Would you be prepared to do that which you would expect of a fool? For a fleeting glimpse of silver and gold, would you dare risk what the tales have already told? Would you risk your life in the pursuit of wealth if someone were to ask you to do so in exchange for completing a simple game of dare and drink?
On the outskirts of the small village of Harrowtown where the pathway narrows and the trees grow wilder; there lives a strange elderly woman who reeks of soil and earth known as Old Dot Crocker. Her devious dare is infamous throughout the region of Middemire as well as that of her homemade brew of ale. She has been confined to the outskirts of the village for good reason for she likes nothing more than enticing work weary men, prideful persons lacking perception and travellers from afar who may know nothing of her. With the sweet smell of her own concoction and the glowing light of her lantern acting like a wisp in the dim dark of the eve, she will offer them a challenge. Old Lady Crocker will reveal to these eager and somewhat misguided folk a brown leather bag of coins filled to the brim with silver crowns, the currency of the Kingdom of Ayrlaston, that glisten a beckoning glow against the shimmering bright of the lantern’s candle light. With a wink and a smile, she will place it onto a table to be set in front of them and speaks softly these words every time.
‘Drink but one cup of my ale until there is nothing left and if you remain standing, this bag of crowns will be yours.’
‘That’s easy’ are the thoughts of the arrogant souls who have already drank far too much in the tavern down the road. Blurry are their eyes and cloudy is their judgement as they often willingly accept the challenge that lies before them. It will be another chance for them to get just as sloshed in dazed insobriety for the next several nights. Or if they’re sensible enough they may invest this sum of silver in increasing the livestock of their respective farm holds, maybe a new bow string if they hunt or to buy themselves some fresh furs to be ready for the long winter nights ahead.
There is however one small stipulation that the old lady will demand before she will proceed any further. The participants must remove their effects, leaving only their clothes, and place them on the ground at their feet before they stand on the edge of a deep, dark pit that lies at the back of her garden of hops. Stare down they will into the black of the hole that seemingly has no end to it, especially in the dead of the night when the moons are shining dimly in the sky. She appears to challenge the locals only every so often, when the dusk is to her liking and enough time has passed so that the people of the village barely recall her presence save for the odd rumour or twisted tale that lingers on the tongues of the few who can remember.
And so they will stand on the precipice of the pit with the cup of sweet ale within their grasp, ready to down it in one and earn themselves a tidy little sum for seemingly no effort at all. But wait; some of those whose minds have not been completely addled enough to lose all sense of wit and wonder will ask.
‘What’s the catch old hag, is this a brew of poison?’
To answer their inquisitiveness, Old Dot Crocker will take the first gulp and swallow it in plain sight before returning the cup which is filled anew into their waiting hands. With a glint in their eyes and a thirsty smile, they drink and drink until there is nothing left. Nothing left at all.
Down they fall one after another into the deep pit known as Crocker Hop’s Drop to their end. They will be neither seen nor heard from again. She places no tonics, reagents, poisons or ill liquids into the brew of her special ale save for a particular type of bitter sweet hop that she grows herself in her hop garden. She, and the odd challenger who has survived to tell the tale, is immune to the mysterious effects of such a flower. She could not tell you why and she does not care why. The riches and effects she gathers from the soon to lie dead before they fall are all she cares for. And who amongst the village can cry foul murder when those that do fall compete for the challenge so willingly. For those that cast doubt and question her brew for a tiny glimpse of a fatal sip, she need only drink a cup in its entirety to prove her so called innocent intent.
So will you stop before Crocker Hop’s Drop to challenge this hag for her silver coin bag? Shall your mirth and pride be your sole guide this night? Will you walk on by to your home, to your bed alone, refusing to succumb to this old ladies sweet ale from her deadly hop crop? Or shall you succumb to the challenge of Old Dot Crocker and stand before the dare of Crocker Hop’s Drop?