In the following weeks everyone started to prepare for the full-moon festival, I made the daggers and knives and Alana made small bags with different herbs. Many people shod their horses for the horse race which gave my uncle a lot of work. My uncle had experience in horseshoes, and I had in swords, just like my father, but during my childhood, they already shared their experience. When my uncle spent the night at Shirela’s house, I visited Gaina once a week.
The whole city was sparkling, the festival was the main income for everyone.
‘We are leaving tomorrow after an early breakfast,’ my uncle said in the evening, before the day of the festival.
‘Is Shirela joining us?’ Alana asked.
‘Yes, she will join us near her house,’ my uncle said, ‘she had already planned to come, but she is very excited about tomorrow.’
‘I doubt that Inula’s proposal would be very exciting to her,’ I said.
‘She did not say any details and I never ask her about these things,’ My uncle said.
‘There still will not be any tax-collectors, correct?’ Alana asked.
‘Shirela has not predicted them,’ my uncle said, ‘and theoretically it is forbidden for them to be at the festival. The festival never has any royal coats of arms and no one can attend who serves the royal family.’
‘Was it always like that?’ Alana asked my uncle.
‘Even in my childhood. As my parents told me, people feel freer without any royal coat of arms and the royal family need to remain popular.’
‘They are not so popular with me,’ Alana said.
‘Nor with me,’ I said, ‘I’m curious whether the tax collectors will ever cheat.’
‘In that case Shirela and the other fortune tellers would notify the King immediately and they would be dismissed immediately,’ my uncle said.
‘Uncle,’ Alana said hesitantly, ‘how do you know so much about the royal rules?’
‘Your grandfather used to work as a clerk, and he shared these rules with us during the evenings,’ our Uncle said calmly, ‘maybe the rules had been changed since then, but I know it this way. By the way, you can ask these questions a hundred times,’ he smiled, ‘I will always have the same answer, as this is the truth.’
After dinner, we prepared everything for tomorrow and went to sleep.
Next morning, we woke up quite early and left our plot with our four horses after sunrise. We used our mother’s horse to carry the packages as we did not want to leave her all day long in the empty city alone. Shirela was already waiting for us on her horse in front of her house. Her house stood at a crossroad and a wooden picture on her door of the tree of fate showed her profession.
Alana covered herself with brown sackcloth and a head scarf, so she was almost invisible in the crowd. In previous years people from other cities had already got used to the light-skinned sales girl, but many of them expressed their regret to me because of my sister’s unknown sickness. I never mentioned any of these things to Alana. She does not have to know about it.
We rode to the meadow, but we were not the first ones, many other families had arrived already. The citizens voluntarily organized everything by themselves. The musicians for the music band were coming from different cities, but I did not recognize anyone apart from the old man who played in Gaina’s tavern on his violin. The podium and the information boards were built by carpenters. The information board contained the times of the events which were read out loudly from the podium for the benefit of illiterate people. In our city, my mother and Alana taught almost everyone to read, but in other cities, people were not that lucky. Alana never travelled to another city to teach, she only accepted students in our house and set the price depending on the wealthiness of the family.
The horse races always took place in the forest near the meadow, but our family never joined in. I was interested only in the sword tournament. Everyone put their blankets down on the grass randomly, we used one huge blanket with Alana together to sell the knives, daggers and herbs. Using one blanket allowed one of us to look around and to buy something interesting. Alana always looked for books or decorations for the house, I was interested in weapons. Many people sold dresses, everyone changed them quite often. Some families were preparing meat and fish for today to sell them at lunchtime. Almost everyone bought something from them as many of us had not brought food with us.
My sister’s herbs were very popular all the time, she sold out very quickly. Mainly families with small children and the girls from Gaina’s tavern bought her stock. While I was looking around, Alana tried to sell my stock, and she was confident talking about my knives and daggers but being a girl almost no one believed her. Based on the law of Rodon women were not allowed to take any weapon in their hands. I was not aware of exactly what kind of punishment Alana would get for her knowledge, but I was not about to find out. Men could carry weapons all the time but using them must happen for a reason. When the tax collectors visited us, I had to take them off, in order not to provoke the swine.
