12. Rewards of Bravery

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SMACK!

Ayla's blood-stained hand connected with Reuben's face and left bloody streaks in its wake. He stiffened, blinking down at her in amazement. Had the world gone mad? She was supposed to be kissing him all over and thanking him on bended knee!

Instead, Ayla grabbed him by the collar and tried to shake him. Since he was about twice as massive as she was, he stood rock-steady while she ended up shaking herself, but that didn't seem to lessen her enthusiasm.

“You stupid, stupid, fool!” she yelled. “You thrice blasted Idiot! You doddering halfwit! Have you completely lost your mind? Do you have any idea how dangerous that little adventure of yours was? You could have gotten yourself killed! You are the most empty-headed, idiotic man alive!”

Tears had started running down Ayla’s cheeks. The surrounding soldiers discreetly turned and looked into other directions, suddenly very interested in brick walls or pigeons roosting on the castle roof.

Not that Reuben cared the least what they were doing. He was too busy trying to figure out what to do now. At the moment, he didn’t have a clue. In all his wildest imagining he hadn't thought of such an outcome. Ayla had been angry with him for stealing her horse, hadn't she? Well, now he had returned it. She should be happy. So why, by Satan’s hairy ass, was she crying and shouting at him?

Maybe she hadn’t noticed her horse yet.

“I brought you back your mare,” he stated in a somewhat injured tone, pointing to the mare who was busy sidling up to Satan.

“I'm not blind! What were you thinking?”

Reuben put his fists on his hips. So she had noticed it. But then what in all seven hells was the matter with her? Slowly but surely, he could feel his temper rising. “Well, actually I was thinking you would be happy!”

“Happy? Have you lost your mind, you big ox?”

“No, but maybe you have!”

All right, maybe his temper had sped up a bit…

“Don't you dare talk to me like that!”

“And don't you dare talk to me like that!”

The two of them were only two inches apart from one another now, and shouting at the top of their lungs. In some small, remaining rational part of his mind that wasn't consumed by fury, Reuben had to admit that you simply had to admire the strength of Ayla's vocal cords. She could easily keep up with him in the shouting department.

Threateningly, she held up a finger and put it right under his nose. “You can't tell me what to say in my own castle!”

“It won't be your castle for much longer, if you continue the way you're doing.”

“What? You insolent, arrogant... What?

The last word was directed at a guard, who had cautiously approached Lady Ayla and tapped her on the shoulder with the strength of a butterfly’s wing, as if he thought she might explode at any moment. She rounded on him, blue fire sparking in her eyes. If Reuben hadn’t been so enraged at her, he might have spent some thought on how beautiful they looked.

“Err... nothing, Milady.” The guard shrank back. “It's just... my comrades on the wall up there,” he pointed up to where the archers were stationed, “still stand there with their bows drawn. They were told to hold, and they've been holding it for about five minutes now. But they say their arms are growing tired, and sent me down here to ask if they could lower their bows, otherwise they might let go and accidentally shoot someone.”

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