A Delightful Dinner Guest
The pistols were heavy in Morgan’s coat, as was the sword at her belt, as she made her way through the streets. A look at her pocket watch told her that she’d be five minutes late. Perfect. If she took her time, she could make it ten. Wouldn’t her host hate that? Her job took her to the outskirts of the city often, and so she knew the optimal, winding route to take. Not past Geraint’s smithy, and from there onto the baker’s and the stables. No, instead her route took her through a sprawled, ugly hamlet, a village that had met its end when the city had simply grown around it.
Only one teamster passed Morgan as she made her way, driving a team of horses before him. Transporting grain, possibly, he barely spared her a glance. According to mutters over beer and day-old stew, it was dangerous to spend too long staring at one with her look, and with her walk. And her weapons, of course. Those dissuaded a lot of people. It hadn’t taken more than a handful of coins to persuade old Geraint to keep his door open that night, almost as if he’d been afraid of her. And he’d known her since she was whelped.
There was a bright, full moon that night. A pity, getting lost might have made her even later. But fifteen minutes would do.
It wasn’t hard to find her host’s abode – her host would have it no other way – and in a strange fashion, the home was pretty. Somewhere between a cabin and a cottage, it occupied a spot for itself just off the beaten dirt road. With a thatched roof and walls coated with spreading moss, it looked like it had been there for years. Which made it strange that reports of it had only started to crop up two weeks ago. And with them, reports of other, stranger behaviour. Horses cut free of their carts. A logger in the wood found dead, a dozen precise wounds cut into him with a charming dinner invitation soaking up the blood. In the outskirts of the city, people even reported a tall, pale woman stalking the streets at night, and locked their doors. One spate of tales, regarding the attacking of traders entering the city, had been discovered to be the work of a common, if creatively opportunistic, thief.
There were only a few options for what it could be, and Morgan had prepared for one in particular. Fey creatures were somewhat outside her expertise, and she didn’t like things outside her expertise. Nonetheless, there was reputation on the line – not to mention money – and so she’d had to agree.
Seventeen minutes late, Morgan knocked on the door of the woman calling herself Lorelle, and it opened almost instantly, as if her host had been waiting. Morgan forced her smile to be pleasant and it was matched by a genuine beam.
“Welcome, my dear,” her host said, “You look lovely.” Lorelle herself was radiant. Tall and slender, her dark hair and eyes stood out against her pale skin. She wore simple clothes that put Morgan’s tailored shirt and coat to shame. If only she’d thought to come underdressed, that would’ve been even better.
“You flatter me,” Morgan said with a smile, and then waited.
Lorelle was a fantastic host, she only kept the silence stretched for a second before she accepted Morgan wasn’t going to return the compliment.
“You must come in,” Lorelle said, “It must be a hard journey from the city. That would explain why nobody else has taken up the invitation.” With a soft laugh. A reference to the lateness, perhaps?
“You know the city isn’t far,” Morgan kept her words honest, “Very few people take up invitations left on dead bodies, even if they are open. I had to pay a courier generously to bring my reply, and he says he hid behind a tree the whole time.”
The tension in Lorelle’s jaw was there for only a moment, but Morgan’s trained eyes picked it out. It was an effort to keep her own face clear.
“Not very well, I fear,” Lorelle said, another beautiful smile on her face, the tension a forgotten ghost, “But it felt rude to point it out. He was a guest, technically. It was politer to let him feel safe.”
That certainly crushed any doubts Morgan was feeling.
“I’ll make sure to pass it along,” She said cheerily, “Now, can I come in?”
Without waiting for a reply, Morgan stepped forwards. Maybe there was a record for this sort of thing she could win. But, to her surprise, Lorelle held out a hand to stop her.
“You must forgive me,” Her host said, “This will sound frightfully rude. But….your sword?”
“Sweet iron,” Morgan said, with a smile that hovered between understanding and patronising. “Not cold. I don’t hunt your kind often, and I certainly don’t plan on fighting you in your own home.”
“The very pinnacle of politeness,” Lorelle commented, her eyes roaming Morgan’s face and finding no hint of deception. “And well-deduced. So if the monster hunter isn’t here to fight me or scare me off, what is she doing here?”
“Please, Lorelle,” Morgan said, a hand moving to her heart, “Let’s not talk business. I’m here to have a lovely dinner, and the thought that you would accuse me of such…”
The shock that flitted over Lorelle’s face was almost as sweet as the anger that chased it.
“My sincerest apologies,” She managed to say, but the smile took several seconds to return to her face, “You absolutely must forgive me. Most of your type are…”
“Terrible brutes, and poor conversation besides,” Morgan interrupted, causing the smile to waver again. “But nonetheless, I’m sure I’ll be able to forgive you. Now, please, let’s put that unpleasantness behind us and eat.”