When Rossa reached her grandmother’s house the shadows had straightened to a point. The old building rested at the end of the white path, between two tall trees that were different from the grey pines that made up most of the forest. The one on the right had been blackened by a thunderbolt years before, but it still stood proud.
The woodsman had taught her they were beeches. They reached up tall and straight and thicker than any pine. They did not have needles, but wide leaves. Those that had already fallen to the ground crackled like fire beneath her boots as she walked to the door.
“Grandmother?” She knocked on the thick wood panel. “It’s me! I have come for your weekly basket!”
From inside came the noise of old feet shuffling on the floor and a wizened voice cursed in some forgotten language, followed by a crash.
Rossa winced. Whatever was going on, it was not pretty. Maybe old age was finally reaching up to grandma.
The door creaked open just a sliver. Rossa grinned at the single pale eye looking back to her.
“Is it Friday already? Come on in, girl! And I hope you did keep silent on the road.”
Rossa swiftly jumped in, disappearing completely past the entrance, basket and red mantle and everything.
Her grandma pushed the door shut at once, while Rossa set the basket on the closest table, making sure not to cover the documents grandma had been spilling ink on all day, and she pulled down her hood to grin at her.
“Everything was fine! I also met the woodsman, we shared a few words and he wanted to extend his greetings to you.” She mocked a curtsy, waving her mantle about. With my respects, to the most beautiful dame in the woods,” she muttered, monkeying the woodsman’s gravelly voice.
“Ah, I see he hasn’t lost his charms… but does sound like something you would say instead. I don’t remember him having such a way with words, my child.” She glanced at the basket, nodding. “Your mother still thinks it’s three people living here. Bah. Next time tell her to wrap up less salami and more ink!”
“Ink is more expensive, that’s all,” Rossa pointed out.
“Nowadays, at the very least.” She grinned, starting to fill her larder with the basket’s contents. Rossa helped her. By now she knew perfectly well where everything was supposed to go.
“Do you have anything else to give me?” Rossa asked as she rubbed her hands to clean them from crumbles. “I have already finished the books you gave me last time.”
“And where are they?” She pointed at the basket. “Or did you think they were a present?”
“I just want to double-check on my notes,” Rossa blushed a bit at her grandma’s insinuation, but it would be nice if she could just ignore the fact and gift her more books. She bet her whole house was made out of books, after all!
She wouldn’t even feel the difference if she gifted her one more tome.
“Bring me back those I gave you, and I will consider it.” She turned to walk on her unstable legs to the hearth, where she fixed the bubbling cauldron and the glowing embers.
Rossa pouted, as she always did whenever she did not immediately get her way. With her moth did work!
But grandma seemed made of different stuff.
“Don’t give me that look. Taking care of what is entrusted to you is just as important.” A pause, as she stirred whatever mixture was bubbling in the cauldron. “Still, I suppose letting you take a quick peek will not hurt.”
She produced a heavy set of iron keys from her belt and used them to open the door that gave to the basement. A wave of dusty air rolled up from the depths, but Rossa could only grin.
Her grandma picked up a lantern from the side of the wall, leading her on moaning steps down to the core of her house, to a wide room covered in shelves and strange items made from metal and glass that Rossa could only gawk at. Her heart picked up pace at the thought of where they came from.
She had asked her many times to tell her what they were and what their history was, but grandma had always refused to tell.
The answer was always the same.
“Those…” Rossa tried, only for her grandma to turn towards her, half her face lighted up by the lantern, a stern mask of wrinkles and beady eyes carved out of the darkness.
“Those do not concern you.”
“But grandma! I’m a grown woman by now…”
“And as such you should think about different things,” she replied, making the squeaky lantern rattle in her grip. “Life passes like a ruffle of feathers, child! You should focus on the here and now, and let what’s dead sleep.”
“You surely did not do so.” Rossa blushed at her retort. She winced at her own words as soon as they left her mouth, expecting her grandma to slap her right there at the edge of the footsteps.
The old woman’s face turned pensive. Her eyes reached for a hidden spot in the floor and when they came back anger was gone, replaced with a spiderweb of sadness that Rossa could not really place.
“And look what I have to show for it,” she murmured, her words lingering in the air like the first snow of winter, and just as cold. She raised her lantern, brightening the room and showing the dusty shelves, musty corners and the ancient machinery that had all but been left to rot. “Not much, hm? I want you to do better, child.”
Rossa lowered her gaze. She felt like saying something else, but her words had grown hooks and got stuck inside her throat.
Grandma walked between the shelves, picking up a couple books.
“These are next on your reading list.” One of them was a book about sewing and the other displayed a variety of plants. “There will be a day when you’ll find them useful. When you are ready.”
Not exactly the kind of big mystery she wanted to unearth.
“I understand,” she conceded.
“No, you don’t,” the old woman chuckled. She put them back. “But one day you will.” She reached for her cheek and let her criss-crossed palm rest against her skin. Rossa reached up to cup it.
“I will bring you back your books next time.”
“That’s a good girl. Maybe you can still make some progress after all. Your mother is too coarse for all this.” She took the steps again. “But that’s enough dark basements for today. Now, I seem to remember you liked your soup salty! And thanks to your mother’s provisions, we have enough salt to turn the Bittersea into broth!”
Author’s Notes: this chapter (and the related Major Arcana) was not exactly easy to work with. Still, I hope I got it right. Thanks for reading!”