Hild had waited until she had counted all the men leaving the Dragon. There had been eight in the cellar that night. Nine including Paega. He had told them it would be the last meeting for some time. Captain Denholm was keeping an ever closer eye on who entered the village. They had understood, though muttered a little about the curtailing of their ‘sport’.
With the final creak of the Inn door shutting, she took leave of her bedroom, creeping soft-footed past Brona’s room as she made for the top of the narrow wooden staircase.
Hild was suspicious.
It was not something new. She had found a nagging doubt about her husband growing the past few weeks, ever since he had started trying to encourage her and their daughter to take a trip to his cousin’s home in Belfalas. It wasn’t ‘normal’. It wasn’t like Paega.
Hild’s instincts were sharp. She knew they were too sharp at times, and she could jump to the wrong assumption. This time she thought she was truly onto something. He wanted them away. And she would know why.
She had checked the cellar as the men had arrived, two Bancross regulars, and the others from nearby farms, and from Middlemead. She had checked there was a large water jug, and a couple of weak ale pitchers in case any ‘participants’ needed reviving. There was the pack of salves for small cuts and bruises that Yllfa had provided, and a supply of clean linen bandages the healer had all but insisted on. Fight Club went ahead, though with more care for those participating, and wagering coin than of old.
Or so she hoped.
Her main suspicion was Paega was planning some ‘fight of the year’ in her absence. Since his return at mid-winter he had been nothing but helpful, kindly, considerate. He worked with her in the tasks of innkeeping, as he used to. He took interest in their daughter’s well being. He had even spoken with those at the garrison, and volunteered to train and ride patrol with them. His past life had made him canny with a sword and quick on his feet.
But he was up to something.
Hild paused for a moment as she heard Brona turn in her sleep, and mutter something under her breath. She waited until her daughter was quiet again.
Aye, there had been eight men in the cellar last night. Nine including her husband. But there was another who had lurked in the shadows, minding whatever his own business was. She had only seen him from the back. She had only counted nine voices and grunts and shouts. Number ten had remained silent. And he was still in the building.
Slowly, so slowly, Hild made her way downstairs to the kitchen area, The stone floor there at least did not creak underfoot, and she could make better progress to the door to the Inn.
Now there were voices. Slightly muffled, suggesting the speakers were on the far side of the room, near the top of the stairs down to the cellar.
Paega, indeed was one. The second sounded familiar as well. She couldn’t quite place it.
“So Averel is working with us still...Reeve Athelward seemed to have doubts…” Paega said.
“Our Thane is only interested in ancient artifacts, in making a name for himself….he hasn’t the guts to do anything else. It is Erstan who plans what we do in Edoras. Why he had Averel write to the captain here to set me free.”
“”Aye, and that captain said he would deal with you if he ever saw you in Bancross again. Take care there.” It was Paega’s voice again.
But now Hild knew who the person in hiding was.
“He wont find me in time. I need to get to that house again before dawn. I am sure the singing bowl is buried somewhere there. I would have got it sooner if it hadn’t been for that brat of a girl.”
And Hild understood the man was talking of Waelden and Yllfa’s home. He was talking of Ethel. She gasped.
Paega and Criba turned as one….
Then there were footsteps behind her, and darkness as she fell to the floor from the blow to her head.