I'm cheating again. I drew a card, stared at it, took a picture of it, then set it aside to draw two new cards for today. You'll see why tomorrow.

But for today, let's just pretend that the first cards I drew were the Ten of Pentacles and the Empress.

Tarot cards depicting a wealthy man sitting and people-watching, and a beautiful monarch sitting between a river and a field of grain.

These cards aren't giving me a message. They're telling me a story. Just the start of a story, but I can tell you that much of it now, the same way I'm hearing it.

(ahem)

I came out here to the plaza to find a moment of peace. To sit, and to watch the blue sky. To pet one of the plaza's stray dogs, who live off the generous affection and cast-off food to be found there. To watch the people passing by, and to indulge in the luxury of wondering about someone else's troubles for a change.

But there is no peace for me here. My money has come with me, and demands my attention. In the wind, I can hear the complaints of the people who do my business, and their reports of shortages, of high prices and low profits, of inconvenient embargos and unexpected competition. When I close my eyes, I can see columns of figures, rolling out past the limit of my sight, shrouding my days in paper and ink.

You are not sympathetic. I'm rich, after all. If I am not the richest man in the world, I am certainly rich enough to commission enough explorers and envoys to circle the globe and find out who is. I do not have to choose between food and medicine, between rent and my children, between back-breaking labor and slow starvation. Perhaps I deserve your contempt, not your pity.

But perhaps you will think differently if you know my story. If you knew how I came to be here. If you knew what hides in my past, and what lurks in my future. If you knew how all this began.

It began with her.

We still called her the Empress then. I know they call her other things now, but I will not hear those names, that slander. She will always be the Empress to me.

And I will always see her as I did that day, when I was fifteen and brought into her palace, into her audience chamber, into her presence. I will tell you that she was beautiful, and you will say, of course: she was a powerful woman, and you were a boy of fifteen. But it was not her figure under her fine robe that struck me dumb, nor the shine of her hair or the curve of her lips.

It was her eyes. Not their color, for her gaze struck me with such force that I could not have told you my own name at that moment, let alone whether her eyes were blue or brown. When she looked at me, I felt as if she was on the only person in the world who could actually see the truth of me. Everyone else looked only as far as my face, my hands, my clothes, and thought it sufficient, but she saw deeper. It was shockingly intimate, powerful enough to bare all my secrets to her, and to reveal her own soul to me, if I only dared look back.

I fell to my knees, because how could I not? If you had told me she was a goddess, I would have believed you. I would have believed her capable of commanding a river to leap its banks, of calling the summer crops to rise all at once from the soil.

I was certain that I would do anything for her. I was wrong, but I wouldn't learn that until much later.

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