Outside the tavern, it was a chill drippy night. It wasn’t much this tavern. Situated as it was in a backwater village overshadowed by a castle that may have once been important. Whatever trade route it had been built to protect had long ago shifted leaving it to sit alone.
A fire burned in the central fireplace. The guest on one side, the kitchen on the other. A young man in an apron was carrying tankards of mulled wine or platers of food between the tables. He was the inn keeper’s son. He preferred this to mucking out the stables a job assigned to Tom the son of the widow Hazel. Albert had once desired to adventure. He had once journeyed away from the village. He had traveled with the squire on an errand. It had been a relief to return to the quiet village. It was soon after that he had decided to court Rebecca. What he made working for his father wasn’t much, but it was steady. In time he would inherit the old place and raise his children in it as he had been by his parents. His mother was baking bread today. The whole place was filled with the aroma.
Bread baking day was one reason so many were gathered here today. That and the boar roasting on the split. Haskell the forester had brought it in yesterday. It had been raiding the village gardens, such as they were. They had lost half the potato harvest to him and his clan. Well no more. Potato fattened he would be the feast. Two other dismembered hogs hung in the various smoke houses in the village.
Rebecca was sitting with her family. When he glanced her way. She blushed and turned her eyes down. Albert forgot the pig then. He had made plans to meet her later, after the feast. Hopefully, they could sneak up to his room afterward.
Four of the castle’s guardsmen occupied a table. The fat one, Henry, was waving his mug trying to catch Albert’s eye. They needed more drink. Albert thought they had had more than their share. But who was he to deny them another round of mulled wine? They were off duty and paying customers. After he had eaten his fill and drank another few rounds of wine Henry would probably fall asleep where he sat.
It would be another half hour before they began to serve the boar. It would be another hour before the first of the fresh bread would begin to appear. For now, last week’s bread and some of farmer Brown’s cheese would have to do. Albert hardly had time to contemplate his rendezvous with Rebecca he was so busy.
Albert was pouring Henry another drink when the front door opened letting a chill spread across the room. A lad, about twelve, maybe a little older, pulled the door shut behind him. His hair plastered to his skull and his clothing was soaked through. He shivered from the cold.
A shudder ran through Albert as he finished filling Henry’s mug. He sat the pitcher down in the middle of the guard’s table, He knew it would be empty by the time he sought to retrieve it. Five years ago rattled through Albert. Albert knew that this boy was Tom coming in to warm himself after attending to the stables. Yet this brought back memories of what occurred five years ago and the start of the adventure that now haunted his memories.
Albert walked over to him. “Give me your cloak. I’ll find a place for it to dry.” He held out his hand and waited. Tom hesitated then shrugged his shoulders and slipped out of his cloak handing it to Albert. What was under the cloak was soaked as well. “Come by the fire. I’ll find a warm drink for you.”
He grabbed the empty pitcher off the guard’s table and headed for the kettle of mulled wine intending to grab a mug for Tom. He saw the squire sitting at his table just like he had been five years ago. He almost dropped what he held the images were so clear.