33 - Love According to Reuben

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"What exactly happened to Rueben in Palermo?" Fye asked in the morning while she and Xander were doing one last check of their supplies before they embarked on their journey. The question marked the first words she had spoken to him that day, other than a drowsy "good morning." Well, Fye had never been one for early mornings, anyway.

"Uh..." Xander wasn't sure how to answer. If Rueben wanted Fye to know, he would have told her a long time ago. Of course, they were going to Palermo. She was bound to find out soon or later. "A long time ago, Reuben and Augustus von Skymeadow were fighting over my mother. At the tournament in Palermo, the duke cheated. Reuben almost died. That's when he stopped feeling pain. He got locked in the dungeon for a while and tortured. The people he cared about all betrayed him. That's the short version of the story."

A deep frown creased Fye's forehead. "That... but Rueben won your mother, right?"

"No. She was only after money. After Reuben escaped the dungeon, he seduced her." Xander flashed her a grin. "That's how the handsome man who now stands before you came to exist."

She planted a hand on one of her delicious hips. Xander was jealous of that hand. "Your mother sounds worse than mine."

"My mother... well, she has one or two good qualities. But you kind of have to squint and tilt your head to see them." And she's going to hate you, Xander added silently as an afterthought. He hadn't even yet begun to contemplate the explosions that might occur when his proper-to-a-fault mother encountered wild-and-rowdy Dame Fye. Well... maybe it would be amusing?

He shook away those thoughts and concentrated on getting his horse ready for the day, but his attention was soon diverted back to the castle and the three people who were emerging from it.

"Come to see us off, sir? Xander asked with a grin when he saw Reuben, Kaylin, and Arabella approaching him and Fye.

As soon as the words were out of Xander's mouth, he knew he had been wrong. Reuben wore his armor and carried a heavy bag over one shoulder. Two servants followed behind him, carrying more supplies, which they brought into the stable and began to pile upon a couple of the pack horses. They also started to saddle Demon and Duchess, Reuben's and Arabella's horses.

"You're coming, sir?" Fye asked, delight in every syllable. She never sounded like that when she was talking to Xander.

"I let you win the last tournament," Reuben said to her. "I have a reputation to uphold."

"You didn't let me win. I won fairly."

"Did you?" Reuben asked with a devilish grin. "How do you know I didn't make an arrangement with the judges?"

"You didn't—did you?"

"He didn't," Xander said. "I kept an eye on him."

"As if you would have been able to stop me," Reuben said. He lifted Kaylin onto Xander's horse.

"Um, sir..." Xander started. "You know we're going to Palermo, right? That's where—"

"I'm not going anywhere near her. I'm going for the tournament."

"Yes, sir," Xander said with a nod. Nothing could stop the knot of dread that formed in his gut, though. Reuben was obviously still angry with his mother. If the two did encounter each other, would Reuben hurt her? Would she end up hurting Reuben? And then there was the matter of the duke... "Um, sir..."

"What?" Reuben barked.

"Never mind, sir." I can tell you about the duke later.

This is going to be a mess.

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