Calistril 18, 4713 (Ordu-Aganhei, late night)
My memory of this is still clear, but memories fade so I want to get this down before I lose it.
After talking to Radella on the walk back from dinner, I asked Ameiko if she would stay with me tonight. “I don’t want to be alone right now.”
“As if you need to even ask. I can tell you are troubled, and of course I’ll stay with you,” she said with a smile. “It would be enjoyable to have the company, anyway. These feather beds are comfortable, but after all these months of being crammed in the caravan wagons, nights alone in a room are both a luxury and a bit unfamiliar.”
I was kind of feeling just the opposite—until this morning.
“Thank you,” I said. “I don’t think anything will happen to me. Not directly, given how much he seems to value courtesy and manner, but …” I didn’t have to add that I could be coerced or manipulated, and no one would be the wiser. And of course, everyone here seems live in fear of him. Even if I am safe, the people here may not be. I could easily get someone killed, I thought. Lots of someones. I shuddered at that.
Ameiko thought about this for a moment. “I—I don’t think the Prince would kidnap you or … probably … outright force anything. He does seem to value honor and etiquette—to a fault, if you ask me—but I still don’t trust him or know how far he can be pushed before he drops the facade.”
“I need to ask. Is there anything you can do or provide that can help me? In case I have to talk my way out of trouble, or slip away if I can’t teleport. The catch is, I don’t know when it would be needed, so I can’t completely rely on spells.” This is why I was borrowing Radella’s circlet. Every little bit helped.
All she had to offer was advice. But it was good advice. “I would not outright refuse him, especially in front of others. Find a way to string him along, perhaps, until we know we can make our escape or find out what his true motives are.”
“In other words, stall,” I said.
“Yes. Stall. It’s a delicate and dangerous line to walk.” She sighed, then said, “I never imagined you would get entangled in the political intrigues of court when we started this journey. But, such are the perils of court.” Though how she knew anything on the subject was a mystery. I bounced that around in my head. Has Ameiko been holding out on me?
I’d have plenty of time to ask her later, and I snapped back to the present. Stay focused, Kali, I reminded myself. “I think I need Koya’s help on this,” I said. “I am rudderless here.”
Ameiko got Koya’s attention with a small wave and then gestured for her to join us. When she did, I explained what I intended to do. “I can manage the spell, but I still need help with interpreting the cards.”
Koya looked lost in thought briefly, then she replied, “Well, it’s not usual to combine the spell with a reading, but I think that’s because most people don’t take the time to learn both. There’s certainly no reason why you can’t do it.”
I said, “It will take me some time to memorize the spell, but I’ll start as soon as I get back to my room.”
Ameiko said, “As soon as we get back to your room. We’ll wait with you until you are ready to cast. Though I believe Radella has suggested a ladies’ night in your room tonight, so it might get a little crowded.”
The rooms weren’t far. While they got settled, I did some quick writing, then got down to memorizing the spell.
“I’m ready,” I said.
Koya came over to sit next to me. She handed my her deck (mine is not yet finished), and waited for me to start. I pulled out the nine Crown cards for the Choosing, and then I just stared at them. Are you sure you want to do this? I remember thinking. I must have been like that for a while, because I felt Koya’s hand touch mine, gently. I snapped out of the reverie, spoke the words to the spell, and drew the first card.
I was looking at a dragon. It was The Tyrant.
My heart sank and Koya sighed heavily. “That is … not a pleasant card. It indicates one who rules but who does harm to those over whom he holds sway.”
It meant my role in this was linked to the Prince. It was confirming my fears. I stared at it for a while. I’d not studied the art on this one yet. Is it … eating its own egg? I shuddered.
I shuffled the Crown cards back in the deck, and laid out the Tapestry, face down. Starting with the Past, I revealed The Eclipse, misaligned, The Snakebite, and The Rabbit Prince.
“The Eclipse. A hidden place revealed, or an unheralded ability. The necropolis? Shelyn’s gift of Hon-La?” I asked.
“Possibly. Both brought us here in some fashion. Though I have learned not to be too certain in Harrowings.”
“The Snakebite. A weapon used against us. Any of the oni or ninja could fit here.”
“Less certain is this one, but your interpretation is as good as any,” she replied.
“And … The Rabbit Prince.” A wave of dread washed over me.
“Our host is the younger brother of the Khan, is he not? This hints that he is slippery and clever as an adversary.” Well that’s just great, I thought.
It got worse on the next column, which represented the present. Much worse. I turned over the first card and immediately thought I was going to be sick. I could barely speak, but managed to croak out, “The Marriage. Oh, gods, Koya …”
“Now, child, don’t take the cards too literally; these are merely images and shadows. In this case it means that something will change in a permanent way, but what that change is we cannot be certain.”
But I couldn’t get past the literal image. It was like I was being sent a personal warning. My hand was shaking as I turned over the next card.
I wouldn’t have thought I could feel any worse, but then I was staring at The Beating. Sniffing and wiping tears away, I said out loud what I was thinking, my voice weak and hoarse. “I—I shouldn’t have done this.”
“The seasons change whether you read the cards or not,” she replied. Well, sure, but logic is a cold comfort. “In this position, though, I think it represents how you are feeling now. A dissolution of self.” That actually made sense, and the thought helped me compose myself. I nodded and moved on.
“The Unicorn, misaligned. A false friend. I think I know who this is.”
“You are probably right.”
The slow approach was killing me so I turned over the cards in the last column, representing the future, in rapid succession.
Koya let out another sigh, and that feeling of being sick reasserted itself. The top right card was The Courtesan. I knew what it represented, but I just sat there shaking my head slowly in denial so she took the liberty of explaining. Maybe for Ameiko’s benefit more than mine.
“I think it’s telling you that your future requires you to continue in this role. You must navigate the politics of this place, with some peril if you slip or falter.”
I still didn’t say anything. I just sat there and stared. Koya added, “I’m sorry, child, this is a heavy burden to place on you.
“The Sickness is difficult to interpret,” she continued, though with less certainty. “It could mean the moral decay of a place, or the corruption of an individual of importance in your life.”
I waved my hand dismissively, blowing that card off. It didn’t have anything to contribute here. Honestly, I just didn’t care. But the last one …
I took a long, deep breath and said, “The Inquisitor. I can’t cheat my way out of it. I have to face it head on.”
“With the help of your friends,” Ameiko added. She’d been watching the reading quietly this whole time. “Don’t forget that.”
“Normally we only interpret a few, key cards in the Tapestry. But in this case, most of them had something to say. What is the spell telling you?” Koya asked.
I could feel its effects now, and was trying to characterize them. “I am being … encouraged … to use my wits.”
A long silence followed. I could feel them watching me. “We have to tell the others,” I said. “Any information we need to get, about the road ahead, Minkai, the Forest … We need to do it tomorrow. Just in case.”