Xena returned to the house very late. Children had already been sleeping. Melisa and her husband were also preparing to go to bed.
“Xena, there is a bucket of warm water for you and Gina. It’s not so good for a girl at her age to stay awake so late in the night but I understand,” the hostess said.
“What do you mean? Isn’t she in bed?”
“No, she told me that she went to say ‘goodbye’ to you. I thought you wanted to keep your departure a secret but she knew it somehow. I let her go.” The woman sounded surprised and worried at the same time.
“Yes, she came to me 4 hours ago. Then she left. You want to say she didn’t come back?” Xena looked puzzled at the woman.
“Wonderful!” Xena muttered.
An hour later when all the children were interrogated, and all places where a 10 year old could hide were thoroughly examined, adults gave up. During this hour the princess warrior discovered that some things were missing. Gina took a kitchen knife, a mug and a small pan. A fire stone, a sack for flour and all Gina’s clothes were also missing. The girl also took some dinars from Xena’s purse and woman’s water skin. The kid had prepared to run away. But only a child could be so silly as to run away at night.
“She ran away,” the woman warrior stated.
“I’m so sorry. I must have told Atria to keep an eye on her,” Melisa apologized.
“It’s not your fault. It’s mine. I promised her to take care of her and lied. I’ll pay for everything she took away. Now it’s better for everybody to sleep. I’m leaving at dawn. I’m sorry to cause you two so much trouble.”
“Maybe we should raise the whole village. I go to the neighbors they’ll help,” Melissa’s husband proposed.
“There is no need. It is night. I’ll see the tracks better in the morning. If you wake up the whole village we won’t find anything. Let’s sleep. Gina is a smart girl. She’ll survive.” Xena assured the hospitable couple.
At night, though, the woman warrior didn’t sleep a wink. She blamed herself for being so rude to the girl, for lying to her. Now the child was there alone in the darkness. Nobody knew what might happen to Gina at this hour. At a daybreak when grey colors were turning into bright multi-colored world Xena made her farewells and set off to find the naughty kid. She spent half a day following the tracks the child left in the dust. Suddenly she lost them. The scenery changed harshly. If the village was situated in a valley at the bottom of the hill, here the woman saw a fork in the road. One path led to the shady grove another ran along a meadow with dried up grass. Xena dismounted the horse and went into the grove. She was walking all day long following Gina’s tracks. She found the place where the girl had slept and where she had had a rest but it seemed that the woman gave this girl a head start. When the sun touched the horizon Xena decided to halt for a night.
Next morning Gina woke up startled to find out that a strange stinky man was trying to drag her sack with all her belongings from under her head.
“Hey, what are you doing?” the girl grabbed hold of the sack but she wasn’t as strong as a tall, robber-looking adult man. It was easy for him to snatch the sack out.
“What does it look like?” The man bared his dirty teeth.
He poked about the sack and fished out five dinars and some bread. Other things didn’t impress him much.
“Give them back!” Gina cried indignantly.
“Or what? I haven’t seen any parents. When you run away take more money with you, kiddo,” he grinned.
The man dropped the sack on the ground, put dinars in the pocket and sank his teeth into Gina’s last bread.
“Take your stuff and thank me for not killing you, small fry,” He mumbled with a full mouth.
Gina looked at this dirty, stinking, overgrown, insolent man and everything inside her turned over. She was a child. This option had advantages and disadvantages. In the real world she would without saying punch him in the face and beat him so hard that he would not only loose his teeth but beg her not to kill him. This wasn’t a good idea for a child. He was about six feet tall and muscles showing from the holes on his shirt told her that the man was not a coward too. The girl picked up the sack and turned her back to the man. Then she put it back and hid her hand behind her back turning to the man.
“Please, give my money back. I need them. I’m all alone here. My parents died. I don’t have anything to eat. Do you want me to starve?” She put all her sorrow in the voice begging this man to take pity.
“It’s your problem not mine.” He swallowed the last piece of bread.
While the girl was talking she approached the man staring at him with her brown innocent and so sad eyes.
“Go away while I’m still kind and peaceful.” The man warned her.
The kid didn’t say anything. She attacked as a predator putting all her power in the kick to his crotch. The robber yelped, covered the place of attack with both hands and kneeled on the ground. Not thinking a second Gina put a knife to man’s throat.
“My money, now!” She shouted.
“Why? Would you kill me? You’re just a child.” The man was muddled by the situation.
“Money or I cut your throat without any regret,” She pierced him sternly with her dark eyes.
