From the author: Why would the Foreseen One, who knows her destiny better than anyone, keep going to fortune tellers?
The tea was bitter and burned the roof of her mouth, but Aurelia finished it with a practiced ease. She swirled the cup three times, flipped it onto a plate, and let three heartbeats pass before lifting it back up. Finally, she passed the cup over to the fortune teller.
The woman gazed at the teacup with youthful brown eyes, a contrast against her gray hair and wrinkles. The dim lighting and incense smoke made it hard to see so Aurelia doubted many people noticed that the fortune teller was wearing a wig and her wrinkles were drawn on. Did she disguise herself because people trusted wise old witches more? Maybe the woman just wanted to separate her work life with her personal life. If only living a new life was as easy as taking off a wig.
The two were alone in her tiny store, but Aurelia imagined she could hear Valeria’s footsteps as she paced outside. Valeria had always been impatient, but she had said she would wait.
The fortune teller's wrinkle-free fingers caressed the cup's ceramic lid as she inspected the remaining tea leaves. When she abruptly stopped moving and let out a sharp gasp Aurelia knew the reading was done. Aurelia put a gold coin on the table. Five times what the woman had asked for.
“I’ve never seen this before." The fortune teller's fear and awe were apparent despite the disguise. “You will be the main figure in an upcoming battle! The battle for our very souls! May the Gods protect us all!”
“Thank you for your time," Aurelia replied.
“You are the Foreseen One. You alone will save us all or we will be doomed.”
Aurelia left the shop and started to walk away. Valeria following after her, looking both annoyed and relieved that the reading was over.
“That was another waste of time and money," Valeria said. "You need to stop requesting readings. It’s a sick game.”
“You have to admit, it’s a little funny.”
“It’s not. You scare them and then leave. Even known frauds give a true reading when it comes to your destiny.”
When Aurelia's future was foretold back when she was ten-years-old, the priests, swordmasters, witches, wizards, spear masters, trackers, and everyone else who had taken an interest in the girl, had all agreed she was the Foreseen One. She had been trained by the best masters and told to stay on the move, to never let herself get tied down. Maybe that would make sense if she knew what or who she would be fighting, but details were lacking. All that they agreed on was that only she could save everyone. Her alone.
“Want to go get a beer?" Aurelia asked. "I’ll pay."
“You’re just changing the subject."
“You can think of it as apology beer and I’ll think of it as normal beer. That way we’ll both be happy.”
They entered an alehouse and Valeria flagged down a barmaid and ordered.
Aurelia studied the lines around Valeria's mouth. Were they deepening because of age or because she was frowning more? They had been traveling together since they trained under the same swordmaster six years ago, but Valeria was bound to leave her at some point. The prophecy never mentioned the Foreseen One's Friend.
The beers arrived as a young man in a black robe entered the bar and sat down at a corner table. He put a deck of fortune cards in front of him, waiting for people who would want to know if they would be lucky in dice that night.
Valeria looked over to see what Aurelia was looking at. “No. Not here. You’ll cause a scene.”
Aurelia left and sat down across from the fortune teller without saying a word.
The fortune teller looked even younger close up, with a patchy beard that didn't hide his pimples.
“Have you come to have your fortune read?” the boy asked.
“Yes,” Aurelia answered.
"Would you like your entire future or this night only?” the boy asked as he passed the deck of cards to Aurelia who began to shuffle.
“The entire." She placed the cards face down.
The boy dealt the cards face up on the table. All of the usual cards appeared: Dragon, Death, The Child, and every major God. With 79 cards in the deck, Aurelia got all the important ones. Another obviously dire reading.
The boy tapped the Dragon card.
“Do you see this card? This means you’ll have a big trial ahead. Judging from how it’s next to the Death card, most would believe it's dangerous. But, since it's upside down it will be just a normal ordeal, maybe something to do with work.”
The boy tapped The Child card. "Responsibly. Maybe a marriage. And the next card shows prosperity.”
He went through each card explaining away every terrible meaning giving Aurelia a normal life.
Aurelia began to laugh until she started to sob.
“What’s wrong?” The boy asked.
"No. No, everything's perfect." Aurelia put her head down on the table. The wood had been smoothed away with years of use and it felt cool against her forehead. When her eyes were dry she stood up and put every coin she had left in her money pouch on the table.
There was a hitch in Aurelia's voice as she said, "Thank you."
Aurelia walked back to Valeria as the boy scrambled to put the money away before anyone saw it.
The two friends left the bar together with Aurelia walking slightly apart. As always.
This story originally appeared in Sword and Sorceress 31.