Zellara sat at the table in her small house, her Harrow deck centered on the red tablecloth. The lantern light cloaked as much as it illuminated, leaving deep shadows to gather in the corners of the room, in the spaces behind furniture and under cupboards.
Fatigue made her eyelids heavy and blurred her thoughts. Zellara knew she should go into a Harrow reading well rested. She likewise knew that rest would not come. Ever since Eran died, sleep eluded her. The toll of daily living—waking, eating, breathing—exhausted her. Her work tracking down her son’s killer added to the burden.
She passed a hand over the deck. Today had been spent at the local guardhouse, presenting her case to an indifferent Korvosan captain. She laid out her evidence like it was a Harrow spread, setting each piece in its place to show the pattern. His eyes remained closed, and this latest defeat on top of a year of defeats wearied Zellara further.
She picked up the deck and shuffled. The cards felt strange, as if she were a novice again, training at her grandmother’s knee. She shuffled until she felt an energy awaken in her fingertips.
There were many spreads available to her. The Tapestry, showing the nuances and influences in past, present, and future. The Bridge, providing guidance and insight toward her chosen plan—if she had one. But her meeting today had been the last resort. All doors seemed closed to her now. All avenues exhausted.
The past would not help her. She needed to look to the future. To leap ahead into the unknown.
Zellara set the deck back on the red tablecloth and drew the first card.
She had learned long ago to respect the cards, not fear them. All the same, she recoiled at the image of the bound man hanging above a bubbling cauldron. The Waxworks. A card of great distress, of helplessness and torment.
Was the man in the image hanging helplessly? Did unseen hands lower him into the wax? Or was he on the verge of escape? Zellara instinctively found an interpretation.
At the most basic level, this card represented her life. She was the one in torment, suffering every day as she hunted her son’s killer. Every night when she closed her eyes, the last image she saw before sleep was the memory of her son’s severed head and hands. A message from his killer.
On a deeper level, the Waxworks encompassed all the humble streets under Gaedren Lamm’s influence. Zellara’s neighbors struggled to get through each day while the petty crime lord wreaked havoc. He stole, extorted, and slaughtered his way through the district, and none seemed able to stop him. The people were trapped, dangling over the boiling cauldron of Lamm’s evil.
“I know this,” Zellara whispered. She knew to be patient during a reading. The Waxworks could be necessary to properly interpret the rest of the cards.
She still hadn’t decided what spread she was using. It was dangerous to read a Harrow without a clear framework in mind, but caution had taken her as far as it could. She was leaving the shore, swimming into deep waters.
Zellara frowned. Water… there was something there. The hanging figure above the cauldron looked shadowed in the faint light, dusky of hair and skin as Eran had been. Was it wax he descended toward, or murky water?
Leaving the image of water to linger in her mind, she drew the next card.
The colorful image showed a man with the head of a crow, staring at a table covered in wealth. Two masked figures sat to either side. The Crows.
Another seemingly obvious card. The Crows signified murder and loss, especially of that which was loved. Zellara tried to stay patient, but a bubble of frustration rose within her. Why were the cards showing her what she already knew? Gaedren Lamm, the crime lord who used murder and theft to acquire his wealth. What was she missing?
She went back to the Waxworks. The victim, Eran, descending toward death. Wax—or water? The bubbles of boiling wax could be the froth on the waves. Water and crows. She’d seen flocks of black-winged scavengers clustering by the docks last week. A lead drew her to the water’s edge, a rumor that Lamm worked out of a shabby tavern catering to fisherfolk. Zellara’s inquiries turned up no sign of the crime lord.
As she stepped out of the tavern, she startled a flock of crows. They rose from a pile of fish guts and discarded bones, their rough cries cutting through the still morning air.
“Loss of something loved.” Zellara spoke the words aloud, trying to fit them into the pattern. The loss of her son, yes, but beyond that?
She’d discovered several of Lamm’s previous lairs during her investigation. Always too late. Destitute businesses or abandoned buildings where Lamm had run his operations and terrorized his crew of street urchins. Buildings that had once been the hope of their owners, locals who had poured all their money and hard work into their craft. Now sad and empty, the gold that should have filled their coffers instead spilling over Lamm’s table.
Water. The crows at the docks. A place that once held industry and hope, now full of broken dreams.
Zellara reached for the deck, but hesitated. She’d laid the first two cards side by side. Their faces showed Eran’s death in the past, her search for Lamm in the present. The pattern implied the next card would show the future.
The first rule of Harrowing was to always spread a branching path. To cast a single future card was not only foolish, it was dangerous. It left no recourse for turning aside or following a different current of fate. To lay a third card now would be to end the spread and commit herself to this path.
Perhaps that was the price the cards required. To avenge Eran, she would make any sacrifice.
Zellara turned the third card up. Her eyes widened.
A stout woman held a screaming devil-child by the leg. Her other hand pointed up, two fingers extended and bathed in a blue flame. Behind her, a transparent figure hid his face.
Zellara had not been expecting the Midwife.
A disturbing card, but also an optimistic one. The Midwife heralded arrivals and indicated the discovery of new information. The ghostly figure could be Eran, mourning his own fate—or a fate yet to come. Zellara herself was the midwife, channeling her discoveries into the world. But who was the child?
A new companion, perhaps. A stranger instrumental to her quest for vengeance. Possibly a literal child. Lamm was well known for using orphans and street children in his organization. “Lamm’s Lambs” the locals termed them.
Zellara had seen such a child not long ago. A starved, sickly-looking imp with a mop of dark hair that reminded her of Eran. The boy had offered dock-dumplings for sale, lumpy and smelling of fish and decay. Zellara had bought one out of charity and tossed it to a street cat on her way home.
She traced the image of the child on the card with one finger. Water. The docks. The crows feasting on fish guts. A dead business, a place of broken dreams. Lamm’s Lambs. A thin child selling dumplings made of old fish.
A thrill of excitement rippled through Zellara. The Harrowing had been a risk, but it had been worth it. She had what she needed.
She picked up the cards and returned them to the deck, hesitating only for a moment over the Midwife. New arrivals. She felt with a Harrower’s instinct that a stranger or strangers awaited in her future. Ones with an important role to play. She would remain alert for those who could offer aid.
Zellara wrapped the cards in her kapenia and put them away. She donned her cloak and took up her walking stick. It was a dark night, perfect for exploring the docks under cover of shadow.
The cards had guided her true. Now she took the final steps on her path to revenge.
About the Author
For over a decade, Amber Scott has worked as a freelance RPG writer. Her most recent Pathfinder titles include Pathfinder Adventure Path 132: The Six-Legend Soul, Pathfinder Adventure Path 115: Trail of the Hunted and Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Lands of Conflict. Her greatest writing joy is marrying traditional fantasy elements with modern game design elements. A lifelong Tarot hobbyist, Amber drew on her experience reading cards to develop "The Path." She lives in Vancouver, Canada and tries to never close off her futures.
About Curse of the Crimson Throne
Curse of the Crimson Throne is among the most popular Pathfinder Adventure Paths, having appeared in both the 3.5 and Pathfinder first edition rules sets, and has been adapted into a card game and an audio drama series. The softcover pocket edition of the Adventure Path is available now. In the Curse of the Crimson Throne Adventure Path, the heroes delve into the depth of urban adventure in order to stop riots, combat a plague, root out organized crime, and rescue political prisoners, all in an effort to depose Korvosa’s evil queen and free the city from her tyrannical reign.