Allusions at Hand: Book III: Interlude 3

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I’ve been very busy.  Art, work, side gigs, PT.  The cover for and reworking the early parts of Book III that I have.  It’s weird how well the general structure still works, as new things intrude.  Yet I knew long before, this was where I was going.  I just arrived with unexpected company.

This week a glimpse at a book I might someday write, if I ever run out of more important things to do.  Next week maybe a glimpse at a book I’m more dedicated to finding the time for, and introduce a character we will be getting to know a lot better in Book III.

For this week a glance backwards.  I occasionally toy with the idea of a book starring Mercu as a young man trying to find his place.  A man of secrets, and hidden talents.  Blessed with a silver tongue, and a knack for getting in, and out of trouble.  I’m not sure enough exactly what it would look like, so for now, have this.  Which might even be an opening to such a book.


Allusions at Hand

“What’s your name boy?”

A young man with dusty brown hair stopped, cringed, but turned and stared the woman down.  “Shouldn’t you know, seer?”

“I could pick your father from a crowd, even if I didn’t know him.  Ferus. I can tell you your mother is not with us. Though, hmm. Yes, she thought your name should not be his.  Though similar, she consented to.  Mercu, because it sounded posh, and Palentian. It means swift flowing, his means iron. Oh the irony…” She sighed and smiled. “Soul of a poet, you like that, swift traveler, and a hand that captures the eye.  I know what card I would draw from my deck for you. I know it would find its way to my grasp.”

“If you know my father, then you know he told me to stay away from you.”

“Oh, you don’t always do what he says, do you?”  She plucked a card from the top of her deck, and set it before him.  It was a woman, her chest exposed, a reversed bust more modest on the other end.  The card was upside down. “Already been with a girl.”

“You are wrong about that,” Mercu snapped.

“So I am.  Oh, who was it?  Sorry, pretty enough to’ve been.”  The old woman hummed, and closed her eyes.  “Oh, that Red Sister’s son. Cheeky lad. They had to leave after that father came complaining.  Well, at the next town.”

Mercu froze, his breath caught, and then he ran.

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

“You aren’t going to tell on me, are you?” Mercu asked sheepishly, as he approached the old woman absently shuffling her cards.

“Tell on you, is precisely what I propose to do,” she said wobbling her head with some amusement.  “Tellers they sometimes call us, not seers. We see, whether we tell. One is what I am, the other what I do.”

“Please, don’t tell my father.”

“Then listen,” she said and offered him an imposing glance.

Mercu cringed, looked away, and then sat at the woman’s table.

She plucked a card again, and placed it before him.  Again, the Queen was the card, but this time right side up.

“You don’t shuffle very well.”

She placed the card back on the pile, then picked it up again, it was a King.  She set it before him reversed. “You are not what you appear.”

Mercu gave her an incredulous look.  “And what do I appear?”

“A mask, that is honest.  A lie that is true. You want nothing more than to please, and yet who you are will displease so many.  You play games, because it is the only way you can be kind. You, are a seer, not a teller. A snoop, and a meddler.  You know the ways people are broken, and love them anyway. You are not a man.”

“Are you trying to insult me?” he said sitting up more straight.

“Are you insulted?” she said with a knowing grin.

Mercu hesitated, and just stared at her defiantly, crossing his arms.

She shook her head, and took another card from the pile.  It was again the Queen, face up. She set it atop the king.  “Masks, you will always be a person of masks. Performances, both the ones you desire to give, and the ones you feel you must.”

“Name the next card,” the woman said, after a brief pause had begun to confuse him.

“I don’t know your stupid game!” Mercu said clenching his fists.

“Stop,” the woman said measuredly, “describe it,” she added through gritted teeth.

Mercu cringed at her intensity.  “I don’t know, a star. You mystical types like stars, don’t you?”

She plucked a card from the deck, and placed it beneath the King and Queen.  ‘The North Star,’ was printed across the bottom.

“You can draw whatever you please, I think you proved that already… However you do it.”

She quickly laid a card to the right, and to the left, one below the star, one each to the left, and right again.  Seven placements, and five still face down.

“This card,” she said, to the right of The North Star.

“I don’t know, flip a coin,” Mercu said tersely.

She turned it over, and there was a coin, upside down.

Mercu stared at her.  He had seen magic do a lot of things.  He had even glimpsed something when the King had replaced the Queen, but there, he was almost sure, she had done nothing.  No magic, and no sleight of hand. “How?”

“What is a prince without the gift?” the woman asked.

“An heir more likely to take the throne,” Mercu cut back.

“Oh, as if you want your father’s throne.  You are jealous of your sister. A man jealous of a woman, because she is free of this weight on your shoulders.  He would support her being an artist, a writer, a historian. Maybe even forgive her if she had the inclination to the occasion woman, she mostly doesn’t.  You, are his heir. An heir to a line of Trade Princess, so old they fade into legend, not even history. Your very name given to birds who wander, not the other way about.  Yet you, look in her eyes, and you see she wants to rule this world. You are jealous, even of her ambition, but yours are so much grander, aren’t they?”

