Sunday, 20 November 2011

inns & taverns: the halfway house

Perched halfway up a steep incline, the Halfway House serves an ancient hilltop crossroads.  This tavern is famed for offering last meals to the condemned and redeeming many lost souls.  The locals boast "Even the doomed smile at the Halfway House."  Some soothed souls have gone onto great things, others are quiet pillars of a community.  The House is neat, a whitewashed stone and caulked thatch courtyard amid ramshackle wooden cottages.  The sign is a white horse-head snorting fire - homage to a local legend.
The courtyard opens into a working yard, redolent of woodsmoke, straw, manure and yeast.  To the left, a stable for seven horses is tended by a quartet of seemingly identical stableboys in rough-spun livery who charge two silver a night for care, three for care and feed.   To the right a working brewery, where barrels clunk and rumble.  Ahead is a narrow door, surrounded by manicured hops vines.   This opens to a narrow porch. with scarred walls.  Behind a wide taproom runs the length of the building.  Immediately to the left is a T-shaped bar, to the right a spacious seating area with benches and tables set in a U-shape.  In the far left corner a doorway leads into a back room with more seating and a locked door.

A warm brown ale, refreshing and tasting faintly of burnt bread and flowers is served here.  Dark clay two-pint jugs of mild beer, black as tar with a caramel sweetness are sold for five coppers to local labourers.  These are refilled behind the bar and if returned, a copper piece is refunded.  Blackberry and damson liqueur is sold in black clay bottles to those who abhor ale.  Food is simple, a goose confit and bean stew is cheap yet delicious.  More discerning palates enjoy goose liver pate and pork rillaud with smoked sausage and sweet seed loaf

The landlord Pallier is tall, thick-necked and burly, with thinning black hair and squashed nose.  His arms wrestle barrels and people equally well.  His gap-toothed, winning smile warms many hearts. His instinct for spotting those willing to redeem themselves by hard work is keen-edged and well-tested.  A diligent cellarman and cook, his work ethic is infectious.  The bar staff are a colourful bunch, ex-drunk soldiers (Rollo, Berse and Karle), reformed tattooed dancers and washerwomen (Miena, Salla and Neme) and ex-addict healer (Alden) and his quadruplet nephews (the stableboys)   Many locals consider Pallier the best mayor they never had, though never before the current incumbent.

Five rooms are available to rent, these are simple closeted rooms capable of sleeping two in comfort, four at a push with lockable doors (though all the keys fit the locks).  They are basic but comfortable.  Berse and Karle turn a blind eye to four local girls who communally rent one room every week but Pallier throws out anyone who causes trouble.  Berse and Karle delight in dumping certain troublemakers in a horse trough if they cause trouble.

The crossroads at the top of the hill sometimes see use as a place of execution.  Sometimes those deaths are not peaceful affairs, the executed sometimes return to seek revenge. In addition, a local gang intend to expand their turf to include the Halfway House.  So far, the staff have seen off previous attempts but out-of-town help is coming.  The watch breaks up scuffles but withdraw to the temple if undead or magic is involved.  Clearly there are interesting times ahead.


  1. In my field, "halfway house" has a different connotation. Then again, tattooed dancers may be common to both...

  2. Indeed, pubs do resemble their names after a bit like pets resembling their owners. Or is it the other way around? :)


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