She pushed the whisky bottle towards him.
“Hope this isn’t going to be date rape,” he said.
“You’ve drawn the ‘Silver Fir’ three times, and always it’s reversed. It means your vision’s clouded.”
“Thought you said it didn’t matter if the cards were reversed,” he muttered, thinking it was odd that, just a short time ago, he had been wondering if his vision was clouded.
“Fine tuning, that’s all. In tarot, it’s important if a card’s reversed, but not so much with the Ogham.”
A dribble of whisky was running down her chin. In her focus on the cards, she had missed her mouth. The dribble recalled the brown waters of the Deveron, in which he had seen, for the third time, the red-haired guy with green eyes. Could she be connected to him? He thought of the wine bead on her lips in ‘White Plates’ that had made him think of vampires.
She tapped her pencil on the chart.
“Here’s ‘The Alder’. It’s connected to Rhea-Io, the white moon-cow. All things female like menstruation, tides, etc. It’s subtle.”
“Saul’s always saying dames are to blame for all.”
She glared at him.
“I’m not sure I like Saul,” she said.
“Swell guy. But some say he’s too Jewish.”
“Aye, well, then, he’d know that, in the Talmud, it’s said if a menstruating woman passes between two men, one of them will die.”
“Where did you get that?”
“Gran had a Jewish friend. She used to talk about Judaism. I’m just a parrot.”
The nightmare of the parrot trapped in a too tiny cage surfaced. Could this dame be the parrot? If so, what cage was she trying to burst out of?
“Do you really buy into all this Ogham gibberish?” he said.
Her coppery curls danced, as she laughed. Were they moving to a melody? Was the harp stone playing to her?
“It’s not a question of faith, Alex. It’s true, and I can see you’re listening to the cards, despite your pooh-poohing,” she said.
Henry had said Druidism was in his blood. Was some race memory within him coming through these cards?
She moved on to the next card.
“Ah, ‘The Reed’. You’ve been firing off arrows into God knows where. Keep your target in sight. Also, you’ve met, or will meet with, warning presences,” she said.
He thought of the onyx ring, the phantom guy, the ‘Go Backs!’ of the Oyster Catcher, the white boar, and the rustling reeds. Warning presences were about.
She, again, adjusted her blouse. He could hardly keep his hands off her. He would have to get her out of the cottage.
“What you’re saying’s woolly. Want to end the reading? Stuff to do.”
She pulled in the cards, and shuffled them.
“I’ve a gut feeling some vital card didn’t come up. All I ask is for you to pick one from the deck.”
“I’m striking out on my own, now.”
He pulled one out.
“The Silver Birch’! This tree’s a guide and also the start of the Celtic New Year. It’s a beginning,” she breathed.
The silver birches at Dave’s cist had pointed him to the gully. That had been the beginning of his quest.
“Like I said, I’ve stuff to do, Sadie.”
“Like what, at this time of night?”
“Shoot some e-mails off to folks back in Virginia.”
“Nope. Dames don’t grab me.”
Her lips pulled up in a vague smile.
She wrapped the cards, and put them into her bag.
“You’re, definitely, on a quest. Be careful.”
“My oak door’s always open. Just walk in, and pray. And you’re welcome to the rest of the whisky.”
An impish look stole over her face.
“Real grateful for the whisky,” he said.
How could he end the night with something sweet to say to her?
“Been like walking through a Celtic forest,” he mumbled.
“There’s a poet in you somewhere. Keep in mind, Alex, the trees have been with us since the start. Many species live longer than us, and the only changes for them are dictated by the seasons or man’s destruction.”
She snuffed out the candle.
“The key to the Ogham cards is a harp,” she said.
He went cold. Co-incidence? He had thought her a featherhead, but, now, he knew that underneath the ‘come and get me’ was a dame with real thoughts. But could he trust her? Did she know about the harp stone?
“Harp?” he said, trying to keep his voice steady.
“That’s all I know.”
“Don’t seem to be getting real answers from anyone.”
“Why pin your faith in folk? Look to your dreams. Dreams are guides that can lead you to answers.”
“All I have, these days, is nightmares. Anyway, what makes you say that?”
She moved closer to him.
“In a play about Joan of Arc, Joan was accused her dream voices came from her imagination. She replied, “Of course, that is how messages of God do come”.”
“I didn’t think you’d be interested in plays.”
“The uneducated working class doesn’t go to plays?”
“Am I sounding like a pig-headed academic brought up in riches?”
“Folk are intelligent at any social level. It’s sometimes luck, and sometimes how you deal with life.”
“Since coming here, I’ve learned much.”
“You’ll learn more if you look at your dreams.”
He would ask her about the white boar that had confronted him on Kelman Hill. He had asked Henry, and Henry had said it was a warning a physical enemy was near. He would put the boar over as a dream to Sadie.
“Last night, I dreamt I met with a white boar.”
“Animal encounters are, often, guides.”
“Don’t believe in guides, in magic.”
“We’ve forgotten how to be taught by the trees and the beasts. Many doubt stuff that arrives by subtle means.”
Right, now, Sadie was having a heck of an effect on him in an intellectual and a physical sense.
He drew her to him. Her lips parted, warm, welcoming, and her tongue flickered in and out of his mouth. Instantly, he thought of a snake, and pulled away.
“Must have been the whisky. Sorry.”
She stared at him.
“You’re scared stiff of women. And don’t you apologize for that lovely kiss. So, goodnight. I can walk myself up the track. I’m not afraid of the dark. The moon’s guarding me.”
He followed her to the front door, an animal on the scent of a mate, and, for the first time, knew what it was to feel totally male. As she turned to look at him, a heady scent hit him. It was like honeysuckle, but nowhere in the garden had he seen honeysuckle. Was this a scent from the Other World? He recalled his nightmare of the deserted house, in which he had smelled something old. He had thought it represented memories.
He binned his thoughts. What had happened to the cool dude he was noted for in Alexandria?
“Does honeysuckle feature in the Ogham cards?” he called to her, as she started off down the path.
“Yes. Why? It never came up in your reading.”
“It’s the way in which to find the self. It’s the special dance leading into secret knowledge.”
None of the black ballerinas had danced, but had tiptoed towards him, each holding out an apple that the tinker had said represented temptation.
“The lapwing’s linked to honeysuckle. It hides a secret at the center of the labyrinth.”
“Tell me in plain English or Yank.”
“When it’s disturbed on its nest, it will fly away, and make its typical cry to draw attention from its eggs.”
“Leading them away from the tree?”
“Lapwings nest on the ground, Alex.”
“I’m an ignoramus. Never thought that about myself before.”
“Look at the origin of the lapwing’s flight, and don’t listen to its distracting calls.”
“I’ll hold that in mind.”
“You must have smelled honeysuckle, or you’d not have asked me. Smelling it means you’ll soon be able to discern falseness from truth.”
He went to the gate, and watched her until she vanished around a bend. His life, suddenly, was empty.
He looked at the firs. They were whispering, but no wind was about. Had the moving shadow beneath the apple tree been his fancy? He glanced around. The white willows by the old well were stiff ghost arms, and the black outline of Kelman Hill could just be made out.
Tonight, Sadie’s coppery curls had, as she had walked away, spilled onto her shoulders like whirlpools. He could almost believe in magic, almost believe in heterosexual love. An urge to dash up the track, and get into her bed, was intense. He shut the door.
Switching on the beside lamp, he threw back the quilt. His heart froze. A black snake with yellow rings was ready to strike in the middle of the bed. He stared into the vile black shine of its eyes.
Like a lightning bolt, it came to him that this was the same evil he had seen in the onyx ring the day he had entered The Cabrach.