Saturday, April 3, 2010

A Bell Rings

The landlord jerked awake behind his bar as the gate bell rang. Who would bother? The gate would not be barred this early, even though there was no custom to speak of on such a horrible night. Cold rain, dark cold rain, about what you’d expect at the end of winter, he thought. At least there’s no lightning.
The bell rang again, and there was pounding on the gate.
The landlord’s comments revealed his Platt Deutsche origins as he grabbed a lantern off one of the wooden pillars and trudged out into the rain. “Are you crippled?’ he shouted into the night. “The bar isn’t dropped yet!” Then, in the swaying shadows, he noticed that a barrel had rolled against the gate somehow. Between his rich, lowland comment on the situation, he assured the unseen guests that he would quickly remedy things. His language became even more florid when he realized that the barrel was from today’s shipment of Italian wines ... and he’d need every drop, he had, if his guesses about the strange crowd in the back rooms was correct. Had to be a mercenary band from Italy ... Italian officer, Spanish troopers, and God knows what else. They’d retired too early, but he’d wager that they’d be out for refreshment before the last bell rang. Mercenaries were always notoriously thirsty!
As he bent for keg, however, the landlord suddenly stopped an peered through the gate window. Armed and mounted men? Before he dashed back inside to raise an alarm, however, he spotted the two coaches. “Who are you all?” he asked. “Where on this d-m-d night are you headed?”
“The Prioress Hildegarrd from St. Kunnegunde’s,” was the heavily accented reply. “They’re being sent to start a ladies’ home in Bravaria somewhere.”
“Okay,” the landlord grumbled as he rolled the keg away. “Come on in, and I’ll rouse the ostler. Bernard!” he shouted. “Bernard! Look lively! We’ve got another herd of pf—ing horses, and you’ll have to find room for them.!”
The convoy rattled onto the paving stones of the inn’s yard, and some of the coachmen sprang down to place steps at the doors facing the inn. A small wiry man in priest’s garb came out first and helped down the prioress. The landlord greeted her fulsomely, while noting that she seemed much more plump than he’d expected ... ah well, he had some good hams which could be prepared quickly.
“Where’s the ostler?” one of the mounted guards asked.
“With tonight’s rain,” the landlord grumbled, “he’s probably sound asleep. He has had another large batch of horses to bed down earlier tonight.”
The men and the nuns exchanged quick looks at this. “Will you have enough room, then?” the priest asked in a reedy voice. The nuns in the second coach stopped dismounting and listened worriedly.
“Sure, they were a cheap bunch and bedded down together like they were back in the barracks,” the landlord responded grumpily. “Bernard!” He shouted again.
One of the Croats dismounted. “Perhaps,” he commented, “we will go together and rouse the stables.”
“I am so sorry,” the landlord apologized. “I am completely mortified, Mother,” he groveled to the prioress. “Alas, meine Herr,” he continued to the soldier, “I’m afraid you have the right. How long have you been in service?”
“Excuse me?”
“There’s hardly any accent in your Deutsche,” the landlord said. “Usually, that means a veteran in the Merry Teaser’s service.”
“Her father’s, actually,” the soldier responded.
“I’m afraid he was the last of the old emperor’s,” the landlord sighed. “Well, we’ve a reputation of being a quality but orderly stopping point for soldiers now for almost a hundred years.
“Sisters, the common room is just through that porch,” he continued. “My maid will be glad to wait on you. We do have some good stew on, and if that runs out we can have some excellent ham cooked in just a few moments.” He turned then towards the stable, escorted by the soldier leading his horse.
In a moment, they’d splashed through the arch leading into the stable yard. The landlord threw open the large doors and shouted, “Bernard!”
There was no answer, but a couple of lamps were still lit and a water bucket was spilled in passageway. The landlord cursed, and started forward, but the soldier grabbed his shoulder and pulled him back. In the same motion, the soldier slipped his musket off his shoulder and stepped back into the archway while cocking it.
“What? What?” the landlord spluttered. His fear of armed bands rushed back over him, as he noticed that the other guards had spread out in the court and also now were prepared for combat.


Bluebear Jeff said...

For want of an ostler, the battle was fought . . . or at least it looks like that will be what happens.

-- Jeff

abdul666 said...

"The silver blades are flashing in the tired old cafe"...