26. Doing Something

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Ayla stopped at the door of another dungeon, just steps away from the exit.

"Wait here," she told her new vassal. "I don't think we have enough men yet."

"But Milady, we've got more than enough people to build a bucket chain. We should—"

"Enough for a bucket chain, yes. But not enough to win this feud." She met his eyes, steadily. "The Margrave has made a critical error in shooting at his own men. I mean to exploit that error to the fullest."

Sir Gregor bowed.

"As you command, Milady."

Stepping aside, Gregor let Ayla unlock the door and push it open. She entered, and was once again faced by a sea of surprised faces.

In as few words as possible she explained the situation. She was terribly aware of the flames burning away above her, working their way towards her beloved friend Eleanor in the stables. Yes, she wanted to win over those men in front of her to win the feud. But at the moment, that didn't feel nearly as important to her as saving her beloved mare.

When she was finished with her explanation, she marched down to the first soldier in her path and unlocked his chains. They fell to the ground with a dull thunk. The man looked from her to the chains, and back again. His hands flexed. For a long moment, he gazed at her in silence. Nobody moved.

Suddenly, Ayla realized that she hadn't been in this dungeon as often as in the other. She didn't even know the name of the man she had just freed. A cold shiver of apprehension travelled down her spine.

"Well?" she asked, trying to keep her voice from shaking. "Will you help me?"

"Why would I?"

"Because if you don't, you'll most likely burn to death."

"You could be lying," the soldier pointed out, his eyes narrowed in distrust. "This could be a trap."

"Well, it is not."

He took a step forward. "Says who?"

"I do, soldier." At the sound of the deeper, masculine voice, all eyes turned again to the entrance of the dungeon. Ayla didn't need to look to know that behind her, Sir Gregor had entered.

"Sir!" The soldier dropped to one knee, bowing his head. He obviously belonged to Sir Gregor's lance. Deep inside, Ayla breathed a sigh of relief. "How came you to be free, Sir?"

"Lady Ayla gave me my freedom—and I have sworn an oath of fealty to her."

"You did what?"

"You heard me. The Margrave is bombarding the keep with flaming missiles. He is trying to burn innocent women and children alive, and along with them the very men who have risked their lives for him." Stepping further into the dungeon, Sir Gregor threw the door wide open. "Here! Can't you smell the smoke? The stench of treachery?"

And indeed they could. Ayla could smell the bitter stench herself, and she could see it on the soldiers' faces. Jaws tightened, fists clenched.

"If this is how the Margrave rewards loyalty, I will have none of it!" Sir Gregor said, his voice low and dangerous. "What about you, men?"

The kneeling soldier rose and bowed to Sir Gregor. "I am with you, Sir. Always. You know that." Then he turned to Lady Ayla. "And, it seems, now also with you, Milady. Forgive me my earlier words."

She inclined her head, accepting his apology.

"What about the rest of you?" called out Sir Gregor. "What shall it be? Freedom, or chains? Justice or evil? Right or wrong?"

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