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


“Wait!” Taraval gripped the gypsy’s wrist before she could gather up the cards. “I paid you what you asked. You promised you would tell me about the woman in the green dress.”

“I said only that I would tell your fortune, and I have done that.”

Taraval looked at the cards lying face down within the curve of her arm, and a hot ache filled his chest. If four had told him this much, what might the others reveal? Their backs held only mystery for him, and frustration.

“I must know what the rest of them say,” he said, his voice rising. His eyes searched hers as if the secret of the cards might lie hidden in their golden depths.

The gypsy picked up the coins from the table and let them trickle through her fingers.

“What more do you have?”

He turned his palms up. “Nothing!” he snapped, angry that she had tricked him. Then he looked down at his arm and added, “Only this bracelet.” In desperation, he pulled it from his writ and held it up for her to see.

She shook her head. “It’s not enough. Give me the ring, too.” She pointed to the ring of Ilahee, glinting purple in the candlelight.

“No! I won’t part with the ring,” he said, and was puzzled to see that her eyes seemed to register approval of this response. He leaned forward and grasped her wrist again. “Let me come back tomorrow morning. I’ll win some more money by then.”

The candlelight shimmered over her gown. “No,” she replied with finality. “I must leave at dawn.”

“And I must know what the cards foretell!”

They stared at one another over the table like opponents in battle, each waiting for the other to relent. Finally the gypsy sighed. “Very well,” she said. “I will take the bracelet – but for only one more card.”

Taraval’s shoulders sagged. Then he nodded and handed over the copper bracelet he had made for himself long ago, with his initial inlaid in silver. He watched her slip it onto her own wrist and then turned his attention to the remaining six cards that lay on the table in front of her. Did they foretell what he must look for – and where – to save Ilahee from the doom that awaited it? Dangers he must avoid? Enemies who would try to keep him from his goal? People he could turn to? Once chance in six he had to choose the card most telling about his quest, which in his mind now loomed like a mountain before him.

His heard throbbed so hard he felt it would jump out of his chest as he moved his finger over the cards, haltingly, the way he had seen diviners search for water with a witching rod. Finally he pointed to the card farthest from him. The gypsy turned it over to reveal a seated woman wearing a flowing white gown, a wreath of wildflowers in her hair. Her left arm encircled the head of a lion, whose mouth she held closed with both her hands. Behind her were mountains, and trees with fern-like fronds, like none he had ever seen before.

“This card symbolizes strength and goodness, and the power to win over evil,” the gypsy said. She placed her hands flat on the table before her, fingers spread, and a veil seemed to drop over her again. “I can tell you nothing more.”

But about this card nothing more need be told. Though the woman wore white, not green, there was no doubt in his mind that she was Orchis. And though the trees did not look like ravenwoods, their presence on the card suggested to him that if he could find Orchis – or her spirit, for surely she was long dead by now – he would also find more ravenwood trees to bring back to Ilahee to start the groves again. It was the ravenwoods she was calling him to, and he would find them in a land that had mountains, like Ilahee.

Of course, the lion signified danger – perhaps evil. Orchis was keeping it under control, but she had called for him so she must need his help. Why me? He wondered. What could I possibly do for her? And why now, after two and a half centuries?

He drew in a deep breath. He was soon to embark on what promised to be a dangerous quest, with no idea where he was to search – all because of a woman he had never seen, except in his dreams, and a gypsy who had read his fortune in five caxrds. This was madness! But his only alternative was to marry Gretchen of Tarnower and see his father dethroned, and he would willingly die before those events came to pass.

He looked longingly at the five cards that still lay face down on the table, trying to conjure their images in his mind, but he could visualize nothing. He shook his head. Well, he would have to manage without knowing whatever secrets they held.

He pushed back his chair and stood up. “I thank you, Madame Aurora,” he said, gratitude, for the moment, overshadowing his frustration.

The gypsy walked to the entrance of the tent with him. There she touched his arm lightly, and her eyes were soft in the candle glow. “Then you will go on this quest?”

“Yes,” he said, and was surprised to hear her let out a held breath.

“Then I wish you well in your journey,” she said. There was a moment’s pause, then she opened her mouth to speak again, but said nothing. He looked at her expectantly. Finally, she spoke. “Remember this, Taraval of Ilahee – answers come to those who prove themselves worthy of them.”

She handed back to him the now empty leather purse he had left on the table. “But keep this in a safer place,” she added. “On your quest you will meet many far greater threats than Toni.”


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