It was near normal closing time; the storm made Mattersond extend his patrons’ stay. The rowdy prentices on their half-day holiday; the two travelers; a smattering of landers and artisans. No one in a hurry to face the whipping snow.

He checked the shutters; still holding tight. In the kitchen he stacked the cups to be washed; sparked a fire in the hearth and swung a kettle closer to the source of heat. As he expected, Mistress Sweetmeats returned for her cap triggering the scruff to leave, with a wave, a few minutes later. The woman in the cloak remained; she continued to keep her hood pulled far forward. Her cup disappeared into the void with each sip.

Mattersond was a practical man; he didn’t much indulge in whims and fantasies. As a barkeep he held secrets – sins confessed; lusts acknowledged; indiscretions indulged. The alehouse, itself, held secrets. When he took over the establishment, the space outside his bedroom window was a ragged tangle of weeds, aromatics gone wild, and scraggly herbs. Knowing the herbals which somewhat eased his pain, he cleared the area. Sweaty, prickly work that pulled at his scarred muscles. Satisfaction, though, when cleared of weeds and dross. The space now was neat beds of herbs, scattered clumps of wild flowers, young roses, and a few vines of runner peas and pot beans. He placed an old battered table and chair just askew of his window. A place truly of his own making.

In the process, he discovered a hidden cellar. One existed underneath the kitchen where he stored kegs of ale and bottles of wine. If he had a hand to set-down provender for the winter, there were bins for to store wissen apples and tubers, and shelves for pots and jars of stewed berries, sweet honey, and pickled beans. Being the size of the kitchen, he assumed that was the extent of an underground world. But, when he removed the nettles and stickweed close to the  outer wall of his bedroom, he found a wooden door almost flush with the ground. Prizing it open, he saw a set of stairs. He fetched a lantern, sparked it, and ventured down. The atmosphere was dense as if no one had penetrated it for centuries. The cellar was a dugout lined with wooden slats, not like the kitchen cellar which was rimed in stone. The ceiling beams were wide and deep; “Must be of ancient pine” he thought. What remained of the surrounding forest grew with lesser trees and shrubs.

What caught up his breath, and beat his heart faster were the stone slabs leaning against the walls and scattered on the floor. Mostly fragments, some more whole. He traced the carvings which covered all these pieces.

“Runish” he speculated. “Can be nothing else. How came these to be in a secret cellar ‘neath my alehouse?”

He grew within a household that still clung to traditions’ ways. Language, rituals, beliefs and values deemed folly in this age of plainspeech. He cast all off like a piece of soiled clothing when he went to make his way in the world. Yet, he stood next to what his elders, on moon changeling nights, spoke of in hushed, revenant tones. Tradition acknowledged the ancients. Plainspeech barely recognized tradition. Folks had traveled far from those who carved the runes; who spoke the words that made stone sing; who could call upon a tree for its heartwood to make staffs; who could speak with the animals as equals; find their way in the deepest night without map or light. Yet millennia later he lived above their work. He could not read runish; he did not know if a complete stone would be raised from the detritus.

By times, he felt the stones calling him; lilting in his dreams. Incomplete songs; fragmented like the stones. Somehow, too, they gave him the power of an intuit – knowing, feeling, sensing well beyond appearances. This is when his practical nature shifted, morphed into someone propelled by a myth; a changeling night story. So it was, as the alehouse began to clear, he knew that the cloaked woman should be made full welcome. She radiated some of the same energy as his singing stones.

He felt a panic when returning from taking platters and cups to the kitchen, it seemed she was gone. He steadied himself against the bar; her bundle remained – she had probably gone to relieve herself.  In her absence, he brought over from the kitchen another plater of flat bread and cheese to which he had added cold roast meat. Yesterday, the brewer presented him with a small sample keg of a new ale. Mattersond spigoted it and filled a flagon. Clean cups completed the setting. He lightly sat upon the second chair at the table.

“I am too bold,” he said upon her return, “For I have set a table for two without asking your leave.” He stood and continued, “If you will sit, I will pour.”

He watched her body motions as her face remained hidden in the hood of her cloak. She nodded yes and sat down, still a mystery wrapped in a road weary cloak. He noticed her brooch – it glowed like an ember.

jusjojan catch up: 24th: trigger; 25th: specs (I used spec); 26th: shutter; 28th: storm

to read the story forwards or sdrawkcab, go to jusjojan: tales from the alehouse: the foreseer