Chapter 8: Ardas
The next morning, Saturday, they woke with the sun, heads pounding, and Mulder slapped the curtains shut to quiet the noise in his head.
Scully whispered, “No more alcohol.”
He chuckled, then winced, and answered, “Ever.”
They lay there until breathing was no longer too loud to tolerate.
Showering together was no longer a challenge at all, aside from the solid half hour it took for them to sort out the mess of tangles her hair had become in the wind and the bed. The routine of wash, check patch (still flat, looked fine), check beard (no more mascara, the four days of growth prior to the trip had added in with the full 6 days they’d been traveling to create the beginnings of a respectable beard, but he still had to shave a bit,) was now set, but Mulder had to wave the box of tinted contacts at her to remind her that she’d taken them out the night before. She cringed, realizing that it was unlikely her eyes would get much of a break from them for the foreseeable future.
“Has it really only been six days?” She looked bemused.
He laughed. “If you realize that most sports events hinge on hundredths of a second, six days is like forever.”
She rolled her eyes. “Yes, dear.”
He cocked his head, smiled, realizing that she’d really been in character since she’d gotten out of bed, and that it felt... normal.
They packed the non-perishable remains of the fruit basket, and took the perishables down to the front desk for the staff, who were more than glad to trade them for enough cookies to feed an army, from the continental buffet. Checking out was bittersweet, the farther south they went, the more risk they would face, the less likely they could get away with the kind of free conversation they’d allowed themselves to indulge in.
When they asked for routes to I-5, they were given the option of going north a little to take less traveled roads, a route which would take them to what the clerk described as “A little slice of heaven in the woods”, or south along the coast to take the more staid route from Florence to Eugene. Since they really only needed to be in Ashland by about 5 pm, there was no reason not to take the longer, more scenic route.
The clerk strongly encouraged them to call to see if Cucina Biazzi in Ashland had a reservation open, and amused at the string of recommendations, they made the reservation.
Getting to the tiny little town of Alsea was not hard. But when they stopped at a tiny old gas station to ask directions, the gruff old guy behind the counter started out with, “Well, first you go down to Marge’s place and turn left.” A bit daunted, they bought a map, and found themselves bouncing over a gravel road before they pulled out onto a one lane road of new asphalt, no markings, no signs.
Scully looked bemused and said, “I guess if you don’t know where it is, you don’t get to see it...” as Mulder pointed to an almost hidden turnoff, and they found themselves parking in the shade of huge Douglas fir trees. A little path led away from the area-devoid-of-trees that passed for a parking lot, and with more than one memory of Bad Things that happened in forests, they walked the short distance to what the first sign they’d seen in miles proclaimed to be the Alsea Falls state park.
“Oh my...” Scully said, looking at the rippling water. “That is... wow.”
A wide creek came pitching down a series of terrace-like rock levels, cascading down through green trees and moss covered rocks, beyond picturesque.
She fumbled in her purse for the little disposable camera they’d gotten for the aquarium, and snapped the last three shots on the roll.
Mulder had taken off his shoes and socks and was dipping a toe in the rushing water. She almost asked him not to, but the icy water made it unnecessary. She crouched down on the flat rocks and touched the water with a finger... felt like snow melt.
They stayed for about half an hour. As they were starting to head back to the car, Mulder said,
“That’s what we need to save, isn’t it?”
She smiled a little, but it didn’t reach her eyes. “Yeah.”
The unmarked road eventually joined with another small road, and after a while that joined a marked road, which joined Highway 99 at a tiny little town called Monroe. The forest gave way to farmland, which seemed to merge almost seamlessly with a slightly larger town, and then they found themselves in the ordinary industrial blah that made up the western half of Eugene. 99 turned into Seventh, and Mulder decided to pull off to get gas and inquire about local food options.
Scully reminded him, as he started to get out to pump the gas, “Can’t do that here... let them.”
He shrugged and stepped out anyway to talk to the attendant.
