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Major Lord Adam Fitzroy closed the door to the private parlour he'd taken at the Three Feathers, obliterating the curious glances directed his way by the occupants of the tap room. With a weary sigh, he unfastened the tattered green tunic that identified him as a serving officer with the 95th Rifles and sank into a chair next to the fire. He rested his dusty boots on the table in front of it, unsure whether he was annoyed or relieved at the disruption to his plans. Eyes closed, he pinched the bridge of his nose in a futile attempt to relieve the tension that had been steadily building as he got closer to home.
His first action upon opening them again was to take a long swallow from the tankard resting at his elbow. He felt the warm ale trickle slowly down his insides and waited for it to soothe away his recurring memories of Corunna and the privations suffered by his men in the ensuing retreat. It would require something a deal stronger than the local ale to achieve that ambition. But he took another draught anyway, forcing himself to relax.
He listened with a half an ear to the bustle outside as the stage prepared to leave. The coachman's voice was discernible above the hubbub, exhorting his passengers to take their seats quickly because he had a schedule to keep. He displayed scant sympathy for the plight of an elderly lady who'd misplaced her reticule.
The door opened and the landlord appeared with a fresh jug of foaming ale.
"Thought you might be in need of a refill, Major." Without waiting for a reply he topped up Adam's tankard. "I dare say you saw action at Corunna." Adam inclined his head. "I knew it! I said to my wife, there's a gent wot's seen a thing or two in the services of his country. You're a hero, that's wot you are, sir."
Adam's lips twisted into a mirthless parody of a smile. The only heroes associated with the entire fiasco had been the ones who'd made the ultimate sacrifice. Before he could think of a suitable response, the door opened again and the landlord's wife bustled in with a laden tray.
"Here we are, Major." He helped his wife to unload copious amounts of food onto the table that had recently acted as Adam's footrest. "My wife's mutton stew, fresh bread and boiled potatoes. You won't find an establishment wot keeps a better table hereabouts, even as I do say so myself." He beamed and refilled Adam's tankard for a third time.
"Thank you." Adam eyed the mountain of food with apprehension. There was enough there to feed four men and he had no appetite to speak of.
"I dare say it's been a while since you sampled honest English fare, but nothing's too good for our heroes, that's wot I say. And I won't be taking a penny from you for all this, sir, so there's no good your thinking as I will."
"No, really, I'm well able to pay for my supper." The landlord looked shocked, and rather affronted, to have his hospitality thrown back in his face. "But if you insist then I thank you." Feeling as though he were back in the schoolroom, Adam picked up his knife and fork and reluctantly took a bite of mutton. "Delicious!"
The landlord exchanged a satisfied smile with his wife. "Wot did I tell you?" He threw another log on the fire, sending a shower of sparks flying up the chimney and smoke billowing into the room.
"We'll leave you to it then, sir, if there's nothing else you'll be wanting. You won't be disturbed in here, so you don't need to be worrying about that. I can tell you need some privacy and no one'll bother you or they'll have me to answer to."