To Drink the Forbidden Ale
“Alright, final game for the decider!” proclaimed Igor Trass as he continued to mourn his previous hand in the card game ‘Sevens’. “Double or nothing, winner takes all, no more excuses!”
It was a delightful Thursday morning in the town of OIvine, and Thursday—like most other days—was a day of luxury and relaxation for Igor Trass. This particular Thursday morning brought him and his aging posse of men to the Halfway for an early round of sociable cards; an activity that would lead to an unsociable amount of drinking and shouting within the first hour. The game the men played was Sevens, and the task was for each man to empty their hand of cards, while arranging and laying out the four suits on the table, each starting with their according seven. As per usual tradition, money would be the overall aim of the game, and some of the men never seemed to understand when luck was not on their side on any particular day—namely Igor. Already he was down four hands to Ade Underwool, and as the hands and games ticked by, so too did the prize money rise to staggering amounts.
“Double or nothing my arse!” cried Ade, swigging his flask of ale with the utmost delight “You must surely owe over one thousand pieces of gold by now, and I know for a fact you don’t have any ya miserable git! I don’t expect to be getting ‘em off ya, but you will be paying me something after this morning, ya hear Igor?”
“Hey now, Igor Trass is a man of his word! And if he promises you a thousand pieces of gold then by god you can count on him delivering! It just might not be right away of course...”
“Not half!” laughed Harinor, joining the group at first chance as his customers grew quiet for the afternoon. “Igor Trass is never one to tell a lie of course! You’ll see pigs flying and birds snorting before ya see even a penny of that money Ade, ya can be well sure of that ha!”
“Don’t I know it, that’s why I’m not letting this little fecker get away with slinking his way out of matters like this again. I’ll be generous Igor, fifty pieces of gold for me by the end of the week and we’ll settle it at that. For your sake I won’t even try figure out how much you really be owing me”
Contemplating the proposition, a slouched Igor reserved himself quietly in thought for a moment. Ahead of him lay five faces all bearing the same mocking condescending grins Igor had grown accustomed to from their games. It wasn’t the first time Igor struggled to pay his dues, and surely it wouldn’t be the last time he tried to worm his way out of them either. Harinor had made himself comfortable squeezing in amongst the encircled men, having brought them all an extra round of ale to keep them going. Ale; that’s what Igor needed to think, a nice tongue wetter to keep his mind flowing as he pondered. He gasped on a heavy slug, cautiously observing the eyes of Mr Foley staring back at him, clearly growing impatient for the next game. The last thing Igor needed was to aggravate them further, thus he decided to rely on the one thing that had taken him through the greater part of his life already—sheer luck.
“Like I said, I’m good for the thousand pieces of gold,” he proclaimed, much to the rest of the groups annoyance. Foolery was one thing, but by now Igor only seemed to be insulting Ade’s intelligence. Yet Igor, acting the swashbuckling swindler he figured himself to be in his own head, had faith in his trusty powers of persuasion, even if he wasn’t quite sure yet what to say. “But I doubt I can afford anything at all by the end of the week, 'tis a rough time financially really. I’m not exactly dropping coins out my arse these days. So how about this; you give me a chance to win my money back on something else, or at the very least, even us up? Hmm? What do you think?”
The men laughed. It was a typical Igor situation of refusing to pay his debt, and once again it grew more tiresome than ever. Ade however silenced them for a moment as he sparked up the tobacco weeds of his pipe. “Hold on a minute,” he said to them all “That’s not too bad an idea actually. One condition though; double or nothing, like you said yourself earlier”
“Deal!” cried Igor, once again ecstatic that everything seemed to be working in his favour, at least for a time. “So what game are we playing?”
“We’re not playing cards for this one lad,” Ade told him, the faintest of smiles forming at his corner lip. A tug of his pipe followed. “Like I said, I’ll give you a chance to call us even, if you’re up to it that is. All you have to do is knock back a full bottle of Old Ratchet’s homebrewed stout in under a minute, no spilling either, and the bitter stuff I’m talking about—the old stuff that Haridor couldn’t even sell in this place!”
