For disclaimer and further details see Part 1.
Rating: General, for this part.
Rating: General, for this part.
Day Twelve – The Beer-Seller
Just like the waterfront Warehouse, the alehouse to The Old Sailor was a relic from Halabor’s better days – and fully showed it. Built in the days when the New Port was still in full business, the alehouse was a small, two-story building, with a few trees on one side, weatherworn, and in desperate need of a new roof. Alas, Gennys did not have the spare coin for that, even though Madern, the roofer, offered him a more than fair price. But Gennys had only bought the then-abandoned alehouse some nine years ago, and there were more important things that demanded his attention – and his money – than a leaking roof, no matter how unpleasant it was.
A third son never had it easy in a family, not even in a well-to-do one. His eldest brother, Sydnius, inherited the Riverside Inn from their father and was thus secured a good and steady income, even if it required hard work. His other brother, Merryn, inherited the carter business from their grandsire and had no worries about his living either. For Gennys, there was nothing left to inherit. He could either work for one of his brothers, or he could try to build up something of his own.
He chose the latter, and – after having discussed his options (which were not numerous, truth be told) with Sydnius – he decided to re-open the alehouse in the New Port. Even though the Port had lost most of its importance, there were still boatmen who came in with the merchants hips, and there were the workers of the Warehouse, who would welcome a keg of good ale and a warm meal of a long, hard day of work. And if he placed a gambling table or two in the taproom, mayhap he would gather a steady clientele in time.
Sydnius found the idea sound and promised his help with acquiring the old building, which – even in its desolate state – cost more than Gennys would have been able to pay. It belonged to the Merchants’ Guild, and they demanded a price that, while not ridiculously high, was still beyond Gennys’ reach. Sydnius was willing to pay the difference – as the head of the clan, it was his responsibility to take care of the younger family members – but he wanted his brother to learn the craft of beer and ale-brewing first, so that he could sell his own beverages. And he wanted Gennys to have a steady source for the crop from which to brew said beer. For he intended to have Gennys’ beer in the inn as well, and he wanted the amount he would need to be delivered any given time.
Thus Gennys turned to Cathan, a local farmer, who was known to brew a very good beer. He worked on the farmstead for two years as a helping hand, with Sydnius paying the apprentice fee, so that he would learn not only how beer and ale was made, but also how the right sort of crop was grown for the beverage.
Like most of the local farmers, Cathan and his wife, Lovercham, had more children than they could feed. Thus they were all too happy to take the wealthy innkeeper’s brother as an apprentice, and equally happy to marry off their daughter, Cardith, at the tender age of sixteen to the thirteen-years-older Gennys, to ensure that the beer-seller would hire his helping hands from the family, once he opened his business.
Shortly after the wedding, Gennys bought the alehouse with his brother’s help, and he began a life between running the alehouse, brewing his own beer and ale in the low wooden building behind the house, trying to patch up his home that was failing in several places, and feeding his family and his servants at the same time. Although family and servants were practically the same thing, as everyone who worked for him belonged to his wife’s family.
Many nay-sayers expected him to fail, before all Sulain, the wine-seller, and Clemow, the wine-crier, who feared that their small taverns would lose customers to him. But against all hope, The Old Sailor prevailed, and even became slightly more profitable with every passing year. By selling beer and ale to The Drunken Boat, Gennys could even set some coin aside to begin paying back Sydnius’ loan, and when he entered the common room now, he felt righteous pride. This was the place that he had rebuilt with his own two hands, and though still in his mid-thirties, he could call himself his own master. How many third sons could say that?
True, he still had not paid off his debts entirely. Also true, that the outer walls of the ale-house looked old, to put it mildly, and had not been re-stained since the reopening, turning mottled brown and grey from years in weather wear. True, the roof was leaking in several places, and Cardith had to lace tin washing basins in the attic to keep the water from leaking through the ceiling of the living quarters. He knew all that and was even a little ashamed about it. But he had to deal with first things first, and the common room and quarters did come first.
At least he could rightly be proud of the main business area. Dochou, the stone mason, and Thei, the carpenter, did excellent work with repairing the hearth and the furniture of the taproom that had been neglected for too long. So long, in fact, that Gennys had feared they would be beyond help already. But Thei fell in love with the beautifully made old pieces – according to family legend, they were made by one of his forefathers – and was even willing to do the work as a loan. That meant for Gennys that he would have to pay off another debt, but what other choice would he have? He could not welcome his customers in an empty room.
And, in the end, the result was worth the effort. When he entered the taproom, he saw a large, welcoming hall with sturdy tables, positioned to fit in as many as possible, with room enough for the passage of little Belu, his wife’s twelve-year-old nephew, handing out tankards and bottles. The huge stone fireplace – large enough to crouch in, which Belu did sometimes, when it was not too hot yet – dominated the end of the room beyond the tables, and spent warmth for the entire house.
The counter on the left was Gennys’ personal realm – a half-circle of dark-tanned oak, shining from years of polishing and the grease of patrons' hands as they were leaning against it through the evenings. Here he had the barrels of freshly-brewed ale and beer, and even some mead, made by his good friend the honey-maker. As much as he would like, he could not afford to serve any really strong beverages, like juniper spirit or hazelnut liquor, for they were too expensive. But his customers seemed content enough with what he could offer. He even had a few patrons from within the town or from the Castle. Townsfolk with any Rohirric blood in their veins were very fond of mead and ale, and they feared not the short walk to The Old Sailor.
