The Spirits Merchant was an aptly named inn on the outskirts of the shopping and trade district of University City, the southernmost settlement on the Island Republic of Draconia.
The inn was a sturdily built, two story brick building. Inside were two large taprooms on the main level, and rooms for rent on the second floor. The Spirits Merchant also happened to be the closest inn to the University Arcanum from which the city took its name. With such a prime location, it wasn’t uncommon to find both the stables, and the lot adjacent to the inn, full of horses or steam powered carriages as their owners enjoyed a good drink with friends.
Since merchants had a tendency to look down their noses at the poor students, and the only slightly better off professors, the owners of the Spirits Merchant divided their large ground floor into two rooms to keep the groups separated. Like the clientele they were built to serve, the taprooms were as different as they could possibly be.
The only thing the rooms had in common was a series of fans linked together with well-oiled chains that ran along the ceiling to provide a comfortable breeze for their patrons.
The fans were powered by a steam engine hidden from view in the basement. The engine was placed there to keep the merchants from having to hear its noisy rumblings, and to keep the drunk engineering students from tinkering with it.
The merchants wishing to imbibe did so in a room decorated with tasteful oil paintings of gentle landscapes. Conversations were had in comfortable, high backed chairs arraigned around small tables.
The room was designed to help the businessmen relax after a long day at work, and as such, those using that taproom were expected to be on their very best behavior. Secretly, many of the merchants yearned for the rowdy energy of the other room, but were too conscious of their social standings to be caught dead with the economically impaired.
When the inn owners designed the taproom devoted to those from the University, they went in a totally different direction. Instead of tasteful landscapes, the room was decorated with black and white pictures from a recent invention known as a camera.
While the quality still wasn’t that great where the photos were concerned, the fact that almost all of them were of nearly nude models more than made up for it in the eyes of the University crowd. Long tables ran the length of the room with benches on either side.
Where the merchants tried to keep things as quiet as possible, the students were always a boisterous bunch. One of the louder traditions that had evolved on the scholars’ side was that each customer was expected to stand, and loudly toast whatever they felt like at least once during their visit.
Gareth Mintel put a hand out on the table in front of him to steady himself as he stood up. When he was reasonably sure he wasn’t going to fall over, he lifted his hand, and brushed his shoulder length, sandy blond hair out of his eyes.
In an effort to look presentable, he tugged on the bottom of his waist length overcoat in a vain attempt at straightening the burgundy colored wool. His eyes lingered on the wide blue stripe and then the smaller green and brown stripes on his sleeve near the cuff.
The wide blue stripe signified he was professor in the School of Languages, while the small green one denoted he was simply a researcher in the Applied Magics department. The brown stripe was slightly larger than the green, but not as big as the blue one. The brown stripe showed he was an adjunct professor in the Archeology Department.
After raising his glass of wine (and managing to only spill a little bit of the golden nectar), Gareth shouted happily, “A toast… to misplaced accent marks!” With a well-practiced motion, Gareth drained his cup before slumping back onto his bench with a rather unmanly giggle.
In response to the toast, a young dwarf, barely over a hundred and twenty years old, took a mighty swig from his stein full of ale. He was dressed similarly to his adopted son with gray trousers, knee high boots, and a cropped, burgundy jacket.
Where Gareth had blue, brown, and green stripes, Dr. Tralnis Granitestaff had a single white stripe with gold embroidery on his to signify him as a doctor in the School of Medicine and a tenured professor to boot. After wiping the foam from his long, black beard, Tralnis leaned across the table to look at his son. “Not that I’ve ever found a reason not to drink to something, but what in the 34 layers of hell does an accent mark have to do with anything?” he inquired.
“Everything of course, and hopefully it should secure my tenure at the University,” Gareth replied. Seeing the confused look in Tralnis’ eyes, he went on. “You see, one of the most boring tasks given to a first year student studying Issian is to translate the works of the Issian philosopher, Dravis the Martyr. It’s supposed to build character, or some rubbish like that. My discovery changes all of that. It will make Dravis’ works something that people beg to translate,” he stated.
Instead of looking confused, Tralnis now looked skeptical. Noting his father’s expression, Gareth went on. “I was working in the library, and came across an original copy of the first volume of Dravis’ works. It turns out that whoever made the copies to be translated routinely put the accent mark in Dravis’ title in the wrong place. Instead of Dravis the Martyr, his real title was Dravis the Hung!” Gareth explained, his voice full of excitement.
Tralnis held up one hand in a gesture for Gareth to pause. “No offense Gareth, but only a language scholar like yourself could get excited about a little change like that. What does it matter if some poor dead sod is known as a martyr versus that he was killed by hanging?” he asked.
Gareth chuckled and gave his father a lopsided grin, and then swayed in his chair as the room started to spin a bit. When the walls started behaving like they were supposed to, and remained still, he tried to explain better. “That’s just it, Tralnis, Dravis died happily of old age, and I what assume was exhaustion, not from hanging,” he stated. Having his sense of humor influenced greatly by his Dwarvish father, Gareth timed his next statement for maximum effect.
