27 - Betrayal

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"Ow. Be careful," Fye said as Xander helped her get out of her dented armor. Her body was one big bruise, with the worst of the pain centered on her shoulder. Was this how knights always felt? Maybe Fye should have chosen a different career.

The exultation of her victory took away the pain, though. She had won the tournament, and even if no lord or lady ever decided to knight her, she was a knight. Like Xander had said, she could lead whatever life she wanted to. Even if she had to drag him along with her.

He wasn't so bad, really, as far as men went.

As far as men I'm in love with... I still don't know how that happened.

"Stop complaining," Xander said. "I thought you were tough."

"I am tough. Or don't you remember all the bruises I've given you?"

"Oh, I remember, my dear."

"Don't call me that!"

"What should I call you?" He finished taking off her armor, and he brushed back the collar of her surcoat so he could examine the would on her shoulder. By some miracle, it had stayed sewn up through the day's festivities. His touch sent little critters of delight running all over her body.

She stepped away as a blush took her over, eliciting a laugh from him.

"Your mother got a bath ready for you," he said. "She wants you to look and smell your best for the ball tonight."

Fye grimaced. "Do I small bad?"

"Well, my dear, you've smelled better."

"Do you make a habit out of smelling me?"

He grinned the grin that made Fye fuzzy in the head. "I'll see you soon," he said as he walked away. "I have to go check on something."

"Check on what?"

"I'll tell you later."

"But—" And then he was gone.

Whatever. Fye wouldn't let Xander and his... his whatever-it-was ruin her evening. Even Margaret wouldn't be able to do that. Fye bathed as instructed, scrubbing away the dirt of the tournament. Margaret insisted on helping her wash her hair—which turned into a dispute that would have made The Battle of the Persian Gate look like a minor disagreement between friends. Then, as if Fye had regressed into a five-year-old, Margaret pinned up her hair and called her a good girl for sitting so still through the torture.

When Fye was getting into her dress for the ball, Lady Ayla came to see her. "Oh, Fye," she said with a sigh that was heavy with something. Pride? Ayla wrapped Fye in a tight embrace. "Dear, sweet, Fye. Congratulations. You did something truly remarkable."

"Thank you, milady."

Lady Ayla sat on the edge of the bed in the tent, one hand on her protruding belly. "I want to knight you, Fye."

Fye knew knights were supposed to be dignified and serious—and that was the only thing that kept her from squealing in sheer delight. Her life had officially become a fairy tale. Now Fye would live bloodily ever after, killing anyone who dared to oppress the innocent or defy God. "Thank you, milady," Fye said.

"But..." Lady Ayla began.

Uh oh.

"I need to make sure that this is what you truly want. There may come to be a lot of violence in your life. It is a brutal way to live. I'm sure it has its own rewards, but you must always be ready to defend your liege lord, even at the cost of your own life—and at the cost of other lives as well. I know Reuben speaks of such things flippantly, but Reuben is..." Ayla frowned. "Unique. Would you be able to order men to their deaths? Would you be able to take a life if it were necessary?"

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