Tag Archive: Bergren


Grin Like a Dog

Baxter couldn’t help but smile as he watched the proprietor of the inn chat up the little bard that had come in out of the cold. Bergren was usually shy and reserved around women almost to the point of standoffishness. Today, however, he was as charming and genial a host as he was to the men of the nearby village. Baxter knew what the change was about and welcomed it.

“He likes her,” Columbine said as she picked up a pitcher of ale and several mugs. “She seems to fancy him too.”

“One can hope,” Baxter said. “The elders would be much happier about him if he took a wife.”

“Why?” Nicholas asked. “Do they feel that way about everyone – or just the proprietor?”

“Businesses can be passed down – and taxed – only if the owner has an heir upon his death. Master Bergren was named the late owner’s heir, but that’s not likely to happen again and the town’s leaders would be happier if the inn – especially as prosperous an inn as this one – remained on the tax rolls,” Baxter explained. “The other way of dealing with it would be to try to buy it out from under him – provided that they can find someone with an heir and enough money – which they likely could.”

“That wouldn’t be good though – for us?” Nicholas said softly.

“Very few eldar would employ such a mix of races,” Baxter said. “The fact that I’m only informally trained in brewery would cause me problems too. Master Bergren is the best man for the job – as far as we’re concerned. If he gets a wife, then the village elder hasn’t a leg to stand on, though.” His grin turned slightly feral as he added, “That would upset the apple cart.”

Arthur nodded as he joined them. He smiled slightly before bringing the lovely bard a mug of cider. All in all, he hoped that things worked out well for the pair – and not just for the sake of his job.

Setting out from home was always a scary proposition for Vanni. His father had made a lot of enemies and he’d been raised to be wary and cautious. However, he also felt like everyone around him was controlling him. His life wasn’t his own any more.

Thus he found himself on the road, heading out of town. He realized as he walked that he hadn’t planned things very well. He had no food, no provisions and his clothes and shoes were not made to be traveled in, but to be seen in. He was dressed too finely to be walking along the dusty highway.

He paused. He hadn’t gone far. He could turn back. He could go home and let everyone else decide what was best for him. Then the Galiano pride kicked in again. There was no way he was quitting. He turned his back on the town that he’d grown up in and walked.

Eventually, feet aching, legs tired, he came to a small inn. He slumped into a chair and frowned at his purse. Again, a lack of forethought hit him jarringly. He had about enough money on his person for a night’s stay. Moaning and running his hands through his long blond hair, Vanni slumped back in the chair.

“Problem?” the barkeep said.

“Not really,” Vanni replied. “Just realizing how sheltered I’ve always been. I’m… short on funds,” he admitted.

The barkeep frowned and stepped over, eyeing him critically. “You could get a job. Got any skills?”

“Skills?” Vanni asked. “I can sing, play piano and violin and speak three languages. Math and literature… some magic, that’s more knowledge than skill though.”

“There are some bards in town, maybe you can hook up with them,” the man suggested. “Try it out. We don’t have a musician right now. Piano’s over there. Music brings in the custom.”

Vanni nodded and, weary though he was, he headed over to the piano. In moments he was going through his repertoire. He played the folk-songs he knew. The kind of things that got people tapping their feet. Stuffy chamber music was not on call in this venue.

He was surprised when a small blond man tapped him on the shoulder. The man was grinning and handed him a mug of cider. “Take a break,” he said. “I’m sure you could use a drink.”

When Vanni reached for his purse the man shook his head. “You’ve earned it,” was all he said. Vanni grinned as the man walked away, sipping the beverage. It was the first time he’d worked for something and it felt good.

Columbine looked over the room and then at the oldest of her five younger siblings. “Mind the place while I’m gone,” she said. “Everyone is old enough to tell you what they need, if you just ask. Don’t forget to eat lunch. I’ll be home before bedtime.”

“It’ll be alright?” Grais asked softly. He glanced around for a moment. The house was spotless. The leftover ham from the night before had been sliced for lunch. Bread was cooling on the windowsill, also for lunch. Soup was simmering on the stovetop for supper. Everything was ready. That wasn’t what he was asking about.

