Megette would cautiously approach the Jack as they journeyed, to speak to him and ask questions. It seemed she had been in the service of the Princess of Hearts all her life and was curious about the land of Heere. Places, creatures and many things she had heard about, but had never experienced. “Sir,” she always began, always humbled and probably not used to using formal names for anyone.
“Again Megette? It’s Jack. Just Jack, please,” he said smiling at the formality. He had told her this a dozen times at least.
She nodded in acceptance, but continued. “That Joker.”
“Oh he will be fine. I didn’t know you had it in you,” he said looking at Khamet.
Khamet’s teeth came together and his cheeks pulled back for the first time in a while and displayed a monstrous grin that rose so high even the Jack was astonished. He laughed and Khamet began to purr. It was so loud the whole group could hear it.
“No,” Megette said. “The female,” she gulped timidly aware of a boundary line and afraid of crossing it.
The Jack waited in the silence for a moment before, “We are all associates here and I have no secrets.”
“Were you and she…?” Megette’s cheeks flushed. The six hearts across her card were flushing as well. Her entire card surface grew to a pink hue.
The Jack understood her meaning and stopped walking. “You mean were she and I together?” he laughed. “Oh no,” he broke out laughing hysterically. “No all of you, no. No… she was…” Now it was the Jacks turn to falter a bit. “She was my mother,” he said almost in a whisper.
The cards were all shocked. Even Khamet didn’t know what to make of this.
The Jack of all Trades stopped. “I did not choose myself to be animate. I was born that way and when I was born I had no distinction. As I was already a face with sentience, a cadre of Nine of Diamonds designated me as a Jack, and once my prowess for many skills became apparent, the Popularopinion dubbed me the Jack of all Trades.”
“So your father was a card?
The Jack gritted his teeth and dropped his head. “My father is the Ace of Spades.”
The entire party fell into silence.
The Jack moved to the side of the road, squatted and began to pick at the dirt. “When I met the Princess of Hearts,” he began. “She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I was trespassing through their orchard, eating my way as I went and trying to find the best way to approach the king. Seeing her changed everything for me. I will get her back.”
“Your father is the leader of all this.” Eldham the Three of Spades said astonished.
The Jack bit down. “My father did his duty. The Suicide King murdered the King if Spades. I was there!”
“And I.” Khamet said.
“And I,” Megette said. “That’s why I left. The King of Hearts was imprisoning and killing anyone who disagreed with him. The Jack declared he would get her back, but refused to agree with the story about what happened. The Suicide King threw him in prison for disobeying him.”
“Why didn’t he kill you?” Naich the Nine of Diamonds asked.
“Bargaining chip I believe. Apparently my reputation preceded me and he knew of my background. He wanted a trade, but the war began instantly and Megette helped my escape.”
“I wanted to find my lady,” she said. “I knew she was alive and imprisoned.”
Khamet remembered seeing the Princess of Hearts in his other self’s memory, she looked haggard and worn down. “They were executing any Heart they found…”
“I thought you all knew of this.” The Jack asked the other cards.
Eldham, Naich and Knarc all stared at each other a moment.
The Jack was suddenly on his guard and raising his baton.
The three cards went on their guards as well and stepped back.
“Jack we’re with you.” Eldham said.
“No! What’s your true name,” The Jack asked the card.
Eldham stopped almost frozen. A wide blankness came over him. His face remained shocked for a moment then his features lightened, as he seemed to concede the situation. He drew his spade and all at once the Club and the Diamond followed suit, so to speak.
Khamet crouched and Knarc turned brandishing his club at him, “No way kitty! No Bandersnatch nest for us.”
The cards began to spread out as Megette stepped behind the Jack of all Trades.
“Megette run!” the Jack said.
The three cards squared with the Jack and Khamet for a moment. Suddenly there was a loud quick slashing rip that erupted from behind the three. All the cards, Eldham, Knarc and Naich stood frozen. The rip started from the top of each and went to the bottom. They all crumpled and fell in unison becoming nothing more than paper on the ground.
Megette, the Jack and Khamet began looking around for what might have happened and slowly three figures materialized behind where the cards had been standing. Each carried one or more swords and each stood blindfolded. Behind them a woman holding a set of scales and what looked like a disc spinning on the breast of her tunic. The three stood at the ready and did not drop their swords. They were awaiting orders.
Khamet noticed all three cards ripped on the ground were now Seven’s of Spades.
“Travelers,” a voice said. “What is your business here?”
The woman behind them was powerful. She carried a massive sword that glowed when she spoke.
The Jack of all Trades spoke up, “We seek an audience with the Tarot.”
The woman seemed to assess all of them closely. She stared hard at Megette who cowered. “Your loyalty will be for not my dear, best to turn back now.” She turned to the Jack. “Half-breed, your time is short and unfortunate for the mirror you face will be your undoing.” She looked extremely sad at this. “Cat, of Yonderland…” her voice was suddenly reverent. She lowered the sword and dropped her head. “One of two and growing in days… You bring the change that is warranted and unfortunate, but desperately needed these dark days. Why are you here?”
“We are trying to save the Princess of Hearts?” Khamet said.
“The Princess doesn’t require saving,” she said matter-of-factly.
She turned back to the Jack. “The Tarot are not what you think we are half-breed. We are more than you can imagine and if you seek them you will find them. But is that what you truly wish?”
“It is necessary.” The Jack said.
“To stop your father,” she added.
“My father does not know what he is doing and if this continues the land will be ripped apart. Even the Tarot will fall.”
She stared, “You don’t know the Tarot.” Her smile had knowledge and depth that they all felt. “Cat,” she bowed again and made a gesture.
The three blind swordsmen all sheathed their weapons. “One of them reached down and tore the paper into strips and passed them to the others. The three took out pouches and rolled smokes. Megette cringed at his and one of them smiled looking at her through the blindfold and blew smoke her direction.
“Come,” the woman said.
They made their way off the road through the forest to a large out cropping at the base of the mountain. Two figures stood on each side of the stones at the entrance to a cave. She made a gesture and they both cart wheeled and stood on their heads. Once the two settled into their head stands the entrance to the out cropping shimmied and changed to reveal a path that led between the rocks and seemingly into the mountain itself.
Even the Jack of all Trades was shocked at this.
“We are two days from the Tarot’s land,” the Jack said.
Khamet realized suddenly that if the Tarot didn’t wish to be found, they wouldn’t be.
The woman smiled sadly, “Jack,” she said rather than half-breed. “Your quest is folly and will be your undoing. I cannot change, but only warn. You haven’t yet passed to the Tarot, but once you have, the path will be set.”
“And if I don’t?” he asked.
“That is unimportant.”
“No it isn’t.”
“If you go ahead with your quest your land will change forever. It will appear to help, but hindrance will be the end result, for us all.”
“You speak as if the land hasn’t already been changed.”
She made a concerned face and bowed her head in acceptance.
The Jack of all Trades held to himself for a moment, staring at the ground and the entrance before him as Megette and Khamet went through. Then he took his first step and walked on.