Igor seemed un-phased to the challenge. Haridor would cringe at the sheer thought of such a task, yet the old man of the Trass house had remained perfectly still to Ade's ultimatum, perfectly peaceful and altogether too cocky. Old Ratchets ‘stout’—if it could even be called that—was amongst some of the foulest homebrewed alcohol ever to be concocted within the walls of Olvine, and was far more useful as a potent floor cleaner than anything. Knowing full well the legacy of the brew, Igor could only laugh and appear confident to save face before his peers, though within his own mind he knew his luck had once again managed to betray him, and he cursed it dearly.
It wasn’t long before Haridor had returned from the back room dusting off a very old, very shook bottle of what looked to be bearing a thick tar-like substance within. As he turned the bottle on his head, Igor could see the condition of the stout—it was thick, clung to the sides of the glass, and oozed like a filthy stain slowly spreading itself. It was revolting to all observing, but to none more so then Igor—who unfortunately was the one man who had to ignore the warm sickly feeling suddenly arising in his stomach. “Last chance to back out Igor,” laughed a mercilessly delighted Ade “But if you do forfeit I will be expecting my money. And I will be getting it as well lad, one way or t’other!”
With a determined snap, Igor seized the bottle from Haridor hand’s without delay—all to a mighty cheer from the entire Halfway faithful, where the crowd gathered to gaze on had indeed grown large.
“Under a minute you say?” spoke Igor with the faintest of laughs “And here was me thinking you were going to make this a challenge!”
He uncorked the bottle, dropping the piece of wood to the floor as his eyes flinched to the unearthed pong. It hit like a ton of brinks, a foul staleness that was better off left sealed within the bottle no doubt for now it burned Igor’s eyes like no such feeling he felt before. He struggled to hold his gag, but the men were too sharp not to notice it, and laughed accordingly so. Already he was struggling, and none of them could have been happier. “Cheers boys!” were the Trass man’s final words before staring upon his chosen concoction one last time, his nose still tickled by the harshness of its aroma. With the final thought that alcohol was still alcohol no matter how horrid, he realised there was no better man to drink then he, thus he tipped the bottle and proceeded to chug.
Harinor immediately began to count his time. Together Ade and Mr Foley burst into a cheer as the smell of the godforsaken brew had hit even their senses, and they could only imagine the pong off its taste. Yet Igor was prevailing somehow, and already he had scoffed the bottle down to its neck with seemingly little effort or difficulty. The crowd quickly grew behind his efforts, and which each passing second his task seemed that little bit more impressive, while always remaining disgusting. Time quickly passed by, as the bottle reached that little bit more emptiness with every second—the thick blackness of the liquid still staining the glass as it drained down Igor’s throat. Harinor looked toward Ade, who himself had grown more so impressed with the feet then to think of his owed money, and urged on Igor as the last remaining drops of the bottle neared. Igor’s hands clung to the rim of the circular table; his finger tips began to grind the wood as those nearest to him could see him begin to gag and choke, but though it all, he managed to spill not a drop, and continued his challenge of sheer stupidity. With a bang upon the table, Igor slammed the bottle with a satisfying gasp of completion and called time. Harinor, as impressed as he was, returned a cheerfully delighted look only to inform him of his time of one minute and three seconds.
“Tough one lad, but none of us will doubt you for effort. It was a colourful attempt to say the least!”
Igor, cursing his luck all the more vocally now, had suddenly gave up on saving face and tore into a rage of convulsions and curse words. “Colourful? Colourful?! Flowers are colourful Harinor, the sky is colourful! Feck it that rash on my leg is even colourful, but nothing about that stuff or anything like it could be called ‘colourful’! And even still, a minute and three seconds? How quick were you counting? It was supposed to be me going as fast as I could, not you! That was never more than fifty six seconds, not a hope ye crooks! Pah! I’d sooner drink out of my own toilet then do that again, urgh, I can still taste it in the back of my throat...like swallowing off sheep’s bile or something like it, terrible altogether!
