The woman had this old bowl made of wood. She would move around her small room carefully selecting just the right piece from her dried herb bundles. How she could do this always amazed me as her hands had become deformed by the bone sickness in them. She took her ingredients and placed them in the bowl and set fire to them. I always marveled over how the flames licked the wooden bowl but never burned it.
When all that was left was ashes and smoke she leaned over and inhaled deeply. The soot would leave dark marks on her face and her nostrils would grow red from the acidic nature of the herbs that had been burned. For a moment she was lost to the smoke that was corrupting her lungs and filling up her mind. Her eyes closed and I feared this would be the time she finally fainted from the distress of it all.
Slowly the smoke faded to the corners of the room and the woman lifted her head. Gradually her eyes opened and for a moment they were unnaturally blank—pale gray orbs with no life force behind them. Her mouth moved to whisper words I could not hear. The woman’s sister would come from the place in the shadows she kept herself and lean in close. With quick, chicken like pecks she wrote down whatever was being whispered.
What came next was quick and nearly mechanical. The sister lit a tea candle and set a small handled bowl in a frame over top of it. She dropped wax pellets into the bowl and hovered over them till they melted. The paper she had written on she folded and set on the table. She took the handle of the bowl and poured a small amount of melted wax onto the folded paper. There was a handled bit of round metal she set onto the wax—a seal. When the wax was dry she took the paper and handed it to me.
“Tonight at midnight read. No sooner. No later.” she instructed. The sister then went to the nearly comatose woman and helped her to her feet and gave her support as they moved from the room. The ritual was done. Her fortune had been cast.
The evening was long as I waited for time to pass. When the full mood rose I stood in its borrowed light. Briefly I brought it to my nose and inhaled. The paper smelled strongly of burnt herbs and smoke.
The cool wind licked at my cheeks as I carefully opened the sealed paper and took a deep breath before reading. I had asked a question…. something I had no business knowing. When I went to the woman I had thrown caution to the side and focused on my desire above all else. The woman had warned me that once her work was done I would own what came from it. I told her I was willing to accept the consequences. This was now my reward for such recklessness.
There was a price to be paid for seeking the sight of a fortune teller. This cost was not in the coin one traded with the woman. It was the near unbearable weight of the knowledge she offered in return. As I read the folded paper in my hands—over and over again—I felt that weight. It was crippling and now there was nothing to lighten its burden. I had sought the woman out and she had given me what I asked for. Now, more than anything, I wished I could take it all back. Sometimes ignorance in the night was better.
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