“Come in” I said. His lips parted, blood-red and wet. The smile didn’t reach his eyes. He entered the house like a tiger, all soft poise and velveted violence.
He was beautiful, or he intended to be. A vampire’s glamour only works on us when we choose it to. I allowed his glamour to slip from my sight for a second. I glanced from the corner of my eye at the shrivelled corpse, reeking of gravesoil and maggots, skin split about the joints, bone gleaming white beneath. It was a gruesome sight and I allowed the glamour to cover it gratefully. It was one thing to allow an unkillable fiend to enter one’s home, it was quite another to permit anything ugly in one’s presence.
Perhaps it thought I would be easy pickings, it must recognise my nature of course, my own glamour was thick upon me, but it would itself be able to peer beneath, with a level of commensurate strain. But there were fae and there were fae of course, and perhaps he had never met a knave of the court before. We rarely came into the mundane lands these days, and then only for brief visits.
But I was not a fae of the hedgerows or the haystacks. No, I was old enough and ken enough to avoid offering it food or drink. It was the expected duty of a host, and a minor offence not to do so, but the only thing the shambling corpse could consume that was within my power to offer was myself. If I offered it food and drink, without specificity, and failed to provide it with anything it could eat, it would have guest right over me, and no fae could fail to be bound by that, not even the Queen of the Dance herself.
So, “Would you like a cup of tea?” I asked politely. The tall, breathtakingly-handsome man in perfect formal dress hesitated, suddenly wary. I wondered what it would do, how closely it was aware of the local etiquette. I had presented myself as a local, tweed trousers and jacket, brogues, and a cane, and not just for my own mild amusement. It had purpose.
It smiled with a politeness no less than my own and gave a short bow. “Of course, my sincerest thanks”, it said with another blood-red smile, yet its eyes still like pools of night, untouched by warmth of feeling or sign of self within.
It could not drink the tea, but a refusal would have been insulting, given the context I had set out. A small offence, but it would have led to insistence and therefore further refusal and greater offence. It may have allowed me to force a breach, or just to place the parasite on the back foot. He may have avoided that trap, but his acceptance of the tea came with its own caltrops, given his inability to drink it.
I continued the dance. I smiled warmly, my glamour giving an air of openness and trust. “My name is Niamh of the Hills and Fields, third Knave to the Laughing Knight”, I introduced myself offering my hand. Again he paused, unsure.
I had given him my true name. If he gave me the false name he was currently using then it would be a grave insult to his host, yet if he gave me his true name it would be an admission of his nature, and a potential threat, another insult. I prided myself on such traps, the offering of a binary choice, each option being as dangerous as the other. The creature was hesitating too long. He was obviously unused to fairy play.
“I am pleased to meet you, Niamh of the Hills and Fields,” he suddenly said smoothly, taking my hand and bowing over it. “And I thank you for your trust in giving me such honour as to receive your true name. Alas my own name is too poor and false for this honour, for I have left my previous life behind me, and I cannot allow such an ignoble past to stain the beauty of your gift. As my glorious host, and most noble courtier of the kindly lands, I grant you the right to name me anew, so that I may forever bear a small portion of the great honour you have bestowed upon me tonight.”
My jaw tightened as my thoughts instantly flashed to white-hot flame. The creature had seen both sides of the trap and evaded them with esoteric skill unbecoming from one who was barely more than animal, and whose breath stank such of nightsoil. My vision went red for an instance and behind my back wicked claws flashed sharp and long upon my hands for the length of half a thought. But as quickly as my rage came upon me, it left in another mercurial flash. Inside I danced a jig with exquisite delight. This evidently wasn’t his first rodeo. Perhaps this would be a more diverting game than I had thought.
To be concluded…