11. A Pot Full of Devil

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Reuben was so deep in thought that, at first, he didn't notice when Ayla spoke to him. Only when the girl tapped him on the shoulder did he realize it.

“Hello, are you listening to me?”

He looked up at her, for some reason annoyed. “Not really, no.”

She scowled. “You know, I am tempted to give you your compensation right now.”

That made him grin. “You promised your steward not to harm me until he gets back,” he reminded her.

“I'm sure he wouldn't mind. I don't know whether you've noticed, Reuben, but he doesn't exactly like you.”

“Whatever gave you that idea?” he asked, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

“Ha!” She laughed a short, humorless laugh. Again, why was there no real amusement in her laughter? Was something troubling her?

“What's his problem with me?” Reuben asked to distract himself.

Ayla sighed. “He doesn't like what he saw in the clearing where we found you. You know, what those robbers did? If it really was robbers. Whoever attacked the mercenaries must be quite vicious.”

A grim smile tugged at the edges of Reuben's mouth. That I am, he thought to himself. Oh yes, that I am. And she must never know.

“He's an overprotective fool, really,” the girl continued. “He seems to feel that keeping everything and everyone that has been in that clearing at arm’s length is the best thing to do.”

Overprotective, perhaps, Reuben thought. But no fool. I will have to watch out for that old man.

Another knock came from the door—much more timid than before. Obviously, it wasn't Burchard. Reuben opened his mouth, but before he could say a word, Ayla called, “Come in, Dilli!” and gave him a superior smile.

That annoying little minx!

The screaming servant girl from earlier entered, carrying a bowl of water. Her hands were shaking so badly that little waves appeared on the surface of the water. She looked as if she would like nothing better than to run away again.

“Come here, Dilli,” Ayla ordered, “and put the bowl on the table.”

“Y-yes, Milady,” Dilly stammered.

She did as her lady had ordered, then curtsied hurriedly and almost ran out of the room.

“What is the matter with her?” Reuben wanted to know.

“You tell me,” Ayla said. “Earlier today, I sent her to look in on you. Five minutes later, she came running back screaming 'MiladyMiladywalkingaroundheisthreearrowsthreearrowsthree! Soakedinbloodheisthedevilwehavethewalkingdeadinourcastle!' and then ran off again.”

“I see.” Reuben felt her hands leaving his back.

A moment later, he heard the sound of the bowl being moved from the table to the floor, and Ayla's gentle ministrations began again.

“Mind explaining what that means, master merchant?”

He shrugged. “How should I know? She's just a silly serving girl.”

Ayla pressed an accusing finger into his back. “She may be a serving girl, but she's certainly not silly! And if I were you, I would be a bit more careful with remarks like that while you're under my roof!”

Reuben cursed himself. He should have guessed the girl would be a peasant-lover on top of everything else! Why should life be easy on him for a change by giving her an iota of sense and pride of rank?

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