Saturday Short: The Tea House at the Crossroads, Part V

There is a saying that trouble waits for the unsuspecting, ill-prepared, and arrogant. But in the assassin’s experience, trouble came for everyone regardless of how suspicious, prepared, or humble one was. Trouble was truly as impartial as the wind when it came to blowing into one’s life. And there was no way to avoid it or change its course, although many tried. The assassin preferred not to waste her time on such thankless pursuits. She simply waited.

The others in the tea house left after an hour when nothing happened. Other travelers came, none the wiser, ate and left. Few spared a passing glance at the assassin sitting as still as a statue at the table near the door. She watched everyone, noting where they hid their knives and treasure, which leg they favored, and how polite they were to the tea mistress. None stayed long as the sun was fast sinking towards the sea and the light through the windows took on the rusty sheen that signaled night coming to claim its due.

The tea mistress, the assassin, and the boy who sneezed were the only constants in the tea house. The assassin watched the boy carefully. It was rare to see someone so young, so alone in a tea house at a crossroad. But although he appeared alone, he was not. The Path was kind to him, but more than that, the tea mistress was his mother. Both took pains to hide the bond, but it was as obvious as the first cherry blossom on a bare branch after winter to one who observed carefully. And the assassin did.

Another hour passed and no trouble came through the door. The tea mistress had begun cleaning her counter again, though it didn’t need it. The boy tapped his fingers against his knee, beating out a rhythm that he didn’t realize was almost as old as the marker of the crossroads itself. The assassin did not fidget, but drank more tea.

The sun set. The moon rose. And still the Path did not sweep in trouble through the door.

Perhaps, trouble found an unluckier soul tonight. The assassin’s bones ached as she allowed herself to close her eyes for a moment, which was when trouble smiled wickedly.

The tea house door slid open with a snap and a wide-eyed traveler stumbled inside.

“Fire!” he yelled. “They are bringing fire!”