“Sian! I’m home!”
Aren listened as he opened the door and stepped inside, but the house was unusually silent. There were no answering cries, no sound of children playing and squabbling, or Sian’s laughter or scolding. His voice echoed in the quiet as he looked around. Everything was in its place and he saw no sign of them having left in a hurry, yet it was rare for everyone to be out all at once.
“Sian? Kerith? Briam? Finn? Where are you?” He went to the room he shared with Briam and Finn, some of Sian’s other foster-children. Even that was tidy, which was a strange thing in itself. It rarely looked this neat except when Sian had just cleaned it. He moved to the room his sister Kerith shared with Oriel, the latest addition to their family of orphans, but again it was empty. The rag-doll Sian had made for Kerith lay on the floor between the girls’ beds, and Aren picked it up, idly fiddling with its woolen hair as he wondered where they might all be. Glancing out through the window, he noticed the laundry drying on th e lines. A strong wind was blowing now, moving grey clouds quickly across the sky.
“I’d better get the laundry in before it starts raining,” he grumbled to himself. Sian would scold him if he left it out to get wet. With a sigh, he dropped the doll on Kerith’s bed and hurried down the stairs and outside to gather in the laundry.
“Aren! Aren! Come and see!”
Aren turned, arms laden with clean laundry, to see his sister Kerith, brown curls bobbing as she skipped towards him. Her blue eyes were wide as she tugged on his arm, her voice high-pitched, almost squealing in her excitement. “Aren! Go and put that laundry down and come and see!”
“All right! All right!” he laughed. Why were seven-year-old girls so excitable? He dropped the clothes into the basket he’d taken out with him, then picked up the whole load and took it into the house, with Kerith tagging along, urging him to hurry. Once the laundry was safely deposited on the table, he took Kerith’s hand and let her lead him outside, shaking his head and chuckling at her breathless excitement.
She led him out the back door, across the yard and out into the street. In the distance, coming up the road, were Sian, Briam and Finn pulling a wagon, with Oriel pushing from behind. The wagon appeared heavy, because they were moving slowly, as if it was taking them all their time and effort just to move it.
“Come *on* Aren! Come and see!” Kerith jumped up and down and tugged on Aren’s hand. “Come on, hurry up!”
“What has you so excited, little sister?” Aren looked at her. Her mouth curved in a little smile and she shook her head and touched her nose as she skipped alongside her brother, deliberately jumping in all the puddles. “Just wait ’til Sian tells you what we got and what we’ll be doing.”
“Now I’m curious! What did Sian bring this time?” Aren asked, noting the smugness of her smile with a grin. So, his little sister had something to tease him with for a change.
“I’m not telling you that we got big baskets!” Kerith giggled.
“All right then don’t tell me, but what are the baskets for?” Aren smirked, he knew how to make his sister tell him everything, and sure enough, it worked.
“We’ll put flingers in them and then sell them at the festival!”
“Flingers?” Aren wasn’t quite sure he’d heard right, but then he remembered. “Oh yeah, flingers! That should be fun! Do you remember what to do with flingers?”
“What do you do with flingers?” Kerith looked at him as though she wasn’t quite sure what a flinger was.
“You pick one up, throw it as hard as you can on a rock,” Aren told her. “When it breaks open you let a fortune teller read your fortune, and then you cook it and eat it. So, we’re going to collect some and then sell them at the festival? Who’s doing the fortune telling?”
“How did you know we’re going to sell flingers?” Kerith cried, her eyes wide as though she couldn’t believe her brother already knew all about it.
“You just told me, sis,” Aren laughed, ruffling her hair. “You never could keep a secret around me!” Kerith looked at him, her eyes suddenly huge and her lip trembling as though she was going to cry. Aren quickly comforted her. “I won’t tell Sian you told me. It’ll still be a surprise.” He smiled at her, and her smile returned. He chuckled to himself as he hugged her, amused by the way her tears were so easily forgotten. “Race you to Sian!” he grinned. “One, two, three, go!” Aren watched his sister run ahead and then followed her quickly, taking care to stay just behind her so she “won” the race.