For the events, we always enclosed a place on the meadow with fences and ropes to let people observe the tournaments from every side. Tournaments were organized all day long until sunset before the music and dance could start. There was running, archery, dagger throwing and different competitions for children. A dagger throwing tournament took place between my uncle and my father, no one was able to beat them.
The four fortune tellers were always the judges and after our arrival, Shirela left us to go to the podium to join the rest.
A handbell could be heard, the tournaments would start soon.
‘Attention, please,’ A tall, dark-skinned, bold big man said loudly, and everyone turned to him.
The man had a similar headband to Shirela’s leather strap, showing that he was a fortune-teller too.
‘The archery begins now,’ he said.
After his announcement, some people with bows went into the enclosure.
The games officially started, the winner always received a small wooden chalice and some coins. From what I heard fortune tellers received coins from the royal family to order the chalices and pay for the winners’ coins. I had a lot of chalices already, Alana spent a lot of time polishing them, while she was cleaning the house. My chalices stood in my room on a shelf which had been forged by me.
My uncle won the dagger throwing competition easily. Since my father had left no one was able to challenge him.
Every competition for adults was followed by a competition for children so that the day was exciting for everyone. Alana always watched these quietly, I saw her desire for a family, but she never spoke about it. She did not have to, it was clear to me.
The sword race was organized always as the last competition for adults after lunch. We packed our remaining things back in the bags to let my family watch my contest. Any mistakes that I made in the rounds were corrected by my uncle at home all the time.
My competition was the most popular, many men joined and almost everyone watched it.
‘Attention, please!’ The tall man rang the bell after the lunchbreak.
‘Our last competition, the sword race starts now,’ he said, ‘Everyone who would like to participate, please come inside the enclosure and take one shape.’
Three fortune tellers, including Shirela walked between us with small bags, which contained wooden shapes which could be paired up. I picked out a sun shape which meant that I’d have to contest against a boy, who had the other sun shape.
After everyone found their partner, we always gave back the shapes to keep them for the next round. No one’s name was known, the fortune tellers mentioned always just the shapes.
The boys with moon shapes had the first contest but it was a quick win as one of the boys was a lot younger than his opponent. The people with moon shapes were followed by men with stars and after heart shapes.
With every contest, I became more impatient as I was called just before the last one.
I had a young, fattish boy, who was easy to beat. Every contest continued until someone was disarmed which would be the same situation in real life.
‘Congratulations to the first round winners,’ the bold fortune teller said it loudly after the first round, ‘today is a very special day as apart from the normal rewards the winner will receive a special invitation to the capital until the end of summer to be a training partner for his majesty, Prince Veron.’
People clapped happily, I looked at my family. Alana smiled cheeringly at me, my uncle was looking to the fortune tellers and tried to cover his anger. We chose the next shape after the clapping.
After the announcement my opponents were very determined to win, the possible trip to the capital made everyone excited. I got into the final easily and I faced a boy who I had never met before.
‘We have our finalists,’ the man said after the last round, ‘we will continue it after a short break.’
I went to my sister and to my uncle who were standing next to the rope.
‘Be smart, Aleron,’ my sister told me, ‘this is a rare opportunity for you. You might even get into his majesty’s guards.’
‘An opportunity for us,’ I corrected her with a smile, ‘I will not leave you behind.’
‘Uncle, is there any problem?’ Alana asked our Uncle who almost exploded silently.
‘No,’ he said, ‘good luck, son,’ the sentence was forced. It was obvious that at this moment he would kill the tax collectors if they were here.
I heard the handbell, I went back to the middle of the enclosure.
‘Aleron,’ I offered my hand to the boy, ‘from the city of Kadin.’
