Teller of Fortunes 14: A Comedian’s Curse

(This is a direct continuation of the prior episode. Click here for the previous section, or here to go to the beginning of the series. Thank you for reading!)

Ane approaches Korin’s wagon. Her arm is filled to heaping with jars, waxed fabric packets, muslin pouches, the katagon brazier, charcoal, several long, green leaves pulled from fresh cattails, and, finally, a small etui made of enameled metalwork.

She raps sharply on the wagon’s door.

“Four thousand!” 

Korin bids her to enter. 

Fortunately, the door isn’t locked; it’s barely even closed.

Ane finds herself amidst the perpetual spectacle that is the “actor’s wagon.” The first, most noticeable thing is a wide chalk line cutting straight along the middle of the floor. All furniture, whether it be standing or hanging from the walls, is distinctly not placed over this line — except one standing table, which has the line continuing over its top, and two different drinks and sets of cards on each side. It’s like looking at two entirely different rooms, though apparently they collide just to drink and play cards.  

On the right side of the room is a wild collection of things, including all manner of costumes from princely outfits to feather boas and highwayman’s masks. There are many old paintings, all of which come pre-vandalized by inked silly expressions, curly moustaches, and sometimes even googly-eyes. One of them is even covered in darts which stick out of the canvas at haphazard angles. Then there’s a mess of things all about, likely various trinkets Jiselmo has collected, including mirrors he can’t use, embroidered pillows, some nice curtains tossed over a barrel… There’s a bed somewhere in there, presumably. 

On the left side is a relatively austere bedroom. The walls are largely unadorned, but occasionally covered in neat, functional shelves, many of which sport a number of books. Some are fiction, focusing on fae tales and adventure. Others are embroidered with titles that concern history, or the finer points of acting. It’s a rather serious environment. 

Down below the shelves is a well made bed, a sensible night-stand, and a comfortable little reading nook tucked into the corner. Korin sits there now with his hands and feet spread. He looks like he’s bracing himself for surgery, and… Well, that is rather literal, isn’t it? He must have been bracing himself psychologically, and now finds himself stuck up against the back of his chair. 

“Hello,” he greets Ane, his voice tense. The back of his head is shoved tightly to the wall, mussing down his short hair, scrunching his neck. 

He has a wooden basin filled with steaming water set beside his reading nook. There’s also a pinned note from Jiselmo, with a scratched-in smile saying, “Enjoy your soak, just try not to croak!” It seems he’s a supportive but not-quite-so tactful friend.

Ane nods. 

“Hello, Korin. Now, tell me…” She sets the basket down cautiously atop Jiselmo’s… Curtain… Barrel. She’s never quite understood his decorating sensibilities. “Was Jiselmo cursed as well, and did he get anything from the trinket-seller?”

The tzuskar relaxes somewhat, lowering his wings — which were previously pinned to the wall. 

“Well, no… Jiselmo seems fine. Somehow, I think the curse bounced off of him and hit me,” he relates. “Cosmically, anyway.” He sighs, then continues, “The woman reached out with a gnarled hand and tried to… Well, bap him, I guess? With her palm. Right in the forehead. Jiselmo bent down to pick something up, and it hit me instead…” Korin’s posture wilts, and his wings promptly become droopy and somewhat dry and colorless. This only lasts for a second, fortunately, as their color and vivacity soon returns. “Anyway, there was a brief flash of li-”

Korin promptly stops talking, grabs the hem of his shirt, and lifts it up to reveal his stomach. As quickly as he did this, Korin immediately shoves his shirt back down. Just as his face begins to flush, he does so instead by grabbing a handful of water and tossing it at his cheeks.

“Oh, that one was a bit of a stretch,” he grumbles, bellyaching, which soon turns literal and has him clutching his stomach. “I guess it didn’t count as a reveal until I got to the interesting part…”

“But did he actually take or buy anything from her?” 

Ane begins setting up. First, she sets the brazier on the table in the middle of the divided wagon, before filling it with a block of charcoal, adding some tinder, and lighting it with her firesteel. She watches him as she works, studying the symptoms of the curse while measuring out a quantity of snowsage, some round, vaguely pearlescent drops of fragrant resin, and a few of drops of a viscous, pungently foul-smelling oil. Her nose wrinkles a bit from the stink as she works — unfortunately, not every type of herbcraft is intended to smell inviting. Hopefully this stuff is as effective as it is odiferous.

