Jack led the hand with the Ten of Coins; and the sorceress smiled indulgently, shaking her braided head.
"Not your suit, my lad," she chided him, in her curious deep voice like smoke and brandy.
You could get drunk on that voice if you listened too well; Jack began to wonder if a breath of fresh air wouldn't do him good. The room they sat in was scented thick with decaying spices and enchantments and full of restless shadows, and the row of tiny avian skulls on the shelf watched him narrowly with empty sockets. They might have been sparrows, once; he tried to ignore the cold sweat crawling down his neck. "And why not? Stands for gold, doesn't it?"
"A treacherous thing, and a weight in your hold," and she trumped him with Destiny's Wheel. The next two tricks were hers; but Jack's Knight of Wands took her Ten.
"What say you to that?" he crowed.
She laid a finger on the card; and for a moment it seemed to take on a new aspect, of a dark-featured, fine-boned young man with a cocky grin, whose crest displayed a little bird volant. Then Jack blinked, and the illusion faded.
"Daring," she murmured. "We shall see if you are wise."
He took the trick up warily, but the picture did not change again. Four more tricks went to him, and three to her. The shadows fidgeted on the walls and gathered close round them, leaning down from the ceiling where herbs and unnamed things hung desiccating; the sorceress led the last with a slow predator's smile, and the World.
He had one card left. The shadows whispered around them, excitedly. The sorceress's eyes burned bright, triumphant.
"Well-played, my fledgling," she said. "But you see you are mine after all, for nothing trumps the World."
The shadows drew around him, poised to spring; he felt the waiting cage. But he lifted his gaze—it took some effort—and looked directly at her.
"Game's not over, love," Jack said quietly; and then he did what he did best.
He played the Fool.
She said, frowning, "But the Fool always loses. The trick is mine."
"Aye," said Jack, rising. "But I think you'll find the points add up in my favor."
She gasped, and turned his cards face up, then her own. After a moment, she looked up in disbelief.
"No, dear lady." Jack reached out, plucked the compass from the table. "I'm surprised at you," he added. "All that cunning, and you never learned to count cards. Twas well-played, however, as you say." He bowed to her, politely. "And now I'll be off, I think. Ta."
Tia Dalma stared after him, noting how his peculiar swaying gait grew more pronounced when he swaggered. When he was gone, she picked up the Knight of Wands, considered it.
"'Til next time, knaveling," she said, softly, to the young man in the picture. There was a ship in the background now, a graceful vessel black as the knight's eyes. Idly, her fingers drifted over the other cards, touching the Devil, with his fierce eyes and tentacled beard, the Three of Swords, the King of Cups, the Hanged Man.
"Should I have told him?" she asked of the shadows; they grumbled in response. "No, perhaps you are right. He would not have listened. Not with his heart's desire at hand..."
She sighed, and put the cards away; and when she turned up the last of them and found it to be Death, she shivered only slightly as she slid it in among the rest.