Continuing from Joviality and Banter from Animulls.
“Your poor mill has had its struggles since the change, hasn’t it?” soothed Nanny.
Buffalo, this time, nodded with restraint. “Aye,” he said, took a sip, and added, “but I don’t need your sympathy.”
Nanny and Doe gasped together. “You’re just vile!” they said.
“Now, now, dears,” said Billy, “he’s just upset. And rightfully so! Here’s to you, Buffalo.” He raised his bottle towards Buffalo. “We know we’ve got your scribble!”
Goose grew irritable and meekly aped Buffalo’s drink-to-table slam. This startled only himself. “Hear this, my friends,” he began after collecting himself, “and I do sincerely call you friends! I truly believe that all of us are making too big of a fuss about this. Certainly there have been changes in our midsts. I do not dispute this, no sir! I sympathise for you, Buffalo, on the hardships of your work and your mill. My words from before remain steadfast and true.” He sipped again. “Ah, let me recap my verbiage for the Goats, here. Earlier, I had risen a toast to the Buffalo clan, praising our minatorial friend for building this village. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“Yes!” cheered the Goats, “but get on with it!” added Doe.
“Right. My point is this: times are changing, yes, but we are adaptable critters! Let’s embrace the change!”
Sips were had as Goose’s words were mulled over in the heads of the present.
“Easy for you to say, Mr Goose, with all do respect,” said Doe. “You’re different, too.”
“Doe!” Nanny shot.
“Easy, honey,” Buck said.
“Goose,” Doe continued, ignoring the advice around her, “it’s true, you’re different too.”
“Why, thank you!” Goose honked. “That is a mighty fine compliment. I enjoy being different. But, how do you mean, different, per se? Just for my own curiosity. This could be a nice research topic for me to pursue – heavens know I’m dying for a new topic. Is it for my gait of the day? Surely, it must be!”
Doe sat higher in her seat, an aura of highbrow-ness illuminated from her. “Well, there, you said it yourself. You said heavens. And, as far as we know, you don’t believe in no heaven because you are not a shrine goer. There is no secret about it.” Her table, minus Wether, nodded in agreement.
Goose was stunned. Buffalo raised a furry eyebrow and put down his drink before taking a sip – a wasted effort of lifting a mug.
“And?” Goose asked with a dramatic furrowing of his face.
“Don’t listen to those nuts,” Buffalo said. “It doesn’t mean a thing.”
Nanny took on the highbrow stature posed by her sister-in-law. “Says the one who comes to shrine reeking in booze.”
“Yes!” Doe sang.
“That’s right,” Billy said. “Just because you’re there, don’t mean you’re a good critter, either.”
Buffalo calmly looked over to Peccary, who was casually minding the bar. “You see what I mean, Peccary?” Buffalo asked. “The patron saints of the village! Here in our midst. Another, Peccary.”
“All I can say is I am an outstanding member of society,” Goose said. “Never once crossed the law; I pay my fees on time; recycle; why, I’ve never even so much as jaywalked!” He rose emphatically in his seat, his right wing pointing high in the air like a conquering king. But, his never-resting mind prompted a memory, and he slowly deflated into a slump. “Well, perhaps, I did once last year. I was late to my appointment!” he admitted, and wanted to confess more.
“Give it a rest,” said Buffalo, putting hoof to beak to muzzle his feathered cohort.
The Goats turned back into their own tide, uninterested in carrying on the conversation publicly but certainly eager to continue it privately.
Amongst themselves could be heard such utterances as “He ought to give drinking a rest,” and “His mother would not be pleased” to “I haven’t seen him tithe, either.”
“Do you listen to yourselves?” Wether exploded. The other Goats cowered. “Your piety is what drives people mad!”
The hall was silent, save for the pitter-patter of little Peccary’s trotting. He arrived to Buffalo with a fresh mug.
“Here you are,” he said, aloof of the tension.
Buffalo took the mug and raised it high in the air. “To piety!” he goosed. Hesitantly, everyone raised their glasses, but the Goats quickly dropped theirs down to the table after Buffalo made his cheeky toast.
“The sow,” Nanny spat.
There was a gasp. “Nanny! Watch your mouth; that kind of language doesn’t suit a critter like you.”