“Hi Sian,” he said as he approached. “It looks like you could use some help. What’s under the cover?”
“Oh, I’m so glad you’re here, Aren. This thing is such a weight! Here, take this and I’ll go round back and push with Oriel and Kerith.” Sian brushed a stray lock of her long hair back from her eyes as she handed Aren the rope. “I’ll tell you all about it when we’re at the house. That is if Kerith hasn’t already spilled the beans.”
“I didn’t spill any beans, Sian! I didn’t even go near them!” Kerith stood in front of Sian, hands on her hips, her eyes indignant. Aren and Sian laughed out loud.
“What’s so funny?” Finn asked.
“Nothing Finn,” replied Sian, “You and Briam keep pulling the wagon. With Aren’s help we’ll be home shortly and I’ll warm some stew.”
When they were all sitting round the table, enjoying stew and warm bread, Aren again asked Sian about the contents of the cart, now safely stowed in the outhouse.
“We hauled the biggest kettle you ever saw, Aren!” Briam interrupted excitedly.
“Straight,” Oriel chimed in, “Not even Jahlena has one that huge!”
“Where’d you get it?” Aren asked curiously.
“Rebecca, the midwife, let us borrow it,” Oriel answered quickly.
“And we get to go down to the beach t’morrow, real early, and catch flingers for the festival!” Finn added through a mouthful of bread.
“You’ll help me catch the most flingers, won’t you Aren?” Kerith pulled her brother’s shirt, “Won’t you? Won’t you?”
“I didn’t think this was a competition, Kerith,” Sian said. “We’ll all work together.”
“Won’t you tell me what’s going on?” Aren looked at Sian, his eyebrow arched quizzically. “I’d really like to know what I’ve been volunteered for.”
Sian laughed, “No one volunteered you for anything, and I can understand if you have to help out at the inn that day. The big festival with the blessing of the fleet is in less than a sennight and the children and I decided that we could catch flingers for the festival and sell them. Rebecca agreed to read people’s fortune, but she’s too old to go catching flingers and doesn’t want to cook them afterwards either.”
“We’re going to get up real early in the morning and go to the beach to catch flingers. Are you coming too Aren?” Briam looked at his friend.
“Sure he’s coming!” answered Kerith before Aren could say a word.
“He’ll help *me*!”
Aren laughed, “Sounds like I don’t have a choice.”
“Straight!” answered Kerith.
“Well then, you four eat up and go to bed!” Sian looked at Briam, Finn, Kerith and Oriel. The four younger children finished their stew and went to bed, for once without having to be told a second time.
“I almost forgot,” began Aren and pulled out his little purse. “I got paid today.” He placed four Bits on the table.
“Keep them, Aren. You’ve been such a help those past months, and even fifteen-year-old young men need a little money to spend now and then.” Sian got up and collected the dishes. A big yawn escaped her. “I’d better go to bed as well. The rain should bring the flingers to the shore. With some luck we’ll find enough tomorrow.”
“I’ll come with you. I don’t have to be at the inn until lunchtime.”
“Will you see to the fireplace and make sure it’s ready for the morning?” Sian asked him, yawning as she stood and walked towards the foot of the stairs. “I’m rather tired.”
“I’ll do that, Sian. Good night.” Aren turned to the fireplace, took shovel, and started clearing the ashes.
“Good night, Aren,” Sian, called, already halfway to her room.
A heavy thudding on the door had Rebecca awake with a groan. “Cease your banging!” she grumbled as the thudding sounded again. “I’ll be out in a moment!” She sat up, pulling her shawl around her to keep out the chilly night air as she fumbled for her tinderbox to light the lamp that stood on her dresser.
“Rebecca!” a young voice shouted. “Hurry!”
She opened the door, facing an anxious boy. “What?”
“It’s mother!” he interrupted, hopping from one foot to the other, “Baby’s coming! Hurry!” He reached for her hand, trying to pull her with him.
