The problem with using cinnamon was the heat. Meritas was the southernmost city of Adentris, and its summers were scorchers. Cinnamon was a unique and novel brewing spice. However, it did not have the refreshing effect I needed for a summer ale.
I realized the mistake during a visit to the market with Cassia. Once again, we were shopping for our weekly food supplies, and since Cassia had been a big hit with the shopkeepers (which in turn meant a small hit to my wallet), I decided to bring her again.
After picking up the usual supplies, we headed back toward the tavern with our arms full. Before even reaching the halfway mark of our return, both of us were already drenched in sweat from the late morning sun, and so we decided to stop at a snack stall on the road for a rest and a bite.
Cassia ordered a cinnamon bun and a glass of iced water. I was severely dehydrated, so without thinking much, I asked for the same. After our orders came and I had downed the glass of water, I realized that I did not want the cinnamon bun at all. I had eaten the bun at this snack stall before, and I remembered enjoying it, but I could already imagine the burning taste of cinnamon against my tongue. Under the sweltering sun, that was the last thing I wanted.
I glanced at the menu and looked opted for vanilla ice cream instead. There were several flavors, but vanilla was just the easiest to pick with my sun-fried brain. I knew what I was getting, and I knew it would be cold.
But before my vanilla ice cream arrived, I jumped up and let out a mournful, wailing scream that made Cassia jump, causing her to drop her unfinished cinnamon bun. It bounced on the ground and rolled away.
I did not say another word and took off running back toward the market.
“Arch-don!” I heard Cassia calling from behind, but I paid her no attention. Time was of the essence now.
I arrived at the pumpkin tent and pointed at the shopkeeper. “You!”
“Eh?” the old man with the wide brim straw hat said, looking up from his seat.
“I need your pumpkins. All of them!”
“All of them?”
“All of them!”
The contest would require several barrels of beer. I had used a restaurant supplier for the previous batches, but an order from the supplier took three days for delivery. The old pumpkin man now scowling at me was my last chance.
“You’re serious,” the old man said, peering at me.
“As death. And I need them now.”
“Fine,” the old man said. “That’ll be two shims.”
“Two silver shimmers?” I said, my jaw dropping.
“That’s what I said.”
“There can’t be more than a single shim’s worth here,” I said.
The old man nodded. “There are thirty-two coppers worth, to be exact.”
“Then what am I paying another shim and eight burns for?” A silver shimmer was worth forty copper burnishes.
“That’s a surcharge for me to overcome my distaste for you.”
“What?” I said, surprised.
“You’ve been buying pumpkins from me for the past two months, and each time you’ve come down to the market with a new lady at your side, you scoundrel!”
“New lady…” Then I realized that I indeed had come with Charm, Elsa, and now Cassia. “Wait… this is a misunderstanding. They are simply my employees-“
“Employees?! You expect me to believe a brat like you happens to run some type of business that can attract such benevolent and innocent beauties to work for you?!” He jabbed an accusing finger at me. “I don’t know what you’ve been doing to these poor women and my pumpkins, but I am against it, I tell you!”
“And your pumpkins? Hey, wait a minute now, what are you suggesting!?” No, really, old man, what are you suggesting?! What could I possibly be doing with these girls and the pumpkins! Although… it was indeed true that I had bought pumpkins from him each time I’d come to the market with each girl.
“If you want these pumpkins, it’ll be two shims and no less!” he spat.
“Damn old man, calling me a brat, not even a third of my age, I bet,” I muttered as I dug out the coinage. I was short on patience to argue, and I was even shorter on time.
I slapped two shims on the counter. The old man reached for them, but I pulled them out of reach with my fingers. “I’ll give you two shims, but I want these pumpkins delivered to Kerrytown.”
The old man’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t do deliveries.”
“For two shims, you will,” I said.
“I already told you, that’s the surcharge. You want delivery, I’ll take another shim.”
“I’m already paying you a shim extra!” I said. “Tell you what, if you deliver them to the Tipsy Pelican Tavern in Kerrytown within the next two hours, you’ll get to see with your own eyes that all three ladies are well and happy to be working for me.”
The old man squinted. “They’ll all be there?”
“In the next two hours, they will be,” I said and lifted my hand off the two silver coins.
The old man frowned beneath his straw hat, then he looked down at the two coins and took them. “Very well. You’ll get your delivery.”
I nodded and headed toward the tavern. Then I realized that I had left Cassia at the snack stall without any money and all the bags. But before I reached the stall, I saw her heading down the street in my direction, carrying all our groceries. She did not look tired, but sweat was soaking through her blouse.
I quickly took my half of the bags from her. “Sorry about ditching you. I had to order more pumpkins.”
“Oh, is everything okay?”
