“I told you not to drink so fast that cold water,” Xena read a lecture to the poor child, who was miserable anyway.
“I’m sick and tired of this heat,” Gina whimpered.
“Now you have a sore throat,” stated the princess warrior.
“No, don’t. If we had some honey or hot milk with butter, I would be fine by now,” the girl thought of any natural things that could be used in this situation. She couldn’t dream about Coricidin, Night-Time Cold Flu Relief or throat lozenge, because even sugar was a luxury these days.
“I haven’t seen any beehive on our way. There’s no cow nearby and I ran out of coins. So, next time just listen to what I say to you!”
“Yeah, whatever,” told Gina in a hoarse voice and blocked Xena’s hand that woman stretched to see the child’s throat.
“Let me see how bad it is!” said the princess warrior indignantly.
“You can’t do anything about it. Why to fuss at all?” Gina brushed away.
Xena shook her head. This was the most unbearable child on earth.
“Fine, gather some wood. I go find some game. Don’t go anywhere!” The woman ordered and disappeared in the woods.
When she came back the child has already been fast asleep. Xena didn’t want to disturb Gina’s peaceful deep dream. In several hours it was still dark but the woman shook the girl’s shoulder making her wake up too.
“Gina, wake up. It’s going to rain soon. We need to go,” said the princess warrior packing their things in a hurry.
“At last! I thought, it will never rain,” pronounced the child half asleep. Her throat was sore and dry. That’s why she began coughing.
“Here, drink this and let’s move!” The woman gave her a water-skin.
The lightning was already glistening in the distance followed by faraway roar of thunder.
“Where did all these clouds come from? Yesterday there wasn’t even a small spot in the sky.”
“Maybe somebody angered Zeus and now he’s throwing lightning on the head of the poor man,” stated Xena.
“It’s nonsense! Besides, we’re in the Roman Empire. They don’t have Zeus here,” disagreed the child.
“If they call him Jupiter, it doesn’t mean we have two different gods. Gods are the same. We only call them in different ways,” explained the woman.
“Do you really believe that the weather is made by gods?” Gina looked at the warrior skeptically.
“I believe that we get soaked to the skin unless we get out of here in some dry and comfortable place preferably with a roof,” concluded Xena. She helped the girl to get on the mare and they rode to the nearest town.
The rain was pouring down like a waterfall when they reached Scrima a town in the south-west from Ancona. In spite of the fact that Xena tried to escape the thunderstorm, it didn’t help even a little. They were drenched to the bones. The woman had only a short cloak for such kind of weather. She wrapped Gina in it but it didn’t work anyway. The girl was also soaked to her skin. The coughing became stronger, she was burning up inside. The child shook all over with fever. The princess warrior didn’t have any money. She spent everything on special effects three days ago when she came to Princess Inanna’s birthday to rescue the little creature, who was now trembling on the horse in front of her. Still, the woman with typical stubbornness entered every inn or tavern they were passing by in search for something.
There he was sitting at the table cheating at cards with some guys. While she was patiently waiting for him to finish the game, she let a guy to buy her a drink. When he became too annoying she put the kibosh on the poor man. He hit his face on the table but the place was so crowded because of the rain that nobody paid attention to this small incident. Xena searcher his pockets and found two dinars which weren’t a lot but at least she could buy the child something to eat. The woman ordered a big mug of hot milk and a goat stew. Gina refused the food but drank milk or at least made a vision that she was drinking it.
“G’day Autolycus,” She said as he was passing by their table.
“Oh, Xena. What brings you here?” He grinned broadly.
“I can ask you the same question,” She wore a set smile.
“Is he alright?” Autolycus looked worriedly at the man.
“Yes, just drank too much. How about that money you owe those gentlemen over there. Should I tell them how exactly you were cheating?” She smiled even wider.
“Hey, what do you mean? Can you speak quieter? There’s a child here,” He whispered to her conspiratorially staring at Gina.
“Don’t worry, she’s with me.”
“Wow, I didn’t know you had a child!” He stared at the girl astonished.
“She’s not my mother.”
“She’s not my daughter.” Both Xena and Gina pronounced in unison.
“Look, I’m short of money right now. She’s badly ill. If you lend me some money, I’ll give it back as soon as I earn some,” Xena spit the information out. She wasn’t used to ask for something, especially, Autolycus.
“In this case, I have a better proposal. I help you cure …” He didn’t know Gina’s name, “… the child but you help me to steal a precious ancient scroll from the castle.”
Xena pursed her lips but gave her hand to conclude this unfair bargain. Bargains with Autolycus were always unfair. Nevertheless, they shook hands.
“Fine, I know a good place where we can stop and take care of the… child.”
Xena raised her eye-brow.
“I choose the place if I’m paying for it,” He said nonchalantly.
“Lead the way.” She grumbled and they followed the man.
Autolycus rented a house of an old woman whose name was Herta. She was about 65 or 70 winters. In the mouth still remained five teeth, that’s why, she hissed a little when she spoke. At the same time, the woman was very agile and did all the things in the house herself. Autolycus introduces Xena and Gina as his wife and daughter respectively. The princess warrior looked askance at him but didn’t say anything. She asked the old lady where she could find a shop of an alchemist or a herbalist.
“What a man are you that let’s his woman go in that stormy weather without a good rain cloak? Here, darling, take this, please,” the landlady gave Xena a good waterproof coat made of well-dressed skins when the warrior wanted to go out to buy some medicine to treat Gina with something appropriate. The girl was already in a soft bed under a blanket with a wet cloth on her burning forehead.
