Concealed beneath black cowls, three big men waited for their slight comrade to finish stabling his horse. When finally done, he joined the trio as they scaled the steps of the quaint Carolingian roadhouse called The Buttery. Upon entering they refused to shed their cloaks, heedless of the stares of the few surrounding patrons. The newcomers ordered ale and settled around a corner table from where they could view the room. Talking in hushed voices, they had scarcely drained their mugs when a tall, well-dressed traveler walked in. As he scanned The Buttery, they got a good look at his face, its handsome, clean-shaven lines making him seem young for his years.
From the corner table the men watched him carefully. Once satisfied that he was alone, they considered how best to draw his attention. However, as the one nearest the bar pushed back his chair to rise, the door reopened and in strode a second outlander. Stepping with the lightness of a cat he followed in the seneschal's wake.
"I thought Abler was coming alone," growled the largest of the Thanes.
"He was," confirmed Vissevald. Turning to the lean guard, he demanded, "Do you recognize the second one, Kobi?"
"Yeah, boss. He's one of the Freehold barbarians. I think he's the one they call Mad Dog."
The Prince of Carolingia rose and slipped out, past his Thanes. Johan dropped a hand to his broadsword and wished that he had been able to carry in his halberd instead. The last Thane remained implacable, staring over the rim of his mug, he watched the door for any further unexpected guests.
Kobayashi had risen to trail the prince. He stood by while Vissevald, with calm bordering on arrogance, slammed a huge hand on the bar.