“I need my bag,” Rebecca muttered and turned around to get it.
“No!” the boy yelled. “We need to go now!”
“Not without my bag!” she snapped at the boy, silencing him momentarily. Rebecca slipped into her shoes, tied them, pulled her shawl close and then reached for her bag, tossing it to the boy. “You can carry it. Now lead the way!”
The boy clutched the bag to his chest and hurried down the path. Every now and then he stopped to see if Rebecca was still following him. As they approached the house, they could hear the screams of a woman.
“That’s my mother,” the boy cried and pulled Rebecca’s arm. “Hurry, please. Help her!”
Rebecca stopped at the door and placed her hand on his shoulder. “I will help her. You have brothers and sisters?”
“Yes,” he nodded. “A brother and two sisters.”
“Take your siblings and bring them to your neighbor. Stay there!”
“Straight,” he answered, swallowing his tears, and opened the door.
Screaming greeted Rebecca as she entered the room. A woman covered with blankets lay on a mound of hay. Her husband stood next to her looking helpless. In the far corner were three children cuddled together, looking frightened. Rebecca now recognized the couple; she had delivered all their children. Not wasting a moment, she stepped to the bedside and silenced the screaming woman with a firm yet controlled slap to her face.
“Save your strength for later, you need it to bring your baby into the world!” Rebecca commanded the woman, then turned to the husband.
“Sengar, I need some hot water and a clean blanket, and get Morgana some water to drink.” Without a word Sengar did as he was asked. Rebecca cleaned her hands then turned to Morgana who was breathing heavily. Rebecca lifted the blanket and all color drained from her face. There was a tiny foot sticking out. “Not good, not good,” she muttered to herself.
“What is it? Rebecca?” Morgana called out, “Tell me what’s wrong! I can feel something’s not right!”
Sengar, who had been standing behind Rebecca, answered his wife. “There’s a foot sticking out.”
“The baby’s backwards, I have to pull it out,” Rebecca said after a moment of thinking, “It’s not going to be easy. Babies aren’t supposed to come feet first.”
“Can’t you turn it?” Sengar asked
“Too late to turn,” Rebecca answered, “I would have been able to do that before her water broke.” She reached into her bag, pulled out a root, and handed it to Sengar. “I need you to sit behind Morgana, support her head, and hold the root so she can bite into it.” While Sengar took his place, Rebecca removed the blanket and instructed Morgana to pull her legs up.
“I want you to push with all your might when the next pain comes,” Rebecca told Morgana. The woman nodded briefly, biting on the root. Rebecca placed her hand on the woman’s swollen belly. She felt it tightening.
“Now! Push!” While Morgana pushed, Rebecca pulled on the baby’s leg. The whole leg became visible and soon the second leg dropped out.
“Stop pushing!” Rebecca instructed Morgana while she felt her way along the baby’s body to its shoulders. Carefully, she pulled each arm downward and gently aligned the baby’s arms with its body then told Morgana to push again. Rebecca pulled on the baby’s body, but it wouldn’t move any further. Pearls of sweat started forming on her forehead. Impatiently, she wiped them away.
“Push! Morgana, push with all the strength you’ve got!” Rebecca commanded, pulling on the baby’s body, yet she made no progress.
“Why isn’t my baby coming out?” Morgana asked, breathing heavily.
Rebecca looked directly at her, “The head is stuck. I …” She interrupted herself when she noticed the worried look on their faces and then finished confidently. “I’ll get him out.” When she felt the tightening of Morgana’s stomach again, Rebecca pulled, but to no avail. She slid her hand alongside the baby’s body and felt for his jaw. Hooking her fingers into the baby’s mouth, she forced the head down.
Morgana screamed, then her face went ashen and she fell silent. Her limbs flopped to the side.
“Pull her legs back, Sengar!” Rebecca commanded. “The baby’s almost out.” While Sengar did as he was told, Rebecca pulled one last time and the baby was free of his mother. She lifted the little one by his feet and tried to make him cry yet he remained still. Rebecca shivered. She took a cloth and began rubbing the baby’s back, drying him. She yelled at the baby, “Breathe!” but nothing happened.
