Story for the Day: Houlis

Frewyn is known for its pleasant and charming little villages, each one offering something to attract the curious eye, but while every village has its due charms, Houlis (Howlish) in southeastern Farriage draws everyone to its Food Hall, an old-world eatery that, for a small sum of a few silver, offers a three-course dinner and a musical performance which many a visiting trader admires and enjoys.

Houlis was a small village on the southeastern coast of Farriage. Situated high on the steep cliffs, nestled in neat rows between maundering knolls, the small coastal settlement of thatched homes made its main source of income in touristry, boasting the charms of a quiet country life with its rambling downs, black crags, soaring kites, peat fires, and voluble residents as a means of escaping the bustling drone of Farriage’s ceaseless and betimes disagreeable markets. Its exquisite views, pleasant walks, marvelous rides, distinct wildlife were only supernumerary diversions to the village’s main attraction: the Food Hall, a large and ancient establishment, complete with tavern, front room, night suites, bar and stage, outfitted in the old style, with iron pendents hung round, bronze sconces lining the walls, lace runners over oaken furnishings, lintels garnished with golden gorsebloom and dried heather, professed some of the best entertainment in the kingdom. Marridonian merchants and indolent lords traveled thither to enjoy what was deigned as an evening of traditional Frewyn revelry, complete with the kingdom’s most beloved songs, cherished stories, and treasured dances. It was an exhibition of Frewyn’s wit, candor, and musical prowess, to be played out for three hours to an audience who came with only a nominal knowledge of the kingdom’s customs, to educate them in the essentials within the confines and comfort of lavish surroundings, with the succour of the nearby downs, canopy of coruscating stars, sounds of the sea, and the prospect of a four course meal to lull them into submissive spirits. Entry into the exhibition was thirty silver for those sitting at the tables near the stage, but for those who lived in the village and maintained its careful appearance, seats at the bar were reserved, where nothing was expected of the locals but the usual pleasantries, general talk, and a “bit o’ craic” away from the sometimes uninformed and improprietous visitors.
The Food Hall was open to residents of Houlis for morning and afternoon hours, for as the main eatery in the place beyond the few bakeries and taverns on the high street, it must have something to offer the three hundred villagers other than what the excursionists came to enjoy, and here was a grand exhibition of Frewyn’s true heritage:  soft words, easy manners, and famous yarns that those who sought the true treasures of the kingdom came to admire. The considerate tourist who ventured into the hall sat at the bar, listening to many a gentle lilt and heavy brogue, relishing the freshly baked scones and salted butter, waiting to be let into the conversation, and found, much to his amazement, that those of the lower classes were conversable, knowledgeable, and engaging, each learned in many subjects, master of many trades, and well versed in the traditions of debate, contest, and codology. Everyone was a scholar, a farmer, an artist --or knew one—everyone told stories and sang songs, everyone bore interesting features and distinct attributes that seldom did an afternoon pass away without a friendship being formed, without a sorrowful parting being taken. Many in Houlis were involved with the trade in Farriage, as the wool from their old mill made its way north every morning, to be bought and sold at fair prices, which trickled down to Karnwyl where the sheep were raised and sheared. Discussion of wool, its quality and weight, its colour and texture, kept many a Marridonian merchant in the hall longer than expected. Comparisons to Gallei’s linen and Lucentia’s cotton were drawn, more traders joined the discourse, and where a visitor had meant to spend only an hour or two in the hall, a whole day might be gone before he realized evening was come.
     Many of those who lived in the village were employed at the hall and secured a tolerable income at taking orders, pouring drinks, and supplying the patrons with the conviviality and kindliness that only those indigenous to the place could offer, but while many of those visiting from Marridon and even from Livanon and Lucentia were glad of an evening of wholesome and joyous entertainment, the lords who visited were often less inclined to treat the men and women of Houlis with the graciousness and cordiality that their indefatigable smiles and agreeable persons deserved. Skirring into the dining hall in droves, lords and ladies ventured from their comfortable family estates in Farriage to be amused by peasant songs and the humble music of Frewyn’s quaint antiquity. It was a old-world evening for them, a charming image of how Frewyn once was, while they had elevated themselves by way of education and economy to improve Frewyn’s oldest families and bring them to the soaring heights of Marridon’s grand gentry. It was amusing to them to venture to Houlis, to hear the attractive accents and see the old-fashioned garments that belonged to one of Frewyn’s oldest villages. Those who worked in such a place must make so little, and every lord and lady who claimed their private tables could not but conjecture that there was no happiness in such a place, for how could anyone of reasonable means be satisfied with a thatched house in a small village disconnected as it was from the rest of good society? They came for the entertainment of what they deemed dearth and deficiency, they stayed for the dinner and the performance, and they left without discovering Houlis’ true enchantment: the view of the village under the power of evening. As the sun descended and prepared for its daily sloom, the cliffs offered an exquisite scene of the last intimation of day, the sunlight being swallowed by the sea, browsing the line of the horizon. Murmurations of starlings drifted across the skies in rolling currents, peat fires anointed every home, windows betraying warmth in an amber glow; the knolls blushed over with the subdued colours of night, the houses glimmering in soft candor along the coast; streams tinkling under mills frothed into estuaries, their waters slinking out into the sea two hundred feet below the crags; mist rose and caromed of the undulating mounds in a feathery smoke, consecrating the canopies and forming mare’s tails across the skies: here was Frewyn’s true tradition, its rambling verdure, its teeming shores, its quiet cheerfulness, its lively establishments, and though the winter storms had inundated the village with heavy snows, the Food Hall, with its immense hearths and roaring fires, stood a beacon of Houlis’ warmth and hospitality despite the unwelcoming cold.