14. Feast, Feud and Fennel

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Reuben was bored. It had now been several hours since the mad girl who styled herself the lady of this castle had disappeared, and since then, nobody had come to see him. He had neither seen nor heard anything to arouse his interest. Did nothing ever happen in this dump?

There was a knock at the door. A nervous knock, a servant's knock. Reuben remembered what they sounded like all too well from the old days.

“Come in,” he called. Anything to bring a bit of diversion.

The silly, screeching maid from earlier entered the room, holding a tray in her trembling hands, on which stood a steaming wooden bowl. She looked like a frightened bunny condemned to bring a wolf his food, hoping he wouldn't eat her instead of what she was carrying.

“Your s-supper, Sir,” she stammered.

“Ah!” Reuben rubbed his hands together. He was almost as hungry as he was bored, and was looking forward to a hearty meal. “What do you have for me? Tell, tell.”

“F-fennel soup, Sir.”

Reuben's face went blank. “What?”

Trying to stay as far away from him as possible, the maid knelt and placed the tray in front of him. The bowl on it contained a greenish fluid which Reuben at a glance would have identified as stagnant pondwater.

“We have prepared a special diet for you, according to the teachings of the great abbess and healer Hildegard von Bingen,” she explained, timidly. “She recommends that any who suffer from illness or wounds take only liquid food, and she places great emphasis on the healing effects of fennel.”

“She does, does she?” Reuben growled. “And do all of your sick receive this affectionate treatment?”

“No, Sir,” Dilli said hurriedly. “We would never dare! Lady Ayla gave me instructions to prepare this specially for you. I made the soup with e-extra f-fennel!”

“How... nice of you.” Reuben's gray eyes glowed with the promise of steel and death. “Remind me to thank your mistress for this later, will you?”

Dilli nodded eagerly, obviously relieved beyond measure that he was pleased with the special care they took of him. “Yes, Sir.”

The maid started to rise, but Reuben grabbed her arm. “Tell me—what is the Lady Ayla having for dinner?”

The girl hesitated for a moment, seeming to struggle with herself and as well as with the possibility of fainting from the fact that a mad monster, who was probably one of the undead, was clutching her arm in an iron grip.

“Ch-chicken p-pie with Lord's Sauce and honey wine, I heard, Sir.”

Reuben's eyes almost sprang out of his head from anger, but he managed to smile at the silly girl. “Indeed?”

“As the first course of five. She's practically feasting.”

“Ah. Thank you for telling me. Now I really look forward to my next meeting with your mistress.”

That arrogant little minx! Reuben gnashed his teeth in anger. He would... well, he didn't know yet what he would do to exact his revenge on Ayla, but it would be something inventive.

He let go of the maid's arm and picked up the wooden spoon in the bowl as if he were about to start eating the ghastly substance.

Smiling happily, though apprehensively, she curtsied and left the room. Reuben had to mightily resist the urge to just throw the bowl at the closed door. No, that would not be wise. His host was obviously fond of her servant, and it wouldn't do to alienate his host. Carefully, he sniffed the bowl again. Perhaps he could just throw it out of the window? No, it would be found. He had to act inconspicuously. He couldn't afford to draw Ayla's attention and maybe make her realize who he really was.

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