This story comes after the following:
- Tell Me A Story
- Princesses, Knights, and the Huntsman
- The Princess and the Huntsman
“This one isn’t quite a story, but I think it will be just as important — maybe more so — for all of that.” Rosaria opened the box — wood, walnut, to be specific, family walnut, lightning-felled and storm-kissed, family-shaped and silk-lined — which held her favorite set of divining cards. “This is more of a look, and for a look, we require — or, at least, I require — a visual aid, as it were.”
Cady and Lily sat quietly, watching Rosaria with a stillness that she was unused to in children their age. It was a danger, if only a small one, showing this to Cady; in this modern and enlightened age, some parents of children like Cady might think an old lady who read the “tarot” was not a suitable babysitter or even visitor for their child.
They hadn’t asked the next question, their eyes on the stack of cards, so Rosaria continued.
“A story shows us a piece of what might be. All stories, those things on TV and that Katnip Evergreen girl —“
“Grandma!” It was pleasing to hear Cady chorus that right along with Lily with no self-consciousness.
“-and even the books you read for school, even the history books, they all show you a piece of what might be, what could be, what might have been. Sometimes you need to look harder than others to see it; some stories are just echos of the shape of the world, like a footpath — you know footpaths?” She checked more with Cady than with Lily, who had helped tread down the old footpath between her parents’ home and Rosaria’s. Cady’s nod was not entirely certain, although that may have simply been at being asked a question. “Those places where so many people have walked that the path is shaped into the earth itself, packed down into a curve—“ she made a bowl shape with her hand. “-there are stories like that. Romeo and Juliet is one. Cinderella. The Three Brothers. And then there are stories which tell you about one thing, one life, one path that might be, among many.”
Cady leaned forward over the table, listening intently as if afraid she might miss a single, pivotal word. Lily, who understood the importance of it being only the two of them here, not her brothers, not her cousins, leaned forward too, wanting to be sure, Rosaria thought, that she would be invited back again.
“Those are stories. They are an important art, and they are an art I believe everyone should learn — you, yes, Cady, and you, Lily, and Miss Caufield who teaches you this year, and Mr. Morrow, that sad and ridiculous man, who teaches your brother. Everyone. These…” She tapped the stack of cards. On top today was the knight, just as Rosa’s cousin Adam had painted him. Or her. The figure wore armor, stylized, of course, shiny and bright and silver even in the thin hues of the watercolor paint Adam always used. Their face was covered. Their lance was true.
“These.” She would drift off into her own thoughts and forget to return some day, if she kept this up. Others had gone that way, the story taking them but some of their body remaining behind. It was not a passing Rosaria wished her children to have to deal with.
And there she went again. “These,” she repeated a third time, “show us something that is likely, something that has happened, or something that is, right now, happening. They take more skill than the stories to do even simply, although they take less energy to do well.”
“Today I will show you. Should you visit again, you will read them yourself. Should you visit a third time, we will begin your own deck. But today—“
The cards were soft on the edges. She shuffled them very carefully, her eyes on the girls rather than on the complex backs of the pasteboards. No two were alike; should she honestly wish to, she might have picked exactly the card she wanted.
Adam had painted them that way, because they were not for playing with, he said, but for Knowing with, and, as Grandma Ansemla had added dryly, if you couldn’t get your own mind out of the way enough to let the cards be read, you might as well see what you wanted to.
“The cards will tell you something — or, rather, the magic in the cards and in the world, in yourself and in your—“ Rosaria hesitated, almost faltered, where she would have normally said family, where she’d said that or kin before. “-loved ones.” Cady was not part of their family, not yet. She might still become part of it; she might live with Lily, who loved the Huntsman’s son but who was Cady’s Princess; she might find herself with another; they were too young for Rosaria to make assumptions too far ahead. But right now, she was a young Knight who could use another weapon in her arsenal.
“The tricks are threefold: First, to feel the magic and channel it. Second, to allow the cards and the magic to do as they will, and not as you will. And third, to understand what it is that you are being told.”
She set the cards down on the table, cut the deck twice, and lifted up the first card. “This tells us when upon a time."
She set it on the table. Both girls tried to stifle giggles: The card showed two swords crossed.
"At a time when the heroes of our story find themselves in conflict," Rosaria began. "And those heroes are -" She cut the cards again & flipped over two more. "Of course. The Princess and the Knight."
The Knight looked like they'd seem them just a moment before, but on the Princess card, the princess in buckskin with her war club was in the forefront.
"That's us!" Lily leaned forward, brushing her hand over the cards, before snatching that hand back. "Sorry! I didn't mean - "
"That is the two of you, how the cards are showing you right now, yes," Rosaria agreed. "Remember - it's important to always remember - these aren't 'your cards'. Sometimes these cards will mean someone else for you, and sometimes another card will represent you. All right? But for now, today, this is the two of you."
She looked at Cady, to be sure she, too, understood. The girl nodded slowly. "So-" Cady began uncertainly. "Right now, this Knight card is me? Because Lily is the princess."
"Correct. Lily's the Princess in this reading, and in this reading, you are the Knight. These aren't Tarot," she added, because it helped to begin an education properly. "It's a different sort of reading, but the concept is similar. So. When upon a time, who. When a conflict arises, the Princess and the Knight - will find themselves-"
She cut the cards again and let one fall. It landed askew the Princess and Knight cards.
