The madame was nothing like Linza had expected.
Linza knew a few things, going into that interview. She knew that the madame ran the estate and that she was one of the top five richest merchants in all the kingdom.
She also had known that the madame was half-orc, but knowing and experiencing were quite different things.
They met on a private veranda that overlooked the ocean. Vines crawled up into the lattice over them, ripe grapes hanging from their branches.
The sun was warm and the ocean breeze brought a slight chill and the smell of seaweed.
The madame was a full head taller than Linza. Her skin was the cool, pale green of lichen. Her lips were full and her lower canines protruded from them. A navy silk dress clung to her every plump curve. Her black hair showed a blue sheen in the sunlight and was braided up at the crown of her head in an elaborate knot, soft strands falling down to frame her face.
As she moved to stand and shake Linza’s hand, firm muscles rippled under the softness of her skin.
Linza could not place her age. She knew that the woman must have been in her sixties, but she seemed full of youth and wisdom all at once.
A single word filled Linza’s mind as she regarded the madame.
Like the afternoon sun above them, the madame emitted a calm, silent, powerful energy.
She took Linza’s hand and lead her down to a little wooden table on the veranda. Linza hand looked as a child’s in the madame’s.
She was sure she should be saying something, but she didn’t know what to say.
They sat, and the madame searched her face with warm, brown eyes. “You have a bit of the sight, don’t you?” Her voice was warm and husky, like the crackling of a fireplace.
“W-which sight?” There were several purported types of special sight in magical study, and Linza did not want to over-promise.
“Might you tell me whatever you were just thinking? And then I might tell you.”
Linza was deeply wary of magical charms. The School of Enchantment operated under strict rules, but there were indiscretions. Every student was trained to recognize the signs.
There were none of those signs. The way her heart seemed to float on the madame’s fingertips had nothing to do with the kind of magic that Linza had learned in school.
She was compelled, by no force other than the madame’s glowing halo of kindness, to confess. “I was thinking you were as the sun. Radiant.”
The madame smiled more deeply and her eyes crinkled into sparks of joy. “I daresay you do have the sight, and the tongue of a poet to boot!”
Linza blushed. Yet again, curiosity overcame uncertainty. “What sight are you referring to?”
“I’d say it’s ‘mundane’, but only to contrast the formal magics, and not because it isn’t special. I’ve called it that for a while now. As best as I can describe it — though now I’m eager to see if you might have better words for it — it is that singular feeling when you see somebody else, and you feel that they see you right back.”
“Yes! I know exactly what you mean. My best friend and I are that way. And a couple of professors I’ve known.”
The madame nodded, looking at once giddy and elegant. “You will find that the house is home to lots of ‘seers’. It’s particularly helpful in our line of work.”
“I can imagine!”
“I am quite sure that you can,” the madame said. “To be clear, I’m playing on words a bit. I am both sure that you immediately, implicitly understood how that sight helps our work. I am also sure that you have the kind of imagination that will be a good fit for the role that you applied for.”
“Oh!” Linza was glad that she had explained. “Th-Thank you! I’m honored to be considered!”
“I must confess,” the madame continued, “That I had you here under a bit of a ruse. This is not an interview.”
Linza’s heart dropped. Had the compliment just been a way to let her down easy?
“This is a job offer,” the madame continued.
“Oh! I—” Linza was about to eagerly accept.
The madame held up a finger for her to wait, and Linza’s words dissolved.
“You cannot accept until you have heard all the terms,” the madame said. “Rule number two, ‘nothing taken’. The true purpose of this lunch is for me to explain it all to you. Rule number one, ‘everything given’.”
“Are there any other rules?”
The madame’s grin widened. “Yes, excellent question! I can tell already that we’ll have a great talk. There is only one other rule. Rule number three, ‘have fun’.”