The Two-Edged Prophecy
[ Bohemia, Autumn, 490 B.C. ]
In a dingy hut in the forest, before a veil of thin curtains, Vael got down on her knees.
She brought out a bloody bull’s liver from her sack and raised it high in her palms. Then she set it down in a wooden bowl and bowed, her forehead kissing the sordid floor.
She waited. Poisonous snakes, frenzied by the scent of blood, slithered by her side. The hut was shadowy, filthy, and a disgusting, overwhelming odor akin to death hung in the air.
She sensed a movement from behind the curtains and secretly peeked at the seer’s hand as it reached out and slowly pulled the bowl in.
“Your gratitude is received,” said a distasteful and raspy voice. “You may leave.”
Still on her knees, Vael straightened up.
She wore leather clothes and many necklaces made from colorful stones, gems and animals’ fangs hung from her neck. She looked to be in her early thirties, and her fair face, painted with tribal marks, was marred by her natural frown.
Pushing her cornrows of braided black hair aside, she removed one of her necklaces, placed it in front of her and bowed again.
The seer took the necklace. “Something you wish to ask?”
“Will I live forever?”
She raised her head and hissed, “Forbidden…? You see my death?”
“I do not.”
“Then you see me to eternity?”
“I do not.”
“It has to be either one or the other.”
“Tell me what you see.”
“I see and hear only what the gods allow me to see and hear. What you are asking is obscure and clouded to my eyes. It is...undecided.”
She clenched her teeth. “Undecided? What nonsense of an answer is this? If the gods are not to decide my fate, then who will?”
“You.” He paused, leaving her momentarily in shocked silence. “And her.”
Vael frowned, “Her?”
She took off another necklace and placed it in front of her.
“I see a storm in your way. It is a storm without end. It is a storm that rains blades. And on every one of those blades your name is written. But I also see that you break those blades. One at a time, and two at a time, you destroy them all.”
“Then I am forever.”
“You might be. You just might be. But,” he warned in a spine-chilling tone, “there’s this one blade that I see, so very different from the rest. Your name is not written on it but is spoken on its lips. Such grudge it bears. Such agony. Such madness. I see it shaking with so much rage it could almost shatter from within. I hear it calling your name, Vael. At day, at night, tomorrow, and forever, sleepless hatred, always calling you. Vael. Vael. Vael… It desires your throat, Vael. It is thirsty for you. It wants you. And only your blood can gratify it.”
Her fists balled. “That’s impossible. Who is it? If she hates me so much, then it can only be someone I know. But I’ve already killed everyone, I crushed them all, and I’ve burnt the past to ashes with these two hands. There’s no one left.”
“Believe what you wish but heed my warning: unless you overcome her like all the rest, there can be no eternity for you.”
“Who is she?”
“She is the howler in the night. She is the beast lurking in the shadows. Like a wolf she stalks you, like hunger she craves you, and with her everything she is drawn to you. The western wind carries her breath.”
“Is she the same as I am?”
“Not yet. But she will be. And she will eat your heart, or you shall eat hers. That much is certain. That much the gods have shown to me.”
She demanded, “Tell me who she is.”
He remained silent.
Vael growled, “What is her name? To what tribe does she belong? How old is she? What does she look like?”
She took off all her necklaces and threw them at him. “Tell me how to find her.”
“If you don’t tell me then I swear to eat the hearts of every woman and child in the west. Now answer me.”
He didn’t bother.
She bit on her lip and suddenly pulled a dagger from her side. She cut her palm and stretched out her arm toward him, bleeding.
“Answer me and I will sacrifice twenty virgin hearts to your gods before dawn. I swear it on my blood.”
Vael was in a rage. She looked at her palm, which had already healed, and balled her fist.
She got up, circled to his side and reached her hand in between the curtains, placing her dagger at his throat.
“Then perhaps it is time for a new seer to come. Someone who’d live to see his prophecies fulfilled… ANSWER ME, CURSE YOU.”
He laughed at her.
Her arm trembled. She quickly pulled it back, headed for a stand where a fire burned on an iron plate, cut off one of her braids and fed it to the flames.
“Answer me,” she shouted. She cut off three more and threw them in. “ANSWER MEEE.”
“Forbidden. Forbidden—” he said through laughter.
It was all to no avail.
His constant laughter was driving her mad.
She dropped the dagger and slowly returned to her spot, snakes hissing by her feet as she went.
Vael stood with her back towards the seer and began removing her clothes, but it only made him laugh crazier.
