30. Fallen

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Reuben lay in his room staring at the stone ceiling, fury raging through his veins. While his mind had been slow before, dulled by fever, now it was almost painfully alert. He saw what must have happened with absolute clarity: after beating him into the dirt, the mercenaries must have taken the horses, his sword, and his armor and brought them to their master. And now that colverd piece of pig shit was riding his horse, wearing his armor, and swinging his sword in battle.

Reuben's blood boiled at the insult!

A tiny voice in the back of his mind reminded him that maybe he should be glad that this Sir Luca had stolen his armor. Now Ayla was unlikely to uncover his true identity. But the larger part of him shrank from such thoughts. It should be a good thing the enemy was carrying his sword, when at this very moment, that sword was probably being used to cut down one of Ayla's defenders after another?

Reuben could hear the rising sounds of battle from afar. They sounded strange. He had often heard the music of death played with instruments of iron, but never from far away. Always he had been in the midst of the action.

He yearned to be there now, to be up against the fiend who dared raise his own sword against Ayla's defenders; maybe, he realized, even against her.

Reuben tried to stop it, but couldn't. He imagined Ayla, slender as a lily, her sapphire eyes shining with unshod tears, shrinking back from the violent blade. The image was too much.

“Someone!” the red robber knight yelled. “Someone bring me a sword! And ready a horse for me!”

Then he realized that nobody would be listening. Everybody who wasn't fighting would be watching the fight from the castle walls, hoping against hope for a victory and praying for the safe return of their loved ones. And even if they heard him, why would they do as he asked? They would think he was raving from the fever. They would continue to pray.

Reuben didn't set much store in prayers. There were few things a good, sharp blade couldn't achieve more effectively.

“Satan's hairy ass!” he growled. “So I'll have do everything myself, as usual.”

Taking a deep breath, he braced himself against the bedstead and pushed with his arms to get into a sitting position.

Nothing happened.

His arms were too weak to raise him even an inch from the bed.

“Hellfire and damnation!” Reuben roared, fury at himself raging in every one of his veins. “Up! Up with you! You've eviscerated entire armies! You can get off this bed! You will!”

Outside, the noises of battle were getting louder. War cries and the rush of flying arrows accompanied Reuben's groan as he attempted to lift himself, or at least roll, off this accursed bed that was holding him prisoner. Sweat spilled down his forehead in a waterfall. His heart hammered at twice its normal pace. Again and again he attempted to rise—to no avail.

It was not the bed that was at fault. It was he himself. His own weakness was holding him prisoner.

No! He would not give up yet. He had to go down there and help!

One last time he pressed his big hands against the bed. His muscles bunched in an attempt to lift his torso. Reuben felt the fever burning through him in waves of heat, felt it burning the strength out of him. He had just managed to raise himself about an inch, when his fingers gave way and he slumped back onto the bed.

He lay there, panting, too weak to even utter the string of violent curses that flitted through his mind. There, in his mind, he painted a picture in tones of red. A picture that showed what he wanted to be doing at this very moment out on the battlefield.

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