’t your mother ever cook a rabbit stew?”
“No, she cooked. But we didn’t kill them.” Gina squeezed her dress not knowing how to end up this awkward conversation.
“My father,” of course it was a lie. Her real father has never had any experience of killing any living creature, but this was not her universe. She couldn’t say that in the future all the dead animals you can buy in a shop. So, she lied.
“He never did it in your presence?”
Xena just smirked: “Fine, give me a small sack from the bag. We need some kitchen herbs to make it a little bit tasty.”
It was a miracle for Gina that from some herbs, a rabbit and some lentil a person can make such a delicious stew. It was a little bit spicy for her but very tasty.
“This is delicious.”
“Yes, it is. Next time you cook.” Xena took a spoonful of stew and put it in her mouth.
“I’ll try,” Gina bit her lip not sure if she could do the same.
When the pot was empty and dishes were washed in the spring, Xena took out some rugs and they went to sleep.