182/366 – Lady Ainsley’s Invitation

Day 40 of 100 Word Prompts: Fake


Gwen opened the door to the Tired Rose, sweeping the last of the dirt back out into the street as she saw a halfling walking toward the door. She recognized the red coat with gold tassels as one of the workers from Lord Thornton’s Troupe. It had been more than a span since meeting Lady Ainsley, and she had dismissed the idea of an invitation. Her heart leapt to her throat as she moved out of the way to allow the halfling to pass.

“Good day, m’lady. My name is Milo Oakbottom. I’ve been sent by the magnanimous Lady Ainsley to give you a message,” he said, producing a sealed letter as Gwen followed him back into the dining room. He looked around a single eyebrow raised as he inspected the room. “I was told there were three individuals who resided here. Is this incorrect?”

“No, no! They are here,” Gwen said, waving her hands. “I can go get them if you like.”

“Unnecessary,” Milo replied, waving her off with a hand. “Which one are you?”

“Gwen, Gwen Meadowheart,” she replied with a curtsey. “A pleasure to meet you, sir.”

“Ah, the one that Lady Ainsley was most adamant about,” Milo replied, holding the letter out.

“Most adamant?” Gwen asked, gingerly taking the letter from him.

“Oh, yes! The Lady told me specifically that the invitation was to you especially, your two friends are, of course, welcome to join you, but she insisted that you come,” Milo said with a nod. “She spoke of your talent, but not of your beauty.”

“Oh, stop it,” Gwen said, waving a hand at him.

“Who’s this then? A customer so fine?” Germain asked as he stepped through the kitchen door.

“He’s a messenger from Lady Ainsley! Matthew Oakbarrel!” Gwen squealed, twirling in place as she flourished the letter. “She’s invited us to visit!”

“Milo Oakbottom, actually,” Milo corrected.

“Good to meet you, Milo,” Germain said, stepping out from behind the bar. He walked up to Milo, holding a silver piece out for the tip.

“Thank you,” Milo said, bowing his head slightly as Germain placed the coin in his palm.

“Does the Lady need an immediate response?” Germain asked.

“Not at all,” Milo said, shaking his head. “She has provided details of her immediate schedule so that you may visit her at your leisure.”

“Well, in that case, may your travels be swift and your music be happy,” Germain replied, bowing deeply to the messenger.

“Thank you, sir. The same to you,” Milo said as he turned on heel and walked toward the door. “And to you, Gwen Meadowheart, may your memory improve.”

Gwen watched him walk out the door with little ceremony as he left. She turned to look at Germain, who had a stern look on his face.

“What?” Gwen asked.

“I do believe you insulted him,” Germain said, shaking his head.

“It wasn’t my intent,” Gwen said as she pressed the letter to her chest. “I’m just so excited to be invited to see Lady Ainsley! Aren’t you?”

Germain’s expression softened as his wide, toothy smile spread across his face. “Of course, I’m excited, but we should remember to bring Milo a token of apology when we go,” he said. “Do you want to open it, or shall I?”

“Should we wait for Joy to get back from shopping?” Gwen asked. “I think she would want to see it with us.”

“She’ll be okay. Let’s sit and read it together,” Germain replied, pulling out a chair for Gwen.

“Okay!” Gwen squeaked as she slid into the seat.

Gwen laid the letter down on the table before her as Germain sat next to her.

“Look at the paper for the envelope, even!” Germain said, touching the corner. “And the seal!”

Gwen looked at the pure white seal against the embossed red envelope. Set inside the seal was the image of a woman dancing over a rose blossom. The scent of a light floral perfume filled the area.

“She’s so magnificent,” Germain said, inhaling deeply. “It’s as though she’s here.”

Gwen picked up the letter and moved to break the seal, but hesitated.

“Do you have a dagger on you? I don’t want to break this seal. It’s just so perfect,” Gwen asked.

Germain produced one of the small daggers he kept on his belt. “That’s a great idea. We could have it framed and hung over the bar! Imagine the customers’ reactions when they see it.”

