Stage Eight

The Hermit
Stage Nine

The Wheel
Stage Ten

Stage Eleven

The Hanged Man
Stage Twelve

Stage Thirteen

Stage Fourteen
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The chariot moved speedily away from the castle across a landscape the Fool recognised from past journeys. Feeling almost unable to control either the speed or direction of travel, he marvelled as landmarks flew by and day-long journeys were compressed into hours. By mid-afternoon the chariot entered what was, to the Fool, virgin territory.

As the new world unfurled, there emerged within this Fool a new sense of bravado born of excitement. He cracked his whip loudly and urged the horses on. The wayward dark horse however, had his own ideas and slowed down at a crossroads beside which stood a ramshackle tavern bearing the sign, 'The Last Watering Hole'. Entirely unable to persuade the horses to move on, the Fool decided to let them graze and drink from a nearby trough while he ventured inside for refreshment.

Inside, the Fool was greeted by the customers as if he were a long lost friend. Since this was completely new territory to him he was somewhat astounded but happy to partake of the drinks and victuals that were thrust upon him. News of the approaching chariot drawn by winged horses had been heralded several hours earlier by a young worker who had spotted the speeding ensemble from his post aloft the town steeple.

The Fool rose to the occasion and passed a happy hour telling all who would listen about his mission. Each rendition more graphic than the last.

His new companions praised his courage in attempting the voyage to the notorious Tower, and advised him to be sure to take the left hand path from the crossroads, so he left in fine spirits without hearing the laughter that echoed around the tavern as soon as the door closed behind him.

Pausing only to note with grim satisfaction that the designated path was marked by a sign bearing a skull and crossbones, the Fool rapidly mounted his chariot and cracked his whip. The horses, now they had rested and fed, responded readily to the reins, and soon the chariot was bouncing away from the crossroads along the chosen path.

The going soon became difficult for the way was not smooth and the wooded land on either side closed in until the path narrowed to a mere track. It was fortunate that their speed had reduced to a walking pace for, on rounding a bend, they were met by the disturbing sight of a large and most imposing Lion lying slap bang in the middle of the road.

Although this creature was far larger than anything he had ever encountered in the past, our hero quickly decided the best way ahead was to charge onward. Despite his encouragement the horses thought otherwise and after several hesitant steps stopped dead, causing their master's head to smack sharply onto the rail in front.

Undaunted, the Fool climbed cautiously from his seat to survey the situation from ground level. Once he realised that the ground was, in fact, quite steady and that it was his legs which were responsible for the peculiar sensation of standing amidst an earthquake, his fear that the lion would attack him gradually gave way to the suspicion that it would not move at all. Instead, this animal regarded the Fool in a supremely self satisfied way as if blocking the Emperor's highway were the very point and purpose of life.

After several minutes of mutual inspection, it became obvious to the Fool that the situation called for drastic measures. Gathering several largish pebbles, he returned to the safety of the chariot, took careful aim and, simultaneously shutting his eyes, threw his smallest stone, which landed some distance in front of the animal. Nothing happened.

Gathering courage, the Fool threw a second pebble, which landed on the front paw of the mighty beast. Still, nothing happened. A third pebble landed on its head, but the lion did not even blink. In fact none of this pebble communication appeared to make any impression on the animal, which continued to observe the proceedings through inscrutable, half-open eyes.

The Fool now began to think the Lion was immovable and descended once again from his Chariot, this time to push, pummel and even kick the creature. All to no avail.

As he stood despondently, his frustration growing as large as the lion, a young woman emerged from behind the bushes. She had seen the whole sequence of events and now walked slowly up to the Lion, patted its head and opened its mouth with her bare hands. The creature clawed the ground in delight and uttered a resonating Purrrr.... which startled the nervous horses, who began to retreat even further back down the track.

This new development rapidly raised the Fool's spirits. At last, here was someone who seemed able to communicate with the intransigent beast. He coughed loudly and said, "Excuse me Ma'am, but I travel in the name of his Royal Majesty the Emperor. I am in search of the dark Tower which lies to the north of this land. Will you please move this lion out of my way, so that I may continue my journey?"

The girl looked at the Fool with the same calm, inscrutable expression effected by the lion, then shook her head.

"It is of the utmost importance that I pursue this path," continued the Fool, with mounting irritation. But still the strange, silent girl took no notice of his pleas and even when the Fool threatened her with curses and promises of Imperial punishment, it was as if he had not spoken. She merely raised one hand as if to bar his way.

Meanwhile, Tenebrous had been nervously eyeing the lion, who was emitting a low growl which seemed to grow steadily in intensity. Suddenly, without so much as a stamp or a whinny of warning but with all the might of his considerable strength, the dark horse ripped the reins from the Fool's hands and turned the whole contraption through one hundred and eighty degrees, dragging the startled but ever compliant white horse with him.

Once headed back, the tearaway pair raced down the narrow path at least three times faster than they had travelled up it. The Chariot rattled along behind, the reins trailing in the dust, while the Fool chased after them.

It was a good half hour before they all came to a halt, back at the crossroads. Exhausted, the Fool clambered inside the chariot to catch his breath. From his seat he could see the signpost, bearing its skull and crossbones, pointing up the road they had just left. Had he been able to read what was inscribed beneath, he would have understood this path led not to the Tower but petered out amidst treacherous quicksands, and thus was barred to travellers. But as he could not read, he remained unenlightened about the significance of his adventure along this path with its strange Keeper, and noticed only that his horses had taken it into their heads to set off once again along a different path, this time leading up the side of a mountain. The Fool decided it was time to put his foot down.

"Whoa, boys!", he cried, with the greatest authority he could muster, but the chariot lurched forward as the horses pulled with renewed vigour up the steep mountain path.

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Copyright © 2000 by Jenny and Chris Gilders,
Tarot cards by Rider-Waite, U.S.Games, Inc.