Victor followed her through the trail that snaked through the indoor garden that she had built. The tap of the silver tip of her cane seemed to echo everywhere as if to reassert her dominion over everything in her presence including him. Above them the glass ceiling reflected the blackening night, the beads of moisture sliding down like tears upon the echo of the greenery below. Victor idly wondered if they wept for want of freedom from their glass prison. Perhaps to thrive or fail outside of their entrapment in paradise. Taking his attention away from the skylight, Victor saw that the widow had set up a small ornately designed table in the centre of the room near a rippling fountain. There were delicately crafted chairs to match on either side of the table and a small black velvet bag placed in the middle between them.
“You have no such need for the affection of the daylight world. Perhaps that is why you’ve always been my favorite,” the widow said in her curious accent that made every syllable sound sharp. She smiled wickedly. “And how has my son of fortune fared in these grand times? This new world is one of many delights. Surely you must feel the some of their attention that is fixed to you.”
“I follow only your instructions, my dear memère,” he said, seating himself across from her. “I have not forgotten myself and so I have nothing of my own accord to report.”
“But you’ve something else to tell me,” she said, still smiling but the edge of her voice was more pronounced. It was a typical warning that he knew well.
“I allowed a weakness into my home. For a moment, I was regretfully lost to nostalgia and allowed a piece of my past to follow me,” Victor replied. His tone was steady and he showed no sign that he felt the least of that distinctive sharpness in his soul. He knew that to show such weakness before memère was of great consequence.
“Ah yes, I knew you would tell me,” she smiled, easing back in her chair. “Was it she who brings this sense of desperation about you? A scent of revenge that still hovers about your very person. I could feel it before you came to the door.”
“My sister has found me and attempts to bring me back to the tomb of my father,” he said, holding his rage in check. The thought of these words still sent a wave of bitter disgust through him. “She says he is dying and if my family has sent her, they are desperate to reclaim me.”
“There is indeed a price on your head, dear Victor, however, there is more lurking in the shadows than this,” she said, picking up the velvet bag from the table. “This woman stirs deeper feelings of resentment. A lingering malice that burns in your heart like a great cradle. I long to look into such a heart, Victor. What stirs within you, I wish to know.”
“To know, you’ve but to look, memère,” Victor replied. “As always, my soul is open for you.”
“It charms my black heart to see you so compliant my dear Victor,” the widow cackled as she scooped the velvet bag from the table and carefully pulled the draw strings. “If I’ve any regret in these bones, it’s only that they aged far too fast for my liking. You’d have made a fine husband.”
“I’ve no doubt that my temper would not suit you for very long, my dear memère,” Victor mused. The widow laughed as she pulled the silver backed cards from the bag.
“There is no man whose charms ever managed to subdue me, my dear son,” she replied, shuffling, the clink of the card backs echoing about the damp room. “You may well be right that you would end up as the others who have wandered into my webs before. However, I do believe that you would have been a man I might have one day missed.”
“You flatter me, memère,” Victor replied, dryly. “I do not believe that I possess such charms as to inspire regret in your heart.”
“Perhaps you could,” she smiled before spreading the cards upon the table. “But all this remains to be toyed with another time, my son of fortune. Draw three cards and do it without hesitation. If a thorn causes you strife, let us find out what we can that we might yet pluck it out.”
“For a price,” Victor replied, pulling the first card. “And there is no need to warn me of my tone, dear memère. I’ve come prepared to pay.”
“A fine husband you’d have made indeed,” the widow replied as he pulled a second card. “Oh such delightful battles we’d have waged on each other as lovers. If ever there was a true devil in all the worlds, it would be that of time and its insistence on robbing me of my prizes.”
“Oh memère, there is no greater devil in this world than you,” Victor said, his voice almost affectionate. He pulled the final card before she scooped the rest back together and pushed them aside.
Victor handed the cards to the widow and relaxed against the back of the chair as she placed them delicately upon the table’s surface. He could still recall the first time she had read for him, the edges of the cards clicking upon the highly polished surface of the table between them. The din had been loud enough that no one could make out their conversation but it felt this same level of unquieting intimate then as it did now. Her dark eyes flashed at him one last time an unreadable, wicked expression before settling upon the first card back. She flipped the card to reveal a man laid face down upon the ground with ten swords piercing his bloodied back. The night sky behind him was black and starless and the ground beneath him was stained with his running blood.
“As I’ve long suspected,” the widow mused as he caressed the card, as though to comfort the dead figure in the illustration. “The seed of your journey has been watered by anguished tears and much betrayal. This is the past that spurns you but it vibrates within your soul still, Victor. Not a wound but a kind of despair that resonates within your whole being. This is the drive that has taken you from France, no doubt and even from the clutches of that clod who sold you to me. The memory of this pain serves you now but the agony you feel still pierces you though the swords of that betrayal are gone. I can see from your face, though you attempt to hide it, that I am quite correct about this.”
