The Seer – Hildie McQueen

In contrast to the cold chill of the night and clean fresh air outdoors, the dim interior of the tavern the air was warm and pungent with a mixture of body odor, food and smoke. Cloaked in a thick fur with a hood over his head that kept his face hidden, Alasdair Creag ducked through the doorway and entered. Snow fell from his wide shoulders onto the dirty floor forming small puddles that no one paid any heed to. The tavern was unknown to him, other than it was the place he would meet a man who’d direct him to another location. If it were up to him, after the long day of riding, Alasdair would have preferred to have found a warm stable for his horse and a bed at an inn for himself. At least his horse was comfortable in the local stable Probably because of the cold and the fact it was the only establishment that served food until late hours, the tavern on the edge of the small village was surprisingly crowded with both young and old, men and women. Deft serving wenches weaved between tables holding up trays laden with drinks and bowls of food while managing to avoid slaps and pinches aimed at their bottoms. Lively fiddle music was barely audible over the din of laughter and conversations. Every once in a while, there was a whistle or shout louder than the rest. It was the perfect place for Alasdair to hide, as the clientele seemed to consist mostly of travelers passing through. No one looked like anyone else and yet all wore the same mask of travel weariness and no particular place to go that night. Himself weary, he blended with the crowd no trepidation of standing out. Alasdair threw off the hood of his cape and scanned the surroundings looking for a sign of someone who appeared to be expecting him. He had a vague idea of what the man would look like from the messenger, but upon searching it was clear who he was to meet was not there yet. There was a man with vibrant red hair who was particularly drunk and shouting at another.

That one was definitely not blending in. Soon the idiot would either end up thrown out or passed out. Thanks to Alasdair’s gift of foresight passed on to him by his ancestors, it was easy enough to discern whether or not someone recognized him or to know if danger was imminent. He was after all heir of the Triùir Mhòra, the gift of sight. And although proud of this legacy, Alasdair wasn’t always particularly thankful for it. There were shouts on the far side of the tavern and several people scurried away with tankards in hand when an argument ensued between two men. One of them was the redhaired drunkard. Thanks to the brawl, Alasdair was able to find a seat at a table left empty by the people who the fight had scared away. He lowered his bulk into a chair ensuring his back was to the wall and kept vigil. The hair on the back of his neck shifted and Alasdair sat up straighter at the alert.

A second set of men jumped to their feet and squared off. Without moving his head, Alasdair kept an eye on them. One man shoved the other backward knocking over a chair. No one seemed particularly alarmed at this point. There was a shrill whistle that brought the room to silence. A muscular man jumped over a long counter and approached the fighters. “Both of ye, get out of ‘ere!” “It was not I who began this,” one of the men replied, sounding more like a petulant child than a man. “Just want a bit of a drink.” The other man snarled. “No need for anyone to leave as long as this bastard keeps ‘is eyes to ‘imself and not me Annie.

” Annie preened at the attention, twirling a finger around a greasy strand of dull brown hair. She tugged at the second man’s arm and they sat down. The air shifted and instantly he knew that someone who would have a hand in changing his life had entered the tavern. Although he was not sure who it was exactly since several people came and went. “Yer drink.” A young, weary woman didn’t bother to look at him as she placed a tankard of ale in front of him. Without thinking, he touched her wrist, the compulsion something he could rarely control. Immediately visions of whippings, screams in the dark, and heart wrenching desperation hit Alasdair until he could barely keep from wincing. The woman snatched her hand away, her round eyes fixated on his face. “What are ye doing?” She backed away slowly as if afraid he’d come after her.

“Stay away from him, the one who woos ye. Heed yer mother’s advice,” he told her, holding her gaze. “That person will only bring ye pain.” Slowly, she nodded obviously knowing whom he spoke of. “Aye, I will. Thank ye.” Alasdair met the woman’s gaze. “Bring me something to eat.” He reached into his purse, pulled out a gold coin and held it out for her to grab. While searching his face as if memorizing it, she took the money and offered him a soft smile.

The coin more than paid for the meal and drink. She’d have money left over. Instinctively, Alasdair knew she would keep his secret and not tell anyone what had transpired. In truth, Alasdair was not hungry. He cared little about anything at the moment other than meeting with the man he was to meet that night. His back ached and he longed for a soft bed and to sleep until the sun hit his face. If anything, he’d only sleep a short while, since only a few night hours remained. “Tis not exactly the way I expected to find ye. Sitting in the open with a tankard in yer hand. Not to mention speaking with a female.

