“Heru!” Elsa exclaimed after I closed the door. There was real worry in her eyes. It wasn’t like the time before when she was ready to walk out because I didn’t listen to her bidding. This time she looked afraid to lose her job.
“Relax,” I said. “I’m not firing you.”
“Then why did you-“
“Who’s supposed to be coming tonight?”
Elsa thought about it, and the upset expression turned to confusion.
“Were you already blacking out by then last night?” I asked. “Herwin is supposed to be bringing Galston the Gallant to the tavern.”
“Oh, I do remember some mention of that.”
“If Mideon sees us palling around with Galston and Herwin, maybe he’ll leave us alone.”
“I don’t see why you’re so worried about him,” Elsa said. “That idiot couldn’t find a sock in a sock drawer.”
“It’s not Mideon I’m worried about, it’s his father. He could close down the tavern for any reason he wanted.”
“On what grounds?”
“He could have one his health inspectors come in, throw a dead rat on the floor, and say the place was too dirty to serve food. My license would be revoked, and the tavern would be closed the next day.”
“Oh…” Elsa said, the indignation in her features dissipating. “I didn’t realize…”
“It happens all the time to businesses that have angered the officials or the nobility.”
It was strange to see that Elsa had not thought this through. She was smart and strong but surprisingly lacking in understanding of some common norms.
“But,” I continued. “If Mideon sees us with the winner of the Tournament of Heroes, and if Herwin can put on a big show of being a baron’s son, who I don’t think Mideon noticed last night, then we’ll have a chance of being left alone.”
“I see…” Elsa said, looking down at her feet. “Sorry Heru, I didn’t consider how far he’d take it.”
“Don’t worry about it. The guy deserved a beating. But as a general rule, let’s avoid knocking out nobles on the tavern’s front steps in front of a crowd in the future, okay?”
Elsa smiled. “I’ll try my best.”
We spent the rest of the afternoon preparing for the night. Elsa mopped the floors and reset the furniture and threw out the old broken table and replaced it with a new one from the storage room.
I set to work on my newest batch of beer in the tavern’s basement. The grain and hops had already been prepped. Now I was adding mashed pumpkins for flavoring. I’d been experimenting with pumpkins for a couple of months now, and I hoped that this latest recipe would become my next beer at the tavern. But it’d be another couple of weeks before it was ready.
Charm prepped food for the night, making several meat pies and put a new pot of stew on the stove. Even Cassia offered to help. She said she wanted to work to pay back the night she stayed after I told her I wouldn’t take her money.
I was feeling guilty about the night before, and I told her it wasn’t necessary, but she wouldn’t take no for an answer, so I put her on food prep with Charm.
Charm seemed annoyed with Cassia’s presence at first, but she was slowly appeased as she found that the templar was a capable kitchen hand.
There was little conversation as we worked on our respective tasks. But it felt nice. It’d been a year since I opened the Tipsy Pelican, and in the past couple of weeks, the place was starting to feel like a real tavern with regular customers and staff.
All of that could come to an end, depending on how the night went with Mideon returning for more trouble.
I put up the open sign outside the door at four o’clock in the afternoon, as I always did. Our first patron was an older gentleman named Cormith. He sat in the corner of the bar, ordered a pint of Honeydew, and drank it in silence.
A few minutes later, a couple of young builders who looked like they’d gotten off of work early came in and ordered some more of the same. It made me smile when I saw their refreshed faces as they drank down their first mouthfuls of the chilled brew.
I didn’t serve many beers at the tavern yet. Only two in fact. Other than the Honeydew Lager, I also offered Red Harvest Ale, which I bought from a large distributor.
It was more expensive to buy Red Harvest than making my own beer, but it saved me time and made it easier to manage my inventories.
A big problem with making your own beer was figuring out how much you needed over the course of a few months. If you made too much, you’d have a bunch of useless stale beer sitting in your storage room at the end of the season. If you didn’t make enough, you wouldn’t have anything to serve the customers until the next batch. Each batch of beer took at least two weeks to brew from start to finish.
By adding Red Harvest, I could control how much of my Honeydew Lager was being served. If business was good and I began running low, I could just discount Red Harvest, which would switch customers over to the cheaper ale, evening out my inventory.
The good thing about buying from a large distributor is that you didn’t have to wait for a month to refill your stock. Once I made the order with Munet, my go-to guy at the Tree and Stump Ale Company, a barrel of Red Harvest would be delivered to the tavern’s doorstep in just a few days.
The tavern had now been open for about a year, and I’d pretty much mastered managing my inventories. With business picking up in the past month, I figured it was time to add a third beer.
It was something I wanted to do since I’d opened the Tipsy Pelican. Most taverns in Kerrytown carried at least four or five different beers on tap, and some even a dozen or more. But they also had the patronage to support their taps. My customer base was small compared to the others. The tavern house itself was large, but I’d only opened the front barroom to the guests. And that area had only recently begun to fill up now that the tavern had been running for a year.
