25. Vacillating Vassals

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It was about an hour later that the door to Reuben's room swung open and Ayla staggered in, one hand covering her eyes.

“You don't mind if I sit here and contemplate our doom for a while, do you?” she asked, slumping down at the foot of his bed without waiting for a reply, and without removing her hand from her face.

“Err... no, not at all.”

“Good. Oh, and by the way, you were right. We are all going to be slaughtered.”

Reuben had spent a lot of time in female company, and had perfected the art of reading their moods and outbursts. He might be wrong, but something told him that something had transpired, something which wasn't very encouraging and promising.

“What has happened to you, Ayla?” He reached out and tried to pull her hand away from her face—in vain. He couldn't have lifted a leaf from the ground, he was so weak. Damn! “Ayla, talk to me! What happened? Did you have an encounter with the enemy?”

“Worse,” she groaned. “I just met our allies.”

Reuben relaxed, rolled his eyes, and let his hand sink back onto the bed. “So that's it. You're simply overreacting.”

“You haven't met Sir Rudolfus and Sir Waldar before, have you?”

“I must admit that I haven't had the pleasure, no.”

“Then do me a favor and don't speak of things you don't understand.”

“Come on. It can't have been that bad.”

Ayla turned around and lowered her hand. For the first time since she'd entered the room, Reuben could see her expression—and flinched at the sight.

“That bad?” he asked with trepidation.

*~*~**~*~*

Ayla watched nervously as the knight leading the first group approached. At least she hoped he was a knight. He wore no mail, preferring instead baggy robes that made him look more like a scholar than a warrior. Yet he was the only one among the men riding on a horse, so who else could he be but their lord?

About ten paces away from her, the horse came to a halt. The gangly youth on its back tried to dismount, but somehow managed to get his foot stuck in his riding gear. It took a while for him to disentangle himself.

When he had finally managed, he approached Ayla on his over-long legs and gave an awkward bow, his Adam’s apple bobbing. “I... err... hear that you are having some slight difficulty with one of your neighbors, Milady, and require my assistance?”

“Slight difficulty? Yes, you could say that.” Ayla pointed across the river to the sea of enemy tents behind her. “That's my slight difficulty.”

The young man's eyes went even wider than they already had been. “Dear me. Those are a lot of tents. Why would all those people be camping in front of the bridge like that?”

“I guess it's because they want to conquer and kill us.”

“Conquer and... kill? My goodness. Have you talked to them? Asked them nicely not to?”

*~*~**~*~*

Ayla contemplated Reuben's question for a moment, remembering. Then she nodded.

“Yes,” she answered Reuben. “That bad.”

*~*~**~*~*

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