Saturday, 14 August 2010

inns & taverns: the crooked roost

A rickety, tarred wooden shack balanced on the ruin of an abandoned tower in the poor quarter decorated with baskets of flowers.  It lurks some thirty feet over the streets it serves. The sign is faded but shows a fighting cock dressed with hood and barbed spurs.  The Roost is reached by climbing, those who need it are lowered a rope ladder.  The Crooked Roost is not the tallest (or most luxurious) structure yet the view is spectacular.  Pigeons roost in the eaves of the tower, where the Roost clings like mistletoe to an apple tree and street children as fallen apples begging at the base. Few other than children dare the climb during the day due to the Roost's unsavoury reputation but evening and night are a different story with solitary patrons routinely making the ascent.  The Roost is not spoken of in polite company.

Entering the Roost is done by a trapdoor in the center of the floor.  At the north wall is a simple hearth where a carefully covered fire keeps the inn warm and a corner bar next to it with a door behind it to a back room.  Inside the shack has walls patched by scraps of dark fabric lined with pigeon feathers, giving the walls a strange quilted look yet which prevents drafts yet which doesn't smell claustrophobic.  Shutters in the ceiling and walls provide light while at night, each corner is lit by a strategically placed bell jar of oily, straw-coloured liquid.  If swirled, they emit a cold white-green light like a thousand crushed fireflies for an hour.  Each is swirled routinely by a local though sometimes, a corner will go dark.  The Roost is not large, it can hold nine in comfort and fifteen in tight conditions. Furnishings are rough-hewn or old as old can get without being dilapidated.  Patrons are all well-behaved, unobtrusive and people who you'd meet in the street but forget a few moments later.  This is not a wealthy inn and wealthy visitors often feel out of place.  Regulars are scrupulously well-behaved, if you are thrown out of the Roost, there is no rope ladder - just a drop.

The selection of drinks is limited to say the least.  The Roost serves rough brandy, an earthy parnsip wine and a thick yellow advocaat served with a scrimshaw spoon.  Sometimes a barrel of beer will find it's way to the Roost and those regulars that the landlord likes are invited to a lock-in where everyone uses the rope ladder going back down.  There is a pan of broth on continuously, for a copper you can serve yourself a bowl and this is often attended by the landlord, Naul.  Naul is a grizzled, poker-faced man with expressive hands who smells of tarred bread.  His voice occasionally cracks when he speaks.  Those looking for a place to sleep in the Roost are treated to mockery.  "My little roost is no flophouse friend and I sleep alone."  Even those the worst for wear are lowered down to sleep it off at the foot of the tower, at the mercy of the children there.

Though the tower is dilapidated, the occasional attempt to collect taxes from Naul takes place.  The usual scenario involves a child scampering up the ladder and any ladder or ropes being pulled up.  The officials are then pelted with stones from the children (who are well versed in scattering and hiding) and accidentally greeted with the occasional emptying of a chamber pot or bucket from above - the effectiveness of this has prevented taxation for nearly seven years.  While Naul has been accused of being a fence and worse, nothing has ever been proven.  He inherited the Roost in a card game - apparently the third Naul to inherit the Roost.  He works diligently to keep the Roost open and the children at the foot of the tower safe.  Though he seems indifferent to their plight, Naul is very interested in his charges.  As spies and informants, they can often get into places most won't and notice conspicuous new arrivals.

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