“How?” Mercu muttered, her words cut like knives, but he could not pull away.

She indicated the next card.

“The Moon,” he said he said under his breath, not even sure why.  No flippant answer, just, he knew it must be.

She turned up the card, and there it was.

“How literal.  How figurative.  The sun is power, and fury, but you would rather be the mirror.  The moon endures by waxing, and waning. You know the true power in this world, that true change must come slowly.  You know that rhythm, and story disarm. That clever words open ears, and other things. You even know that’s what I’m doing.  That the mysticism, the rhymes are tools. Flirtations that make us take note. The cards are tools. I do not choose the card I draw, I know the card I must.  It is a tool, a measuring stick, not what is measured. You know the stars do not tell our fate, but that they do align. That the moon’s wavering, is but the spiral of worlds, and yet she set the tide.  You are reason, amidst flights of fancy.”

She pointed to another card.

“The Tree,” she said, turning over the card below The Star.  “The Ash of Autumn.”

It was her turn to look at him strangely.  “You are what is measured by. A fixed point.  A landmark, the world changes around you, as the true travelers pass you by.  You are shade, on a hot summer day. You are the canopy, that holds the winter snow at bay.  Evergreen, and yet oh so ever mortal. Someone has built a castle beside you.”

She pointed to the next card.

“Why are you trying to make a fool of me?” he demanded.  Feeling like he was under some spell, and trying to break free.

She smirked, and turned the card over.  The Fool. Though it was reversed, a thing that took a moment given the figure stood at a crossroads, standing inverted, not upon the ground, but feet planted firmly on the precarious boards of the sign.

“You, are the one who plays the fool.  You know the world is mad, and a sane man in such a world, is the fool in the eyes of of the blind.  You see the world for what it is, but you keep your secrets, from those not ready to know. Always honest in your way, no matter how readily you mislead.  The truth, will not always be heard. The inevitable accepted, only when it comes.”

She indicated the last card.

“The Tower,” Mercu said, and closed his eyes.  “Like a rook. The chess piece.”

The woman nodded, and did not even turn the card over.  “You will teach the Fates themselves to play. The unsung hero, the bard.  In the structure of society, the fools know the truth. We are all fools. We all fool ourselves.  Arrogance, will be your enemy, for confidence will be your friend. You will love a woman dearly. You will have her heart completely.  She would marry you, and give you an heir and knight. Yet the confidence of your love, will be too much, and she will never believe she could love you so.  Duty, and love. Each will choose the other. She is not your fate. You will love a man dearly, but you will never be only his. You will wear the masque, and make it true.  A…”

“Leave him be, Cassandra!” a man said angrily marching up on them.  “I told you boy, don’t mess with seers.” He huffed, and then looked up from Mercu to the woman.  “Did he pay?” the man demanded, and slammed his fist down on the table.

Cassandra just smiled.

He slammed a gold coin on the table.  “Don’t toy with my boy,” he said fiercely.  “You were paid. Don’t meddle.”

She turned the last card upright.  It was a hand with an eye emblazoned upon the back.  It was reversed, with ‘The Hand’ written upside down.

“I want a contract,” the woman said.  “Not a coin. A seat, not a salary. You know no caravan travels long without a seer.  I will not make the boy a pawn, if you make me a Queen.”

“What?  Are you proposing…” the man looked utterly bewildered.

“Fates, you are literal Ferus.  No, you old bandit, not that. But it is a contract, all the same.  I marry your caravan, not you. Seven years to start. I keep the flies away, I lure in those who want to see.  I keep my hands off your boy, and theirs as well. I’ve already spoiled one love affair you wouldn’t have approved.  Sure you wouldn’t like me to foil the other?” She tilted her head to the side in an unnerving way.

“I will have your contract in the morning,” Ferus said through gritted teeth.

The man took Mercu’s hand, and tried to pull him away.

She set her hand on his as he resisted just out of spite for his father’s behavior.  “What you make of yourself, is your own affair.” Mercu stopped resisting in surprise.

“I’m watching you woman!” his father snapped, and spun around to point at her.

“Contract isn’t signed yet,” she said with a shrug.  “Hurry, hurry.”

They walked in silence a good twenty paces before Ferus let his son’s hand go.

“If you hate seers so much, why do you let them in the caravan?” Mercu asked with irritation at his father.

“Better the pits† you know,” Ferus muttered.  “They find their way in, one way or another. Like fleas on a dog.”

Commentary: †I originally wrote the line Abyss, to carry through with the mythos. but then took a step back and considered the possible derivations of the etymology of such use.  Pitted roads to a caravan master might weight another synonym in for the Abyss, taking a step away from the Devil allegory, and looking to a more material, pragmatic expression.

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