To begin at the beginning, click on Prologue in the Table of Contents, then on Chapter One, etc.


“You can let Tonio go now,” she said. Taraval’s eyes met the gypsy woman’s and he stared incredulously. She knew this boy! Had she told him to steal Taraval’s purse and bring it to her? He looked down at the captive thief, now pliant under his grip. “Begone with you,” he said sternly, standing up and yanking the boy to his feet. “And mend your ways.”

The boy flashed Taraval a mischievous grin before darting off into the gathering dusk. Taraval stood up and brushed the dirt and leaves from his clothing as the gypsy woman watched him.

“How did you get the purse?” he asked.

“It’s not important. Follow me,” she said. Just a few steps off stood a wine-red tent Taraval hadn’t noticed before. The woman entered and held the flap open for Taraval. It was dark already inside, and he stood near the entrance while she lit candles and spread a small table with a silken cloth dyed in colors that matched the fading sunset.

“Who are you?” he asked when she turned to him again.

“I am called Madame Aurora,” she said, her lips curving in a half smile. “And you are Taraval of Ilahee.”

He wasn’t much surprised to hear his name on her lips. Such mysteries were becoming commonplace.

“So you have decided you want me to tell your fortune.” It was a statement, not a question.

“Yes,” he said, his heart beating so quickly in anticipation that his voice cracked. Her eyes never left his as she handed him the purse. He poured the coins into his shaking hand and counted them out on the table in the light of the flickering candles. When he saw that all the money was still there, he breathed a sigh of relief.

“I have the amount you asked for,” he said, a note of pride in his voice.

She took the coins, slipping them into a pocket without comment. Then she motioned him to a seat and sat down on the other side of the table. From a bag she carried at her waist, she pulled out a small plain box of white pine. From the box she drew a stack of cards wrapped in purple silk. She shuffled the cards expertly, rippling shadows flowing from her long, slender fingers in the wavering candlelight. Then she laid out ten cards, face down, in a pattern on the table between them.

“Tell me about the woman in the green dress,” he demanded.

“Hush,” she said. “You are too impatient. The tarot tells whatever it will.” She gestured toward the spread of cards. “Choose one.”

With a stabbing finger, Taraval poked at a card and she turned it over. It depicted a youth in a plumed hat, carrying a white rose and, over his shoulder, a rod with a handkerchief tied to it. A small white dog was pulling on the boy’s left sleeve.

“Ah, as I expected, it’s the Fool,” she said.

She saw his sudden flush in the candlelight and smiled. “No, it doesn’t mean you are foolish,” she assured him, “only innocent. You’re starting fresh, like a newborn babe, and you don’t know which direction to go. You are at a turning point in your life and must act wisely and make shrewd decisions. But you are frightened because so much depends on what you decide.”

He nodded – yes, yes, all that was true, certainly – and leaned forward, eager to hear more.

“Choose another,” the gypsy directed. Without hesitating he pointed to a card and she turned it up. On it was a helmeted warrior seated in a chariot under a starry canopy, holding firmly to the reins of two horses – one black, the other white – which were struggling to go in opposite directions.

The gypsy woman looked into Taraval’s eyes appraisingly, as if to confirm what the card foretold. “The Chariot card foretells a difficult journey. A quest is laid out for you, and you will need great willpower and determination to succeed in it. But if you have the strength and the courage, the rewards, too, will be great.”

A quest! Yes, of course! That was shy Orchis was calling him. But where to? And for what, exactly? A wave of dizziness passed over Taraval, then the strange sensation that had haunted him since the day the blue light stung his hand stole over him again, only stronger this time, and clearer. It was like a foreboding, yet not grim. It felt exciting and frightening and somehow comforting, all at the same time – like seeing a campfire on a dark road in a strange land. The oddest part was that this unaccountable exhilaration should come creeping into his mind this past week, when his thoughts about the future were the dreariest.

The dizziness passed and Taraval raised his eyes to find the gypsy looking at him intently. “Go on!” he demanded, jabbing his finger at another card.

She turned it over and he saw upon it a youth wearing a cape and feathered hat and carrying a staff of sprouted leaves.

“Who is the boy?” he asked.

“I do not know his name,” she said. “The Page of Cups tells me only that a fair young man will be of service to you. He is a faithful youth, with a pure and simple heart.”

Well, there’s something reassuring at least, Taraval thought. Eagerly he pointed to another card. When the gypsy turned it over, her expression grew somber. On it, five arms clad in different colors and styles thrust stout wooden rods toward the center of the card, challenging each other to battle. She was silent for a long moment, her amber eyes brooding.

Taraval shifted in his seat and gripped the edge of the table. “The Five of Rods – what does it mean?”

“It shows that the way will not be smooth,” she said slowly. She opened her mouth as if to speak again, then clamped it firmly shut.

“What problems will I face?” Tell me!”

He could see her chest heave as she breathed slowly and deeply. “There are those who will be jealous,” she said. Then she leaned forward in her chair and let out a long sigh. “They will try to keep you from achieving the object of your quest – even unto death.”

Taraval let go of the table and found that his palms were damp. He swallowed.

“What must I look out for?”

She shook her head. “These cards do not foretell such things.”

“Then show me more,” he said, reaching for another card.

But with a swift motion of her arm, the gypsy swept the unturned cards toward her. “That is all I can tell you today,” she said, her lids dropping like hoods over her golden eyes.


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