“May I have your name?”
The figure in the hut’s doorway smiled politely, but slightly too widely. The hand holding the door open had too many joints in the fingers.
“No, but I am called Ella”
Ella had been told enough stories about strange beings in the forest to fall for so simple a trick. But she had been caught unaware by the first storm the forest had felt in her lifetime and decided it was worth the risk to get out of the rain.
“Well met, Ella. You may enter. May I have your coat?”
“Only if I may have yours”
The resulting smile did not meet the figure’s eyes. Ella resolved not to ask their name. She did not want to know what they might ask for in exchange.
“I do not believe it would fit you. Or suit your needs”
The being gestured to a coatrack which held a coat made of moss. As Ella looked, a mushroom bloomed upon the shoulder and some small, many-legged shapes skittered across the back.
“You are right, it is best we retain our own coats. May I stay the night here? I will leave once it stops raining”
“Yes. You shall remain until the rain stops”
Ella smiled and shook the outstretched hand. There had been no cost required. All she had to do was mind her words and her manners until it was time to leave.
When she awoke to find it still raining, Ella peered out of the window to see when it might stop. There were no clouds where she could see, yet the rain poured atop the hut’s roof.
The being hummed as they prepared breakfast, loudly placing a kettle atop the stove.
“It may be a while before the kettle boils, my dear guest. Time flows so slowly here”
Ella continued staring, seeing the dark outline of a cloud directly above the hut.
“Why, the last rain only just stopped falling yesterday morning. Who knows how long this one will last?”