I am one of today’s sponsors of the WoMen’s Literary Cafe Book Buzz program. They’re highlighting one of my beta reader’s favorite passages from my YA fantasy, “The Crimson League.” He said he loved this scene so much he was sad when it ended! (“The Crimson League” is the first novel in the Herezoth trilogy. From Jan 1-11 it’s on sale for just 99 cents!)
CLICK HERE (or scroll below) to read about Kora Porteg’s spooky visit to a FORTUNETELLER in the city of Yangerton and support a great forum and support system for serious indie authors.
The next morning, Kora saw that bandanas were something of a fashion in the city. Women used them to keep their hair out their faces, so Kora fit right in among the streets filled with distant expressions. Her frock hid the dagger tied to her leg quite expertly. Kansten did not say so—she said little of anything—but Kora suspected she too had a dagger beneath her shabby dress. She wondered if Kansten thought she was trying to be stylish with the headwraps she wore, and felt uneasy.
They walked in silence to the outskirts of Yangerton, where the streets were wider and the buildings much less uniform. Kora counted eight fortunetelling shops before they stopped in front of the circular, wooden structure where Markulas supposedly unveiled the future for those who paid him. His building, like others of its type, was painted an unusual color to stand out: in this case, burgundy. The shop was nothing as much as an eyesore.
“What are we looking for, do you think?” Kora asked.
“We’ll know when we see it.” Then, “What do you think of fortunetelling, anyway?”
Kora was not in the mood for that discussion, but as her partner for the day seemed finally interested in some kind of interaction, she thought it best not to act too cold. “I think it’s interesting that people are scared of active magic, but they’re so fascinated by the passive forms that fortunetellers flaunt themselves.”
“But do you think it’s real?”
“I doubt it,” said Kora. “We can’t know what the future holds, that’s only for the Giver. I suppose it’s possible he gifts some people with the power to read the stars, or palms, or cards, like he gifts a precious few with sorcery, but in my opinion these tellers are frauds, every one of them.”
Kansten crossed her arms. “I don’t underestimate magic, active or otherwise. It’s a dangerous thing to do.”
Kora rolled her eyes and walked into the shop. It consisted of one room, with walls royal purple and a white curtain, pulled back, down its center. The half of the building by the door boasted shelves that reached Kora’s waist and housed various items for sale: teakettles, china cups, lamps and lanterns, an amulet or two. One shelf held only books, all on the topic of fortunetelling, its proper procedures and variations. Another stored a small assortment of crystal balls.
On the building’s far side, a chest, a gorgeous antique, served as a table to support a deck of cards and three tall candles; three high-backed, cushioned chairs sat around it. A man who occupied one of these stood up when Kora entered. To her surprise, he looked just like any other person, not exotic or airy in the least, despite the colorful atmosphere of the place. He wore a plain black tunic, which made his silver hair shine in contrast. His face held deep wrinkles but his eyes were clear and bright. Was he sixty? Eighty? His age was impossible to tell.
“Welcome,” said Markulas. His voice was short, crisp. “Have you come for a reading?”
“We came to look at your merchandise,” Kora told him. “I heard you have some beautiful antiques.”
“So I do,” he said. “If you’ll allow it, I would ask to do a reading first.”
“I don’t think so.”
“You have an air of mystery about you, both of you. I’ve seen its like only once in fifty-eight years.” “We don’t have the time,” Kora said, “I’m sorry.”
“Free of charge,” offered Markulas. Kansten glanced interestedly, pleadingly, at Kora. “I don’t do this for everyone,” the teller told them. Kora, against her better judgment, nodded at her partner.
“All right, then,” Kansten said. She took a seat at the table in the back. Kora pulled a chair beside her, unable to decide if she felt more curious or terrified, while Markulas jerked the curtain shut and sat opposite the women.
“How does this work?” Kora asked.
Markulas shuffled the tattered, bent cards with a flourish, setting the pile before Kora. “Cut the deck,” he said. Kora’s hand hovered, hesitating. “Go on.”