“You are,” Victor said, softly. “I only hope that the one I have allowed into my home doesn’t have such power as that.”
“Your fears are misplaced, my son of fortune,” the widow smirked and turned over the second card.
The face of the card revealed a large moon sitting in a dark sky looming between two towers. There was a road snaking through the shadows with a large dog on one side and a wolf on the other. At the base of the illustration was a rippling pool where a small creature was emerging. Victor felt a grip on his heart to look at it.
“A card of warning but also a card of revelation, my dearest Victor,” the widow said, tapping the road. “The shadows of this card are speaking to you and they have much to say. The moon is your friend here who casts light where there might otherwise be none. There is much to be gained from such lights in your life. The warning of this lies in the path you choose and those whose confidences you seek. The moon may cast some in the light of the harmless dog but there is always a chance to find the primal wolf along the way. You yourself have such intricately tuned balances within you, Victor. A temper that can be honed for the betterment of you. Or those around you. And a rage that could burn it all. This is what plagues you now. That seed of anguish has germinated and you focus on this delicate balance, struggling with it as the light around you reveals much. Let it reveal more to you before you act, Victor. The struggle is real but to act rashly at this time will land you in the maw of the wolf before the most loyal of dogs can move to act.”
“Devil take her, I knew she plotted something,” Victor said, through gritted teeth. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. He calmed his heart silently before daring to look at memère again. He was surprised to see something like compassion in her face. “A loss of composure. It will not happen again, memère.”
“Don’t quell your passions for me, Victor,” she laughed, tapping the back of the last card. “And be not so quick to fall into despair, my dearest. There is yet more to learn. The path is always something to be groomed for those who know how.”
She flipped over the last of the three cards, the silver embossments on the back flashing in the dull light before being hidden again. With a click of the edge on the marble surface of the table, it revealed a light sky with billowing clouds in each of the four corners playing home to four creatures. The upper left was an angel, the upper right a great winged bird, the lower right a winged oxen and opposite that a winged lion. The centre of the card held a great wheel in the air with a sphinx atop and jackal headed figure laid along the bottom. The widow smiled wickedly.
“A son of great fortune would have no other path laid for him,” she said. “Oh Victor, there is much afoot and many changes to come. The great wheel turns for you and fortune of a different kind comes to call. This is no ordinary good luck, my boy. The angels do not rearrange the heavens lightly but storm clouds bring with them something wicked in their wake. Something that stands to change all that has come before it. Take heed of what needs to be done but in the face of such changes, do not forget that balance I spoke of. These are beasts of power in this card and they grant fortune to those who deserve it. Stand pleading and they shall forsake you. Be the son of fortune that I have granted so much to and you shall see your reward come to its fruition. There is much that conspires to move about you, Victor. Move with it.”
“I will hold your words with me as I always do,” he replied.
“And pay as I ask you to?”
“There is no price I will refuse you,” Victor nodded.
The widow smiled, greedily. He felt a sharp cold chill settle on him and sat up straight, lest he give away any kind of discomfort. He knew memère would not stand for such a show after she had consulted the cards for him. To show that she saw his efforts to meet her standards, she leisurely picked up the last card before shuffling it back in the deck. It was a very clear message that his fortune was one that she would see was as great as she promised. As she lightly mixed the cards, the expression on her face was one that told him that such fortune could be taken back any time.
“I sense there is great beauty in your new home,” she began, plucking the second card up. “I see that there will be gardens to rival the beauty of royalty grounds in your future. Am I correct in what I see?”
“I have indeed begun such a process,” Victor replied. “I have been the one to oversee the layout and the garden plants entirely. It should be ready to be planted in full next summer.”
“But there are blooms there now, are there not?” the widow replied, shuffling still. “Certain flowers that you have not chosen but chose the grounds?”
“There are roses that have come to bloom,” he nodded. He felt a pang in the back of his mind as he remembered the child sobbing to him but quickly dashed it from his mind lest he see any darkness cross the widow’s face. “They are young yet but bushes will remain in the garden when it is all planted.”
“They would look lovely in my atrium, would they not?”
“They would indeed,” Victor said without hesitation despite the painful jab in his heart when he heard the child’s warning ring in his ears.
The widow paused, her long fingernail tapping the first card. The image of the dead man before him was a clear indication of what she was capable of. He was not foolish enough to believe the widow did not feel the pull of hesitation in him though he’d been careful not to even give a hint of what he felt. He straightened his back and looked her in the eye as he spoke carefully.
“I shall bring you a sample to see that they are to your standards, memère,” he said, his voice steady.
“And if I should judge them to be beautiful enough?” she said, coldly.
“The workers tending to the gardens will have every bush ready for you before the first frost,” he said.
She gave a smile that looked more like a snarl of delight as she plucked the last card from the table.