Wednesday, 8 February 2012

inns & taverns: the bag of nails

This green-stained two-storey tavern stands out amid stucco and thatch terraces in a quiet inland village. Reports of the place vary Certain pilgrims recall it fondly, merchants find it 'adequate if uninteresting', wealthy travellers think it sparse.  Locals visit the Bag on special occasions.  The hanging sign of six over-sized iron nails points outward forms a rose or snowflake pattern.
The Bag's sloping roof covers the second floor, creating covered terraces at the front and back.  A neighbouring stable allows accommodation for steeds.  Behind the Bag is a yard where singers and musicians entertain patrons on warm summer nights.  In winter, the yard is usually empty.
Inside is decorated in varnished wooden panels, a profusion of natural colours and interlocking symmetrical patterns.  The front door enters into a snug bar.  Oval oak tables carved with hop flowers and laden grapevines serve simple chairs.  A U-shaped bar is opposite the door and has one behind it.  In the right corner is a stairwell leading up.  The left wall is occupied by a firepit over which a wooden spit and irons hang.  Near the firepit, a door leads into a long kitchen.  The Bag is usually empty but for one table.  A polite knot of people seemingly dwell there, sharing a common mystery religion despite disparate backgrounds.  Even on busy nights they form an enclosed group.  Their hushed conversation involves ceremonies and how to recruit more followers, plans for the latter are usually flawed.  Upstairs is divided into five rooms.  The largest is a common room with doors leading to a privy and three guest rooms.  All are furnished in ornately carved wood.  

A warm brown ale is always sold, though locals prefer an agreeable red wine drunk in volume. Brin keeps casks of the wine in reserve.  Food is simple yet plentiful - saltfish, flatbread, olives and figs accompany roast mutton and lamb stew.  A pudding of stewed figs is the house speciality.  All is served in fine-carved wood bowls and goblets.

Birn, the landlord, is affable and forgettable.  A man of middling years, his only distinctive features are his protruding nose and skill at carpentry.  A capable landlord, his passion is shaping wood.  The genius of the Bag of Nails is his mother, Mayra who cooks and keeps the keys.  Her 'friendships' with local soldiers keep The Bag protected.  Brin disapproves but is seeing local girls himself.  Mayra disapproves of this and the pair needle each other good-naturedly while they serve others.  The two barmaids keep out of the way.  Brin's luck in love is either awful or rotten - it is rumoured he is cursed.  For their part, they prefer honest, gullible labourers.

Accommodation can be hired, the common room can hold up to 12 people comfortably.  The privy is popular some nights.  The three guest rooms are functional yet warm, positioned over the firepit downstairs.  Prices are reasonable - baths are not provided though.  Instead a wooden bowl with warmed rose water and coarse flannel is drawn and brought up.  The custom of the area prevents excessive use of water.  Stabling is available but horses will be thirsty the next day until they are properly watered.

Brin is said to tolerate the mystery cultists as they helped him escape death from undead.  Mayra is close-lipped if asked about this.  Rumour is Brin once defaced an evil temple and was cursed in revenge by it's priests.  This draws rude laughter from Mayra and the barmaids.  There are mercenaries looking for Brin to avenge the temple's slighted honour and sacrifice him.  The mystery cult is dedicated to light and good.  Most locals prefer to pragmatically obey a lord whose moral flexibility makes him a hard taskmaster.  There are underlying tensions among the locals.  As the village is strategically important, the nobility overlook some excesses but potential rebels may spark oppression.

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