|Nicoletta Ceccoli Tarot - The Devil, Five of Swords, Five of Cups|
The girls were young, but they were clever, and they knew how to sew, and how to garden, and they could read and they could write, so they lived quietly and comfortably in their cottage, sad for the loss of the mother they never really had and sad for the father they wished they had known, but taking comfort in each other. Celine, the mewling kitten who had grown into a soft and sweet young lady, was prone to fits of melancholy, which Celeste, the fiercer and more sturdy of the twins, was forever pulling her out of.
One year after their mothers' death Celine was in a particularly melancholy mood, feeling the waves of sadness wash over her as she made her way home from her position as a nanny to a rich family. Lost in her thoughts of her mother, her dreams of her father, and wishing she could be braver and stronger like her sister, she nearly stumbled into the man with the yellow eyes as he stepped from the dark doorway. Tobacco smoke curled from his lips as he smiled a smile that did not quite reach his yellow eyes. "Careful there," he said, as his hand gripped her elbow to hold her up. She smiled timidly and tried to take her arm away, but he only strengthened his grip. Not knowing what to do, Celine stood frozen. "Would you like to step inside? It's warm and it's comfortable, and I have exactly what you need." Celine nodded mutely, and the man with the yellow eyes wasted no time pulling her into his den.
As the twilight mellowed into evening and then true night, Celeste became frantic. Neither girl came home late as a rule, and she threw on her cloak and stepped out into the night air to walk the route she knew her sister must have taken. She strode through the dark with purpose, with her head held high, her eyes meeting those of the few people she encountered so that they would know she was not afraid. She walked all the way to the home of her sisters' employer, where she noted the dark windows, and she turned around to retrace her steps. When she reached the street where the man with the yellow eyes kept his den, she turned down it, even though both sisters usually avoided the place, finding the memory of their mothers' death too sad. She slowed as she approached the opium den, and stopped. She wouldn't go in there, she thought, and even as she made up her mind to continue on, the door swung open. A dead eyed man slunk out, stumbled briefly, and slumped against the side of the building. A pretty girl, too skinny and just as dead eyed, nearly fell out the door but an arm, hairy and rippling with muscles, reached out, further than seemed possible without revealing the body it would be attached to. Meaty fingers grasped at her collar, and she reversed her falling motion to return unceremoniously from whence she came. As the door swung closed again, Celeste caught the barest hint of a gleam of golden hair in the shadows, and she gasped. Without another thought, she steeled herself and marched through the doors of the opium den.
Sweet smoke mingled with the acrid odor of unwashed bodies and dimmed her vision. The room was dark, with bodies strewn across faded cushions. As her eyes adjusted, she moved further in, gingerly sidestepping piles of sick and perilously cast pipes. "Celine," she whispered through her teeth, but she was answered with more dead eyed stares. A grasping hand tangled itself in her billowing skirt, and as she yanked the fabric from between the ragged fingernails, she turned to see her sister, lank in the arms of the man with the yellow eyes, who had scooped her up and was turning down an even darker hall with her. "Stop," she cried, and the man with the yellow eyes turned to face her.
"Yes?" he asked, lazily arching his brow as he stroked the pale skin of her sisters exposed neck.
"You have my sister," Celeste stated calmly. "I see that she is unwell, so I will take her home with me. Thank you for caring for her but now it is time we leave"
"Oh, will you?" he asked, still bemused.
"I will," Celeste nodded as she started to move forward. With a single motion of his finger, two thugs appeared from the shadows. With an arm in each thugs firm embrace, Celeste glared at the man with the yellow eyes. "What is the meaning of this?" she demanded.
"This slut partook of my product but she did not have the coin to pay for it. So she will earn her comfort with her body." the man with the yellow eyes explained in a level voice.
"That is my sister and she is not a slut!" Celeste proclaimed.
"Well she will be when I am done with her. Please remove this creature," he said to the thugs. "She is too loud for our patrons comfort." To Celeste he said, "You are not as pretty as your sister. If you wish to pay her debt, you must do four times the work I expect from her this night. If you return I will take that as your consent to the bargain." The man with the yellow eyes continued down the hall. Celine moaned softly as he ungraciously bumped her head against the wall, but she did not wake.
