59. An Honor and a Burden

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It took them almost half the night, but eventually they were able to put the fire out. Ayla wasn't there. She was later told that Captain Linhart, Burchard, Sir Gregor and Theoderich had acquitted themselves courageously in the fight against the flames. She herself saw none of it. She was too busy to care about such little details as her home burning down.

"Roll those barrels away! Get me some hay from the barn, and spread it on the ground. And blankets!"

"We... we don't have any blankets," one of the guards who anxiously crowded together at the door of the small store building, dared to object. "They're all in the keep and it's, um... well, you know, on fire."

"Then get me some horse blankets! Or is the stable on fire too?"

"No, Milady! Right away, Milady."

The man hurried off, and the other ones quickly set about following her instructions. Only the four men carrying Reuben and her father between them remained standing where they were. Ayla hardly dared to look at Reuben. She had only caught a brief glimpse of him before he had collapsed and they had brought him here, into this store house, far away from the flaming keep. But one glimpse had been enough. And as for her father...

Ayla swallowed, hard. Oh, well, she would have to do it sooner or later, so why not get it over with?

She turned towards them. For just a moment, a shudder went through her body. Then she had herself under control.

"Here! Your hay, Milady!"

The soldier reappeared in the doorway with three helpers, carrying a heavy load. "And your horse blankets!"

"Well, what are you waiting for?" she snapped. "Spread everything there, on the ground. And then put them on the blankets. Be careful! Don't hurt them, or I'll have your guts for garters!"

Sir Reuben and Count Thomas were put down very, very, very carefully. But it didn't matter, really. No matter how carefully they were treated, the harm had already been done.

"Oh God..."

Ayla knelt first by her father's side. His thick, warm woolen clothes had protected most of his body. His face had gotten the worst of it. His once proud beard had burned down to a few chared remnants. There were angry red patches all over his cheeks and around his eyes.

"Water!" she yelled at the guards. "Quickly, get me some cold water! And linseed oil! And Eggs!"

"Eggs, Milady?"

"Yes, eggs! Are you deaf? And linen bandages, too!"

"Yes, Milady."

Shuddering, Ayla turned away from the sight of the wounds on her father's face. It was a mistake. Because next, her eyes fell on Reuben.

"Oh God...!" Rushing forward, she bent over him. The smell of smoke invaded her nostrils and nearly made her choke. "Oh my God, Reuben, I'm so sorry!"

Reuben opened his reddened eyelids. "Why?"

"Oh my God, Reuben! You're awake!"

"Apparently," he croaked. His voice crackled like drie autumn leaves. Ayla felt tears starting to stream down her face.

"You shouldn't be awake! You're supposed to be resting!"

"Probably. But when have I ever done what I'm supposed to do?"

"Never! You idiot!"

"Thank you for the compliment, Milady."

"Oh, Reuben... I'm so sorry."

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