Petit, red headed, young Cella the fortune teller in the bazaar was surprised at the Tarot card read. The emperor came up again, and this was a fat priests’ wife.Why would she be facing the danger that card indicated, especially here in the capitol?“You will be facing the possibility of an argument,” Cella piped in her clear soprano voice.She chose the lesser of the evils predicted by that card and continued laying the others out.“Be careful, or you may be the big loser,” she advised.
When the session was over the woman paid her and went her way. Cella left her stall.The emperor had come up in virtually every read she had done today and most of them yesterday.She did not know what to make of it so she decided to seek advice from her teacher.Closing and exiting her stall she saw a guardsman she knew and knew she could trust.Whistling, she tossed him a coin and left.He sauntered over to her stall.She knew that he would loiter there, keeping an eye on the place until she returned.
She exited the bizarre onto Palace Street. At the end of the street was the stall of her old teacher, an ancient seeress named Petra.Petra would tell her what to make of the things that had been coming up in her readings.But when she got to the old woman’s stall there was a rope across it.It was closed.That dismayed Cella until she saw the yellow ribbon at one end of it, a signal to her family and students that the old woman was at home.Cella went around behind the stall and up a rickety staircase to the rooms the woman lived in above that stall and knocked on the door.
Petra’s youngest daughter Timthé answered it. She had raven hair, like the night.Cella remembered when she thought Timthé nearly tall enough to touch it too.“Come in Cella,” a quavering voice called from behind Timthé’.Petra had knows who it would be before the knock.
“You might as well sit down,” Timthé said. “She is expecting everyone.”
“Indeed I am,” Petra agreed, “and, since I don’t have the strength to answer all those questions over and over again we will wait until the others are all here before we begin. Timthé go borrow some cups from Mother Smith next door so we can all have a cup of tea when everyone gets here.”
Timthé was out the door and back in a few minutes with the cups and with her sister Strafarga right behind her. Then in twos and threes Petra’s remaining daughters and students began coming.They all had questions that they could not answer.When they were all settled Petra poured them all a cup of tea.“I am sure you all have questions for me,” she said, “and I intend to answer them all.Since Timthé was the first to come to me she will be the one to start.”
“Well,” Timthé began, “yesterday the Emperor came up in eight out of the ten reads I did. Today it came up twice.And the most interesting thing was that it came up in the reads of people coming into the city or those who live here, but not in the ones for those who were leaving town or those who were planning to do so soon.”
“I’ve had the same thing happen,” Strafarga volunteered.
“Be quite,” Petra said. “Your sister was given permission to speak first and she isn’t finished yet.”
Strafarga retreated a bit while Timthé continued, “I would like to know the meaning of all that?”
“I am sure you would dear,” Petra said, “But first I must ask you if you sorted your cards after every read? You know that if you don’t then one reading may interfere with the other.”
“I know,” Timthé said, “and I do try/”
“Well, now Cella may speak,” Petra said.
“I’ve had the same thing happening in the bizarre,” she told her teacher. “You expect it in the reads for guardsmen and mercenaries.They are pleased to hear it since it means more work for them.But for merchants and priests and their wives; I’m beginning to worry and I wonder what it is all about too.And you know I always sort my cards when I’m done.”
“Yes,” said Petra, “I know that. Now, Strafarga.”
“Well I have had the same thing,” she said. “And so has Lufarga.She came to me about it before I came over here.But we are in the capitol here.War can’t touch us here, can it?”
Even Cella knew the answer to that one, but she remained silent while her teacher spoke. “Strafarga you are a fool,” Petra said.“I have tried and tried to teach you that war anywhere affects all people everywhere in one way or another.”
Strafarga’s outburst had disturbed her so Petra got up and paced the room for a moment. As she stepped to the one small window she looked out at the palace.“Has anyone done a read on the King recently,” she asked.
“No,” said Strafarga, “there is no need. He is old, but he comes from a long lived line.”
The others admitted that they had not done a read on the king recently, but did not agree about the need.
“Then I will do one now,” Petra said. She shuffled the cards and laid them out in her favorite pattern. It did not look good.All of the cards were for major changes coming up for the King.All of Petra’s daughters and students drew near to look at the cards.“He is going to die,” Strafarga panicked.
“Strafarga,” Petra spoke to her very sternly. “Leave immediately.You have disturbed this meeting too much.”Petra’s eldest daughter virtually stormed out.Petra sorted and put her cards away.Then she made tea for herself and the others again.She chose a calming herbal tea.Strafarga stepped outside the door for a few minutes and then back in again.
After she had had a few sips she calmed herself and spoke to the ladies in the room enjoying the tea with her. “Well, it is possible that the King will die.After all he is of a greatly advanced age.”
“Then Prince Alemark will be king,” Timthé said. She, like many of the other women there did not like the Prince much.He was known to be something of a spend thrift and a womanizer.He was also too much under the influence of his Uncle Aleheardt, his deceased mother’s brother.It was known that Lord Aleheardt was an ambitious man.He was not happy with the rise in prestige that his family had enjoyed when his sister had married King Wilmark 30 years before.She had given him twin sons and then died.Lord Aleheardt had made sure that the only apparent survivor of those sons had come under his influence.The townspeople, including some of the women sitting there, had not thought that was a good idea.They said so as often as they dared.
