This excerpt is from Chapter 1, showing the main character, Chavali, delivering a reading for a client in her role as a fortune teller. It is explained earlier that she has a form of telepathy that functions through skin contact.
Putting her hands down on her table, she was as ready as she’d ever be, and didn’t have long to wait before the first sucker poked his head in. The fee for her services was high enough to keep out the merely curious, but low enough that most could afford it if they really wanted to. The clan promised a glimpse into the future, solutions to problems, and answers to questions. She delivered them. In a sense.
“Come in.” They did not speak the clan tongue in front of Outsiders, not without dire need, lest someone overhear enough to translate it and learn it. Instead, they spoke Shappan, the dominant language of Tilzam. Nearly everyone knew it, regardless of country or native tongue. Along with the words, spoken in the light accent of the clan, she lifted a hand to gesture to the stool opposite herself. “You are welcome here.”
He was timid as a mouse and small like one, too. Keino could probably lift this man over his head with one hand, or break him in half over his knee. Chavali watched him take small steps and dart his eyes all around. “Um, you’re the Seer?” His Shappan was obviously better than her own, she could tell even with so few words spoken.
“Yes. No one can see into the tent, it is safe, you are safe here. Sit, be calm.” Coaxing a scared little man onto the seat was not her preferred way to spend her time, and she stifled a sigh and a roll of her eyes. “If you do not sit, I cannot help, yes?”
“Oh, right. Of course.” He moved quickly, practically jumped onto the stool while shooting terrified looks all around the tent. “I’ve just never done anything like this before, and, um, I’m worried about…”
Holding out her hand, she kept her tone calm and patient. “Give me your hand. I cannot help if I have no connection to you.”
His audible gulp made her want to roll her eyes again, but he tentatively offered her his hand. As she seized it, the spirits rushed him, eager as always for new people to interact with. DearCreatorIhopeyoucanhelpmeI’mdoomedthisissocrazy
“Calm,” she told him, shutting her eyes to make it easier to focus on this pile of crap. “If you do not calm down, I see nothing, just a bouncing jumble of nervous. Deep breath in through your mouth, out through your nose. Come, do this a few times.”
His thoughts began to settle as he followed her orders. It became less a rushed mush and more actual coherent ideas. Amy is going to kill me for this. I shouldn’t be doubting her, but I am, and I need to fix that. She’s a sweet girl, this is all my fault.
“I see a name. A-something, Anna? No, Amy. Does this name mean something to you?”
As expected, he gasped a little. How does she know that? Is this the real thing? If she knows that, she must know if she’s seeing Marcus or not. “Yes, that’s my wife.”
“You worry about her, you think she is meeting someone else?”
“Yes!” His mind flooded with images of Amy, who he loved, deeply, but also with images of a man much more virile than himself. That other man wore armor and used a blade for his work. A city guard, perhaps, or a soldier.
“There is another name, with a…’c’. But not at the front, maybe in the end? No, no, the middle. Arcu, Marcus. Yes, Marcus. He wields authority.”
“Yes, he’s in the Order of the Strong Arm, one of their knights. I need to know.” He already knew, of course. That was the beauty of what Chavali did. All the answers were in his mind already, he just needed someone else to say it out loud because he couldn’t, the poor fool. People really were the same no matter where she went.
Still, it wasn’t good to just say things like this aloud with no feeling or props, or anything to give her an air of more authority than just pulling things out of the air. Her free hand dipped into the pouch tied to the thin belt around her waist (it also held a small blade in a sheath at the small of her back), pulled out five objects at random and tossed them on the table. Keeping hold of his hand, she peered down at the bones, finding it amusing that all five were actually bones. The pouch also had crystals, stones, and even bits of shell and wood, all minimally shaped and etched with ink-stained runes by her own hand.
It wasn’t that the bones were only props – they had meaning for Chavali. It was that they weren’t tools for divining. In this context, she used them as prompts, as ideas for how to word things. “Mmm.” Starting with the one closest to him, because she didn’t like having them out of her control for any longer than necessary, she picked up a chicken wing bone, displayed it, then deposited it back into her pouch. “Pain of the soul, for you.” The next was a finger bone, from Seer Marika’s dead body. “Betrayal. Face down, the betrayer is a woman.” A bone from the paw of a dog was next. She liked that dog enough to preserve a part of him. “Love, but face down, so actually just lust.”
This was all so stupid and predictable. His mind raced as her words confirmed everything he feared. The next, a horse’s tooth, was an amusing addition. “Secrets. Many secrets.” The last one almost always turned up when she did this. It was a chunk of unidentified bone, picked up some time ago just because of its odd shape. “Fear. There is much fear through all of this.”
She needed nothing more from this man to make her pronouncement, and she didn’t care in the slightest if it turned out to be true or not. They would be gone tomorrow morning, and likely wouldn’t return for several years, if ever. Letting go of his hand, she gave him a mildly sympathetic look. “The bones have spoken. She has betrayed you, and you must deal with that in your own way. The bones, I think, suggest you confront it head-on, but this Marcus may not be wise to cross.”
He nodded, resigned. “Thank you.”
“It is not a thing I wish to be thanked for. Good fortune to you.” She watched him get up and leave, and snorted at him as soon as the tent flap was shut again. Idiot. He was, of course, the first of today’s parade of idiots and twits, each of them with a story as uninteresting as the next, a story Chavali had heard dozens of times before.