Celeste drove her sharp heel into the shin of the thug to her left, and with an "Oof!" he let go of her arm. The thug to her right reacted swiftly, pulling her in, but Celeste was quicker, bringing her knee to squarely meet his crotch. He doubled over in pain, and the thug to her left grabbed her from behind. She used all her strength to shove her elbow into his gut, then into his nose as he bent over in pain. She felt the crunch of the nose break as blood gushed from his face. She grabbed a pipe from a prostrate patron, who only protested weakly in his stupor, and held the misting end up to the left side thugs nose. As he breathed in he relaxed, and as he drifted away into the opium dream, she did the same to the right side thug. When he was also soundly in his cups, she smashed the pipe against the floor, leaving herself a deadly sliver of the sharpest glass. She jumped to her feet and followed the man with the yellow eyes.
A flickering light under the doorway led her to her sister, who was laying prone on a filthy mattress, without even a tattered sheet or dirty blanket to cover her. The man with the yellow eyes had his back to the door, and so he did not see Celeste as she sprang upon him, sliver flashing in the candlelight. She struck at his face, but he turned away, and so she slashed a jagged line through it, where blood welled and began to spill like tears. The man's yellow eyes bulged, and he brought his fist back to hit Celeste. She rolled away, and his momentum caused him to stumble. She reached for his ankle, slashed wildly, and crippled him neatly with her makeshift dagger. He rolled over as she crept forward, and when she slid the silvered pipe between his ribs, he closed his yellow eyes, never to open them again.
"Celine, Celine, wake, please wake," Celeste cried as she shook her sister, but it was no use. Celine's chest rose and fell, barely perceptible, but she was lost to this world. Defeated at last, Celeste curled up next to her sister on the filthy mattress, wrapped her arms around her, and spoke her softly, "Celine, I love you, you are my sister, I love you. Please come back to me. You are all I have, and I need you."
The night wore on, and the sisters continued to breathe in tandem, Celine's breath shallow and soft, Celeste's ragged and tear filled. As morning broke and the dingy room began to grow light, Celine's eyelids began to flicker. They opened in confusion, and Celeste cried out, "Oh, sister! You are awake! Are you well? Let's go home, let's leave this place."
It took Celine but a moment to take in the horror of the room, the man with his closed yellow eyes in a dark pool of blood, the filthy bed, her torn clothes on the floor, and she screamed in horror. "Shh, shh, sweet sister, shh," Celeste tried to soothe her, but the girl was inconsolable. She tore at her hair and she tore at her skin and she sobbed.
"What have I done, I am ruined, I will have his baby, and he's not even alive anymore to claim it even if he would," she wept into her sisters' arms.
"No, Celine, no, he never touched you, he never did. I got here before he could do the evil deed, he never did touch you," Celeste assured her, but Celine was beyond her reach. "Let's go home, sister," Celeste pleaded. "Let's go home and you will rest and you will heal and it smells good there." Celine nodded her acquiescence, and Celeste jumped to gather her clothing. "These are torn, they will not do. I will grab something to cover you and I will be right back," Celeste promised, and she darted into the dark hallway. Cloaks of many colors and conditions lined the hall, remnants of opiate filled patrons who neither remembered nor cared that they had a cloak when they arrived, and she snatched the first one her fingers met. She turned back to the door and entered it with the cloak in her hand. Celine had fallen back asleep, which surprised Celeste given the vehemence of her tears only moments before and the horror of the man with the yellow eyes laying dead on the floor. Celeste rushed to her sisters side and shook her, crying, "Celine, Celine!" She was answered with a trickle of black bile leaking from her sisters mouth, and as Celeste pulled her upright, Celine's hand fell open, dropping a black mushroom with one dainty bite taken from it onto the dirty floor.
And so the man with the yellow eyes had his price, though he also paid a steep one, and so Celeste lost her one true love to sadness, to despair, to grief. Celine fell prey to the temptation of easy escape, and Celeste fought hard to save them both. Her best efforts were not enough to convince her sister to live, yet Celeste had a spine of steel and she went on to live a full and happy life. She slayed her sisters, and her own, demon, but she did not get to keep her sister. Celeste thought of Celine every day, and though she had tears in her eyes when she did, she also smiled, because even though it was unbearably sad, the love never left her at all.
These cards are from the Nicoletta Ceccoli Tarot, published by Lo Scarabeo.