He made a gesture to push the hand in his pocket. Instead, he suddenly grabbed girl’s arm and knocked out the knife from her hand. Child’s reaction was immediate. She shoved him in the nose with a fist and kicked his chest with a knee unscrewing her arm from his grasp. The instinct told her to run and Gina ran. The robber ran after her cursing and threatening to kill her. She ran until stumbling over a tree root and falling down. He was behind. She knew that. The girl wanted to stand up but somebody pulled her dress from behind. She jerked to break free but not this time. He pressed her to the ground and started choking the kid.
All of a sudden Gina heard an odd sound. The man’s body became soft and he crashed down on her. She shrieked from fear. The man was very heavy, blood dropped on her face, but the scariest thing was, that half of his head was sliced away. He died immediately. In several seconds Gina heard somebody rushing to her.
“That’s alright, that’s alright. Here, come to me. Everything is over,” Xena dragged away the dead man’s body from the shrieking child.
The woman pulled the girl closely to her body and began swinging her to hush down.
“He wanted to take my money,” the girl sobbed into Xena’s bosom.
“You’re safe. You’re safe now. I’m sorry, luv. I’m so sorry.” Xena lulled the child frightened to death.
After some time when Gina came to her senses and was able to stand up on her still shaky legs, the warrior princess told her to go forward and collect the things she left. A dead man with half of his brains on the ground wasn’t the best scene for a child to look at. Xena approached the body, turned it on its back, thrust her hand into his pocket and took out five dinars. He wouldn’t use them anyway.
After that Xena took Argo and approached Gina. The girl was standing staring at the backpack of the dead man as if it was something horrible in front of her on the ground. When the princess warrior called her name the child shuddered.
“Let’s see what he has here.”
Xena took the backpack which definitely had better days and shook it out on the ground. There were three purses. Two of them empty and one full with dinars, a rusty bread knife, two necklaces, a water skin with good wine, a fire stone and a pair of good leather gloves. The man was a thief defining by his look and clothes not very talented still he got his catch. Especially, if the warrior princess took into consideration children and maybe old people he abused to get the prize. The woman took a purse with dinars, necklaces, gloves and water skin.
Gina looked at Xena’s methodical work still in a shock. Tears again came to her eyes.
“I just wanted to protect the money. I didn’t want him to die,” she whispered.
The girl was still covered in man’s blood from her face down to the neck and chest.
“Nobody accuses you of killing him. He was a bastard and he died like one. Nevertheless, if you listened to me and remained in the village this poor guy would have been alive.” Xena was really angry with the girl.
“I didn’t want it. I didn’t…” Gina burst into tears.
“Come on, your tears won’t help him anyway. Next time if I say something, you will obey,” said the woman and started to wipe the blood from child’s face and body with a damp cloth. To let the girl wash herself and waste water in such heat would be insane.
When Xena collected all Gina’s belongings and trophy her shakram gained in the battle against heavy odds. Both the child and the woman went further.
The hour of silence was disturbed by the princess warrior.
“Why did you run away? There you had a family, people who cared for you.”
“I didn’t belong there,” the girl uttered simply.
“Oh, you didn’t belong there! Tell me, where you belong then?”
“I don’t know. It wasn’t there.”
“So, where is it?” asked Xena.
Gina wanted to tell the truth that it was not in this world and not in this time and not at this place on Earth but the only thing she could do was sneezing. The child sneezed each time she opened the mouth to pronounce the fateful words.
“Are you alright?”
“Yes, I’m fine. Maybe allergic to something,” Gina lied, “Why did you go after me?”
“Why? A great, silly childish question! You remained without food and money in the middle of nowhere. That guy nearly killed you and you’re asking me why?” For Xena the situation became more and more crazy.
“What have changed? It was fine to leave me in the village but now you’re playing an offended hero. You may go if you want. I didn’t ask you to follow me!”
“According to your impressive ability to get into trouble, to my mind, you would have been dead 100 times until this very moment. Now, you’ll obey everything I say or believe me, I’ll spank you,” Xena hissed.
How could this girl talk to her like that! This child definitely needed some admonition. The girl was brave. Xena couldn’t deny it. To go alone in the night, it was a courageous step, but to try and fight that 6 feet bastard was absolutely foolish and dangerous.
“It means we are travelling together, don’t we?” Gina screwed her eyes foxily.
“No, we’re heading to Amphipolis to my mother.”
“Of course, you want to get rid of me and relieve a burden to your mother. Very wise and very like you, the Warrior Princess.”
“What?” Xena raised an eyebrow at such a verbal attack.
“You were always irresponsible. Tell me, please, when was the last time you saw your mother? Did she bless you when you said goodbye?”
Xena was taken aback. She stood there with an open mouth. How could the child know this?