32. Garden of Blossoms

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Desperate to calm her thoughts and to find a haven where she could think about everything that was happening, Ayla rushed to the small orchard behind the keep. Perhaps “orchard” was too big a word: it was really just a few apple trees and bushes growing in the shade of the monumental stone building and snuggling up against it like cubs against their mama bear. The trees were in full bloom now, shining with white and rose apple blossoms. Ayla smiled at the sight.

This had always been a place of refuge for her when she needed to find some peaceful solitude. She came here almost every day—except for the last few days, she realized. Blushing, the probable reason for this occurred to her: lately she had found refuge somewhere else, or to be more precise, in someone else. Solitude hadn't seemed nearly as appealing as before.

But now Reuben was asleep, and anyway, she needed to get away from him for a time. She needed to think seriously, and being near him made it difficult to think about anything but him. To stare into his intense gray eyes was more than her concentration could take. She knew, if she were with him, she would lose herself in those eyes, and she would lean closer, aching to touch his face again...

Stop it! she chastised herself. Isenbard is unconscious; your people are in serious danger! You need to think now, not daydream.

Wandering through the orchard, she inhaled the sweet smell of the apple blossoms. It helped to bring her back into the here and now. This was her home, which she needed to defend. Slowly, she reached out and plucked one of the apple blossoms from a tree. Holding it to her nose, she smelled it. Ah, how sweet.

Some part of her mind wondered what Reuben smelled like. The salve she had been using on his wounds had many excellent attributes, but the fact that it stank like a dog's territory mark wasn't one of them. She hadn't been able to smell anything of him. Would he smell... alluring?

Stop it! she repeated in her head. Even if he did, so what? He's a commoner, and not for you! You can't get involved with a commoner, even if he would want that. And he wouldn't. Would he?

She inhaled again, trying to find peace in the familiar scent.

*~*~**~*~*

Reuben awoke with a start. He couldn’t remember having fallen asleep. The exhaustion of the fever must have claimed its due. Though, he had to admit, the fever wasn't nearly as bad as it had been earlier. These infernal cold caterpillars, or whatever they were called, which Ayla had wrapped around his arms and legs, had to be doing their job. She really did know what she was doing, he had to admit, grudgingly.

Slowly, his head still feeling a bit dizzy, he looked around. The first thing he noticed was that the soldier who had shared his room was gone. From the copious amounts of dried blood on the sheets of his bedstead, Reuben surmised that the man had not gone back to his family—unless it be wrapped in a shroud.

 Reuben turned his head to look out of the window and to turn his mind from thoughts of blood and death.

That aim he achieved immediately.

In a small orchard directly underneath his window stood a slender, white figure with golden hair, clutching a flower in her hand, her nose gently brushing the petals of the blossom. It was the most beautiful picture Reuben had ever beheld, and it made him ache with longing. Ache! Him, the knight who knew no pain.

He wanted her. And he was going to get her.

But first, he had to get off this accursed bed!

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