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(OOC: Set just after the 1110 Lions Winter Parliament. Written by Russ Phillips and Dorian Grey)

As the four travellers neared the village, a figure exited a shop door and glanced in their direction, then stopped, staring.

“Looks like we’ve been spotted,” said Fionnuala. “Friend of yours?”

“Elsie’s not exactly a friend,” Elrood replied, “but she’s right enough.”

The woman approached them, looking at all four, but paying particular attention to Elrood.

“Well, I’ll go to the foot of our stairs,” she said. “Elrood Brond, as I live and breathe. I didn’t expect to see you here again.”

“Truth be told, I never expected to come back,” replied Elrood.

Elsie nodded. “You’ve come to see your dad, I suppose? He’s very ill, you know.”

“Yeah, so I’ve heard. Elsie, this is Darkmane, Fionnuala and Sheriff Squires,” said Elrood, indicating his companions. Then, indicating the woman, “And this is Elsie Hubbard.”

Elsie looked quizzically at the strangers, but Elrood continued before she could ask any questions, “We’d better get on, Elsie. Maybe we’ll see you around.”

“Aye, I’d best get back, an’ all,” replied Elsie, though she stood for a few minutes, watching their backs, before continuing on her way.

Once they were out of earshot, Elrood spoke. “Bollocks!”

The others looked at him. “Elsie was a bit of a gossip fourteen years ago, and I don’t suppose she’s changed much,” he explained. “It won’t be long before the entire village knows I’m home, and it’ll soon get back to Lord Huntington. So much for keeping a low profile.”

“He was bound to find out sooner or later,” replied Fionnuala.

“I shall visit Lord Huntington,” said the sheriff. “I’ll explain the situation, and make sure that he understands that you are in Albion at the invitation of Lord Derby. I’m sure he won’t cause any trouble.”

“Thanks,” Elrood replied. “I was rather hoping to avoid Lord Huntington altogether, but Fionnuala’s right, it was never very likely.”

Later that day, Elrood approached his father’s house. Oddly, it seemed larger than he’d remembered. Not large, no, still a two-roomed cottage, but somehow it seemed that all these years he’d been remembering it smaller and meaner than it really was.

He was pondering this, still a few feet away, when the door opened. A woman stood in the aperture, arms akimbo, glaring at him. He frowned, trying to place the harsh features and rigid figure.

“So, you’re back,” she said flatly.

“Maisie Rawdon!” he exclaimed, recognising the voice. “What are you doing here?”

“I’d ask you the same question,” she said tartly. “Your father sick as a dog, dying by inches these past ten years and more, and now you turn up? Looking to take what you can find, I suppose. Well, let me tell you, I’ve nursed your father day and night, these weeks and years, and I’ll not have you marching in like you own the place, upsetting him and maybe pushing him into his grave! So you can just take your fine clothes and your fine manners and your fine grabby attitude, and push off with them. You’re not wanted here.” She stepped back across the threshold and slammed the door.

Elrood stood, staring at the closed door, for several minutes. Finally, he banged on the door. When Maisie opened it, he spoke before she had a chance to.

“Now you listen to me, Maisie Rawdon. My dad came to find me in Lantia because he wanted to patch things up between us. I’m not interested in his cottage or anything else. My home’s in Lantia now, and I’ve got responsibilities that I’ll not be leaving. I’m just here to see if me and dad can sort things out. Now, are you going to let me in, or do I have to force my way in?”

Maisie hesitated for a moment, her eyes flicking between Elrood and Darkmane, then stepped aside to let them in.

Darkmane hesitated. “You don’t want us intruding,” he suggested. “I’ll just … wait outside, okay?”

“So, you hang around with the nobs, now. I suppose you’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a peasant?” The elder man leaned back in his chair, arms folded over his chest, and gave Elrood a hard stare.

“No, I bloody well haven’t!” exploded Elrood. “Remember the cataclysm? I volunteered to be a paladin for the cadre of Feast. Do you know why?”

“I suppose they gave you some kind of magical immunity or something”, came the sarcastic reply.

