Sunday, January 27, 2013

Chapter Ten, Scene 4

It's always interesting to go back and re-read these scenes as I prepare to post them here. I often notice small, and sometimes big, weaknesses that I'm able to fix on the spot. Other times, I realized that I may need to restructure the scene at a later date, as I've written something since then that might conflict with the scene I'm about to post. In the example here, I made some mention of their curiosity about the cargo they carried, but I'm pretty sure that I never followed up to describe what it was. I'll have to check the next couple of scenes, and see if I did. If not, it may be an opportunity to either improve this scene, or one of the later ones, with some additional detail.

I should also mention that I'm a huge fan of good ales and beers, and good cheeses. Can you tell?

* * *

Three weeks after their departure, on the seventeenth of the Gods’ Highway, they arrived at their destination, the town of Westmere. They’d seen it from some distance away the day before, sitting down on the shore of the great Lake Silvermere, while they stood high in the foothills of the Silverspires looking down toward it. Then they had begun descending out of the hills, and the town was hidden from view until only a few hours ago.

But now they entered the outskirts of the town, looking about at the wooden structures scattered among the trees. It wasn’t nearly as densely built as other cities that Balfrith had seen, either in Nûmidëa or Sildara, though he had to admit that Castor was the only Sildaran city he’d seen. Perhaps this one, Westmere, was more the norm in Sildara? He thought he might ask about that, later. For now, he simply looked around to see what could be seen.

Roidh drove the wagon along, directing them toward a small warehouse down near the docks. As they approached, he said, “Master Adradomir uses this warehouse not only for the inventory bound for Westmere, but as a staging point to ship goods across the lake to Amyntas.”

“Amyntas?” asked Balfrith.

“You’ve never heard of it?” Roidh asked, surprised. Balfrith shook his head, and Roidh said, “It’s an Elvish city on the eastern shores of Lake Silvermere, at the source of the Aelfwine river. The river is the border between Sildara and the Elves there, actually. Amyntas is a free city, belonging to no kingdom. It sits between the Elvish kingdom of Ildallïe on the northern shores of Silvermere, the Vales in the far northeast crook of the Graywall and Silverspire mountains, and Sildara in the southwest.”

“Sounds interesting,” Balfrith said. He’d heard of Ildallïe of course, while dwelling among the Elefdar of Illithëon, but he still didn’t recall ever hearing of this city called Amyntas.

Calunoth spoke up then, and said, “‘Interesting’ is an understatement. Those Elves know a thing or two about beauty, I’ll give them that.”

Eldamir grinned and bowed toward Calunoth, saying, “Thank you.” Calunoth blushed, and Balfrith saw him try unsuccessfully to hide it.

Calunoth changed the topic and said, “But what of Westmere, Roidh? I think we still haven’t seen exactly what cargo is in that wagon, with everything in wooden boxes and heavy sacks. Though I’ve left everything well alone and in your care, I am burning with curiosity to see what it is that we’ve been guarding. Will we get a chance to see anything when we unload?”

Roidh grinned, and said, “Of course. Though my master prefers to keep the value of his wares unknown, and thus must often keep them completely hidden from view, I shall not forbid you from looking within the sacks, or any open boxes. But if anything is sealed, I must insist that you leave it as such.”

“It’s a deal,” said Calunoth, grinning.

They arrived at the main warehouse doors then, and Roidh climbed down from the wagon, pulling a ring of keys from his belt pouch as he did so. Sorting through them, he took hold of one particular key, and used it to unlock the large brass and steel lock on the doors, sliding a great iron bar back once the lock had been removed, and allowing the doors to freely open.

Balfrith and Eldamir pulled the doors further open, allowing Roidh to drive the wagon right in, and they all followed, closing the doors behind them.

They took care of the horses first, then spent the rest of the day unloading the wagon. By the time they were done, the shelves around the outer walls were almost full. After that, they closed and locked the warehouse, then made their way on foot to a local inn that Roidh preferred. The innkeeper there called him by name when they entered, and the two men grasped wrists in greeting, something Balfrith hadn’t seen before.

After speaking a few quiet words, Roidh waved and went back to his companions, who still stood near the door. “Let’s take a table, and old Goslar will be along with food and drink shortly. The ale alone is well worth the wait.”

They sat down near a window, enjoying the fresh breeze coming in, keeping the room somewhat cooler than outside. True to his word, the innkeeper, Goslar, came from the kitchen bearing a tray laden with tankards, dark foam frothing slowly over the edges and promising a thirst-quenching ale. Balfrith licked his dry lips, and gladly took a tankard when offered. He took a deep swallow, and wasn’t disappointed. Setting the tankard down, he noticed Roidh grinning at him.

“What did I say, Balfrith? Is it as good as I promised?”

“Better,” Balfrith grinned in return, taking another swallow.

“Try some of the cheese with it. Goslar makes that too, right alongside the ale in his cellar.”

Balfrith hadn’t even noticed the platter of cheese in the middle of the table. It was a good-sized round, with a small wedge already cut out to make it easier for them to get started. Balfrith took his belt knife and sliced off a chunk, noticing that the white cheese was soft, with deep blue veins running through it. “It’s lovely,” he grinned. Taking a bite, he found it rich with flavor, sharp and tangy and a little bit bitter. Then he took a swallow of ale, and let the flavors blend in his mouth. The heavy ale, slightly sweet, perfectly offset the bitterness of the cheese. After swallowing, Balfrith said, “I have only one response to this.” He then reached out and cut off a larger piece of the cheese, smiling in anticipation.

The others likewise cut off slices of the cheese, and fell to with gusto: they’d worked up a good appetite unloading the wagon, having skipped lunch in order to get the work done. There was silence at the table for some time, as each of the companions focused on eating and drinking.

Finally Balfrith said, “I cannot remember ever having such a combination of ale and cheese. I’ve never seen a cheese with blue veins like that, and I’ve never had an ale this dark and rich. Roidh, you say he makes both of them in his cellar?”

“Aye. Goslar is from Nifflgarde, and his ale is a recipe he brought with him from the north. I don’t know exactly what they do differently up there, but I agree, it is different from any ale you’ll find brewed in the southern regions of Sildara - or anywhere in Nûmidëa for that matter.”

Calunoth spoke up then, and said, “But the cheese, that’s like nothing I ever saw in Nifflgarde.”

Roidh agreed. “Aye, he didn’t bring that one from the north. I think it’s actually something like what they make in the far southern regions of Sildara, though I know not where he learned it, and he won’t say. Anyway I’ve seen similar veined cheeses more than once while visiting the city of Linden in the south, so I assume he must have learned the technique there.”

Just then they heard the kitchen door creak open, and Goslar carried another tray, this one stacked with platters of steaming food. He came to the table and began setting down trenchers filled with roasted pig swimming in gravy, followed by a platter of fresh bread next to the cheese. Though Balfrith had already eaten enough cheese and drunk enough ale to fill his belly, the savory smells coming from the food made his mouth water anew.

Goslar spoke to them all for the first time, and Balfrith noticed he had a thick accent. “Goodmen,” he said, “I hope you enjoy this supper. Do you need anything else before I go to attend my other guests?”

Roidh said, “No, thank you Goslar.” He then said something in a guttural tongue to the innkeeper, who smiled and nodded, replying in the same tongue back to Roidh. Though he’d never heard the language of before, Balfrith assumed it must be of Nifflgarde. Goslar then turned and made a round of the tap room, checking with his other guests before returning to the kitchen.

Balfrith hadn’t noticed there were so many people when they’d arrived, and it was quieter than he would have expected. Then, he caught the scent of roast pork, and directed his attention to the trencher before him.