In The Art of Visual Storytelling I was required to write some short pieces of fiction which you can see below. They each center around three different individuals yet each of their stories takes place in the same tavern.
I made my way through the tavern to find a seat in one of the darker corners. It was early in the evening and I had a choice of several seats to choose from. Even for me it was a little early to be in the tavern, but the day was rougher than usual, and I was ready for a rest. I settled in towards the back of an alcove and made myself comfortable. There were only two seats and a table in this private spot and used the second chair to put up my feet.
My early arrival also ensured I was able to get this specific table. It was in a darkened alcove opposite the wall with the long wooden bar, but it also gave me a good purview of the entire tavern’s main hall. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t easily seen but could also see the crowd that would eventually fill this place. It was a good size tavern and the only one in this region, servicing the largest village and several other small hamlets.
This particular night, I was here on business and had to keep the drinks to a minimum. Just enough to look like a normal patron enjoying their evening. As I thought this through the barmaid arrived to inquire about food and drink. I was hungry from my long day, so I ordered a haunch of boar meat, bread, and a berry pie. This would be chased down by a pitcher of mead which I would slowly drink as the night wore on.
As the tavern slowly filled up, I took my time eating dinner and by the time I was done, the main hall was full. The huge fire place was crackling away, and the crowd was buzzing with locals, travelers, and whoever else found their way in to the place. I checked everyone out as they found their way inside and settled in. Eventually the place was full, and I even had to surrender my second chair to allow someone to sit.
I dug into my bag and pulled out my pipe, filled it with tobacco, and started to pull on it. My mead was almost gone, and the fired-up crowd was calling for the bard. Whoever they had planned for the evening better be good or he will find himself covered in food, drink, and God only knows before they chase him out. Then I saw him leaving the bar with drinks in each hand. My patience had paid off and I finally had him in my sights.
My eyes were locked on him and followed him across the room. I continued to casually smoke my pipe and didn’t want to draw any unnecessary attention to me as my heart started to race a little. The small unassuming man stopped at a table and started chatting with a man who was recently arrived and just sat down. I would venture to guess this was the man’s routine while targeting unsuspecting folks.
The man slammed down the drink he was offered. I wondered if it was tainted. My intuition didn’t take long to be satisfied as I saw the man go face down on to the table. Not that unusually in this place for someone to pass out at a table although this was a little early for that. I had seen enough though and got up to make my move. I worked my way through the crowd and was within reach of the man before he spotted me and bolted.
The tavern was lively as you would expect on any night in a city like this. The night tends to bring out the finest people to establishments like this, and this crowd was no exception. The room was large, with a massive fireplace and small wooden stage off to the side framing the room against the far wall. This small stage is where the nightly bard would stand to tell his tales and sing his songs. This night, the stage and rowdy crowd were anxiously awaiting the show.
Our bard was cowering in the small kitchen behind the bar. A runaway with a dream of making his way in this line of work, but there was a problem. This night was his first night to attempt his craft. Shaking and sweating, he recalled his clownish behavior in the village he grew up in. People loved to see him make jokes and get the folk laughing. Many of them filling his head with dreams of performing for larger crowds on a stage.
This led him to learn how to play the lute, that odd shape stringed instrument with the bent neck. He practiced for hours and mastered the thing on his own while working out various stories and tales to sing along to. His efforts paid off when he won a local contest at the annual country fair, and his head continued to fill with the excitement of being a famous wandering bard.
He had seen such bards make appearances in his village and bring the audience to a whisper has cooed them with his songs. Then the next minute, they would be as loud as a crashing waterfall singing along as he got the crowd stirred up. This is what he wanted, and this is how he saw his life going. To be on the road and out of that village, going where he wants and doing as he pleases. A leisurely life he thought as the star on one stage after the next.
