Sunday, 6 June 2010

inns & taverns - the throne and ferry

A ferryside inn sat on the shore of a river island, the Throne And Ferry has faded like it's royal founder, now dead forty winters.  It's sign, a gilded throne over waves is lit by a sheltered fire and visible from the other side of the river even at night.  The fire serves to warm the ferry's operators, a pair of surly broad-shouldered and narrow-minded ex-soldiers.  The stair leading up to the inn is immaculately carved stone blocks leading up to a covered porch whose warped timbers let in rivulets of rainwater during any protracted rainstorm.  The inn is usually quiet with no more than six people normally inside even on a rainy night.

Inside the two-storey inn are immaculately-polished dark stained timbers, hung with trophies from across the country, the inn is structurally sound if a little drafty.  Snarling bears, boar-heads and racks of antlers hang from the walls.  A large stair (which creaks atrociously) leads to a common room and rough-hewn quarters for the staff (nine in all) and four guests with stabling for seven horses attended by a toothless, mute ostler capable of great things with a comb and pocket knife.  Three large benches are arranged in a U-shape with an open side for entertainers and serving staff to come and go are surrounded by numerous high-backed chairs positioned by the walls.  Among them is a throne with arm-rests carved as walking bears and inlaid with golden oak leaf designs so someone seated in it appears to have a halo of gold around their head. 

This seat of kings is fiercely guarded  by the landlord Isbarr, a grizzled and scarred former pageboy to the old king, now an old, cynical ex-huntsman to the current king.  He will be harsh to anyone who dares that seat but will treat others with courtesy (a little strained perhaps) who comes visiting.  The rest of his staff are extended family, other notables include his sister Rowena, a fair cook and former field surgeon and her husband Morrin, a whip-thin, brilliant scholar yet disastrously inept carpenter responsible for the rickety porch and stairs whose groans have inspired at least one bard to sing of 'young lovers thwarted by the groaning stair' much to Isbarr's frustration and Morrin's chagrin.

The fare is notable.  To drink there is a good selection.  A strong brown ale and reasonable pale pine ale that is brewed by Isbarr according to a family recipe keep most customers satisfied.  Casks of traded ales and rough wine round out the roster along with a potent local herbal liquor sold by riverfolk that tastes of aniseed called 'blueshine' for the halo flames take on when you drink it.  For food there is game pie (a mixture of pigeon and rabbit baked with duck egg and flavoured with herbs), a thick yet tasty 'hunter's broth' with various vegetables and meats boiled into a glutinous soup served with rye bread, thick coiled sausages flavoured with forest herbs and for those willing to spend gold, a fine cut of smoked pork served with fine cheese and a keg of pine ale.

Accommodation is basic, the common room holds nine in comfort, twelve in familiarity and fifteen at a pinch.  The apartments are rustic yet near-obsessive care has been taken for years with them and the mattresses are comfortable enough for royalty wishing to enjoy a hunting trip.  If the guests in the apartments are nobles or deal with nobility Isbarr will personally oversee the care of those staying in the apartments and advise servants who customarily do for their masters about the finer points of the accommodation, when is a good time to get  hot water and where to find fresh flowers for a lady.  Rowena has offered surgeon's help to guests injured in various pursuits and the ostler is also an exceptional barber-surgeon in his own right.

The Throne and Ferry serves occasionally as a stopping point for some merchants and nobles whose families knew of Isbarr and his family.  Most others avoid it seeking to curry favour with the current court, though the hunting on the island is excellent, most people hunting there tend to travel by flat-bottomed boat in the dead of night, preferring to avoid Isbarr and his kin.  These hunters (some may call them poachers) rarely risk flogging by the local sheriffs who view the Throne and Ferry as a quaint, backwoods inn owned by a family trading desperately on past glories.

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