She turned around and got down. Completely bare and on her knees, she raised her arms to her sides, tilted her head back and shut her eyes, offering her everything.
Suddenly, the snakes went still and cowed down with fear. The seer stopped laughing.
An eerie quiet took over and a wave of cold crept slowly over the floor with an unnerving sough, as if an evil spirit had breathed into the hut.
The seer groaned. “Ahh… I see it. I see it now.”
There was a pause full of quietness and frightening cold tingling her skin, then as suddenly as it had happened, it was gone.
“Seek the third eye,” he said.
She looked at him.
“It is shown to me. Seek the third eye on her neck. That is the foe you strive for.”
“A third eye?” she asked, but then quickly figured out what it meant. “Oh,” a murderous smile whispered on her lips, “I understand.”
“You must leave now. Quickly.”
Vael collected her clothes and headed towards the door.
“The gods favor you, venomous Vael—”
She stopped and looked back.
“They harden your blade. But you must hurry. Time is not on your side.”
She dropped her face, smiling. “Honor the gods.”
* * *
It had only been a few years, but Natir already could not remember her mother’s face.
Not even here, in her most horrid nightmare, could she hope to see it. And yet everything else was so clear that she could swear she was reliving the dire moments once again…
Her mother’s dress was torn and had turned the color of dirt for how much of her own blood soaked it.
They were imprisoned in small, wooden cages laid next to each other. Tears welled in their eyes as they reached for one another one last time. The spaces between the logs were too narrow, but they strained until the tips of their fingers nearly touched.
They came for her mother. She screamed as they pulled her out of her cage and forced her to the ground. She tried to escape and fight off the two men. One of them slammed her head repeatedly against the ground while the other knelt over her and tied her hands behind her back.
When they pulled her up and steered her away, she was still in a daze, but panic quickly took the best of her. She resisted again, screaming and begging with every word that could come to her mouth, but the people’s curses overcame her cries as the two men put a rope around her neck and hurriedly hung her.
With her hands over her mouth and tears trickling down her cheeks, Natir witnessed it all from within her cage. Every excruciating moment of it.
They hadn’t tied her mother’s feet, and that’s what caused the vilest part of the nightmare.
Her mother, hung by the rope, made a skin-crawling rattle as she swung sideways. She kicked her legs in the air as she desperately reached for a wooden pillar with the tips of her toes.
No one tried to stop her. Instead, they turned her struggle into a joke. They laughed and encouraged her to keep reaching for it until she lost the futile struggle and her body limply swung back into place.
Natir watched, sobbing, as her mother’s feet pointed lifelessly towards the ground. It seemed that it had all ended.
Then, so suddenly that it frightened Natir to her very core, a demonic seizure shook her mother’s body—
Natir woke up, gasping in horror.
The nightmare had bewitched her senses. She stared everywhere in a panic, unable to distinguish reality from the world of dreams just yet.
Breathing deeply, she let some time pass to allow her eyes to adjust to the dark and for her mind to make sense of things again.
When she had calmed down, she reached under her neckline, careful not to wake up her child who slept in her arms, and dug out her necklace. The cat-eye stone which hung from a leather cord was worthless, but it was the only thing she had left from her mother. The merchant who had bought Natir had allowed her to keep it.
She blew out a breath and looked around.
Natir was locked inside one of three wagons packed with slaves. There must have been twenty of them packed into that crowded wagon. Many of them slept sitting up, back-to-back, and the luckiest among them were the ones to the sides who could lay their backs against the logs of the cage-like wagon rather than on another person.
She noticed one of her legs was tucked between two men in front of her. Careful not to wake them, she slowly rocked herself and jostled her hips until her leg flopped loose. Her leg was numb. It tingled as it slowly started to regain feeling.
She tilted her head back, shut her eyes and inhaled deeply. She then adjusted the cover on her back to better protect herself as well as her daughter from the cold before she gently exposed Aina’s face.
The four-year-old slept soundly in her arms.
She was a very good child. A jewel to the eyes. She was quiet and always listened to her mother.
The moonlight gleamed on Aina’s chestnut strands of hair as they fell onto her beautiful, young face, and her pink lips shined with a hint of a smile; it made Natir’s heart ache so much that a tear escaped her.
She cursed herself in her mind for giving life to something so beautiful.
Aina looked as though she belonged to a different world. A far better and kinder world than her mother’s.
Natir had nothing to give her, not even the name of a father who would claim her, and she was afraid to imagine what their cursed future held for her little one.