This story is about a bean.
Legend has it, one day long ago, an Elven shepherd forgot to patch a weak slat in the fencing around his farm. During a heavy storm, it broke. This, in itself, is not a remarkable fact.
The next day, the elf’s mild-mannered sheep discovered the hole. As sheep do, they staged a slow yet cunning escape and ambled away. Returning from other chores to an empty, sheep-less pen, the Wood Elf shepherd panicked. All his precious wool! Gone!
The shepherd pursued his flock through the Elven woods, past the pastures, across distant scrubland and up a small, parched hill. When he caught up with his flock, the sheep were munching on the hard, red berries of a small brownish shrub. Realizing the berries didn’t poison his sheep and desperately hungry after his trek, the elf bent down and picked a few. He popped them into his mouth. He chewed thoughtfully. Not bad… a little hard… a bit chewy… bitter. He sat on the hillside and waited to maybe die. Poison sometimes takes a while. Waiting for it. Waiting for it…
The elf didn’t die. Instead, he felt invigorated. His thoughts cleared. He was filled with energy. He could herd his flock home!
These weren’t any normal berries. They were magic berries! Magic awake berries! Hallelujah! The elf performed a small dance of joy. The shepherd filled a pouch with the tiny, red bean-like berries. Later, he gave the leftovers to the Druids. They popped the berries in hot water and made a drink. Coffee was born.
This story is most certainly untrue.
Most likely, the Elven Rangers discovered the berries ages ago and harvested them for long distance runs. Non-magical energy berries are cheaper and draw less attention than magical ones; on a hunt, less obvious magic is better. The Rangers brought the excess berries back to the Druids for analysis and storage. The Druids, deep in experimentation, discovered grinding the berries into a powder and sprinkling them into hot water created a pleasant drink.
This drink was useful to the Druids who had daytime village duties but nighttime religious rituals celebrating their Moon Goddess. It solved a core logistics problem: how to sustain themselves throughout the day when the Moon demanded their nightly love and attention. When they drank their dark, murky liquid, they stayed awake all night. To Druids, a natural solution was as worthy as a magical one.
But Druids aren’t all hermits and the drink quickly escaped from their control into the general Wood Elven population. Originally, Elves used the stimulant in medicine to keep the dying awake long enough to cast Healing spells. Before long, the head-clearing effect coffee had on the mind turned the black drink into a social lubricant. After their normal, boring daily duties doing Elf things, regular Elves met, drank the hot, dark liquid from bowls held with two hands, and sat up long into the night discussing poetry, music, and philosophy.
Rumor leaked to the outside world via the occasional visiting Bard that Elves didn’t sleep. Seriously, Bards said, Elves don’t sleep. Instead, they spend their lives sitting in trees, sipping weird Elvish “dark wine” and discussing the arts. Because Elves.
The Wood Elves loved coffee but the Elven leadership took a less sanguine view of the beverage. They feared sitting around discussing poetry all night would turn to politics, then to democracy, then to revolt, and then to leadership having to get jobs like normal people. They forbade the drink on moral grounds. Someone, somewhere, was thinking impure thoughts.
But, Elves aren’t terribly good with authority. They kept drinking the dark liquid now in “secret” with a side dish of grumbling about no one letting them have any fun. A few rounds of tussle and the Elven leadership relented. Fine, drink coffee. But, they absolutely forbade making the drink available to other races. No Gnomes, no men, and certainly, under no circumstances, no goddamn Dwarves*.
Okay, okay, said the Wood Elves. We get it. We get to keep our coffee as long as it stays within our borders. We’re cool. Besides, more for us.
And was cool. It all worked. Then, the Druid stole a sack of coffee beans and headed into the Empire of Man.
Political tensions came to a head along the border between the Empire and the Elves. The Empire sent in armies to slash and burn the Elves’ forests and flush their armies out from hiding. Elves, incensed at mankind destroying their precious life-giving forests, retaliated. Tit for tat. A border skirmish broke into all-out war.
The two sides fought the Battle of Rhan River. When it was over, many lay dead. The Empire was tacitly victorious. They pushed the Elven line back, took captives, and left the burning trees covered in dead.
Locian, a Druidic survivor of the Battle of Rhan River, was having none of this. Sitting in the charred forest among his friends’ corpses, he swore revenge on the Empire of Man. They would ironically pay. And in proper Druidic fashion, his grand plan for vengeance was all natural with no added additives or preservatives.
