So, this is definitely not "later tonight" as promised...here, though, is finally the next installment of SoT.
Early in the afternoon, Paodin was replacing some warped boards on the barn when he spotted Adair running up the hill. He pulled the heavy wagon behind him, bouncing its contents wildly.
“Paodin!” he yelled breathlessly as he reached the top of the hill. “Paodin!”
Dropping the hammer and picking up his sword, Paodin ran to the boy. “What is it? Is someone following you?”
“No,” the boy panted, “it’s not me. They- they-”
“Take a breath, Adair. There’s no rush,” Paodin laughed, figuring Adair was overreacting to whatever he deemed the problem. Taking the handle of the wagon away from Adair, Paodin started walking toward the house.
“No!” The boy reached out and grabbed Paodin’s arm, stopping him. “It’s you! They are looking for you in the city. Some man even told me to be careful because you would be dangerous. You have to leave. They were talkin’ about goin’ out to search people’s farms today and tomorrow, and they already don’t like me and Mum.”
“Let’s go inside,” Paodin said, pulling the wagon along behind him, “and you can tell me more of what was said in Lurn.” Adair followed him in, still trying to catch his breath from running up the hill.
“Is that you, Addie?” Brigitte called when she heard the door open.
“Why, I must say that I am pleasantly surprised to have you home so early. Was the Tavern going to be serving liver and onions today?” she joked, drying her hands on her apron as she walked out of the kitchen. When Adair didn’t answer right away, Brigitte grew concerned. “What is wrong, son? Did something happen in at the market?” Dropping her apron, Brigitte held her hands out to her son, drawing him to her when he reached out and took her hand.
“Mum, they are searching for Paodin,” he began.
“Yes, Adair, I am aware of that. I suppose I should have told you last might that our guest is hiding from King Simann and his Guard, but I did not think---”
“No, that’s not it,” the boy interrupted. “I heard all that while he was tellin’ you.” Adair continued, either unconcerned or unaware that he had just admitted to eavesdropping. “Some farmer out to the north said he saw Paodin, and now the men in town are searching all the farms. Somebody even said they thought the King would reward them for bringing him the traitor.”
Speaking for the first time since entering the cottage, Paodin questioned, “Adair, did anybody see you running home like you were running up the hill?” Moving toward where Brigitte stood, her arms around her son, Paodin knelt before the boy.
Adair nodded and answered, “Yes, but I didn’t run until the smithy told me to watch out or the traitor might kill me on my way home.” As the boy spoke, all three heard the staccato of hoof beats galloping up the hill.
Brigitte stood and quickly stepped toward the front door. “Master Paodin, move into the kitchen. If the men come to search the house you may be able to slip out the back. Adair, go out and begin unloading the wagon. Hurry now,” she said, shooing him out the door. Just as the boy stepped outside a rider appeared topping the hill. He rode straight to the front door and stopped without dismounting, pulling a second horse by its reins.
“My lady,” the man said, pushing back the hood that shadowed his face, “there is no time to waste.”
Brigitte tilted her head to the side as she tried to place the man’s voice, quickly coming up with his identity. “Jamis? Why have you come here?” As soon as she spoke the man’s name, Paodin hurried through the front room and stood beside Brigitte, sword in hand.
“Please pardon my rudeness, Brigitte, but I have no time for pleasantries.” Then looking at Paodin he added, “You must leave here at once. Richard the smithy has gathered a search party and is headed up the hill this way.” Nodding, Paodin ran out to the barn to get rid of all signs of his presence and to tie up his pack.
“Jamis,” Brigitte began, “how is it you knew Master Paodin had been a guest in my home?”
The man hesitated before saying, “I’m afraid that is a conversation we do not have enough time for at the moment.” Knowing that answer would not satisfy her, Jamis added, “However, I promise you an answer once I have seen your guest safely on his way.” He nodded then spurred his horse quickly to the barn, arriving at the door just as Paodin stepped out. The younger man mounted the horse being led along, taking the reins from Jamis as he called out to Adair.