In her rooms, Petra decided that something else was in order. “I shall try to contact Perina,” she said.“Timthé, you will put the questions.”Perina had been her daughter.Born between Strafarga and Timthé, Perina and Petra had shared a close bond.Perina died just about the time she reached the age of marriage, of a fever.Now she acted as spirit guide for her mother, showing her bits and pieces of the future from the other side.
Petra made herself comfortable. She uttered the prayerful words and phrases to the Light for protection from all evil and went into trance.Her voice was so soft that hardly anyone heard her.In a few minutes her change in demeanor, voice, and manner of speaking was changed.It was Perina.
“Hello Perina.” Timthé began. “We have some questions that we must put to you.”“Ask them.” Perina said.
“We are very concerned about the King,” Timthé began. “Will he live?”
“No,” Perina said. “He will join us here before the rising of the moon this night.”
“Then Prince Alemark will become king,” Cella whispered.
“When will Prince Alemark become king?” Timthé asked.
“We do not know,” Perina said.
“Why?” Timthé asked.
“There is another,” Perina said.
“Is Prince Willheardt not with you there?” Timthé asked.
“No,” Perina said. “I believe that he is not among the dead.”The session ended when Strafarga excitedly blurted out, “He’s not dead.If he comes to the capitol there will be a war.”
In the castle on the other side of the wall of Petra’s humble dwelling, in the Kings private apartments, his physician was attending him. The King had lain in his bed unresponsive for most of a night and a day.In the antechamber Prince Alemark sat with his uncle Lord Aleheardt standing facing him.The light hair and blue eyes of the Prince marked him as being a member of the royal family.Such was practically their trademark.The other was tall, but darker.They said no thing at first, waiting for the news from the physician.Then the Prince commented, “Why didn’t he have the decency to die in the winter when all decent old people die. Now it is getting warmer.In a few days it will officially be spring.”
“Are you afraid that it will take him too long to die?” his uncle Lord Aleheardt asked. “Don’t worry.You will be king.”
In the room the king’s physician put his ear to the King’s chest one more time.The heart there continued to thumb slowly.His breaths came shallowly.
The doctor stepped into the anteroom, “He lives yet,” the man said. “But I do not expect that he will make it through the night.”
“Then we should send out riders,” the Prince announced. “I will be King by the rising of the moon and my people will need time to prepare themselves.”
“A moment, your highness,” Lord Aleheardt said. “We should not hurry these things.They have a tendency to go badly if we do so.I would wait for the doctor to confirm that the old king is dead.”
“Nonsense,” Prince Alemark said. “I believe my father will be dead within the hour.The messengers shall go out.” He sounded a gong for the scribes to take the order.
The sound of the gong had a curious effect on his father. The old King, Wilmark, roused for a few moments.Only the scullery maid called to assist the physician heard or saw.He opened his eyes and turned toward her.“Willheardt?” he asked.“Where is my son Willheardt?”
“Hush,” she said trying to sound comforting. “He is in the land of the dead already.You will see him there.”
“No,” said the King. “He is not.”At that point the physician came in and saw him.He rushed to the bed, but the King had already closed his eyes and resumed his slow shallow breathing.
“Did he say anything?” the physician asked.
“He said Prince Willheardt is no dead?” the maid said. “You know them that is part between life and death like that sometimes knows things that we others don’t,” she stated one of her beliefs.“They sees things that we don’t see.You think his other son’s still alive?”
“I think not,” the physician said. “I think he is delirious.”
In the antechamber the Prince began to dictate to the scribes. “The King will die by dawn,” he told them.“I want you to write this instruction.’All lords and ladies of great or minor degree are commanded to attend upon me at my coronation.I shall send word as to when that will be.At that time they will swear fealty to me.’ That information is to be sent out by riders to all the fiefs and peoples of the kingdom.”
None of that was terribly out of keeping with what had happened in the past, so Lord Aleheardt said nothing. But when the scribes were gone he said to the Prince.“Your highness,” as this is likely to be a long watch, I request permission to retire to my chamber for a bit of rest.”
“Granted.” The Prince said. “In fact I think I’ll join you.”He thrust his head out the doorway into the passage and called to one of the pages waiting there.“Page, come here.”When the boy, just too young to be a squire responded he told him.“You will wait here for any sign that anything has happened to my father.The moment it does, come and fetch myself and Lord Aleheardt in that order.Is that clear.”
“Aye, sire” the page responded. Prince Alemark and Lord Aleheardt left the room and the page took his place on the seat that the Prince had occupied. Lord Aleheardt walked down the passage way and around the corner to quarters on the same floor of the castle as the royal apartments.These had been the quarters that he had been allowed to use since the day his late sister had married the King and he had become part of the family.Now one of his own advisors joined him there.His name was Sir Rodrick of Glencoe.“Well,” he dared to say to his master.“Now, sir, all your plans are come to fruition.Do you truly believe that you will be able to control the boy so much when he becomes king?”
“Have a care that you forget yourself, Rodrick. I am still your master.I have no doubt that I will be able to influence the boy any way I want to, king or not.” Aleheardt said.