Saturday, February 03, 2007

Once Upon a Time There Was a Tavern--Guest story by E. A. Monroe

Note: Sometimes, when I am writing a scene, I experiment and write it out in first person. Later, when I add the scene/chapter to the current novel in progress, I rewrite the pov into 3rd person. I write close and personal. The reader wears the character's skin. I offer no explanations for the following scene, the before or the after story. Take it for what it is... a work in progress... an idea searching for fuition.

“What is the winter for? To remember love.” — Theodore Roethke

I had not set foot within the Blue Swan since the night of the Winter Ball scandal. Not because I didn’t want to, or could not bear thinking about the darkest night of my soul ― but from shame.

I had treated Tisane unfairly, although she had enjoyed jiggling her hips on my lap, and later in her room upstairs. In all fairness, I had used Tisane ― not that she minded being used, but I thought I should make amends, and apologies would not suffice for a creature such as Tisane.

The noise level dropped a few notches when I walked into the tavern. Men turned in their seats, stared, at least those men capable of lifting their heads from their ale tankards and peering at each newcomer who strode through the entrance. Even those seated at the bar swiveled on their seats. A man poked his comrade and nodded ― Have a look. It’s him.

Significant stares followed me through the smoky din, from curiosity mostly. I would make no apologies. Respect was earned; my countrymen did not give away free respect.

“Well, well, look here who decided to rejoin the living. Dragged yourself outta the pit, did ya, Fayerfield?”

I nodded at the man and walked on past him. I was looking for Tisane, not trouble. I’d had my share of trouble that winter and was in no mood for more.

I saw a table tucked in a dark corner near the hearth and headed toward it. I knew I should have avoided the Blue Swan and that chimney corner, but I keeled toward the table and empty chair without thought or care.

Several men hurling darts at a scarred dartboard cast a quick glance over their shoulders between dart tosses. I heard laughter rumble and crude remarks, but paid them no heed. I pulled out the chair and sat down, my back to the wall. No one bothered to intrude into the chimney corner I had claimed.

Through the tavern racket ― a typical night for the Blue Swan ― I heard the twang of gut strings and the accompanying rasp of a musician’s rusty voice. The boy sang no better that night than on another night, slightly out of tune voice and lute strings, yet I found his voice oddly compelling. I glanced at the musician and received a nod, a flash of teeth. The lad cocked his head and twisted a tuning key, more interested in the pitch of the gut string than a stranger’s casual interest.

My gaze lingered, as curious as any patron that night, perhaps more so, if only to take my attention away from the curious stares and whispers. The musician wore oversized clothes more than a couple of years out of fashion and faded from the vibrant colors that had once dyed the threads of tunic and trousers, but despite the bagginess of the boy’s clothing, I could distinguish fragile bone structure and delicacy of face ― a face that had yet to feel the stroke of a razor’s edge. Young, I thought, too young to earn a living playing taverns and back alley establishments, but I had learned hard lessons that winter. A musician, even a boy, could earn a decent livelihood playing more than out of tune lute strings and rasping half forgotten folk ballads. A man could buy anything for his coin, depending on the willingness of the one selling. I wondered what the young musician sold, besides a song for a penny?

My attention drifted toward the barmaid I spotted edging toward my table. She was one of Tisane’s friends ― another blue swan working the tavern for more than tips and wages.

“If you’re lookin’ for Tisane, she’s not here,” the girl said. She set a full ale tankard upon the table before me.

“Where is she?”

“Working.” The girl glanced toward the rafters that spanned the common room’s smoky ceiling. “She’s entertaining.”

The barmaid’s dark gaze scoured me, and thinking she wanted coin for the tankard of ale, I fished an eagle piece from my pocket and tossed the coin upon the ale stained table. She scooped up the coin and tucked the silver piece into her skirt pocket, but not before she leaned close and murmured, “Ya broke Tisane’s heart, ya know. You and that San Bargellian bastard.”

I was inclined to disagree that I or any other man was capable of breaking Tisane’s heart, but the barmaid sniffed, turned away in a swirl of scarlet petticoats, and sauntered off toward the group of men clustered around the dartboards. I caught the flash of dark eyes glancing my way when she leaned toward one of the dart throwers, whispered something to the man. He laughed and pulled the girl into his arms for a hearty smooch on her lips.

