Selkies' SkinsInstallment 57Chapter 29 (part three)
Dreams and Divination
Dreams and Divination
Kirsty leaned against David on the cushion they shared at the low table, trying not to nod off in the reddish light from the central fire and that streamed through the thinning velvet drapes. The scent of mugwort lay cloyingly heavy in her delicate nose, combined with lavender and overly strong tea. She studiously ignored the way the light danced in the quartz ball on their table and the candles set to either side. David’s breath came shallowly and barely raised her as they both tried not to breathe much of the fumes.
“I don’t suppose any of you have been keeping track of your dreams and divinations in your Book of Mirrors, like I told you would be required for this class?” The dark haired Professor Zeldithn trawled along the edge of the circle closest to her fire, her ebony hair a waist-length cloud that blended into the voluminous black velvet skirt studded with mirrors and silver bells. Those bells and the bangles around her wrists tinkled with every slight movement and sounded like a hard rain with any regular motion.
She dropped a bundle of belladonna on the coals to join the mugwort and lavender fumes. The silence was broken by collective shifting and rustling of robes.
“As I expected.” Zeldithn sighed, settling beside her fire and shuffling a set of playing cards she drew from her pocket. “This class is required for a reason, seekers. Despite what many of you think of them the skills I teach you will serve you in good stead...if you listen to your senses. We are not only these bodies we wear.”
She lay out the cards in the standard Celtic Cross pattern. “Those of you too shy to read your dreams in front of the others may send me copies of your books and your notes on those dreams and visions. Those who have not done as asked may make up some of their points by giving me a one eighth inch thick saddle-stich manuscript of their mid term essay on why their attempts failed or their argument of why they feel they are advanced enough to not require doing the assignment. ‘I don’t believe in this, it is evil,’ or other similar excuses will result in points deductions.”
Professor Zeldithn glared around the classroom where she held court over the pictured cards. “For now, each of you will come to me and write this reading and your interpretations based only on what you glean from the cards themselves and not from your books on the parchment and with the quill I provide. Or if you feel like saving your hands you can murmur the reading to me.”
“Understood Lady Zeldithn,” droned the students as one.
David and Kirsty exchanged a look. Kirsty sighed and flashed two matching green diaries at him, nearly identical save that one had a seal on a silver anchor set into the front cover and the other a rather lifelike doodle of a tallship in full sail.
David nodded, smiling very slightly.
Kirsty lifted her eyebrow in question, and he shook his head. She tried to hide her sigh by sending it through her nose. He sighed in response and opened the blank black notebook he’d set for the class. Flipping the pages for her, each was nearly empty, although they had been carefully dated. There was a preponderance of “no dream” and “I woke feeling ill” with the occasional “Thomas was practicing all night with something and kept us all up even though we couldn’t hear him. Must find out what he was working on.”
“You must sleep like the dead.” She whispered and poked him while they waited their turn.
“I don’t know... I just don’t seem to dream. The ones I do I’d rather not share with her.” David replied, closing the book and attempting to avoid her finger. “Must you do that?”
“Yes, because I like you.”
He set the notebook on the table, avoiding her eyes where they were reflected in the crystal.
“Those of you waiting to take your test, please practice with something besides talking.” The professor’s voice pushed back down the slowly beginning drone of discussion.
“Yes Lady Zeldithn,” came the measured sing-song.
David gave Kirsty a mock-glare, as if it had been solely her fault he now had to spend who knew how long staring into a ball or sipping overly brewed tea. Kirsty grinned back at him and opened a fresh page in her copy of her journal before beginning to doodle.
David shook his head and slipped one of his potion books behind their class text, holding it up so that the only thing visible from the professor’s view would be the blue binding with the silver moon phases.
“I don’t think ‘auto-doodles’ count...”
“Nah, she loves ‘em.”
“Don’t whine when something takes over your hand then and you draw something that really happens.”
Kirsty promptly switched her doodling to hearts, sparkly vampires, and clearly alpha wolves with feathers braided into the fur.
Thomas leaned a bit from the next table at the whispering to see what was being drawn without attracting attention. “Vampires don’t sparkle... and wolves don’t wear feathers.” He mouthed at them. “If they start, David and I will be blaming you.”
