20. Flying Death

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Ayla rode as if the devil were at her heels. Halfway to the bridge she met Burchard, who was running the other way.

When he caught sight of her, he skidded to a halt and his mustache bristled. “What are you doing here?” he yelled at her.

“Riding!” she yelled back, without stopping.

“Get the hell back to the castle! You're not...”

The rest Ayla didn't hear. It was drowned out by the thunderous pounding of her horse's hoofs. Her ride was no Eleanor, but he was quick enough. After only a few minutes, she had reached her goal and slid off the horse's back to storm towards the bridge, waving with her arms to attract the men's attention. To say that Isenbard didn't look pleased to see her would have been the understatement of the century.

“Back!” he growled, pointing to the castle.

“No.” She shook her head. “I came to warn you. There are riders approaching.”

“Already?” Isenbard didn't curse. He was a true knight and never a foul word came over his lips. But the expression on his hard face spoke volumes. “I had hoped for them to take at least another day!”

“I saw them from the castle and came to warn you.”

“I should have stationed a lookout there,” he mumbled to himself. Then he pointed at the castle again. “Well, now you've warned us, you can go back.”

“No.”

“This is no place for a girl, Ayla. And I need you to go back to alert my men at the castle. We need them down here as quickly as possible.”

She met his eyes without flinching. Behind her, a horn sounded. “I have already alerted your men. They are marching here as we speak. I have also posted a lookout on the highest tower of the castle. And where do you think my place would be, Sir Isenbard, if not here with my people?”

He held her gaze for a second or two—then he nodded. “Stay behind the barricade. Don't alert the enemy to your presence.”

She just nodded, knowing that it was useless to argue further. He was probably only letting her stay because he had no time to drag her back to the castle himself, and none of the villagers would dare manhandle her, even with an enraged Sir Isenbard glaring at them.

Anxiously, she looked toward the castle, watching out for Sir Isenbard's men. The enemy riders hadn't been very numerous, but still, would twenty warriors be enough to repel them? Without the barricade finished?

“Were they knights?”

Startled, she looked around. Isenbard was standing there like a pillar of stone, staring in the same direction as she did.

“Who?”

“The riders. Were they knights?”

“I... I don't know. I'm afraid I don't know very much about warriors. But they must have been. Who, other than a knight, would dare ride into battle on a horse? Only knights are allowed to do that, aren't they?”

“Did they have crests? Banners?”

“I saw none.”

He grunted, as if this confirmed a suspicion. “Mercenary cavalry, probably.”

Ayla was aghast. “You mean the Margrave has common killers in his service that ride into battle armored as knights?”

Isenbard nodded grimly. “Killers, yes. Whether they be common I cannot say. I have not crossed blades with them yet.”

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