I looked away, caught the roving gaze of the musician who launched into a melodic rendition of Barmaid’s Lament ― she stole men’s hearts, she took their coins, and drained their tankards dry-o. A grin tugged the corners of my mouth. I laughed, shook my head and pushed the ale tankard away. I had lost my taste for Blue Swan ale. One sip was all I needed to feel every savage craving that had sent me reeling into that bottomless pit of need. I knew I should not have entered the Blue Swan, but I could not avoid my life or confronting my demons.

I stared at the untouched tankard. I wanted a drink more than I wanted anything ― anything decent. Decent men stayed at home and tended their children; decent men did not haunt midnight taverns nor make amends to blue swans for perceived wrongs. Who said I was a decent man? Blue swans possessed more scruples and decency than I did.

I picked up the tankard and drained its liquid contents in long, thirsty swallows. The potent brew rushed straight to my head and burned all the way down my gullet into a pool of simmering fire that spread through the pit of my belly. I wanted more. Oh, I wanted. I wanted Reece Rau’s bane of bliss. I wanted the aching hunger I had tasted and devoured like a starving creature clawing its way from the imprisonment of its skin.

I heard a feminine, husky laugh and, looking up, I watched the barmaid set another ale tankard upon the table before me. I smiled into dark, knowing eyes and then my gaze slid beyond the girl, into the watchful squint of the dart thrower’s eyes and the red fletched dart he pinched in his thick fingers. I tread dangerous territory, but I pushed forward, relentless in my disregard of another man’s prior claim.

I tossed the contents of the second tankard down my throat, swallowed each mouthful. Heat spread from my belly into my limbs ― a tingling that scoured the hunger from my blood. The hunger was always there, lurking beneath the surface, whispering, waiting. I would spend the rest of my life fighting that particular need and, in the end, would always wonder at my success. Victory was temporal, but a man could fill the hunger with other needs ― like ale ― or the wicked promise gleaming in a woman’s eyes or curling at the corners of a lush mouth.

I almost groaned aloud imagining the curl of the barmaid’s lips ― the scorch of her tongue. I ached for more than the narcotic bliss I craved and needed. I had only deceived myself, again. Amends or apologies had not brought me to the Blue Swan that night, but Tisane ― then I realized ― any woman would suffice, including a night hag like Maybelle Flower. Whatever held the power to vanquish Reece Rau’s forbidden touch and the nagging doubt that I craved Rau’s lust as much as I hungered for the opiates that he had plied to rouse me.

No! I refused to follow the dark despair of that path. I stared at the dart thrower, locked my gaze into the blackness of his eyes, and feeling a lick of heat pulse through my groin, I flecked my tongue across my lower lip. I tasted ale, and smoke.

“Why are ya lookin’ at me like that, Fayerfield!” The man lumbered toward my table, all brawn and swagger and I wondered if he was related to Duncan of Whitehorse. The barmaid backed up a step, smiled, dark eyes shuttered. Did she think the impending confrontation was between two men quarreling over a woman, over her?

“Damn you Rau,” I muttered.

“What did ya say, man?”

“Nothing. I was not speaking to you,” I said to the man who now stood at my table and intruded into my privacy. I had not asked for a quarrel, but neither was I in the mood to back down either, no matter how much bigger the man was than me, or stronger.

I leaned back in my chair, aware of the lull in the surrounding din, the lilting warble of the musician launching into another lively tune. Oh, a lover’s quarrel spilled his blood and she wept for her lover slain-ain. From what hidden trunk did the musician find his ballads or did he improvise?

“Well, now Fayerfield, I can't figure if it’s Meggie here ya want to bed ― or myself,” the man drawled. A grunt of laughter drew a chorus of uneasy chuckles from his dart game partners.

“Can’t you?” I quipped. I did not care for the barb of the man’s words, but rather than feel the sting, I resorted to humor. The dart tosser did not possess a sense of humor.

“No, I can’t.”

“No?” Cocking my eyebrow, I raked my gaze down the man ― the degrading stare a man gives a woman when he has only one thing on his mind. I smiled and tossed a second eagle piece upon the table. The coin spun, flashed silver in the lantern light. Astonishment flared in the man’s eyes ― right before his fist hurtled toward my face and all hell broke loose.

