The Stain and the Shadow
The old man smells of tobacco and leather. And something else – something sickly under these pleasant, familiar scents. Something on his breath. The tent door flaps in the wind; outside, a thin donkey brays among the chickens.
“Sit,” he says. The cards come out. You haven’t asked for a reading, nor paid the customary copper penny.
“First, That Which You Were.”
He flips the bent paper card out onto the table.
“The Nine of Keys. Keys are the suit of magic and wisdom. Something that came for you – an unavoidable lesson. A memory burned into you forever. You’ve been chosen by something.”
He smiles, a silver mend in his bent teeth catching the dim light.
“That Which You Are.”
The Three of Sickles lands reversed beside the Nine of Keys. The old man frowns.
“The Sickles are an ill suit. Conflict and tribulation. Reversal means double. You bring danger where you go – great risk, aye, but the Sickles mean both toil and reward. Those who venture much, yes?”
Behind the old man, vials and potion-glass sparkle in the candle flame.
“Now – That Which You Carry.”
A High Card appears – The Hermit’s Well.
“Good fortune,” the old man wheezes. “The Well means health and prosperity when properly tended. But not always for you. Take care how you pursue your fortune. Wells can be poisoned.”
His finger rests atop the last card.
“The Grimmmerian Tarot reveals the heart,” he says. “It is a guide. Not often do the wise call upon it for more. But you can ask. The cards may whisper omens.”
He motions to a tin plate beside his table. Three bits and a copper sit on the worn felt mat in the center. You place your coin there. It sits heavily among its brothers.
“The Future, then.”
The last card is drawn. The old man sets it before you, face down.
“It is customary. No one can give you the future. You have to take it yourself.”
You do. You place the card before the old man. Your future: The Stain and the Shadow.
A blotted card, the color of twilight and a sick man’s blood. You think, in the dull illustration, that you can just make out a figure, beyond the cheap print and greasy blotches.
“Take your coin,” the old man says, snapping up his deck. He flings the copper at you. “Get ye out. Get!”