A Tune To Dance To

The Beasts of the Moor...
Excerpt 1 from The Account of Alain van Thrift

Exerpt from the ‘On the Trail of the Whistling Fiend – The Account of Alain van Thrift

I shall never forget that morning, its details and nuances are seared into my mind as bright as the dawn sunlight that thrust about the edges of that old red curtain that hung over my study’s sole window. I was perusing Etherard’s Compendium of Old-Mist Horror’s, which as it turns out, was rather apt. Something small fell out of the book and fluttered to the floor. The deep, rich colours of the oil paint caught my eye and recognition of what it was overcame me before I had even turned to look upon it. As I picked it up and turned it around in my hands, I was, of course, looking upon a card from a familiar tarot deck. The 10 of Stars. Slight cracks in that old paint were the only thing that could give away its age; it was oddly pristine. As if it hadn’t aged a day. It was exactly as it had been when I was a child.

Yet, I was not surprised. It was a moment I had long expected, at times dreaded, but in that instant I simply accepted it with a strange serenity. The culmination of the all ordeals I had endured, the lessons I had learnt and the skills (indeed, magyks), I had mastered.

I placed the book carefully down upon my dresser, leaving it open upon the page the old tarot card had fallen from. I glanced at the page (it recounted the tale of the Phantom-Dog of Gespenthund, the significance of which was lost on my young self in his youthful naïveté. In hindsight, of course, the connotations are obvious), stood up, took my cloak, spell-book (in those days it was mostly blank parchment!) and travelling satchel. With barely a glance around the room which I had spent the vast majority of my waking moments the last 10 or so years (and to which, I am sorry to say, I never returned), I walked through the threshold and strode-swiftly to the courtyard.

I was a little taken aback by what I saw there, although of course I took pains to make sure this fact was concealed. Twas simply a cart, albeit one ordained with attractive intricate carvings (of crows, perhaps ravens although ornithology is not a speciality of mine, flying over the roof of some grand building). I suppose I was expecting something a little more grandiose, considering the import I weighted upon the moment, recognising it as a turning point in my life, such as it had been up until that point. But life is never as one expects or imagines and the colourful and ornate carriage that would whisk me away on my adventurous venture would never arrive. (I learnt later never to judge a vardo by its cover, if you’ll excuse the brutalised metaphor, as they come in many shapes and indeed, sizes)

The young vistani man simply nodded to me as I climbed aboard. I was unsure what to say, somewhat lost for words by the enormity of the occasion and we sat in silence as he took me through the mists. As is often the case with such journeys it became impossible to track the passage of time and I can say neither whether we journeyed for hours or minutes. I could not even tell you which it appeared to me to be. The odd dilation of time is symptomatic of the strange magics of the vistani and is worthy of a tome of its own. And so I sat in quiet contemplation of what might await me at the end of my strange misty journey – it was as the others, thick white mist without – although in this case nearly unique in that my ‘carriage’ appeared open topped. Despite that fact not a single tendril encroached further than the bullwark my driver had doubtless created. I began to daydream of what I might find. Perhaps an old castle, standing forboding over a downtrodden and desolate village? It would be raining, with rumbles of distant thunder. The villagers would run up to me as I dismounted my coach, pleading for salvation from the darkness.

My theatrical imaginings were cut short as the mists cleared and I noted our passage through the main street of Mordentshire. It came to a slow stop outside The Beached Mermaid

Lester will finish soon

The First Card Turned...

The thick mist billowed around the Vistani vardo. A soft breeze caused the charms and chimes hanging from the wagon’s roof the tinkle and ring. The smoke muffled the voices of the men who hurriedly packed away the camp. Their movements were practised, precise. They’d moved camp a hundred times before and would a hundred times hence. The gypsies were constantly moving, roaming the lands trading in furs, fortunes and entertainment.

But this was no ordinary caravan. This caravan was lead by the ancient Raunie Madame Eva. Eva was rumoured to be as old as time, as wise as the moon and as intelligent as all the scholars in the land. She was a small, hunched woman with a face like old parchment. Around her head she wore a simple black head-scarf, and her clothes were a warm, thick blouse and a black, heavy, woolen skirt. Her fingers were adorned with golden rings filled with stones of every colour.

