Senta rapped neatly on the white door of the little cottage on Ghiosa Way. She carefully straitened her necktie as she looked down to see that her black skirt and white blouse were both in order. Reaching up, she tilted her boater ever so slightly to one side, and then, as an afterthought, spoke the magic word that made a large white daisy appear in the hatband.
“Who is it?” came the call from the other side of the portal.
The door opened wide revealing a pretty young woman wearing an identical outfit, except hatless. Brown hair parted on the side, with a few curls in the back, she was a head shorter than the six-foot tall sorceress.
“Senta,” she said, displaying neither surprise nor pleasure.
“Am I in time for tea?”
“You know you are,” said the woman tersely, but stepped aside to allow the blond sorceress entry.
Senta swept past her, through the parlor, and without an invitation, took a seat at the table in the small dining room. She removed her hat, which disappeared into thin air, crossed her legs, and folded her hands over her knee.
“Why, Bryony Byenthal, you look scrumptious today.”
“It’s Bryony Baxter… again,” said the woman of the house, closing the door and passing through the parlor on her way to the kitchen. She returned with a large tray filled with cups, dishes, and a teapot, all of which she began to lay out.
“I think I have a very nice tea for us today,” said Bryony.
“You always do.”
“Yes, well, as you keep showing up at teatime, uninvited, I might add, I feel compelled to serve you.” She poured two cups of tea. “Four lumps, isn’t it?”
“Yes. How kind of you to remember.”
“I’m not likely to forget.” She began filling two plates from several small pyramids of dainty finger foods. “I purchased these sausages from the butcher this morning. They look very nice. And I’ve made cress and cucumber sandwiches. I also made some stuffed mushrooms. I gathered them from the forest, so with any luck they’re poisonous.”
“I’m sure they are fine,” said Senta. “But fear not. I always carry a detoxicant with me.”
“A wise precaution, considering the number of people who want to kill you,” said Bryony, setting a plate in front of Senta and one at the place across from her. She carried the platter back to the kitchen, before returning and taking her seat. “Have you been poisoned before?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact. I’ve also been shot.” Senta paused to take a dainty bite of a stuffed mushroom. “Several times, and stabbed.”
“Some people might take a hint.”
“I’ve never been very good at that.”
“Oh, I know,” said Bryony, removing a cozy from atop a breadbasket. “Pumpernickel?”
“I’m afraid you’ve missed your daughter.” The brunette buttered two slices of the heavy, dark bread, passing one to the sorceress. “She’s spending the day and night with the Markhams.”
“Yes, I know. She has no interest in seeing me, so I return the sentiment.”
“She may say she doesn’t want to see you, but I think she really needs to.”
“Children don’t know what they need,” said Senta.
“That’s what I’m saying,” said Bryony, with a frown. “You should show her that you care for her. How do you think you would have turned out if you thought your mother didn’t love you?”
“I turned out fine,” said Senta. She took a bite of sausage. “Anyway, I would much rather see little Baxter.”
“He’s with the Markhams too, though Mr. Baxter will pick him up on the way home.”
“Why is it you don’t have another little one by now? Big Baxter not pressing the baby button?”
“He’s not plowing the bean field? Not negotiating the chasm? You two not pressing your dangly parts?”
“You are horrible!” hissed Bryony, but then she narrowed her eyes. “As a matter of fact, I shall be pondering the unicorn as soon as we’re alone together.”
“Blitzkrieg mit dem fleischgewehr.”
Senta blinked. “My… how very vulgar of you, Bryony Byenthal.”
“Bryony Baxter,” Bryony glared back.
Senta took a sip of tea and studiously ate her meal, as Bryony watched her. After several minutes of silence, she looked up.
“You should eat too.”
“Yes,” replied the brunette slowly, forking a sausage.
“You’re not going to tell me?”
“No. And you are to say nothing, or I’ll never serve you tea again.”
“But Bryony Byenthal…”
“… you know how much I enjoy our teatimes together, because of my deep and abiding affection for you.”
“You don’t like me at all, and I certainly don’t like you, and anyway, nobody must know until I tell Kieran.”
“I shan’t say anything at all.”
They finished eating and Senta leaned back to sip her tea.
“What would you think if I invited you to tea at my house, three days hence?”
“Oh?” wondered Bryony. “I haven’t consulted the almanac. Is that the day hell freezes over?”