A new tavern opened in town one day, called Fourteen Gates by its host. The walls were built of rough stone, well mortared, and the floor of dark waxed wood. The roof was slated and pitched, surmounted by an iron ghost-chaser; the roof tree and supporting beams within were left bare, except for shadows.

Each table was cut from heavy slabs of blond wood, sanded smooth and waxed, supporting a single candle in a sleeve of amber glass, so that in all of that rough, dark space the tables were bubbles of light.

At the end of each day, when the first stars stood trembling like tears in heaven's face, the tavern opened. Curious folk from around the town gathered at the tables, and were served soft wine by a grave youth and a pensive maiden, alike enough in feature and habit to be twins.

On that first night, when the last of day's light had fled, the host came into the room, barely glimpsed in the dark spaces between the tables, settled upon a high, solitary stool placed in the center of the room, and spoke softly, so that all of the company fell silent to hear. "There are fourteen gates," said the host, "this is the first", and told a tale of a deep canyon in the desert, and of the woman who lived there, and how she could take into her hand a stone in which had been caught the remains of a shallow-sea creature long dead, and breath upon it, so that it stirred to life on her palm, the prisoning rock falling away in a tumble of wet sand. When the tale was finished, the host stood and left the silent room. Presently the company stirred and left the tavern, each to their homes, and sought their beds, and dreamt.

On the second night more had gathered, for those who were there on the first night told their friends of Fourteen Gates, and word had spread. This night the host spoke of a desert, vast and still, and of fallen pillars like broken teeth lapped about by sand, that marked where a thriving city had once stood, and of the strange, terrible fate it had suffered because its people were proud, and its gods resented pride in any save themselves.

The third night was a gate to a living city, bright above and dark at its roots, where a child slept upon rooftops by day and learned to be a thief by night, and stole one night into the Houses of Power, evading its fearsome guardians, to bear forth in triumph the Flame of Truth, for which he was rewarded with scorn and fear.

And so it went, each night a gate to a gem dark or bright, until the fourteenth gate was shut. Into the quiet that was left, the host said "That is all." The next day the tavern was gone, each and every stone and timber, as if it had never been. People wondered for a while, as they pursued their daily lives. Many soon forgot the tavern and its host. Some felt an emptiness to which they soon became accustomed, and forgot. Others tried to fill the void by seeking out more such tales. Some went so far as to write tales of their own. And I have heard that a tavern called Fourteen Gates has opened, in a town a very far distance from here.

Tim Eagen
April, 1997