“Leave him be, Rebecca,” Sengar said quietly after several menes. “He wasn’t supposed to stay with us.”
Rebecca looked at Sengar and nodded. She cut the cord, wrapped the lifeless baby into a piece of cloth, and handed him to his father. He pulled his son close for a moment, a single tear in his eye, then placed him in a box by the fire.
“The afterbirth is coming,” Rebecca said, turning her attention back to Morgana. Gently pulling on the cord, she eased the purple mass out and placed it in a bowl. A stream of blood followed, which soon slowed to a trickle. Rebecca looked into the puddle of blood and felt the color drain from her face. For a moment she saw a man’s face. The face changed into a flinger and then vanished. Swallowing hard, she finished her work. Rebecca looked into Morgana’s face and noticed her color had returned. She was sleeping now, breathing normally.
After cleaning herself, Rebecca reached into her bag and pulled out some herbs. She ground them into a fine powder and gave them to Sengar.
“When your wife wakes, make her a strong tea with this. It will dry up her milk. Let her see the baby if she wants to. Send your boy if you need further help.”
“Thank you,” Sengar replied and reached for a small bag attached to his belt. Rebecca shook her head.
“Keep it,” she said, “You’ll need it for the Rattler.” Grabbing her bag, Rebecca left the house and made her way home, shaking her head and muttering to herself, “‘Tis not good, not good at all.”
On the day of the festival, Sian woke the children early. They would have to make several trips to get all the baskets to the docks, even with Aren’s help. May had given him the day off work and he was looking forward to the festivities, and to helping Sian sell the flingers. They’d gone out every day to collect flingers from the beach, until all the baskets Sian had brought were full of the reddish-hued animals. He was also proud that they’d managed to keep them all alive by covering the baskets in water-soaked cloths — something one of the old fishermen down by the docks had told him about. The morning was unusually cool for the month, and fog engulfed the docks and those parts of town closest to the docks. Despite wearing a warm cloak and pulling the heavy wagon, Aren shivered in the chill morning air.
“I’m cold!” complained Kerith to no one in particular.
“We all are,” Aren told her. “Once we have the fire going for the kettle you’ll warm up quickly.”
The group reached the site at the docks Rebecca had mentioned to Sian when they’d bargained. It was a good place to attract customers: everyone attending the festival had to pass by them and Rebecca had always had her tent there. People would remember it simply because it had always been there.
Quickly, the children unloaded the wagon. Aren, Briam, and Finn made their way back to pick up the remaining baskets of flingers while Sian, Oriel, and Kerith built the fire. When the boys returned, the fireplace was set and extra firewood was stacked within reach. After unloading the baskets the boys took buckets to haul water for the kettle. No sooner did they return when the first people came walking down the street. Aren noted that the women wore gaily colored dresses, far different from the everyday drab browns and greys they would normally wear around the city. The men too were dressed in their best, with brightly colored tunics over their breeches. Children ran, skipped or walked alongside, eyes bright as their clothing with excitement for the coming festivities. Aren smiled to himself as Kerith started jumping from one foot to the other in anticipation.
“Where is Rebecca?” Aren asked, ruffling Kerith’s hair. “Her tent is all set up, but it’s still closed.”
“Why don’t you run up to her place and see if she needs help, Aren,” Sian suggested.
Aren hesitated for a moment. As the oldest of the boys, almost a man as Sian kept saying, he felt it his duty to stay and take care of the others. On the other hand, he didn’t think it would be a good idea to send any of the others on such an errand. Finn would get sidetracked, Briam would get impatient and the girls were too young to send off on their own.
“All right Sian, I won’t be long,” he replied eventually, taking one last look to make sure everything was as it should be before turning in the direction of Rebecca’s house.
