PIECES OF PERIAN 13

Perian rode down the one winding street of Skyrholm and turned in at the Barrel House Inn. He bought ale, cheese, and coarse bread, and sat down in a corner. Many of those drinking gave Perian a courteous “Good evening” or at least a nod. The servant-girl told him he could get a bed for the night and stabling for his horse. Perian bought more ale, and found himself drawn into a circle of drinkers.

“South, that’s the way to travel!” one man was asserting loudly. “South where it’s warm day and night, and the wine is cheap and the women willing and the pickings easy for an honest merchant.”

There was a roar of laughter at the fellow’s claim to be honest, but Perian said eagerly,

“Tell me of the south! I have never been there.”

The merchant eyed him, winked at his fellows, and said:

“Well, you see, it’s a different world down there. Everyone rich as kings, gold and jewels used as coin in the market-place, fruits rare and delicious falling from every tree, dark-eyed women that don’t answer a man back, and wine such as you’d never believe after this thin northern ale.”

He drained his cup, and everyone looked expectantly at Perian. The king hastily ordered more ale for them all, and said, “Go on! Go on, it sounds wonderful.”

The merchant went on for some time. By the time he had finished all the truth and most of the lies, he and Perian were leaning affectionately against each other and gesticulating expansively with their ale-mugs.

“Really?”

“Honestly, my friend, as sure as I sit here, rubies large as eggs and gold in heaps!”

“And it’s always warm?”

“And the wine is plentiful.”

“There’s fruit on every tree?”

“As much as you can eat.”

“Are the women really beautiful?”

“Yes, young and beautiful, every one.”

“And kind and warm and friendly?”

Perian began to cry, but his new friend did not notice, since at this point he fell asleep with his head on the table in a pool of spilt ale. The kindly serving-girl, seeing Perian’s distress, led him gently up the stairs and left him snoring loudly on his bed.

bARREL hOUSE iNN

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