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Down and Out in Pena and Tenalevan
01-04-2020, 12:57 PM
Post: #1
Down and Out in Pena and Tenalevan
L'Hotel Prastevere

The Hotel Prastevere had seen better days. Situated in the poor Esemplare Gudruna district of northern Pena, the hotel was a peeling reminder of a pre-War prosperity that had long abandoned one of the Anisoran capital's poorest neighbourhoods. The five-storey building was a typical example of Penan architecture, built two hundred years ago in the Acquavena style. What wasn't as typical was the peeling masonry and crooked window shutters that defied the clean uniformity of central Pena.

Giorgio Dantorino entered the hotel, removing his hat from his balding head as he greeted Signora Ambrano, the owner and landlady. She was stood behind the reception desk as she always was, guarding the entrance to her beloved hotel like a vulture guarding a decaying carcass.

The lobby was undoubtedly the best kept room in the hotel, with presentable side tables, reasonably clean still life paintings, and a neat row of room keys hanging on the wall. The rest of the hotel received only a fraction of Signora Ambrano's attention, who no doubt lavished such care on the lobby in the hopes of tricking a higher class of clientele into staying at the hotel, only to abandon them to their fate once she received their patronage.

"Good evening, Signora Ambrano."

"Good evening, Signore Dantorino. I assume you wish to dine tonight?" Signora Ambrano asked, her beady eyes looking him up and down as if she didn't trust his intentions to stay yet another night at her hotel.

"I do," Dantorino said automatically. "I shall be down at eight."

Signora Ambrano merely grunted, losing interest in Dantorino as she returned to her record keeping. Dantorino continued through to the staircase, which he supposed would have once been called 'grand'. Today it was the first indication after signing in at the lobby that the Hotel Prastevere was destined to be a disappointment. The balustrade was worn down to the wood, despite layers and layers of paint that had been applied over the years, with the carpet running up the staircase frayed and stained.

Dantorino mounted the stairs, his knees complaining as he ascended. A loud voice could be heard above him which soon turned into a shouting match in what sounded to Dantorino like Stoldish, or maybe Hallish – he couldn't be sure. As he reached the third floor, he realised the shouts were coming from the room next to his. Wonderful, he thought to himself, new neighbours. He fumbled in his coat pocket for his key and opened the door to his room, pushing it with his shoulder to dislodge it from the frame. The sound of Dantorino entering his room made the couple next door fall silent – for about three seconds. Their guttural shouts soon resumed as Dantorino removed his coat and sat on his bed, which creaked immodestly under his modest weight.

Looking around his tiny room, Dantorino sat back on his bed, the pain in his knees easing for the first time in a day of fruitlessly looking for work. He then turned to his bedside table and removed a small tin from the drawer, depositing the contents on the stained bed cover. The coins that fell out made a pitiful click as Dantorino's heart sank – he counted 4 grane and 39 centesimi. He instantly regretted saying that he would be dining tonight – the pitiful supper he would be provided would set him back about 1 grana with wine; and one couldn't dine without wine – not in Pena.

He swore under his breath as the couple next door started screaming at one another. If he didn't find work soon he would have to sell more of his clothes. He had already sold the suit his mother had given him and the 4 grane and 39 centesimi were all that were left of the proceeds. Still, as much as he wanted to smuggle in a loaf of bread for supper, he could hardly decline to go to dinner after saying he would. Dantorino feared Signora Ambrano was growing suspicious that he had no income, and while he had paid for a month's rent in advance after he sold his suit, he only had a week left before she would demand more money. Well, there was nothing for it. He would have to try all the harder to find work tomorrow.

An hour passed and Dantorino got dressed for dinner – which considering his ever-decreasing wardrobe meant polishing his shoes with spit and changing tie. The couple next door had quietened down about half an hour before – from exhaustion as much as anything else, Dantorino supposed. He had no clock in his room and so went down the hall to check the time – five minutes to eight. After locking his room door he headed downstairs, his stomach growling in anticipation. He had eaten nothing all day.

The dining room was on the ground floor and was more like a common room, so people were already in there whether they were dining or not. Dantorino chose a table in the corner, his back against the peeling wallpaper so he had a good view of the room. He caught the eye of Signora Ambrano who gave him a contemptuous look as she rushed into the kitchen, seemingly disapproving of his punctuality – although he knew if he had been late she would have been equally unimpressed.

The dining room was covered in an awful mauve coloured wallpaper that had gone out of fashion before the War, with pictures of equal antiquity hanging on the walls. A fading portrait of the Emperor and Empress hung near the entrance, which given the youthful complexion of the imperial couple must be almost thirty years old.

