26. Know Thyself

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  • Dedicated to My Dentist

Ayla changed Reuben's cataplasms again and gave him some more water, then left reluctantly, not able to think of another excuse to stay and enjoy his company.

She had just returned to her own room when she realized what she had done. Terrified, she slapped her hands over her mouth and sank against the wall, groaning. “Oh God, no!”

Heilswinda, another one of her maids, though not as close a confidante as Dilli, was just folding linen in a corner of the room. Leaving her work immediately, she came hurrying over to support her mistress. “Milady? Are you alright? Are you ill?”

“No, it's not that. I... I...”

“What then?”

“What have I done?” Ayla moaned.

Heilswinda's young and kind but simple face wrinkled in confusion. “Well, I don't know. You should know that best yourself, shouldn't you?”

“I do!”

“Then what are you asking me for, Milady?”

“I... oh, forget it!”

There was a moment of silence while Ayla contemplated her shame.

“Well, what was it?” Heilswinda asked, face alight with curiosity.

“What was what?”

“What did you do?”

Ayla hesitated. But although she was curious, Heilswinda wasn't one to gossip. And it would be good to confess to someone.

“I kissed Reuben,” she admitted, shame-faced.

The curiosity in Heilswinda's face increased tenfold. “And?” she demanded. “Was he good?”

“Was he... Heilswinda!” Ayla's face turned a brilliant shade of scarlet.

“Sorry, Milady.”

“It wasn't like that. I kissed him on the forehead.”

“Oh.” The maid seemed severely disappointed. And Ayla had to admit, part of her felt the same.

However, she didn't have much time to dwell on this improper feeling. Just then, there came three knocks from the closed door, and Isenbard called: “Milady? I need you. Urgently.”

Quickly, or at least as quickly as possible, Ayla banished thoughts of Reuben from her mind. When Isenbard said things were urgent, they were.

“You say nothing about this to anyone, understand?” she whispered to Heilswinda.

The maid giggled and nodded. “Mum's the word, Milady.”

Ayla opened the door and met the eyes of her father's old friend apprehensively. She was sure that her shameless action would be written on her forehead, plain for all to see, or at least that the blush in her cheeks would give her away. But Isenbard didn't seem to notice.

“Follow me, Milady. The enemy is flying a white flag.”

Ayla's eyes widened. “They want to surrender?”

For a split second, she could have sworn the corner of the knight's mouth twitched. But probably she was mistaken.

“No. A white flag is not only used to surrender, but also to signal a parley. They want to talk.”

That made Ayla's eyes only widen further. “Talk to whom?” she asked, though she thought she already knew.

“The liege lord must lead such negotiations, Milady.”

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