The lucky punch the dart thrower landed slammed me into the wall. I shook my head and staggered to my feet. Wood splintered; I looked up. The musician held his lute by its broken neck and the coil of loose strings. Surprise riddled the boy’s face, but he wasn't as surprised as the dart thrower sprawled on his knees and the melon shaped body of the lute busted over his head.

“I’m gonna wring your scrawny neck, boy!”

The brawl erupted like a summer wild fire devouring parched grass and spilled from the tavern into the stable yard. The crowd surged outside and I followed. I parried fists, ducked punches, jumped and avoided swaggering bodies. Throughout the rioting dance, I watched the musician. The boy clutched a wooden staff, grabbed as he had run from the tavern, and was using the long pole with an amazing skill ― unlike any thing I had ever seen before, although I did recall Chaeran using such a long, stout pole to propel his body over stacked bales of hay one summer. The musician did more than use the staff to swing at the heads, arms and legs of those who lunged toward him. In a furious dance, he jabbed, poked, bashed, swung, struck, and swept― an expert in the fighting arts or at least the use of a wooden staff to defend himself.

When a group of louts decided enough was enough and ganged up to take the musician’s stick away from him, I darted through the throng and ducked the swing of a staff whistling past my head when the boy launched it through the air. Grabbing the boy’s arm, I tugged him away from the melee.

We dashed through the deserted village streets, and running for our lives, we left the noise of fists smacking flesh, cracking bones, grunted curses, and shouts behind. We ran until a stitch of pain stabbed my side and I collapsed into a grassy patch beside the road. The boy laughed and plunged down beside me gasping for air.

“You didn’t have to do that.” I sucked air into my lungs and wondered if I’d ever be able to breathe again.

“Do what?”

“Break your lute over the man’s head.”

He shrugged. “The instrument was worthless and couldn’t hold a decent tune.”

In the darkness, I caught the gleam of the boy’s smile. “You saved my life back there,” I said.

“I’d done the same for any fool.”

“Yeah, I deserve that.” I planted my elbows into the grassy earth and leaned back. Above, glittering constellations marked the night sky and the wheel of the hours.

“You started it. You didn’t have to―” The boy paused.

“Do what?”

“Toss down the coin―”

“Like I was buying the man for the night?” I glanced at the boy who had stretched out on his back a few feet away, his arms at his sides. He turned his head toward me. I caught the glint of an eye exposed from the shadows that obscured his features.

“Yeah.”

“Call it self-defense,” I replied.

“I call it asking for trouble.”

I laughed. “Yeah, well. I should have known better. You are right. I am a fool.”

“Most men are,” the boy said.

His statement intrigued me ― spoken more from a female’s point of view I thought than from the mouth of an inexperienced boy, but then I doubted most boys who played taverns for their supper inexperienced.

“I gotta go. It’s been fun.” The boy stood, shook out the folds of his tunic, dusted grass from his trousers.

“Are you all right?” I don’t know why I asked, or cared.

“Yeah, sure. And you?”

“Couldn’t be better.”

38 comments:

Donnetta Lee said...

Lovely. Just lovely. Oh, those Fayerfields! Donnetta

EA Monroe said...

Ivan! Wow, the Tavern post looks good. I am surprised and delighted and owe you a big thank you!

I thought I'd come back to the Documentary of Your Life to tell you that Donnetta Lee got her shift stuck over at Josie's Climate Catastrophe post.

Donnetta and I have been swilling ale and playing Rock, Paper, Scissors over at the Blue Swan. Want to play? We promise we won't use our ESP and cheat.

I love the title you came up with, too!

ivan said...

For me as a one-time tavern habitue, listening to a popular song of the time, the title came naturally.
There were times I wasn't as lucky as Fayerfield and would come home to my Significant Other, who would remark, "Yon Ivan has a punched-out look."
There were other times I'd come home with a night hag and suggested to wifey that we should all get along. Hah.
Out in the street, me and the night hag, my own lute over my own head, a tokens of my wife's appreciation.
Roger Miller: Dang me, they ought to take a rope and hang me.

To be serious, I am honoured to have had the opportunity to print this story, electronically at least, through the auspices of
Island Grove Press, Canada.

Congratulations.

Ivan

Danny Tagalog said...