He halted his rant for a faint moment, his mind suddenly overpowering his motoring tongue with a strange thought. “And yet...” he began, curiously “I had the strangest feeling like I had does this before, or something like it. Even the taste was somewhat familiar?”
“Aye!” laughed Ade, all the more happy now than he ever could have been with his fifty pieces of gold “That’s because ya have alright! About ten year ago now I’d say it was. Except it was the dogs you were betting on back then, eventually losing your horse at the time to Harinor, do ya remember? Did the same old routine your doing now...but you managed to polish off the bottle of stout in well under the minute that time. It didn’t matter though, a few minutes later you dropped to the floor snoring with not a word out of ya afterwards, which we’re all desperately hoping will be happening again any second now”
“What? I don’t remember that?”
“Course ya don’t! You had a hard time remembering it even a few days after last time, and that was near ten years ago now lad. For all our sakes let’s just hope you’re not as sick for the next few days, not like last time. Like a dog going around the place you were, fecking’ hilarious though it was!”
Silence followed. The freshly emptied bottle of stout fell to the floor, its abrupt landing the only noise to break Igor Trass and his clearly alarmed state. Memory had vaguely hit him—he had made this mistake before, and made it in a very gloriously disgusting fashion that endured for days. It was an act he refused to believe he had just committed again, despite the fact that his head suddenly began to feel drowned out in alcohol, which was usually a good feeling for him.
“And you knew all along didn’t ya, ya horses arse!”
“Sorry lad,” said Ade with little hint of remorse “But I just remembered the story there when you were trying to get out of paying up what was owed to me. Thought it might be funny to see if you might have remembered too. Don’t worry Igor, you’ll be grand! And consider the debt cleared!”
“Ya little fecker, of course it’s cleared!” cried Igor, already begging to spin in his chair. The not-so-subtle sniggers of the rest of the men did little to quell the sickly feeling anger quickly rising within him. The already queasy state of his stomach was a sure sign of what was to come for the next few days. “One of ye go get me a glass of water now, or something! And bring me a bucket or something, I can’t promise this thing won’t come back up half as fast as it went down. And don’t think we’re at all even Ade Underwool ya tricky snake, no one makes a fool of Igor Trass but Igor Trass himself...they’re will be retaliation for this my friend, dear sweet retalia—...”
His words of revenge went uncompleted as three minutes ticked on the clock since Igor had polished off the bottle of stout, and history chose to repeat itself in a similar fashion. With a sudden pause, the old man’s eyes drifted off north toward the ceiling before he began tumbling backward on his stool, eventually landing perfectly flat upon his back like a hewn tree of oak toppled over in the woods. With little signs of life from old Igor for the time being, those remaining chose to continue their game of cards in peace.
Igor’s painfully groggy eyes managed to open sometime later. He was in the back room of the Halfway as best he could tell, perched on his backside and cocked up against a half spilt bag of grain. He mouth was ajar; his tongue half way down his face and craving the thirst-quenching taste of water. The clamyness6 in his mouth was matched only by the oozing sickness of his belly. And yet, he could only smile—partly because he had proven himself to be ‘Igor Trass: Still Olivine’s finest drinker’, and partly because he knew he was still pretty well drunk, and that always made him happy.
“How are you feeling?” said a voice. It was Harinor’s, though Igor wasn’t sure of it at first. He sounded grim, more condescending then caring, and was busy rummaging through some old boxes at the far end of the room when he heard the first stirrings of his friend in the past few hours.
“I-I’m not sure?” said a highly intoxicated Igor “I think I might have drank too much...or not enough...either way, I haven’t drank to exact right amount!”