“No, not really,” I said. “We’ve got to hurry back. There’s a lot of work to be done. How much do I owe you for the snacks?”
“Oh, um… well, the owner thought you ran off on me with the bill so he didn’t charge me. I tried to pay, but he wouldn’t take my money.”
Of course, that’s what happened. Everyone was much too nice to Cassia. I sighed. “If you only came with me to get the pumpkins too. I really could have used your presence.”
“Ah… well then he started talking with me, and since he wouldn’t take my money, I felt bad about leaving abruptly.”
As if on cue, we passed by the snack bar, and the owner popped his head out, locking gaze with me. He then saw Cassia and looked back at me, frowning with distaste. I then realized that I had been to his snack bar with both Charm and Elsa, as well. Oops.
* * *
Charm and Elsa were cleaning the bar area when we returned to the tavern.
“Listen up,” I said. “Something terrible has happened, and we are now in a dire situation. I hereby call an Official Tavern Emergency of The Highest Order!”
Both Elsa and Charm stopped what they were doing and headed to the staff dining table. Cassia seemed a little surprised and uncertain of what to do, but she quickly joined them at the table.
I stood at the front of the table with my arms crossed. “Let the record show that all staff members are in attendance for this emergency meeting.”
“There are no records being kept, Master.”
“Well, they are in my head!”
Cassia looked worried. “What could have happened?”
“Don’t get too excited,” Elsa said. “Last time Heru called a ‘tavern emergency’, it was because he couldn’t find his socks.”
“They were my favorite socks! And they’re still missing by the way! Anyway, that’s all beside the point. I have terrible news to share with you, my Tipsy Pelican comrades!” I leaned forward, giving each of them my somber gaze to let them know the seriousness of the situation.
Charm looked as placid as ever.
Cassia was filled with worry.
“The cinnamon-infused pumpkin ale cannot be our entrant to the Summerfest’s Brewmaster’s Ale Cup!” I said.
“I guess that is an emergency in a way…”
“What is Master saying exactly?”
“That’s terrible. What’s wrong with the pumpkin ale?”
“Cinnamon is not a desirable taste in the summer heat,” I said. “Perhaps it could be something to try in winter, but not now.”
“Will we enter the Honeydew Lager then?” Elsa asked.
I shook my head. “No true brewmaster re-enters previous brews, and neither will we.”
“Master,” Charm said with a hint of worry. “Beer takes a week to ferment and a week to carbonate. We will not have enough time to make another batch. In addition, although we have plenty of grain and hops, we do not have any other ingredients to create something new.”
I grinned. “In less than an hour, the cranky pumpkin man will arrive with a cartload of fresh pumpkins.”
“Heru’s still going to make a pumpkin ale?” Elsa said.
“Not just me. It’s all hands on deck! Every second will count now if we want to make it on time. But this time, it won’t be cinnamon as the final ingredient. We’ll be using vanilla.”
“Vanilla?” Charm said with an arched brow.
“A common ingredient that we have plenty of. The smoothness of the pumpkin will combine with the smoothness of the vanilla to create a highly desirable and highly drinkable ale!” I dropped my voice for emphasis on this last point: “And most importantly, it’ll be served extra cold.”
“Mmm, that does sound good,” Elsa said.
“I’ll help in any way I can, Arch-don,” Cassia said, standing. “Just tell me what I can do.”
I nodded. “Cassia, I want you to bring six bags of grain down to the basement. Elsa, start milling it as Cassia brings it to you. Charm, heat the oven and start the kettle fire. We’ll need to bake the pumpkins first then add it to the mash.”
“Let’s do this!” Elsa said with an energetic fist pump. Then Cassia and Elsa disappeared into the storage room to gather the grains.
Charm rose from her seat but did not leave right away. “Master,” she said once the other girls were out of earshot. “The problem of the brewing time is still unresolved. The competition is in nine days. At best, the fermentation will be complete, but there will not be enough time for the carbonation. The beer will be flat.”
I grinned. “Don’t you know who I am?”
“Master is Archibold Stormblo-“
I clasped over her mouth. “Don’t say it so simply!”
“Mester sked m-” Charm mumbled behind my hand.
“Yes, I know what I asked! It was a rhetorical question.”
Charm said nothing but gave me her signature half-lidded gaze.
“I’m saying, trust me, Charm,” I said, putting my hand on her shoulder. “I’m not going to make a stale ale. We’re going to win that trophy.”
A moment passed, and I snatched my hand away as I realized I had touched her without thinking. She was looking at me, and for a moment I thought we might have another disagreement. It’d been over a year since we’d come to Meritas, and she had been unhappy with me since before we arrived.
But she did not disagree or sulk. She merely took her time to stare into my eyes, then with a nod, she said, “I trust you.”
With that, she turned and headed to the basement to start the kettle fires.