Yet here he was with a crowd anxiously waiting on him. The fervor from the tavern hall was like a bee buzzing in his ear. His mind racing over his songs and stories to make sure he didn’t forget anything. The last thing he wanted was to be pummeled by food and mead if the crowd wasn’t happy. He knew the crowd would be able to smell the fear and lack of self-confidence. They would smell it on it him and leave him running for his life with beef and cheese flying his way. They would run him out of town, and he would end up sleeping in a field somewhere with no money, filthy, and nowhere to go. His reputation would precede him at the next town, and work would be hard to come by.
But what if he didn’t fail to impress? The possibility raced through his mind that maybe he would be a smashing success. Maybe, they would shower him money and praise. His head continued to buzz with all of these thoughts running through his head. Would be it be success or failure he didn’t know and was desperately working on getting his confidence up to find out. A word of motivation came blasting into his head as the tavern keep yelled for him to get out on the stage or get kicked out by the seat of his pants.
The sweating continued, and his nerves were a wreck as he climbed to his feet. Once up, he straightened his tunic and fixed this undershirt that had gotten bunched up. He picked up his lute and checked the strings, then ran a hand through his mop of hair. His heart was still beating like a drum as he peered out into the tavern and through the smoke. Then, as if the weight of the world had been lifted off his shoulders, he steadied himself and strolled out to the small stage.
The smoke was thick as he peered across the tavern hall, and the heat coming off the adjacent fireplace was intense. Just briefly, he closed his eyes and pinched his eyelids as tight as they would go and felt the stick of the smoky air. Then, he opened them, strummed the lute, and started the show.
As I slowly started to awake, I began to feel my surroundings. My eyes were barely able to open but I was in someplace quite dark. There was a light flickering not far off but as my head swirled, I could not tell exactly where it was coming from. Just as my eyes started to focus the smell hit me like a slap to the face. It was awful and gut wrenching as I leaned over to prevent being sick on myself. My hands continued to feel the floor as I slowly rolled over and sat up. It was rough stone that was cold and wet to the touch.
Fully sitting up and resting my back to the wall I could see the light through a doorway but soon realized the bars separating me from the light. I immediately realized this dark, wet, and nauseating room was a cell. My mind raced, was this a jail cell, a dungeon prison cell, or something worse. Possibly some sadistic person’s own personal torture chamber. As I came to accept my current condition, I tried to recall how I ended up here in the first place.
As I grasped at my memory for the last thing I can remember a scream rippled through the air. I was definitely not alone in here and this prison suddenly felt much larger than I originally thought. Someone is either being tortured or being put to death, either way, it doesn’t sound pleasant in the least. My heart wanted to jump out my chest and I was now sweating although it was frigid in this dank cell. My body started to uncontrollably shiver as I worked my hands up and down my arms and legs to try and generate warmth.
I started to pass out and then another scream brought me back. Was this the same victim or someone new I thought to myself? When would it be my time I wandered as I struggled to my feet and started to pace? I recalled the previous night as I paced back and forth.
I had been traveling while looking for work and stopped for the evening at a road side tavern. I needed to warm myself up, get some food in me, and quench my thirst. The main room was full of the usual characters in these types of establishments. I recall someone buying me a drink, yes that was it I thought. A small unassuming man had sat down opposite of me and handed me a drink and started chatting.
My thirst was immense from my day long journey and I consumed the drink in one long swallow. But that was it and now I find myself here in this cell. A water drip was keeping time and my terror overcame me as I fell to the ground and darkness filled my head. My head swirled in the darkness as I went in and out of consciousness. Then I felt it. A kick to my ribs and I curled to protect my body as the next kick landed. The terror was consuming me then I heard the voice.
A woman’s voice was yelling at me. Barking orders at me to get up get moving. Oh, the terror I was about to face wouldn’t let me open my eyes, but I had to. With all the strength I could muster I opened them see the room was lit brightly. The loud women stood over me as I lay on the ground and I could finally make out her words. “Get up and get out you drunken bum!” Huh, what is going on I thought, and then I came to the sudden realization. I was in the tavern laying where I had passed out the night before.