The strange statement exhausted what little strength Igor felt he had, thus finding himself slipping to the ground as his reach over the sack of grain failed. The hurried footsteps of Haridor quickly approached him. “You’re going to need to get your head together Igor,” he told his drunken friend “Something’s happened”
The typically drunken man of the Trass house could hear a ruckus forming in the main hall of the tavern, but it was not like the usual evening cheering of its beloved regulars. There was commotion brewing, and a barrage of serious voices that Igor struggled to realise or understand, though one voice in particular stood out to his ears; his brother Tom’s.
“Urgh, what’s he doing here?” Igor demanded in a daze “Thought even the smell of a pub would offended his taste buds, smelly beggar! Thinks he’s always been better than me, well he’s in for a treat now that he’s stepped into the house of Igor, because no-one out drinks him! And by him I mean me!...Igor!...’cause that's who I am!”
“He’s not here to out drink you,” Harinor told him “He’s here because we’re after finding out some bad news. We tried to wake you a few hours ago to tell you but there was no stirring in you. Angus, in probably the only moment he was awake at the gate all day, was watching the Dervion caravan leave earlier on this afternoon. He came in here shortly after, half as drunk as you were, but at least he was making sense if what he was saying is true. He said he saw Zidain hope into one of the wagons Igor’s, he said he say the boy take off with ‘em down the road south by the Greenwood”
“My...Zidain? My boy?”
“Yes lad,” said Harinor, grim with worry “We went across to number six to see if there was any sign of the lad, but we only found Tom and Mera there. He rushed out to search the streets with us but we found nothing of him, with only Angus telling us he was full sure of what he saw. You know as well as I do what he’s like with what he thinks he see’s, but he sounds fairly well sure. But unfortunately that’s not all Igor. Tom’s young lad can’t be found either...now we’re thinking that the two of ‘em must be together. Tom’s organised everyone to gather here, he wants to head off into the Greenlands as soon as possible to try find them, for all the good wandering the forest roads might do, if any”
Harinor’s words appeared to be in vain. As the landlord of the Halfway turned back to his poorly placed friend, he noticed Igor had once again slipped off into a drunken snooze, perhaps not even fully hearing his words concerning his son. With a sign, he decided to leave Igor be, thinking him to be of little use for the time being. His idle hands returning to rummaging amongst the shelves, finding empty flasks of water and supplies for the open road, if need be. He gathered his things, gave one final sign of disapproval toward his friend, and returned to the main hall as Igor only slipped further into his second sleep of the afternoon.
The crashing feeling of cold, icy water broke across Igor’s face in a sudden moment of delusion. The water was bitter. It struck like a slab of rock, painful even, but waking the old man to a quick and frightening sense of confusion and panic. Wiping the soggy grey hair from over his eyes, he could see the image of a man sitting before him, perched upon his knees. “Get up,” the man told him, dropping the now empty bucket from his hands, “Get up this instant Igor!”
“I am up, hold your horses!” cried Igor, dazed but knowing full well the voice speaking back to him. It was Tom, and in all their years of awkwardness as brothers, the older of the two never sounded as bitter as he had in that moment. He held the look of a man struggling to bite his tongue and hold his words, each second observing the drunken slobbery of his brother seemingly enraging him that little bit more.
“It’s five o’clock in the evening,” he told Igor with some conviction “And my boy is missing. So is yours. Everyone has gathered to help; friends, strangers...all of whom plan on helping us scour the land to see what we can find. And where are you Igor? Your where you always are, passed out in a puddle of your own vomit feeling sorry for yourself, not a care in the world, especially not for your son! You’re pathetic!”
“Don’t come back here condemning me,” cried Igor, somehow finding resilience in defending himself. “We both know full well I could be the first one out there gathering as many people as I could, but you still wouldn’t be happy. You’re not happy until you’re in charge of everything, unless everyone looks up to you while you put me down. ‘Tis always been the same way, and it’s no different now. So don’t come riding in back here on your high horse telling me what’s what, I know what’s going on and I’ll be doing my bloody best to get my son back if it kills me. So don’t be telling me otherwise!” He paused. His mouth tasted bitter, and not just from the foul stench of ale that reeked from his breath. He looked to his older brother, who himself was starting back at Igor and asked: “Do you hate me that much?”
