Paying Respects

On the other side of the doorway stood an elderly woman hunched over a plain wooden cane. Her face was creased with so many wrinkles that it was impossible to make out her features clearly, and her silver hair was pulled back into a tight bun. Sarah took a step to one side and gestured for the woman to come inside.

“Welcome, Mistress. What brings you here?”

The older woman huffed. “You could at least pretend not to recognize me.”

“I’m sorry, Mistress. It is only because I know you so well. Why do you wear this visage?”

“People seem to expect me to be ancient, so I like to feed their preconceived ideas of me.”

“I see.” Sarah didn’t believe her explanation, but she didn’t want to question her mentor. She led the Mistress to the living room. “Is this a social visit or should we retire to my private rooms?”

“I just came to pay my respects to the new Mistress of the house.”

Sarah offered her an armchair. “Can I get you some tea?”

“No, no. I will not be staying long. How do you like having your own house finally?”

“I’m only in this position because Thomas is trying to mend some fences. This isn’t really my house.”

The Mistress scowled at her. “Self-deprecation does not suit you. Everyone who knows you acknowledges your skill. Furthermore, I did not teach you to be merely a background character. You deserve this house, and it is yours. Do not believe any less.”

“Yes, Mistress.” Though she had been on her own for years, Sarah still deferred to the Mistress’s authority.

“Now, I am quite curious as to why Thomas felt compelled to step down. You said something about mending fences?”

“You remember Jason? Another member of this house, someone who joined with Jason, blames Thomas for his death. She likely would have left if this was still Thomas’s house. He was trying to keep her from leaving.”

“Thomas was responsible for Jason’s death?”

“No, at least not directly. But his secrecy about nearly everything isn’t helping put people’s minds at ease.”

“He does have a tendency not to share, always has. Has he started researching the attack again?”

Sarah shrugged. “I can’t be certain, but there haven’t been any more incidents. And he has not brought it up in years.”

“Good.” The Mistress nodded thoughtfully. “Have you spoken to Matthew recently?”

“I haven’t been able to locate him since he left. He gave me the impression that he wouldn’t talk to me as long as I remained here. So far, he seems to be sticking to that.”

“That is a shame. I always liked him.”

“So did I.” Sarah couldn’t find the words to express everything she was thinking and feeling, so she added nothing else.

The Mistress stood with ease, belying her apparent decrepitude. “It has been nice chatting, but I should be going.”

“Really? You just came for a brief social visit?”

“I told you, I came to pay my respects. Never doubt that you deserve to head your own house. I am deeply proud of you.”

“Thank you, Mistress.”

The woman before her changed into much younger person before giving Sarah a warm hug. When the woman pulled back, she was once more an elderly crone. Sarah couldn’t repress a smile as she walked the Mistress to the door.

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