chapter 12: THE EMPRESS

this card, 3rd of the Major Arcana, here signifies Decision, Plan, Mother Love

The gypsy wagon was parked just beyond the edge of town near the 
river, where their horse could graze on the grassy banks.  
But they were aware of townspeople watching them from afar, 
for there was always a distrust of gypsies no matter where they 

Benutio's children had been waiting at the wagon all day.  They 
were not sure of what was happening, but they had a good idea of 
Benutio's plan.  So they waited with varying degrees of patience.  

Devo was content to read some local newspages he'd found in the 
town--he had looked in vain for a new book, for he had already 
read those he had so many times--he just loved reading.  Even 
though the newspages were not especially interesting, he liked 
to learn about the places they travelled to.

Leema was making a soup.  They had earned good money with Clown's 
rooftop trick and still had a little bit left, enough to eat 
again tomorrow as well.  She liked it there on the river by this 
pretty town--it would have been a nice place to stay.  But the 
catastrophic events of yesterday had marked the town, and she 
knew that Benutio and Clown were now involved in a continuing 
drama that was only beginning, and that they would soon be on the 
road again.

Agra was the least content to wait, he was yearning for some sort 
of activity.  He'd love to go into town and steal, or get into a 
fight, but Benutio had put them on best behavior here because he 
wanted to make a deal with that sorceress.  Agra picked up that 
Benutio had also become quite interested in Luminata as a woman, 
and he didn't blame him for that, there were also some girls here 
he wouldn't mind flirting with...if he didn't have to be so 
well- behaved.

The sun was setting when Benutio arrived from town, alone.  "Break 
camp, kids, we're going into town for the night." 

"What's happened?  Where's Clown?" Agra asked.

"Clown is--well, it worked, he's changed..."

"Clown is...healed?"  Leema asked, with joy in her voice.

"Much more than healed--" Benutio said, "--he's with Luminata now, 
and we're going to meet them in a warehouse where we're going to 
take on supplies for a journey."

"Aha, action at last!" Agra jubilated.

"But keep it quiet, this is a secret mission:  no one is to know 
that we are in league with the sorceress, or that she's financing 
our trip, so we have to be sneaky."

"Hey pop, we are gypsies!" Agra reminded him.   

