The Mercenary Knight

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Authors: Elyzabeth M. VaLey
wouldn’t have batted an eyelash to stop me.”
    Tanya hurried to cover herself, her face bright red with embarrassment.
    “Get dressed and come downstairs to the stables. We leave in an hour’s time.”
    With that, Conrad was off. He thought he heard Tanya calling, but ignored it. He hurried to the common room where the innkeeper was already preparing the day’s meal and ordered ale, downing it in a single gulp. Hadford was the next village, a week’s ride away. That meant another week with Tanya at his side. Conrad cursed and ordered another ale. It would be another week of trying to fight off whatever it was he was feeling.
    ****
    “Conrad, I think we’re being followed.”
    Conrad jumped at the sound of Johann’s quiet voice next to him. He realized that throughout their five-day trip, the usually introverted man had been quieter than customary. He berated himself for not noticing before, and made a mental note to speak to the lad at their next stop.
    “Go back and scout,” he ordered the blond.
    Johann nodded and turned back his horse. They were barely two days’ ride away from Hadford, and had not encountered any problems so far. That is, if you didn’t consider Tanya. Conrad glanced her way. She sat atop the horse he had bought her at the inn, quietly staring at the road ahead. Almost as if she knew he was watching her, she tilted her head to the side. Before their eyes could meet, Conrad looked away.
    Conrad had been battling with a surge of conflicting emotions. He had barely been civil to Tanya during their trip, addressing her only when necessary and avoiding her at all costs. Yet, he could not restrain himself from gawking at her like an idiot. Once or twice she had caught him and tried to talk, but he would scurry away, making up some excuse or another.
    It’s not that Conrad didn’t want to talk to Tanya––he did. He ached to hear her melodious voice speak directly to him, to see her amber eyes flash with passion and her hands swipe the air as she told one tale or another. But Conrad avoided it, running from her like the plague, partially because he wasn’t sure of his own feelings. At times, he longed to gather her into his arms and kiss reason into her. Conrad wanted to show her that Wybert and Gregorii were nothing compared to him. He was all she needed.
    At other times, Conrad was so angry with Tanya for bedding Gregorii and Wybert, he didn’t want her close, didn’t want to remember that they had touched her intimately, or that they had stared into her amber eyes filled with passion and she had surrendered to them. That thought also reminded Conrad just how furious he was with his two men. He ignored them too, and when they sat around the campfire at night, he would sit a little apart, watching them as they laughed and talked and shared a secret bond of which he had no part. The anger would abate as soon as he settled into sleep, and then he’d hate himself for being a fool with no guts to admit that he had fallen for the tavern wench.
    Johann returned after a few minutes.
    “They’re right behind us, a company of two dozen men.”
    “Were they--?”
    “No, it didn’t look as they were searching, but you never know.”
    Conrad nodded. He raised his arm and motioned the men to follow him into the forest. He doubted they were seeking Tanya, but he decided not to risk it, preferring instead they wait for the cavalry to pass and then continue on their way. They rode deep into the woods until Conrad found what he was looking for. They stopped at a small gully that was easily defendable on all positions.
    “We’ll wait here until they pass.”
    No one questioned his orders. They waited. None spoke. The men hadn’t drawn out their weapons but they stood ready to pull them out should the need arise. After a half hour, Conrad sent Johann to check that the horsemen had passed. He returned with the news that the road was free, so they continued on their way.
    The closer one got to the

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