Once upon a time a cursed old woman waited as she did every day at the town square. Mud splashed onto the bottom of her skirt as a cart filled with corpses passed by. The sky was gray. It was cold. The townsfolk walked in the town square around the dried-up stone fountain. No one made eye contact with anyone or smiled; they were expressionless, as if they had nowhere to go. The church across the street was empty and the toy store next to it was long abandoned and in ruin. An air of hopelessness hung over the town like a cloud.
The old woman sat at a rotting wooden table with an opaque crystal ball, hoping for someone to come by so she could read their fortune. She was the only fortuneteller in all the land. It was both her gift and her curse. A great knight dressed all in red on a dark brown stallion rode by and nodded at her as he headed to the king’s foreboding fortress on the hill. An old soldier on crutches lurched by just behind him.
“I’ll tell your fortune,” the fortuneteller said.
“I have nothing to hope for but good news.” He paused. She uncovered her large crystal ball and looked in. It glowed faintly and changed colors: green, yellow, orange and then deep blue. She began; “I see a winter with snow white as sugar covering the lands. I see you with gold in your hands, and I feel you shall have love, for it is our deeds that create reality.”
“Thank you.” He gave her some worthless paper currency with the king’s image on it, for that was all he had.
The captain of the king’s guards and a few of his men came upon the square just as they did every day. Their rusty chain-and-scale mail armor clinked and clanked, and their ill-gotten silver rings and necklaces were dull with dirt and food. They barged into the crowd and pushed people aside without regard. The captain wore more silver than all his men put together. He stooped from the weight of all the tarnished silver around his neck.
“Hello,” said the old woman. The captain stopped, turned and walked toward her.
“Fortuneteller!” The captain put his hands on the table and leaned forward, staring at her with his wolf-gray eyes.
“Yes, my lord.” She looked away from his gaze.
“I would like my fortune read.” She could smell his rotten breath.
She uncovered her crystal ball and gazed at it thoughtfully. She saw her own future by seeing her past, when she was a beautiful young princess living under a terrible curse. Her own image whispered to her: “We make our own fortunes with our hands. Your tide of fortune has come.”
The old woman covered the ball and glanced up at the captain of the guards.
“You have riches and power. There’s no need.”
“Fortuneteller!” He stood toe-to-toe with her.
“Yes, my lord?” She met his fierce gaze squarely.
“I didn’t ask your opinion but for your service, old woman.” He touched his pointy beard with his devilish fingers.
“I cannot give you your fortune. You already have it.”
“Are you asking out of your own free will?” she asked. He paused and took a small step back.
“Yes,” he said.
“Then I refuse.”
“You refuse?” The captain let out a wicked laugh.
“I’m refusing to tell you your fortune!” Her eyes darted at him in a sharp glance.
“Old woman!” The captain grabbed the handle of his broadsword. His jaw clenched; his eyes glittered. “Old woman, I want my fortune read!”
She bowed her head and looked away. She put her ball into her rucksack as if she were about to walk away.
“If you refuse …” he threatened.
She looked him right in the eye, waiting for him to look away. He stared back at her, just as all bullies do. She turned her back on him.
“If I refuse? What then? It cannot change your fate! I have to refuse! I must! In fact, I want to see the king!” She waited for him to react.
“Arrest her!” He slammed his fists on her table. They looked at each other for a half a second; the captain’s face went crimson.
“But, sir, what are the charges?” one of the men asked.
They grabbed her and kicked over her table. Her crystal ball hit the ground like a black iron cannon ball. She smiled, defying the tyrant as they hauled her away.
She found herself in a cold stone cell, both her arms chained to the wall. The rusty shackles hurt, cutting into her flesh. The air was dank. She coughed and could see her breath smoking in the cold air. The orange flame of a torch flickered across the dungeon floor, the only light in the prison. She couldn’t see the other cells or prisoners. All the cells faced the same direction and were separated by thick stone walls.
A voice called out to her, echoing in the chamber. “What are you in here for?”
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