“We’ll be alright. Do your chores. Read your school assignments and don’t let the soup burn. When Mama comes home from the clinic, you’ll be able to show her how well you can take care of the house,” Columbine assured him.

She nodded at his confident smile and headed out the door. Word had gotten around town that the tavern on the edge of the village, now known as the Tilting Tankard, was hiring. Already they’d hired a server, chef, barkeep and kitchen helper. She hoped they had room for more.

It didn’t take her long to reach the bustling place. Unlike previous times she’d passed the building during daylight hours, the seats were all filled. With just one server, the wait was long however and Columbine hoped that this boded well for her.

When the owner had a free moment, Columbine approached him. He was leaning on a side door and fanning his flushed face. “Excuse me,” she said softly. When he looked at her curiously, she asked, “I wonder if you might be interested in hiring another server.”

The man nodded once and said, “We have roast beef with garden vegetables or country stew. Both are served with bread and a drink of the patron’s choice. Think of it as an interview. Take the tables on the left side of the room.”

Following his gesture, Columbine nodded and scurried off. She was her usual friendly cheerful self with the patrons. With the pace of the common room, she was able to leave behind the stress and worry of the household that usually followed her all day long. In the back of her mind, she realized that the job would do more than give the family much-needed income.

Soon everyone was served and the other waiter looked at her with a grin. “Thanks,” he said softly. “Arthur,” he added, extending his hand. He gestured at the barkeep and said, “He’s Baxter. The chef is Alair and his helper is Celeste.”

“Columbine Carolle,” she replied. “The proprietor is?”

“Bergren Shadowmoon,” the man in question said. “You’re hired Miss Carolle. Welcome aboard.”

“Thank you sir,” she replied.

“Thanks indeed,” Baxter added. “Maybe now I can stay here and keep an eye on the drunks.”

“Maybe,” Bergren agreed with a smile.

Walk in Empty Places

He didn’t know where he was going. He didn’t remember where he’d been. He didn’t know why he was traveling on the empty road. All he knew was that he must keep moving. He paused to drink from streams or eat wild berries that he recognized as food. Perhaps they’d been baked in pies. He didn’t remember that either.

Once he paused to sit on a rock. Arthur frowned as he rubbed his feet. He’d been walking for hours and still had no idea where he was. He was lost in the wilderness. It reminded him of something but he couldn’t remember what. Then he looked up and saw smoke rising in the distance. This reminded him of something too but he couldn’t tell what that was either. He stood and walked toward the smoke, not bothering to follow the road.

It was sunset by the time he reached the source of the smoke. Arthur had traveled over rocky scrubland and through several groves of trees, but he’d kept the smoke plume always directly ahead of him. Now, scraped in half a dozen places and even more footsore than he’d been when he spotted the smoke, he reached his destination. It was an inn.

The inn was at the crossroads of three highways. A small village lay not far away, but the inn had been his destination. He stepped inside and watched the hustle and bustle of the crowd. A small blond man was just barely keeping up with orders shouted by patrons.

Close by someone shouted, “How long does it take to get a simple ale?”

Arthur blinked and went to the bar. He poured the ale and brought it to the man. It was the same thing he’d done in his uncle’s tavern until the building had burned down. That he remembered.

More orders were shouted at him and he did his best to fill them all. Soon everyone was served and he leaned on the bar to catch his breath. The blond man looked up at him and smiled, “Looking for work?” he asked.

Arthur nodded and replied, “I think so.”

“You’re hired,” he said. “Bergren Shadowmoon. I own the place. We have a chef in the back, Alair. He’s gruff but kind. Welcome aboard.”

“Thank you,” Arthur murmured before he set off to collect the coins that the patrons were holding out to him.

Alair pulled his backpack up and secured it before he set off down the road. The master chef he’d been studying under had said the only thing he needed to do was hone his craft now. He’d learned all he could from the man. Now he needed to find a place to ply his trade.

He thought back on his youth and smiled at how far he’d come. His parents had been traders and he’d been going “topside” since he’d been old enough to follow directions and not get lost. When his father had decided he was old enough to learn a trade, his father gave him a choice. He could become a trader, a smith or a miner. Alair had surprised his father by presenting a third option.

