Disclaimer: I own nothing that J.R.R. Tolkien wrote whatsoever. Only the characters that I myself have created (practically anyone that isn't familiar from Tolkien's published works) for this story are mine. A/N: 29/01/2009: I have corrected some typos and grammatical errors. I thank Elemental-Jedi-Elf for pointing them out for me.
Chapter 1: An Unexpected Visitor
Belhast arranged the cards on the table before him, looking closely at them in the faint light of candles and a flickering oil lamp. A nervous-looking girl sat opposite him, a servant judging from her clothes. She wrung her hands nervously and asked timidly:
"What do you see?"
Belhast looked at her briefly, before resuming his study of the cards. With a firm and rebuking voice he said:
"Do not be hasty. The cards must be studied carefully, or I may go wrong."
He mumbled to himself in nearly inaudible voice, making the girl still more nervous. Then he turned one card more and said, after looking at it:
"Thank the Valar, girl, for your greatest wish will come true. I see a young man, who does not yet know that he is in love. The cards tell me he is one who is near you. Look at the ace of hearts. See, it is between you and him. But also there are pentacles and staves. That means, my dear girl, that there still is something separating you. Ah, I have it! For there is the card of silence, and another of fear!"
The girl seemed to be crestfallen, when Belhast looked up to her. He smiled, however, and dealt another row of cards. He looked briefly at them and said:
"Have hope, girl! The cards do not lie, and now they show me that the obstacles will be overcome. There will be courage, and with it the silence will be broken. And love will spring forth."
The girl leaned forward, asking eagerly:
"Tell me, Master Belhast, who will break the silence?"
Belhast looked at the cards.
"It will be you, for your fears shall be dissolved in very near future. See, how the three sword cards are grouped, the nine indicating resolution, five courage and ten success."
The girl clasped her hands together, her pretty face beaming with delight.
"Oh, I am so happy! Thank you, Master Belhast, for revealing this to me!"
She got up and almost danced when she went towards the door. She was stopped, however, by a loud cough from Belhast. Blushing, she returned to the table and drew a purse from her belt.
"Ah, of course, of course! I nearly forgot in my joy."
She counted five copper coins in the outstretched palm of the fortune-teller and went out. Belhast looked at the coins, feeling pleased. He put them into his pocket and rose from his seat, yawning widely. It was very late in evening and his day had been long, with all kinds of customers running in and out. He sighed to himself:
"And I thought this would be easy when I started this."
Usually it was easy enough, as in the last case. Every word and look of the girl had told Belhast "I am in love". He had developed a good sense of other peoples' feelings in the past five years he had been in his present occupation, having left a world of petty crime and burgling. Most probably the girl loved a handsome man-servant or coachman in her house but dared not to speak to him. Belhast had had many customers of this sort. If somebody had directly advised them to show their feelings openly they would have been terrified or started to invent excuses. But when the cards were spread before them... Well, the predictions made themselves come true. Belhast was sure that the serving-maid who had just left would speak to the man she loved the next week at latest. As she had seemed to be a comely and attractive girl, a positive result was probable. And Belhast's reputation would grow a little.
Wearily he took off his wide deep blue cloak, adorned all over with crude silvery stars. He hung it in a cupboard, grimacing at it. He hated the garment, because it offended his good taste. But it was good to have, since it seemed to give him a mysterious air in the eyes of his mostly unlearned and lowly customers. He wondered again why a fortune-teller or magician had to be dressed like a fool to be believed, but dismissed the idea as something that could not be helped.
He prepared some tea and sat before the table again, shuffling the pack of cards. He knew well all the tricks of his trade and most of his predictions were very "tailored", but he still more than half believed that the cards could show the future in earnest. There had been some curious incidents, when the cards could not be interpreted but in one way, which had seemed highly improbable and which he couldn't have been invented from his own head. Yet the customers who had had these predictions had later come back and told him that the cards had spoken true. But on the other hand Belhast had had a few resounding failures also. Still, he had respect for the unseen powers that were supposed to speak through the cards and at least once a week he tried to predict his own future with them.
With his left hand he divided the pack in three parts on the table, then collected the small packs into one in reverse order. He was now ready and took the knight of the hearts, his symbol card, apart. then he dealt three rows of six cards below it. The pack was not ordinary playing cards, but besides the usual cards had twenty-two picture cards that belonged to none of the four suits. They were held to be the most fateful and to convey the most meaningful predictions. Belhast was worried because of that: for some months he had had the same two picture cards every time he tried to glimpse into the future. The top rows implying his fate over the next few weeks always changed, as they should, but the bottom line was always the same: nine of staves for a change, ten of the swords for success and ten of staves for money. There was also the queen of the hearts, implying a woman. That was actually very clear and encouraging, but the two picture cards troubled him: The Wheel of Fortune and the Fool. He had always cursed that the meanings of the picture cards were not as precise as those of the ordinary ones. The only thing he could make out of this combination was that perhaps he would be succesful in some venture, maybe encountering a blonde woman. But the picture cards... Perhaps he would lose the wealth he would gain through his own stupidity. Or he would not see something obvious, thereby having to go through much trouble.
He looked at the cards, waiting to see the usual combination. He started when he saw that the card of change was now in the top row, alongside those of a surprise, a journey and trouble. The last two cards were the knight of the swords and the king of the pentacles. Belhast mused:
"So, trouble and a journey... through a dark old man and a brownhaired younger man. Could that be, that Finrosc...?"
His thoughts were interrupted, however, by a quiet sound coming from his bedchamber. He stood abruptly up, taking a poker in his hand. Living in the shadiest streets of the second level of Minas Anor he knew that the threat of burglars was always present. Gripping the poker he carefully approached the door to his chamber, his heart beating so loudly that he fancied the burglars must hear it.
He slammed the door open, holding the poker aloft and shouting:
"All right, you villains! Get out from my house and I don't have to break any heads!"
Seeing nobody, he stopped short and lowered his weapon. For a moment he wondered if he had imagined the sound, but then the door behind him was shut and an amused voice said:
"Well, brother, I expected a warmer welcome. But I am glad to see you nonetheless."
Belhast turned to see the smiling face of his foster-brother Finrosc.