Rebecca sat at the table, drinking tea and staring into the hearth. Flames danced on the logs and sparks swirled in the smoke like fireflies. In the midst of the flames she saw the face which had appeared in the vision the previous night. It had haunted her dreams, making her fitful and restless, and yet it was no one she knew. All she did know was that the face, appearing as it did at such a bad time, was not a good omen. She was getting too old for all this, she decided with a sigh. Too old and tired to be troubled by visions and what they meant. It was time she retired … and yet, what would she do? Midwifery was all she’d known. Could she ignore the knock in the middle of the night? Refuse to assist in a birthing? Rebecca shook her head. She could no more do that than stop the visions from bothering her. They’d troubled her for as long as she could remember, even as a child. Sometimes they were good things, but most often they foretold of tra gedy.
Rebecca shook herself and pulled her shawl about her shoulders as she rose to clear her mug and mend the fire. It would be time to go soon. She would have to shake this mood and get ready for the fortune telling at the festival. Fortune telling was easy; she just told them what they wanted to hear. No visions involved there, just a gift of being able to read a face and know by the eyes what their hopes were. It wasn’t real. Not like the visions. The visions came unasked for, and more often than not were unwanted. Worse still, there was nothing she could do to alter the outcome. Useless things!
She placed another log on the fire, damping down the flames a little with the remains of her tea so that it would burn slowly and keep the house aired while she was gone. As she did so, a knock sounded at the door. Time to go, she mused with a heavy sigh. All at once a shiver ran up her spine, raising the soft hairs on the back of her neck and making her shudder. A sense of panic overwhelmed her and she suddenly didn’t want to go. The knock sounded again and she froze, biting her lip.
“Foolish old woman!” she told herself angrily, trying to shift the feeling of dread that had chilled her, bone-deep. It was all she could do to move, to force herself to answer the door, but she crossed the room, slowly, feeling for all the world as though she was walking through cloying mud. “Get a hold of yourself Rebecca,” she muttered, shaking her head to try and rid herself of the dark thoughts. “It’ll happen whether you’re there or not, so just get on with it.” When she finally opened the door she found Aren waiting there, smiling nervously.
“Sian sent me to help you,” he said, and she nodded, not trusting her voice. She picked up her bag from the table and handed it to him, closing the door behind her as she stepped out into the street. She didn’t speak the whole of the way to the harbor, but listening to Aren’s cheerful whistling as he walked alongside helped her to focus on something other than the vision. By the time they reached her tent the sense of panic and dread had passed, and she felt able to deal with whatever the day would bring.
“It’s good to see you, Rebecca,” Sian greeted her warmly, the younger woman’s light grey eyes smiling with relief.
“Good to see you, too, Sian,” she replied, and she meant it. Sian was always so pleasant, and the way she cared for those children she took in impressed Rebecca. “Thank you for sending the boy to help me with my bag. A very polite young man.” She turned to Aren “Thank you lad.”
Aren bowed. “You’re welcome, Rebecca.”
“It’s good to see a boy with manners. Would you please help me to my tent? I can take care of the rest myself then and you can send the first people with their flinger to me.”
“I wanna be first! Me first!” Kerith jumped excitedly from one foot to the other. “Please, can I be first?”
Rebecca turned around and looked at the little girl, smiling. It was nice to see such untainted excitement: blue eyes so big and wide in wonder at anything and everything. She had been that way herself once, many, many years ago, before the accursed visions had come and put an end to innocence and wonder.
“Come on then little one, bring your flinger,” Rebecca said, turning to walk into her tent, leaving an excited Kerith to pick her flinger. Once inside, Rebecca let her smile slip, rubbing her eyes wearily. Sounds of excitement from outside and the sound of a flinger being hurled against the rock had a false smile on her face in an instant. It wouldn’t do to let the children see her this way … and hopefully, the vision she had seen would not come to pass today.
“Sit down child,” Rebecca instructed, as Kerith hurried into the tent, holding the broken flinger out eagerly. Rebecca took it and placed it on the table between them, giving Kerith her most mysterious look. “Now, pretty one, let’s see what the future holds for you.”
