The Meal

A gang of waiters emerged from the kitchen, weighed down with masses of silver platters. Heads turned as they walked swiftly to the far table, scurrying around it as they deposited dish after dish until the white cloth over the vast table was no longer visible. Other patrons of the restaurant craned their necks, trying to get a good look at whoever it was that had ordered such a grand meal.

At the table, there sat a man and a woman. They regarded each other coldly, like predators sizing up their prey. Even from a distance, one could tell they were not here for pleasure.

“Thank you,” said the man. He tucked a crisp, white napkin into his collar as the wait staff departed, and made a gesture. One of the waitresses nodded, and drew a heavy red curtain closed, obscuring the pair from view.

“After you,” the woman said. She watched as the man tore off a lobster claw from nearby with chilling precision. The action prompted a swift crack, like bone, and he smirked, never breaking eye contact.

“Now, what brings us together?” she said, transferring a wafer slice of roast fowl to her plate.

“I have noticed Sparrows dancing at the edge of the Gate,” he said as he excavated the claw. “Whispering to it of hidden tomes and forgotten secrets.”

“The Gate knows of many already,” the woman said, taking a sip from a glass of water, “why should the Sparrows’ Whispers prompt two Ones made Two?”

“The Songbirds speak of stirrings in This Great Wood. The Sparrows’ Whispers at the heart of it. The Gate has opened, and the Men of Its Estate walk the Wood again.” The man reached for a small pastry, fit it neatly in his mouth, and began to chew.

“You have not answered my question,” the woman said, lifting a gravy boat and emptying it onto her plate.

“The whispers lead to Bara’kin,” the man said, dabbing at the sides of his mouth with the napkin, “where neither Songbird or this One might go. If the Estatemen find truth in Sparrow’s Whispers, the Gate might never shut again. The Wood will never be the same.”

The woman sighed, “Such a favour is not done for free.

The man stared at her. “What will it cost?”

The woman narrowed her eyes. “The Children.”

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