17 - Knight and Squire

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"Reuben," Ayla pleaded as she snuggled against his side. "Tell me what's wrong."

"Nothing," he said. Again. "Go to sleep."

"You expect me to sleep with all the noise going on out there? Why aren't we in the castle?"

"Because if someone tries to attack Fye in the middle of the night, I'm more likely to hear it if we're out here in a tent." He kissed her forehead.

"Oh. That makes sense, I suppose. Tell me what's wrong."

He sighed. "Woman..."

"Or do I have to torture it out of you?" she asked as her fingers made a trail across his body, driving him mad—not that he wasn't already mad.

Xander was lying!

But what reason would he have to make up such an absurd story? The facts fit. Xander was the right age and, according to some people's opinions, bore a physical resemblance to Reuben. And he saw her in Xander's face, too. The green eyes. The olive skin. Xander couldn't have known about that night unless she had told him.

Xander the squire was Reuben's son.

"I hate you," Reuben muttered.

"You—"

"No, not you," Reuben said as he squeezed Lady Ayla against him. "God."

She gasped. "Reuben, you—"

"You're not even going to ask why I hate him before you make accusations? I might have a good reason. I thought you were fairer than that, milady."

She sighed. "So why are you insulting God this time? Is it because Fye was born as a female?"

"No. Fye is perfect. It's... The last time I was at a tournament, it didn't end well."

"Oh. I'm sorry, Reuben. I should have thought..." One of her delicate hands caressed his face. "This is bringing back bad memories for you, isn't it?"

"It wasn't. Until I got a message from her."

In the dim light of their tent, Reuben saw Ayla frown. "A message from Fye? I don't understand."

"No. A message from... her." He clenched his teeth in the moment before the name slipped out of his mouth. He hadn't said it in years, and he never wanted to say it again. He wanted to wipe all memory of her from existence. "Salvatrice."

Ayla gasped. "The woman who betrayed you? What message?"

"Xander."

He felt Ayla's confusion thicken. He supposed he ought to say it outright, but admitting it would only make it more real. Why should Ayla have to think about his sordid past? She knew enough already.

"Xander? What did Xander do? Reuben, you have to explain."

Reuben growled and propped himself up so he could lean over Ayla and kiss her. Ayla possessed a divine power; her presence could make the past and the future disappear. All she had to do was touch him like she was touching him now, and... no. This time it wasn't working. His thoughts went to another night, another woman. A long time ago.

Reuben didn't know how many men he had killed. Sure, some of his kills might have been morally repugnant, but he had known a long time ago that he would never make it into heaven—if such a place existed. He didn't regret the killing. Nor did he regret the countless carnal encounters he had had with women in the years before he met Ayla.

Except one. Only one of those women had known him well enough to come back to call him to account.

"Let it be, love," Reuben said as he broke apart from their kiss. "It's not important."

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