Knowing how fond the people of Rohan were of board games, Gennys had the table by the front window, nearest the fire, removed to make room for two small gambling tables. As he now glanced over the counter, he could see Folcwalda, the saddle-maker, immersed in a game of hlatafl with Folcmar, one of Lord Orchald’s Castle Guards. Despite the age difference of twenty-six years and the lack of any blood bond between them, the two Rohirrim had a definite similarity of looks, and they wore almost identical frowns as they leaned over the board with forty-nine holes for the twice twenty-two gaming pieces.
Many pieces had already been removed, both on the red on the white side. Red had nine pieces left, white seven. Whenever one of them would go down under five pieces, he would lose and the game would be over. Naturally, neither of them was willing to give up easily – this particular game had been going on for more than two hours by now.
Gennys shook his head tolerantly. He would never waste his time with gambling, nor could he keep all the rules in his head. But the Rohirrim could go on all night, supported by friends and family, and as they saw nothing wrong with their women following them to the ale-house and matching them tankard by tankard, those gambling nights had become Gennys’ favourites. They would play and drink and eat whatever fare he was serving, and then play and drink some more.
Sometimes, when they got really drunk, which happened rarely enough, as few could hold their ale like the Rohirrim, but it did happen, they would break the gambling table or the boards or the pieces or the dices. But as they always paid for the damage generously, this was no problem for Gennys. And Breach, the dice-maker, happily replaced the broken places – for the right price.
Most customers coming in for ale wanted to eat as well, thus food was provided. The household kitchen, which could be reached through a curtained door behind the counter, was the realm of Cardith, who worked here with the help of her thirteen-year-old niece, Aldith. They served simple fare: different sorts of stew or fish chowder, with herbs and spices. Bread they brought fresh from Mistress Eseld, the baker, every day. This meant additional costs, but Gennys did not want his young wife to work herself to an untimely death. T’was bad enough that she had miscarried twice after the birth of their son, Glein, now six years old. He genuinely loved Cardith and wanted to have a long life with her yet.
He wished he could offer her more than the only large room on the upper floor that they even had to share with their son. Although he knew that – compared with her home of old on her parents’ farmstead – their current living conditions still counted as a vast improvement. After all, their room, which was directly above the taproom, was well-furnished and had all the comforts of a simple home.
They had a double bed in one corner, with a plain posted canopy of linen curtains dyed in soft moss green. Heat from the kitchen fire travelled up the stone chimney in the other corner, warming the room nicely, even though it took some time for the wooden floor planks to lose their chill. A wardrobe of dark, polished wood and a similarly made cupboard stood against the wall across from the bed. A small table with two stools made of the same wood stood in front of the shuttered window. There did Gennys do his book-keeping, by the light of an oil lamp, and there Cardith did her needlework.
The room served as solar, bedchamber and nursery all in one, and that would most likely stay so. The two other rooms on the upper floor were the living quarters of the servants. Cardith’s brothers, Cathail and Cathal, who did most of the actual beer and ale-brewing, slept in the somewhat larger room with little Belu, the pot-boy, while young Aldith, their niece, had the smallest one alone.
As grateful as Gennys was for his oldest brother’s help, he actually felt more kinship with his wife’s family than with his own siblings. Mayhap t’was the two years he had spent on their farmstead, sharing their simple life and back-breaking work. Mayhap t’was the love they were still able to show each other, in spite of all hardships. Whatever the true reason might be, Gennys felt fortunate to have family ties to such good people, who had managed to keep their dignity and their joy in life, despite the difficulty of said life. And he was glad that now the alehouse helped the rest of the family to have a steady income, even if only a small one.
Little Belu hurried back to the counter, carrying half a dozen empty mugs in his hands, his pock-marked face sweaty and exhausted, yet his button-like eyes shining with excitement.
“Master Gennys, have you heard?” he asked, placing the empty mugs on the corner. “Master Jutus, the scribe from the Warehouse has a baby girl now! She was born last night.”
“Was she?” said Gennys, pleasantly surprised. Jutus was a good patron of his, if not an overly frequent one. “Where did you hear that?”
Belu pointed with his chin towards one of the tables where Dufgal, the other Warehouse clerk was sitting with some of the workers.
“Master Dufgal has just told the others,” the boy bounced in excitement. “I shall have a little brother or sister, too, soon. Mayhap before Yule. Or shortly thereafter.”
“That is good,” said Gennys, smiling. He knew, of course, that Cardith’s oldest sister was expecting her sixth child somewhen around Yule. “I deem you would like to go home with Cathal and visit your mother when the weather becomes less harsh.”
The eyes of the boy widened in pleasant surprise. “May I? May I truly?”
“Sure you may,” Gennys smiled. “For a day or two, we will manage without your help, I think.” He refilled the mugs and placed them on the counter again. “Now, do you still remember which one belonged to whom?”
Belu nodded eagerly. “Of course, Master Gennys.”
“That is good,” Gennys patted the tousled head of the boy affectionately. “Go then and bring them to our guests. They seem thirsty.”
Belu grinned and hurried away, carrying the heavy mugs with impressive ease. Gennys looked after him fondly. He liked the boy very much; Belu was a hard worker and had pleasant manners. Still, he looked a little thin for his age. Mayhap more food or a little more sleep would help.
In fact, they all could use some more sleep, the beer-seller mused, yawning discretely. T’was quite late already, and he felt tired. He looked forward to Yule, when they would keep the alehouse closed and have a quiet day in the close circle of the family. And what it he had only very small Yule gifts for everyone? It would be enough. They had each other, after all. And that was what truly mattered.
~The End – for now~
Note: From the beer-seller’s family only the two brothers of his wife, Cathail and Cathal, survived. Both fought with Lord Forlong’s men in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. Cathail was slain. Cathal, though severely injured, survived. He married Ailne, the innkeeper’s daughter, and lived in Emyn Arnen, as a member of Prince Faramir’s White Company.