Saturday, 27 August 2011

inns & taverns: the blue owl

The two-storey tavern with walled garden sits apart from neighbours at the village edge.  A blue slate roof tops dark tarred timber and rough grey stone.  A blue horned owl watches from a circular white tile above the lintel.  Most locals keep their distance, preferring to brew their own, muttering about the owner being 'strange'. Visitors report it as "...indifferent, though well-appointed."

The recessed step up to the iron-bound south-facing door shelters from elements and sight.  The slate roof is distinctive and draws the eye from neighbouring houses.  The exterior is well-maintained and regularly cleaned by a local goodwife.  Her tuneless singing greets those in the morning.  The garden borders onto a rudimentary stable with one stall permanently taken by an aged palfrey and the stableboy.  Inside, the taproom's bar runs along the west wall.  A simple iron candelabrum lights the room.  Tapestries showing great heroes hang on the walls.  Tables and chairs are arranged in the corners. Stairs in the north wall leads up to a corridor of guest rooms and two locked doors.  One hides the rooms of Amfort and his extended family, the other is the owner's domain.  The west wall has the kitchen and a small private room for which Amfort has a key.

The beer is a brown ale from many miles north with a sulphurous aftertaste.  A syrupy barleywine, damson and gooseberry cordials are available at reasonable prices.  For food, a saltfish and carrot broth of notable vintage is always available.  More palatable fare of black bread, pickled onions and chunks of smoked pork sausage can be bought for a few silver.  The menu sometimes includes attempts to ape courtly favourites with more mundane ingredients.  The success rate of these attempts are wildly variable.  Some are edible in comparison to courtly fare.

Amfort, the landlord is a burly widower better at cracking skulls and counting coin than serving ale.  Wise enough to know, he lets Nila, his sister-in-law handle minutiae like paying customers.  Nila's charm soothes the roughness of the Owl's menu.  Nila's aunt doubles as cook and cleaner, her uncle works in the cellar.  Amfort's son, Kars, tends garden in the day and works as a linkboy to and from the Owl at night.  The stableboy, Jurd, is a foundling taken in by Nila.  Amfort would not miss Jurd if he left unexpectedly.

The stables are rudimentary enough.  Up to eight rooms can be rented for a few silver a night.  Here the Blue Owl redeems itself.  The rooms are simple and warm, each with comfortable beds, a jug of water, covered chamberpots and flowers.  Noise however will bring down the ire of the Owl's owner.  Tharsal is a sage who works on commission.  He dwells in the inn's stateroom, surrounded by rare manuscripts and a pair of cats.  He keeps himself to himself, has a little magic and his meals delivered promptly to him.

Tharsal prefers to keep out of sight.  His knowledge of otherworldly phenomena make him valuable to powerful figures.  His choice to live in ease atop an inn is a deliberate snub to those figures.  They are forced to be subtle as a result.  For all his foibles (the Owl's menu are Tharsal's favourites) both Amfort and Nila prefer him to other employers.  The locals avoid the Blue Owl because of Tharsal.  Some of his employers have distinctly infernal tastes.

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