The Earl in Winter – Kathryn Le Veque

ALL HE’D DONE was open the entry door. That was apparently enough of an invitation for someone to throw a stool at his head. James de Lohr ducked swiftly, stumbling back out of the door and narrowly avoiding being hit by a man who came hurtling through the opening after him. But it wasn’t an attack – it was because the man had been struck in what was surely a tavern fight to end all tavern fights. He was simply flying with the momentum. James jumped out of the way as another man came flying through the door right after him. And somewhere in the middle of the chaos, James heard a scream. There was a woman inside Balthazar’s Inn, trapped in the midst of a nasty fight. It was just past sunset on what should have been a peaceful snowy winter’s eve and the fists were flying in the lowceilinged, stuffy common room. All James could see were figures moving about, punching and kicking and grunting. As he stood at the open door, part of a table came flying at him and he deftly knocked it down. Hell of a party, he thought wryly. Another scream caught his attention. This time, the noise was off to his left and, instinctively, he moved towards the sound of distress. He was a military man, an officer, and a very good one.

If there was trouble, he was sworn to assist. Even in the middle of a bar fight. And then, he saw it. A woman with frizzy red hair hiding behind a small table as a man grabbed at her. She was using the table like a shield, shoving it at him, forcing him to keep his distance. James grabbed the man by the hair, yanking him away from the woman. As the man stumbled back, James could see that there was a second woman cowering behind the table also. “C-Come with me,” he said over the noise. The woman balked. “Away with ye or I’ll knock the senses from ye!” James avoided a flying piece of wood.

“L-Lady, I assure you, it is only to take you to safety. O-Or do you want to stay in this midst of this tempest?” The woman paused for an indecisive moment until a candlestick hurled through the air, hitting the wall behind her. That seemed to make her decision for her. With a reluctant nod, she came out from James de Lohr ducked swiftly, stumbling back out of the door and narrowly avoiding being hit by But it wasn’t an attack – it was because the man had been struck in what was surely a tavern fight to end all tavern fights. He was simply flying with the momentum. James jumped out of the way as There was a woman inside Balthazar’s Inn, trapped in the midst of a nasty fight. It was just past sunset on what should have been a peaceful snowy winter’s eve and the fists were flying in the lowceilinged, stuffy common room. All James could see were figures moving about, punching and kicking and grunting. As he stood at the open door, part of a table came flying at him and he deftly knocked it This time, the noise was off to his left and, instinctively, he moved towards the sound of distress. A woman with frizzy red hair hiding behind a small table as a man grabbed at her.

She was using the table like a shield, shoving it at him, forcing him to keep his distance. James grabbed the man by the hair, yanking him away from the woman. As the man stumbled back, James could see that there James avoided a flying piece of wood. “L-Lady, I assure you, it is only to take you to safety. O-Or The woman paused for an indecisive moment until a candlestick hurled through the air, hitting the wall behind her. That seemed to make her decision for her. With a reluctant nod, she came out from behind the table, pulling her companion with her. Using his big body as a human shield, James herded the women out of the tavern. It was freezing outside, however, as the snow began to fall more heavily than before. More furniture met its demise as it slammed against the door frame and the women shrieked as wood splintered.

“I-I fear if we remain, we will be subject to more violence,” James said. “W-We must find a place of safety.” The woman with the red hair grabbed the woman next to her, beckoning to him. “This way!” James followed. Through the slush and snow, they went around to the rear of the tavern. At one point, James slipped in the abundant mud, steadying himself against the stone structure. The tavern itself was unremarkable, squat and thick-walled, with a steeply pitched roof. With snowflakes falling in his eyes, he managed to follow the women through the rear entrance. They ended up in the kitchen. The heat was like a slap in the face, in sharp contrast to the cold outside.

