Sunday, 28 April 2013

Can I play with madness?

Madame Sosotris was feeling uncomfortable, which was unusual for her.  She was sat at the battered, wooden, circular table where she conducted her palmistry (occasional dental), tarot readings and other divinations of the future.  The table rocked because she’d never bothered to get the legs evened off.  On the other side of the table was a young man, possibly even a boy, with milky white eyes that seemed to be pointed directly at her face.  His nose was running almost as badly as her own, and they sniffed in concert every few moments.  His upper lip was split and twisted revealing slightly yellowed teeth.  And he was listening intently to ever word she said.
She passed her hands over the crystal ball that she’d set in the middle of the table for this reading.  It chilled slightly in response to her hands, sucking in energy from its surroundings to allow her access to the future.  White clouds seemed to boil inside the ball and she flinched.  Normally the future was much more serene.
“What do you see?” asked the man-child, lisping slightly.  “I can feel the future drawing closer.  You are strong with your gift, aren’t you?  They’ve told me true.”
Madame Sosotris opened her mouth, intending to ask him who they were in this context, and who had been talking about her.  Partly it was professional pride, wanting to survey her customers to know how they’d learned about her, but partly it was fear as well, fear that there might be more people like him intending to pay her a visit.  Before she could speak though, the mist in the ball cleared and she leant forward, stunned by what she could see.
“Well I never!” she said.  “Did you see that?”
The man-boy sneered at her, but she was still looking into the ball and missed the expression.  “I cannot see,” he said when the silence drew on and he realised that she was either ignoring him, or not looking at him.  “You might have noticed my eyes?”
“I’ve learned not to make assumptions without better evidence than just my eyes,” said Madame Sosotris.  They sniffed at the same time.  “And if you had been watching, you’d have seen that in less than a year you regain sight in your eyes.  A man performs surgery and cuts away the veil from your vision.  You will wear cotton pads for three days, and then you will take the pads off and see again.”
“Really?”  The man-boy’s voice was hoarse, possibly with excitement.  “Do you truly see this?”
“Oh yes,” said Madame Sosotris.  “I know the man who performs the surgery, though I cannot see what would bring him here.  It seems that he is only part of your future insomuch as he lets you see again.”
“What do I do with my sight?  What is my future, woman?”
“There’s no call to take that tone with me!  I have a name you know.”  They sniffed is unison again.
“And I’m paying for your services,” said the man-boy.  “I’ve bought the right to call you woman.”
“I’m putting my prices up…,” muttered Madame Sosotris, not bothering to be quiet enough to keep her words from the man-boy’s ears.  “Your future is unclear afterwards.”
“What does unclear mean?  Tell me!  I HAVE TO KNOW!”
“Shouting gets you thrown out, money or not,” said Madame Sosotris.  She looked up from the crystal ball and saw that he’d pushed his chair back and was standing at the table, leaning on his knuckles and staring intently at the chest-of-drawers off to her right.  “I mean your future is unclear; the crystal fogs like there’s a frog in there breathing all over it when I try and look further.  There are a couple of reasons for that….”
“A frog?”
“It’s my metaphor, don’t mess with it.”
“Fine, woman.”  His voice was pointedly angry.  “What are these reasons?  And don’t tell me that I’m powerful and that hides the future from you.  I’ve had that from every charlatan on this side of the City.”
“Hah!  No, you’ll not hide your future from me just because you’re powerful.  You can sit down again now, if you like.  Your future might be unclear because you’ve crossed paths with the Drowned Sailor, because he distorts the future and reshapes it wherever he goes.  Your future might be unclear because you go and visit the court of the Eidolon, and She has ways of protecting her dominion.  Or it might be unclear because you’re fated to die and it’s not yet been decided how.”
“I’m hardly going to visit the Eidolon, everyone knows she eats people!”  The man-boy sat, his voice calmer now.  He reached out a hand and it brushed the crystal ball.  He sucked in a breath, a gasp, and pulled his hand sharply away.
“Don’t touch, it gets cold,” said Madame Sosotris automatically.  She sometimes used the crystal ball to make ice.
“Why is it so cold?”
“The future is frosty,” said Madame Sosotris.  “She is a harsh mistress.”
“What was that about death?”
“Oh nothing,” said Madame Sosotris.  “Anyway, it’s most likely the Drowned Sailor.”
“Who is that then?”
“He’s a friend.”  If the man-boy could have seen he would have recoiled from Madame Sosotris’s leer.  “And he’s coming here in three days time.”
“Are you always this cryptic?”
“Are you always as cheap as you’re going to be when you leave?”
“Oh.  You saw that in the crystal ball?”
“Hah.  Reading the future has its perks, yes.”

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