Korin shakes his head — not side to side, but rapidly in place, like a vibration.

“No, he just got all offended. Like, ‘How dare you strike my companion!? Look at him, he’s traumatized! Come along Korin, let’s buy our props elsewhere,’” Korin relates, in an almost perfect Jiselmo-voice. Or, that’s what he would have told Ane. About halfway through the impression, the tzuskar stops and begins pressing hard against a nearby surface, at least until a slight indentation is left behind.  

Ane sighs in relief. Good, at least they probably aren’t dealing with a cursed object.

“Alright, well… Enough talk. Strip down to whatever you’re comfortable with getting wet.” 

She heaps the sticky mixture of herbs, resin, and oil onto the burning coal, which immediately responds with a dark billow of deep, musky-scented smoke. While the oil may have smelled like an overfilled privy before, mixing and heating it seems to have released some sort of strongly woody, earthy scent — like moss and soil before a rain.

While that burns, she measures a few other herbs into a pouch of thin muslin. This, she does not burn. Instead, she tosses it into the wash basin to steep in the hot water, releasing little tendrils of tea-colored liquid.

“Sure, sure,” Korin agrees, then promptly begins scratching his nails at the wall, stripping off some of the paint. “Void damn- actually, you know what, I have an idea. Give me a second.”

He stands up, opens his mouth, and begins, “The curse is-”

He takes off his shirt, revealing his thin, soft torso.

“The lady’s name wa-”

He takes off his gloves, revealing his hands.

“She ca-”

He removes his boots, kicking them off the floor, revealing his black-socked feet.

“That’ll do,” he declares, now just wearing his trousers and socks. He sits back down, and resumes watching Ane’s concoction. Occasionally it almost elicits a reaction from him, but he forces his face to not contort, knit, or do any verbs in general. 

Once he seems to be satisfied with his state of undress, she nods.

“Alright. Stand in the basin. Then, what you need to do — without saying anything — is use your left hand to pour handfuls of water over yourself, until you’ve been completely soaked from top to tips, alright?” 

For now, she settles herself comfortably cross-legged on the floor, with a sheaf of cattail leaves and the little metal etui on her lap. The air of the wagon is growing smokier with the incense rising from the little katagon bowl, fumigating the space from the split table outward.

Korin nods, and seems to fight off a brief bout of drowsiness. Without saying a word, he gets up, and step-step-steps his way to the basin. Rather than enter it deliberately, he walks over it but stops when standing in the middle of the water. He then bends d-

Korin bends to the left, forming an arc with his body. This almost causes him to curse, but he forces his lips shut.

After that, he tries again. Korin kneels down, scoops up some water in his hands, and begins scooping water onto his body. It takes him some extra time, since he also needs to soak his wings. But soon, he’s completely wet, shining in the brazier’s light like a buttered biscuit fresh from the oven. His hair is limply wetted down, and his feathers are all matted with moisture. He shivers a little as he sits there, wordlessly looking at Ane as if to say, “Now what?”

In response, she holds up…

A tiny Korin.

Meanwhile, Larger Korin looks concerned. 

It’s really quite cleverly fashioned, really — made entirely out of a bundle of cattail leaves, with a few extra tied to the back and torn into fringes to indicate feathered wings. Ane stands, cattail doll in one hand, reaches over, and plucks a single feather from the shoulder of the tzuskar’s wing.

“Ow! My wings,” he complains.

“Now hold still while I do some things.”

Ane’s nimble fingers tie the feather around the doll’s neck with a bit of cotton thread. She holds it up, over the basin, and speaks, in clear, even tones,

“Let the doll be as the man — whatever curse has befallen him is sent into the water. From man to water, from water to doll, and from doll to dirt, never to bother another again.” 

She dips the doll into the wash basin, holding it by the tip of one cattail-leaf wing. As it dangles, dripping, between her fingers, she turns her hum back up to Korin.

