Mid Week Tease: Red Robin and the Huntsman #MidWeekTease #MWTease
Hello, lovelies! This week I’m teasing you with one last snippet from my holiday novella Red Robin and the Huntsman before its release next week!
Many thanks to Angelica Dawson for hosting us, and make sure to hit the list after the teaser to see other great Mid Week Teases!
Duncan woke early after a fitful night’s sleep interspersed with dreams about Robin. In one she was being carried off by brigands, and in another pirates. Despite his best attempts at carving a path through the men he could never reach her in time and was forced to listen to her screaming for help as she was borne off by her captors.
Out of sorts, he dressed and headed down to the chilly dining hall. From the smell in the air, there would be no meat or eggs available for breakfast this morning. His suspicions were confirmed when Adele hauled a cauldron full of oatmeal into the hall and started dishing it out. “There’s no raisins, I’m afraid, and we don’t have cream,” she said apologetically as she placed a steaming bowl in front of him. “But there’s some fresh milk and I can fetch a bit of sugar, if you like.”
Unappetizing as it was, the oatmeal was still better than some of the things he’d eaten on patrol. “This is fine, thank you.” Duncan reached for the salt cellar and sprinkled some on the oats. The contrast between the beige glop and the elegant pewter bowl acted as a sobering barometer of the Busse family’s finances.
To his surprise, the next person in the hall was a young boy, his reddish-brown hair cut neatly in a bowl crop and his large brown eyes bright and intelligent. “Hello,” he said as he climbed onto a chair. “You must be one of the soldiers come to help Ser Arthur.”
“I am,” Duncan said, twigging to the boy’s identity, “my lord. Captain Duncan Bardahlson, at your service.”
“I’m Charles Busse, Count of Wellen. But you can call me Charlie.” The young count beamed at Adele as she served him. Duncan noted that she took a sugar bowl from the sideboard, carefully scraping out grains of brown sugar to sprinkle on the boy’s breakfast. “It must be very exciting to be a soldier. Have you fought many thieves before?”
“Once or twice, aye. Usually horse thieves, although there was one time when I had to track down a jewel thief.”
The boy’s eyes widened. “Really? Did you catch him?”
“Her. And yes, I did.” The rest of that tale wasn’t appropriate for young ears, however, and the lady in question was now happily married to the jewel merchant she’d been robbing so everything had worked out in the end. “We’ll be heading out this week with Ser Arthur’s men to guard them while they collect the taxes.”
Charlie’s feathery brows lowered at that. “Do you think the thieves will attack again?”
“If they do, they’re very foolish. But we’ll be ready for them if they do.”
Ewan and Hamish picked that moment to troop in. Duncan made the introductions while Adele scooped out more bowls of oatmeal. Ewan gave his breakfast a disgusted look, but dug in while Charlie continued to ask questions about the upcoming tax collection. Duncan couldn’t help but be impressed with the child’s canny inquiries. Aye, you’re definitely your mother’s son.
Ser Arthur was the last to make an appearance, grimacing at the food. “Adele, why are we serving our guests oatmeal?” he asked. “I specifically requested ham steaks and eggs. You can’t expect soldiers to ride on this slop.”
Adele pressed her lips together. “We don’t have any ham steaks or eggs, Ser Arthur,” she said stolidly. “My lady said this was to be served for breakfast. ”
“Ach. Women.” Devines shook his head as he took his seat. “I’m sorry about that. I had asked for a proper breakfast, but this home clearly needs a stronger hand on the reins, eh?”
Charlie’s face reddened at that, and his fist tightened on the spoon. Quickly, Duncan said, “Oatmeal is quite filling and sticks to your ribs, Ser Arthur. The fact that we’re eating a hot breakfast at all is a pleasure, truly.”
“You’re too kind, captain. We’ll have to do better for you after you return.” After ordering Adele to bring him milk and sugar, the tax collector started on his own breakfast, orating between bites about his service to the king and how he would have gone into the army, “except I have these bone spurs, you see. Would’ve made me quite useless on the front lines.”
Duncan decided not to mention that a decent Terra mage could have healed something that minor. “Does that mean you won’t be coming out with us, Ser Arthur?”
Devines waved a sticky spoon at him. “Oh, no. Best for me to stay here and coordinate, don’t you think? I have full faith in you and your men’s abilities to keep the king’s taxes safe, captain.”
In other words, he didn’t want to travel in the cold weather. Duncan glanced at his brothers. Neither of them did anything as blatant as roll their eyes, but he could tell they both shared his rapidly dropping opinion of the tax collector.
Despite Charlie’s presence at the table, it was clear that Roberta wouldn’t be making an appearance at breakfast. Best to take that as a message and get on with it. “While we’re on the topic, gentlemen, may I suggest we head to Ser Arthur’s office after breakfast and plan out how we’re going to tackle the collection?” Duncan said.
The other men grunted in agreement, although Charlie seemed a bit forlorn. “Can I come with you when you gather the taxes, captain?”
Devines laughed loudly before Duncan had time to come up with a politic refusal. “Don’t be ridiculous, my lord,” the tax collector said, smirking. “You’re far too young for such a dangerous trip.”
The boy glared at the tax collector. “I’m not ridiculous, and I wasn’t talking to you, Ser Arthur.”
Devines’s smirk evaporated. “You impudent young pup. If you were my son, I’d take you over my knee for such impertinence,” he declared.