Buffalo, being more relaxed than he had been all night, laughed. “See what I mean?” he said, elbowing Goose in the ribs with force.
“Ouch!” Goose quacked. He gathered himself and said “You seem to be perking up?”
After a long swig of his beer, Buffalo said, “Like I told you before, I have something to soothe my soul.”
Goose shook his head. “Well, your soul should inquire if your liver is likewise soothed! Something tells me that it would say, ‘No!”‘
“Drink up,” ordered Buffalo.
“Goodness me,” Goose said, surrendering with a sip.
Peccary returned to his post and replenished his mug with ale. He paused for a moment and looked around his bar, observing his patrons. With a squeaky clearing of his throat, he raised his mug in the air.
“I believe it is my turn to make a toast,” he said over the light buzzing of conversations.
“Ah, good! Good,” said Buck, “let’s hear it!”
“Speech!” demanded the hall. Peccary laughed this off.
“No, no,” he said. “I think just a simple toast from me, the simple bartender. I wish to thank you all for making this home for me all these years. I’ve travelled the world over, and there is no where else I want to call my home with you, my friends.”
Nanny and Doe cooed, “So beautiful!”
“Well said, Mr Peccary!” said Goose.
“Goats,” added Peccary when the joyful noise subsided, “I can’t thank you enough for paying visits to my late mother on her death hay.”
“Of course, dear Peccary,” said Nanny. “May she rest in peace with the Good Keeper above.” This was met with a half-volumed round of ayes.
The front doors flung open, revealing first the setting sun followed by the Cats. The fit and nimble pair strolled in with smiles across their faces.
“Well, I’ll be! If it isn’t Tom and Queen,” announced Peccary, carrying his cheerful tone as he recognised the youngsters quickly. “Finally of age; welcome to the Old Town Bar! Back from your studies, I see.”
“Indeed, yes!” said Queen, a slender thing with a coat of orange fur. She wore a large bow on her head stitched with all colours.
“Good to see you, Peccary,” said Tom. He and she sprung onto the first available table in their path, and both gazed around the hall with wide eyes, continuing their smile. “Wow,” Tom said, turning to Queen. “Would you look at this place? So rustic. So quaint!”
“I love the old-finish on this wood,” commented Queen, feeling the surface of a chair seated at the stone table. They noticed the paintings, the doilies, and the other trinkets crafted and inspired by the village’s ancestors. “And would you just look at all these great things. I feel like I’ve gone back in time.”
“Indeed,” said Tom, with a forced and dramatic look of art appreciation. He turned to Peccary, “I have to say, I have been looking forward to seeing this place for some the time since becoming a mature critter. We love what you’ve done with this place, Peccary! It has such a… such a… What’s the word I’m looking for, Queenie?”
“I think ‘bucolic,’ perhaps?”
“Was this the style you were going for, Peccary?” Queen asked.
“We absolutely adore your choice of décor.”
Peccary, blankly, looked around his bar, reviewing the furniture and decoration. “No,” he shrugged. “My father did all this. It’s been this way since the beginning.”
“Ah, right.” Tom said.
“Tom!” called Billy from the centre of the hall. “Come here, kid. Have a seat with us!”
The Cats made their way quickly and sat amongst the Goats. Billy gave Tom a big pat on the shoulder. “Good to see you,” the elder Goat added. “Buck and I sure do miss you around the yards.”
“I appreciate that, Bill,” Tom said with a laugh. Billy was taken aback at being called Bill. “Big B,” he said to Buck, likewise taken aback, “hi-ya! Good to see you all!” Tom said to the rest of the Goats. Tom and Wether exchanged an extra-long nodding toward each other.
Queen sat at a seat snugged in between Nanny and Doe.
“Hi, there, sweety,” said Doe as she took notice of Queen’s bow, and it’s appearance did not comply with her own aesthetic tastes. “This is… lovely,” she strained.
“Thank you,” said Queen, “I got it at a peace rally at my studies, when we resisted the speech of that strife-mongering fowl who writes in the newspaper.”
“Ah,” choired Nanny and Doe quietly.
Peccary hopped over. “What will it be for you new cats?”
“I’ll get what you’re having, Tommy,” said Queen to Tom quickly.
