A Shadow Across Amber

The Turn of Friendly Card

Lines creased Caine’s face as he stared down at the table. The Trumps, he knew, were fickle and unpredictable and cryptic, but they were usually also trustworthy – at least, to a measure. And this was unusual even for them.
Random tapped at the door, then entered Caine’s outer chamber, which was currently strewn with books, charts and scrolls detracting from the normally neat and stylish room he used for entertaining guests before often leading the female members to his quarters within.
“What is it that required I come here?”, he asked with maybe a bit more gruffness than required. Politics be damned, he was tired and he was King and Caine would just have to deal with it.
Caine picked up the Deck and handed it to Random, who thought about the cold firmness of the Trumps before looking back up at Caine. “What?”
“Just shuffle and deal them; I’m not even sure I trust my own subconscious anymore…” Caine replied. “Maybe I’m stacking the Deck and don’t even see it.”
Random shrugged, then studied the stack carefully for a moment. The familiar white unicorn rampant on a field of green grass held no secrets and was identical on each. The Cards seemed even, no wear or marks, not that it’s trivial to physically mar a Trump. He briefly fanned them facing him, then collected them back to the table and ran through a quick face-up ribbon spread where he paused again so that both he and Caine could look for anomalies. A few running cuts, a riffle shuffle and a Hindu or two for good measure, he was confident the Deck was as good as it was going to get. He began to lay a familiar Tarot spread. Nothing obvious jumped out, however.
“Do it again,” said Caine with a slightly fatigued voice.
Wash, rinse, repeat, thought Random, but gathered the Trumps, went through a mixing routine as elaborate as before, then cast out the Cards. This time, the problem was obvious. A third and fourth repetition left Random scratching his head as he slumped against the chair to Caine’s left. “What do you think it means?” he asked.
Caine wordlessly gathered up the Deck one last time. Shuffled them thoroughly, but without the card-shark tricks Random was fond of. Dealt only five Cards face down on the tableau. He slowly and purposefully turned each over, revealing a Lesser Trump each time – the same Lesser Trumps he had been getting in every spread he’d cast that night – with not a family portrait in sight. Although the Lesser Trumps and Major Arcana usually gave color and meaning to the castings, the Court Cards were integral to most readings since the family was usually involved in the outcome.
“I think it’s saying we’re going to have company for dinner,” sighed Caine. “Better set out the kiddie table,” a pause, “though who knows how the hell we’re going to find them…”
Random searched his thoughts – the family had gone searching for relatives before, of course. But despite thousands of years and endless carefree carousing – the two seated at this table arguably the most promiscuous of all – only a handful of children had ever been discovered, lending credence to Corwin’s suspicions that they were an infertile lot. And now five unknown children of the blood are uncovered – so pivotal to the underlying forces of the Trumps that it chose Lesser Cards to mark out their presence… Aha!
" Caine – you need to infuse these with sorcerous energy. Reinforce the psychic signatures that the Trump casting is invoking." Random smiled, “We can then give them out to scouts and we’ll ride through Shadow seeking their counterpart – the ones that evoked these castings.”
“That’s impossible. I mean even an Artist as gifted as I couldn’t possibly…” Caine shrunk down in the middle of his protest.
“Don’t bullshit me, Caine,” glowered Random, “we both know what’s at stake here.”
Caine sighed. “Give me a couple hours, then.”
As he stood, Random drew himself up to his full height and puffed up with all the Kingly authority he could muster. “You have five. I’ll have the stables saddle your horse, too – we’ll need to find them as quickly as possible.”
Caine started to protest again, his eyes following Random’s hand as he turned over the top card of the Deck. The Tower stared back at him.
“You’ll have them in three,” was all he muttered as he drew a brass-bound chest from his sideboard and began laying out arcane implements on the table, careful not to disturb the layout.

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