“Oh, thank you, Herta. We have been travelling for hours today. My rain cloak is soaked.” Xena made an excuse.
“What a husband are you? You let your wife dress in this,” She looked at Xena critically, “I can even name this a proper tunic. Roman soldiers have more modesty when your wife!”
“Oh, I like her that way. It makes me horny, you know what I mean?” Autolycus put his arm around Xena’s waist lower than it had to be. He grinned widely. The warrior played along. She put her hand on his back as if she wanted to hug him but instead pressed one of the pain spots on his spinal cord so hard that the man nearly jumped overwhelmed with pain.
“In my time husbands held sacred their wives’ modesty,” the old woman hemmed and went in the kitchen.
In the evening when Gina took four really reeking and disgusting solutions, ate a quarter of the jar of honey and drank strong herbal tea, Xena was sitting at the table in Autolycus room talking to the thief.
“I found out, that guards at the gates change at dawn and dusk. The name of the commander is Rasmus,” Xena shared the information with her so called ‘husband’.
“Lord Maltus is leaving the castle in three days. Before that, I need a detailed map of the viaduct that is built under the castle. Also I need to know how much security is at each door of the castle leading to the treasury,” Autolycus explained.
“Do you have any idea?”
“Yes, tomorrow is a Bacchus day. People would be celebrating. While lord Maltus will be in the central square drinking wine and making merry. I arranged a meeting of our brave guards and ten ladies whose profession isn’t that respected but in a very high demand.”
“And?” Xena looked at him quizzically trying to control her anger waiting for his next remark.
“And you have an honorable duty to get inside the castle together with them. After that you find Rasmus and very politely, as I’m sure only you can, ask him to give you the map of the viaduct,” the man proposed.
“That’s an extremely original idea. You forgot one little moment. Either I have to kill the man because I don’t think he would be just having a rest somewhere while you in two days period take him by surprise in the castle or I have to learn this map at the very moment I see it.” Xena paid him an accusatory glance.
“Actually, I thought about it. You’ll give him this,” the man gave her a phial with a strange liquid in it.
“What can it do?” Xena took the phial with interest.
“It will paralyze him for several days but he will be alive. Try not to spill it somewhere. It is very expensive.”
Xena rolled her eyes.
“Where are you going?” he asked the woman who definitely wanted to leave the room.
“I’ll be sleeping with Gina. She doesn’t feel well at all.”
“What will that old hag think if you’re sleeping in another room?” Autolycus protested.
“She’ll think that our child is ill,” with these words Xena went out of the room.
The night went through without any trouble. Although the princess warrior was worried even more when Gina woke up with the temperature higher than yesterday and began coughing uncontrollably for 20 minutes in a row. When the girl told her that her chest and back were aching when she was coughing Xena’s mood dropped even lower.
The knock on the door disturbed Xena from her deep thought.
“Good morning, girls. Look, what I’ve brought for you.”
Autolycus came in with a big tray. There was a wild strawberry pie, a kettle with hot herbal tea, fresh honey-cakes in shape of a fish, horse, bear and rabbit, boiled-eggs, some butter and fresh white bread.
“Wow, have you robbed a bakery?” The woman was really amazed to see all these delicious things. She couldn’t remember the time when she ate the wild-strawberry pie maybe in the early childhood.
“No, I bought everything,” said the man feeling a little bit offended.
“Thanks, Autolycus.” Xena took the tray and placed it on the bedside-table near Gina’s bed. “So, little one, what do you want to eat?”
Gina took a rapid glance at the food. It smelled deliciously but with such fever the girl hadn’t any appetite. Her stomach couldn’t digest all these tasty things right now.
“Thank you very much, Autolycus, but I think I don’t want anything,” she pronounced and started coughing again.
Still the man didn’t want to give up. He took a baked rabbit from the tray, which was the smallest from the honey-cakes and showed it to the girl.
“Watch, I’ll tell you the story about this small rabbit. Once he went through the wood and met a big hungry bear.” Autolycus took the bear cake from the tray.
“The bear wanted to eat him but the rabbit had a potion of invisibility with him. He drank the potion and disappeared.” The man showed a rabbit in his palm, then he made some gestures and the baked rabbit disappeared. Of course, Gina knew that it went into man’s sleeve but she didn’t see it. The trick was performed perfectly.
“The bear searched for the small rabbit and couldn’t find him. He went away disappointed. But the rabbit appeared in the house of one little girl who was very ill and didn’t want to eat anything. He thought he would stay with the girl to keep her company until she gets better.” Autolycus put the bear on the tray but the child couldn’t see the rabbit anywhere.
“And where is the rabbit?” asked the girl.
“I don’t know, he said if the girl didn’t eat anything he will never appear before her,” the man teased the child.
“I know where it is, in your sleeve.” Gina pronounced very satisfied with herself.
Autolycus rolled up his sleeves. The girl didn’t believe him and she sat up on the bed to search the man but after she patted all his clothes she couldn’t find the rabbit.
“It’s not fair, where is it?”
“I’ll tell you if you eat something.” He said firmly.
Unwillingly she ate some wild strawberry pie, drank tea and Xena gave her those reeking medicines again.
“You told me, you show me where it is!” Gina demanded.
“Look under your pillow.” He answered simply.
The girl found the baked rabbit there. She was surprised because she didn’t see the man put the cake under her pillow.
“How did you do that?”
“And this is another story.” The man winked at her.