Charm was making breakfast when I entered the kitchen.
“Master is up early this morning,” she said as she chopped several mushrooms.
“Finally had some good sleep.”
“Because Master’s conscience has cleared?”
I shot her a look. “Why shouldn’t my conscience be clear?”
But Charm did not return my gaze and kept cutting her vegetables. “No reason, Master. Certainly not because Master declined the young maiden’s request for aid after making her undr-“
“Stop right there!” I said, pointing. “Good Celeru, when are you ever going to let that go?”
Charm did not reply, but the corners of her mouth curled upward slightly as she continued chopping mushrooms.
We both turned and saw Cassia pushing past the curtains of the kitchen entrance. “Are you making breakfast, Charm? Can I help?”
Charm nodded and laid out grapes and apples for Cassia to wash in the sink. I leaned over the stove and checked the pot Charm had cooking. Looked like a vegetable stew. Smelled good, but we ate stew for dinner three to four days a week.
“No eggs today?” I said.
“We’re out of eggs,” Charm said. “And bread. And bacon. And many other things.”
“Aren’t we supposed to get deliveries today?”
“In the afternoon, Master. We’re properly supplied for the customers, but we’re out of breakfast and lunch ingredients for ourselves.”
“Mmm… guess I’ll head to the market after breakfast to pick up a few things.”
I set the table while Charm and Cassia finished the stew. Elsa came down as we were getting seated. She hadn’t changed from her evening dress, which looked like it’d been slept in. In contrast, Cassia was wearing her white church robes, which gave an interesting variety to our evolving little group.
“Arch-don,” Cassia said. “Would you mind if I joined you at the market today? I’ve yet to see much of the city.”
“Sure,” I said. “I won’t be going far, but I can show you around to help you get your bearings. You can also help me carry the pumpkins.”
“Pumpkins?” Cassia said.
“I’ve been experimenting with a pumpkin brew for a while now. I’m hoping to get the recipe right in time for the Summer Festival.”
“What’s wrong with the honeydew?” Elsa said as she licked stew off of her spoon.
“Nothing, it’s just that I entered it in the contest last time. The recipe has changed quite a bit since then, but I’d still like to enter something new.”
“What is the Summer Festival?” Cassia asked.
Elsa smiled. “It’s the biggest festival of the year in Meritas. Lots of food, performances, and lots of people. One of their events is the Brewmaster’s Ale Cup, it’s the most important contest for any tavern brewer.”
“How do you know about it?” I said to Elsa. “We hadn’t hired you yet.”
“I went last time,” Elsa said. “Even tried some of the ale houses, though I mainly stuck to the harder drinks on offer. We might have even passed by each other and not known it.”
Unlikely. If I passed by a woman that looked like Elsa, I’d remember. In my current state anyway.
“Is there a prize for winning the contest?” Cassia said.
“I hear it’s a big shiny trophy,” Elsa said.
“Forget the trophy,” I said. “If you win, the foot traffic to your tavern will triple from the notoriety.”
“There is less than three weeks left, Master,” Charm said. “Perhaps Master should consider entering the Honeydew Lager. Boreas already won last year with his Cherry Purple Ale. He will not submit the same one, and none of his other beers can compete against the Honeydew.”
Boreas was the most well-known independent brewmaster in the city. He had taken home the trophy the year before. It was a couple of months after the Tipsy Pelican Tavern opened. I’d only just gotten started at that time, and I entered a version of the Honeydew Lager that wasn’t quite ready. I placed second in the contest. They gave me a ribbon. This year was going to be different.
“Boreas is expecting the Honeydew. We need to surprise him. In any case, I want to add the pumpkin ale to the menu. We’ve been running for too long with only two beers on tap. It’s time we added a third.”
“Can we afford that, Master?” Charm asked.
Pumpkins weren’t expensive, but the brewing process along with cooled storage could add up quickly.
I smiled. “We sure can—now that we’ve received a handsome donation from our good friend Lord Mideon.”
Elsa wrinkled her nose at the name.
“I did notice forty-eight silvers in addition to the usual spend in the coffers last night,” Charm said. “But I don’t see how he and his men could have drank that much. They left quite early.”
“He purchased our best brandy,” I said. “For himself and the six men he brought. It’s a shame he didn’t bring more.”
“Master poured him the Medi Gilhanna?” Charm said looking at me.
“You didn’t!” Elsa said and stood. “A glass of that is worth far more than forty-nine silvers!”
“I meant our best brandy we offer to customers.”
“Which brandy is that?” Elsa said, relaxing.
“Well… it would have been a regular Gilhanna until someone drank it in one night.”
Elsa shrank back into her chair.
“Does that mean Master served him the house brandy?” Charm asked.
“Yup, currently the house brandy is the best brandy,” I said. “Don’t worry about it, they were so busy staring at Galston, I doubt they even tasted what they were drinking.”
“Mideon had to get his men to cough up the coinage to cover the bill too,” Elsa said, smiling again.
“My…” Cassia said. “You sent them away without a fuss, but not before you emptied their pockets.”
Elsa chuckled at that. “That was quite the trick, Heru. Though we did wash those profits down the drain by drinking a Medi. Not that I’m complaining, it’s the most wonderful booze I’ve ever tasted.”
Charm nodded to that.
“Hope you savored it,” I said. “I won’t be breaking it out again any time soon.”
“Oh, I certainly did,” Elsa said. “Say, how did you come by that bottle?”
“A gift from a very old friend,” I said. “And when I say old, I don’t mean the years in our friendship.”
Elsa took a moment to grasp the meaning. “You’re talking about an elf… but only a noble elf would-“
I waved her comment away. “Enough about brandy. We’ve got other matters at hand to discuss. Such as ale, pumpkin ale to be exact, which we are adding as the third tap after the Honeydew and the Red Harvest. After accounting for production costs, and adding in what we’ve saved previously, we should still have about forty silvers left.”
“We could hire a musician,” Elsa said. “Perhaps even open the floor a little for room to dance.”
“I think it’s a bit early to hire a musician,” I said. “We still don’t have enough regular customers to fill the main room. But maybe we can get some more tables for the barroom. We seem to be running low.”
“Or that…” Elsa said with a sigh.
“It would be nice to expand our kitchen set and increase the menu,” Charm said.
I was surprised to hear this. Charm had not asked for anything or shown much interest in the business since I opened the tavern. Perhaps she was finally getting settled.
“Yeah, that’s a good idea,” I said. “We could add some other items to the food menu.”
Charm gave a small nod.
“How about you, Cassia? Any suggestions?” I said, and Elsa and Charm looked at her for her input too.
“Oh… I wouldn’t know. I’ve just arrived.”
“You’re part of the tavern now,” I said. “No need to be polite. If you’ve got an idea, then spill it.”
“Um…” Cassia put a finger to her lip. “Well… perhaps some decorations around the tavern? It’s a little bare at the moment.”
“That’s a wonderful idea, Cassia,” Elsa said. “We could get a dartboard.”
Charm nodded. “Some art would be nice.”
“Alright, then it’s settled,” I said. “Our next steps in expanding the tavern is a new menu, a new ale, and decorations!”
Cassia smiled cheerfully and gave a little clap, and Elsa joined in too.