A man in his late twenties entered the dining room, his mismatched suit blending in with the mismatched wallpaper. Dantorino didn't know his name but he knew he was stimless, and that fact alone was enough for most people to avoid him. Stimlessness had a habit of surrounding someone with an aura that couldn't be shaken, like a persistent odour. When the patrona had discovered he had been banished from his stim she had almost evicted him, for despite the eccentric clientele the Hotel Prastevere attracted, Signora Ambrano remained fastidious about whom she permitted into her establishment. The first thing to greet guests when entering the hotel was a sign that read: No Izhaics, No Wolgos, No Dogs. Nevertheless, the man's offer to pay for three months' rent upfront assuaged Signora Ambrano of her misgivings about allowing him to stay, even if she remained openly hostile to the man. She barely acknowledged him as he took a table at the opposite corner of the room, as far from the bar as possible. Even though he knew he shouldn't, Dantorino couldn't help but feel sorry for the man.

Signora Ambrano rushed from the bar as she brought a bottle of wine to Dantorino's table. His heart sank as she plonked it on the table, followed by a mucky glass. Not bothering to pour the wine, she hurried off muttering that dinner will be five minutes late in a tone that encouraged no complaint. With the bottle as good as paid for, Dantorino poured himself a glass and looked over to the bar where the usual congregation of people were gathered.

He spotted Signore Giuletta, a seventy-year-old who had apparently lived at the hotel for over ten years. He was already drunk and Dantorino could hear him boisterously telling a story he had heard on his very first night at the hotel – a rather improbable tale that involved the old man killing a bear during the War. He had heard the tale several times during his stay at the hotel, and the details changed with each retelling.

Dantorino took a sip of his wine. It was awful but he swallowed nevertheless; it might be his last bottle of wine for a while. But unlike most of the guests at the Prastevere, Dantorino could survive without alcohol for more than a day.

Sat next to the old Giuletta was a Varennese man whose name Dantorino had forgotten. He had one of the attic rooms at the top of the hotel and made expensive shoes for the prosperous middle classes of Pena. He would spend most of the day in his room producing three or four pairs of shoes before selling them in the afternoon for rent and drinking money. He was one of the few guests that Signora Ambrano seemed to tolerate, which Dantorino suspected had to do with his love of spending money and his good looks. There were rumours that Signora Ambrano had had a lover in her youth from Varennes and the man probably reminded her of him.

As if to confirm his suspicions, Signora Ambrano emerged from the kitchen flashing a toothless smile at the Varennese man before approaching Dantorino's table and unceremoniously plonking a plate of what looked like tripe and potatoes on the table. She said nothing as she returned to the kitchen, barking at a pretty barmaid to move out of her way.

Dantorino looked down at his dinner and despite himself started salivating. He hated tripe, but he was so hungry that tonight it tasted delicious. He tried to restrain himself, handling his cutlery with poise as his mother had taught him lest he draw any unwanted attention. The rest of the hotel saw Dantorino as a down-on-his-luck middle class chap, an image he needed to cultivate lest they discover the real extent of his poverty. For despite the impoverishment that filled the Hotel Prastevere, most guests worked hard to maintain a façade of respectability and money; especially the Anisorans.

Having lived in and out of ramshackle hotels across the Anisoran capital, Dantorino came to realise that most foreigners who found themselves in a more 'lively' part of town accepted their lot in a way Anisorans found hard. They readily accepted their poverty and embraced the precarious existence they now faced with a mixture of cheerfulness, stoicism, and simple contentedness. Whereas Anisorans seemed to pretend nothing had changed, with many spending their last centesimo on trifles as they slowly starved to death merely to keep up the pretence. Or at least that was Dantorino's impression. Perhaps the Hellish or Hallish couple upstairs were arguing about finding themselves in a part of Pena that did not reflect the glamorous reputation of the Anisoran capital. He was sympathetic to their disappointment.

The hotel was packed with workers from across Anaria brought to Pena looking for work in the city's famed luxury industries: luxury shoes, upholsteries, furniture, tailoring, foods, wines, restaurants, hotels. It was often said that the Pena docks, if given a once over with a broom, could turn into a palace fit for royalty – one had only to remove the goods being transported from their crates. Of course, that reputation, which proved entirely false in Dantorino's experience, attracted craftsmen and ambitious workers from across the continent, as well as criminals. Despite its reputation for wealth, the Pena docks were not somewhere Dantorino frequented – except in his most desperate periods of needing to find work. His knees made loading and unloading ships almost impossible for him, but there are times when you must take what you can get.

