True to her word, Vivienne returned to Tanninhold to pay her debt. The previous evening she had stayed at the Battered Drummer Inn. She was joined by a strange man, a knight who called himself Ar. There was something not quite right about that man. He was handsome beyond the norm, and he possessed good manners of the kind seldom seen in these uncouth lands filled with thieves and scoundrels. He asked to join her for some supper at the inn, and he was so gentile about it that she could not outright refuse him without seeming uncivilized.
He pressed her with many questions. Her life in these lands had taught her not to trust a stranger, no matter how gentile or charming. As they ate and talked, Falcon passed by the table frequently, refilling their glasses with wine. She wondered why Sir Maverick’s Squire was serving in the inn. She shrugged it off, concentrating on the stranger.
The candles flickered, casting strange shadows across the stranger’s face. He said his name was Sir Arealius and that he was from Spain, but he managed to evade her questions and turn them back on her. She did not remember touching her wine, yet her glass kept emptying and Falcon refilled it. Her head felt light and foggy, and she excused herself and asked for a key to her usual room.
In the morning the clerk presented her with her bill. She was outraged. Three bottles of wine? Surely she had not drank so much. She gave the girl a dirty look as she reached for her purse. Her hand grasped empty air where her purse should be fastened to her belt. She had been robbed! She was not surprised, not in these parts filled with reiving scum north and south of the border. She was, however, embarrassed, for she had no way to pay her bill. She talked to the clerk, and the clerk, knowing full well who she was, had little choice but to accept her promise to return to pay her debt the next day.
The clerk at the inn told her that Elli, the inn and tavern keeper was in the tavern. Vivienne went to the Bull’s Milk tavern to find her.
Sir Maverick, the Warden of South March, was there. He looked up as she entered. “Ah, the Countess is here to settle her bar tab I see.” He sneered, “How much did she drink, three bottles was it?”
Falcon replied, “Yes, three bottles and a room for the night.”
Vivienne said nothing. She reached into her purse and took out a couple of coins and tossed them to Elli, knowing it would more than cover her bill. “That will be sufficient, I trust?”
Maverick shrugged, “It is enough if you say it is enough.”
Vivienne felt her face flush with anger. She turned and walked toward the Warden. “Are you suggesting that I would cheat the poor girl?”
“Suggesting? I don’t need to suggest when there are sworn statements to the fact.” Maverick casually swirled the wine in his cup, and looked up at the Countess with scorn in his eyes.
“What are you accusing me of? Who is telling lies about me? I demand to know!” Vivienne drew herself up to her full height, all five feet of it.
Maverick stood, stepping closer to the Countess, towering over her. “I do not accuse. I have a writ with evidence of the facts.”
Vivienne felt a lump rise in her throat, but she would not permit herself to step back no matter how intimidated she felt. “Then produce your evidence at court on truce day Sir, or keep such vile slander to yourself!”
“Tell your suitor to leave the northern sheep alone long enough to attend the Truce Day and we shall,” replied Maverick as he returned to his seat at the table. He picked up an apple from the bowl on the table and drew a dagger from his belt, cutting chunks from the apple and stuffing them into his mouth, eyes locked onto the countess.
“I will not stay and be insulted!” The countess stormed out of the inn and climbed on her horse, turning it back towards Roxeter. She was happy to be leaving the cess pit of Tanninhold, but her hands were shaking as she held the reins.