The Old Man

Jack Merry calls me The Old Man. Most of the rest call me Sir.

Looking for a conversation, or a seat? I'm not one much for talk this early in the evening, but if you want to save your strength to lift your glass, sit you down. You won't disturb me while I write, I'm sure. Yes, quite sure of that.

There's an old joke I like. 'A man has just hit someone's car, and is dutifully writing a note. The onlookers can't tell that what he's writing is: The witnesses think I'm giving you my name. Damn fools...' That one's so old, the original participants were driving chariots. All the jokes I like are old.

I've spent many a Winter's night here in the Pub, writing. No one asks what I'm writing - to these people, someone writing is as normal as a farmer in a field, and just as invisible. So they think nothing of it. They think they know what they're seeing. They don't, not really, but they seldom do. If it doesn't bother them, it doesn't trouble me.

But I've been recording the doings here since the Pub was two barrels and a board beside an open forge. I took my turns at both, too. When I fill up a volume, I put it in the Library, or that closet in the front hall where the old guest books end up. I kept the first one of those, as I recall. The place was collecting travelers like dust piles up in a corner, and I thought it would be a good idea to keep track of who came through here. You might say I'm the memory of the building.

Some folks only show up once, but can be memorable. A lot of the redecorating gets done after those visits, especially in the Pub. Some folks show up regularly, and I suppose I'm one of those. I like to winter here. When the Winter sets in, a wise man find a place to eat well, sleep soft and stay warm. And since I like to do all those things in a safe place, I keep track of the other guests. No one seems to notice, but then -- they've never noticed the few guests I've ∑ removed .. over the years. Though Jack Merry may realize how long I've been here, and how I watch the place. Jack watches everyone else, and I think he amuses himself by reading through the old guest books, too. Luck to him, if he does -- I'm not in 'em.

(Jack speaking. I know how long he's been 'ere. And I know who he really is which is why I call him The Old Man. How do I know? His Ravens gossip.)

Anyway, I'm comfortable here, and the old place likes me. We get on together, an old man and an old building, and neither one of us decrepit yet. Reynard there has yet to be stumped when I order something old and strange; nor does he scorn to serve workingman's booze. Whiskey may be dangerous when it's cheap, but akvavit and vodka are already so deadly, who cares if it's a cheap brand? Spending more coin on a fancy label is pointless when the stuff can be used to clean metal.

The place is getting lively and noisy now. The Solstice is barely six weeks past, and already people are talking as through Spring is here and it's time to go dance in the gardens. But if you know Winter well -- and I know it like a wife -- you know we're hardly halfway through. The year's temper can change overnight, and those hopeful trees in the courtyard will wake up with their buds cast in ice. Not that it will bother the trees. Trees are patient. But the anxious children in here will complain, warming their hands before their tame fire; then they‚ll call for mulled wine and hot whiskey, and dash out to stage a snow ball war between the Library staff and the gardeners. Children indeed.

And like children, they like their stories and music. They've got an interesting batch under discussion right now. Go check out the menu on the wall -- it's not showing what's to drink tonight, but what these youngsters have read over the last fortnight. Now, you might as well make yourself useful while you wander over there, and fetch me another drink while you're up. Tell Reynard to pull me another pint of methyglin.