14. The Fire Inside

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It took Blasius a full half hour to work the gag out of his mouth. When the wet cloth finally landed on the floor, Gregor gave a philosophical sigh.

Oh, well, he thought, the world can't stay perfect forever.

"How dare she! I am a knight of the Empire! How dare that little strumpet gag me like some common criminal?"

"Appalling, isn't it?" Gregor raised an eyebrow. "Considering you were so polite to her."

"Exactly! I don't know what the aristocracy is coming to these days." Shuffling to the side, Blasius tried to reach the metal ring in the wall to which his chains were still attached. But the ring was set too high. The knight uttered a curse.

"Forget it," Gregor advised him. "I watched this Sir Reuben when he re-fastened our chains. He knows how to bind you securely, believe me. We won't get out of here as simply as that."

"Blood and Pestilence, you're probably right! Oh, how I wish I could get my hands on that fiend! I would teach him a lesson he would never forget."

"I'm sure you would," Gregor said, diplomatically.

"So we're stuck here for now, are we?"

"That is how it appears."

"Blood and bloody, stinking pestilence! I cannot wait until I get a sword in my hands again. Well, until then, at least we have one consolation, Gregor."

"Oh yes?" Interested, Gregor turned to Blasius. "And what is that?"

"Didn't you notice how antagonistic those two were?" Blasius said with savage delight, nodding towards the closed dungeon door through which Lady Ayla and her knight had disappeared. "You might not have noticed, but they practically bit each other's heads off in front of us! To a dedicated student of the human mind, such as myself, it is obvious that for some reason, they hate each other even more than they hate us."

"Um... do you really think so?"

"Of course! Trust, me, Gregor, soon enough, one of them will crack and attack the other."


The dungeon door had hardly shut behind them, when Reuben grabbed Ayla's arms, lifted her up and shoved her back into a niche in the gloomy stone corridor. A torch burned inside the niche, just above Ayla's head. She could feel its heat from behind—but not nearly as much as she could feel Reuben's heat from the front.

"You!" he growled, sliding his hands up her body, over her neck and onto her face, gripping her tightly. "Do you have any idea what kind of strategic advantage you ruined by coming in there? Do you have any idea what you might have had to see if I had already started? You fool! Don't ever do that again!"

Ayla narrowed her eyes. "Funny. I was just about to say the same to you. Don't try to torture people under my protection, Reuben! Villagers, priests, prisoners—I don't care! Just don't!"

"You're maddening!"

She smiled. She couldn't help it. "Yes, I love you too. But sometimes I could murder you."

"No you couldn't! Not without extensive training in sword fighting, anyway."

"I could poison you," she suggested with a spark in her eye.

"I survived your fennel soup. What poison could be worse than that?"

"That was a medicine!"


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