James cleared his eyes, noting the big chamber and roaring hearth. It smelled like roasting meat. As he noted that the door leading into the common room had been shut and bolted, undoubtedly to keep out the insurrecting patrons, the woman with the red hair waved an arm at him. “Come,” she said. “This way.” Again, he followed. In hindsight, it wasn’t the brightest thing to do, but he was cold and had come a very long way, and the last thing he wanted to do was stand out in the snow while the common room of the only tavern in town was torn apart. Therefore, he followed the women into a sculler, and then into a connecting chamber. That chamber had a table, a couple of chairs, and a hearth that was burning low, but it was giving off enough heat to stave off the chill. James stood in the doorway, looking around.

“W-What is this place?” he asked. The redhead dropped to her knees in front of the fire and began to stoke it. “This is where my da and I eat,” she said. “Sometimes the servants, too. It’s not much, but it’s warm and dry and away from the madness.” She was referring to the common room. James had two heavy saddlebags slung over his shoulder and he put them on the table. “W-What happened out there?” he asked. “What started the battle?” The redhead looked at him, her gaze lingering on him as if to get a good look at him. Tall, blond, and well-built, he was a vastly handsome specimen.

“Ye’re not from here,” she finally said. “N-Nay.” “Where are ye from, English?” “Herefordshire.” “Ye’re a long way from home.” “I-I am.” Without being invited to, he removed his heavy cloak, revealing another woolen coat beneath that. His gloves came off, as did his tricorne hat. He pulled off the woolen coat, too, hanging it on a peg along with the cloak to dry out. Left in a linen shirt and undershirt, breeches and boots, he sat down near the fire because he was chilled to the bone. All the while, the redhead was watching him with the expression of a hunter sighting prey.

They Using his big body as a human shield, James herded the women out of the tavern. It was freezing outside, however, as the snow began to fall more heavily than before. More furniture met its demise “I-I fear if we remain, we will be subject to more violence,” James said. “W-We must find a Through the slush and snow, they went around to the rear of the tavern. At one point, James slipped in the abundant mud, steadying himself against the stone structure. The tavern itself was unremarkable, squat and thick-walled, with a steeply pitched roof. With snowflakes falling in his They ended up in the kitchen. The heat was like a slap in the face, in sharp contrast to the cold outside. James cleared his eyes, noting the big chamber and roaring hearth. It smelled like roasting meat.

As he noted that the door leading into the common room had been shut and bolted, undoubtedly Again, he followed. In hindsight, it wasn’t the brightest thing to do, but he was cold and had come a very long way, and the last thing he wanted to do was stand out in the snow while the common room Therefore, he followed the women into a sculler, and then into a connecting chamber. That chamber had a table, a couple of chairs, and a hearth that was burning low, but it was giving off The redhead dropped to her knees in front of the fire and began to stoke it. “This is where my da and I eat,” she said. “Sometimes the servants, too. It’s not much, but it’s warm and dry and away from She was referring to the common room. James had two heavy saddlebags slung over his shoulder The redhead looked at him, her gaze lingering on him as if to get a good look at him. Tall, blond, Without being invited to, he removed his heavy cloak, revealing another woolen coat beneath that. His gloves came off, as did his tricorne hat. He pulled off the woolen coat, too, hanging it on a peg along with the cloak to dry out.

Left in a linen shirt and undershirt, breeches and boots, he sat down All the while, the redhead was watching him with the expression of a hunter sighting prey. They didn’t often see such fine looking men this far north, so the young lord’s appearance was a treat for the eyes. She was inherently curious. Perhaps even a little interested. “What’s yer name, m’laird?” she asked. He ran a hand through his damp hair. “D-De Lohr,” he said. “J-James de Lohr.” “I’m Carrie,” she said. “My da owns this place.

He’s the Balthazar on the sign. Are ye traveling through?” He shook his head. “N-Nay,” he said. “I-I’ve reached my destination. What was that fight about in the common room?” He was shifting the subject, unwilling to speak further about himself. Carrie returned to the fire, but she would look for another opportunity to probe him. “Who knows?” she said. “Someone says a wrong word and the fists fly. Only yesterday, the common room was torn up by a terrible tempest. It even tore up some of the other chambers, too.