Inside the warehouse Clown and Luminata waited for the others to arrive. Luminata had ordered various items delivered to this great hall, and entranced those involved to forget what they had seen. It was getting dark outside. It had been a very long day now, and Clown and Luminata were still intensely processing information. They were both very tired, and yet it seemed that Clown's mind just got sharper and more focused and organized with every hour. "Luminata, what can you tell me about Otius' magical abilities?" "Otius has a Powerstaff, as I do, which is a control device for the power banks found around the world. One of them is here in this tower, another under Castle Darkstone, the seat of Otius' power. You have seen what he can do with that, and yet his power is reduced here because it is not his place of power. "But a sorcerer also has a patron spirit. Mine is the goddess Hecate of Olympus, but I have heard that his is the Demon King of Hell. There is also a rumor that Otius is in possession of one of the Lost Volumes of the Ancient Powertext, said to be instructions for magic of the utmost evil. Those texts were supposed to have been removed by the Ancient Powerbeings when they left this world behind, but who knows? "The truth is, I cannot say what his limits are, but he is assumedly one of the most powerful sorcerers in the world. Beware of him." "Can you teach me any sorcery to use against him?" "I'm sorry, is forbidden for me to teach anyone but my own heir, only Wand, for there is but this one Powerstaff. And even if I would anyway, no one can become a sorcerer unless they are of the sorcerer blood lines." "You mean that the trait for sorcery is genetically determined?" "It seems to be."
The gypsies arrived under cover of darkness after the warehouse staff had left, drove the wagon into the great hall and closed themselves inside. They saw Clown talking to Luminata when they arrived. Leema hopped out of the wagon and ran up to him. She stopped in front of him and looked at him intensely--but he looked the same, still painted up as a clown. He interrupted his conversation with the sorceress to look back at her. He and Leema stared at each other for a long second. "Clown! Talk to me!" Leema cried out, "Say something intelligent!" Clown smiled, nodded, spoke: "Something intelligent." That was enough, Leema could hear it in his voice, see it in his teasing smile, and she laughed and threw her arms around his neck and embraced him wildly. Then Devo and Agra were there, also staring at him, waiting to be convinced that it was really true, that their idiot "brother" was "healed" of his affliction. But Clown was still teasing, relishing the moment. Devo went first. "Well, I hear you can talk now. And read." "Indeed so, Devo. And I am quite convinced that you will be absolutely overwhelmed to ascertain the quantity and quality of reading materials accompanying us upon our forthcoming peregrinations." "Huh?" Devo was flabbergasted for a moment. Clown had to explain, "Crown talk rill good now." Both Devo and Agra shouted and laughed and jumped Clown. The three of them rolled wrestling around on the dirt floor.
Leema served the soup she had made. Everyone was ravenously hungry, even Luminata, who was glad to sit in the wagon and share this simple meal with these gypsy friends. She was used to food prepared for the Royal Family (she rarely had time to cook for herself and Wand, even though she enjoyed doing it now and then). "I must go to Prince Elro soon," Luminata said, "I have to erase his infections every few hours." "How is the poor Prince?" Leema asked sympathetically. "Weak, perhaps dying. I cannot give him back the life force Otius took from him, I can only hold him in balance." "How sad," Leema said, "and such a handsome young man, almost a dream prince." Then she pondered for a moment, and seemed to make a decision. "Sorceress, may I come and help? I have before nursed... someone with this same curse. She finally did die, but I kept her alive much longer than she should have lived with some of the gypsy remedies I have learned." Luminata looked at Leema, suddenly seeing with her psychic vision that very beautiful and sympathetic young woman with Destiny written all over her open honest face. "Yes, Leema. I can use any help you can offer me." "Then let's go to him now." The women left and the men were left to pack the wagon.
The wagon was loaded with food and provisions for the long journey, and books: the 75 volume encyclopedia was heavy and bulky, there were several Atlases and an almanac. Devo was overwhelmed. "My Gods, this is the Encyclopedia Intigiana! Do you realize what this is? My Gods! Only Kings have these sorts of books!" "They belong to the Emperor." Clown explained. Clown was offered a dictionary to take along, but he said, "No thanks, I've already learned that one." Devo, who considered himself the scholar of the family, challenged Clown to prove that. So page 583 was chosen, and Clown easily and accurately recited every word on that page without looking. When the loading was done, Agra went to sleep. Clown and Devo were reading articles from the encyclopedia, until they too fell asleep.
