The Scythe and the Hourglass

Not far from the Priest's Tower, in the shadow of an old church, there is an inn called The Scythe and Hourglass. "It's a nice place," I tell anyone who asks where I stay while I'm in Zagreb and add, so there's no confusion: "But The Scythe and Hourglass is not for everyone." Just so they know. The inn abides by different rules. Both Light and Shadow have a different meaning there than in other inns. Of course, I don't tell them all that. But I stress that it is a special place. Because, whoever enters the abandoned St. Juraj's Cemetery and steps between two tombstones engraved with winged hourglasses riding on scythes, needs to know where they came.

The owner used to be one of us and the first time I arrived, young and naive as I was, I wasn't aware of how much of an insult it was to ask him how he felt, surrounded by his past. Back then neither he nor I knew that, in a not-so-distant future, we would become more alike than we could even guess. It took a long time for his smoke-coloured eyes to start looking at me mercifully once more. A lot of kind words, a lot of noticeable effort, a lot of eating humble pie and a snuffbox made of pure commas I had brought from India. They don't use them there all that often, but rather make jewelery out of them. But he liked it. And I was saved.

Other than that rookie mistake, everything else here suits me perfectly. There is no noise, no clamor, no drunk individuals. Other than the table in the corner where card players with a surplus of good sentences, or even chapters, gather and throw them on the table in an attempt to win a novel by the end of the night, there isn't much excitement in The Scythe and Hourglass. And I like that.

The food is good, too. How do I explain... it matches the dirt floor, which is suprisingly clean, and the wooden plates that turn the walls into an exhibition of tree rings. The smell of dark beer flows over the wooden tables and combines perfectly with the smell of baked sausage, so perfectly that it doesn't even occur to you to order anything else. The prices are appropriate as well. Not too high, not too low.

However, it is no ordinary lodging or an inn for the poor. The Scythe and Hourglass care about their reputation. Anyone who can't pay a story a night has no business in the Jurjevsko Cemetery. There have been a few who tried playing the lack of inspiration or the writer's block card, but they paid anyway. Not willingly, true, but that wasn't all that important at the time. The rules are there to abide by, not to circumvent. Anyone who ever stayed at The Scythe and Hourglass knew that old saying the owner's silent helpers used to deal with defaulters.

Most of us knew how to settle our debt at The Scythe and Hourglass. A silken thread hung above the bar and gleamed by the candlelight, casting a Shadow on the inn walls. As a reminder. It rarely occured that the thread disappeared from its honorable spot for a day, that all the debts were settled in the evening, and the morning didn't greet the debter.

That's the kind of place The Scythe and Hourglass is. Traditional, just as I like it, with a hint of elitism, just enough to inspire the writer in me to feel gleeful that someone appreciates him. I believe that's why I love this inn. But, as I said, I don't recommend it to everyone. Just those who can keep up with its demands. And those are few and that makes me happy. And although that makes me sound like a snob, I can't help it. I'm happy that I can pay for my stay at The Scythe and Hourglass for as many days as I like. My stories never dry out. Their source is so deep that from it springs an undercurrent filled to the brim with the most beautiful stories a writer could write. And the owner knows it well. That's why I'm always welcome at The Scythe and Hourglass.

Occasionally there comes by a traveller who finds himself at The Scythe and Hourglass for the first time. Such a man usually finds me pleasant enough to seek company at my table and curious enough to start telling me his life story, expecting, of course, mine in return. Beginner writers often make that mistake, believing that you can get ideas, those golden threads that make the lively fabric of a tale, simply by talking! They don't understand how stingy creatures we writers are.

Truth be told, I do give a few of them so lost a word or two, even a sentence. I have more than enough for myself. The condition is that they don't ask where I get them from. As long as they don't know, my Contract doesn't apply to them and binds only me. And I am content with that.

Maybe one day one of them will find out where the best stories are hidden and who can tell them the best. And maybe I'll be the one who tells them to him. For I am a future Talason, bound by Contract to give my Shadow to masons who will measure it and build it into the building whose guardian I will become. My body will die forty days after being measured with a silk thread, the same kind that hangs above the bar of the Scythe and Hourglass, and my Shadow will become the guardian of the new building. My name will no longer be Writer, but Talason. And like all other Talasons, I will live in hallways, rooms, stairways, I will wander the attics and basements, I will guard my new home. And watch stories like a film unfolding before me. Listen to their echos, remember their details. And God be willing, give them to some Writer, brave and crazy enough to sell his Shadow for a good story and become yet another Talason. Yet another Writer Who Sold His Soul.