However, the Tipsy Pelican Tavern was becoming known for its house-brewed beer. The Honeydew Lager was a big hit, and if my upcoming pumpkin beer did well too, I’d be able to open the dining hall, which was now mostly unused except for breakfast and lunch among the staff. Then I might even save up enough to hire a good musician who could play some songs a few nights a week.
I watched as more customers came through the tavern doors. More young men and boys with half a foot into adulthood. They all sat at the bar so they could flirt and chat with Elsa. She was a big reason the tavern was becoming more popular. She and the beer. It was a good combination.
Once, I asked if Charm would be interested in working as a barmaid as well. Although she rarely came out of the back of house during business hours, she always drew the attention of anyone who caught a glimpse of her and would certainly be popular among the guests.
But when I presented the question, she gave me a cold look and said, “If Master orders it, then Charm will have no choice than to do as she is asked.”
I took that as a no. So she stuck with food prep, which was just as well. I did not have another cook (I was awful at it myself), and she did an excellent job.
We served simple dishes that could be made in large portions. Mostly stews and pies. They were hearty and inexpensive meals that went well with the beer.
“Master Arch, you lucky bastard,” said one of my regulars who’d just walked in. “How did you land another beautiful barmaid?”
“Huh?” I said, looking up dumbly. Another barmaid? Then I saw whom he was referring to.
Cassia was not wearing her sword and church’s tunic but a stunning shoulderless dress as she served drinks. She looked a little embarrassed at the attention and slightly uncomfortable in the outfit, pulling at its seams.
“Uh…” Where did she get that dress? And good gods did it fit her well.
Then I saw Elsa wink at me, and I realized it was one of hers.
Of course, it was. Bless her incredible taste.
“Oh, that’s Cassia,” I said. “She’s helping out for the day.”
“Only for the day?” said one of the men and turned to her as she poured him a mug of Honeydew. “You should just stay and work here. Master Arch won’t let you down!”
I looked away, afraid of the sting I’d feel if I met her gaze. I’d already let her down. More than once, if you counted what happened in the storage room.
Cassia smiled shyly. “It’s a very nice tavern, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to stay long.”
I ducked into the backroom to escape the conversation.
“How’s the stew going?” I asked Charm as I came into the kitchen.
“It is warm and welcoming, Master,” Charm said and leaned in to smell the scent of the stew. “The opposite of how Master treated the young templar last night.”
I scowled. “Oh, give me a break.”
“Charm sees that Master is beginning to run a habit of taking advantage of desperate young maidens.”
“I hope you’re not including yourself in that, because I’m pretty sure you only qualify as an old gran-“
The ladle she had been holding flew through the air at my face. I ducked. It bounced off the pantry behind me.
“Good Celeru! Did you just throw a ladle at me!?”
“Ah, Charm’s hand slipped. Apologies, Master.”
“Uh huh, then see to it that nothing else ‘slips’ from your hand,” I said with annoyance, touching my hair to check for any drops of soup that might have splashed from the ladle.
“That would depend. Sometimes Master’s words cause Charm’s hands to spasm.”
“That sounds like a threat, in fact, I’m pretty sure it is a threat!”
“Not at all, Master. It is only because Charm puts great weight in Master’s opinions that they have such an effect on her body.”
I had always been a good fighter, and I’d been known for a good quip or two, but I was not a match against Charm in jests. I sighed and picked up the ladle and brought it to the sink.
“I wish there were something I could say to cheer you up,” I said as I scrubbed the ladle with soap.
Charm eyed me with one of her half-lidded stares. “There are no words Master can offer Charm that will make her happier. Only actions.”
“I’m not getting into that argument again, Charm,” I said, meeting her eyes. “That matter is settled.”
She was staring at me intensely now, but I did not look away. I could afford to lose the small battles, but not the big ones. Never the big ones.
After a moment longer, she dropped her gaze and turned away, taking the stew off the stove. I dried the ladle and handed it back to her. We did not speak anymore as I put food on plates and served them to the customers.
The time passed quickly, and soon the sun was setting. Bran, Dalian, and Amberly arrived, but Herwin and his guest of honor were nowhere to be found.
“Looks like the boy couldn’t pull off the deed and skittered,” Dalian said as I poured him a mug.
Bran put down his own mug, finishing a gulp, foam glittering his beard as usual. “He’s a good lad, I bet he and the champion are just running late.”
Just then, the doors swung open and slamming against the wall. The whole tavern turned to look, eager to lay eyes on the Champion of the Tournament of Heroes.
But it wasn’t Galston the Gallant.
Mideon stood through the frame of the door with a dark smile on his face. And this time, he brought six men with him.
They were each holding clubs.