Inns of the Stornlands

Zager Krahl

Mongoose
This is the start of an article that I wrote for S&P, but never finished due to several reasons (work, other work, more work, lack of response from S&P, etc).

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Inns of the Stornlands

For any traveller that has spent the day on the road, whether it be on foot, horse or any other conveyance, there is no sight more welcome at sunset than that of an inn. Located within the safety of a town’s walls, or standing as a lone sentinel at a crossroad, the inn is a universal sign of comfort and rest. Food and drink, conversation and entertainment, even a simple bed to rest a weary body in – all these things can be found within the comfort of an inn.

In the central region of Northern Magnamund, known as the Stornlands, inns are a common sight along roads both major and minor. Located along the banks of the mighty River Storn as it flows from the hills of Magador south to the Tentarias, these states are locked into an almost perpetual state of conflict with each other, with the result that both the crows and the innkeepers of the region have grown fat with the spoils of the time. Mercenaries marching to battle, refugees fleeing the destruction of their homes, travellers seeking their fortune in a foreign land, and even simple farmers seeking a pint of bitter after a hard day’s work – all will seek the same thing at sunset, and it is from their regular and generous patronage that these inns flourish. Stomachs are filled, thirsts are quenched, stories are told and challenges are delivered, all under the welcome roof of the local inn. Some inns will feature music and dancing, while others might sport a wrestling circle where disagreements can be settled. Gambling is a common activity as well, although there are some regions where it might be frowned upon – which usually results in a crafty loophole or two being exploited to keep the gold flowing regardless. The staff might vary in number and purpose, ranging from a barman and a duo of bouncers to dozens of staff members, cooks, serving wenches and stable boys. The innkeeper will usually feature in the common area as well, either behind the counter to keep an eye on the strong liquor, or mingling with the patrons to drum up even more business.

The Stornland nations and their patrons

‘The Stornlands have been fighting for a long time, I think. Since the time of my father, and his father, and his father, and his...’ – Old Tom Berdhan, patron of the ‘Keg & Flagon’ inn, Lyris.

From Talestria in the west to Anari in the east, and from Magador and Lyris in the north to Caron and Chaman in the south, the Stornlands cover a massive stretch of territory. Years of fighting, civil wars, insurrections and invasions have split the land apart into smaller and smaller parcels however, until no less than sixteen states have emerged from the chaos. Kings and queens, princes and electors, grandars and senators, chiefs and dukes – the titles of the various leaders are wide and varied, and the people of their lands are no less varied. Customs differ widely from state to state, and sometimes even within a certain state – the north of Caron, for example, is much less tolerant to stranger than the south, something which is usually blamed on centuries of Cener atrocities – and no-where are these difference more noticeable than in the behaviour of inn patrons. Lands that have known peace for some time will have friendly people eager for news and always willing to lend an ear to a tall tale. Lands that are embroiled in war will have suspicious citizens, and strangers would be met with wary looks and dark mutterings the moment they set foot in an inn. Carrying weapons might be forbidden or seen as completely normal, depending on the time and place. The use of magic, an event that is rare by dint of its very nature, might be greeted with delighted laughter and calls for more, or by the fearful anger of patrons suspecting the work of the Darklords and their foul minions. Even chivalry will be greeted with a range of different responses. Slapping a serving wench on the rump might elicit laughter and cat-calls, while spilling a man’s drink could result in a duel to the death – and the exact opposite reactions are equally possible!

The role of inns in the Stornlands

‘Inns are for drinking, of course! What kind of a daft question is that?’ – Samus Rexhorn, innkeeper of the ‘Gilded Goat’ inn, Slovia.

In the Stornlands, as in most other places, inns serve the main purpose of providing food and drink to their patrons. From simple taprooms that serve beer and ale, to grand common rooms with multiple tables and private booths tended to by serving staff in special uniforms, the common thread that connects them all is – and will always be – this provision of all things edible. The quality of the food and service may – and often does – differ quite widely from inn to inn, and will quite often also determine the grade of patron to visit the establishment. Hardened mercenaries will settle for strong ale and anything meaty to fill their stomachs, even if it has to be horse or rat, while aristocrats and nobles will not settle for anything less than the finest wines and produce available in the area.