Korin shivers, feeling chilly and rubbing his arms. It may not be the ritual itself, but just the thought of seeing a tiny “him” dunked in water.

“Alright… Take the basin outside, toward the shardlight. Turn your back to the shard, dump the water behind you, to your left, then come back inside without…” she holds up the index finger of her free hand, “… turning around or looking behind you, no matter what. Then, you need to let yourself air-dry completely before you dress, speak, or leave the wagon again. I,” here, she holds up the cattail doll, “Am going to go bury this. Nod if you understand.”

Korin nods off slightly at the end, but he does so with a look of resolve. That probably means he understands. 

She nods in return.

“Good. Once all that’s done… You should be back to normal after getting some sleep. It just needs a little time.”

Ane begins cleaning up — she tosses the coal into Korin and Jiselmo’s stove, and packs away all of her herbs and other accoutrements into her basket. Lastly, on top, she sets the rather forlorn-looking cattail doll.

While he’s disposing of the water, she seeks out some mud. Nothing said the doll had to be buried deep, just so long as it isn’t where others can get at it and disrupt her handiwork. 

Luckily for me, if there’s one thing Paakoponde’s got, it’s mud.

Kneeling by the edge of a marshy spot, beneath the drooping branches of a willow, she pulls a small, pearl-ended pin from her etui.

“As the curse was pinned to the man, so pin it now to this,” she whispers, as she thrusts the pin into the doll. It’s easy enough to scoop away some mud from around the willow’s roots, creating a small hollow just barge enough for the doll to fit — the ground is soft and sodden enough, the base of it begins to fill with water after only a few inches.

With an unceremonious plop, the Teller of Fortunes drops the doll into the little hollow. It really is a sad-looking thing, pierced with the pin, with its battered little cattail-leaf wings just barely jutting out of the muddy water, and thick spatters of mud across its flat, pale, expressionless-

Ane’s mouth goes dry. Her heart begins to pound in her chest, as a tight, hard knot forms at the base of her throat. She quickly scoops mud over the doll, fixing her hum on the gnarled bark of the willow to keep from having to see its accusatory look.

But how could it be accusatory? The Void-damned thing doesn’t even have an actual face.

Ane wipes her hands clean on the moss clumped greedily around the tree’s roots, and hastens her walk back to her cabin. She’s going to need another cup or two of tea and some time to breathe before anyone wants anything from her again. Few things in life have been as welcome as the sight of her wagon’s split door, with its bright, peeling paint and little carved wooden curlicues at the corners.

Once inside, she gives her hands a thorough scrubbing with the bucket of water beside her round-bellied stove. Even after cleaning every trace of mud from her neatly-trimmed nails, lathering her hands with soap, and rubbing them with a sachet of fragrant herbs, it still feels like there isn’t enough she can do to clean them. 

She lights her stove, roughly prodding a divot in the pile of coal with the fire iron. Into this, she casts a handful of dried mint and snowsage — enough for silvery smoke to rise from the stove’s mouth. Hastily, she strips off her clothing to kneel in front of the glow of the coals. Even though her vestigial remnant of vision can only barely perceive the faint light coming from it, she can feel the heat and the fragrant smoke, enveloping her skin.

In spite of the warmth, goosebumps dot her bared arms and legs. 

Ane inhales deeply and lets her head hang, chin to her chest. She can feel the stretch all along the space between her shoulder blades, where her heavy pack pressed, up along the slender column of her neck. It aches, but it’s the ache of falling onto one’s bed after a long day — a pain that heralds the opportunity to rest, if she can get the rest of herself to comply.

While the herbs smoke and the stove burns, she dips some water into her little copper kettle. Some geltsear leaf tea, a little healer’s honey, maybe a few leaves of sightwort, to rest her thoughts and open her mind’s eye… Between that, her robe, and a book, she might be able to relax until she is needed again.

Fortunately, no one comes knocking for the rest of the night. Korin’s curse was likely enough excitement for one evening anyway.

A cool breeze wafts against the outside of the wagon. Activity outside begins to lull as the troupe settles down to rest after a long day’s work. For Ane the night is soothing and calm, and she settles down to sleep after a day’s work well done.