Monday, March 8, 2010

New Blog: Alehouse Tales

Welcome to Leofwen's Alehouse

Alehouse Tales

The place is Wintanceaster, the foremost town in the Kingdom of Wessex. The year is 985 A.D. The king of Wessex is Ethelred, who would come to be called "Unræd", or "Ill-advised“. Wintanceastre is where you will find Ethel red’s palace, the great Minster, the convent known as Nunnaminster, and the encircling wall that Alfred the Great built.

If you walk south from the southern gate you will be in the collection of cottages that cluster about a stone cross and was beginning to be called St. Cross in its honor. One of the cottages facing the cross has had some additions built onto it. The main door is covered by a leather hide to keep out drafts. By the broom you can see hanging outside the doorway you know that this is an alehouse and that the ale is freshly brewed.

If you push aside the hide and go into the alehouse you will have to pause a moment to let your eyes adjust to the smoky dimness of the interior of the cottage. There are no windows, just a small smoke hole in the middle of the turf roof for the smoke from the small fire pit in the middle of the floor to vent. There are tallow candles on what you recognize as two long tables with long benches along their sides. There is another door on the opposite wall, but on this one's hide covering is pulled aside so the alehouse keeper and her servants can come and go with bowls and pitchers. You smell a combination of traveler's bodies, the rich sweet smell of malted barley and yeast. You also smell an enticing aroma of cooked meat and cabbage and onion potage. Your stomach rumbles, and you look for a place to park your posterior.

"Was thu hal!" comes a cheerful female voice. "Come in, wayfarer, and sit. I will have Milthryth bring you a bowl of my fine potage and a brimming beaker of my fine Saxon ale." It is Leofwen, the alehouse keeper, a stout bright eyed woman in her forties. Her smile is broad and genuine. Her hair is covered with a linen head scarf, her body in a plain gown of green wool made in the rectangular construction that uses every scrap of the weaver's hard work. Over it she wears a heavier linen apron, stained with broth and ale but not filthy. You notice her hands are clean. Her cheeks are pink, her eyes blue, and the warmth she radiates makes you feel at home.

Leofwen gestures to a mousy little woman who is peeking in at that aft door. The servant, who must be Milthryth, turns quickly. You learn later that the cook fire is in back of the alehouse, and that the addition built on after Leofwen took over the establishment t is her brew house. The servant comes back in with a beaker of ale and an empty bowl. She hands the bowl to the older woman, who brings it to you, taking the liberty to lift a leg over the bench and sit next to you. In the meantime, Milthryth has gone to the pot hanging from an iron tripod over the central fire. She brings you the bowl, steaming and redolent of meat, grains and herbs, and you take your wooden spoon out of your traveling sack and dig in.

"Will you want to sleep in the alehouse tonight, traveler?" the woman asks, leaning companionably towards you. "You tell her you are uncertain. You are a musician and hope to be sleeping on the floor rushes of the king's hall.

"You may have quite a lot of competition for that spot on the rushes," she tells you as she gives your harp an interested inspection. "With the king to be wed this coming fortnight, every skald and musician in Wessex and beyond is here looking for work." Even our own floor will be like a fishmonger's display in the market. But never fear. If you need it, we will find a place to squeeze you in."

You smile gratefully, placing your silver penny on the table. You think to yourself, "I may or may not find a place in the king of Wessex's court, but I can tell already that I shall enjoy my stay here."

Leofwen seems to have read your thoughts as she takes the penny and slips it into her belt pouch. "We have travelers from all over the island and from across the water. They bring us tales of great events and stories that will keep your ears nailed open. "You take a deep draught of the fragrant ale. She was not boasting. It is some of the best you have ever tasted.

At the end of the other long table an argument breaks out. You look up concerned. Leofwen, rising, bids you not worry. "'Tis nothing. Those two cannot get through an hour without squabbling." She goes to the men and calms them with her deep hushed voice. Someone makes a remark and she laughs.

Aye, come what may, you know your journey to Wintanceastre will not have been a tedious one.

We hope you will visit often to learn more about Leofwen and the visitors to and the events that touch her ale house.