One of the double doors of the Inn swung open wide, just as Tarwen and Rowan set foot on the front porch. A man, clad in a leather apron and sporting a bear of a beard and an apple red nose waved them in.
“Come inside lads. We don’t bite. You want food, drink; a cozy bed? We got it. Hurry in and let’s shut out the night!”
Rowan studied the friendly face of the man, which was three quarters hidden under an unruly mop of hair on top and the beard on the bottom. They stomped into the main room where men of all ages were clustered around trestle tables. Young boys, half the size of Rowan, were handing out wooden plates filled with slices of pie; bowls filled with stew; and wooden cups filled with ale. Four musicians were tending their instruments in the back corner by the fireplace. A staircase wound its way up to the second floor on the other side of the roaring fire. More men were sitting at the bar, toasting each other. Rowan almost felt faint. The smell of the pies was too much.
“I reckon, I can get you some of the nourishments?” the bearded man said. “Name’s Patrick, by the by. Welcome to my abode.”
Tarwen and Rowan followed Patrick to one of the less occupied tables. Not two heartbeats later there was stew steaming in front of them and a slice of pie and a cup of ale beside that. Patrick sat down across the table and watched them tuck in.
“You’re cutting it mighty close, lads,” he said, pointing his head toward a giant hourglass on the bar that was slipping the last kernels of sand from the upper glass into the lower.
Several other men who were sitting at the table, looked up. Rowan felt their stares, felt them judging his sweaty homespun shirt with the patches and stains, his calloused hands with the dark moons under his nails, and his hair, that was coming out under his cap in such a way that it was clear he was in need of a trim. They were looking at Tarwen the same way. But instead of putting his head down and trying to hide, his brother looked them straight in the eyes.
“I’m sorry we’re running late. We’ve come all the way from Galen of the Glen. It was a four-day march and we didn’t have many pointers. My name’s Tarwen and this is my brother Rowan.”
The men at the table looked now wide-eyed at Tarwen and Rowan. Patrick slapped his knee.
“Brother, you said? You’re brothers?”
He got up and moved behind the bar. After he rustled there a bit, he came back with a large, leather-bound book. He busied himself with going through the thin pages, first flipping them forward, then going back and following rows of writing along with his index finger.
“By the sorcerer’s tail, Mortimer, look at that. For one-hundred-and seventeen years not a peep out of that village, and now they send brothers?”
The man addressed thus smirked at Patrick. He removed his hood and Rowan could see that he had brown hair with gray patches and wore several rings apiece in each ear. His face was weather worn and he had piercing green eyes. He extended a hand. Before he could say a word, an old drunk man barged into the group at the table, his cup sloshing ale over everyone.
“Patrick, did you put the dishwater into your barrels? All I got was foam! Where did the ale go? And it tastes like goat besides. That’s a rotten way to treat your friends and companions!”
Patrick stood and banged a fist on the table. It made all the bowl and platters clutter and a cup or two tipped over.
“My ale is the finest, most exquisite in all the realm. I take great care with the brewing and storing and distributing. How dare you insult my establishment! I’m cutting you off right now. And if you say another word you can go back to the hut!”
The old man pointed at the hourglass.
“It’s too late for that.”
Patrick grabbed the man’s cup. He smelled the remnants of the ale.
“There is nothing wrong with this ale at all.”
The man turned to go. As he passed by Rowan he whispered.
“It’s still a sodden affair with the foam.”
Mortimer raised his hand.
“Can we please be done with the forensics of spume and turn our attention to the task at hand?”
Rowan looked at Mortimer. The man had not even raised his voice above conversational level and still he had managed to quiet down the whole Inn. Aside from that, Rowan was still trying to figure out what he had said. Both Mortimer and Patrick used words that were long and important sounding and made no sense to Rowan at all. He wondered if somewhere in the pub they had a book of important words and how to use them. Mortimer now clapped him on the back.
“I guess official introductions will have to wait. Do you know the song of welcome? Did anyone teach it to you?”
Rowan nodded. Tarwen took the opportunity to shake Mortimer’s hand and try out a smile.
“Yes, the mayor taught it to us. He taught us a few more songs, gave us our packs, gave us instructions to come here and told us we had got to go. So we went.”
“Now there are two good lads,” said Mortimer. He turned then to the staircase, as all the other men did. They began to sing in voices as deep and rumbly as the thunder in a moonless night and as high and clear as first bells of the morning, a song so old that the words only sounded slightly like the words spoken day in and day out. Rowan felt a shudder going down his spine and then he and Tarwen joined in, trying to remember the right sounds and being lifted by the song in the same breath.