Secondary functions, such as providing lodgings and also some form of entertainment for the patrons will also vary greatly from one inn to another. Music, most often in the form of song and dance, is a common addition to the food and drink. Rowdy music and wild dancing will draw a certain type of patron, while Lencian poets and eunuch singers will draw an altogether different crowd. Another common function is to provide lodgings, and the quarters provided can differ greatly. A dinghy room with a flea-infested straw mattress and no lock on the door might be the best thing available in one inn, while the next inn could have hand-carved furniture, room service and even warm water available for their highest-paying clients. In the areas of the Stornlands most often plagued by war, a common sleeping arrangement provided is the barracks dormitory. This hall will contain multiple beds and little privacy, and many a group of travellers, finding themselves hard-pressed for coins, has spent nights in these oft-draughty quarters. For a mercenary, it will seem like heaven – but for a mage used to the comforts of Toran or Dessi, it will be poor lodgings indeed. Theft is a frequent problem in these quarters, and so are the midnight scuffles that break out when robbers get caught at their game.

The inns

‘Oh, that was the best thing about campaigning – seeing the world’ – Sergeant Garol, retired mercenary and patron of the ‘Dancing Dwarves’ inn, Talestria.

While the inns that dot the Stornlands are too numerous to all be named, a selection of some of the more noteworthy establishments is provided here, along with their staff, appearance and clientele. A traveller in the Stornlands should not be surprised to find himself in one of these inns – or even one very similar to it.

The Straddling Horse, Delden
Located on the River Kinam, just a few miles south of the Briona-Kaon crossing, The Straddling Horse inn is one of the more unique establishments in the Stornlands. Some years before the War of the Lorestone wracked the Stornlands, a new bridge across the Kinam was commissioned as part of an initiative to shorten the Briona-Kaon route and speed the passage of the countless army divisions that were marched to Briona and Luukos to defend against Drakkarim incursions from Ogia. The new bridge was duly completed – and then a tollgate was installed, to assist the Deldenians in recouping the costs of the bridge. The wagoneers running the Briona-Kaon route had no option but to pay the toll – but many of the poorer travellers could not afford to pay the toll and instead choose to continue using the old, longer route, which crossed the Kinam further south of the new bridge.

The Straddling Horse is the result of almost 600 years of traffic and commerce that followed the building of the new Briona-Kaon bridge. Initially established on the eastern banks of the Kinam to provide a stopping point for travellers using the old bridge, the inn grew over the years until, with the speed and patience of an oak, it had managed to reached across the old bridge and take root on the opposite side of the river as well. Built of the same faded grey stone as the bridge, the inn stands three stories tall on the eastern bank and two stories on the western bank, with clusters of outbuildings on both sides. A black slate roof covers the inn from bank to bank, with a multitude of chimneys rising from both of the main buildings. The bridge itself, long ago roofed over with the same slate, sports a single massive chimney that is constantly trickling smoke from the hearth that feeds it in the inn’s common area, and a tangle of ropes and pulleys dangle from the underside of the bridge. These are used to convey cargo directly into or out of the common area via a series of large floor hatches, and many a boisterous drunkard has found himself thrown through them to cool off in the Kinam. Rooms and stables are provided at both ends of the bridge, and travellers using the bridge will find themselves walking the length of the common room before exiting on the opposite side of the bridge. The growth of the inn has made the bridge impassable to all but the smallest of carts and wagons – scattered tables and benches now stand where traffic once flowed - and a ferry located a few miles downstream now caters for the need of wheeled travellers.

The owner of the inn is a man by the name of Hectarn Farrier, and the inn has been in the Farrier family for almost as long as it has existed. Of average height and build, Hectarn is a very down-to-earth man, and his unassuming manner has led many travellers to dismiss the sandy-haired man as just another local farmer. Running the inn with the aid of his two sons, Saden and Tomen, Hectarn focuses his business on the local drovers and farmers that frequent the area, and as such the inn is a very simple but homely place. The drinks are mild and the food is usually a hearty stew or roast, and his eldest son, Saden, runs a small smithy on the eastern bank to re-shoe horses for travellers and locals alike.

An interesting fact regarding the inn is the mysterious catacombs that the original builders unearthed when digging the wine cellar on the western bank. The team of diggers, a handful of Slovian migrant workers, broke through a strange, white stone wall while digging the cellar, and two of the men took torches to investigate the ruined passageways they discovered behind the wall. Several hours passed, but the men failed to return. More of the workers ventured into the passageways, and they too failed to return. Anxious about the welfare of their friends, the remaining workers clamoured for the then-owner of the inn to notify the local militia, and he agreed – before giving them each a drink to steady their nerves. When the poison had done its work, the owner bundled the bodies into the opened passageway and bricked up the wall himself before sending for new workers to finish the digging. The rest of the work was completed without incident, but the owner died shortly thereafter when a sinkhole opened up on the western bank of the river and drowned him in a deluge of mud on a clear summer day.
 
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