44 - Blood and Buddies

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When Xander burst back into the inn, a sound tore out of his throat that would have made the devil himself wet his pants. If the devil wore pants. Xander wasn't sure if he did, but in any case, it was a terrifying sound.

As if someone had used a knife to cut it, the hubbub in the inn disappeared, leaving eerie silence in its wake. The only sound came from a lunatic in the corner who was busy counting the grains of wood in his table.

"You," Xander said, pointing a finger at the serving wench closest to him. "And you." This time, he pointed to the serving wench who was sitting on the lap of a portly fellow who had some mysterious stains on his tunic. "And anyone else who works here!" He said it loudly enough that they could probably hear him three buildings over. "Here. Now."

Within seconds, he had five people lined up in front of him—two serving wenches, a cook, an errand boy, and the innkeeper himself.

When Xander spoke again, his voice was quieter but no more difficult to hear. To the serving wenches, he said, "Earlier, one of you gave my wife a drink. Which one of you was it?"

Neither of them said a word.

"Or maybe," Xander said as he turned his attention to the cook, "the poison was in the food. It would have been easy for anyone to slip the poison into her stew. Someone. Start. Talking. Talk, or I remove your ability to say anything at all." He drew a dagger from his belt and pressed the tip underneath the errand boy's chin.

Xander had never liked to hurt people. The joy that Reuben received from battle was foreign to him. He knew that violence was a cornerstone of life as a knight, but that didn't mean he had to reap any pleasure from it. At the moment, though, he was too blinded by rage to think about his distaste for hurting others. He saw only red.

"S-sir," a quiet voice said from his left. He turned his attention to one of the serving wenches, a buxom girl who couldn't have been any older than Fye.

"Yes?" Xander prompted.

"Earlier, I saw a man... he was, um..."

"Yes?"

The girl flinched at his voice. "I was taking Dame Fye's supper to her. I quite like Dame Fye. She's a funny lass, and I—"

"What happened?"

"Um... A man crossed paths with me. Bumped into me. Almost made me spill her stew, sir. But he caught the bowl before anything bad happened. I suppose he might have... I don't know. Slipped something into it."

"I see. Did anyone else see this little incident?" He scrutinized the other inn workers.

"I did, sir," the other wench said.

"I suppose I'll believe you... for now. Did either of you recognize this man?"

"No, sir," they said in unison.

Xander drew in a deep breath, trying to find some semblance of calm. The duke had tried to murder Fye—again. He might even succeed this time. It didn't matter which grunt he had hired to do it. What mattered was that the duke pay. And pay. And then pay more.

"Fine," Xander said. "You all get to keep your heads. Congratulations. Carry on with whatever you were doing."

He knew what he was going to do next. Duke Augustus had tried to take the woman Xander loved, so Xander would take the woman the duke loved.

*

44.2

"Xander?" Lady Salvatrice said when she shuffled out of her bedroom, tying a robe around herself. "It's so late. What are you doing here? And what is that?" Her green eyes grew wide when she realized what Xander had slung over his shoulder.

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