She studied the flinger, the position of its legs, the crack in the shell, and told Kerith she would grow up to be a beautiful woman, have many children of her own, and live a happy life. Of course, the answer wasn’t really in the flinger; it was in the child’s face. Rebecca merely had a knack for reading eyes and faces, and knowing what they wanted to hear. The fortune-telling using flingers was merely a way of earning money, a show for the visitors, her real gift was in the visions, and was a gift she’d never wanted.
Kerith smiled when she heard Rebecca’s forecast and thanked her, picking up her flinger to rush outside, calling out excitedly to Sian and the others about the fortune Rebecca had told for her. Then came Briam, a nice enough lad, but a trifle lazy, Rebecca thought as she studied his face — a far more important action than studying the flinger. She told him what she saw in his eyes. He would be a guard, just as he wanted, as long as he worked hard. His face fell a little as she made the statement, and she smiled to herself. He’d wanted to be a guard, but not liked the part about working hard, she sensed.
Oriel entered the tent as Briam left. Rebecca looked at her, remembering the fire that had killed the girl’s mother. She studied her eyes, then looked down at the flinger in front of her with a smile. This youngster could be anything she wanted, judging by the willpower Rebecca had seen in her eyes. She told Oriel that she would do very well for herself, in whatever she chose to do. Oriel thanked her and left, smiling. Next into the tent was Finn, and Rebecca suppressed a chuckle. The carrot-headed youngster was so full of life and mischief it shone from his hazel eyes as she read his face, despite his obviously trying to be calm and nonchalant. This one would get himself into scrape after scrape as he was growing up, although there was a lo t of good in the boy, deep within, and he would make a fine man. She told him he would have a life of adventure and his eyes lit up like beacons as he jumped up and hugged her.
“Oh get away with you, scamp!” she laughed as he kissed her cheek and ran out of the tent. Rebecca shook her head, chuckling to herself. Perhaps today wasn’t going to be such a bad day after all.
Aren slowly approached the kettle, looking pensive. He hadn’t been in to have his future foretold, but wasn’t sure if he shouldn’t turn around and ask Rebecca to read his flinger. He decided to go with his first decision, threw his flinger in the kettle, and watched it turn red. While he waited for it to cook, he took a look around. Finn was drawing little lines in the dirt, his permanent grin even wider than usual. Kerith, Oriel and Briam, were busy talking to the people walking down Division Street, telling them about their flingers, and inviting them to have their fortunes read for a Bit. Soon the first customers lined up outside Rebecca’s tent. The d ay was chilly. A brisk wind moved white and grey clouds across the sky. Every now and then the sun broke through and showed the docks and the brightly decorated ships of the fleet. Whenever a few customers were waiting to have their fortunes read, the children took a break and stood around the kettle to warm their hands.
“Sian, how much longer do we have to sell flingers?” inquired Kerith.
“‘Til we’ve sold them all, Kerith,” replied Sian. “We only have one more basket; that shouldn’t take too much longer.”
“And then we can go and look at all the ships?” asked Briam.
“Yes, then you can go. Aren will take you. Now go and find some more people, there’s only one person waiting right now.” Dutifully, Oriel, Briam and Kerith went back to work. Aren followed, wanting to do his share of getting customers for Rebecca. He watched as Kerith approached an old man who was walking slowly down the road.
“Good day, sir,” Aren heard her greeting the man. “Would you be interested in buying a flinger? I have lots and Rebecca the midwife will read your fortune. And then you can come over and cook it in the big kettle Sian has set up. They taste really good.” Kerith held up the flinger for the man to see.
“Don’t want my fortune read, girl,” replied the man and continued on walking.
Kerith was persistent. “They’re only a Bit, and if you don’t want your fortune read you can always cook it; they taste ever so good.” The man stopped and looked at Kerith. “What’s your name, girl?”
“You don’t give up Kerith, do you?”
Kerith smiled. “It’s fun to have Rebecca tell you about your future. She told me earlier. And the flingers taste good. What’s your name?”
