19. Hot Dispute

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They're already here, Ayla thought desperately, running back up to the castle as fast as her legs would carry her. Already approaching, and we haven't even had word from Sir Rudolfus or Sir Waldar yet! What if Falkenstein's men attack before they and their reinforcements arrive? Or worse yet, what if they attack before the barricade is finished?

These thoughts continued to haunt her as she fled into the castle, for the first time really appreciating how thick and solid its walls were. They haunted her as she ran up the steps, and they haunted her as she hurried down the corridor. Only when she came to a standstill in front of one of the castle's oak doors did she realize that, without thinking, her feet had carried her to Reuben's room.

Why here? What do I want here? she asked herself. And then the answer came: she wanted someone to talk to, someone to share her fears with. Both Burchard and Isenbard were more than occupied right now. And apart from them, who was there that wouldn't already be more frightened than she was? The guards? The servants? It was her job to instill confidence in them, not undermine it! There was only one person she was fairly sure would not panic at the news.

Hesitantly, she opened the door and stepped in.

“Reuben?”

He was waiting for her, glaring up at her from his bed as if she had sent him an entire cauldron of fennel soup for breakfast.

“Reuben?” she asked, her voice wavering slightly. “What's the matter?”

“You aren't getting married, are you?” he growled.

She blinked, taken aback. “What kind of question is that?”

“The kind I would like to have answered!”

“Well then,” she snapped, her temper rising at his officious tone, “no, I'm not. Not if I can help it,” she added, thinking of the Margrave's ultimatum.

“Then what is that old fellow doing here?” Reuben demanded. “And what is that supposed to be?” He pointed towards the window. “That thing you're building in front of the bridge?”

“If by 'that old fellow' you are referring to Sir Isenbard—he is here in fulfillment of his oath of fealty to my father,” she said indignantly. “And the barricade is being built to protect us against the coming attack.”

*~*~**~*~*

Reuben's eyes narrowed. “What attack would that be?”

He saw a puzzled expression spread over her face. “The attack by the Margrave von Falkenstein of course! I'm sure I mentioned it before.”

“No, you did not,” Reuben replied, trying to keep his voice calm, but finding it increasingly difficult. He wished he could just get up and shake the girl! But no normal man would have been able to do that. It would immediately give away his special talent. His curse.

“Oh.” Ayla gnawed on her lower lip. Reuben thought she looked very cute when she did that, and would have tried to rein in his rage, but then she said: “Are you sure? Because I could swear I told you one time or another.”

He raised an eyebrow. “I think I'd remember you mentioning our impending slaughter.”

“Well, it must have slipped my mind, I guess,” she mumbled. “I'm sorry.”

“Yes, because sudden death is so easy to forget.” Reuben's voice was dripping with sarcasm.

“I said I was sorry,” she snapped.

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