Fifteen bucks worth of gas and a couple of burritos later, they headed south again on I-5.
I-5 south of Eugene had a distinctly different feel compared to the relentless monotony of the northern part of the road. It curved through second growth Douglas fir forests, up and down hills, almost always allowing a full highway speed, but far less hypnosis inducing in the cool March drizzle. They passed towns with funny names like Curtain, Drain and Yoncalla. Scully looked at the map, and chuckled when she spotted a tiny little dot well removed from I-5, called “Remote.”
An hour or so south of Eugene, the sun broke through the clouds in streamers as they entered the Umpqua valley and the towns of Sutherlin, Winchester and Roseburg. Most of the towns they passed were one or two exits, but Roseburg stretched out surprisingly far for a town of only 20,000 or so. A large sign advertised a drive through wildlife preserve with a huge picture of a cheetah, and they passed a few farms before the road again worked its way through second growth forests.
Grants Pass. Medford, then at about 4 in the afternoon, signs appeared for Ashland, and they made their way past quaint architecture to Siskyou Boulevard and a surprisingly modern hotel with a ridiculously Elizabethan sign proclaiming it the Stratford Inn.
The difference in price at the March rates between the best suite and a standard room was surprisingly slight, so without a qualm, they’d reserved the spa suite the day before. After five years of mediocre hotels, it was an almost guilty pleasure to play the “comfortable” Harrods, treating themselves. Almost guilty, but a definite pleasure.
The suite was not lush, but comfortable, and quite spacious. They brought in a bare minimum of luggage for the single night stay, dressed a notch more casual than they had the night before, and headed back out to see the small town.
The weather was surprisingly warm, they’d grown almost accustomed in six days to the Pacific Northwest’s many and monotonous varieties of rain, and the relief of actual blue skies at five in the afternoon was a welcome change. Daffodils and violets were in riotous bloom in the little patches of earth between the sidewalk and the road as they wandered west up the road towards the main section of downtown. A surprising number of people were out and about, and a man dressed in a top hat and tails played a violin on a street corner, his instrument case open in front of him. Tiny little curio shops and bookstores intermingled with street cafés staffed by young people with facial piercings, and he took her hand as they strolled up a few blocks.
A little shop selling tarot cards, candles and crystals drew Mulder in, where a young woman offered to read their future in a deck of cards that looked like someone had clipped massive numbers of magazine pictures and thrown them at a wall. Harp music played in the background, with a soprano singing a Sikh prayer softly over a Celtic harp.
Scully completely surprised Mulder by laughing, “Sure,” she said, “why not?”
The young woman smiled and shuffled the deck, as she said, “Now, I know most people think this stuff is foolish, but I find that it is something of a meditation. I don’t expect it to tell me the future, although it has been right about questions I didn’t even know I should be asking. I don’t charge for readings, mostly I’m here to sell books and decks, and people are more likely to buy after they’ve seen a reading. By the way, I’m Marni.”
She stopped shuffling and handed the deck to Scully, saying, “Go ahead and shuffle that, even if you just toss the cards together a bit, I know that deck is big. Think about your question, but you don’t have to tell me what it is. When you feel ‘done’, cut the deck and hand it back to me.”
Scully took the deck and gave it a few halfhearted shuffles, then cut it and handed it back. The woman smiled.
“I usually use a modified Celtic Cross layout, and I’ll give you a sheet that explains it. I don’t go exactly from the book that comes with these cards, they’re pretty self evident and the book is... a bit woo woo. The deck is solid though.” She flipped up the first card.
Scully looked up at Mulder and mouthed, “Woo woo?”
“Interesting. Fortune. Opportunities taken and used wisely to good outcome. That’s the present, the here-and-now.”
