Saturday, 4 June 2011

inns & taverns: the cake and wreath

The Cake And Wreath is famous for dancing contests every half-moon from spring until harvest-tide. The winner gains a shield-sized cake topped by a wreath of exquisite sweet-scented blooms.  Other times, The Cake And Wreath serves travelling nobles.  Here etiquette over-rules business sense much to the chagrin of merchants and artisans seeking patronage.  Most travellers prefer other more bucolic venues but for some, the mix of pained manners, dancing and drafty rooms is irresistable.

It  is a huge ivy-clad roadside stone building. Yet the interior has stairs and hall to rival a lord's manse.  Interior pillars and arched stairwells support a vault over a sunken wooden dance floor.  Tables are set behind the pillars.  A dais on the eastern wall raises carved chairs reserved for the landlord and occasional dignitaries.  A minstrels' pit before the dias protects musicians and patrons.   Bars are situated at either end of the great hall. 

Trade cartels seeking noble patronage provide assorted ales.  The mix is eclectic and not always well-kept.  Sweet wines, brandy and sherry are readily available but the latest fashion for ladies is a simple genever served with candied lime. This is supported by a supply of game fowl, suckling pig and fruit pastries with generous helpings of brandy to disguise a lack of flavour.  Servants can buy meat pies that taste-wise overshadow the ersatz fare of the noble menu.

The landlord, Lensythe is distinguished yet spry.  Immaculately groomed, he guides staff with smiles, kind words and occasional fatherly speeches.  His staff are devoted, hard-working and all dance.  Many are good looking and staff turnover is brisk.  Winning the dance often leads to marriage proposals or court attendance.  Those who remain after five years often become mentors to new arrivals or grow embittered and move on.  Lensythe jokes about bringing new blood to the nobles but he knows and uses his influence.  Families and reputations are created or destroyed every year.  Lensythe has been doing this for years and has become adept at introducing well-suited people.

Accommodation is plentiful and priced appropriately, five suites suited for nobles with suitabled fittings. Servants also have twenty cell-like rooms.  These are kept in a way to hides scandalous use.  The landlord has provided a spare noble suite to local newlyweds to encourage 'a little romance' for one night free.  At least one member of staff turns coin by covert use of a suite, whether for blackmail or by more salacious methods.  Nobody has died yet, much to their credit.

Competition between dancers is good-natured yet intense, emotions run high yet bound by stiff etiquette.  The judging is not impartial as you'd expect.  Nobles who visit find themselves swayed by all manner of inducements, mere gold is a last resort.  Lensythe's agelessness has drawn comment from the observant.  While he claims to have had his glory days, some wonder at his longevity.  The tradition of a dressed cake has ancient roots, something sages versed in the fey would recall if paid...

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