Bitter 260

“Oh!” exclaimed Frau Magda, her hands jumping to her chest. “So, sorry.”

“That’s fine, Magda,” said the Mayor, smiling magnanimously. “Just a little accident.”

The bowls had shattered and pieces were strewn about. She bent down on her knees to pick them up, and placed them in her held-out apron.

Britta felt bad. She had been hoping to elicit a reaction from the Mayor, but he had remained completely placid. She wasn’t sure why Frau Magda had reacted so violently at the mention of the grimoire, but even now she appeared somewhat rattled.

“Can I help?” asked Britta from on top of the big cushion where she wobbled precariously.

“No, no. That von’t be necessary. All better now.” She had removed the big pieces very quickly and was pecking at the smaller ones.

It hadn’t been that terrible, just a couple of bowls. They had looked very expensive, but then they could be from the Ming Dynasty when all you have to do is program their existence into a computer.

Magda rushed over to the trolley with her apron doubled over and bulging at odd angles. She tipped the contents onto the trolley and pushed it out of the room.

“These things happen,” said the Mayor.

“Yes,” said Britta, feeling a little awkward. “I heard you’re recruiting for your army.”

“Not my army, the town defence force. Why? Are you interested in joining up? We can make room for you.”

“So it isn’t compulsory? Only, some people seem to think they have no choice. That’s what I heard.”

“Well, I’m not sure why anyone would think that. These are perilous times, monsters running amok and what have you, so it behooves the town to be prepared. But I certainly wouldn’t want everyone to join up. We wouldn’t be able to pay them.”

He didn’t seem even slightly disturbed by her questions. Perhaps he really wasn’t involved in anything shady. It could be Magda, operating from the shadows. That was often the way it happened in the movies. The main suspect looks guilty as hell, but it’s the person standing next to him that’s behind it all.

She took a closer look at the Mayor’s big, impenetrable smile. No, this guy wasn’t innocent. He had killed Freddy and framed Stan. He knew about the grimoire, he was just a good actor.

“This grimoire...” He said it like he wasn’t even sure how to pronounce the word. “What does it do?”

Very smooth. Britta couldn’t but be impressed by his completely relaxed demeanour. He was a lot better at this than her. Which meant he’d make an excellent subject to study.

“I think it brings the dead back to life. That’s what my investigating has dug up so far. There’s apparently a dead dwarf in the mines that’s possessed by a banshee and not very happy about it.”

She watched him closely as she told him about the enraged dwarf. It was only the most basic details, but enough to provoke a response if he’d been involved in the dwarf’s death.

“I see,” said the Mayor, one finger tapping his lips as if in deep thought. “I think… I think the main course has arrived.”

Frau Magda returned with her trolley, looking composed once more. There was a large silver dome covering the dish. She lifted it up with a flourish, revealing a roasted animal Britta didn’t recognise. It appeared to be a pig with wings.

“Presenting the roast swinebird.” She announced it like the swinebird was here to sing a song. It didn’t look like it had much of a voice.

The Mayor clapped politely, so Britta did, too. It was her first time applauding food. Frau Magda picked up two large carving knives and rapidly slid them across each other. She handled them very comfortably. Then she began carving.

The slices of meat looked pink and juicy. There were small potatoes and various other side dishes she couldn’t identify. She tasted a bit of each out of curiosity.

“This is delicious,” she said. “My compliments to the chef.” She had never said that before in her life, and felt a complete fraud saying it now, but it seemed the sort of thing you would say at a swanky dinner.

“Magda cooked it herself,” said the Mayor. “She’s an excellent cook.”

“Ach,” said Magda dismissively. “He only says that because I’m the only vone who knows how he likes his schnitzel.”

Britta smiled and nodded. She knew schnitzel was some kind of German dish, but that was all. It could be meat or vegetable, or maybe dessert. More importantly, how did German things exist in this world? Were there Spanish and French NPCs as well?

“Very nice.” Britta held up a fork with a bit of pig wing on it and popped it in her mouth.

Frau Magda dropped her head slightly to accept the praise, and then gave Britta a look so dark and menacing it nearly toppled her from her perch.

They ate in silence for a few minutes, Britta picking at the food, not very hungry. She wondered if she’d stop feeling quite so stuffed when she got home.

She ate enough to not be rude, and then Magda tidied it all away. Without any breakages this time.

“This dwarf you mentioned, the one in the mines…”

Britta turned her attention to the Mayor. “Yes?”

“You saw him? What did he look like?”

She wasn’t sure how to answer. He looked like a dwarf, and they all looked very similar, but she didn’t want to say that. It would make her seem terribly racist.

“He had a beard, and he was quite short…” This wasn’t much better.

“I only ask because some years ago, a young dwarf came to see me with information. Very important information. But he disappeared before he could give it to me. That was about the mines, also. Coincidence? I fear not. I always suspected foul play, but there was no proof. There wasn’t even a body. I suspected the Garbolums were behind it.”

“Didn’t you used to go out with Ginnie Garbolum?”

There was a loud crash as Frau Magda dropped the soufflé she had been about to place on the table. She bit her fist, which looked painful, and then ran out of the room.

“Hmm,” said the Mayor. “It seems Magda’s not feeling well. Shall we retire to the library?”

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