28. In the Hands of the Margrave

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Reuben awoke when someone emptied a bucket of ice-cold water in his face. He could remember pleasanter ways of waking up. There had been that one time with that serving-wench in Verona...

Ah well, that wasn't important right now. Not as important as the fact that his hands were tied behind his back, and there was a knife at his throat. The sharp end.

"Lando is very capable with a knife," he heard a cool voice out of the kaleidoscope of blinking lights that was his field of vision. "If you make any sudden movements, he will use it, have no doubt."

"While I'm tied up?" Reuben chuckled. "You must be scared enough of me to piss yourself."

"Well, let's just say that after seeing your performance in the camp, and after hearing wahat you did to my men on the river bank last night, I'm taking a few additional precautions."

Reuben heard steps approaching, and a face appeared out of the slowly fading lights as his eyes adjusted. He tried hard to make it out, but it was gloomy in this place, wherever it was. He tried even harder to remember where and especially when this place was. But everything remained a little fuzzy.

Was this the dungeon? After Palermo? The tournament... No. That had been years ago. And anyway, the walls of this place were made from cloth, not blocks of stone.

A tent?

The face drew nearer. Reuben could make out dark hair, and a neatly trimmed back beard that covered the lower half of the man's slim features. The beard was growing gray at the edges, and in the center of the face...

"Satan's hairy ass!" he whistled. "You've got a beastly beak!"

The man's eyebrow's lifted, one higher than the other. He didn't show any emotion, but Reuben's finely-tuned social skills told him that the fellow wasn't very pleased.

"A what, pray?"

"A beak. A conk. A big, fat turnip of a crooked nose. How did you get that? Lost a fight, did you?"

From somewhere else in the tent, Reuben heard a choked noise, like from someone trying very hard to suppress laughter. The face in front of him still didn't show any emotion. But there was a certain flicker in the eyes—a bit like the flicker in the eyes of demon of wrath—that made Reuben think he had hit the spot.

He grinned. "I thought as much."

Narrowing his eyes infinitesimally, the bearded man leaned even closer. "Maybe you should be a bit more careful with your words, considering the situation your find ourself in."

Reuben was just about to ask what situation exactly that might be when his eyes slid from the man's face and fell onto his surcoat: midnight black, with a cross and a silver falcon.

It all came rushing back: The robbery, the siege, Ayla... Satan's hairy ass, Ayla! Of course! He had been fighting to destroy the trebuchet. And if he had been captured, he knew who this man had to be.

Raising his gaze again, Reuben met the steady blue-grey gaze of his enemy. The Margrave stared back at him, appearing to want to pierce him with his gaze.

"The red knight..." he murmured. "So you're the man who killed a hundred of my best soldiers all by himself."

Reuben's grin widened. "Happy to have been of service, your Excremency."

And he spat the man in the face.


Hartung saw what would happen a fraction of a second before it did. He opened his mouth to shout a warning, but the Margrave had already gotten a load of spittle in his face. Slowly, he rose. Taking a napkin from a nearby table, he carefully wiped the liquid from his face. His eyes, blazing with fury, found Hartung.

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