“Shake out that blanket to remove the hay before you take it inside, Adair, and take good care of your mother. She is truly a remarkable woman.” Then riding close to the house in front of the door where she stood, Paodin added quietly, “Thank you for your kindness, Brigitte. Perhaps we will meet again under better circumstances, when the true heir has taken the throne.” With a swift kick, Paodin took off with Jamis and the two vanished into the woods.
“Addie,” Brigitte called out, “bring that blanket inside. We don’t need it out in the barn when those men get here. Then I want you to come help me finish unloading the wagon.”
“Yes, Mum,” the boy called back, hurrying to the barn. Then, seeing that his mother was searching for the wagon, he hollered, “It’s out next to the hitchin’ post.”
Brigitte counted out six steps from the door to the post and then pulled out the fabric Adair had chosen at the market. It was heavier weight than she would have chosen for Addie’s summer shirts, but it didn’t matter. Since he had picked out the fabric on his own the boy would never complain. Smiling, she turned back to the house and had just stepped inside when she began to hear the voices of men approaching. She waited a few moments before calling out, “Adair, come inside! I don’t want you out here playing around while I try to carry in that big bag of cornmeal by myself. Hurry up now!” She closed the door behind her and took a few deep breaths as she waited for the men to arrive.
Soon, Brigitte could hear the men outside talking to her son. Stepping outside, Brigitte called out, “If you have business here, sirs, it is with me, not my son,” then stood waiting, her hands on her hips.
“Of course, woman!” one of them laughed, the man Brigitte assumed to be Richard, the leader. Without moving any closer to the house he yelled out, “We have orders to search your place, seeing as how you and your boy would be sympathetic to traitors,” he growled, then motioned for the men with him to spread out. When one of the men approached the door to search through the house, Brigitte did not budge. The man was forced to physically move the woman aside to get through the door.
“While there is no question of my alliance,” Brigitte snarled back, “there has been no traitor in my home. Had I known such a man was in need of someplace to stay, however, I would have gladly given him shelter.”
Richard laughed. “I see your temper flames up as red as your hair, woman,” he said, once again addressing her as one would a low-class woman instead of the customary title of “lady.” “And had you not already been put in your place I would be tempted to do so myself. As you are now, it’s not worth the time.” At his words Brigitte’s face turned red, but not from shame. Her fists and jaw clenched in anger.
Though Adair did not understand all the man’s words insinuated, he could read the signs of her anger unmistakably. Quietly he took a few steps away from the man and picked up one of the smaller boards Paodin had been using to fix the barn. While the man spoke, saying something Adair didn’t understand about Brigitte’s virtue, the boy moved up behind him and swung the board with all his strength, connecting with the man’s lower back and cracking the board. The man moaned as he fell to his knees, one hand going to his back and the other catching himself so he didn’t fall forward.
Standing over the man and still holding the board, Adair spoke through gritted teeth, “My Mum’s better than you’ll ever be!” As he spoke, the two men who had been searching the barn came running out. Seeing their ringleader on the ground, one snatched the board out of Adair’s hands as the other grabbed the boy tightly by both arms.
“Let me go!” he yelled, struggling to get away from the man who held him.
“Take your hands off my son,” Brigitte ordered, moving quickly toward the commotion. “I do not know what he did, but he was defending my honor. Turn him loose!” As she moved toward Adair, Brigitte ran into Richard, who was still hunched over on the ground. A tiny smirk spread across her lips when Brigitte realized her son had knocked the big man to his knees. Addressing the smithy she mocked, “What now? Are you going to teach the boy a lesson? I’m sure your friends will be terribly impressed to hear you won a fight with a child, especially one who was defending his blind mother.” At her words the man holding Adair let him go, and the boy quickly moved to his mother’s side. Brigitte laid a steady hand on his shoulder to calm the still raging boy.
Slowly, and still clutching his back, Richard stood. “Get Thaddeus. The traitor is not here with this wench.” Turning, he slowly began to move toward the downhill path, his men soon following. Brigitte stood still as they left, waiting until she could no longer hear their footsteps. Then she silently hugged her son and the two walked inside together.