The Vanishing Customer

Agnes Cobham heaved a deep sigh as she trudged downstairs. She dragged her weary feet to the front of the tavern and unbolted the entrance. As she cracked the door open, to indicate the Skinny Eel Inn was officially open for business this Thursday afternoon, a sharp blade of sunlight slammed against her narrow beady eyes. She quickly snapped the door shut again- her regulars would know the tavern was open, there was no need to let in the harsh, Owlchester summer sun.

As she began her usual routine of unstacking stools and placing them around the edges of the tavern’s creaky, sticky tables, she felt the blazing sun against her back. She peered over her shoulder to see that someone had entered the tavern. Agnes turned back to the stools, “Two drink minimum after Wednesdays,” she grumbled.

The stranger did not reply. Instead, they moved closer towards her, their steps light and quiet against the cobbled floor.

“Do you have a room available?”

Agnes sighed. “Rooms are coin only, no tabs, no working for your keep.” She grimaced as she briefly recalled the last time she had let a guest work the bar for their keep. She had taken pity on the penniless, seemingly human girl, until she realized the teenager had neglected to disclose her witchcraft abilities, and ended up setting half the tavern on fire trying to avoid the advances of a very drunk dwarf.

The wizard who had made the reparations had charged Agnes a fortune per charm used to rebuild the place. Agnes scoffed out loud at the memory.

“I am afraid I only have 40 gold coins – would that be enough for the month?”

Agnes’ ears perked. She set down the stool she was holding and turned to face the stranger.

He was tall, but scrawny. His short, dark hair was disheveled, as though he had spent the morning running.

“It’s all I have,” he reiterated nervously.

Anyone who knew anyone or anything in the village of Little Valeck, knew that a room at the Skinny Eel Inn never cost more than 8 silver coins per night, not including the stress of trying to catch the spiders that would crawl out from under the beds in the middle of the night.

Agnes’ gaze wandered across the small leather pouch that hung at the stranger’s hip.

He was clearly not from Little Valeck, or possibly even from Owlchester. He also did not look a day past 22, and Agnes considered if she wanted to take a risk on an adolescent human again.

Or was he even human? She frowned and cocked her head to the side, as if waiting for her elvish senses to do a reading and alert her of the species she was dealing with. He looked human; he did not radiate any type of aura to suggest he was a wizard, nor did his skin have the slight sheen of an elf, and he was too tall and well-groomed to be a dwarf…

There were so many humans these days. They had quickly overtaken the republic after the War of Six Families. The Skinny Eel Inn had become one of the few haunts in the area where non-humans could congregate without being asked to present papers by squadrons who, during peacetime, had nothing better to do. Agnes sighed.

The stranger peered back at her, waiting anxiously for her reply.

“30 now, 10 at the end of the month.”

The stranger nodded and his shoulders eased. He reached into his leather pouch and handed Agnes a bulging purse.

Agnes reached out and examined the purse. The coins looked as new as if they had just been minted.

“Did you rob a bank this morning?” she snorted, thumbing through the coins before slipping them into the front of her ale-stained top.

 The stranger frowned.

“That was a joke.” Agnes shrugged towards him, indicating it was okay to laugh.

The corner of his mouth lifted into a very pursed half-smile. “Oh sure, haha, yeah, good one.”

Agnes rolled her eyes and began towards the narrow staircase at the back of the tavern.

The stranger did not follow.

Agnes turned back around. “Do you not want to know where you’ll be staying?”

But he was already gone; a tiny shard of sunlight straining through the front door he had left open behind him.

Agnes quickly reached down her top to make sure the coins were still there- it wouldn’t be the first time she had been tricked out of a decent sum of money. Her hand fell on the pouch of coins and she let out a sigh of relief.

She returned to the front of the tavern and snapped the door all the way shut.

“Weird,” she muttered, as she returned to arranging the stools.

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