In spite of all his political reservations, the spy would admit to anyone who pried deep enough that the Lidlemers knew how to throw a party. A general air of blissful ignorance, of uncanny casualness, washed over him as did the scents of the storehouse’s contents, all of which had been meticulously unloaded for the occasion. Pickled minnow fillets reclined on scrupulously scrubbed steel platters. Mouse cutlets displayed their smooth roseate grain against the vivid green of the clover and the earthy cyan of the lichen. The fermented grapes lay snug in their similarly spheroid goblets, and the boiled egg, the entire pale globe of it, bathed luxuriantly in its drizzle of vinegar and pine needle extract. To the spy, it was a gross waste of resources. The only real grub was a nice hot stew, a melting pot of flavors with none of them thrown away. No matter the ingredients, it all ended up fine with heat, water, spices, and love.
And yet he could not deny his nose. Lurking in an unoccupied corner of the colorful little room, he snuck a few bites of the mouse salad, and found it a guilty pleasure. He felt eating a good first step in integrating himself into the rabble that tottered about with their glasses of honeysuckle water and their inane gossip. Spontaneously, he joined a guffawing group of half-sober young bachelors, occasionally adding a sarcastic jab or two, as was the custom. He felt his face slip into a mask of simple, unrestrained enjoyment. Now there was nothing for him to do but wait for the host, the target of his assignment, to don his most impressive robes and make himself the center of attention.
The party was open to the community, a common practice among the frivolous inhabitants of Hedangrove, and an unwise practice for people who knew spies might be present. It was arranged by the noblemen and noblewomen of the town, “On the occasion of the return of Lord Ferrigad, the beloved owner of Ferrigad’s Fine Furniture, from battle with the Ark Thag tribes of the Korgath Feshan region.” As he had read the posters in the central square the previous morning, the spy didn’t give a scrap of regard to Lord Ferrigad and his Fine Furniture, or indeed for the battle, but the name of the host had fixated him: Garas Therian, known to his superiors as the shipwright with just the right amounts of skill and desperation to cross the River of Obscurity and earn his name in the history books forever. A wealthy, ambitious man already, he was outspoken and deserved to be - he had a reputation as a keen social critic. From his home and estate a good distance down the road from the older buildings of the town, he had lived through the majority of his raging midlife crisis by publishing a collection of quips, musings, and poems. However, to his family it was obvious this would not sustain him any longer. The spy’s superiors had assigned him to the town in an attempt to catch Therian and his co-owners making plans of any kind. Of any kind, by any means necessary, the spy recited the contract in his head as he floated atop a cloud of innocent social interaction and listened to the intermittent clinking of the poison flasks in his leather knapsack.