“I’m Drew Molag. What did Rebecca tell you about your future?”
“She said that I’ll be beautiful when I grow up.” Kerith straightened herself. “And for only a Bit she’ll tell you about your future.” She held up the flinger.
Drew Molag let out a short laugh. “All right, I’ll buy your flinger. Where is Rebecca’s tent?” He handed Kerith a Bit and took the flinger from her.
Aren looked proudly at Kerith while she pointed to Rebecca’s tent. No one was waiting now. He watched as Drew slowly walked towards the tent, then turned to his sister.
“Well done Kerith!” he praised her and ran his fingers lightly through her hair. Kerith beamed at him, then skipped to the baskets, picked up another flinger, and approached a woman.
Rebecca stood up and reached for her basket as her latest customer left the tent. She pulled a water flask out and took a sip. She was about to step out of her tent when she noticed a man approaching. For a moment she thought she had seen him before, but couldn’t remember.
“Crack your flinger on the stone next to the tent and then enter,” she called out and went back to her chair. She listened for the cracking noise, nodding when she heard it. The flap opened and an old man stepped inside. He placed the flinger on the table and seated himself before Rebecca could ask him, and introduced himself as Drew Molag. Rebecca nodded, reaching for the flinger.
Carefully, Rebecca examined the flinger, her finger tracing the small cracks on the outer shell. She closed her eyes halfway, and was about to raise her head to look into his eyes, to see what his hopes were, when the face of a woman appeared before her. Rebecca gasped, clutching the flinger tightly as the face changed into the face of a girl, then a young woman, and again into a girl. Each face was different, but all had three crossing lines on their forehead. Through the years, and her visions, Rebecca had come to recognize those lines as a sign of death. Then the face changed again. This time it was the face of a man and Rebecca recognized it immediately. She had seen it before! She had seen it when Morgana’s baby was born. It belonged to the man sitting in front of her! The face in her vision was surrounded by blood, a faint death sign on the forehead.
Rebecca paled. Grateful for the dim light in her tent, which wouldn’t betray her shock over the revelation, she steadied herself. What was she going to do? She couldn’t tell him the truth. How could she tell someone that they were going to die? And yet, how could she not tell him. Perhaps if she forewarned him it might not come to pass. Rebecca’s heart sank like a stone in her chest. She had tried to change the outcome of her visions before, but with no success. Why should this time be any different? The man coughed, bringing her out of her thoughts.
“I can see you’ve been through a great deal of pain,” she began, carefully wording her response, “It all seems to come to an end, but it is not very clear. I see you lost sisters and daughters …”
“Don’t dwell on the past,” interrupted Drew, “I’m more interested in what is going to happen. Will it end? I’m on a quest to end the suffering of my family. Will I be successful?”
Rebecca turned the flinger in her hands and moved her fingers over the cracks. A brief shudder rippled through her body as she fought the urge to blurt out what she’d seen. It would do no good. “Your suffering will end soon,” was all she could say.
“Tell me more about it,” demanded Drew, as though he noticed Rebecca’s hesitancy. “Go on woman.”
“There isn’t anything to add,” replied Rebecca quietly, “That’s all I can say.”
“You’re lying!” shouted Drew, “You saw something and you won’t tell me what it is. I know you did!” He jumped up knocking the chair down.
Rebecca also rose, facing him calmly, although inside she was trembling. “I don’t have anything to add,” she said. “Please leave.” She picked up the flinger and held it for Drew to take.
Drew took the flinger and threw it out of the tent. “Tell me what you saw,” he demanded one more time. When Rebecca refused to add anything to her prediction he knocked the table over. “What did you see?” he yelled, grabbed her by her shoulders, and shook her.
Aren was on his way to bring Rebecca some food when he heard yelling inside her tent. He rushed to the entrance and was hit by a flinger coming from within. It hit him squarely in the chest and for a moment he stood there unsure what to do. Inside the tent the yelling started again. Aren looked around, noticed a young man nearby, and recognized him as Tom Madden, their neighbor’s son.