“What kind of ale do you have? How dark is it? The hop level?” Tom sputtered these questions at Peccary.
“Well,” Peccary began, “we’ve got an assortment of nice, local ales and lagers. Mr Buffalo over there likes the Żubr his uncles curate. I enjoy the Piglet’s Stout Ale. Er, what’re ya looking for, exactly?”
“We’ll have samplers of all your beers,” Tom ordered bluntly.
“Well, yeah, I can do that, I guess,” Peccary stumbled. He trotted back to the bar, leaving the table trapped in a state of awkwardness.
Tom examined the drinks of choice by his former summer bosses. “Ah, you’re drinking that stuff? You know, at our studies, if Trough Water Light was present at a social gathering, I would instead desire water.” The pleasantry of the surprise visit by the Cats was quickly wearing off.
“It’s the traditional drink of our village,” piped Buck proudly. Tom sneered at the beer.
“Oh, wait!” Nanny suddenly remembered something. “I recall seeing you, Queen, milling about in the village the other day. Yet,” her complexion changed to confusion, “weren’t you and Tom a bridled pair before leaving for studies?”
The imposing question injected additional unease into the centre of the hall – Buffalo and Goose thus retreated into their sphere of sport talk.
The Cats chuckled before Tom replied, with shortness, “We are.”
“But, I saw you, Queen, with another tabby?”
“Honey, stop,” muttered Billy.
Queen perked up. ”Oh! Yes, that’s Tabby,” she said, “a friend from studies. He’s a mutual friend of ours.”
“Oh, lovely! You brought a friend from afar?”
“Yes,” answered Queen. She briefly quivered in her seat, shaking off this current subject. “But, in fact, we don’t like the term ‘bridled’ to describe Tommy and I. It’s such an archaic clamp on critter-kind nowadays.”
“What do you mean?” Doe inquired.
“We are a pair, yes, and so are Tabby and I.”
“Nice critter,” Tom quickly added. “Great fence-walking partner.”
“You,” stuttered Nanny, “you and this Tabby are bridled? And you with Tom, also?”
The Cats nodded proudly. “Yes,” said Queen. “It’s a beautiful thing.” Nanny and Doe grew visibly appalled. Billy and Buck stared down the necks of their bottles, demanding comfort and answers from them.
“I’ve been looking for a friend to walk with,” said Wether to Tom.
“He’s swell,” Tom said. “You should join us sometime soon. This weekend, in fact!”
“Why, I’d be glad to,” Wether blushed.
Buck sat up in his seat. “No, you can’t,” he bleated, “we have that sport match to attend, remember?”
“You know I don’t much like sport,” Wether bleated back.
“Too bad,” Doe impeded strongly, “we already have tickets, Wether.”
Peccary arrived to distill the unpleasantness, bearing a massive load of drinks upon his back. “Goats, I have your second round.”
“That’s a good lad,” said Buck, relieved.
The Goats took their respective drinks, leaving on Peccary’s back a tray of five shot glasses with an assortment of beer filled for the Cats. Tom leaped onto the table and took the tray and thanked Peccary.
“Alright,” he said, curiously, “let’s see what we have here.” Queen joined him on the table. The Cats engaged in a well-rehearsed ritual of scrutiny which required all five senses. Those in the hall laid eyes on the Cats as they engaged in this peculiar behaviour.
“Let’s see, here. Speckled Hen. Hmm. Not as nice of an ale as the one I like. Too light; Ah, what’s here? This is the Żubr? I generally don’t like lagers, unless they are foreign; No, this is water, too; Hey, try this one – Piglet’s Stout Ale – this one could be enjoyed for an extended period of drinking; I think not. Too heavy; Remember the aged batch we had when studying abroad? Now, that was an ale! These are fine, I guess; The Blonde Mane? I like the name. No, no, no, I’m sorry. This is too sweet. Not your typical lowland blonde beer.”
“Would you two just pick something?” bellowed Buffalo from the end of the hall.
Tom was not cowed. “Excuse me, sir, we are trying to acquire a taste for, we hope, at least one of the local brews of our ancestral home. I can say we have some room for improvement in this village.”
“Yes, rather plain and unrefined, I am sorry to say,” added Queen.
