19 - A Prickly Proposal

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Xander glared at the bur as if he could disintegrate it with the heat of his gaze. He held it between his fingers as anger inched up in him.

He had come to fetch Reuben's and Fye's horses for the archery course while the two of them went over a few last-minute details about the competition. Xander wished he were there for that conversation; Fye was probably trying to wrestle Reuben's weakness out of him. Although kidnapping Lady Ayla hadn't been the worst idea...

"You!" Xander barked at the nearby servant, who was busy grooming Lady Ayla's mare.

The boy jumped a full two feet off the ground. Interesting. Maybe that was why Sir Reuben yelled at others so often. It was rather entertaining.

"Y-yes, sir?"

"Did you saddle Miss Fye's horse?"

"No-no, sir."

"Are you lying to me?"

"N-no, sir!"

"Who did saddle her horse?"

"It was..."

"Who?"

The servant told him.

"You're sure?" Xander asked. Stupid question. Of course the boy was sure. It would be a difficult mistake to make.

"Y-yes, sir."

"And you didn't inspect afterward?"

"N-no, sir. I thought—"

"I think you should refrain from thinking. You're not very good at it. Get back to work!" Xander took the reins of Titan and Demon and headed toward the arena, where he would meet up with the others.

He couldn't believe...

But he could believe it.

Someone had intentionally placed the bur under Titan's saddle. Lord Arken had been Xander's first suspect, but Lord Arken had seemed eager to see Fye face Sir Reuben with a sword. He wouldn't try to get Fye thrown off her horse before that. The next suspect had been Antwerp, but that would have been impossible to prove because the fellow seemed intelligent enough to send someone else to do his dirty work.

But the person whom it had actually been...

"Took you long enough, you drunken slug," Reuben said when Xander arrived in the arena with the horses.

"Good morning to you, too, sir." Xander turned his grin on Fye, who quickly averted her gaze. What? Had he offended her? Was this about last night? Maybe he had taken his flirting a little too far? But Fye had heard worse things from Sir Reuben, whose main vocabulary consisted of curses and lewd references. Fye was no delicate flower. She was an iron flower, smithed in the fires of hell and then sent to earth to fight for heaven.

So what had he done wrong?

"Good morning, my sweet, dear little Fye," he said in a soft, almost sing-songy voice. That would get a rise out of her. It was like calling any other woman a hairy-faced whore.

"Good morning," she said. Without looking at him, she snatched Titan's reins and led him off to the queue so she could wait with the other competitors.

"What was that?" Reuben asked.

Xander shrugged. "She's a woman. You expect me to be able to explain her actions?"

"Fair point." Reuben took Demon and followed Fye.

Xander scanned his surroundings as the crowd filed into the arena. Lady Ayla was at her seat already, cradling a crying Alys. Margaret had sat behind Lady Ayla yesterday... There she was. Xander hopped into the seating area, climbed over a startled spectator, and plopped into the empty seat next to Margaret.

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