Elrood snorted. “Actually, they did offer us something of the sort, but the embodiment of Good was attacked, so the ritual that was planned couldn’t happen. We were asked if we wanted to revoke our status as paladins, since we’d be targets, and they couldn’t offer us the protection they’d promised. All three of us chose to remain paladins. I didn’t do it for the power, and neither did Lochlan or Auriol. I don’t know why they did it, but I did it because I remember what it’s like to be a fucking peasant. Fionnuala and Darkmane will tell you that I’ve got a terrible memory, and they’re right. But I remember my life in Albion.” He gave his father a hard stare as he continued, “I remember it well.”

“Aye. Well. Happen you do remember, after all.”

“Bloody right I do. And I understand my responsibilities. I might hang around with nobs, but don’t be thinking I’ve become one, especially not a bloody Albion nob.”

Elrood stood up. “I’m going for a drink. Don’t wait up.”

Elrood, Fionnuala and Darkmane headed for the local pub. Elrood was obviously in a foul mood, and as they entered, all conversation stopped. Elrood headed for the bar. “What food are you serving tonight?” he asked the barman.

“Shit wi’ sugar on, spread thick.”

“We’ll have three, and three drinks.”

As they sat down, conversation started up again. It was obvious that some customers had recognised Elrood, and a few nods were exchanged.

When pudding arrived, the other two looked at Elrood doubtfully.

“What?” asked Elrood.

“Didn’t we just have these?” asked Fionnuala, indicating her plate, “with gravy?”

“Yes,” said Elrood. “They’re Yorkshire puddings. You can have them with gravy, or with jam. Try it”, he said, taking a bite out of his own.

Darkmane shrugged and took a bite. After a brief pause, Fionnuala followed suit. Much to their surprise, both found that they enjoyed the pudding.

As they finished dessert, Elsie entered, ordered a drink, and sat at their table.

“Thought I might find you here,” she said. “I bet Maisie didn’t give you a warm welcome.”

“Not exactly, no,” replied Elrood.

“You know she’s just after your father’s house, don’t you?”

“That’s between him and her. None of my business.”

“Of course it’s your business. That cottage is yours by rights.”

“I don’t want it, Elsie. My home’s in Lantia now. Anyway, what happened to Jonty?” he said, trying to change the subject.

Elsie looked at Fionnuala and Darkmane. “Jonty was Maisie’s husband,” she explained. “He died, some time back. Nagged to death, if you ask me. Talking of such things, do you remember young Tessa Bennett?”

“Yeah, I think so,” replied Elrood. “Why?”

“Well,” continued Elsie, “she died an’ all. Thing is,” she looked around the room before carrying on more quietly, “some say she was murdered. By Lord Huntington’s son.”

Elrood almost spat out his drink. “What?!”

“Keep your bloody voice down!” whispered Elsie urgently. “Apparently, she was having an affair with him. You know how the nobs like a bit of rough now and then. But she got pregnant, and next thing anyone knows, she’s disappeared. Her clothes were found by the river. Then he buggered off to get away from the sheriffs.”

“That’s a very serious allegation,” said Fionnuala, in a level voice.

“What else could it be?” said Elsie. “He got her pregnant, obviously decided that he didn’t want his bastard child running around being inconvenient, then buggered off to avoid the sheriffs.”

“Not being able to provide a better explanation doesn’t prove his guilt,” said Darkmane.

Elrood thought for a moment. “I could believe it of Hungtington, but that doesn’t mean his son is the same. Sons can be better than their dads, you know.”

Elsie looked around at them. “You’ve spent too much time with the nobs, Elrood. Well, I’d best be off. Things to do.”

After she’d gone, Elrood looked down at his drink. “Well, that’s a good start. Maisie’s convinced I’ve come back to steal the cottage from under her, and by this time tomorrow the whole village will think I’ve turned into a bleeding noble.”

Fionnuala smiled at him. “All you need now is an invitation to take tea with Lord Huntington. I did say you should bring your dress uniform.”

“Don’t even joke about it!”