The Tavern Cursed
Part Two – Wine and Ale
The tavern for the most sat empty, the few present filling it with a sombre silence. A portly, red faced man sat at a crude wooden table of uncertain balance, bleary eyes surveying the handful of sullen patrons hunched in their seats, nursing small mugs of ale. A few torches flickered in their sconces, casting dull light through the dingy room, smoke from them curling up around stained support beams. Old rushes were strewn across the uneven pavers of the floor, while the furnishings were makeshift at best. The room smelled of rotten rushes and smoke, of sour ale and stale sweat.
Bakanon sighed at the state of it, wondering just what curse rested on the establishment that the previous owner had neglected to mention. He should have known all did not sit right, not given the price asked, but at the time his eyes had been blinded by greed at what seemed a bargain too good to pass up.
There had been other risks that he had been aware of, for it was located in notorious Souk of the Crimson Mists, an abode of cut-throats, of thieves, sell-swords, mercenaries and the rest of their ilk, and by those that preyed upon them, a place that no sensible man went. Dreams could be bought for cheap in the Souk; and lives even cheaper. Everything had a price, and in Qaiqala one went to the Crimson Mists to find it. A thriving market for his wares swirled around outside his doors, and yet, against all probability, they did not come in. Those few that did were mean with their coin, nursing small drinks in sullen silence. Worse still were the strings of accidents that seemed to befall him and the tavern, of food spoiling and ale going off, of rats too cunning for even the most skilled of ratters to bring to ground, of breakages and a score of other calamities that cropped up. He scratched at his thinning scalp with pudgy fingers, pondering the need to bring in a priest skilled in counter-curses, or some mage, a master of the Mysteries, to cleanse the building, and just how he would cover the exorbitant fees they would no doubt charge for their services.
The door banged open on its hinges, interrupting his ruminations and causing him to jump at the start. Those at the tables barely registered to the arrival of newcomers, more intent on their drinks. Bakanon’s eyes lit up at the prospect of new customers entering his tavern, hoping for a change in fortunes. Rising from his seat, he waddled across to the door, putting on a bright-eyed welcoming façade.
“Welcome, welcome friends,” he beamed, spreading his stout arms wide. “I am Bakanon, humble master of this establishment. How may I be of service?”
The two who had entered were an unlikely a looking pair as had ever dared cross over into Bakanon’s tavern before, or that he had laid eyes on beyond it. One, a tall man, an overdressed dandy by the looks of his garb and accoutrements, raised a hand to his face, covering his nose. His shorter, stockier companion, a wild woman, and one of the fiery Aedring barbarians if Bakanon was not mistaken, cast her intense amber gaze around the tavern. Neither looked as if they were much out of their youths, yet they had an air of experience about them, having seen things that few others had.
Never before had the pair entered the tavern. If they had, Bakanon was certain that he would have recalled them, no matter how deep in his cups he had been at the time. All types came to Qaiqala though, and most especially to the Souk of Crimson Mists. Some were bound to enter the tavern as a result.
“Ale,” the woman ordered of him, her eyes boring though him, “And not any of that water you lowlanders call ale. I want a drink with bite to it. And bring something to eat while you are at it to; meat preferably.”
Bakanon licked his dry lips nervously and rubbed his hands together, taken back by the forceful nature in which the woman had spoken. The women of the cities, for the most, were of a subservient nature, but not this woman, being forthright and outspoken. But all knew that the Aedring were barbarians, and their women just as much so.
“I do have something that might do the trick,” he assured her, trying to calm his nerves. “A Butanian brew. No one who has tasted it will touch it again I must warn you.”
“I will give it a go,” the woman replied, pulling out a bench, setting her heavy broadsword down upon the table and taking a seat.
“The same for you?” Bakanon asked of the tall man.
The hand came away from the face, allowing Bakanon to see a handkerchief held in it, and catch a waft of scent. The look on the tall man’s languid face showed he found something distasteful, whether the concept of ale or the aroma of the tavern, though there was no way to tell which. “I will have wine, if you have any.”
“There is not much call for wine here,” Bakanon apologised, holding his hands out before him. “I do have a few bottles stashed away, inherited from the previous owner of the establishment.” He had no idea as to the quality of them, nor did he possess the palate to appreciate them, but he was not about to tell the dandy that. Ale and beer were what the visitors to the Souk bought, leaving wine for the rich who lived upon the island wards, far away from the sprawling masses. “Take a seat and I will bring it to you.”
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