The prompts for this story were grand, judgment, and stone hammer. The prompt, grand, reminded Kyros of the Grand Canal in Venice because he had just come back from a vacation there. The prompt, judgment, immediately made both Kyros and Orion think of tarot cards because they both use them occasionally. That left the stone hammer. Being fans of Viking culture, Orion and Kyros always liked Thor’s hammer necklaces. Kyros also remembered that the Eight of Pentacles in the Morgan-Greer Tarot deck has a stonemason using a hammer.
Our story of a woman on vacation getting a tarot card reading unspooled from there, as did the plot, a nice little romance.
“The first position indicates your past year.” The tarot reader tossed her hair back as she turned over the first of the five star-covered cards to reveal a medieval workman at his bench. “The Eight of Pentacles. Hmmm. It looks like you’ve been working too much, my dear.”
Oh, she has no idea, Elizabeth thought to herself. This last year’s been nothing but work! Well, maybe not all. A wry smile came to her lips. There’s always Jason. Though all we’ve done lately is fight… She let that thought trail off, giving her mind a shake. This business meeting in Venice was the perfect excuse to take him somewhere he’d never been before. Hopefully, this beautiful setting will help rekindle our romance. C’mon, what’s more romantic than the Grand Canal?
She turned back to the reader. Sylvia? She thought for a moment. Yes! That was her name.
“And notice what’s in the workman’s hand?” The colorfully-clad mystic got a faraway look in her eyes. “There’s something about a hammer….” She shook her head, her honeyed curls whipping across her face.
“Whatever, it’ll come to me.” Shaking her head, the woman declared, “Moving on.”
“The next position is your recent past.” She flipped over the second card. “Judgment. Oh, my.” She looked up at me, her ice blue eyes sending shivers down my spine in spite of the heat. “Looks like your…romance is at a crossroads. Where it goes from here is entirely up to you.”
Up to me? Jason’s been a jerk ever since we got here. Every time he opens his mouth, it’s to whine at me. ‘Do we have to go to that banquet?’ ‘I’m bored.’ ‘There’s nothing to do here.’ Dammit, he knows that that banquet was half the reason I had to come here. And it’s a historical city, for crying out loud. Go see the freakin’ sights!
Hah! He’d rather laze around our hotel room and watch soccer all day. There’s so much history to see, but he doesn’t care. My thoughts drifted back to the conversation we’d had before I came into the shop.
“Why do you want to go in there?” He glanced through the doorway and threw up his hands. “Tempo Futuro? What the hell kind of a name is that for a store?” He stomped away, back toward the plaza. “And that woman inside? She doesn’t even look like an Italian gypsy. She’s more like something from an ad for a Scandinavian getaway.”
“I’m sure she’s really nic….”
He cut her off. “Come on, Liz, she’s wearing blue denim shorts, for fuck’s sake. Don’t tell me you believe any of this woo-woo crap.”
Teeth grinding from the memory, I forced my attention back to the tarot reading.
“…and the third position, your present, is…Death.” She looked up, eyes wide. “Now don’t take that literally. It usually means a metamorphosis of some kind. The end of one thing and the beginning of something new.” She looked me squarely in the eyes. “But it’s your choice, my dear. Often, we cling to people or situations that are comfortable long past when they are useful to us. Sometimes it’s because we are afraid of losing that familiarity, sometimes we’re just afraid of being alone. Change is the only thing that is constant. Either you face your problems and fix them, or you will remain stuck in your current…situation.”
My stomach clenched. How could she know what’s been going on between us? We have been trying to fix things. We even went to that couples counselor for a while until Jason felt that the therapist always took my side in things. I wish she could have been more professional.
A hot rush flooded through my body. I can’t end things with Jason! We’ve been together for five years and living together for three, ever since he lost his apartment. I couldn’t just throw him out on the street. Where would he go?
She wiped unshed tears from her eyes. I shouldn’t be so critical of him. He really does try. He bought me that big TV and he even watches my shows with me. It’s not like any of the other losers I’ve dated would do that.
Sylvia was watching me with her head tilted. Oh no, did I miss a question or something?
“Now we come to the fourth position, the near future.” Another card went face up. “Ah, the Ace of Swords.”
I sucked in a breath. Swords? More fighting? Please, no. I can’t handle any more of that.
