30th Eleint 1371 DR Year of the Fading
My hands trace across the backs of the Harrow deck. The cards are sturdy yet worn, the paint on their fronts faded somewhat, but their images – fantastic, beautiful, terrifying – are abundantly clear. But they are clearly a southern artifact, from a dry place, warm, with roofs and many people living side by side. They do not belong in the Icewind Dale. Yet, when the strange dwarven woman showed them to me, after I had bought incense and vials from her, I knew at that moment they were meant to be here and I was meant to hold them.
Fönnreyf and I commune with our patron of the tundra and more mysteries are revealed the more we explore and interact with these outsiders. They have a tendency towards getting injured, Murryl especially. I feel I am close, however, to be able to store my healing spells by creating them in a consumable form in my cauldron. This would be of great use. So while we are in these halls of Stokely Silververstream, having completed the great service to him of clearing his tunnels of his undead kin and his people and my companions heal, I sought some empty vials and incense from their traders.
“The Wanderer,” the old dwarf woman said, as I’d approached to look at her variety of oddments and knickknacks. I assumed she knew of me. I nodded and picked through her bags and boxes and asked how much for what I needed.
“The Wanderer finds treasures in what others discard, he does,” she cackled, her teeth yellowed and ground down or broken, long grey wisps of whiskers around her mouth and nose, her skin deeply wrinkled like a parched riverbed. “The Wanderer collects things, he does. So do I. So do you.”
She stared at my braid, her eyes twinkling, and the various objects I weave into it each morning. I leaned back instinctively, touching it with a protective hand. After being led through the mines by a laughing, taunting Grey Sorcerer who had the ability to speak to us in our dreams, I was uncomfortable with being another stranger’s focus of attention.
What had he said? “I will make you suffer. I will turn the Ten Towns against each other and against you.” Then he fled to the north west, away from the Cairn. Was he behind the rift between the dwarves of the Vale? Stokely wished us to visit his rival, Baerek Hammerstone to find out all we could. We planned to, after seeing Gunnolf and Osten off to the Elk Tribe, then we would follow the Grey Sorcerer to catch him before he could cause more mischief. Was he Akar Kessel? The sorcerer against whom my father and so many of my people fell?
I looked up again and the peddler was holding a card. It depicted a creature half-man and half-horse and he was laden with many odd items and packages. The painting was exquisite. I stared at it. “What is that?”
“That’s The Wanderer, dearie,” she answered. “My old friend. One of fifty-four old friends! This one is you… sometimes, I believe? Yes?”
I admitted I felt drawn to it. Somehow she spoke the truth. “Strange magics near those cards,” yipped Fönnreyf. “Not magic themselves but something I don’t understand.”
“My name is Freyja,” I told the woman, but did not take my eyes from the card. “How are you called?”
“How? How? ‘Crazy bitch!’ sometimes!” she laughed again, her voice betraying a weakness of the lungs that comes to the elderly. “Bitterwind the clan knows me. But my friends call me ”/characters/ginta-bitterwind" class=“wiki-content-link”>Ginta. We’re friends, aren’t we, dearie?"
I met her eyes, then. Once, they twinkled I was sure, the color of the far-off sea. Those eyes had probably seen the length and breadth of the world. But now a pale film covered them and I realized with a start that she must be blind. My heart warmed and I reached and took her hand in mine. “Yes, Ginta. But I will call you Grandmother Ginta.”
My hands trace the backs of the Harrow deck and, fingers trembling, I draw the first card as Grandmother Ginta taught me and lay it face down in the upper left of the spread soft reindeer skin which had wrapped the cards against the elements. I think of the question, “What awaits us out there?” as I lay eight more cards down in a square trying not to dwell upon the massive blue and white scaled beast we’d seen flying in the storm.
The left column represents the past. For what influences us positively, I flip the uppermost card. It is The Publican. A cyclops pours libations from a magical stein. It is a partial match as it is a positive card representing fellowship and camaraderie. I think of Decroder and Bell, dicing and drinking happily with the dwarves, their hard won coin spent just as freely, shared with children and old alike. I think of silent Turrel, watching them contentedly. I think of Murryl, a dwarf yet an outsider, respectfully seeking knowledge of their holy rites and rituals. There is an ease they have with one another, one I do not share, but I see truly that their companionship has been what has kept us alive so far against the beasts of the mines.
The card of unknown influence is The Lost, a card of emptiness and loss of identity. It is out of alignment and therefore a weaker card in this case but perhaps this still reflects our small group. From what I know of us, we all seek to learn who exactly we are, Gunnolf and Osten as well.
The card negatively influencing the past is The Uprising. Also out of alignment, it represents greater forces at work than we know of. I glance at Fönnreyf knowingly.
The center column is the present and the immediate future. For a positive influence, I draw The Bear, the card of pure strength. It is a partial match so I give it the weight it deserves. I think of the strength of arms the five of us have. Little did I know we would need it later that morning against some stray orcs of the Spit-Tooth clan who had slaughtered the dwarves in the mountainside watchtower near the Daledrop. Though strong, the orcs fell fairly easily to us. I spoke to them in orcish and questioned the one survivor who had said they had left the Spit-Tooth clan because they were too weak and came to kill dwarves. I offered his life but upon seeing he was alone, he said to “finish it.” I cut his throat and wished him a welcome of a warrior to One Eye. Had The Bear portended this encounter? Or perhaps the more literal reading of the gift from Helda Silverstream — an enchanted cloak of polar bear fur to store my life force within — given to me as we’d departed her clanhold.
The unknown influence for the present was The Avalanche and the negative influence was The Desert, both cards out of alignment and having less direction upon the reading but we would be fools to not see the dangers of the tundra itself as ever-present.
Looking to the future, the first card revealed is The Locksmith, out of alignment for the positive, though surely The Locksmith, representing useful tools, will be a positive influence on our future.
But the final two cards: The Inquisitor, for the unknown, and The Paladin for the negative are both appearing in pure opposition to the layout. I realize with dread that despite the luck and good fortune we have read thus far, these two are the strongest cards of the reading.
The Inquisitor represents an immutable truth that can not be swayed. In opposition, it means we head to disaster by going against that truth. The Paladin usually represents standing strong and not backing down but in opposition it means this is foolhardy. The Inquisitor and The Paladin clearly show that something that we believe is wrong and we appear to be facing it head on, blindly striding forward into the teeth of a storm, to our doom. What is this secret we face that we cannot see now and will we be able to learn it soon enough to save ourselves and avert disaster?