Only Benutio was awake when Luminata came back to the warehouse. She was not alone, another woman accompanied her, swathed in a cloak to make her unrecognizable. But it was not Leema. It was the Empress Freida. She came to Benutio, tossed back her cloak and humbly bowed her head to him, saying: "Good Gypsy, I have come to thank you all for going on this brave mission to save our children," she said, "and I am sorry that it must be kept so secret that you must all sneak out of town tomorrow, but please do save Elro and Wand. Then you shall have a hero's welcome when you return, as well as a place to forever call your home in Tarro!" "Your Majesty, we are honored." The Empress handed Benutio a heavy bag of coins, "This should be more than enough finance your expedition." "Ah, yes, how practical...we were a little short of funds. We thank Your Majesty." He hefted the weight of the bag; it was a lot of money. He raised an eyebrow at Freida and asked her, "Do you really trust a band of gypsies this much?" "Luminata does, and thus do I. You and your family are the only hope I have. And I want you to know that I have faith that you will prevail in this, for I have just seen your daughter Leema pull my son out of a coma. "She wanted to stay with the Prince a while longer," the Empress went on, "Elro responded very well to her medicine...and her beauty. He seems unwilling to die while looking at her." A tear ran down Frieda's face. "So I will ask of you that Leema may stay with us while you make your perilous journey: it would be safer for her, and give Elro a better chance to survive until that awful Sorcerer Otius is finally dispatched and his curse is nullified." "Of course, Your Majesty, consider it agreed upon: I too want to keep the Prince alive, and my little Leema out of danger." "But what of yourself, and your sons? Perhaps you understand the danger you are entering into, but they are so young..." "Prince Elro did not back away from Otius, nor would they." "And look at my poor Prince Elro," she said with clear there-you- have-it pathos. Benutio did not know how much he should say to the Empress--their mission was secret and the fewer who knew Clown's condition the better. So he said polite things, as did Freida, and then she left the warehouse alone. Benutio would have escorted her back to the palace, but Luminata said, "No, she wants our meeting to be secret, and she wants to share your danger in some way, so she goes alone. Anyway--she's already safely in the secret passageway." Benutio gave Luminata a questioning look. "Wasn't Prince Elro in love with your own daughter Wand?" "Elro's dying, he's clinging to life, and Leema is a powerful symbol of life. I don't think he's concerned with the small details right now." "You're a wise woman," Benutio said, "I like you very much." "All men like me, Gypsy." Benutio laughed. It was the first time in a long day.
Benutio invited Luminata for a stroll along the bank of the River Lyfe, the two of them alone. "Well, Gypsy, you got what you came here for. Now: do you have a plan?" "Plan? yes / no. I really didn't expect any of this to happen, you know. I just came here to for the sake of trying." "Indeed, it's all quite a coincidence; your arriving just as Otius does." "It certainly is...oh, but does My Lady suspect me of duplicity?" "No. I know that you have not actually lied--you couldn't deceive a sorceress." "Even though I am a sneaky Gypsy?" "Indeed again: you have left some important things unsaid." "Quite so, but not to mislead you--rather because until yesterday it seemed certain that I was myself The Fool for having brought my Fool to you. Now I know it was Destiny." "Another message from your dead wife?" "No, there was only that one dream. But I was also recently told to be here in Tarro at this time, by a fortune teller who wishes revenge on Otius--there are many, it seems." "And you? What are you avenging, Gypsy?" Benutio looked off into some distance. "That wife, of course. She was the mother of my children. Otius leeched her of vitality and she died gruesomely." "So tell me, Benutio, have you raised that boy simply to be your instrument of revenge?" The tone of her voice was not quite neutral. They stopped walking. There was a moon, it was a lovely night, there could have been romance in the air, but first this had to be settled between them. "No, Luminata. You do me an injustice. I have raised Clown as a son, because he was the son of another idiot Clown who died while saving my life and no one else would take his orphan child. It was Destiny. "Nor did I believe in revenge over Otius: a sorcerer is like a force of nature, like a storm or an earthquake, and equally as unpunishable by a mortal like myself. But if he can be punished, or stopped from doing more evil--to your own daughter Wand perhaps--then I will dedicate my services to that end. "As for Clown, I only wanted to heal him--but now I must worry that he will be harmed by that monster. And yet, I feel that he is the very vehicle of destiny sent to defeat the Old and Evil Otius." "Sorcerers are not really untouchable forces of nature," she said, "they only seem that way." Her voice was not neutral now, for she had recognized the truth in his voice. And Benutio knew an opening when he heard it. "What about sorceresses? Can they be touched?" "This one can be touched by a sneaky gypsy just now."
When they came back to the wagon, Benutio's children slept, even Clown, for it had been a long day and night. The two adults looked down at the young people. "Luminata, it was my wife whom Leema took care of while dying from Otius' leeching, and she kept her mother alive quite a while with some medicines and with a native healing ability she seems to have. It is good that she stays with you to nurse Prince Elro. We are riding into danger and may never return. If so, she will have lost her family and you may have lost your own daughter..." "Of course, Benutio, we must take care of each other's daughters." "Yes. Good. Thanks." He kissed her. It was a casual kiss, the kind a man gives his wife, not of seduction but of well-established affection. Luminata, who was usually immune to the desperately passionate longings of men, fell in love at that moment. Luminata bent down to the sleeping Clown, studying his innocent face. "What strange force of nature have we unleashed here?" Then she kissed the young man on the brow. It was the kind of kiss a mother gave to a beloved son and that was when Benutio knew that he too was truly in love. "Bring Wandii back to me, Clown," she whispered. "Crown ruv Wandle," he mumbled in his sleep.
end of chapter 12

Chapter 13: THE HIEROPHANT <BR> <BR> <BR> <a href="chaps.htm">List of Chapters</a>