42. The Two Sides of a Traitor

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“Greetings, Milady,” Hans the guard whispered, staring up at his mistress with dark, hollow eyes.

“You!”

“Aye. Me.”

A thunderstorm of twisted feelings was raging through Ayla. She had always liked Hans—he had been quiet and polite, even kind at times. Never particularly devoted to her, but steadfast enough. If asked a minute ago, before she saw his face here in the gloomy dungeon, she would have called him a good man. She would certainly not have called him a twisted snake of a traitor.

“Hans...”

She stared down at him, and he stared back, unflinchingly. He had the gall to look into her eyes! He, who had betrayed them all! He’d had the gall to step up to her and tell her he was sorry Sir Isenbard died, when it was probably his fault all along! Ayla felt hot blood pound in her ears. If there were any justice in the world, this man’s eyeballs should shrivel and his hands drop off!

Enraged, she took a step forward, forgetting for the moment that she was a lady and violence was not what God had ordained for her. She raised her hand, wanting to slap the guard, no, not slap him, beat him until he hurt as much outside as she was hurting inside. But then she realized that was simply not possible, and her hand fell limply to her side.

“You betrayed us!” she said in a voice as cold as ice.

Hans nodded.

“Yes.”

“You would have handed us all over to the Margrave!”

“Yes!”

“You are a despicable worm without a shred of honor!”

“Yes.”

What in the name of the Holy Virgin… It riled Ayla how he didn't bother to deny her charges, didn't even seem to feel guilty about them! Her cheeks heated and she took another step towards him.

“I could have you executed for your treason!”

Hans nodded placidly. “I know.”

“Then why in God's name did you commit it?”

“Because,” Hans said, looking directly into her eyes without flinching, “I knew that if I didn't commit treason, I and my family were all going to be killed once the castle has fallen.”

There was a moment of heavy silence in the dungeon. The guards around Hans threw each other uneasy glances and shuffled around. Even Captain Linhart, Sir Waldar and her other two vassals looked disturbed. Only Reuben remained completely unruffled, glaring at the traitorous guard on the floor with a force that by all rights should have incinerated him long ago.

“All of you,” Ayla said, feeling as though the floor beneath her had vanished and she was falling into a bottomless, dark abyss. “Out!”

It took a few moments for the meaning of her words to sink in.

“You mean... leave you alone? With that traitor?” Linhart's mouth dropped open. “Milady, you cannot be serious.”

“Do I sound as though I am joking?”

“Um... no, Milady, but…”

“Leave us! Now!” She didn't make her voice especially loud or commanding. But it was reinforced with the strength of the feelings that were fighting inside her, despair and determination, side by side.

All of the men turned and left the room without another word. Only one remained.

“I won't leave you alone with him,” Reuben declared.

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