Kora cut the deck near the top. Markulas put the cards she removed at the bottom of the stack.
“Pick three numbers under two hundred.”
Kora shut her eyes. “Eleven,” she said. Her brother’s age. “Forty-one.” Her mother’s. “And twenty-seven. Yes, twenty-seven.” Twenty-seven, selected on a whim at the age of five, had always been her favorite number.
Markulas counted through the deck and removed the proper cards, keeping them facedown. He turned over the first: it showed an orange triangle, glowing faintly.
“Is it power?” asked Kora. “Or strength, maybe?”
Markulas gave no physical reaction. “You’re thinking of the sorcerer’s mark. This is that symbol, but it doesn’t follow that you’re empowered. No, this symbol here means secrets. Your life is filled with secrets, perhaps secrets you keep from yourself.”
Kora could only nod, her throat dry. There was that matter of the ruby on her forehead….
Coincidence. Pure coincidence.
Markulas flipped the second card. An eye appeared upon it, a large, veined eye, but not a normal one; the pupil looked milky.
“The blind eye,” said the teller. “Not a card I often see. Twelve years ago, in fact, was the last time someone drew it. It means that your ultimate fate is uncertain.”
Kora bit her lip. “Is that bad?”
“Your future hangs in the balance. Deciding actions, for your destruction or prosperity, have yet to be taken. You are master of yourself, more so than most. Any and every choice of yours could seal your fate.”
Kora had heard enough. “Turn the last card,” she said.
It was a gravestone. Next to her, Kora heard Kansten’s breath catch.
“Grief,” said Markulas. “Not death but grief.”
“Some would say that’s worse,” Kora whispered.
He said matter-of-factly, “There’s no certainty a death or deaths will come. There are other forms of loss, and this card is far from rare.”
Suddenly, Kora was not so certain all tellers must be frauds.
Markulas swept up the cards. Without a word from anyone, he reshuffled the deck and set it before Kansten. She cut it just below its center.
“Seventeen,” she said. Her voice was oddly hushed. “Seventy-four. One hundred thirty.” Markulas drew the cards.
The first showed a serpent wrapped around a skull. The animal was striking forward, fangs exposed, as though trying to stretch out of the card on which it had been painted.
“The card of fear. Something terrifies you, down to the root of your soul. It’s so entrenched it’s become a part of you. It influences your thoughts, your decisions. It remains the root of all your actions. You probably think it weakens you. Whether it does, I cannot say.”
Kansten nodded, much like Kora had done at the glowing triangle. Markulas flipped the second card.
“The fox has two meanings. The first would imply you’re quick-witted. You make smart decisions under pressure, are best when backed in a corner: you know how to fight yourself out of it. The second meaning is less optimistic.”
“What is it?” asked Kansten.
“The pursuit. The chase. That someone is after you with no good intention.”
Kora felt sick to her stomach. This card, too, was accurate. Kansten was a member of the Crimson League; Markulas could not know it, but she was, and that meant many a person who would love to get his hands on her. And Lanokas had said she was good in a pinch, those were his exact words. Not one, but both readings of this card described her perfectly. No, fortunetelling did not seem just a show, though Kora found herself wishing that it might be. The image of that gravestone was swimming before her eyes.
Markulas turned over the third and final card. Kansten gasped. Even Kora did not need Markulas to explain what it meant; she put a hand on her trembling companion’s shoulder while she stared down at the image of….
“The cage. Capture. A logical progression from the fox, I believe.”
The teller scooped up the cards and put them in the center of the deck. If he suspected he had two members of the Crimson League before him, he made no mention of the fact and asked no questions. He began shuffling his deck with no greater awkwardness than if they had just discussed the weather over a friendly gambling session where no one had lost a thing. Kora struggled to decide what to do, what to say, but it was Kansten who spoke first. She sounded hoarse.
“We came to see what you have for sale.”
“Then browse the shelves.”