Sean Finian O'Brudhear and the Bowl of Brown Stew

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2019-07-02 08:32:30,
2019-07-05 14:41:06
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Sean Finian Discovers the Belching Badger

Ten o’clock of a morning during Oferand of 1889, and the Manenlande Line passenger airship Northern Star slipped into Gearford’s Barrett district docks, the termination of a week-long run from Adelon to Antiford. As the captain deftly guided the big airship into port, Sean Finian O’Brudhear stood at the rail.

A week previous, young Sean Finian had been enjoying the life of being the only progeny of a comfortably upper middle class family in Adelon, but a misunderstanding involving a buxom and beautiful Yeti girl named Charlotte and said girl’s hot-tempered and politically well-placed betrothed had necessitated Sean Finian’s immediate departure for warmer climes. Having been caught in flagrante delicto with the maiden by her incensed and unreasoning betrothed, Sean Finian decided that the most prudent course of action would be to grab his trap pack and slope for Antiford.

The airship docked, the gangplank lowered, and young Seam Finian found himself disgorged into the Barret district of Gearford with nothing but his straw topper and the clothes on his back, plus what few personal possessions he could hurriedly throw into a duffle . . . . and a couple of thousand Manenlandean kroon he had squirreled away from playing poker and tossing a little Three Card Finian in the back rooms of the taverns of Vauraus.

Sean Finian’s immediate concern was hunger. The amenities on the Northern Star could only be described as spartan, and that was if the one describing was of charitable mindset. Airship travel on the Manenlande Line was hardly of gourmet standards, and the general practice among experienced passengers with discriminating palettes was to pack their own comestibles for the trip rather than leave themselves at the mercy of the airship line’s galley. But Sean Finian had departed in a bit of a rush, and consequently, he also departed sans sack lunch and had to make do with the rough provisions of the galley. 

Thus did Sean Finian set out from the docks in search of a restaurant, a tavern, an inn, a pub or even a halfway clean sandwich cart. 

He had not gone far when he found the Belching Badger. Nestled between a tobacconist and a barber/dentist, its signage emblazoned with a picture of a belching badger rampant, the Belching Badger proclaimed that both “Victuals and Potables” were to be had within.

“Victuals and Potables,” thought Sean Finian. “Just the thing.”

And into the Belching Badger he strode.

An establishment that calls itself the Belching Badger does not set an exceptionally high bar of expectations, and this Belching Badger did not live up to even those low standards. The best that could be said was that it was tolerably clean, but Sean Finian could not say for certain because it was also so dark that it took his eyes a few moments to adjust to where he could see anything. When he could see, he noted that there was a bar along the left side of the room and a half dozen roughly hewn wooden tables and chairs to the right. There were two doors on the rear wall. One was a spring-hinged pair of half doors that obviously led to the kitchen. The other apparently led to a back room, or maybe outside, Sean Finian could not tell.

A single barman worked the bar counter, and Sen Finian watched as the man drew two glasses from the single tap and delivered them to two men seated at one of the tables. Words were exchanged in low tones, and Sean Finian saw one of the men pass a bill to the barman, then all three men went to the mystery door, where the barman knocked thrice and let the other two pass through.

“I wonder what is back there,” thought Sean Finian, although he was pretty sure he knew.

There were two other men at one end of the bar, probably dock navies, thought Sean Finian, based on their attire. They were both eating some kind of unidentifiable stew from wooden bowls. The stew looked hearty. It was thick and brown and hot, and the men sopped it up with chunks of black bread.

Sean Finian donned his best just-got-off-the boat persona, doffed his topper and said “Greetings, gentlemen. What’s on the menu?”

One man didn’t even look up, but the other said “Brown stew. A big bowl of brown stew. That and black bread. The brown isn’t much behold, but it’s cheap, and the bread ain’t too bad if you can soften it up a bit first.”

“Anything else?” asked Sean Finian.

“Nope, that’s it. Brown stew and black bread. And the finest peanut butter milk stout to be had in all of Gearford.”

Sean Finian looked at their two bowls of brown and asked “What’s in it? Ox? Boar? Stag?”

“We don’t know for sure, but we like to tell ourselves it’s chicken. If it ain’t chicken, we’ll settle for goat.”

And the second gent finally spoke, “It is best if you wash it down with a couple of glasses of stout.”

Before Sean Finian could solicit further editorial comment on the brown, the barman approached him and asked, “What can I get you?”

Sean Finian was feeling lucky, so he said “How about a bowl of that brown stew and some black bread? And a pint of whatever comes out of that tap.”

“Brown and a pint coming up,” repeated the barman.

 “And how about a couple of pints for my new friends here?” said Sean Finian.

The barman drew two more pints, then went out to the kitchen and returned with a steaming bowl of brown and some black bread, which he slid in front of Sean.

Sean Finian examined the brown with a wary eye. It was kind of like the stews his mother made, but not very much like them. His mother, the lovely Maggie Mickle, made the most wonderful stews -- beef burgundy, pot au feu, bouillabaisse, ratatouille – all rich and hearty, each flavorful in its own way. Brown, on the other hand, was a glutinous mass of a consistency more appropriate to caulking airship hulls. There was a pronounced film starting to form on the surface. Sean Finian gave it a stir and a tiny little hoof came to the top.

“Oh, look! Our friend here has got himself some nasty bits,” said one of the men, for now Sean Finian, having sprung for a pint of stout, was counted among the fellow’s closest chums.

Sean Finian knocked back his pint of peanut butter milk stout, which he admitted was not. He could even taste the slightest hint of peanut butter, and he immediately ordered another in hopes he could then get the brown down.

As the brown cooled, it coagulated to the point where he could stick the spoon into it straight up, and the spoon would stay when he withdrew his hand.

“At least it is cheap,” thought Sean, “and if these people eat it all the time, it probably won’t kill me.”

Three pints later, he was able to finish it. He was, at least, no longer hungry.

He ordered another round, then lifted his glass and made a toast.

“To you, gentlemen, my first new friends in Gearford,” he said.

Then he eyed that door to the back room through which the two men had disappeared when he first walked in.

“So, tell me, sirs, does anyone play poker in this burgh?”