David nodded once briskly. Kirsty stifled a snort.
The first of the examinees took her seat, her friends queueing behind her to both hear and provide any needed support. David turned his eyes to his studies.
Every few students someone would get pulled back to their tables and a strong black tea poured into their mouths to reground them and pull them back to the present, though most only needed a nibble from a cracker to tame their queasiness. Of course there were the usual two that were overly dramatic about their ‘visions.’
It took some time before David was finally called for his test. The professor leaned toward him in a cloud of patchouli and attempted to dominate him with kohl-rimmed emerald eyes.
“So, Mr. Valnarius... Tell me what you see in this spread—other than ‘a lot of cards with ugly pictures.’”
David settled on the cushion, leaning a bit backward when the professor leaned in a little closer, likely what she thought would be encouragingly. He tried to hold his breath. Her scent made his nose burn and brought a dull ache in his sinuses.
“The Queen of Swords inverse, Professor. The spread is about a dark haired girl. The inverted position shows difficulty.”
“Is that all?”
“Yes Professor... That’s all I see.”
“And this one?” Professor Zeldithn pointed to the card laid crosswise over it with one long, well-manicured amethyst nail.
He studied the black robed and white faced figure where it stood in the boat, a hand on the till to guide the craft across choppy waters. In the other hand the figure held the traditional scythe, while rusted chains pooled around a naked figure sprawled on the floor as if dead. David kept his face carefully blank.
“Death in the upright, Professor. The most maligned card in the deck. It’s the ultimate loss if I remember.” He kept his voice level, but to his ears he sounded very clipped. It was tempting to simply leave the test, take Kirsty by the elbow, and suggest that she probably had enough points she could forfeit her midterm.
He doubted that would work though.
“Yes, one interpretation, but that is by the book. What do you see?” Zeldithn asked, leaning further forward with another billow of perfume and tinkles and an uplifting of lips the color of congealed deer’s blood.
“A card that is going to make Miss Makay sit up nights and loose more sleep if you don’t change it before her turn, Professor.” It slipped out calmly. “I forsee her father having to force her to drink something to even take a nap.”
The Professor let her gaze wander back to the cards, drawing her finger over them lovingly to the last. “Then she’ll have to take extra studies if a gateway card can do that to her. What about this one then?”
“That’s the outcome position.” He ground out between clenching jaws. “Three of swords inverted signifies loss and heartache. That’s the pierced heart and the rain. Inverted makes it harder.”
He wanted to rip the smile off her face and scatter those too-white teeth the professor revealed.
“You tell me that you can’t read the cards, but you seem to have done very well for someone that reads potions books during my class.” Professor Zeldithn made no move to change the spread, instead making a few notes in her own notebook. “Please return to your seat and send her over...without warning her of what’s here. She may end up reading for someone else.”
“As you wish, Professor.” He bowed slightly before getting up, a barely perfunctory inclination more a result of getting up than an actual bow.
Kirsty watched him as he walked back toward her. Right now he prowled like the blood moon had only recently passed, tense as if he’d pounce on anything given the least reason—far more pronounced than was usual after returning from Professor Zeldithin’s examinations. The ice in his eyes made her cramp, and it was not even that time of the month just yet to explain such cramps.
It was hard not to flinch when he glared into her eyes. For just a moment she was eleven again and pressed against the mail room’s pillar as the wolf-boy in the heavily furred cloak he’d been using to keep his forced transformation hidden with stalked toward her. Her heart pounded painfully in her chest.
Then he was sitting beside her, leaning close to murmur in her ear. “She wants you.”
“Is it that bad?” Kirsty wasn’t sure if she should lean into him, or step back, pull her robes around her, and hope the temporary visibility charm in her cloak worked long enough to get her somewhere safe—if he looked like that...
“I’m not supposed to say.” His tone was softer, and he rested a hand briefly on her shoulder, glaring now toward the central fire.
Kirsty closed her eyes for a moment to collect herself, pressing her dominant fingers between her brows on either side of the third eye. Then she allowed her feet to carry her to the former gypsy.