“I don’t hate you Igor,” Tom replied, rising from his knees “I just have a very hard time trying to like you”
The elder of the two held out his hand to pick Igor from the ground, but Igor, stubborn as he was at that moment, refused. With a disapproving sigh, Tom began to venture the back shelves for supplies.
“You were always the same,” Tom told him “You always tried to...sneak your way through life, through your problems, through your responsibilities. And somehow, someway, you always seemed to get away with it too. You’ve never looked out for anyone but yourself, whether you meant it or not, but it’s the truth Igor. And how do you think I feel watching you, having watched you all our life being like this? I worked for our father, I worked to support us when we were young, but where were you? You were always off somewhere else, nowhere to be found or just plain drunk spinning your ridiculous stories—”
“I don’t spin stories!”
“Yes you do, you lie and worm your way out of what’s important with fantastic tales of your idiocy, and none of it is has ever been true!”
“Yes it has!”
“No Igor, no it hasn’t! Do you remember when our father died? He left you the bakery, a bakery which had been a thriving business in Olvine since our grandfather opened it. And what did you do? You let it go to rot...you didn’t care about it, or what it stood for. You could never look at the bigger picture, just like right now, and just like the past few weeks when your wife needed you most. And you weren’t there. You were drunk as usual. Just like now”
Again Tom extended his hand and again he got no such reply from his brother. Now though it was different. Igor looked out upon his brothers outstretched arm with a slack looked of wide-eyed bewilderment. He had nothing to say but was given plenty to ponder. For a moment Tom waited, and after a length pause Igor threw up his hand and was pulled to his feet, albeit shakily. His legs weren’t still in the sturdiest of conditions, not to mention to grogginess of his pounding head. Tom looked to his visibly shaken brother.
“I don’t hate you Igor,” he said “I couldn’t if I wanted to lad, and god help me I’ve tried and tried. But right now what’s important is finding the boys, all of this can wait, and it will wait for another day. Now get a drink of water and prove me wrong about what I just told you!”
“She’s here. She’s with Alice and a few of the women from around the town. It’s not enough for her though, and by right she shouldn’t be seeing you in this state right now, but you have a responsibility to her as well as your son. Get out there Igor, look after her”
With his supplies gather, Tom expressed one final look. Staring upon his brother, bearing witness to the overbearing smell of a man looking far from his best, he didn’t know how to react. He truly did wish to hate Igor at times, have lost count of the many incidents in which he cursed his younger brother’s name. Somehow though, he always came around and every little indiscretion was forgiven or forgotten. Hopefully now would be different. Placing his hand upon Igor’s shoulder, he hoped now that his brother would change, that Igor would see that his son needed him, and for once he needed to be there to protect them. He hoped to see him ready and waiting to depart as they left for the Greenwood, though knowing Igor, he couldn’t be sure that he wouldn’t be asleep again by the time they were prepared. “We leave in fifteen minutes if you’re coming,” he informed him frankly, and with that he left.
The main hall of the Halfway seemed to have more people stumbling about within it then it ever had during the past ten years. Unfortunately for Harinor, for once they weren’t here to drink. In a rare occasion the Halfway pub remained dry as the town came together to help out their neighbour’s in need.
The barkeep had returned from the back room with the bare few pieces of equipment he felt he needed in the forest—a small blanket, a rather old pouch of water, and a small wrapped handkerchief containing a few slices of buttered brown bread. “Can’t go hungry now can we?” he said to his son Marcus, who sat idle upon the bar as he prepared. The boy smiled in response, not fully understanding the situation. “Mrs Foley will be looking after you till I get back lad,” he told him “Hopefully we won’t be too long, a few hours at the most, but I’ll surely be back before you go to bed tonight. I promise”
Tom Trass and his booming baritone voice had long since taken over the attention of the man hall. Having gathered as many of the men as possible, the innards of the beloved Halfway had quickly become filled with bodies wandering back and forth, gathering this and that as they prepared to head out into the wild. Those who held horses in the outside stable had long since been sent to ready them. Tom stood atop the tallest of the stools, every now and then trying his best to rally those around him while desperately praying for everyone’s safety, as well as his son’s. “Bring plenty of water, as much as you can carry!” he told them “Nightfall won’t be for another few hours and none of us know how much ground we have to cover. Bring blankets even, we might find ourselves camping in the forest if need be. Any of you who have small arms should bring them! Knives, short swords—anything! We can’t be too careful in the Greenwood, and as I’ve already said to you, any who wish to remain here should say so now!”