A month later, an elf appeared in Court and claimed the title of the exalted Wood Elven Ambassador to the Empire. And unlike other Ambassadors, he donned a plain, wool-spun coat covered in feathers and animal furs. He topped off his outfit with an enormous and somewhat ridiculous hat.
The authorities considered casting him out but he had papers. They looked legitimate. Maybe he was the exalted Ambassador. Maybe he wasn’t. Difficult to tell with Elves. He looked the part of an elf. He smelled the part of an elf. He spoke with the manicured and educated tones of the upper crust. Could he be a plausible Ambassador?
They discussed the matter and then they let the elf attend Court.
The Ambassador sashayed in. He kissed a Duchess. He smirked at an Earl. He refused to bow before the human King. Instead, the Elven Ambassador insisted on calling the King by his given name (“How you doin’ Bob? Nice day, Bob? Why does everyone look horrified?”). The Elven Ambassador even attempted… a hug upon the Royal Body.
The angry and insulted King banished Locian away from his Court immediately.
And this was good with Locian. It was part of his plan. He didn’t want to attend Court. That took too much time and energy. He wanted a scandal. He wanted their attention. He wanted the Upper Crust to find him strange and exotic and interesting.
Locian ambled from the Palace, wandered through the Empire’s Capital City, and rented a posh house on the fashionable side of town. Still claiming the mantle of the official Elven Ambassador, he settled in. Three days later, he threw open his doors to visitors and announced his house as his official Wood Elven Embassy. Come one, come all, and talk with the strange rich elf with the enormous hat.
Run a big enough savage burn? Gain an audience.
Aristocratic men and women were drawn to the exotic, perfumed, and weird residence. They sought audience within where Locian poured coffee from a giant silver carafe into exquisitely crafted Elven eggshell and gold mugs. As coffee mugs emptied, Locian casually refilled them. He was pleasant and, while flamboyant, inoffensive.
Unprepared for the effects and their tongues loosened by caffeine, the rich told Locian the Empire’s plans.
In the comfort of his rented townhouse home, Locian learned the Empire allowed him into Court for the sole purpose of making other demi-human races nervous. If the King forged a treaty to end the war, the King might not support the other demi-human races in future military adventures against the Elves. Too bad Locian himself foiled that plan. Accidentally.
He learned where the Empire dispatched their Murder Hobo squads. He learned the Empire’s plans to mow down his forest – his forest where his family lived – and build villages and expand farmland and settle. He learned about the other treaties, the ones with the half-orcs in the mountains and the horse-riding races.
Ever the loyal Druid to his people, Locian sent home intelligence – about treaties, troop movements, and war plans. Elves spread this intelligence among the other non-human races. The Empire and demi-human relations further soured. Slowly, the Empire lost key supporters. The war effort faltered.
Locian gloried in the chaos he caused the Empire as he fed the Empire more coffee beans.
Locian felt he had a good thing going. Sure, feeding coffee to humanity was expressly forbidden but look at this intelligence. He’d stumbled on a gold mine. As word returned from the front of new Elven victories over the Empire, Locian changed to aggressive tactics. Instead of serving coffee to the rich and powerful from the “Elven Embassy,” he opened a cafe.
He served it to everybody.
Coffee for Murder Hobos.
The Cafe and the Murder Hobos
It’s a funny thing about Murder Hoboing. Murder Hobos get their work from sitting around in bars and talking up Quest Givers. What sounds like an absolutely horrible idea before a few beers – hey, let’s go into that huge Temple of Evil on the hill and kill a few random things! – sounds marvelous a few in. Sure! Let’s wander uncharted halls and get killed by bugbears! Awesome!
By time the Murder Hobos sober up, they’re a floor underground, away from an entrance, almost out of torches, locked in battle for their lives with an ochre jelly, and wondering how the hell they got there. Certainly, there’s a reason. Anyone know what it is?
And that’s why they bring wine flasks. Oh, that ochre jelly? Let me drink this ‘healing potion’ and get back into the fray and cause a few more ‘critical failures.’
Murder Hoboing – a profession built entirely on the noble morality of alcoholism.
An Empire bent on augmenting their faltering military with the occasional Murder Hobo Hero can use this. Get the hero liquored up, give them a lucrative quest, and send them out to kill. Soon as they sober up, pay them off, get them back into government-backed Inns, pair them with more government-backed Quest Givers, and send them out again. Wash, rinse, repeat until the Empire wins the war.
But some weird rich elf in town opened a kind of new cafe selling something utterly unlike beer and wine. And it was popular.
