Fair Upon the Tor #57 (updates Mondays, mostly)

“I said, don’t look at them. And of course they are still watching. They’re wondering how much of their true nature we’ve guessed. Let them wonder.” A snort. “Now, keep moving and keep an eye out for a card-reader. The place is lousy with them. Oh, hrm, there’s one. Come on.”

He trotted ahead of her and barged into the tent, stating, loudly, “We want to have our cards read.”

A startled man in a red and gold turban and star-decorated robes was half-falling out of his seat as Caewen slipped into the space. “Sorry,” she said. “When my friend gets enthusiastic about something, he, well, he tends to knock things out of the way. Or sometimes people.” She shrugged. “Or walls.”

“Oh, um, yes, yes,” said the man. He was adjusting his headdress back into position–it had slipped over his left eyebrow–and he then set about arranging his robes back into shape again. He looked a bit like an ungainly bird trying to resettle its feathers after a fright. This overall impression was added to by his thin neck, pointy bulb in the throat, and sharp nose. He started to say, in a rather nasal voice, “Have a seat–” but looked at Dapplegrim, and just sort of stopped mid-sentence.

“That’s alright,” said Dapple. “I’ll stand. Hrm. Now, do me first. Call the cards and lay them.”

“Wait,” said Caewen, “How much?” She opened her purse and fished around inside. Her anxious running of fingers through the contents during the conversation with the two men had brought the larger objects to the top so that a couple sapphires, the carven black cloak-pin, and a tarnished silver amulet from the goule’s hoard were in the way of getting to the stash of more sensible coppers, pennies and groats.

The card-reader named a price, they haggled, but not aggressively, and agreed on three coppers and two groats. Caewen pulled out the coins and clinked them onto the card-reader’s table. He swept them into the cuff of his robe.

“I suppose you are learning,” said Dapple, eyeing her and smiling with his sharp, ivory coloured teeth. “That was good thinking. Agreeing to a price first. I was in too much of a rush, hurm.”

“I’m doing my best.”

“Ahem,” interjected the fortuneteller. “Now, be seated–or um, you, miss, you will be seated–and bring about a quietness of mind and voice. For the esoteric arts of notoria demand the utmost attention and focus. For else, what manner of–“

“That’s fine,” said Dapple. “We don’t need the show. Just read the cards. Me first.”

Caewen smiled, and tried to look apologetic.

He seemed a bit irritated that his spiel had been cut short, but rearranged himself again, and tried to settle himself back into the mood. “Now,” he shuffled the cards on his table, and ran his hand down the deck, flicking the edges, making clicking noises, “The first card I draw for you is–“

“Hey,” said Caewen. “Sorry. Stop. What’s that?” She pointed. Behind the man was an array of cloth, hung in rich folds and decorated with patchwork quilts showing various images of sortilege, magiomancy and augury. There were men spreading entrails of oxen, women roasting bottles over hearth-fires, children throwing old and worn out shoes into a river. The card-reader looked over his shoulder and said, abruptly, “Curtains. Those are called curtains.”

“No, I mean, there–the image. The head in flames.” One of the images was of a brownish bronze face afloat in a cloud of flames.

“That is a brazen head,” said the man. “It’s an oracular device.”

“Do you have one?” she asked.

“Do I–?” He snorted, and laughed, tried to suppress it, but gave up, and let out a long donkeyish laugh. It was good natured, but an awful braying sort of noise. “Do I have a brazen head?” He took his turban off, dropped it onto the table and mopped his brow. “If I had a one of them, would I be reading cards in a patched up, flea-ridden, bedbug infested tent like this?”

“Bedbug infested?” said Dapple, looking down at the rugs.

“I’m guessing not?” tried Caewen.

“No, of course not. The brazen heads were made by the Grand Circle of Augurs at the Lithriki Fire Temple five hundred years ago. There can’t be more than two or three left. Wars have been fought for them. They say that gods have been murdered for the possession of them. They are most powerful tools of foresight.” He waved a dismissive hand. “Hence, the depiction on the curtain. One needs to maintain a certain atmosphere.”

“I see,” said Caewen, squinting at the image. “So… that would be an unusual thing to just havee lying around? I mean, if someone had one of those sitting in a corner of their tent?”

“Almost certainly a fake,” said the man. “Now, did you want your cards read or not. And excuse me for not putting my hat back on. It’s hot in here, and I don’t think you care about the act, do you?”

“Not one jot,” declared Dapplegrim merrily.

“Very well then. I shall read for you first, oh strange horse with a strange fleshless face, and darkness for skin, and fire for eyes. Let me see. He turned over the first card. It showed a road with a stone beside it, and a long black shadow across the way. “One of Shadows,” declared then man. “Potentially an ominous start. But, there are many and diverse interpretations. Let us see what the second card is. He turned it over. “That’s interesting. Two of Shadows.” He turned over another card. “Three of Shadows.” This proceeded in sequence until he reached the Ten of Shadows. The cards were laid out in a long shape with two cards at the start, then a branched pattern made of three cards, then another bridging card, another branching pattern made up of three cards, then two sequential cards at the end.

“Oooh,” said Dapplegrim, apparently transfixed. “What does it mean?”

But the fortuneteller just blinked at the cards and shuffled them off the table into his hands. He muttered something about demons and spirits and turned to Caewen. “Let us try you. Unless you also are made of some manner of magical element that will render my arts rather joyless and pointless?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Good. Ahem.” Without any fanfare he drew and placed the first card. “Two of Moons.”

Caewen leaned over and peered at the card. It depicted a young man staring up at two moons that seemed to be caught in a tree, like big floating drifts of dandelion fluff.

“Huh,” said Caewen. “Go on.”

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