Coffee Break Read – The Unwelcome Stranger

“I’m sure you weren’t expecting me.”
The stranger stood in the shadows just outside my door, his face partly hid by the hood of his cloak. His hand gripped around a traveller’s staff, the sort that could be used both for walking and a sturdy defence. I’d have taken him for some vagrant were it not for the large ruby ring that I could see on that hand.
“I can’t say as how I was expecting anyone,” I told him, wondering if I’d be wiser just to shut the door in his face. When you live alone and your nearest neighbour is the other side of the fell, welcoming a stranger into your home after dark is not so wise.
“Can I come in? I just need shelter for the night.”
Now, you can call me a superstitious old woman but I know as well as the next that most all the magical beings you can name from brownies to vampires need to be invited into your home before they can touch you.
“If you need a place to sleep there is the barn.” I nodded to that old ramshackle building my grandfather raised. It’s outlived its name and its purpose long since, but the roof keeps the wind and rain out – mostly.
“Thank you,” he said and dipped his head in a sort of bow, like I was a noble lady or something.
I still don’t know why I did it, but later that evening I took a bowl of my stew and a lump of seed bread out to the barn. I saw a sort of red glow coming through the cracks in the walls and very nearly dropped the tray in fright. Instead, I crept close and peeked through one of them cracks and as I’m standing here today, I swear I saw a red dragon three times the size of any man curled with its nose on its tail and staring right back at me with ruby eyes.
I don’t mind admitting I ran back to the house and bolted the door. Not that would have kept out a dragon, but what else was I to do?
I went back in the morning at first light. The barn was empty. First I thought I’d imagined it all, but where that dragon had been curled I found this very gold piece…

E.M. Swift-Hook

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