“Lady Zeldithin,” she breathed as she sank onto the cushion and cast her eyes briefly over the spread. “Who am I reading for today?”
“No one in particular child. Please only tell me what you see. If any names come to you, of course share them though.”
“Of course Professor.”
Ten cards peered up at her. She immediately picked out what had set David off. The woman on the Queen of Swords looked very much like herself and Etain, and paired with Death in the challenge position crossing it, his reaction only became more clear.
“The Queen of Swords must overcome the trial of rebirth, but first that which chains her must pass away. This will be painful and requires a choice and sacrifice.” Kirsty’s voice both fell in octave and increased in volume, far more so than had happened with previous students.
Another breath, another beat of the heart. The fumes of the herbs were far more potent here. The odd feeling of being several people at once settled onto her.
“The crowning goal is the High Priestess inverted. She stands between the two pillars and must be the balance and the join between the two. She must be the healer, and in the inverted position she must be wary to neither be overly demanding, nor not demanding enough. The goal then is successfully managing.”
Kirsty was unaware of her professor leaning further forward to check her eyes, which had glazed over and reflected blue in the flames.
“In the past lies the Knight of Wands. A fight results in a flight, and the charger carries away the rider until control over reaction to environment is gained. The Tower lies inverse in recent events. The Querent has suffered the loss of foundations. Anything built at this point, until the rubble is cleared, will fail. The Nine of Swords stands on its head in the near future, bringing despair, pain, and the dark night of the soul wherein death or rebirth will occur.”
Professor Zeldithin took notes gleefully. “This children, this is what I am trying to teach you so that you can call on this gift when times are dark and you are lost as to where to go in life.”
Kirsty continued, unhearing. “The questioner is the Fool or Child, only just beginning their path. Inverted again, he or she is stubborn and tries to go upriver and against the current, instead of making use of it or even swimming crosswise. It ties in with the Knight, see how they point to each other. The eighth card shows the Moon and Illusion as the environmental factors that are exerting influence. There is interference here that the Querent must beware of if the goal is to be obtained.”
The water in some of the scrying bowls began to bubble, and Kirsty was shaking, her hair beginning to frizz.
Ally stood up. “Make her stop, Professor! Something’s wrong.”
David stormed over, placing his hands on Kirsty’s shoulders. “Kirsty... come back.”
“She’s fine seekers. Let her finish.” The professor crossed her arms and smiled. “I suspect someone’s been practicing more than her weekly reports mention.”
Kirsty turned her head to look at David, then to Ally vacantly, drawn by the voices. “The Ten of Wands is also inverted in the ninth position, warning to be watchful for overburdening. Too many dishes at once result in a burned meal, and it only takes one more thing to cause all the flaming wands to be dropped. If these warnings aren’t heeded—” Her finger landed on the final card with a light click of shortened nail on cardstock. “Then there will be heartache that will be difficult to overcome.”
David squeezed her shoulders, hoping that maybe that would break her trance.
“Is the person that the reading is for in this room, Kirsty?” Professor Zeldithn asked calmly, shooting a warning glance at David.
David refused to remove his hands from Kirsty, holding her gaze in return.
“Yes, but I have no idea who. There are several.” Kirsty’s voice was swiftly returning to normal, the glaze leaving her eyes. “Oh I feel terrible... What happened?” Kirsty became aware of David’s hands. “Why are you pinching off the nerves to my fingers..? I didn’t levitate or something did I?”
The pressure left, David releasing her as if burned. The feeling began to return, and Kirsty wished that it didn’t.
“You can take her now, Valnarius... perhaps some of the tea would be a good—”
Kirsty wretched loudly, her breakfast landing on the spread and gracing the divinatory fumes with the stench of half-digested pickled herring. A bit splattered, pelting those nearest with a few drops. The professor sighed and dabbed at herself, “Too late... We’ll work on that more next semester.”
“Do I have to?” Kirsty started to stand, then wretched again before she could finish closing or even covering her mouth from speaking, this time getting more of it on the professor and the table.
David looked down at where some of Kirsty’s breakfast had splattered onto his clothes. “I hope not.” He stated with as much dignity as he could muster.
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