He wanted to be a chef. Traveling topside had introduced him to the wide assortment of foods that could be prepared and eaten and he found he liked the variety. He wasn’t satisfied with the thick stew and crusty bread that most dwarves ate. He wanted to have roasts, fine pastries and delicate soups. The best way was to learn how to make them himself. His father had warned him that none in the underground would like that sort of food. If he became a chef, he would stay topside.

Alair was fine with that. He found a master chef and learned the art of fine cooking. Now he was a journeyman and ready to hone his craft. All he needed was a venue. He knew none of the inns or taverns in town were hiring, so his path led him to the main road.

It was about mid-day when he found the little country inn. It looked like a cozy sort of place. It was also obviously in the midst of extensive repairs. He opened the door and peered inside the common room, calling, “Hello?”

“We’re not open until nightfall, I’m afraid,” a reply came from a back room. Alair followed the voice to a sparkling kitchen. A young blond human sat on a stepladder, sanding delicate woodwork above the door. “Hello,” he said as he spotted Alair. “Bergren Shadowmoon.”

“Alair Brightblade,” the dwarf said. “Journeyman chef.”

“Oh,” Bergren said, clearly pleased. “I was just about to put a shingle out asking for workers – a chef included.” He climbed down from the ladder and smiled as he added, “We’ll need a barkeep, at least one server to start and someone to clean.”

“What about yourself?” Alair said. “What are you going to do?”

“Manage the books… and keep the peace,” Bergren replied. “If I can fill out my roster. So far I’ve been doing everything. Though I’m not a very good cook, I’m afraid. Kara could only make stew and crusty bread. I can’t seem to manage that.”

“You won’t get that from me either,” Alair snapped. “Point me to your store-room and I’m make you a dinner fit for a king’s court.”

“By all means,” Bergren said. He led the way down to the basement storage. Soon enough Alair was happily ensconced in the kitchen.

Bergren watched with the other slaves as his master was laid in the ground. The man was dead, killed by one of the slaves – no one knew whom. No one knew it was Bergren himself; not yet anyway. He had no doubt that when the authorities finished their investigation, he would be their top suspect.

As the crowd dispersed, Bergren followed them as far as the gatehouse, then ducked into the nearby forest. It would take the overseers a while to figure out that he’d been bold enough to escape. He would be well away before they did. He followed the path of the sun, while it moved overhead. Soon he found the main road.

Following the road, he found a small farmhouse. He left his slave clothes behind and stole a simple shirt and slacks off the line where they were drying. Someday he hoped he could repay the owners. For now, he had to continue moving.

Bergren continued along the road, blending in now with other travelers. As dark closed in, he reached a ramshackle inn. He entered the common room and found it a dank shadowed place. An old man stood behind the bar, rubbing the dingy wood with an equally dingy cloth.

“I… I need a room for the night,” he said softly. “I have no money. Perhaps, do you need a helper?”

“Might be. Get yerself in the kitchen and clean. They’s a room be’ind it you c’n sleep in. Do good work and you c’n stay.”

Bergren bowed and scurried into the back. An old woman stood stirring a stained pot full of soup. He inclined his head at her and began to clean, as he’d been taught since he was a child. By the time the common room closed for the night, the kitchen was beginning to look like a safe place to work and eat food from. Tomorrow, he would make sure it sparkled. He went into the back room the old man had mentioned and fell onto the cot in an exhausted sleep.

The next morning, he stepped out into the kitchen and the old woman was smiling toothlessly at him. “Breakfast and a change of clothes, Sonny,” she said. “Half day’s wages too. B’ain’t much but it’ll do an’ ye’ll get more t’morrow if’n ye work lite ye been. End of week so ye pay yer penny to the Man and yer penny to the Lord,” she added.

“Yes ma’am,” Bergren said. He looked down at the small sack of coins that had been set beside his breakfast. He would still have three pennies left after the required taxes. Tomorrow he would get ten pennies, nine would be take home pay. He was being paid now. He was no longer a slave. He was free. Even with the pittance he was being paid, he was happy.

Monica Ferris

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