Thursday, 5 April 2012


Madame Sosotris, famous clairvoyant and notorious nymphomaniac, stood in her herb garden looking around her.  A scarecrow, fashioned from tying together mandrake root while muttering words of young power over them, guarded the sage.  The words were perhaps less impressive than those of ancient power, but they were easier to come by, easier to pronounce, and frequently a lot more powerful.  She'd had to learn txt-speak to use them, but that had been simpler than learning classical Latin or Ancient Greek (any language, she felt, where the rule was that the stress fell on the third syllable from the end had simply too many long words in it), and she could keep up with it almost entirely by owning a mobile phone.  The scarecrow was wearing a hat stolen from a man who had died a messy end, a jacket she'd found outside a night-club, and trousers made from sail-cloth from a boat that had sunk on its maiden voyage.  Every time she tried to look directly at it she heard a buzzing somewhere behind her, and little black motes scudded across her vision like storm-clouds building in the sky on a summer evening.  No birds approached the scarecrow, and the sage was in pristine condition, for all that she had to wear a blindfold to be able to get close enough to harvest any.
She looked away from the scarecrow, letting the buzzing in her head subside.  Sometimes she wondered if she'd overpowered the scarecrow a little, but she'd not found any signs that it was walking by itself yet, so she was pretending that everything was fine.  Her eyes fell on the dreamcatcher next, a blue and gold mandala made from seashells dived from a shipwreck, flowers grown on consecrated ground and held together by glue made from week-old corpses.  It shook and shivered, even though there wasn't a wind, as the force of the dreams and nightmares that it held tried to tear it apart so that they could stalk the nights again.  She shivered, just looking at it made her fingers itch and her skin crawl, and even though it clearly needed emptying she couldn't bring herself to pick it up and dunk it in the well-water to wash it clean.  She would leave it until tomorrow.
The fishpond was green and murky, and she knew without going closer that the kelpie would have killed and eaten all the fish and would now be lurking, waiting for flesh to get close enough to snatch.  The crazy paving was sparkling with stored sunlight, and stepping incautiously on the stones, especially in the wrong order, would release a brilliant column of stored sunlight capable of incinerating would-be burglars.  The shed was creaking and leaking, and she had no intention of getting close to it without protective clothing.  All in all, she was starting to think that coming out into the garden might have been a rather bad idea.
"Hurry up!"  The voice from inside was a client, and with a start she remembered that she'd come out for a rowan branch.  She edged along the narrow line of grass that bordered the crazy paving, slipping between the rockery and the raspberry canes, and stopped beneath the rowan tree.  It stretched upwards, its branches like arms raised in supplication to the sun god.  Leaves rustled softly, and there was a dusty, musky smell hanging on the air reminding her of druid ceremonies.  She looked at the lofty branches, and then down at her feet.  Sure enough, scattered on the grey soil were a small collection of branches, one of which looked thin and long enough to suit her needs.  She picked it up and sidled her way back to the back-door.
"Coming!" she called, testing the flex of the branch.  It proved satisfyingly whippy.
She stepped inside, her stride now meaningful and determined, and happily away from casual danger.  She had no idea what the name was for the kind of divination that required her to beat the client half-to-death and then interpret the bruises and weals that rose on his flesh, but she did rather enjoy it.

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