Saturday, 11 September 2010

inns & taverns: the crooked walk

The Crooked Walk is notorious. For the miners who drink their toils away, the gossip and intrigues and the sleeping drunks.  The carved wooden tankard sign has warped in the rain.  The Walk is two four-storey wooden tenement buildings back to back listing slightly to the left.  The fronts are whitewashed with scarlet painted shutters, often guarded by a sleeping drunk.  A smell of sour beer, smoke, sweat and other odours seems to emanate from the place.  Within hailing distance of the Walk, small flies gravitate to the brightly-coloured or sweet-smelling in a matter of minutes.  It is noteworthy a number of regulars avoid this by being neither. Dwarves and other underground denizens will quickly work out that the building's slant is in part due to subsidence.

Entering the Crooked Walk from either side reveals a crowded open bar.  Inside the floor lists slightly to the left except for doorways to the right whose flagstones stand proud.  This floor is treacherous, doubly so when drunk, moving quickly or balancing drinks.  Unless you walk slowly or are at home underground, you risk tripping and stumbling.  Stairways lead up to smaller rooms for six to eight people to drink, gossip or play games of hop-board (a simplified draughts or checkers) or shovepenny (a game of pushing a copper coin over a wooden board).  These rooms are filled with miners and extended families as well as rogues hoping to fleece a weary miner of their hard-earned wealth.  Rumours and gossip is prevalent, by working the upstairs rooms and the main bars, a great deal can be learned about anyone in town.

The beer here is passable, a selection of ales from town brewers who know they will be well-received - some of the newer brews are tried on the Walk's clients first.  Typical ales include a dark, nutty stout and a sharp russet ale with a hint of floral aftertaste.  Other drinks include a rough red wine (watered down according to taste) and a herbal genever that women have a love-hate relationship with.  The food served here is a bowl of greasy brown stew capable of keeping the starving alive and curing hangovers.  Identification of it's ingredients is difficult at best but for a copper, it's cheap fare.  The first bowl is the hardest and those used to it actually enjoy the taste in time, with the help of a few pints of ale.

The landlord is a nasty piece of work, a former mine overseer called Astell capable of breaking most anyone who tries to defy him.  Tall, raw-boned and bald, his growling voice can move from a snarling whisper to a basso roar capable of cowing a black bear.  A skilled brawler and thug, Astell distances himself from most day to day business leaving it to his managers, Homar and Hotin.  These identical twins are related to Astell by blood and manage each bar, rotating between them each day to keep the customers guessing.  Both are skilled managers and versed in the arts of cheating measures so that the most is gotten out of the goods sold to a customer.  All three are smarter than they look.  They work the four barstaff and pot boys hard while playing favourites with customers to get something out of them.

The third and fourth floors are used by the owners but a small room has been rented to those willing to pay and keep their mouth shut after being vetted by one of the bar staff as being 'straight-up'.  What goes on in there is the source of much gossip.  However, the real secrets would be discovered by those visiting the cellars, where among the barrels and bottles can be found a small dungeon and torture chambers.  The caves under the Crooked Walk are often the last thing seen by those taken down there.  A locked grate over the midden keeps those who died here from trying to take their revenge and in some cases, they help to silence those who haven't quite died yet.

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