Patross, the staff lead, was sneering again, and Ivy knew that would soon cause trouble for her. The waitress didn't even need to look to know what had offended the surly man. The two guests that sat by the dock-side windows—prime seats of the establishment, Patross would protest!—stood out enough from the regular crowd. It was an open question on what about them offended the most. The woman's clothing was too shabby, the man's clothing was too foreign. The woman was vicious and unpleasant. Truthfully, Ivy thought that Patross was most upset that the pair were both old, and the woman incredibly ugly.
He couldn't say anything about that, it would upset Taldan decorum. So Patross sneered and settled on, “Setting that filthy chicken on the table. As if she thought this place was a barn!”
As if other guests didn't bring their dogs into the tavern all the time, throwing their grimy leftover bones on the floor for the pets to chew on. Ivy would have rolled her eyes, if she didn't know what was coming next for her. She kept her gaze down on the floor and clutched her serving plate to her chest, willing herself to become invisible. If she could just slip under the man's notice, maybe he'd just complain and then leave it alone—
“Ivy!” Patross barked, and the poor waitress felt a cold shudder roll up her shoulders despite the fact she'd been expecting it. “Tell that woman to either take that louse-ridden bird out, or take herself out instead!”
Coward, Ivy thought.
She moved as slowly as possible, dragging each step with a sense of building dread, but with Patross' eyes on her she couldn't draw her walk out forever. The more that Ivy could see of the old woman, the more terrified Ivy became. Maybe it was simply because the old hag was so hideous—Ivy didn't like to think she was so shallow, but what else was there? She'd dealt with far less pleasant drunks nearly every shift. The woman's teeth glinted like iron, but Ivy had seen gaudier dentures before, some made of far less pleasant materials. The woman was glaring at Ivy long before the girl reached the table, sniffing as if she could suck the waitress in through her nose. The price of dragging it out as she had; that always made things worse!
“Well?” the old woman snapped, and Ivy fought down another deep shudder. “What is it, child? Did you burn your tongue off? Spit out what you want or leave me to my tea!”
Ivy swallowed deeply, glad that her serving plate could hide the sweat on her palms. “Madam...” she said, mind racing on what to say, before she settled on something potentially inoffensive. “Would you like me to care for your chicken, while you are here?”
The woman sniffed heavily again, this time thoughtfully. “Careful with your words, are you? Yes, take care of my chicken. If you're a good girl and treat it well, I'll give you a gift and let you go free.”
“Stop tormenting the young woman,” the elderly man chastised. Ivy had nearly forgotten he was there, too focused on his horrible companion. He had dark skin, not too unusual in Taldor—plenty of families from Mwangi had come to Taldor with the returning Armies of Exploration—but none of those people wore clothing like his. He continued, “Pay your grandmother no mind, Ivy. Nor your staff lead, for that matter.”
He must have overheard my name, Ivy thought, because she didn't like to think of any alternatives. She wasn't sure what to say now, so she said nothing.
“A shy little bit like that must be pushed, or she'll never amount to anything,” the 'grandmother' complained. “Look at her, shoved around by quarrelsome women and grubby men. She'd be better off as a ham on a plate.”
“Isn't that right?” she said, suddenly snapping her attention back to Ivy. “You'd leap at any chance to get out of here, wouldn't you, child? Even one as horrible as I?”
Ivy wanted to. Ivy wanted to escape this miserable, harassment-filled drudgery more than anything. But Ivy had been raised on old tales of careless fools, and had learned well in Taldor to be cautious of windfalls, and so she took a step back and gave a short shake of her head.
“Plenty of 'shy young bits' grow up without you to threaten them,” the man scoffed at his companion. “Or do you think you're so important?”
“Of course I'm important,” 'grandmother' cackled.
“Oh? Care to wager?” the man asked.
The pair glanced at Ivy again, something unspoken passing between them. The old woman shook her head, picking up her chicken under one arm. “A waste,” she grumbled, with no further explanation, and hustled out of the tavern door. Both Ivy and the old man watched her go.
“You're wise to avoid suspicious gifts, and wiser still not to look toward someone else to save you,” the man said, after a moment. “But will you be able to live with the curiosity of what would have happened, if you had said yes?”
“Well, I'll have to, sir,” Ivy said, slipping easily back into her pleasant server persona now that the woman was gone. “Thank you for your patronage.”
The old man nodded, or perhaps it was a small bow, before he picked up his leopard-headed staff, paid the bill, and left. Ivy blew out a sign of relief, glad the situation had resolved itself without a confrontation. Patross couldn't yell at her for failing now... at least, not much. The waitress moved to clean up the dishes on the table, noting the silver and glass tea mugs weren't anything she'd seen used at the Dancing Dolphin before. Moving one of the cups onto her tray, she noticed a brilliant red and gold egg sitting behind it. It looked the size of a regular hen's egg, but it glittered with real gold, and something strange and powerful hummed beneath Ivy's fingertips when she touched it.
This is not safe, Ivy thought to herself, for she was no fool. She looked out the window, but could see no sign of the old hag or her friend. Was this some kind of test? The smartest thing to do was leave the egg there, or perhaps give it to Patross and see what happened. But she thought back to the old man's words... will you be able to live with the curiosity of what would have happened, if you leave it be?
Ivy picked up the Fabergé egg, slipping it into the pocket of her waitress' apron...
To learn more about these mysterious patrons and just what kind of gifts they can offer, check out Lost Omens Legends when it releases on July 30th!
About the Author
Eleanor Ferron is a developer at Paizo, working primarily on the Pathfinder Lost Omens product line.
About the Tales of Lost Omens
The Tales of Lost Omens series of web-based flash fiction provides an exciting glimpse into Pathfinder’s Age of Lost Omens setting. Written by some of the most celebrated authors in tie-in gaming fiction, including Paizo’s Pathfinder Tales line of novels and short fiction, the Tales of Lost Omens series promises to explore the characters, deities, history, locations, and organizations of the Pathfinder setting with engaging stories to inspire Game Masters and players alike.