(Continued from Part VI)

Moragan looked up at the workshop’s doorway to see a customer she did not recognize.  He was large man, barrel-chested and long-legged. He looked older than her 20 years, though still much younger than her father. His round, red face – Moragan was glad to see the color was not a magical stain – held a look of intelligent curiosity. Rather than handsome, Moragan immediately classified him as solid if not respectable. Because it was darker in the shop than outdoors, the man squinted, trying to orient himself and apparently looking for a proprietor.  “Hello?” he said. His voice was deep, and while not loud, Moragan thought that it was the kind of voice that could quiet a crowd, or at least be heard over one.

Moragan stood up from her bench and approached him. “May I help you find something?” He turned toward her and as he met her eyes a surprised look flashed across his face. There was none of that look of horror she expected from new customers. It was merely as if he had seen something unexpected and had quickly come to terms with it. He looked her up and down with a single sweep of his green eyes, and Moragan felt as if she were being measured. Perhaps his eyes had not fully adjusted to the dark.

Hers needed no such adjustment. Now that he was not back lit in the door frame, Moragan could see that he was probably a nobleman, a minor one, perhaps, like a mayor. She suspected he was urban, for the rustic clothing he wore was far too new and too clean, as if it had been chosen specifically to help him fit in among unfamiliar yokels. It failed at that task miserably. Anyone who worked for a living would know that those clothes had never seen toil. Whether the man had seen any himself she would learn soon enough.

He extended a thick red hand. “I am called Dokken. I wish to speak with the workman who goes by the name of Cutter.” As she placed her hand in his she was surprised to feel that it was not wholly uncalloused. Perhaps the man chopped his own firewood. His grip was firm and warm: no shying away, no fear of her scarred fingers. He merely raised them to his lips and kissed the back of her hand. It was a welcome change, though she felt a little uncomfortable with the gesture while her father was away.

“My father is on a hunt,” she replied, “but should return soon. It is clear you have traveled some distance to see him, so you are welcome to wait for him here. There is mead and water on the table. I will bring you some sausage presently.”

She pointed him toward a small wooden table, tucked against the wall. It sat directly beneath a square window in which hung a few of the products of her craft: dragonskin trinkets, small bags of powdered bone, and the like. Sheaths and larger items remained safely inside the cottage, on a shelf between the table and Moragan’s bench, where nimble fingers could not so easily carry them off. A pair of wooden chairs stood against the wall to the table’s far side. Atop it sat an earthen jug and one of copper, both full, and a pair of goblets, both empty. The man glanced at the table, then back at Moragan.

“What is your name, maiden?” He asked.

“My name is Moragan,’ she replied.

“Thank you, Moragan, for your hospitality.” He turned one of the chairs toward the table then pulled the other around the far side, settling heavily into it. He was pouring mead into the second goblet when she returned with a small tray of meat and cheese. Moragan was surprised to see her old green mask folded neatly on the table before the man. He looked up as she approached.

“Won’t you sit down?” Dokken motioned toward the second chair. If not for the mask Moragan might have found an excuse to return to her work. She was not comfortable in conversation, especially with men other than her father. But she felt genuinely curious about how he came to own the mask and especially why he had brought it back.

“You recognize this mask,” he said. It was not a question…

(Continued in Part VIII)