“A monster in Black Lake? That would explain many things.” Estrid hung a kettle over the fire. “It has been ten long years since Edward’s mother Eleanor was last seen in these lands. Her husband was mortal, a name that I do not care to remember. Quickly she grew tired of his banter, and bled him dry on an eve much like this.” The old lady set down two cups and saucers on the oak table.
“Good for you, I told her. Though he built this cottage, he was good for chopping wood, and not much else. He even forced Eleanor to do her own hunting, braving daylight hours washed out and wrung dry. Finally she rid herself of the louse, and found a real man, a vampire as wicked as her.
“The first thing he did was set fire to this pathetic shamble, but Eleanor had a change of heart. She convinced him to put out the blaze, and replace every last stick of wood until it no longer reminded her of decisions past. Damian he was known, and the two produced a child, my precious Edward, named after royalty, and king of his own domain.” Estrid fed the fire another log.
“One day, Damian did not return. Eleanor did not feed as the weeks pressed on, the skeleton below surfacing. Finally she could bear no more, vowing to return only when she discovered what became of him. That was ten years ago, though it merely feels like days.” The kettle began to rattle. “Care for some tea?”
“I would be delighted.” Yakim rocked back in the chair.
“I apologize, Eleanor’s rocker is the only other chair we have.” Estrid grabbed the pot with her bare hands. “Though she often derided mortals for their craftsmanship, she kept the chair, and a gift bestowed on her fiftieth birthday: a set of golden nails. Would you like to see them? They are quite extraordinary.”
“Certainly,” said the halfling.
“Fetch them for me, would you Edward?” Estrid gestured, filling the two cups with steamy brew.
Yakim took a sip, careful not to regurgitate the scalding water.
“Trust me child, let it cool first,” Estrid set down the kettle, and drained her cup.
“How can you can drink it so hot?” Yakim asked.
“With the mind in the right place, pain is just an illusion. So tell me about the beast. I have not heard of it, and I know everything in these lands.” The old woman pushed her cup aside.
“‘Tis black as night, with a shell like a crab.” Yakim rocked back and forth, fidgeting with her golden tangles. “Instead of pinchers, it walks upon rows of leathery tendrils, each at least two stories high. It did not show its mouth to me, only to my abductor. As I gazed into its myriad of eyes, I did not sense that it meant me harm, only the charlatans that the night bringeth.” Yakim took another sip, but it was still too hot.
The old lady split in two, and then four. Yakim rubbed her eyes, trying to shake it off.
“Relax, my dear. Rest awhile.” Estrid took the cup from her.
Yakim leaned back in her chair and exhaled.
“There you are, Edward. Show our guest the nails.”
Edward struck the nails through each of her hands, pinning Yakim to the chair. The halfling screamed, struggling to pull herself free.
“Oh, shut up!” Estrid tossed the cup of tea in Yakim’s face. “Do you think me such a fool that I cannot see through your deception? Where did you get that dress?”
“This rag? What concern is it of yours?” Yakim cowered.
Estrid slapped Yakim across the face. “I do not consider my craft the kind that mops floors. There is a woman in Merrymore who wears that very same dress. I should know; I made it for her. Muriel is her name, and she has a daughter, Rebeketh, no more than a few months old. Perhaps she told you this before you took her life?”
“What are you babbling about, lunatic?” Blood trickled onto the floor.
“Her blue dress. The one you are wearing now. Do you not see it covering your own pathetic hide?” the old hag snapped.
Yakim looked down, blue silk and white trim hugging her pale skin. The dress she lusted after, now adorning her gaunt frame. “No.” She recoiled.
“Bring me the hammer, Edward.” The elder vampire held out her hand, exposing her broken fangs.
“No!” Yakim snapped off the handles, and seized Estrid’s neck.