While Tralnis took another swig of ale, he said, “Dravis’ title had nothing to do with his demise, but everything to do with how much the women (and a few of the men) from his village were impressed by the size the equipment below his belt, as well as the great uses he put said equipment to.”
Tralnis spit out his ale and sprayed it across the table. “You now have my attention, Gareth,” he stated needlessly. “Issian has very few words, and the placement of a single accent mark can change the meaning and context of an entire sentence.
Knowing where the accent mark was supposed to go completely changed how Dravis’ first work read. Turns out, it was just an introduction for the other six volumes which documented the techniques he developed over his lifetime of shagging. Of course after I learned that, I had to find the other six volumes,” Gareth told him.
“Of course!” Tralnis agreed with a grin. Now here was an ancient text the small doctor could appreciate. The only thing Dwarves like to do more than drink ale was have sex, and they drank a lot of ale.
“I dug through nearly every storage room in the library’s basement. I must have sifted through several tons of parchments before I found the collected works of Dravis. They were in an unlabeled box in the back of an alcove that was set aside for cleaning spells and rituals,” Gareth complained.
“Dravis might have had the appetites of a Dwarf, but he was nothing if not thorough in the documentations of the techniques he had either learned, or developed on his own. Volume 3 is well… let’s just say that I had to take a series of cold showers while I translated it,” he said, blushing slightly.
Gareth was interrupted when a thin hand was placed on his shoulder. The hand was brown with a wood grain pattern unique to the Dryad species. He turned to look up at her, and nearly fell off the bench. His lack of balance was partly due to how beautiful the Dryad was, but mostly due to Gareth being well and truly drunk. The Dryad had long, dark green moss that served as her hair, and eyes the color of forest soil. She was dressed in a gown that appeared to be made of small, green leaves which covered just enough to leave some things to the imagination.
Like most of her species, the Dryad was shorter than an average human, and her head would barely come up to his chin if he were standing. Her small stature gave everyone the impression that her rather full breasts were even larger than they really were, placing them well in the spectacular range.
“Excuse me for interrupting, Scholar, but the Issians were friends of my people before the Second Great Apocalypse and Dravis is very much revered by us,” she stated. Knowing that Dryads were a very hedonistic society (second only to the Dwarves), this didn’t surprise either Gareth or Tralnis very much. “Have you truly discovered the lost texts?” she implored. Gareth’s deep blush gave her the answer she was looking for. The Dryad tightened her grip on Gareth’s shoulder, and lifted him off of the bench with surprising strength. “I’ve rented a room upstairs. Let’s see how much of Dravis’ teaching you were able to retain,” she offered.
Tralnis held out his arm, blocking Gareth’s path temporarily. With his other hand, he reached into an inner pocket of his jacket, and pulled out a small vial full of a brown fluid that seemed to be constantly in motion. “Here, take this. You’ll want to be sober to fully appreciate all that a Dryad can offer. Also, I think the pretty sapling here would appreciate you at the top of your game, so to speak,” he offered.
The Dryad smiled in thanks while Gareth uncorked the vial with his thumb and downed the whole thing in one swallow. “Good gods, Tralnis! That tastes worse than your cooking!” he moaned. After a moment, the room stopped spinning, and Gareth’s smile matched the Dryad’s. “You perfected the formula,” he stated, pointing out the obvious. Tralnis nodded, and then jerked his head towards the stairs with a proud smile. “Right, don’t wait up for me,” Gareth joked before letting the Dryad lead him out of the taproom.
Tralnis waited for Gareth to leave the taproom before he stood on the bench and raised his mug. His deep voice could be heard from one end of the room to another as he spoke. “Tonight, my son has done that which many, including myself, never thought possible. He managed to attract a beautiful young woman who approached him, and nearly dragged him off to her bedchambers,” he stated. His comment was met with good natured laughter.
“Fellow scholars, that was not the impossible deed of which I speak. My son is a handsome man, and several woman have hoped to ensnare him. No, the seemingly impossible feat was that she was insistent he bed her, not despite him being a language scholar, but because of it!” he boasted proudly.
The room became quiet as his words sunk in. “Are you serious?!” a voice questioned from the crowd eventually.
Tralnis held his mug high. “I swear on this delightful ale that what I say is the truth. I witnessed it just a moment ago,” he replied. This was met with impressed murmurs. “To Gareth Mintel, may he continue to do the impossible!” he toasted, and then sat down.
All of the students, and a few of the professors stood, raised their glasses or mugs, and replied loudly, “To Professor Mintel!”
Tralnis chuckled to himself, and shifted down the bench to chat with an attractive couple of students who wore the gold sleeve stripes of the School of Mechanical Sciences. As he moved closer, he couldn’t decide if the young man, or the young woman was the better looking of the pair. Either way, he was sure he was going to have an enjoyable evening.