The guard not only directed us to “The Prancing Witch” but led us there, and bid his partner adieu, promising to be back within the hour. He walked ahead of us at first, talking about the history of all the buildings, the fine architecture of old constructs desperately clinging to preservation. The city was littered with both culture, and vestiges of war.
After we had marched down countless streets and traversed a handful of short-cut alleys, we approached “The Prancing Witch”. By this point the Guard had led his hand to Abeline’s shoulder… a little too touchy perhaps; Abeline cringed for a moment; she looked at me and rolled her eyes. This didn’t seem like the sort of place you’d want to boast your tourism in, a touchy guard was better than no guard; the merchant’s here were ruthless, I could see it on their faces—they could smell our foreign air. Our tavern was clear at the end of a colorful street, past a long stretch of narrow city townhomes—homes built into each other in a collision of architecture, culture, and personality, that had been transformed into a sort of wild bazaar. Colored, brightly dyed linens hung out windows drying, dripping unto the canopies of street vendors that have transformed their porches and front rooms into store fronts. I remember master’s mutterings before I left, “You can find anything on those streets… be careful Leafe.”
“Clear a hole, c’mon you, step aside.” The guard pushed his way through a bustling crowd of bidders and hagglers. Men and woman walked through with baskets of cheap jewelry and trinkets, holding fistfuls of whatever shiny things they were peddling over their heads.
The shouting was insufferable. Though I’m the only one who seemed to think so. Abeline, though a witch, seemed to adore the hustle and bustle. Her eyes fixed from shiny nick-nack to brilliant fabric, to spectacular doo-dad. And when we passed the herbalist stall, I had to pull her along as she grabbed the side of her coin purse and charged towards it.
Old, dank, creaky, and yet… very homey—The tavern of the Prancing Witch embraced us seamlessly into her care. Cleaning the place however, was a journey in itself. There was dust left unperturbed for what seemed ages—so rooted into the furniture on which it lay, that extracting it from the wooden chairs and tables felt like an advanced form of alchemy.
Abeline took on a motherly role, which I didn’t at all mind. She set me up with a spacious room, abundant in chests, wardrobes, writing desks, and a bed which after cleaning, was the best I’ve ever rested my body on. She, naturally nabbed the master bedroom and one smaller room adjacent to hers which mysteriously accumulated magical nick-nacks, potted herbs, potion bottles, and… organic parts—fur from a certain woodland kritters, an over-sized eyeball plucked from who-knows-what. I felt it best not to pry into these matters.
That left the remainder of the upstairs hallway opened to guests and tavern-goers whom couldn’t stumble their way back home. They didn’t appreciate the obligatory fee that coincided with being put-up for the night; however, it kept them from passing out in our alley-way and thus, kept away guards and pick-pockets.
Those first few weeks were full of scrubbing, swabbing, sanding, finishing, and all stuff I was used to from my past laborious occupation, and didn’t mind in the least. And when we got sick of dust and splinters, we took trips to local vineyards, which are plentiful in Draumerheim, and forged relationships, making deals for wines and mead.
Abeline and I plunked a barrel of sub-par red wine onto one of our tables.
“Alrighty pointy, pay attention, this is how we sell wine.”
She pried open the barrel and took a small taste with her finger. “Be a dear and run up to my room; there’s a small box of spices and fruit peals under my bedside stand.”
When I returned with box in hand, a faint, lingering purple smoke had just dissipated from above the barrel.
“What was that?”
“What was what? Oh good! The spices. Spill ‘em. Now.” She pointed with her index finger into the brew.”
“Yes, all of ‘em.”
I dumped the contents of the small box into the wine. Upon hitting the surface there was an oddly volatile splash, larger than I expected, almost as if the wine was somehow… lighter. And as the heavy bits of dried fruit absorbed the juice and had begun to sink to the bottom, somehow the faint rusty red begun to deepen into a rich sanguine pool.
I could feel my face flushing just at the scent of it. “Oh my… that smells incredible.”
It wasn’t often that I paid compliments, but the aroma rising up from this brew sent a series of chills and sensational tinglings throughout my body. Abeline smirked with a proud glint in her eye. “And this lovvie, is how we make profits.”
She sighed and paced towards the basement door behind the bar with her arms at her waist and gave a “humph.” “Looks like we ran out of excuses not to clean the basement.”
Armed with lanterns and mops we started descending into the unknown. Each creaky step let up a cloud of soot. I coughed out the words “When was the last time—“ I put my hand up to my throat, “Gods.” I stood still and rubbed my tongue against my teeth trying to not think about all the questionable particles leaking into my lungs. “When was the last time someone’s been down here?”