As Dantorino continued his dinner, he noticed two women sitting at a table nearby whom he had never seen before. One was a middle-aged woman with greying hair, the other a very attractive young woman with piercing black eyes. They were chatting in a mixture of Cheltic and Anisoran, the two tongues rolling together in a way only multilinguists can understand. Dantorino spoke basic Cheltic, and he knew the accent well. His mother's second husband had been an Amberian soldier who had fought in Anisora during the War, and while the marriage had been unhappy, the accent was now easily recognisable to Dantorino.

"…horrible. Why couldn't we stay somewhere else, mama?" said the attractive girl.

"Because this was the only place that didn't charge a fortune," replied the mother, switching to Cheltic mid-way through the sentence. She looked around the dining room with a grim expression, evidently unsure of the wisdom of her own frugality.

"The wine's dreadful" said the daughter in a conspiratorial whisper, as if she feared the room would erupt in outrage at the suggestion. But Dantorino agreed – it was awful.

"Apparently they must export all the good stuff and drink the awful leftovers themselves" answered the mother with a smile. It appeared that whenever the pair were disparaging Anisora, they subconsciously switched to Cheltic. Dantorino found this all highly amusing and he sipped his terrible wine, concealing a smile.

On the table next to the Amberian women was an elderly man reading an out of date Auresian newspaper, the Porto Imperiale Register. Although he wore an Anisoran-style moustache, Dantorino knew he was an Auresian by the name of Signore Cavazerre. He had arrived at the hotel a few days after Dantorino and they had got talking one evening. He had fought in the War, as most of his generation had, and decided to stay in Anisora after the Peace was declared almost thirty years ago. He still had an extremely thick Porto Imperiale accent, despite having never returned to his native city since the War. He had explained to Dantorino that his family had lost everything during the liberation of Porto Imperiale in the 7520s and that after his mother died he had nothing to return to. The old man's story had saddened Dantorino, but it was a tale he had heard many times, from people of all nationalities that fought in the War. Dantorino's own ancestral village in western Casella had been buried under a thousand Tahani shells and, like Signore Cavazerre, Dantorino had no desire to return.

The old man looked up and caught Dantorino's eye. He raised a glass in greeting and Dantorino smiled, raising his glass in reply. He had promised the old man a game of chess one evening, but he wasn't in the mood tonight, despite his desire to distract himself from his enduring unemployment. He dismissed the thought from his mind and continued eating his tripe slowly, savouring the feel of food in his mouth.

The dining room was starting to fill up now, a mixture of guests dining at table and those congregating at the bar looking for a drink. So too was the volume rising, with a dozen different languages and many more accents all fighting for attention. He heard the usual Anisoran accents – a boisterous and drawling voice from Pastana, a rolling Arrento intonation, even a harsh Vascanese accent. But it was the foreign accents that Dantorino enjoyed listening to most. It was one of the consolations of living in and out of hotels and lodging houses that one regularly talked to people from all walks of life from right across Gotha.

Perhaps the most exotic accent he had heard at the Prastevere was that belonging to a man from Tzeraka. He had been a fascinating man, with skin as black as night and a great many tales to tell. Signora Ambrano had not known what to do when he requested a room at the hotel. Being a typical snob, her instinct was to not allow him to stay at her hotel, but after reasoning that he was neither Izhaic nor Wolgos, she took his money and even took a shine to him. One evening, Dantorino had asked him how he found his way to Pena. Speaking good Anisoran, he explained that his father had been an Anisoran lord's close friend, having met one another while hiking in some Tzerakan mountain range after the War. After bringing his new comrade and his family to Pena, the Anisoran lord died and his heir had no interest in supporting his father's foreign friend. As a consequence, the Tzerakan man and his family were left penniless in a strange land with no means of getting back to Tzeraka.

A group of people speaking loudly around a nearby table caught his attention. They were speaking in a mixture of Anisoran and Auresian but with thick Stoldavic accents Dantorino struggled to place. After a few seconds he tuned into their conversation and heard them talking about the current situation in Aedeland with such disgust in their voices that Dantorino concluded they must be Vittmarkers. They were arguing over Aedeland's occupation of a province of Vittmark – Dantorino hadn't even realised Aedeland had occupied a part of Vittmark. Somewhere called Hagen, apparently. International politics had never been Dantorino's strong suit.

Dantorino looked down at his plate and realised he had finished his dinner. He was still hungry, but the food had had a restorative effect after a long day of looking for work. And the wine was starting to work its magic too. He found himself not thinking about his enduring poverty, which put him in a good mood. He rose from the table, bottle of wine in hand, and headed to the bar. He decided he would pick the most interesting sounding accent he heard and befriend them – he was in the mood to broaden his horizons.

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