Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Ale-connors of Heimir

Heimir was originally an Eylic god, mostly worshiped in Old Middlemark and the Anarean basin with some tendrils of culture extending through the Skinchanger Kingdoms that would eventually become a powerfully devoted cult. Interaction with the Thegnari and Eyls spread his worship to the Empire during its Second period and Heimir (Heimirus in Varan) is now amongst the gods that the imperials consider to be their own, having long integrated him into their pantheon and forgotten the ancient days before his introduction.

The monks of Heimir are inevitably male; unlike the other gods, Heimir accepts no women into his sacred orders. Indeed, Heimiran monks only worship in one of two forms: wandering, or cloistered. There are no regular priests or clerics of the God of Beer that do not follow one of those two rules. He has no temples outside the monasteries, and his monks are forbidden from all manner of activities, not least of which is marriage and having children.

Monks of Heimir concentrate their daily labors on two things. The first is, of course, providing hospitality to strangers. No Heimiran monastery, inn, ale-house, or other establishment will turn away someone who needs a roof over their head. The second, and more time consuming, is following the ancient brewing recipes of their houses and making the beers which are sacred and pleasing to the Laughing God.

Within a Heimiran monastery, there is a special position that is amongst the most sacred a monk may attain other than Abbot. This is the ale-connor*, an esteemed post indeed. The ale-connor at a Heimiran monastery serves directly under the cellarer and it is his duty to ensure that every sacred brew tastes properly and is made to the standard of the ancient texts that the House reveres. For indeed, each Heimiran House has its own sacred book** which contains the common recipes known to all Brewing Brothers and those specific to that foundation.

Heimiran ale-connors can tell many types of alcohol by smell and flavor. They can differentiate between brewing regions simply by tasting the hops, and they can tell when the grapes for a wine were plucked by the wine's flavor. Areas with a Heimiran monastery generally do not maintain their own official ale-connors, as the Heimiran's taste for beer and wine is usually developed far beyond that which a simple official might have.

Ale-connors also play an important role in the Heimiran tradition of the brewing festival. This tradition was established in the dawn of time, and when a monastery decides to hold a brewing festival (generally in the fall, approaching last harvest, when such a thing would be of most use to the poor serfs and peasants who are hard at work on the land) the ale-connor is appointed its judge. The Heimirans refrain from entering their own brews in the contest, but everyone else in the town, hamlet, or village who knows how to make ale, cider, or wine (which is usually a fair number!) is invited to concoct their own particular brew and submit it.

With the ale-connor acting as judge and all the villagers as participants, these festivals can become quite rowdy. Indeed, a traveling minstrel, chaunter, jongleur, or bard is often times attracted to the rumor of a festival and it is most common that many of them arrive to accompany the drinking with music, stories, and shows. He who is selected as a victor in the brewing competition can receive any kind of boon, but the most common are a stipend (which is paid monthly until the following year) of silver or a chance to be read to from the order's sacred manuscript. Sometimes both prizes are offered and sometimes neither -- it is not unheard of for the brothers to instead preserve the brewing recipe of the victor and give a simple purse rather than a stipend.

These men, the ale-connors, form an important part of the monastic order. Without them, the Heimirans would be lost. When the post of the ale-connor is left unfilled for any reason, order in the monastic house quickly breaks down until a new connor is given the post either by Abbatial decree or by general acclaim. It is indeed something to look forward to and a job to aspire to for most cloistered Heimirans.

While there are rumors of wandering ale-connors, I think we must discount them. After all, without the structure of the monastery to support them, can we truly call them ale-connors or are they not just monks with an excellent taste in wine and beer?

*This Eylic word actually refers to a local official in Weyland, Stonemark, et al., but when applied in a Heimiran context specifically means a member of the monastery responsible for checking ale. While lay ale-connors simply ascertain that local beers and brews are drinkable and not watered down to cheat tavern-goers, Heimirans have a whole host of other duties.

**Also known as the Hymn of Heimir to layfolk, the sacred books of a monastic establishment are amongst its most precious treasures. For lay-brewers to be allowed to spend time with the holy manuscript is rare and a most joyous privilege -- even if they can't read, which is most likely. In that event, they may sometimes be read to by a monk; this practice is known as the Sacral Teaching and those who win a brewing contest are often granted this special boon.

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