Saturday, 1 February 2014

inns & taverns: the old book & punch

The Old Book & Punch Inn is a watering-hole for scribes, scholars, bookbinders and illuminators.  Ale, books, rum and wine are sold.  In return, many scholars leave their hearts.  Established traders keep heads down and it's quiet most nights, inns of this quality are unusual.

At the end of a tenement block, the Old Book & Punch dominates a sloping side-street.  Three stone steps rise to the entrance. It's tall shutters, painted to resemble book spines, frame a wide bottle-green door. Above the door in silvered lettering "The Old Book & Punch Inn".  The wrought-iron sign is an opened book with a metal spike between the pages.  From the spike hangs a luminous brass sphere whose light remains undimmed even after 50 years.

The expansive facade hides a narrow interior dominated by the bar.  Bookended by book cases, the bar has cabinets with barrels and bottle racks stacked behind it. The book cases contain blank chapbooks with wooden or hide covers for sale at 15gp each.  Benches and seats fitting four at a push lie parallel to the bar with barely enough room for two to pass betwixt.  Standing at the bar means jostling with people headed elsewhere, whether serving staff or customers.  This narrow taproom heats up quickly.  At the west wall are three doors.  One heads upstairs to the kitchen, staff quarters and guest rooms.  One descends by vertiginous stair to three well-maintained privies.  The last is locked.  Behind this, a spiral stair drills down into a dry, well-lit cellar.

The Old Book & Punch offers patrons a varied selection of food and drink.  A citrus-pale ale of marked strength and quaffability competes with a ruddy yet smooth barley brew.  Both are equally favoured by regulars.  Elderly patrons partake of cherry-red damson gin held in a massive carboy and measured in tiny glasses.  Where the inn really excels is wine and rum.  Anything between three and eight quality vintages of both wine and rum are sold.  Prices are 15% over normal, such varied good taste is rare in one place.
Food is varied in delicacy.  Small cups of hazel or betel nuts, candied limes and dense honeyed baklava are sold as snacks for two copper.  Poorer guests can get curried goat for three copper, the more moneyed buy spiced lamb with tomato for twenty-three copper.

The inn has a pair of guest rooms with semi-permanent occupancy.  There is only a 1 in 6 chance of either room being available on a given night.  The rooms sleep two and are indifferently appointed.  At five gold pieces a night there is cheaper and better elsewhere though most would-be renters hope the landlord or chief barmaid will tarry.

Djarus, the landlord is strikingly exotic in lemon silk and oxblood leather complimenting copper skin and oiled ochre hair.  His accented raspy voice adds to the charm.  His best friend is Marija, a flaxen-haired beauty with pale grey eyes in immaculate grey lace.  Her mezzosoprano can rend hearts.  Their relationship is platonic but both will seduce either gender on the slightest pretext.  Other staff are hangers-on, hoping to be noticed or trying to disentangle themselves with dignity.

The books are provided by local bookbinders.  These fulfill a deal with The Old Book & Punch Inn's absent owners who enjoy other pursuits.  These enigmatic figures delight in teleporting into Djarus' chambers, going through the books and then teleporting out.  Djarus and Marija hold them in fearful awe.

Whispers of back-room wizardry persist.  The chapbooks on sale are just samples. Travelling spellbooks and even low-level scrolls may be purchased if you ask the right people.  If Djarus catches you, he'll ask for 10%.  If Marija catches you, she asks 15%.

Neither Djarus or Marija are from around here, their ways and morality are different to the locals.  This was their main criteria for employment.  Some broken-hearted students fall foul of local unsavoury types and it is in everyone's interest to discourage bottom-feeders.  Hopefully the owners won't catch wind of this.

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