The Tavern at the Centre of the Maze

Challenge

Write for at least 350 words about a sweet labyrinth king, a red mage, a tavern, a dark tavern keeper, a cat, a frightened crusader who holds a dark secret and a plum tree. – www.eelkat.com

Response

In the kingdom of Or, ruled by the kind and generous King Arto, the royal castle served as the guarding gate of a dark and mysterious labyrinth.

Adventurers would petition the king to enter, to harvest the miraculous plums produced by the tree next to the tavern at the centre of the maze. He would try to dissuade them, then sigh deeply and send his cat with them when they insisted on continuing.

The cat was the the only creature who could find its way out of the labyrinth once inside. She was borne by the Maze Tavern cat and had spent her entire life exploring its thorny paths. Being a cat, she had no interest in guiding adventurers safely to their destination. In fact she seemed to take delight in ambling behind them and avoiding by a whisker the traps and trials that lay in wait. She only became helpful when the questers turned back and she could return to her favourite armchair in the castle. All in all, most people agreed it was a pity the Maze Tavern didn’t have a dog.

One day, the cat was assigned to a young Red Mage, who spoke only of visiting the tavern, never mentioned the plum tree and looked blank when asked about her need for its fruits. She had no time for plums, she said. She had questions for the tavern keeper. King Arto suggested encouraging the cat to pay her mother a visit.

Who knows how much cats choose to understand, but the mage made it to the centre of the maze, after only two hair-raising encounters with traps and one brush with death, courtesy of an unhappy dreadwolf.

The tavern was a low building with a verandah encircling it and the legendary plum tree could be glimpsed inside a walled garden to the right. The mage ignored garden and tree and made for the inn’s front door, cat scampering ahead.

Behind the bar was a man made of shadows, with a mug and cloth in hand, so, the tavern keeper. Surprising was the presence of a second person in the common room, a hunched figure in the back corner clutching their cloak around them like a blanket.

The shadow man looked up, “I was wondering when you’d decide to visit.”

“Sorry Dad, between the academy and you not bothering to tell me where you were going, I was delayed.”

She perched on a stool at the counter, “Last thing I heard you were trying for the maze, so here I am. How did you end up as the resident barkeep?”

A movement in the shadow suggested a smile, “It seemed like a good idea at the time. Young Arto was running himself ragged trying to be king, guard, mysterious quest master and still make sure no one got killed, so I took over the latter two. There’s a tunnel under the maze between here and the castle, so I’m not trapped and we get pretty lively when the castle staff finish work in the evenings. I’m enjoying the life.”

She glanced across the room, “If it’s all so pleasant and civilised, what’s troubling your guest in the corner?”

“Ahhh, well that would be the crusader who hired me on as guide in his quest for the plums. Turns out if you eat one, you’re given the answer to your most troubling question. It looks like his question would have been better left unanswered.”

 

Your turn. How would you answer this prompt, or continue this story?

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