” A dark haired man lowered to sit across from him. His narrowed dark gaze fixated on Alasdair. The man looked around the room. “People will take notice of ye being here. I expected to meet outside.” “The fight has taken everyone’s attention. Tis too cold outside,” Alasdair replied with a bored tone and looked about the room. “Other than the serving wench, who has to, no one else has paid much heed.” The man across from Alasdair did not introduce himself, and that suited him fine. It was obvious by the stranger’s physical build he too was a warrior.

The thickness of his chest and midsection gave the impression of great strength. Alasdair leaned forward. “Where should I be at dawn?” The man let out a long breath. “To the north of the village at the edge of the craggy hills, there are several caves that will give ye a good place to sleep. If ye can make it without being found out. I will come for ye in the morning. Remain hidden until I arrive.” By the way his gaze raked over him, his companion remained unsure of him. “I hope what they say of ye is true.” Alasdair studied the man and then looked away.

“Ye are loyal and beyond reproach as a leader. Yet one thing strikes fear in ye worse than facing death in battle. For once yer heart was broken, ye fear the next time it will be yer undoing.” The man grunted, as if not understanding him. “Perhaps ye can leave without notice. Someone I know approaches.” Just then a man weaved his way past the table with unsteady steps. Alasdair stuck his booted foot out just enough. Within seconds, the man went sprawling across the table to the left of his companion’s shoulder. The people at the table growled in protest as their drinks and food were spilled.

Having to bite back a chuckle, there was a soft curve at the edges of his lips as Alasdair slipped away. When the warrior turned back to where he’d been seated, all the man would see would be perhaps a glimpse of his cape as he disappeared through a side door. ONCE OUTSİDE, Alasdair went to the side of the building and hoisted himself up to the top of a wall. From there, he climbed under the slope of the roof where he could sit on the crossbeams and watch the interactions inside the tavern. The woman who’d served him earlier returned to the table and placed a bowl of food in front of the confused warrior. She seemed to inform him he’d paid for it and the man looked around to search for Alasdair before eating. From where Alasdair sat, he could take in the cramped chaos and remain cooler thanks to the night breeze that wafted up through the openings. He was about to lie back to get some sleep when movement in the far corner of the room caught his attention. A slender woman stood with feet apart and hands on her hips. Dark waves cascaded past her shoulders framing her face and accentuating her beauty.

Her eyes were narrowed with anger as she slashed a hand across the air to make a point about something. Two men with swords at their hips stood before her, and the three engaged in what seemed to be a rather intense argument. Alasdair couldn’t keep from watching as the woman closed the distance with one of the men, her mouth forming a snarl. She said something, and the man shook his head. Moments later another man came to her side and touched her arm. The woman shrugged him away and said one more thing to the duo before turning on her heel and storming out of the tavern. Interesting that a woman so beautiful seemed to attract more discord than attraction from the men present. Most of the people at the surrounding tables had ignored the interaction and those who’d been part of it, returned to sit and drink as if nothing happened. When the woman turned the corner of the building outside, just below where he sat, Alasdair leaned out to watch her. She lifted a hood to cover her hair.

She waited for the man who’d followed her out. It was the same man who’d touched her arm earlier. “God’s foot, Dallis. Ye cannot go about confronting men,” the man said, his voice clipped with anger. “It’s a good way to get killed.” “They didn’t follow orders. I could not let them get away with it.” Her voice was husky, which could have been because she was furious. “They are not part of our clan. I doubt they know anything that could cause harm,” the man retorted.

“By losing yer temper in public, that will bring more attention than we need at this moment.” “I agree, and now they know where we stand.” She walked to a horse, the man right on her heels. “Da will be furious when he hears.” “Yer going to tell him?” “Nay, but news will travel fast. Ye are well aware people from our clan are in there. I’m surprised Niven didn’t attack to protect ye.” The woman mounted the horse and looked down at the man. “Let us go then, brother. I prefer it be I who tells Da.

” Brother and sister. Interesting that the woman was the one to fight even after the brother arrived at the scene. Whatever dynamic existed made for interesting observation. By the manner of their dress and the quality of their horses, whoever they were, they came from wealth. That a woman of class would lower herself to argue with men at a tavern made no sense. Whatever the siblings did, they were involved in something that made Alasdair wonder if it was the same reason he’d been summoned.

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