Court of Mirrors
Lost Scion of Amber
Trump Artistry 40
It was many years before I came to realize that everything I thought I knew was a lie. But I was still quite young when I realized that I was different than the people around me. I suppose every child wants to be special, but let’s face it, most aren’t. I was the exception.
I was living with a couple that at the time I thought were my parents, in a small town in a place called Ireland. I had drawn a picture, something rare enough for a girl of my station, for my parents were poor farmers, but it was not the drawing itself, of a dainty horse with a single spiral horn on its forehead, done with charred sticks on piece of hide, that proved I was special. Rather, it was the fact that if I concentrated on that image long enough, with yearning in my heart, I was able to reach out and touch that suddenly varicolored, whorled horn and then… in a flash, with golden hoof and fiery mane and hair as white as freshly fallen snow under a blazing sun… stood my unicorn, just as I’d imagined it to be, no longer a picture, but a living, breathing beast!
I kept the unicorn, whom I named Niamh, for she was all brightness and radiance, hidden in the woods outside of town, visiting as often as I could. She seemed to understand and keep herself hidden from other humans. After that, I tried drawing other things. Sometimes I could pull them through as well, though I stuck to inanimate objects after the unicorn. I had only the crudest of art materials to work with and no one to teach me, so I spent long hours alone practicing my art.
At the same time I started to have dreams, dreams of places I do not remember visiting, but in the dreams, I was always there with the people I now believe to be my true parents. I tried drawing these places, but I could not remember them clearly enough while awake to draw them correctly, even though I’m sure concentrating on them would have lead me somewhere, I could tell the moment I looked at them it was not the place I saw in my dreams.
This continued for many years and by the time I was in my thirties, I realized I wasn’t aging like the people around me and by the time I reached my forties, others were starting to notice as well, and rumors were starting that I was a witch in league with the devil. I resolved to started travelling, but just before I was about to leave my father was taken ill. My mother had died several years before and I was the only one left to take care of him. The illness got worse and worse over many months and there was little the town doctor could do for him.
One night my father called me to his bedside. “Caera, when I am gone, you will be alone… in this world. When I die… go to the stone wall just beyond the apple tree. At the base of the wall you will find a stone unlike any other in this world. Dig below that spot… and you will find what belongs to you.” I shushed him and told him to save his strength and I put the conversation, strange as it was, from my head. My father died two weeks later, and it was not until after wake and the funeral that I finally had a moment to think about what he had said that night.
I took a spade and found the stone, which looked somewhat like a heart-sized piece of Kelly green marble shot through with veins of gold until you picked it up and it began to glow softly in your hand. When I dug down about two feet, I found a box made of a shiny white metal like silver, but much lighter and stronger. Inside the box was a smaller box made of stained and polished wood, and inside it were the strangest set of playing cards I had ever seen… each one a miniature work of art in itself, painted in exquisite detail, but oddly cold to the touch.
As I flipped through the deck, they triggered something deep inside me, something I could not name, people… places… that I knew, or had once known… to be remembered only in fragments of dreams. One card stood out, a beautiful woman, that in my dreams I believed to be my mother. I started at it a for a long time, and then… for just a moment… I thought I heard a voice… “Hello… Who’s there? Help me please. I’m a prisoner… lost… so far from Amber…” and then the voice was gone. I tried to reestablish the contact, but there was nothing.
I quickly realized the cards were like my own drawing, but crafted by another’s hand. So there were other like me… out there, somewhere. It was exciting, but frightening as well, the thought that I might run into one of these others, knowing so little as I did about my own talents. I put the cards back in their box and resolved not to use them until I understood my own talents better.
The villagers came for me that night, a whole mob of them, with a motley collection of weapons. I suppose they expected an easy fight, I was only a woman, after all, even if I was supposedly a witch. I didn’t give them one. I won’t say I fought honourably, I fought to escape, and so I did, with a rusty short sword as a prize. I ran for the forest, knowing the village men would regroup quickly and when they did, they would be out to restore their wounded pride. I found Niamh in the woods, still alive after all these many years, for she seemed to remain as youthful as I did. Mounted on her back, I began a mad dash through the shadowy woods.
At first I thought I was going to make it clean away, however, eventually the baying of hounds and the thunder of multiple hooves in darkness behind me told me the search party was gaining on me. Finally, in a moment of desperation a stopped and pulled out the deck of cards. I removed a card that displayed a location, rather than a person and focused my attention on and my desire to be in that place. And of a sudden it because real before me, the light of the rising sun from that place spilling out for a moment into the dark forest behind me and then, urging Niamh forward, I emerged fully in a new place, a bright sandy beach at dawn, with a tall white cliff about a hundred yards distant on my left and and the sea just a few dozen yards to the right. A quick glance behind me confirmed that the gateway had snapped shut behind me, no dark forest lay that way but rather a town larger than any I had ever seen…
Thus began my travels… moving from place to place about every ten to twenty years or so. My slight statue made it easy to play at being younger than I was, and I took advantage of that to stay in a place as long as possible before moving on. I learned what I could in a place, in some I learned to kill, in others, to heal, I learned to ride, to sail, to drive and to fly. I learned math and sciences, but most of all I learned art. I learned to drawn with charcoal and ink, paint with watercolors and oil. I sought out the greatest painter and paintings everwhere I went and strove to learn something from them, and then to transform that mundane knowledge to arcane art of making paintings that were real.
When I finally left a place, it was often with a twinge of regret. Not of the people or relationships left behind but rather things left unlearned, path left untrod. Sometimes I travelled within a world, sometimes I used the cards to take me somewhere new, and sometimes, I drew worlds wholly of my own desire and brought them to life. Niamh went with me wherever I went, my only constant companion. And everywhere I went I searched for word of a place… a place I knew in name only, a name I heard once from far away… Amber!