“Swords are the cards of conflict, and the Ace is the pure form of the energy of that suit. It signifies a new beginning. A new life. Something in your current life isn’t working for you.” She placed her hand on mine. “You know what I’m talking about, but you’re afraid to face it. You’re afraid that you’ll lose what you have if you speak up. But if you don’t, then you’re consigning yourself to a life of misery. Your dreams will get smaller and smaller until they disappear entirely.” Sylvia raised her voice and slammed her palm on the table. “You cannot allow yourself to be lost like that! Speak up! Find your voice! If you lose what you have now by being yourself, then you are better for it.” The faraway look in her eyes returned and her voice dropped to a whisper. “Sometimes you have to lose to win. Sometimes you have to let the fruit wither and die so that something new can grow in its place.”
I’d almost stopped breathing. Speak up or lose myself? Could I really tell Jason how I feel? I sucked in my lip. He’d leave me. I’m sure he would. Then I’d be alone. And with my work schedule, I’d never find anyone else, She’s wrong…I can’t. I just can’t!
“This is the final position, the long-term outcome card. Let’s see….” Sylvia turned over the last star-backed card to reveal a knight on horseback holding a chalice.
“Ah, the Knight of Cups.”
“But it’s upside down compared to the rest,” I protested. “Doesn’t that mean something bad?”
Sylvia shook her head. “Not with this particular card, my dear. It means that you are feeling emotionally overwhelmed in your relationship right now. You need to stop being so hard on yourself. The answers you are looking for are right in front of you if you aren’t afraid to look. It isn’t a coincidence that you wandered into my small shop today. Fate has bigger plans for you. I’m just the messenger….” her voice took on a breathless quality like it was coming from down a long tunnel. “What you are looking for will soon present itself. You will be literally swept off your feet. But fate will intervene and all will be right. The hammer will protect you from the nail.”
That card. A knight in shining armor? Someone to come charging to my rescue and carry me away from my problems? As if! That only happens in fairy tales.
I took a deep breath. Wow! She’s good. She had me going for a minute there. She spins a nice story, but it can’t be real…can it?
After I’d paid the woman, I stepped back out onto the sidewalk to find Jason waiting, arms crossed with a sour look on his face.
Ughhh. I know that look. Here it comes.
“Took you long enough, Liz.” He grabbed my arm and started to pull me away from the store. “Let’s get out of here,” he shouted over the clamor of the workman renovating the facade of the building next door. “I can’t believe you wasted money on that junk.”
“I didn’t…,” I began.
He yanked my arm again, knocking me off balance. “C’mon. I’m hot. I need a beer.”
Tripping over a stray piece of lumber, I fell headlong toward the canal.
Everything went into slow motion.
Jason wasn’t even trying to catch me.
Panic flooded through me as I tumbled toward a boat piled high with construction debris. Bare inches from being impaled on rusty nails littering the boat, I was caught and swung around to safety.
The world resumed normal speed. Workmen cried out. A strong arm wrapped around me as I shook, shock and adrenaline shooting through my body.
“What…” I began, feeling my heart racing. Wait, that’s not my heartbeat. I became aware of a thundering heartbeat in the large chest I was pressed against.
“Are you okay?”
Slowly, I backed away from that massive chest. Looking up and up and up, I stared at a blond god who held me tightly by the shoulders.
“Who….” My voice quivered and trailed off.
The blond god smiled at me. “You know, you have to finish a sentence if you want to have an actual conversation.”
“Um…,” she began.
“Who the hell are you? And what are you doing with my girlfriend?” Jason roared, for all the world like the biggest ape in the jungle.
I rounded on him. “Unlike you, he saved my life! And he’s not the one who nearly threw me in that boat full of garbage!”
“Now, just a minute. I didn’t do anything. You tripped. It’s not my fault you’re a klutz.” He seized my upper arm.
“Actually,” the blond giant growled in his deep, commanding voice, “from where I was standing, it looked like you were the one who pulled her off balance. I think you owe the lady an apology for nearly sending her to the hospital.”
“Stay out of this, blondie. She’s mine.” He began pulling me away. “C’mon, we’re out of here.”
The man’s large hand landed on Jason’s shoulder. “Why don’t you let the lady decide for herself what she wants to do.” I saw his fingers go white on Jason’s shoulder. “Little man.”
