29. Demon

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The night was long past; the flames in the stables had died down hours ago. Everybody was down in the dungeons, holding each other, telling stories, speculating about what had happened, praying, doing anything to pass the time and not go insane. Nobody bothered to make a distinction between the former soldiers of Falkenstein and the men and women of Luntberg anymore. Actually, everybody was so covered in soot that it would have been difficult to distinguish Luntberg soldier from a former prisoner, or a maid from a gong farmer.

Burchard was quite agitated by that fact. Released from his temporary detainment, he glared at anybody who came near him as if he suspected all the world of being his personal arch-enemy, or worse, Ayla's.

Ayla herself didn't mind, though. In fact, she was glad about all the dirt. For one thing, it made people treat her with less awed reverence when they saw her covered by the same soot as they. For another, she couldn't see their expressions anymore and read the fear in their faces.

She had enough fear of her own to deal with.

"Can't we go up?" she pleaded with Burchard. "It's been hours since the last bolder dropped. I'm sure it's perfectly safe."

The steward's mustache twitched with menace. It was a louder "No!" than most men managed to affect by shouting.

"But it has been so long! Reuben must be—I mean they must be on their way back by now," she corrected herself, blushing, and once more sincerely grateful to the cover of black soot that concealed it. "I have to be there to welcome them home! They've risked our life for us!"

Again, the mustache gave an expressive twitch. This time, the steward deigned to follow it up with a shake of his shaggy head. "No."

"But Burchard..."

"No, Milady! I'm not allowing you to take any more chances. You've risked your life quite enough for one day."

"Actually, it's long past Midnight. So that was in fact yesterday, and..."

The next twitch of his mustache was so accusatory, her voice dwindled and she lowered her gaze.

"Sorry."

"You should be! Now go and sit over there, where you can't get up to any mischief. Don't even dream of putting a toe outside the door."

That wasn't exactly the way a vassal was supposed to talk to his liege lady, but then, not every vassal knew her from the cradle. Sighing, Ayla slunk off into the corner Burchard had indicated. She burned with the desire to go outside, but she knew it wasn't rational. The fire was extinguished, and Captain Linhart's second-in-command was keeping an eye on things. There was no logical reason for her to go outside. He would inform her the moment Reuben and the others were sighted.

Besides, she felt she owed it to Burchard to stay. She suspected her ordering to have him restrained by two of the very men they had been fighting the last few months had probably hurt the old curmudgeon's feelings.

In the corner into which she had been sent, Ayla found Captain Linhart, his leg now washed and wrapped in a bright, new linen bandage.

"How are you doing, Captain?" Ayla enquired, kneeling down beside him and forcing a smile on her face.

"As well as can be expected, tied to my bed like this," he said, and although his manner remained as calm as respectful as ever, there was a note of frustration in his voice.

"I told you, Captain, you just have to be patient. The leg isn't broken, just severely bruised. A few days of rest, and you'll be on your feet again."

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