Oh, I'm confused - this isn't Ivan's - it's Elizabeth's? Whatever, that was a great read. Thanks!

ivan said...

Hi danny tagalog.

It is good, isn't it?

My blog has a publishing function.
Some days when I feel somebody else's story can easily match my own scrawls--I print that lady with the imprint of my own publishing company, which is Island Grove Press, Ottawa.

A former teacher, I used to love
publishing my students through the publishing company I'd set up for them.
It gave them "air" time and furthered their careers.

EA Monroe said...

Ivan, heehee!
If you highlight the blank area, there really is Something in the Nothings! (I had typed a message and colored it white.) Maybe I should go back and write "Something" profound?! No peeking!

ivan said...

I did go to your blog, where you said you had a "nothing" post, and indeed it was blank; no copy at all. Just white space.

Ah, then I cheated and highlighted.

Yep, something there all right.
But, as in the R&B song, "Nothing from Nothing is still Nothing."
You said that this is your Nothing blog.

I guess you're celebrating your success, certainly here.
I think I smell something pungent.

Cheech and Chong:

"Dave's not home!"

JR's Thumbprints said...

Well Ivan,
You certainly know how to pick a story to your liking. EA Monroe's got talent. I felt as if I were in the tavern witnessing the tension between the patrons. Very very good read.

JR's Thumbprints said...

Well Ivan,
You certainly know how to pick a story to your liking. EA Monroe's got talent. I felt as if I were in the pub witnessing the tension amongst the patrons. Very very good read.

ivan said...

Thanks JR.

There was a time when I wasn't much interested in other people's projects, but here and there, someone's work really gets your attention.
The "Tavern" story is top-drawer.
I am now waiting to get something in from Josie, one of us "Three Quarks"--kind of two Bronte sistars and a guy. Quarks have a way of sticking together, but Quarks also have fellow-travellers.

Josie keeps saying she is not a writer, but I know she is; you can tell by the way she handles her
blogs.
So come on Josie, your choice, fact or fiction.

EA Monroe said...

Josie, do give Ivan your Pope story!

Ivan, tonight's Nothing post is due to my "gooberness," nothing important to say, and sleep deprivation.

By the way, over at the Gazebo I saw your comment and I must say, nothing beats the sexiness of your SpongeBob Square Pants knickers! You have your share of lady bloggers, too!!

ivan said...

Ah.
Selected shorts for you movie buffs.

Shesawriter said...

I started writing stuff out in first person a while ago. It gets me into deep POV faster.

Josie said...

Ivan, I think I will send you my pope story. It will have to wait a couple of days, though.

I just got home and I checked Liz's blog about nothing. I've posted a comment there. Go check it out.

Cheers,
Josie

Danny Tagalog said...

Ivan,

Thanks for visiting my blog. Your comment was very interesting in that the word, "arcane" can be interpreted in multiple ways. "Arcane enough to be good" is also open to variable interpretation! Obscurism, mysteriousness, hidden factors... well, in my opinion that's often the cloak a bad writer hides behind - and it's a good job that I don't consider myself a writer, but I'd like to one day, hence the interest in this and many other fine blogs, and my reaction to your (perhaps tongue in cheek) quote on JRs blog.

So your words were very helpful! A musician friend of mine has been trying to rid his expression of all mystery and make it as concise as possible...

I'm all tied up in academic pursuits for the next year (probably where the arcane seeped in) - but I'd love to start writing with a purpose therafter...

Thanks!

ivan said...

Shesawriter:

Tanya,

Even after years of writing, I still had problmems with point-of-view in my novel, Light Over Newmarket.
My agent at the time suggested I go from third person to first.
I followed his advice, but in my nearsightedness, I kept saying "He" instead of "I".
He caught my confusion and returned my manuscript.
I made a whole bunch of expensive mistakes...Just got bored, I suppose, having to change "He" to "I" about one thousand times.
I guess he caught my confusion and stopped trusting the script.
Finally, I did fix everything and got the book out.
So much revision and outright tedium when you undertake to write a novel.

Maybe you should write to E. A. Monroe--Liz?
She somehow worked out POV in her story.

EA Monroe said...

Good morning, Ivan. I thank Mel Odom for hammering POV into my head. Finally, one day it all clicked. Thank goodness!