Her thin mouth was drawn in a tight frown, her dark, brown eyes narrowed as she stared at the tarokka cards that were lain out in front of her; four cards in a simple cross. It was one of the simplest readings the deck could show, but it was also one of Eva’s favourites. When she was in a jovial mood, she’d joke that it was the first reading she was taught by her Oma, many years into the future.

Tonight, however, she was far from the happy stories and pleasant games around the campfire. The night was heavy, the sky black. A small bird, a vista-chiri chirruped happily in its cage. “Hush, hush now, Feeshka,” Madame Eva said, throwing a handful of seed into the cage, “Tonight is no night for song. There is a pall over the land. The cards scream it to me.”

Eva gently touched each card with a long, bony finger. She touched the centre card of the cross, “The Innocent sits at the centre of the reading, but they are reversed. Great potential is hidden, my little one, hidden deep in the hearts of those still pure. They are the focus, the calling of Fate brings them to my eye.”

She moved her hand and stroked the card to the left of The Innocent. “The Six of Coins, The Beggar. He too is reversed. Terrible ruin lies in the past of these innocents. Something is going to happen to them. I see blood, terror, death. I see them falling to a horrifying fate. Something for which they, no not them, everyone in their lives, they all will lose.”

Her finger shifted to the card above The Innocent. “Ah, The Mists, one of my favourite cards, but don’t tell anyone, Feeshka. How can a fortune-teller remain impartial if she has favourite cards in her deck?” Eva chuckled, a dry, raspy chuckle that carried much mirth. “But The Mists are ever changing, and who can predict the changing of the Mists more than a Vistani, eh? Here they show that our innocents future is not set in stone. They are to take an unexpected journey, and if their Nana Eva is going to help them, so much the better, eh?”

The little bird let out a cheep, a sound almost like laughter. “What, Feeshka? You accuse me of cheating fate? My little one, who am I to cheat fate?”

Eva was still chuckling when her finger moved to the card to the right of The Innocent. Her laughter stopped and her face became deadly serious. “The Ace of Swords, The Avenger, reversed. Oh, my little one, such a card is never a happy one. I see a battle in our innocent’s future. They will take on a foe of great power, and their battle will be one in vein. They will not be equipped to deal with this foe.” Eva reached out with her other hand and stroked a crystal ball placed in the centre of the small table she was performing her reading on. The glass clouded under her fingertips and cleared as soon as she took her fingers away, “I hear it, I hear it calling, whispering… no not whispering. I hear the future, I hear what comes and it sounds…cheerful?”

Eva shook and pulled her hand from the orb. “It is a deadly, evil foe. Something unheard of even in these lands.”

She looked at the last card, the card that would determine the outcome for her innocents. Her heart broke, “The Six of Glyphs, The Anarchist. Entropy, decay, destruction. The annihilation of our innocents. They are to die and be swallowed by the evil that plagues them. There is nothing I can do, Feeshka, nothing.”

Eva sat in the musty, dark vardo, looking at the cards. The single candle she had lit sputtered and spat. Reaching deep into the cushions she sat on, Eva pulled out a long pipe. She filled it with tobacco from a pouch and lit it with the candle. Feeshka sat in its cage, looking at its mistress with anticipation.

After what could have been hours, Eva reached forward and picked up the last of her deck. She looked at each card, studying it intently. She flipped them in her hands, scrutinising her readings and then her cards. Eventually she settled on one of the cards. She place the rest back on the table and, with a theatrical flourish she could not help but perform, she placed the new card over the Six of Glyphs.

“There, a much better reading,” she said to herself. In his cage, Feeshka chirruped and sang. Eva grinned and threw another handful of seed into the cage. “My little Feeshka, who is to know what the future holds? Not silly me with my tarokka. I am only an old woman, pay me no mind.”

With another chuckle, Eva pulled a blanket over herself. She put her pipe away and blew out the candle, “I can not change the outcome,” she said to herself, “But it does not mean they can’t.”

The wind outside the vardo picked up. The mists blew against the wagon. Inside, the fortune-teller ignored it, and fell asleep.


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