10. Among Enemies

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Reuben had to admit, it was really impressive how fast Ayla could move when she put her mind to it. She was off him and across the room in a matter of seconds.

He turned and looked at her. Her smooth satin cheeks were suffused by a blush almost as deep red as the blood that stained the front of her dress, where she had landed on his bloody skin. He grinned at her, and in return she gave him a glare that could have made a general quake in his boots.

“Yes, you can come in, Burchard,” he called.

Her mouth dropped open in astonishment at his affront, which only made him grin wider.

A massive elderly man with thick, black hair and beard entered the room. He glowered at Reuben as if he was breaking the law just by breathing. The knight thought it best to turn to the wall again, but still regarded the newcomer out of the corner of his eyes.

“I see our guest has recovered consciousness—and insolence,” the black-bearded man grunted. “Who are you, if I may ask?”

Reuben was spared an answer by the girl. She stepped forward and said: “Burchard, can't you postpone the interrogation for five minutes? Can't you see that he's bleeding heavily?”

“I can. Actually, I’d hoped that fact might speed his tongue. Bandages are very hard to come by.”

Burchard's eyes narrowed as they focused on Reuben. That look told it all. Reuben realized that here was a man as hard as flint, who wouldn't rest until he knew every single little thing about his unexpected guest and had confirmed he was no danger. Not good.

“Burchard!” Ayla chastised the man. Reuben wondered what position he held. Adviser? Weapons master? “How can you say such a thing! Unless you can control yourself, leave immediately!”

“Tell me,” Burchard demanded of his mistress, completely ignoring her orders, “how that got on your clothing.” He pointed to the bloodstains that surrounded the delicate neckline of her dress.

Ayla turned a lovely shade of red again, and Reuben quickly looked away.

“I had to get the arrows out of him,” she said, sounding as if she were defending herself. “It got a bit... messy.”

“Messy, eh?”

With a grunt, Burchard dragged one of the chairs into one corner of the room and sat down astride it, all the while not taking his eyes off Ayla. “I think I'd better stay. Just in case things get messy again.”

Peeking, Reuben saw the girl roll her eyes. “Fine, if it makes you happy. Just don't get in my way.”

Ayla went to the table and fetched a bowl of water and some clean linen.

“Here.” She held out a linen cloth to Reuben. “I'll need you to press this on your chest, so that it won't bleed that heavily. Can you do that, in spite of the pain?” Despite the brusqueness of her voice, it wasn't an unkind question.

Reuben just nodded and pressed the cloth on his chest.

Ayla, meanwhile, began to methodically clean his back wounds. He was amazed that she still didn't seem deterred by his injuries. Now that the arrows didn't conceal the wounds anymore, they had to be a pretty grizzly sight, and bleeding heavily, if those on his chest were anything to judge by. Yet Ayla never hesitated, never wavered. Reuben could feel her small hands caressing his back through the wet linen—but no, he reminded himself, cleaning, not caressing. Cleaning.

“So,” Burchard grunted, “start to talk, fellow. I'm mighty curious about you. What's your name? Who and what are you?”

Reuben opened his mouth.

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