Buffalo snapped back into grumpiness, and Goose could sense the agitation pulsating in the air.
“Cats, please, be respectful,” Goose said in his practiced psychiatric tone. “These are the works of our local villagers, you know. Be glad we have such an eclectic array of poison,” he snickered. “Ah, I remember when I was your age, also. Seeing the wider world for the first time, and thinking the world you came from was so dull, so primitive. Trust me, you will learn to love this village for what it is!”
The patriotic blurb by Goose was met with a round of hooves thumping on the tables. “Here, here!” cheered the Goats. “Aye!” said Buffalo.
The Cats said nothing, but continued to examine the beers.
“How rude!” Nanny cried. “You are offending poor little Peccary! Isn’t that right, Peccary?”
Peccary shrugged, “Not really. I’ve been around the world, too. I’ve tried drinks of all colours and flavours. I am proud to serve these here,” he pointed to the barrels.
The Cats, still unperturbed by the other patrons beginning to harbour disdain for them, had finally made their decision.
“We’ll each have a Speckled Hen,” Tom said, defeated. He and Queen returned to their seats.
“Right away,” said Peccary. His drink-pouring showmanship amused the Cats.
“Would you look at that!” cheered Tom. “Now, that is something I’ve never seen before!”
Queen gasped as Peccary caught a falling mug from the air. “Oh, my! I was thinking you’ll drop that, Peccary!”
Their amusement was noticed by their table. “There’s a bit of culture for you,” Billy snarked.
Peccary delivered the drinks to the connoisseurs. Having discovered their complete disconnection with the Cats, the Goats, minus Wether, entered into a conversation of their own.
Wether detected the exclusion from his own kin.
“Hey, Cats,” he said to the Cats, “come here. Let me show you this one piece of art that Peccary collected. I really adore it.”
“Brilliant,” Tom said. The three got up from their seats, leaving the Goats. The visit to the artwork was brief and more of a ploy devised by Wether to remove themselves from the table. They spent no more than a dozen seconds looking at the artwork. Between the two Cats, only a “I like the colours” comment was spoken.
“Thank you,” said Queen as they transitioned to their new table to the left of the hall. “I was beginning to feel very uncomfortable and affronted.”
“Not a very safe environment, I feel,” said Tom.
“Don’t mind my tide,” sighed Wether. “They are good critters. They just don’t understand many, many things.”
“Why do you herd with them?” asked Queen, becoming overly sympathetic in her eyes. Tom reached his paws out to pat Wether’s free hoof.
“You can tell us,” he said.
Wether tightened his grip on his bottle, forcing his shoulders to hunch. “They’re family, of course. We don’t agree on much, if anything,” he said.
“And you’re still a shrine goer?” Tom asked.
Wether looked down at his drink for a moment. He then quickly lifted his head to greet the eyes of the Cats. “I am,” he said straightly.
The Cats shook their heads lightly. “And… and they accept you?” inquired Queen. “The shrine can be so harsh.”
“Dogmatists,” hissed Tom, showing his fangs. This forced Wether to sit back into his seat, retreating from the comforting paws of the Cats.
“It’s not always like that!” he said. “They just don’t know me that well.” He paused, and the Cats leaned in, waiting for a scathing remark. “In general, yes, they accept me. It’s all misunderstanding,” Wether said.
“Doesn’t seem likely to me,” said Tom coldly as he took a sip of ale. He shuddered as the drink fell into his system. “Not a mature drink,” he said.
“I agree,” said Queen. “I think a different vessel would better aerate the flavours, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Indeed, yes,” said Tom. “And perhaps aged in sequoia wood?”
“Wholly agree.” They clinked glasses of the drink they did not approve of. Wether watched on, a meek smile was on him.
Before he could mutter another word in defense of his shrine and of his tide, a bell began to ring from somewhere in the ceiling. The ringing, done without any distinguishable rhythm, grew louder, attracting the attention of all in the hall. Then, from a small crevice in the stone and wood rafters, appeared a black, black bird. In his beak he carried a small bell which rang with surprising force. The fowl flew down and found his perch near the bar, built only for him by Peccary. “Good evening, Mr Crow,” welcomed Peccary.