Murder Hobos thronged the cafe, called the Secret History, day and night. They loved coffee. They could complete twice as many quests as before. Who needs sleep when one has coffee? Nothing, not even rest, could stop the rampaging Murder Hobo now! Poorer, first level Murder Hobos went into dungeons simply to make money to buy more coffee to stay up later to generate more XP, faster.
The Murder Hobos sobered up.
They took a long look at those Quest Givers.
Coffee lends itself to clear-headed thinking. Speculation. Politics. Conversations about the future. Do they want to enter the Temple of Evil on the hill? Or do they want to sit where it’s pleasant and cool and drink another cup of coffee?
Locian asked the Murder Hobos idly as he filled more eggshell mugs with viscous black liquid, the Quest Givers, do they serve your best interests or do they serve the interests of the moneyed and powerful interests? Who determines the quests? You? The Quest Givers? The Empire? Think, where do these quests come from?
What do you truly want?
What the Murder Hobos wanted – and this was to Locian’s great pleasure – was more coffee.
Slowly, a few at first, then more, the Murder Hobos walked away from the quests, Quest Givers and the Empire’s conduit to easy mercenary labor. Sober, they didn’t need Quest Givers. They could think! They could share information! They could invent their own quests! At twice the XP rate!
Without focused (and drunk) Murder Hobos on quests lending extra strength to the troops with their magic weapons and fireballs, and already weakened by intelligence and counter-intelligence, the Elves penned the Empire into a corner. The lines of war rolled back. A fragile truce collapsed. War turned hot again. The sober and well-informed Elves handed the Empire stinging defeats.
In a panic, the Empire leadership – religious, military and secular all – saw the cafe itself as a threat. Sober, armed, caffeinated Murder Hobos with no outlet through Quest Givers were dangerous and loose on the streets. The King sought to pass laws outlawing the new, popular drink. A hotbed of political radicalism, he said. A threat to the Empire, he said. It will collapse our way of life from the inside. This horrible drink must stop!
But, it was too late. Locian franchised. He opened dozens of cafes and, once he trained expat Wood Elves in his secrets, opened dozens more. Why not give the drink of clarity to the Murder Hobos? Sure, his Elven leadership was none too pleased at the bean theft and invited him not to return home (but please keep buying sacks of coffee beans at a premium.) But Locian had his vengeance in complete and urbane chaos.
Cafes popped up where Inns once stood. Cafes appeared on every corner. Cafes had cafes inside them.
Elves augmented their business with little coffee biscuits.
The bean left the Capital City and spread to all the cities throughout the Empire. Soon, Murder Hobos everywhere sat in nice squishy seats, drank their coffee, and negotiated with Quest Givers for higher pay for higher risk on their own terms. No more drunken adventures. Now sober, carefully reasoned adventures! With bigger weapons.
And the sober Murder Hobos wondered if going into dungeons to risk death was the best way to make money. Maybe they could band together and, say, make coffee with their own supply of coffee beans.
From the Wood Elves.
The Murder Hobos could form something. Like, some kind of Company. They could raise investment to pay for it. They could have an adventure. It would work.
Nothing bad could ever happen from this. Certainly not dreams of coffee-based imperialism.
But that is a story for another day. Suffice to say, the curtain closes with a victorious and wealthy Elven Druid named Locian who brought coffee to the Empire of Man for vengeance, fed it to Aristocrats and Murder Hobos, and watched a war effort against his people collapse. He’s still there pouring coffee for Aristocrats and Murder Hobos alike and whispering in their ears that, perhaps, it’s time for the King to go.
Wait until they try espresso.
- They needn’t have worried. The Dwarves had coffee long ago. How else do they stay up to dig all those tunnels?
Writer’s Note: Fascinatingly, much of this was taken from real history. The legend about the Ethiopian who discovered coffee beans is certainly untrue. Sufis brewed coffee to stay up all night. Coffee spread through the Muslim world with alarming speed and governments sought to control it – and failed. And a crazy Armenian pretending to be the Turkish Ambassador insulted Louis XIV the Sun King to his face, was tossed out, and bribed Aristocratic women with coffee from his “Embassy” to get them to talk. Talk they did. He established the first coffee cafe in Europe, Cafe Procope. It was there, centuries later, most of history’s great Revolutionaries met, including Robespierre before the French Revolution…
Image Credit: Art by Jaydot Sloane of Vanity Games – http://www.patreon.com/VanityGames