The men of Olvine listened intently to his speech, to his directions to stay put if they desired it. No one was forcing their hand and they knew it full well. Yet Tom Trass, unlike Igor, was considered a well respected man in Olvine, and with a hardy cheer they reinforced their loyalty to his cause, and he thanked them for it, before continuing his preparations. He had his own weapon ready for the journey. It was only a small hunting knife—a precautionary item he always carried on the long trip from Touridge to Olvine, but dangerous none the least. It looked faded and dull, but the blade was surprisingly sharp yet jagged, and Tom prayed he’d have no need of using it.
Igor cautiously emerged from the back room mere minutes after Tom had left him. He was dripping wet—having snuck out the back door to douse himself with a second bucket of water, if not for the smell then simply to wake him up that little bit more. It worked, albeit it would take more than that to fully cure his aching head. He spotted Mera at a distance, sat neatly placed at the corner window, her arm across a weeping Alice while her own fears were silenced. She was a strong woman, but at heart Igor knew the panic she must have been feeling, and for that reason alone he chose not to approach her. He knew full well she didn’t deserve to see him in such a state, especially at a time like this.
A knock on his shoulder re-alerted him. People were bustling by him at an alarming pace, each carrying different bits and pieces, some of use, others not. Ade Underwool was a few clicks to his left, scratching his head as he stood pondering over his old maps of the Greenlands, trying to see if he could still navigate the small country roads by the forest. It was no easy task to say the least. Mr Foley approached him, baring several flasks of water and a large helping of Mrs Foley’s home cooks raisin buns for the road. He had packed for a long stay in the woods, and Igor knew full well he was the one man to count on to not come home until Zidain and Tomas were found. It made him smile, knowing for some strange reason his friends still stood by him when needed.
Tom had all but readied his search party. The men stood packed and ready within the main hall of the Halfway—at least thirty able-bodied men ready and waiting to move out. It was after half five and Tom was eager to get moving, every passing minute meant the boys were only moving further away, as far as Cirgon even if luck was against them. “Remember we go in groups of three!” preached Tom as he gave his final words. Alice snuck up on him clenching his hand as he addressed the crowd. “I’ll take the roads west, and Ade Underwool is taking his group straight south through the Greenwood. The rest head west toward the cornfields and then turn off south toward Hallow ridge. And try to remember: cover as much ground as you can, if the boys got out of the wagons they could be anywhere. Good luck to all of you, and thank you once again!”
The men cheered in anticipation and began their exodus of the building, trampling the ground in a near frenzied charge of what seemed to be excitement. Tom proceeded as well, but a tapping on his shoulder drew his attention to his rear. His brother Igor stood there, smelling far more bearable then their previous encounter, yet still pale and bewildered.
“What can I do to help?” he asked “Have you room for one more?”
“That depends,” said Tom “Are you ready to leave now. I’m done waiting you for”
“Jaykers just say the word and we’ll be off!”
Tom looked at him for a moment. He had indeed sobered up, but more than that. He held the faintest aura of determination about him, something Tom could never remember seeing in his brother, and it nearly brought him to smile, though he refused to let Igor notice his satisfaction. He could see Mera in the background. She didn’t approach, but she gave a friendly nod which Tom returned with a reassuring glance, and he turned to Igor.
“We’ll then grab your things,” he said “And let’s find our boys!”