She turned up another card, and lay it down crossing the other card. “This next one is blocking: The hanged man, waiting, surrender. Represents a need to “wait out the trouble”, and in this position, indicates that the need to wait it out is the major challenge to grabbing the opportunities presented. Two major arcana here indicate that much of what is in the here and now simply cannot, or will not be changed, it is out of our control. The more of these major arcana we see, the stronger the reading.”
“The next card,” she explained, “is the root, underlying the entire question. And we have the man of crystals, the scientist, the master of technology, a revolutionary through innovation.” This card went below the two crossed cards.
She continued, laying a card to the left of the crossed cards. “In the recent past, the two of cups, equilibrium. Note the card shows water in balance, the cup full but not overflowing. Cups are about emotions, and equilibrium is finding balance, and in this case, a very recent balancing of emotions.” Scully blushed, and Mulder suppressed a snort.
“In the sky, the environment of our question, we have the Regenerator, the Sage of cups. This represents an active healer, turning death and decay into a garden, bringing the capacity for new life and new love through wisdom and and joy. This is about a person who brings back the capacity to love and experience happiness, and the position indicates someone with influence over the entire situation.” The two looked at each other. Mulder said, “Gwynne,” and Scully just shrugged as Marni dropped the card in the position over the two crossed cards.
Marni continued laying out cards and talking, ignoring them as she set the next card to the right. “In the immediate future, we see another card from the major arcana, Devil’s play. In other decks, this has a fairly negative meaning, but in this one, it simply speaks of a need for caution in contracts, bargains and commitments in the near future. The usual concept people talk about is, ‘Be careful what you wish for.’ This does not indicate a negative outcome, simply treacherous waters that must be navigated carefully.”
“The next card position is interesting, in that it generally shows a strength and weakness at the same time, no matter what you draw there, though of course the specific card may make that seem more of one than the other.” She set the card down to the right of the entire spread. “In this case, the seven of cups, titled here, ‘Fear.’ This card indicates paranoia, fear, hiding, and can indicate a heightened sense of watchfulness and alert. You have to be careful not to drown in your fear, but ignoring it won’t make you safer.”
She placed a card above that one. “The next position indicates outside influences, those we have no control over. I see we’ve pulled the Death card, another major arcana, which takes it even farther out of our control. Remember that in Tarot, the Death card almost never refers to actual physical death, but is, instead, a card that indicates constant change, impermanence, and the cycle of life of which death is a part. This card in this position may mean that an actual death is strongly affecting the course of your actions, but it is a death outside the range of the question you’ve asked, not one that you can change or have any hope of influencing now. It may be a death that has catalyzed change, but you will know better than I do what might be influencing your question in this way.” They looked at each other. *Too much death, a small child dying in pain...*
Another card above that one. “Next up, hopes and fears. Oh, wow, that’s a big one. Another arcana, Time-space, more commonly known as Judgment. You are wanting karma, but are afraid of it at the same time. You want justice, but often when we judge others, we ourselves are judged. This is the card of consequences, and you want them, but they are not small, or tame, and you aren’t quite sure what you will do with them when you get them.” That got a laugh from Scully.
One more card above the last one. “And the last card, the outcome. Synthesis. A coming together and harmonious merging of creativity and reason, to create something more than either could create alone. This represents putting the pieces together in a creative way to create or solve something. That’s definitely a card that needs subtleties,” she said, laying another four cards out off to the right.
“I see the master and the achiever, the sage and man of worlds. Worlds are practical cards, real world, down to earth and these talk about productive mastery. Which ties in well with the Synthesis we see in the outcome. Plus the tower—cataclysmic change, and the seeker, child of crystals, a young eager mind, child of technology or logic. Beneath that, the priestess and the emperor are tied together by courage, and next to them is another child, the feeler, the child of cups, a child of feeling and emotion. Older decks and other layouts would see actual children in those cards, but we usually see them as concepts.” She laughed. “Actually, once I pulled the protector in the outcome with the child of cups and the child of crystals in the subtleties, in a reading for my sister, and a week later she found out she was pregnant, and a month later found out it was twins. But usually those are concepts, not actual children.”
