When the assassin set down her empty tea cup, she was unsurprised to see the tea mistress glaring down at her. The Path never lied, although she’d hoped it wouldn’t be that kind of day.
“Pay and go.” The tea mistress slid a small receiving tray across the table for the assassin’s coin.
The assassin pulled out a handful of coins from an inside pocket of her coat, slowly so no one did something stupid as if she was to pull her sword over rudeness alone. She’d let larger unkindness pass without retribution before and she would again. The coins clinked against the lacquer and gleamed in the late afternoon sun. Even the tea mistress could not contain her gasp at the golden glow, far too much for the poor meal and lukewarm cup of tea.
The assassin shrugged. “It is what I’ve always paid here.” She stood, stretching her back like a fox before shouldering her pack.
“Peace be on your Path.” She nodded her head to the tea mistress who still hadn’t taken her eyes off the coins, enough to pay for a year’s worth of meals three times over.
“And ten-fold on yours,” the tea mistress replied.
As she slid open the door to leave, the assassin paused. “Trouble always comes in threes and I am not the first.”
The tea mistress looked up, a frown on her face that was touched with concern.
“I’d put those away if I were you and perhaps close before the moon rises. Sometimes trouble will pass by if not invited in.” Sometimes not. She set one foot over the threshold when the tea mistress called.
The assassin stopped, but did not turn around. The silence in the tea room was complete.
“Would you like another cup of tea?”
No one saw it, but the assassin smiled before she turned around. Yes, the moon and the Path were conspiring this afternoon. Someday she would be beyond such tests.
“Only a fool would turn down a cup of tea.” The assassin sat down at the table where her dishes and cup were still.
The tea mistress started as if from a trance and hurriedly whisked them away, returning with a tea pot with steam curling from its spout and a cup covered with delicate, intricate painted flowers. She poured it with an almost steady hand and opened her mouth, but said nothing before turning away.
Trouble would come, as it always did. There was nothing for doing except waiting and drinking a perfectly brewed, steaming cup of tea. And that was what the assassin did.