Saturday, 22 May 2010

inns & taverns - the widow's cherry

In a very different quarter of town to The Wooden Sword where horses are not permitted is The Widow's Cherry, an affluent three-storey townhouse of solid stone, wood trellis and black canvas awnings.  Patrons enter via an arch guarded by an old, gnarled soldier and a brindled dog of uncertain ancestry that warms his feet and whines at soft-hearted passers-by.  Beyond, wide steps ascend to a square courtyard with a cherry tree and stone benches on three sides.  Those entering the courtyard are usually seen by patrons and accosted by slaves with amphorae of wine before getting inside the building.  The soldier and dog once served the owner in happier days, now keeping beggars and ne'er-do-wells out for leftovers and cups of wasted wine brought by the widow's slaves.  

Inside, the plaster on the walls is decorated in tasteful murals of hunts for exotic animals and women playing musical instruments.  The townhouse has three spacious rooms set up as dining rooms attended by slaves who will charge two silver coins to serve patrons food and drink for the day.  Some slaves handle drunken and rowdy patrons expertly, whether by a winning smile or a firm hand.  Most here prefer to use language rather than violence.  Typical patrons are wealthy, successful merchants, ascending politicians and their hangers-on jostle cheek by jowl.  This establishment trades on reputation and quiet, discreet bodyguards.  The manager, Castelus, is a former army captain, greying and ruggedly handsome.  He runs a smooth operation here and is discreet.  The brains and charm of the outfit is the owner, Atria, whose cherry tree the tavern is named for.  The dignified widow of a merchant, she has opened her house to keep her mind active.  While this has lost her friends among the patricians, she has earned much respect from the merchants and politicians and their coin means she can always buy new friends if she needs to.

Available drinks include red wine, white wine and a sweet cherry liquor called 'cherry kiss' that one slave will carry on their back and walk around the Widow's Cherry, offering sips from a wooden goblet.  This last is particularly potent if mixed with wine.  Slaves and servants can also buy fermented goat's milk but this is often served with parsley to prevent the sour breath that follows such a drink.  Food is served in profusion, smoked pork and salted beef are served alongside fruits, sweetmeats and honey-glazed bread.  The food is served on low-lying tables and slaves wait on the diners attentively, assisting those lacking self-control to get to where they need to go.  Most patrons are usually well-behaved though at least one every three days manages to take too much food or drink to the amusement of other patrons.  There is no accommodation to be had, even those unconscious on the benches or under the tree are gently but firmly deposited outside under the vigilant eye of the beggar and his dog.

The upper storeys of the Widow's Cherry are off-limits and used by the owner, the manager and the slaves.  Patrons are discouraged from entering the private quarters and the owner has guards capable of discouraging a typical rowdy soldier.  Beneath the dining areas and accessible by a door guarded by a soldier is a tiled communal bathing area capable of seating twenty.  Here well-groomed and barely-clad slaves of both sexes serve watered wine and burn scented oils for those patrons who discuss matters they would prefer to keep private.  While moral guardians decry this 'depraved, secret senate' those who attend these meetings scoff at the 'inadequacy' of those critics.  Atria herself says those who visit the bathing room have nothing to hide and often leave cleaner than when they enter.  Slaves are given strict instruction not to solicit - those who do and are caught or worse, found to be with child as a result are paid for their silence and sent out of the city with a warning not to return.

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