At the sign of the Drunken Goose…
The second assistant tailor clears his voice. Gently nudging at him, his boss, a man with a broad presence, discreetly said to him: "What about enlighten our fellows travelers about the beginning of our inn ?". He grumbled somehow but the tailor’s daughter encouraged him with a wink. Shyly, the second assistant stepped forward in the light of the candelabra and raised his voice, warming his tone with several clichés.
"I am telling you about a time that only wizards remember. The good town of Thalion woke up at the clear sound of trumpets. At dawn, the garrison hoisted the standard of the kings of Cardolan, when the exuberant court of the young sovereign came to our provincial citadel, to escape the unhealthy summer heats of Tharbad. Carters drove up the greenway from the market-city to the Arthedain towns, supplying with luxury goods, its haughty noblemen, crafty traders and boisterous scholars.
Indeed, during winter, the slowed traffic gave back its provincial gentleness to the charming burgh alleys.
Craftmen devoted in intense cold tasks, clay was dug under snow, cartwrights and ironworkers mended tools and furniture along the short daylight. The pig was joyously killed for the family to prepare sausages, smoked pallet and saltings in the courtyard, under the watchful eye of Grand’Ma. On his shoulders, the castle’s venator brought some deer that would be welcome at the hospital of Nienna’s sisters.
The numb castle smoked from all the chimneys above the haughty towers and the potbellied buildings. For several years, it has been accommodating an old dowager, a great-aunt of the king of Cardolan, abandoned there by mistake after the summer heats, when the court had gone back to Tharbad. The poor lady had been forgotten in this province when a major art event had suddenly called the young idle nobility back to the capital.
The first week, she had indignantly refused to write and beg for what she deserved by right of her peeress’ rank.
Then a gentleman had come to show apologetic in the name of her royal nephew and nonetheless liege-lord. He had gone back empty-handed, since the great-aunt accepted no less than flat apologies by her rascal grand-nephew in person. Then the forgiveness demands had become scarce, hardening the lady’s resentment and stubbornness. Aunt and nephew saw each other only next summer, when the young monarch’s court brought again its splendors to Thalion, to flee the Gwathlo’s nick-bricks and miasma.
The great-aunt haughtily received her nephew, acting as the castle’s lady and reminding him of his duties. The young king had matured and gained some confidence while freeing himself from the tutelage of his father’s former counsellors. The chancellor, a favorite of his aunt, had fallen into disgrace. And indeed the old lady’s remonstrances irritated the king.
It came to his royal mind that he should assert his authority by making an example of his own family. He publicly took act of the decision of his beloved aunt to remain at Thalion, since her health had prevented her from answering her king’s call for a whole year. In his great wisdom, the king would entrust her with a task fitting the lady’s will and weak health. She was granted Thalion’s castle as a dowery. She would dwell there around the year and administrate the fief and the hospital, while reporting to him.
Thus was the lady skillfully assigned to isolation, far from the court, its golden splendors, festivities and intrigues. After a short phase of disbelief, she had been consuming with indignation. Her favorites turned away from her as weathercocks in a changing wind. Acrimony did not help. The following summer, decreased to stewardship tasks, she was so busy organising the royal sojourn, that she ended up welcoming the court’s departure with relief.
That is how the dowager reached some form of detachment, if not serenity. Her difficulties had won the affection of Thalion’s inhabitants, who appreciated her wise management of the royal hospital and her enlighted rule.
The years went by, the aging and resigned lady attended to her duties, having given up even the dream of marrying. Under her friendly authority, the town lived at the rhythm of a provincial austerity. Feasts and fairs where obviously not forbidden, but one laughed far less frankly than formerly. The propriety of the customs somehow stiffened the country’s gentleness. The ribalds were turned into nurses or left the town. The poor solitary lady’s boredom seemed to influence the atmosphere in town. Since that time, Thalion has kept a kind of courteous independence and decent simplicity of a provincial main town.
A winter evening, during which loneliness had been nagging the dowager more than usual, a poor knight came to pass the sleepy burgh, and asked for hospitality at the castle.
These were happier times: hospitality and courtesy duties were not neglected – fear had not yet invaded Eriador’s baronies. The horseman proudly held his hunting spear, and his arms bore a device of modest but brave reputation. The antique rules of hospitality were observed.
Damsels were dispatched to serve him, as fits a noble house. To tell the truth, the damsels rushed by themselves, since distractions and boys were scarce at the castle. The knight was relieved of his mount, led to the dwelling, disarmed, undressed, bathed, brushed, perfumed, combed and dressed with a magnificent satin mantel. Only the jealous competition between the damsels prevented any disruption, annoying for the knight’s renown or the castle’s reputation.
But the youth’s laughter encouraged the lady to revive somehow. She gave orders for a supper of good taste, with splendor but no ostentation. Yet, for the occasion, she went so far as to indulge a sweet revenge – she had the most prestigious wines taken from her great nephew’s cellar, put on her guest’s table.
When the knight laid his homage at her feet, the lady thought he had a vigorous, elegant and youthful demeanor, despite his grey hair. A slight nearsightedness gave the rider a dreaming gaze and ample gestures, the lady found quite charming. Somehow exhilarated by the courteous eloquence and the deferential manners of her guest, the lady listened to his deeds. Lulled by the knight’s witty loquacity, and seduced by his decent modesty, she began to dream about sweeter and less lonely mornings.
The company of the gallant brave seemed so pleasant to the dowager during supper, that at the end of the evening, the rarest bottles had been unsealed. The knight rocked on his chair, trying to preserve his noble bearing and colorful eloquence, while the pale dowager, sweating, got rid of her white tulles to unveil her neck, she believed charming but was too slender and long.
After the meal, the poor old lady, whose faded charms and slight coquetting had hardly touched the errant gentleman’s heart, appeared at her balcony, in hope for a moonlit and romantic serenade. But the knight was snoring in his room, brought down by the heady wines, while the dowager caught a cold and had to go to bed.
The next morning, the whole castle square was laughing at the hapless and drunken goose, exposed at her balcony a winter evening. When the gallant rider bowed before her, she hid her illness and received him with a regal courtesy. After nightcap, the knight went fighting the enemies of the kingdom, bearing some mysterious white tulles at his spearhead.
Several days later, the poor old lady succumbed to a vicious fever.
The whole town mourned her « sovereign » and gave her funerals respecting her noble wishes: sober, dignified and unanimous.
Quickly the royal nephew took possession of the dowery, he had knowingly given to a childless relative.
The rights she had granted to the town of Thalion were immediately denied, and the royal justice recovered the full blindness of its fast rigor. The hospital itself had to close quickly – the staff could fortunately move into an inn that was founded on castle square.
In remembrance of the lady who, in her despair, had wisely governed the town, the innkeeper was about to give her name to the new establishment. The royal bailiff forbade it, wishing to close once and for all the dowery exception. So the inhabitants secretely decided to give the inn the name « At the drunken goose », as a last homage, apparently disrespectful but discreetly grateful.
Many years later, this very name was of course re-used when the ruined castle was strengthened and moved into by master Finran to shelter his inn… »
The sweating young man emerges from his tale as out of a pond. He has been pretty good. But the eyes of his beloved, sparkling with pride, seem to him sweeter than the applause of the connoisseurs, who have appreciated the new variant about the old lady’s moods. Indeed this tale inflates at each narration, with some unexpected ornament.
Flying on the wings of success, the teller of the evening imagines he’s now first assistant tailor and dreams about a happy marriage and a workshop of his own…
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