Casteylan could sense the energy emanating from the stone as he approached it. The air felt crisp and electric, as though after a lightning strike. He reached out to touch the stone’s surface and the spiral carvings on it sparked to life, glowing brightly blue.
There was a shimmer and a brief feeling of falling; when it ended, Casteylan was not in the place where he began. He was standing on a path through heavy forest; it was night and no moon shone but ahead of him he could see lights glimmering between the trees. He followed the path towards them until the building came into view.
It was homely-looking, nestling in a small clearing amongst the trees, with lights flickering at the windows and the door standing open in welcome. At the gate hung a sign, creaking softly in a barely perceptible breeze. “Lane’s End”, it said.
Casteylan stepped through the door into what was clearly a tavern. There were tables and chairs, to his left a wooden bar and a fireplace with comfortable-looking armchairs. But there was no-one there, save for a stooped old man behind the bar. He looked up as Casteylan entered, and smiled.
“Ah, you’re here at last,” he said. “I have been waiting for you. Come in, traveller, and rest.”
Casteylan frowned but did so and took a seat on one of the stools at the bar. “Waiting for me?”
The old man nodded and filled a mug with ale from one of the barrels behind the bar, handing it to Casteylan. “You are rather later than I was expecting,” he added. “But never mind, you’re here now, that’s what matters.”
Casteylan took the mug and sipped the ale. It was cool and sweet with a hint of honey. “I don’t even know where I am, or how I got here. I just touched a stone and… appeared… just down the path a little way.”
“They always say that,” the old man chuckled. “It’s not always a stone, sometimes it’s a pool, or a mirror, a wardrobe, a ring, sometimes it’s nothing more than a dream. One thing is certain though, you are here because you are meant to be here.”
“But where is here?”
“Why, this is the Lane’s End Tavern, of course!” the old man laughed. “Can you not read, boy? There’s a sign right outside.”
“Of course I can,” Casteylan replied. “But I have heard of no such place before.”
“The paths that lead here are the Paths Between,” the old man said. “We are in a place between worlds. There is just the tavern, a few trees, nothing else.”
Casteylan glanced out of the window, suddenly afraid. “Am I stuck here? How will I get back?”
“As easily as you arrived. Just walk down the path a little way and you’ll find yourself where you need to be. And because now you know the Way, you can come back here whenever you want.” The old man shuffled through a door behind the bar and returned with plates of food; meat and vegetables, warm crusty bread, fruits that Casteylan didn’t even recognise. He offered some coins for the meal but the old man refused. “No need to pay, it’s always free here. The pantry is always well stocked, the barrels never run dry.”
Casteylan ate his dinner while the old man settled in one of the armchairs by the fireplace to doze a while. After his meal and the ale Casteylan was feeling a little sleepy himself so he did the same. When he awoke, he was back at home.
“I’ll be disappointed if that was just a dream,” he muttered to himself. But on the table beside the bed was his mug from the Lane’s End Tavern.