05. Squirming Squire

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Ayla marched into the main hall, past a startled servant and towards the windows. She couldn't see Reuben and his one-hundred and fifty new recruits from here—the inner ring of castle walls that separated them was too high for that. But she could hear his voice, barking commands which, no doubt, would immediately be obeyed.


She caught herself just before a curse escaped her lips. Instead, she smashed hand onto the stone windowsill, clenched into a fist.

How could he? How could he do something so brutal, devious and dastardly? She should never have made him commander of her army. She should definitely never have fallen in love with him. The man was a monster!

Somewhere deep in the back of her mind, she knew that with one stroke, he had just created an army which, for the very first time in this struggle, actually gave them all a chance to survive. But she was perfectly able to ignore that for the moment and concentrate on her boiling rage at his devious methods.

"Um... Milady?"

The male voice behind her was far too timid to be Reuben's. That fact alone saved the man from being decapitated on the spot. Ayla turned and saw the servant standing in front of her, nervously twisting his cap in his hands.

"Yes, what is it?" she asked, trying to reign in her anger.

"There's a young man to see you, Milady. He says his name is Theoderich."


For a moment, Ayla frowned, at a loss. Then her expression cleared and she remembered.

"Ah, yes! The young man that was Sir Isenbard's squire. He will be wanting to return home now that... " Faltering for a moment, Ayla had to clear her throat to carry on. "Now that Sir Isenbard is dead."

She felt a shadow of sorrow pass over her and tried not to let it show on her face. The young man would be crushed enough by his knight master's demise. It was the duty of a squire to fight by his master's side, to help and to protect him. Sir Isenbard had been killed in a surprise attack, a nocturnal raid on the castle, and Theoderich not been there when it happened. Ayla couldn't imagine how the young man must feel. The quicker he got away from here and back to his parents, where he could put all those dark memories behind him, the better.

Ayla strode over to the raised platform in the middle of the hall, and, taking a deep breath, settled herself down in the lord's chair. She nodded at the servant.

"Please send him in."

"Immediately, Milady."

The servant left, and only a few moments later returned, leading a tall young man of maybe sixteen years into the hall. His large blue eyes and blonde hair, still cut in the page-boy haircut, made him seem much younger than he was, and Ayla's heart immediately warmed to him. She was determined not to make him feel guilty in any way, and, if she could, send him home with a clear conscience. The night attack had come as a surprise to all of them. Isenbard's death, terrible tragedy though it was, was nobody's fault, and certainly not the fault of the young man, just a boy really, standing now in front of her.


Theoderich knelt, bowing his head deferentially, and thus blocking his face from her view.

"Rise," Ayla said gently.

He stood up. But even now that she could clearly see his face, Ayla was not able to interpret his expression. He didn't look all that sad or guilt-stricken. More... determined. But that couldn't be, could it? Determined to do what, exactly?

"Move faster, you beslubbering, hell-hated mangy dogs!"

Startled, Theoderich turned toward the window through which Reuben's gentle encouragement to his men-at-arms could still be faintly heard. His cheeks took on a distinctly apple-like, reddish glow.

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