When they looked at her, puzzled, she lay one more card down, face down, then sorted through until she found a specific card. The Woman of Worlds, on which the dominant image was a naked pregnant woman. “Her other reading that day involved a different deck in which the Mother card is represented by a woman giving birth on the back of an elephant, but anyway, your cards are pointing to a lot of positive change, but with caution and fear prominent.
She flipped up the last card, set it apart from everything she’d done before. “One more, we call it the “within the within the within”, it is the core issue driving the whole question, and this card is the fool child. In this deck, the fetus and the doll, wide eyed innocence and a leap of faith, falling off a cliff and landing unharmed in a pile of riches. In some decks this is a negative card, but not at all in this particular one.” The card had the usual mishmash of images, but the most dominant one was that of a fetus floating in an amniotic sac.
“I see a lot of cards about working together, blazing, productive accomplishment and an insane amount of power. The emperor and the priestess...” She shook her head. “That’s like the irresistible force and the immovable object, a man of earthly power and a woman of spiritual power and a whole lot of changes, changes they are driving but changes that are also driving them.”
She brought out a photocopy of rectangles arranged as the cards were arranged, and scribbled the layout down, stacked the cards together and dropped them into a little velvet bag. “That’s the Voyager Tarot.” She handed Scully the sheet of paper. “We have that and 20 other versions of the tarot, but I think Voyager is easier for beginners. And it doesn’t seem as grumpy as some of the other decks I’ve tried. Some of them get downright pissy if you ask too many questions at once.”
Scully’s brow wrinkled as she frowned thoughtfully. “I’ll take one.” She said the words slowly, and seemed almost puzzled that they were coming out of her mouth.
Mulder stared at her as if she’d grown an extra head. “Sally?” he asked, perplexed.
She looked back, “Shut up, Martin.” She paid for the deck.
It was 5:45, so they wandered back the three blocks to the restaurant.
It looked almost nondescript from the front, and the inside looked like a casual café, but the menu was decidedly formal, and they followed the waiter out to the patio. Night was coming quickly, and the patio was sheltered by a vast grape arbor studded with tiny white lights and gnarling old vines sporting little green sprouts of new growth. A large heater made the patio surprisingly comfortable in the rapidly cooling evening. There were no prices next to the menu items, and the meal was listed in courses. For the next hour and a half, the waiter brought small portions of food even better than the meal they’d had the night before. It was when the cheese ravioli in a lobster cream sauce showed up that Mulder knew for certain that they’d chosen the right restaurant. Scully tasted it and actually groaned with pleasure.
Between every course, sprigs of rosemary, and they realized the sprigs were plucked from the hedge sized rosemary bushes that provided a privacy screen around the entire patio. They were going to refuse the wine, but the waiter brought it anyway, and they sipped it sparingly through the meal, something local and very, very good.
At 7:30, replete and utterly relaxed, they wandered up a few blocks to the Oregon Shakespearean festival. Most places that Mulder had been might have a festival that lasted a few weeks, or a month, but apparently Ashland’s idea of a festival was year round. Scully shivered in the night air, he draped his coat across her shoulders, and they went in to see the play.
It was an interesting production, the costumers had chosen an eclectic blend of modern suits and fairy garb, with a few renaissance clothes thrown in for good measure, but the production was engaging and they enjoyed it very much.
It was late when they got back to the hotel room, but they took the time to draw a bath and soak together side by side.
“A tarot deck?” he asked.
“You must admit it was a bit spooky, Martin.” She smiled up at him. “Besides, it felt... hopeful. And who knows, maybe when this is all over, I’ll wrap a scarf around my head and become Clyde.”
He laughed at the thought.
Not long after, they climbed naked into another king sized bed. He lay on his back, she slid in and put her head on his shoulder. He leaned down and kissed her gently, once, and they fell asleep.
They didn’t wake up until the morning.
~Continue to Chapter 9