“Little man?” Jason dropped my arm and spun, throwing a punch at the bigger man. “Just because I’m not addicted to steroids like you are, doesn’t mean I can’t kick your ass!”
My rescuer caught Jason’s fist, just holding it like it was the easiest thing in the world. Then he squeezed.
Jason yelped and aimed his foot at the large man’s crotch.
The blond man turned at the last second, deflecting the blow with his thigh. Continuing to turn, he used the momentum of Jason’s kick to toss the smaller man aside.
“Oh no!” I gasped, then raised a hand to my mouth to hide the grin forming on my face.
Jason surfaced, sputtering.
Maybe that’ll cool him off a little. After all, that water’s gotta be cold.
The big man turned and offered me his hand.
“I’m Val Gunderson. Sorry about that. I just didn’t like the way he was treating you. I mean, I don’t know you, but he didn’t seem very concerned when he almost threw you into that boatload of debris.”
I shook the outstretched hand. “Val? Like Valentine?”
He laughed. “No, Thorvald. Val is the nickname my sister Sylvia gave me when we were kids. It was better than everyone calling me Thor.” He indicated something around his neck.
Peering closer, I spotted a deep red stone hanging from a cord. “Is that a garnet Thor’s Hammer?”
Val blinked several times at me. “Wow, you know what this is? And you knew that it’s garnet?”
I felt my cheeks heating up. “My mom was a jewelry maker. She sold at all the local farmer’s markets. Garnet was very popular with the Norsemen there. Besides, her maiden name was Johanson, so my grandparents taught me all about Norse mythology.”
Jason heaved himself out of the water and stormed over to where we stood. Before he could utter a single word, I turned on him.
“Leave. Leave now. Go back to the hotel and pack your things. I’ll contact the airlines and have a ticket waiting for you at the airport. I’ll be back in the States in a week. I expect you to be completely moved out by then.”
He gaped at me with something akin to fear in his eyes. I smiled.
“Yes. The free ride is over. I’m not going to be your meal ticket anymore.”
He stood, frozen in place.
“If you don’t leave, I’m sure Val here would be happy to toss you back in the canal so you can swim back to the US.”
Jason turned and skulked away, leaving wet footprints in his wake.
Turning back to Val, I offered him my arm. “Wanna grab a cup of cappuccino with me? As a thank you for saving my life.”
“Sure. I’m just glad I was there at the right time to save you.” He shook his head. “My sister owns that little shop right there, the Tempo Futuro. I was just going to see her when I saw you fall.” He laughed. “It’s funny, I live in London but she called me up a month ago and insisted that I come visit. Said it was important.” He shrugged. “She wouldn’t tell me why, but I guess I know now.” He smiled broadly. “I needed to be here to save you.”
As we walked away in search of a coffee shop, I heard Sylvia’s voice from the reading.
‘You will be literally swept off your feet. But fate will intervene and all will be right. The hammer will protect you from the nail.’
I smiled. And it had.
Addendum: Once we started writing, Kyros remembered a tarot reading he gave at an SCA event back in the 90s. A young woman had come to him for a reading. He took one look at the cards and told her “I could go through these cards one by one, but the meaning is crystal clear. Do you mind if I just skip to the message?” When she assented, he told her, “He’s never going to stop beating you until you realize he’s never going to change and do something about it.” She began to cry. He continued, “But there is hope. As soon as you accept that it’s over, you will literally fall over the person you are supposed to be with.”
A little over a year later, Kyros was again doing tarot readings when that same young woman came rushing up and tackled him in a ferocious hug. She told him what had happened after she left his reading the year before. She was crying so hard after the reading that she couldn’t see well. She stumbled into a knight and they fell to the ground together. Her fiance walked up and began berating her for being a klutz. The knight told the fiance that it was an accident, that they had tripped over each other. The fiance grabbed the girl hard enough that she screamed and started to drag her away. The knight intervened and politely asked the fiance to let the lady go. The fiance insulted the knight (Kyros can’t remember what she told him anymore, but just that it was something rude.) and continued yanking her. The knight punched the fiance in the face and told him if he ever saw the man mistreating a woman again, he’d do much more than punch him in the face.
The reason the young woman had sought out Kyros was to tell him that she and the knight were getting married a few weeks later. She literally had tripped over the man she was supposed to be with, just like he’d told her.