Monday, May 9, 2011
The taproom of the Stellzburg Inn was full of life. Life that had eluded Winn up until this time. The energy and excitement that was not found in a library. Travelers, mostly men, and mostly strangers to each other, were drinking, laughing. The innkeeper, his wife, and their servers threaded themselves through the crowd, delivering drinks and food with smiles, and sometimes a wry comment that made the customers laugh.
But it was all perfectly aboveboard. Respectable even.
Somewhat disappointing, that.
“For a minute there you looked blissfully happy, so how is it I rejoin you and you’re wearing a frown?” Jason asked as he returned to the table. “Er . . . you have foam on your nose.”
“Oh!” Winn said as she turned bright red. Jason reached in his pocket but came up empty.
“Damn,” he said, handing her a cloth napkin from their table. “I keep forgetting these are not my own clothes and my handkerchiefs are not where I expect them to be. No, you missed.” He indicated her face.
She wiped again but must have missed the offending foam again, because Jason took the napkin from her hand and, cupping her chin, wiped the end of her nose gently. “There, you’re perfect. Now, why were you scowling before?”
“I was?” she asked, her face remarkably hot. Must be the beer, she decided. “Oh, I was reflecting.”
“Reflecting?” he asked, bemused. “On what, pray tell?”
“That reality rarely lives up to expectations.” At his quizzical expression, she continued. “I thought the taproom of an inn would be . . . bawdier. More like a public house.”
Jason turned completely still. “You’ve been to a public house?”
“No, but I’ve seen illustrations,” she argued. “Someone playing a fast fiddle in the corner, barmaids with their breasts spilling out. Also, I would like to have some illusions preserved. But here we are in the German countryside, and I have not even seen one pair of lederhosen,” she finished mournfully.
Jason threw back his head in laughter, his deep- throated guffaws drawing the attention that Winn’s hesitant giggle had not.
“Expectations are a heavy lot. Perhaps we can find you some lederhosen in Nuremberg. But for now, just be happy that we are amongst actual Germans.”
“Why?” she asked, her eyebrow going up.
“Because they are logical enough to bring us— and charge us for— only one and a half plates of food.” He smiled.
“Thank you,” she replied with a nod of acknowledgement.
And it was not some few minutes later that the innkeeper himself brought over their food— smelling so good and buttery that Winn for a few seconds considered that maybe she could have made use of a full plate.
“Danke,” she said to the innkeeper in anticipation of being served her eagerly awaited meal. Jason casually put his arm around her back, some proprietary instinct letting the innkeeper infer they were indeed coupled.
“Bitte.” The innkeeper smiled back at them. Strange, for the first time since they had met, the innkeeper’s stern countenance had fled, lending him a sort of elfin charm. “I hope you are enjoying yourselves, yes?” he continued in English, still holding the food on his tray.
“Yes,” “Very much,” she and Jason replied in turn.
“Four days married.” The innkeeper shook his head with a smile.
“Five tomorrow,” Jason said, his voice straining on the lie. “That tray looks terribly heavy,” he continued, practically salivating— for which Winn could not blame him. “You should set it down . . .”
But the innkeeper was lost in his own line of thought to even consider placing the tray of food in front of two famished customers. “I remember when I was four days married! My wife— she was so young and lovely we did not emerge from our rooms for the whole week!”
“Er, right,” Winn piped up. “But we were a bit hungry, you see . . . from all the . . . staying in. So if you could— ”
Then the innkeeper turned and addressed the whole room in his booming voice in German. The room gave a solid cheer and then began clapping in time, chanting the same word. The last one the innkeeper had said to them: “Kuss.”
“What on earth?” Winn asked, utterly confused.
“He told the room we are newlyweds,” Jason whispered to her and then hesitated. “And then he said that . . . oh, just follow my lead.”
And he leaned down and kissed her.