“But I’m not your son, am I?” Charlie shot back. “In fact, I’m count here, which means that I outrank you.”
Duncan cleared his throat before Devines could make matters worse. “My lord, while I appreciate your concern for your people and your lands, I’m afraid we can’t take civilians on this trip, what with the cold weather and the potential risk from brigands,” he said, careful to keep his tone respectful.
“But you’re taking Ser Arthur’s men,” Charlie pointed out.
Oh, he was most definitely Robin’s son. “They’re treasury employees, and as such are part of the royal government. Besides, it’s your duty as count to remain here and protect your estate and your mother.”
His words had their intended effect, and the boy nodded reluctantly. “All right. But I’d like to go into Halle this afternoon to see the holiday decorations. If you’re not leaving until tomorrow, you could take me there, couldn’t you?”
As if Robin would let him take her son anywhere. “We’ll have to ask your mother—”
“I’ll do it.” Limber as an eel, the young count slid off his chair and dashed out of the dining hall.
Devines huffed, tossing his napkin on the table. “You shouldn’t indulge the little rascal like that, captain,” he growled. “If I’d spoken to my father like that, he would’ve given me a taste of the strap.”
Duncan strongly doubted that Devines had ever felt so much as a flick on the ear, much less a strap across the backside, but he didn’t want to get into a discussion on child-rearing with the overbearing man. “I’m sure that her ladyship won’t want his lordship escorted off the estate grounds,” he said instead, scraping up the last of his oatmeal.
As it turned out, he was wrong. After the meeting had been wrapped up by a still huffy Devines, he’d gone to the stable to brush Fremder when he heard light footsteps behind him. They were followed by a tart, “So you’ve offered to take Charlie to Halle this afternoon?”
Duncan gathered himself, then turned to face his hostess. Robin was still wearing widow’s grey, but the shade held a hint of blue today. And even irritated, she was still beautiful enough to make his heart beat faster. “He wanted to go with us on the collection trip,” he said as evenly as possible. “I said that his duties were here, protecting you. He then asked if I could take him to Halle. I said it would be up to you. I assumed you wouldn’t want him going anywhere with me.”
Her eyes narrowed at his perfectly reasonable explanation. “Normally, I wouldn’t. But it would be good for him to attend the candle lighting ceremony this afternoon and tour the crafts fair. His people need to get to know him.”
She couldn’t seriously be suggesting… “Not being a nobleman, I’m not familiar with what airs and graces need to be put on for one’s people,” Duncan muttered, returning to his task.
She snorted, the sound still familiar even after so many years. “Oh, please. You needn’t sound as if I’m making Charlie out to be heir to the throne.”
There would be no finishing Fremder’s coat while she was there. Duncan turned back to her, currycomb in hand. “I’m not. I’m simply saying that I’m not a nobleman and I don’t know what goes into the job, all right?”
“I’m not asking you to tutor him in etiquette. But Charlie should go to Halle for the ceremony.”
“So take him.”
He realized his mistake when he saw her jaw muscles tense. “We had to sell the carriage and horses. All I have left is that grey mare.” She nodded at a pudding-like horse placidly chewing hay. “And it wouldn’t do for me to ride into town on her with Charlie on my lap like a baby.”
Her statement confirmed Duncan’s suspicions that the Busse family had fallen on hard times. He wanted to ask what had happened, but the set of Robin’s shoulders suggested that now was not the time. “You might have noticed that I don’t have a carriage, either, my lady.”
She shook her head. “You’re a soldier. If Charlie rides with you, that would be all right. You’d be his bodyguard for the day.”
He had set this trap for himself well and proper. “I need to finalize plans with Ser Arthur before we leave tomorrow,” he tried.
Now she gave him a disgusted look. “Charlie said you just spoke with Ser Arthur. And it’s hardly as if you’re planning an invasion. You ride with his men and yours, you collect the tax, and you fight off anyone foolish enough to attack your convoy. Anyone with a basic understanding of military strategy would know that.”
“True. But a good strategist would want to make sure that everything comes off smoothly.”
Another snort. “Fine. I’ll tell Charlie you were too busy working on tactics to take him to Halle.” She turned to leave.
The boy’s hopeful face appeared in his mind. Duncan sighed. “Is it really that important for him to go?”
Robin paused. “Yes. He needs to get out, to see his people. And it’s good for them to see him. Besides…” She trailed off, her shoulders dropping a bit. “He doesn’t ask for much. I hate telling him no for something this … small.”
Duncan fought off a sudden urge to take her into his arms, if only to cuddle her and give her some sort of reassurance that everything would work out in the end. Aye, and you know damn well she’d plant a knee in your bollocks if you tried it. Hands to yourself, man.
Although… If he was honest, it wasn’t actually a bad idea to go to Halle for the afternoon and get a feel for the town. If nothing else, it was better than spending the time listening to Devines’s interminable stories or staring at the gloomy ceiling in his room. And if he took Ewan and Hamish with him, the three of them could share babysitting—no, count-sitting—duties. “Fine,” he said, making sure that his tone was properly put-upon. “I’ll take him into Halle.”
An unexpected sheen appeared in Robin’s eyes, making them glisten. “Thank you.”
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Posted on November 29, 2017, in Belaurient Publishing, Lady of Thorns, Mid Week Tease and tagged fantasy romance, Mid Week Tease, nicola cameron, Red Robin and the Huntsman, two thrones. Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.