14. Wakeup Whisper

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Ayla knew from the look on Isenbard's face when he approached her that the hour of her doom had come. He stomped towards her with an expression that made a thunderstorm look like a beautiful spring morning.

She was just on her way to pay Eleanor another visit and tried to slip into the stable and bolt the door behind her, but he cut her off and planted himself firmly in her way.

“What's that I hear about a red knight in the castle?” he said, his voice deceptively low.

“Knight?” Ayla responded brightly. “What knight? There's no knight. Apart from you, Sir Waldar and Sir Rudolfus, of course.”

“Well, your maid, a few excited village girls and half of the servants and soldiers tell me otherwise! They said they saw a red knight on a black stallion ride into the castle this very morning!”

Ayla groaned inwardly and internally chastised herself for having told Isenbard all about the robbery all those weeks ago. Had he not known about a certain red knight who had robbed her and left her stranded deep in the forest, he would not have been half as suspicious.

“Oh, that!” She tried to laugh. It didn't sound very convincing. “That was only Reuben.”

Reuben?” Isenbard's eyebrows shot up.

“Yes, Reuben.”

“Let me clarify—we are talking about the same man here, aren't we? Reuben the merchant? Reuben the convalescent? Cannot-utter-a-sentence-without-swearing-vile-oaths-Reuben?”

“Um... yes. That one.”

“Correct me if I'm wrong, Milady, but, as I said, isn't he supposed to be a merchant?”

“Yes.”

“Milady,” Isenbard said slowly, coming a step closer, his hands on his hips. “The villagers and guards not only say this red fellow came riding into the castle this morning—they also say he was clad from head to toe in armor and riding a black warhorse! They say he broke into the enemy camp and stole your mare back from under Sir Luca’s very nose!”

Ayla bit her lower lip. “Well... in that they're not entirely mistaken.”

“And you expect me to believe that all this was done by a merchant? A peaceful, money-loving apple-dealer?”

“Arms-dealer. He is an arms-dealer.”

“Fine. But that he knows how to sell a sword doesn't mean he knows how to wield one, Milady. How would he be able to break into the camp and steal a knight's armor, not to speak of riding in that armor at full gallop, if he himself isn't—”

Isenbard broke off, and his eyes went wide. Concern swept away Ayla's nervousness in an instant, and she grabbed one of his hands.

“Isenbard? Are you all right? Isenbard?”

Maybe the injury he had suffered had delayed effects! Oh Lord, maybe he was having a seizure!

But his eyes focused on her again almost immediately. They had a strange, pondering look. As if he were weighing something in his mind.

“An arms-dealer,” he said, slowly. “I see.  Yes, as such he would have a certain expertise with weapons, I'm sure. I’m sorry for troubling you with unnecessary concerns, Milady.”

Relief flooded through Ayla. He had swallowed her story! It was amazing. She wouldn't have thought anybody would believe her inexpert attempts at lying. Smiling, she looked after Isenbard as he went away, whistling.

*~*~**~*~*

A few hours after his invigorating talk with Ayla, Reuben heard voices outside his room.

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