Chapter Three: The Sage of the Inn
Never in all my life had I felt as warm and pleasant – both inside and out – as I felt at that exact moment. I was instantly more at home among these total strangers than I had been in front of the woodstove at my parents’ old house over on Haverford Lane on Christmas morning in my jammies, with the spicy sweet scents of the season in the air that mixed so deliciously with the faint hint of oak-wood smoke.
It couldn’t hurt that the inn I’d stepped into also had a nice roaring oak-wood fire going in their grey stone fireplace. Then again, their fire wasn’t imprisoned behind the cold, iron doors of a woodstove… it was blazing proudly and openly, as any good fire is meant to do (if you ask me).
“If you’d like, you may have a drink here in the tavern section, register a room for the night, or talk to the Sage of the Inn there near the fireplace,” the young lady suggested, closing the door behind us. She leaned in and whispered, “The Sage is really knowledgeable about the After. He was the first person I talked to.” Bouncing happily erect, she added: “…but you may, of course, do as you like! Again, welcome.” She smiled and walked over to the tavern bar to pick up a drink that had apparently been ordered by one of the inn’s guests.
“Wow,” I thought to myself. “If ever a woman died that was truly meant to be a hostess, it was her!” She was nice enough that I went ahead and took her advice, and made my way over to the aforementioned Sage of the Inn. He sat quietly near the edge of the fire, gently poking the hot, red embers with a small iron rod in his right hand, while taking deliberate sips out of the wooden mug in his left. Upon closer inspection, the mug itself had an emerald (cut like the diamond shape on a playing card) set between two bronze rings which encircled the girth of the wood like iron hoops on a whiskey cask.
I inhaled to greet the Sage, but before I could make a sound he told me, “Be careful what you wish for, kid. You won’t be that fond of it after 100 years.” It stunned me… he hadn’t even removed his gaze from the fire. Having been in my 30s when I died, I took umbrage with the moniker by which he’d chosen to address me.
“Hey, I’m no kid, Mr. Sage!” I chuckled. He turned to me with a fierceness in his eyes that I’d not yet seen in this life. “You’ve been here less than an hour, right? You’re a newdeath. Talk to me when you’ve put your first century under your belt… if you even make it that long. And the name is ‘Sage of the Inn’, not Mr. Sage. In fact, to you, it should be ‘Oh Wise and Knowing Sage that I’m not worthy to contradict’!” Instinctively, I began to be self-conscious about being nude around an angry man – with an iron rod whose tip was already glowing red.
“I apologize, sir,” his eyes narrowed impatiently. “Um, SAGE! Yes… um, Sage of the Inn… so sorry for what I said. I really do not know how things work around here yet.” His expression softened to one of mild disdain. “Please, Sage of the Inn, tell me what I need to know in this… um, afterlife.”
He scoffed, “Well, for one, folks that have been here for any amount of time just call it ‘the After’.” I recalled that the young lady had referred to it in that way. “And while I may not have the time or inclination to tell you everything you need to know about the After, I can tell you plenty enough to get you started properly.”