THE THREE OF QUILLS
an excerpt from “the Deck of the Numinon”
Susinna looked carefully at the young woman, gauging her reactions as she spoke. The calm and accepting posture told her that Haviana was entirely comfortable with her upbringing. She did not expect an answer and continued. “You show every sign of being their offspring … undeniably smart and eager to learn.” Susinna’s smile drooped, a measure of sadness crossing her face. “Therefore, it pains me to send you away.”
Haviana’s stomach seemed to drop deeply, leaving her feeling void, her skin momentarily an empty shell. “I’ve done nothing wr …” She barely had a plea formed on her lips when the abbess continued.
“Oh. Well, I didn’t say that quite right, did I? I meant that I have an errand for you, Haviana. I’m afraid it will interrupt your schooling.”
“An errand.” There was no questioning in her voice as Haviana felt her senses tingle, a sudden burst of relief and attention spiked by immediate curiosity.
“Maybe you should think of it more as a ‘mission’.” Susinna countered. “It will involve some discretion. And tact.”
“I’ve never been known for tact. Aren’t there other Sisters more qualified than I?” Haviana knew it was a bold question. She would not be here by happenstance. The Mother Abbess gave no clue that she had heard the question.
“They call you Havi, do they not?”
“You’ve adopted the Gyrfalcon. A most marvelous bird. It’s attention to detail and ferocity suits you well.” Susinna looked out towards her balcony mulling over her next words. “So unlike your parents … yet we are all our own people, are we not?”
The Abbess turned back to face Haviana. “You asked if I had more qualified Sisters to, er, send … on this errand.”
“heh. Mission. I’m glad you’re taking this seriously from the start.” Susinna gave the young woman another appraisal. Young or not, she had a strong disposition, further advanced in her training and abilities than her years. She had her parents to thank. “Yes, there are more qualified candidates. I have very strong misgivings about sending you at all, yet to do nothing is worse. The fact is, I can’t send anyone … important.”
“You want someone who won’t attract attention.” Havi stated, following the Abbess’ trail of logic.
“In a manner of speaking, yes. And, for reasons I’ll explain, one not in position to directly affect the proceedings.” The young girl was intent, her sharp hazel eyes already absorbing information. “Some years ago, there was a purge within the order … your mother may have mentioned it?” A glance was enough to see that the young girl was well-versed in her mother’s history. “As it happened, a number of Sisters went missing, many dead, sadly. But for the grace of the fates, your mother could have been one of them. Some artifacts also turned up missing during that unfortunate time. Without divulging the entire list, I will speak of one …” The Abbess drew a card from underneath the small stack of old parchments and turned it face up on the desk. “ … the Deck of the Numinon.”
Haviana remained silent, waiting for the Abbess to continue and noting details of the exposed card with a glance, the lacquered figure an ancient goddess by her reckoning.
“This is one of the cards … Azinnan … the High Priestess. The Deck … a story in itself … was commissioned long ago by one of my predecessors. A fortune telling deck by its nature … but also a creator of fortunes. It was devised by a mage who lived for a time deep within the mountains of the far Jimals. By all accounts, he was quite a powerful one and the Abbess had a long affair with this vizier in the course of her Office. The Sybellines are known for the power of their Oracles. It is part of who we are, no? The spirit that dwells in the deck is the result of their collaboration.”
She passed the card over to Haviana, who took it carefully, as though handling a relic. The novitiate turned the card over, the old lacquered paint appearing to glitter with life and power when the light chanced to glance over it a certain way. The figure of the High Priestess was seated on a lotus flower as a throne. Bees decorated the hems of her robes and on her head lay a crown of crescent moons. Havi’s eyes sharpened with a raptor’s intensity, examining both sides as Susinna continued.
“The High Priestess represented the Abbess who had the deck formed, though by lot, the onus belongs to her heirs as well. It is considered the most powerful card in the deck, which is saying a lot. She had the good sense to remove this card and hold it separately, so it could not be used against her.” Susinna retrieved the card and studied the face of it for a moment while she spoke, as if addressing the High Priestess of the Deck.
“One of the cards. There are seventy-six more and many of them quite dangerous in the wrong hands.”