"Careful you don't give her a good show," said Cormac the minstrel, lanky and grinning, one shoulder resting on the wall.
"Wheesht. I'm giving no one a show," Sir Law Kintour said. He reached for a tiny jar sitting in the window, pulled out the cork releasing a sharp, musty smell. The canoness had told him swallowed it was poison, but when the cream was rubbed on his scars it eased them a bit.
When there was a tap on the door, Cormac opened it. Anny Cullen stood there with a steaming bowl in her hands. At twelve, she had started to look much like her mother, sturdy and muscular. She smiled at him shyly.
He watched as she put the bowl on the wobbly little table in the middle of the room and pulled a long rag out. She twisted it hard to wring out the excess water. He held out his hand. "Give it. You'd best run along to help your mam." He took the rag gingerly away from her since it was still steaming in the chill morning air.
"Careful and don't let it cool off."
"You could have brought us up some bread and cheese when you came," Cormac grumbled. He gave her his best attempt at a piteous look, but it worked poorly with the wry twist to his mouth.
"If you want bread and cheese, you go down and tell my mam." She frowned at him, but then her round, freckled face lit up with a smile for Law. "Go ahead, Sir Law. You dinnae want to wait. It will only help while it's still hot."
Law smiled but he thrust his chin toward the door. "Not until you're gone, now shoo."
"You will use it?" she asked.
"I shall." He forced a smile over his gritted teeth, just anxious for her to leave. "Thank you, lass."
"You're welcome." With a glance over her shoulder, Anny left and the door closed behind her.
Law unfastened the laces of his tights and pushed down the one on his left leg. He rubbed a bit of the thick, numbing ointment on, and gave Cormac a look. Cormac had seen the ropy, red scars before, mangled by a lance during the Battle of Verneuil in France, but Law still didn't like showing them. But Cormac had taken out the deadly sharp sgian-achlais he had taken to carrying in an armpit sheath and was cleaning his fingernails.
Law breathed out a soft snort. You could take off a finger with that knife but shook his head and quickly wrapped the steaming cloth around his thigh and sucked in his breath at the heat on the sensitive scars. He trained the day before with wardens of the burgh to keep himself in fighting fit, and now his bad leg felt like it was being ripped with a lance all over again. Even after these months, he missed his life before. It had been good, but in the end the battle lost him his lord, his rank, and his dearest friend. Now he had nothing but his armor in a bag, some worn clothes, and a limp. He still had a fading bruise that covered his forehead from when he was attacked a few weeks before by a mad friar.
Cormac held out his hand, examining his nails closely. They were longer than most men's because the clàrsach that he favored was plucked with the fingernails. "She's sweet on you, you ken." He seemed satisfied with the state of his nails and slid the blade away.
Law lived in a small room above a shabby tavern run by the girl's mother and father, although she was now old enough to do some of the serving. "She's still a wean," Law said. "What is she? Twelve?" Law grimaced at the heat from the cloth wrapped tightly around his leg. It hurt so that he could barely keep still, but it was beginning to ease the deep pain in his leg. He could feel the muscles unknotting as the heat seeped in. Though still a bit tight lipped, he said, "She'll soon find someone else to make doe eyes at. You, mayhap."
Cormac threw up his hands. "Not if I can help it. Her mam would have my hide and hers if she looked at a Hielander. Any road, soon enough they'll look for a sturdy burgher for her. Neither of us are such a prize."
He grunted. Cormac was right that he was no prize. A landless knight was never a sought after, and he even less than most. He might have been born into the small nobility from a family with ties to the great Douglas clan, but he had fallen as low as a knight could. He still had his gold spurs and his arms, but what good did that do him with a lame leg? He wasn't so bad looking, or so he'd some had told him even if it was at night in a hot embrace. He was taller than most men and lean and muscular with a full head of light brown hair, but a lord didn't take a knight into his service for his looks, but on how well they could fight. He might hold his own in a street brawl, but he would never be fit for battle again.
Cormac smoothed his red and white striped doublet and re-tied one of the green ribbons on his sleeve while Law unwrapped the cooled cloth from his leg and pulled his stocking up. He turned to look for his boots to find Cormac holding one and shaking his head over its worn state. "That's pathetic. Dinnae you ever buy new ones?"
"Give it here," Law said.
Cormac tossed the boot to him and turned to open the door. "I'd better find someone to pay for my songs," he called back. "Bidh mi 'gad fhaicinn." He ran down the rickety stairs.
"Aye, see you later, Cormac."
Law drew on the boot, found the other and followed Cormac down the stairs. The minstrel had disappeared although he'd be back later to play for the inn's customers. For now, the only people there were Anny sweeping the bare wood floor, Mall stirring a big pot that had a scent of thyme that must be for dinner, and Wulle talking to the only customer, a tall red-haired man named Andrew Bouquhen, a candle maker with a shop not far away.
There was barley bread and a big round of cheese on the long table that separated the room from the barrel of ale, so Law helped himself. Mall nodded, and he knew she'd add a chit to his tab for his room did not include meals. The he carried them to seat at the back of the inn. He put a sliver of cheese on a bit of the barley bread and chewed them. Simple but hearty and he was not going to complain. Besides, he was glad not to have any reason to go out. Here inside, the rich cheese and the soft crackle of the peat fire in the open hearth were as warm as a grandmother’s embrace. He chuckled at the thought. He must be getting soft.
Mall brought over a cup of ale. He was about to take a swallow when he noticed a small, bow-legged man standing in the doorwas, picking bits of straw off his blue knitted cap.
"You're letting in the damp," Mall scolded.
The man closed the door, raised his blue knit cap to Law, and clapped it back on his head. “You’re Sir Law Kintour, are you?”
Law contemplated his half-finished piece of cheese, the fire and the cup of malty ale. He sighed. “Aye. What is it you need?”
“Mistress Elspeth Buchan said to fetch you, sir,” he said. “The maister has gone missing and she wants you to come right away. She’s that upset about it.”