Hah! Leave it to Josie!

ivan said...

danny tagalog,

I wouldn't worry too much about your writing at this point.
Not sure if you first language was Japanese, but many fine Japanese writers have a syntax or word order a lot like yours.
Yokio Mishima, for example.
...But maybe it was his translator into English.
You are obviously very intelligent and seem to have a way of anticipating what people may be thinking next.
When you say "writing with a pupose", I immediatly thought of an old textbook on practcal writing, whose title was indeed
"Writing With a Purpose."
The author's name was MacCrimmon.
The book was put out in l973.
"Writing With a Purpose" was the main textbook I used to teach business English.
Dr. MacCrimmon had a way of making even business English take life.

ivan said...

Josie,
Welcome "home".

Seems you did the legwork and enlightened us all on Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing."
Hah.

I've always been sort of attracted to the Latin word "pudenda".

Lost so many bank accounts and houses over,uh, nothing.
TMI, I suppose.

It's nothing.

ivan said...

Good morning, Liz.

Looks like you've had some good instruction, and it shows.

Josie said...

Ivan, have you been staying out of trouble today? I had a busy day at work, so I haven't been commenting. We have an El Nino here this week, so it's very warm. Pineapple express.

Cheers,
Josie

Danny Tagalog said...

I found it. Was reprinted by Prentice Hall recently. Must have been a pretty solid text. Cheers, DT.

Writing with a purpose : [ a first course in college composition ]
MacCrimmon, James M.
4. ed.
Boston [u.a.]
Houghton Mifflin comp.
1967. XIV, 508 S.
Text: engl.

ivan said...

That's wonderful, Danny Tagalog.

I thought it would have taken herculean effort to find it.

Cheers,

Ivan

ivan said...

Josie,

You guys and El Nino.

I woke up this morning undecided whether to tackle a good burst of Scotch or go out for a walk in -35 Celsius Windchill Factor.
Went for the l5-mile walk in zero temperature by anybody's thermometer.
You'd have been proud of me.

...Of course, all that activity jumps you up and makes your thirsty. Ha.
Drank up everything in the house.

Ah those good intetions!

Mischief all the same.

Ivan

Josie said...

Getting into mischief is always fun...

Josie

ivan said...

Hi.

Blogger just gave me mischief and almost knocked me off the air.

We managed to fix by reposting.

What the hell.

The trouble with physical exercise is that it gets your adrenaline all up and then you can't relax.

...Just had a scan at your new blog.
Will have to re-read. It's worthwhile!

Ivan

Josie said...

It's a true story, but I don't want to get sued (or flamed) by anyone. As I said, I'm not a writer, I just relate it as it happened.

Josie

ivan said...

There are ways to avoid being flamed.
A roman 'a clef, novel with a key is one way.

Josie said...

How's that?

Anyway, I have left a lot of the story out, some of the key parts, in fact. Maybe I should put them in.

Josie

EA Monroe said...

Ivan, I'm glad to see you back on the air! For a minute there you had disappeared into nothingness! I'm off to visit Josie!

ivan said...

Josie,
I would very much like to re-post your "Tilting Universe" post here.

Are you a good, true Quark? The Three Quarks that hold this blog together?

There are ways of getting around the remotest chance of being sued.

Hell, they can sue ME.

Can't get blood out of a stone, to coin a phrase.

Ivan

P.s.: I've just chuggalugged a bottle of Niquil.

ivan said...

Hi Lizzie.

We're back.

Thank god for genius techies.

Josie said...

Ivan, you want to post my little story here? Good Heavens! Well, if you do, I would like to add the reason that Paul had to relocate. It's very sad. I left it out because the people involved are still around, very powerful, and I seem to have a talent for getting myself into trouble :-)

Josie

BTW, there is a memorial to him in the town where he died.

Anonymous said...

Ok Josie,
Suture it in and send.


Ivan

islandgrovepress said...

Dang it all Josie,
I can't recall a single instance in these hard-edged times, of a publisher actually clamoring for a new writer's work.
I am a small publisher with a small reputation and I think your story, "The Tilting Universe" is rich in form and content, certainly substantial.

So when can I paste and copy it here?
Seems every time I "re-publish" one of you girls my hit meter starts looking like the crest wave of a tsunami. We've got to be doing something right.

For anybody out there who may be confused, I am both a writer and a small press publisher.

Ivan

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