Gwen slid the blade under the seal, carefully removing the wax from the paper. Setting the knife down, she opened the letter, pulling the pearl-colored paper from inside and slid the envelope out of the way. She opened the letter and set it on the table before her. Her eyes darted over the paper, attempting to take in every minute detail. The calligraphy of the Lady’s handwriting was a dance in and of itself, consisting of a swirling pattern of deep black accented with gold filigree.

“What’s it say?” Germain asked.

Gwen cleared her throat and read:

To my most recent friend, Gwendolyn Meadowheart,

Firstly, I apologize for the delay in this invitation and hope it finds you and your friends in good health.

Secondly, I would like to invite you all to visit me in my suite at the Singing Dove in the Art’s District. I have enclosed my performance schedule to accommodate yours and encourage you to see one of my shows before we meet. Your name is already included on the guestlist for any of them.

Finally, I would request that you bring your lovely gentleman friend Germain with you. There are some things that he and I need to discuss.

Kindly,

Lady Tiana Ainsley

“She called me lovely,” Germain said as he swooned in his chair. “Can you believe it?”

“I wonder what she wished to discuss?” Gwen asked. “Though it’s a bit odd, don’t you think?”

“What’s odd?” Germain asked.

“Her messenger-” Gwen paused, trying to remember his name.

“Milo,” Germain said after a moment.

“Yes, him! He had emphasized that I was being invited, and though the letter is also addressed to me, it sounded more like she wanted to see you? Don’t you think?” Gwen asked.

“It doesn’t seem that odd to me,” Germain said, straightening his sleeves. “I’m a very handsome man, after all. Women fall at my feet. They fall in love with me every day only to have their hearts-”

“You and I both know that none of those statements are true, Germain,” Gwen said, pushing on his arm. “You are a handsome man, but you also are a gentleman, and as long as I’ve lived here, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen you with a woman.”

“This is not something I should discuss with one of my charges,” Germain said, waving his hands in front of him. “Besides, do you follow my every movement? Do you see the places I visit and the people I meet?”

“No, I suppose not,” Gwen admitted, deflating a bit. “I just never saw you as someone that does that sort of thing.”

“I can assure you, my dear. I am not the type of fellow that beds any woman, or many for that matter. I was married a long time ago, and have, very seldomly, sought the company of others since her passing,” Germain admitted, “but you know as a performer, I must play the role of a suave debonaire.”

“Why be the fake, though? I’m not sure I understand the purpose,” Gwen asked.

“There are universal truths within the world of music and acting that we must all follow, dear. One of them is that no one will pay to watch a man swallowed by misery and loss,” Germain said.

“I’m so sorry, Germain. I didn’t realize that you felt that way,” Gwen said, touching his arm.

“It has been some time since I lost my beloved Lana,” Germain said, covering her hand. “I have had my time to heal, for the most part. She is the reason that I take in tieflings such as you and Joy and help them find their place in the world.”

“Was she a tiefling?” Gwen asked.

“No, but her sister, Molly-similar to Joy-had an accident involving a planar rift. The magic twisted her body into the visage of a tiefling. Molly was attacked by some people not long after because of how she looked,” Germain said, wiping a tear from his eye, “Lana, in all her love, spent the rest of her life fighting for acceptance and freedom for tieflings and helping them through their struggles.”

“She sounds amazing,” Gwen said, “Why didn’t you tell me about her sooner?”

“As I said before, the rules of entertainment,” Germain said. “But we are family now, so there’s no reason not to tell you everything.”

Gwen’s chest felt as though it had been torn open. Her stomach flopped inside her as she pounced on Germain, throwing her arms around his neck in a tight hug.

“I’m so sorry for your loss,” Gwen said as she cried into his shoulder.

“I’m fine, really,” Germain said, rubbing Gwen’s back. “But this old man truly appreciates that you’ve stayed here as long as you have.”

“If we are family, where else could I possibly go?” Gwen said, tightening her hug. “I’ll be your daughter, and you can be my father from now on. You’ll never be alone again!”

“That sounds wonderful, my dear,” Germain said. “Then, I will do everything in my power to make sure you have a proper platform with which to perform. Can I ask one more thing of you?”

“Of course!” Gwen said, releasing him.

“Could you read the letter once more?” he asked, his cheeks blushing faintly over his beard.

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