” James caught movement out of the corners of his eyes, turning to see the second woman in the room as she moved towards the hearth to help Carrie. She had been sitting in the shadows, perhaps stunned from their flight from the common room, and had only now regained her breath. Whatever the case, she was now on her feet. He took a second look at this lass. With brown hair, brown eyes, and lush lips, she was worth the second look. She wore a faded skirt that might have been a shade of green at one time, a leather girdle, and a linen blouse. She was also wearing a tattered woolen shawl, something with armholes in it so she could keep it on as she worked and not have it fall away. She was clearly poor in dress, but clean and most decidedly pretty. Something about her had his attention. “H-How long have you lived here, Carrie?” he asked, his gaze still on the other woman.

Carrie waved the other woman away as she tried to help, sending her for food and drink. As she left the chamber, Carrie replied. “All my life,” she said. “This tavern has been in my family since the days of my grandfather.” “T-Then you were here when the battle happened.” Her movements slowed. “What battle?” “Culloden.” “I was here.” “Y-You must have seen the armies coming through town,” he said. “B-British as well as the rebels.

This road leads directly to the battlefield.” She turned to look at him. “Y-Ye’re a long way from home, m’laird,” she said. “In this village, we dunna refer tae our men as rebels. Ye’d do well tae remember that.” He nodded. “P-Point taken,” he said. “I-I ask for a reason, however. I will gladly pay you for information.” “What kind of information?” “I-I’m looking for my brother.

” Carrie stood up from the fire, brushing off her hands. “Who was yer brother?” “H-He fought at Culloden,” he said, running his hand through his hair again as he sat forward, arms resting on his knees. “H-He was killed in battle and I’ve come to bring him home. As I said, I’ll gladly pay for any information you can provide.” didn’t often see such fine looking men this far north, so the young lord’s appearance was a treat for “I’m Carrie,” she said. “My da owns this place. He’s the Balthazar on the sign. Are ye traveling He shook his head. “N-Nay,” he said. “I-I’ve reached my destination.

What was that fight about in He was shifting the subject, unwilling to speak further about himself. Carrie returned to the fire, “Who knows?” she said. “Someone says a wrong word and the fists fly. Only yesterday, the James caught movement out of the corners of his eyes, turning to see the second woman in the room as she moved towards the hearth to help Carrie. She had been sitting in the shadows, perhaps stunned from their flight from the common room, and had only now regained her breath. Whatever the With brown hair, brown eyes, and lush lips, she was worth the second look. She wore a faded skirt that might have been a shade of green at one time, a leather girdle, and a linen blouse. She was also wearing a tattered woolen shawl, something with armholes in it so she could keep it on as she worked and not have it fall away. She was clearly poor in dress, but clean and most decidedly pretty. Carrie waved the other woman away as she tried to help, sending her for food and drink.

As she “Y-You must have seen the armies coming through town,” he said. “B-British as well as the She turned to look at him. “Y-Ye’re a long way from home, m’laird,” she said. “In this village, He nodded. “P-Point taken,” he said. “I-I ask for a reason, however. I will gladly pay you for “H-He fought at Culloden,” he said, running his hand through his hair again as he sat forward, arms resting on his knees. “H-He was killed in battle and I’ve come to bring him home. As I said, I’ll Carrie’s gaze lingered on him for a moment. “I see,” she said quietly.

“I’m sorry for ye, then. ’Twas a terrible day, it was. So many were lost.” “W-What can you tell me?” he asked, ignoring the sympathy in her tone because he didn’t want a reminder about the grief he carried around like an anchor. “A-About the English dead, I mean. Do you know what happened to them?” Her features took on a distant look but she was saved from replying when the woman with the brown eyes entered the chamber, a tray laden with food and drink in her hands. Carrie rushed to help her unburden the tray, setting everything down on the table in front of James. There was bread, butter, boiled pork, stewed turnips, and hard boiled eggs. The drink was a generous amount of ale that had a bitter taste to it. James hardly cared.

He was famished. He, too, forgot about his question as he downed half the ale before plowing into the pork. He was vaguely aware when Carrie and the other lass left him because, at the moment, it was all about stuffing his face and resting his spirit. He’d finally made it to this horrible place. He was going to need his strength for what was to come.

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