"-Ah. In conflict with an authority." This card had a shadowed figure, seeming to be taller than the card allowed, all in dark shapes with sharp lines, like a person in a suit staring down at someone. It made Rosaria shiver a little bit, and she had dealt with far more nerve-wracking people in floral dresses than in black suits. "So this card represents, mmm." She found herself hesitating for more than one reason. Lily and Cady weren't all that old. They should still be able to trust authority figures. They should still know, even if it wasn't a complete truth, that the people in charge would help them out.
"Bad teachers," Cady muttered. "Or bad cops, err, police officer or bad-" She looked like she'd lost the word.
"Bad authority figures," Rosaria agreed sadly. "Yes. The authority figures who either misuse their power or do not understand it, the ones who do not understand those under them. It appears that you two will come up against one of those." She sighed. "I'm sorry for that. I'd hoped you could have a longer childhood free of that."
To her surprise, Cady patted her hand. "It won't be the first one like that, ma'am. Grandma. Lily and I can handle it."
"I'm glad to hear that." Rosaria cleared her throat and cut the cards again and once more. "Let me see. you will come up against an Authority figure who will wish you ill or cause you trouble. It's important, when this happens, to remember -" She set down another card.
The Green Woman stared back at her. Rosaria blinked and tried to control her reaction. She cleared her throat. "Ah, interesting. So, this is a face of the Empress, the Mother over All, the Queen of the Land. And she, the Green Woman, the Mother, she's a reminder that you come from the land. You, miss." She tapped Lily's shoulder. "You especially, because us, especially, we come from this land."
"And," Lily whispered. "Like Aunt Asta. We go back to the land? Like... Um."
Rosaria cut in. "Yes," she answered quietly, gently. "Yes, we come from the land. All of us. The land fuels our power, too. So this face of the Empress is important."
Some people would read it as The Aunt, Rosaria knew, but then again, some people would have read that Authority card as the Feds or your Principal or the Police ("cops", ha). She was doing her best to leave it open-ended. The girls would fill in as they needed to, she was sure.
"So," she continued. "The point here is to remember that when you find yourself in a time of conflict, remember that the Green Woman, the Land Herself, is with you. We can talk more about-"
Two cards tumbled out of the deck and fell next to her tidy spread, the top face-down. Rosaria cleared her throat, forced a chuckle, and smiled at the girls.
"You see, these cards often have a mind of their own. Let's see. Now this one looks like - oh, this is the broken toy." She frowned. She didn't like that one. And this particular face of it, a doll with an arm missing, seemed too gruesome for Adam to have painted. "It means a cruel trick. A joke that isn't actually fun and is meant to hurt, or perhaps a lie that's meant to damage. It's a bad one. It's something you two are going to need to keep an eye out for, I'm afraid - and come talk to me, if you wish, if anything seems to be particularly unkind or horrible. But, But with this card-"
The card it had fallen with was the one where one person stood in ashes. In this case, the person was a woman, although it wasn't always. A spear was jammed butt-end first into the dirt; the figure was leaning on it.
She remembered Adam painting this one. She remembered his hand moving while he kept looking up at her face. She remembered the pain she'd been in when he'd been painting it.
"This one is what we call the Pyrrhic victory." She moved it a little, trying hard not to touch it more than she had to. "It means - there's going to be a point, here-" she pointed again at the broken doll. "Here. Where you think you've won but lost something dear to you. Where you think you've only barely managed to hold on to your dignity and your goals. It's going to be a hard time, girls. And you can come to me, whenever that time comes."
Cady shivered. Rosaria worried that she, the cards, the whole thing, that it had gone too far. If Cady thought this was too frightening, would she tell her parents? Would they forbid her talking to Rosaria?
It was so hard, talking to people outside the family. But it was needed, too.
"So...?" Cady looked at the cards carefully. "In a time when there was trouble - a fight - the Princess and the Knight stood together against an Evil Person in Charge.. Their battle was hard, and at times they thought they weren't going to win, or maybe they would only win by giving up something awful. Sometimes they thought they had given up everything. But in the end, with the strength of the land behind them and the Mother Earth around them, they prevailed."
Rosaria found a smile growing on her lips. "Yes. Yes, and beautifully put. Well done, young Knight." She pulled the cards back together and cut them several times before sliding them in the box. You didn't want to get your stories mixed up together, after all. "It may come to pass in a strange way; it may not come to pass at all. But that is what the magic has told us may come to pass."
Lily reached out and squeezed Cady's hand. "It's all right," she told Rosaria. "It's all right. We'll be together, so we can handle it. She's my Knight, and I'm her Princess."
"And you," Cady added, looking at Rosaria as well. "You're our Grandma."
Rosaria wasn't crying, but she did sniffle a little. "And I'm your Grandma," she agreed. "And as your Grandma, which is a card of her own, too, I will tell you that, I will help you out in whatever way I can."
"See?" Lily smiled. "We'll be fine."
Rosaria could see the ashes and the broken doll in her mind's eye, but she could see the the Queen of the Land there as well. And, though it hadn't been drawn, she could see the Grandmother as well.
"You will be," she agreed. "You'll be just fine."