The Grey Veil

Mara's Gift

She stepped out of the dark woods onto the pebbled path that led to the spa. Her feet crunched slightly with each step, but that was just fine. There was no way she would try to sneak into this place. He’d be watching, she knew. Sure enough, within a few steps she spotted two reflective, slightly tilted eyes peering out from the foliage. Predator and prey acknowledged one another with a slight nod, and she continued on her way. She could only faintly hear the deep chuckle and his murmur of the word “Children….” as she passed. She tried to keep a steady pace despite the shaking in her legs.

At the end of the path, a cabin loomed in the moonlight with windows aglow. She opened the door without knocking. Just inside, there was a narrow, stone tiled entryway. Kicking off her shoes, she untied the belt at her waist and shed her clothes. She took the time to fold each piece of clothing neatly, placing them on top of her shoes and stacking the whole pile on the small bench by the door. She stood tall, shoulders squared and walked confidently toward the brightly lit room ahead.

“Master”, she said serenely in acknowledgement of the naked man sitting cross-legged on the polished wood floor. “I apologize for my lateness.”

“Sit.” It was the only word he said, but she knew he was unappeased. Well, maybe this would not go as she had expected. Sweating under his gaze, she tried not to feel the disappointment welling up inside.

Sighing, she attempted to explain, “Dax tried to follow me. I had to pretend to drink several glasses of ale, and THEN, I even had to slip him a little something before he finally passed out!” Her frustration was more than apparent, which she was certain would not please him, either.

His face remained expressionless for a time, but he broke into a grin and even chuckled a little. “Oh, do calm yourself, young one. It is of no consequence. Please sit so we can begin.”

Exhaling in relief, the apprentice sat across from her master, mirroring his position on the wooden floor. Crossing her legs, she placed hands on knees with upturned palms slightly opened. Composed and ready, she looked him in the eyes and nodded.

“So here we are,” said the Master, “just where I told you we would be if you continued your training. This is no small thing, young one. Those meager tricks you’ve learned on our journey, they are child’s play. THIS,” he gestured towards the space between them, “is what you aspire to master.”

Centered between the two, on a cloth spun of gleaming silver threads, were 5 small porcelain bowls. Each contained a single sample of a different type of food: a thin string-like pasta, a single glistening cherry, what appeared to be a small white fish in a yellow sauce, one glazed pork medallion and a sugared pastry the size of a large coin. The smells wafting from the food were beyond any she had ever experienced, and that was really saying something considering her present company. So delectable were these that she could never imagine eating regular food, again. The scents could be described as nothing less than heavenly, the ambrosia of the gods.

“I have not wasted my gifts on you; I can see from these past few weeks that you have great potential. Tomorrow, you continue on your journey alone for a time. Yet, I would not have you go without this final element of your training. I have prepared a few fine dishes for you, my dear apprentice.” Master smiled as he gestured and said, “The choice is yours, but for now, you may only choose one.”

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