60. New-found Discipline

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Ayla gave herself one day of rest from the work that lay ahead. One day, and no more. During that day. She badly needed a day of rest, and besides, it was time to visit her father.

"Hello!" Sticking her head through the door, she lovingly looked down at the old man. "Are you awake?"

"Yes," he yawned. "I slept like a baby."

"You didn't hear anything during the night?"

"No. Why, did something happen?"

"Well... sort of. The siege is ended. We've won the feud."

"What?"

It took Ayla quite a while to convince him that she was not, in fact, making a bad joke. When she had managed to convince him of that, his next theory was that either she had gone mad or he was dreaming and would wake up any minute. It took a good part of the morning to rid him of his doubts.

"But how?" he kept saying, even when he finally believed her. "How could you, Captain Linart and the others suddenly achieve this victory? To do that one would have to be a master tactician and experienced warrior! We have no one like that here!"

Ayla felt a blush creep into her cheeks.

"Ayla?" the Count gave her an intent look. "We have nobody like that here, right?"

"Um... I think I must go," she mumbled, getting to her feet. "I forgot, there are still wounded to look after, things to arrange, houses to rebuild..."

"Ayla! Come back this instance and explain!"

"Bye!"

And she dived out of the door, down the tower steps. Somehow, up to this point, she had conveniently forgotten to mention a certain lecherous red knight's presence to her dear father. That would have to be rectified, with a clear head and a wagonload of diplomacy.

For now, Ayla went to the wounded. Yes, it had at first only been an excuse to get away from her father's threatening inquisition, and yes, she had given herself one day off, but only from all the rest of the work. She couldn't sit idly by while there were still people hurting and sick within her walls. So she worked pretty much the whole morning, changing bandages, talking to people, applying salves, and in one case, holding the hand of an old soldier who had gotten a guisarme in the gut.

"I'm so sorry," she told him with tears in her eyes. "There's nothing I could do for you."

The old man smiled a crooked smile. His teeth were uneven and yellow, and half of them were missing. Still, for some reason, it was a beautiful smile.

"Milady, I knew that I was gonna die the moment that pick-sticker cut me open. I've been a soldier for more than thirty years, remember? Don't worry yourself. I've had a good time. I've died the way I've always wanted to: in battle."

"But I didn't want you to!" Ayla protested. "I don't want you to die! I don't want anybody to die!"

The man's smile became softer. He moved his head in what might have been a nod. It might also have been the best attempt at a bow which a dying man could manage.

"It has been an honor to serve you, Milady von Luntberg. I shall give Sir Isenbard your regards."

Managing a small nod of her own, Ayla attempted to smile. It turned out more like a grimace, but it was the effort that counted.

"You do that," she sniffed. "And be sure to tell him that I love him."

The old soldier pressed her hand gently. "I figure he already knows that, Milady. But enough of us boring old dying men. I want to talk of the living as long as I still can talk! Are congratulations in order?"

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