Wednesday, 23 January 2013

inns & taverns: the starveling goat

The last inn on the barrens road, half a day from the nearest village or croft.  The Goat is known for frugality. Dwarf pine, scraggy juniper and blackthorn eke precarious existences in the barrens.  Harsh land does not breed wealthy watering holes.  Worse, the Goat's first landlord died violently and was dragged to the Hells for his misdeeds.  Luxurious travellers spin yarns of the Goat's miserliness and add to it's evil reputation. Bandits avoid the barrens, preferring richer pickings.  

The Goat is a sprawling drywall bungalow, set in a hillside by the road.  Waist-high drywall corral half-feral pigs and skinny, black goats.  Smoke rises along the brow of the hill. The only window is shuttered and barred.  The sign is a wooden, white shield with black goat rampant chained to the roof timbers.  The land around is desolate, open country.  Wolfsong echoes in the hills and ravens announce kills.

The bungalow opens into a low-timbered hall with paired long tables and benches to sit sixteen.  Their arrangement as an aisle leads to a hearth flanked by hanging hides.  From behind these, the staff bring ale. Most food is prepared at the hearth, the remainder brought through from the hide-hidden rooms.  These are the landlord's quarters, a brewery, pantry and smokehouse.  The hall's floor is strewn with sawdust, dwarf pine needles and malting floor chaff to soak stains.  Hints of pine and burnt grain disturb dusty air soured with sweat.  Of the sixteen chairs, up to eight are occupied by poor goatherds, itinerant tinkers or travellers.

Customers favour watery pine ale with floral notes for three copper served in clay goblets. These usually accompany a goat cheese patty on toasted bread or thick malt porridge for sixteen copper.  Quality is barely better than the prices suggest.  Spendthrifts prefer sloe genever at two silver a jug or a thin broth that mixes goat, boar, juniper and sloe.  The house speciality is smoked boar sausage at four silver, a tasty alternative to iron rations.

Augus, the landlord is sallow, wrinkled and hunched.  His patched smock reeks of malt, pine and woodsmoke.  His energetic hands are ever polishing, pouring or checking stock.  His bloodshot green eyes fix on distinctive details.  Augus has an extended family of six working as staff, two spinsters and four bored youths.  The family could run the Goat but Augus has insider knowledge that serves him well.  He talks to the air sometimes - and it replies.  Augus has unseen help in an imp grooming him for greater evils than running the Goat.  For now, the imp is content.  All fear Augus enraged, his eyes glow and those restless hands are versed in both knife and cudgel.

Rooms are not available here.  For two silver, you can sleep near the hearth.  On cold winter nights, the goats are ushered in as well.  On these nights some guests hear the hearth sizzle and fluttering wings.  The staff will mock any sharing this insight. Guests are moved on regardless of need.  Laggards are expelled at dawn unless they buy breakfast.  Few people dare to stay a second day and night.  Nobody knows of anyone who has done so.

One of the spinsters has found love and plans to elope with her beau, a local goatherd.  Needless to say, Augus is less than pleased.  The hapless beau may find his fortunes soured, or face worse consequences, without some heroic help.

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