The Roadhouse, part four

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"What's that?" Arthur said as they passed a door just before their own inn. It had a sign hanging over it he didn't recognize.

Harbend threw a glance in the direction Arthur pointed. "That is the Taleweaver's Inn."

Arthur was perplexed, trying to remember, and Harbend laughed.

"Yes, you have heard the expression earlier. Remember our last evening in Verd?"

"Yes, but we didn't go to a place with this sign there."

"There is one, but you are right. We did not. I told you about tales and their value."

Now Arthur remembered. "But that's bloody marvelous! Why don't we go in and listen to a tale here then?"

"Because we cannot. It is open only for those in the profession."

"Oh. Wait a minute. Damn it, I'm of that profession." Arthur saw Harbend's expression. "Sorry, minute, measurement of time in English. About the time it takes you to walk a hundred paces." Harbend still wore that look on his face. "What is it?" Arthur asked.

"I know what a minute is, approximately at least, but you are saying you should be allowed into a Taleweaver's Inn. Now that is what I call overconfidence."

Arthur felt resentment rankling in him. "Now my dear Harbend de Garak, merchant superior with your own trading house. I'm Arthur Wallman. I entertain with words of wonder. Whenever one of my shows is displayed back home more people watch it than live on this world. My Golden Secret shows have an audience so large the total number of souls that ever inhabited this planet from times forgotten to today doesn't even come close." The tingling of excitement that usually came just before a performance suddenly crept through him. "Where I come from I'm not just a taleweaver. I'm the taleweaver all rising stars are compared with in the feeble hopes they may ever ascend to my status."

Harbend backed away and Arthur resolutely knocked on the door. It opened and he saw a wrinkled face peering out at him.

"What do you want here?" The question was basic enough to understand even though it had been spoken in De Vhatic.

Arthur turned to Harbend. "I could need some help with translation."

"Forget it," Harbend answered and shook his head. "If you fail to even make yourself understood well enough to be let in then you should not be let in at all. I shall have a meal." He quickly vanished into the doorway to their own inn.

Arthur started to feel stupid. How did he expect to understand anything told even if he was allowed inside? Damn! He'd show Harbend anyway.

"My wish license to enter."

"This ... is open for ... only. You ... not enter."

Arthur considered giving up, but persistence wouldn't allow him.

"I ..." He searched his mind. "I taleweaver by profession. My wish to enter."

The old man in the doorway gave him a look filled with scorn, but he did step aside to give room for Arthur. He entered.

"Now, bold stranger, would you care to explain that obvious lie to me."

Arthur started. The words were in English. No they weren't, only as if they'd been spoken in English, but he somehow knew he was hearing De Vhatic as if it had been his own native language.

"How? Why?"

"You come to our door with a ridiculous claim, and you want to ask questions?" The face split in a smile. "The edict forces me to allow entrance to anyone who claims to carry tales, so come in. Who are you to speak a language I don't know? Not De Vhatic, nor Khi or Kordic. With your face you could have spoken Hirgish, Kastarian or even Vratistaric unlikely as that may be, because you don't look like the son of a hunter of the seas. However, you use none of those tongues, so I must assume you are one of those we call outworlders."

Arthur listened to the convoluted question. "I'm from Earth, yes," he answered after a while. "My name is Arthur Wallman. Before I came here I ran a newscaster with myself as the anchor. Before that I made my living, a very successful living, mind you, talking in front of a camera."

The man looked confused, and for a while Arthur was afraid whatever magic worked this place didn't handle English.

"I understand what you're saying, yet not. The knowledge of concepts cannot be translated to the mind unless grabbed, but that's a violation not to be committed by anyone."

Arthur wasn't sure he'd understood fully, but it made sense that some things he took for granted wouldn't be understandable even if his words for them were.

"I am what you call a taleweaver in my own world." He had to hope the explanation would do. The language magic here was a wondrous thing. Maybe he'd be able to chat with some locals after listening to a story or two.

He remembered something Harbend had said earlier. Damn you! There was a place like this in Verd. A place where he could have made himself understood, but then again, William Anderson had made it quite clear that was exactly what the merchant houses didn't want.

They went further into the building, passing through the narrow corridor Arthur had seen in all inns and entered the actual tavern. A few window slits allowed daylight into the room and he saw there were very few tables. All chairs were aligned in one direction, and he saw what could best be described as a small stage rising slightly from the floor. A fireplace was to the left of him and he guessed it shared the same chimney as the one in his own inn. The stage began just beside it.

They were alone.

"Doesn't seem to be a lot of traffic here," Arthur commented slightly disappointed.

"Rest assured that this room will be full long before nightfall." There was an evil glint to the man's voice, but Arthur decided not make anything out of it. He'd more or less barged his way in here anyway.

"You wouldn't by chance serve meals in here? Being a tavern and all I mean."

"Your meal is ready and will be served shortly."

"Thank you. I guess it'll be a surprise." Arthur smirked. He didn't fancy cold food, but he wouldn't start complaining now.

The man said nothing. He bowed and disappeared, probably to stand watch by the door again, Arthur guessed.

It was a strange place. The tables were more elegant than he'd have suspected from a tavern. The one in the inn where he lived had simpler furniture even though they were of high quality, but he wouldn't have expected less this close to Erkateren. Here he was sitting on chairs as exclusive as anything they were bringing to Braka, leaning his arms on a table in the same style. The walls were bare, but the woodwork was decoration enough.

He sat there admiring the workmanship when he heard a noise and looked up. The same serving girl he'd seen the previous evening came with his food. Sensible thing to share personnel, he thought. She set the large plate on his table and he gaped in disbelief. A T-bone steak made exactly like he wanted stared up at him from its place on the plate, simmering in a spicy sauce. There was no way anyone could have cooked the meal this fast, and he'd never even said anything about what he wanted.

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