“Tom!” Aren called out and gestured the man to come near when he had his attention. “Hurry!” Tom walked towards Aren with long strides.
“What …” Tom began, but was interrupted by yelling from inside the tent. He nodded towards Aren and stepped inside the tent. Aren followed.
“Do you need any help, Rebecca?” Aren’s eyes swept the tent, and he grew alarmed as he noticed the overturned table and chair. “Hey mister! Leave her be and go. If Rebecca has nothing to add, then there is nothing to add.”
“What do you know, boy?” Drew retorted angrily and turned his head for a moment to look at Aren without letting go of Rebecca’s shoulders. “She’s withholding the truth from me, I know it!” Without missing a breath he turned back to Rebecca and in a low voice repeated: “Tell me what you saw! Tell me!”
“There is nothing else to say. Let go of me and leave. Now!” Rebecca tried to shake herself from Drew’s grip, but without success. “Tom, help me, please.” Rebecca had recognized the young man who’d stepped into her tent with Aren.
“Let her go!” Tom moved closer and reached for Drew’s arm. Drew swung his arm backwards and managed to push Tom backwards, but only momentarily. Angry as he was, he shook Rebecca, and when she didn’t answer, he hit her in the face. Rebecca screamed. Tom rushed to her side and pulled Drew away from Rebecca. “Leave her alone!” he yelled at Drew.
“Don’t touch me!” Drew swung his fist and hit Tom on the chin. Tom only shook his head and rubbed his chin. When Drew set out to punch Tom for the second time, Tom stepped to the side and Drew’s fist only reached empty space. The momentum of the intended blow made Drew stumble and fall. He hit his head on the table and was unconscious by the time he hit the ground. Blood was pouring from an open wound on his forehead. Aren stood motionless, staring at the man on the floor, then Tom and Rebecca. No one said a word.
“What happened?” Sian broke the silence as she entered the tent, “I heard Rebecca scream.” Aren pointed to the man on the floor and Sian bent down to see if he was all right. A large puddle of blood had formed under the man’s head. Sian let out a deep breath, kneeling next to Drew. Aren noticed the man was barely breathing. Rebecca joined Sian, bringing her bag. Together the women tried to stop the bleeding. Rebecca opened her bag and pulled out some rags and herbs, while Sian applied them. Quietly, Rebecca told Sian what had happened. Drew moaned softly, then lay silent.
“Can I help?” Aren asked softly, looking at the man then Sian.
“No.” She replied without looking up.
“His breathing is shallow and slowing with each passing moment,” Rebecca remarked and Sian nodded. Aren shuddered, realizing the man was going to die. He had never seen anyone die before.
“Wake up!” Sian yelled and shook Drew by the shoulder. The man didn’t respond. Aren watched as Sian moistened her fingers and held them over the man’s open mouth. Shaking her head, she placed her fingers on his neck.
“I can’t feel him breathing, nor do I feel the life pulse within him,” Sian whispered. Aren barely made out the words. With a solemn expression on her face Sian stood up.
“He’s dead,” she announced.
Tom looked at her in disbelief. “He’s what?”
“He’s dead, Tom,” Sian repeated softly. “There is nothing I can do. We need to call the guards.”
Tom nodded in agreement. “I’ll be right back.”
Aren held out his hand to help Rebecca get up. Her small hand gripped his and she gave him a thankful nod. Her face was pasty white and to Aren she suddenly seemed very small and frail. She tucked a stray strand of graying hair behind her ear with trembling fingers.
“I’m sorry, Rebecca,” began Sian, but Rebecca shook her head.
“Please … just close up the tent for me … I won’t be telling fortunes any more,” she said quietly.
“But Rebecca …” Sian said, “You can’t quit because of this, it wasn’t your fault.”
“Yes it was,” Rebecca said dully. “I spent all day telling people what they wanted to hear, and the only real fortune I saw, I couldn’t tell.” With that she picked up her bag, wrapped her shawl around her shoulders and walked out of the tent.