The boy was shorter than me, he had strong muscles and very short black hair.
‘Telin,’ the boy said, ‘from the city of Eten.’
‘Nice to meet you and good luck,’ I smiled, in the final instance it is just for fun.
‘You too’ he smiled.
Our contest had started. He was not a bad swordsman; the people were shouting and cheering. During the rounds, he seemed to be on my level but now I already felt the difference between us. He was not even on my sister’s level. The boy started to get tired and he found it harder and harder to escape my attacks. I felt that winning was close when Gaina caught my attention from the corner of my eye. She was sending me kisses coquettishly and I looked at her for a second. The woman liked this type of teasing, but it was enough to lose my advantage, I had to defend myself.
‘Aleron,’ my Uncle’s loud voice brought me back to attention, ‘do what I taught you last week.’
My uncle showed me a trick last week to make my opponent believe that he can win. I pretended that I would slam his sword but in reality, I bypassed it and got it out of his hand. The boy lost his sword and became unarmed. I pointed my sword at him when the handbell sounded.
‘Congratulations!’ the boy said while we were shaking hands, ’good luck in the capital.’
‘Thank you,’ I said, ‘I have not seen you here before.’
‘I moved here with my mother this month, she married a man in this province. Are you going to the capital with your fiancée?’ He looked at Alana.
‘She is my twin sister,’ I said, ‘and yes, I want to take her with me.’
‘She looks interesting,’ he stared at Alana.
‘That is true,’ I said, ‘Do you want me to introduce you to her?’
‘No thanks,’ he said, ‘my fortune teller did not say that I would meet anyone special today.’
‘Had he predicted our fight?’ I asked with curiosity, ‘I did not have time to visit mine’ I lied.
‘He said that it would depend on many circumstances and he could not help.’
‘I see,’ I said, ‘Next month you will have the chalice for sure.’
The boy went to his family, I walked to my family while I saw Shirela being hugged by the other fortune tellers and had tears in her eyes.
‘Aleron,’ my sister hugged me with excitement, ‘you won, we are going to the capital.’
‘Good job, son,’ my uncle also hugged me.
After my tournament the children played some games before the dancing. Couples were kissing hidden around the meadow. There was no law about it, but people treated this with discretion. We never stayed for the evening, Alana was never asked for a dance and I did not like to dance. We packed our stuff and went home. Shirela joined us, but together with my uncle, she remained quiet. Shirela stopped at her house, my family rode home.
‘I’ll come back soon,’ my uncle said and stormed out the door.
‘I’ll be back soon too,’ I said to my sister, who was so surprised that she could not say a word.
I wanted to know what was going on, so I walked to Shirela’s house along a smaller street. I was sure that my uncle would be there. The city was still empty, I arrived at the fortune teller’s garden quickly as she did not have a fence either. I went to the courtyard and stopped near an open window.
‘How could you do that?’ My uncle was so loud that I could hear him easily.
‘We didn’t decide about the gift of his majesty,’ Shirela said quietly.
‘You just suggested it to him,’ my uncle was angry.
‘Shiveron,’ Shirela said gently, ‘I had not predicted any of his combats including the ones today. You decided to help him to win. You helped him to get back on track.’
‘So, cancel the trip,’ my uncle said, ‘I know that you know exactly from what has happened in the past that the twins cannot go to the capital.’
‘The only thing that I know for sure is that they should not be here,’ Shirela kept calm.
‘They are safe here with me,’ my uncle yelled, ‘If they go to the capital, we will lose all our work and they will be called traitors.’
‘They cannot escape their destiny, Shiveron,’ the woman said, ‘you were able to change their destinies, but you cannot change major things. You should have known that. Why did you help the boy if you want them to stay?’
‘Because Aleron is a much better swordsman than that boy was, and Alana does not belong here,’ my uncle sighed, ‘They don’t have any friends. Aleron thinks that a few hours weekly with that frivolous Gaina means a relationship and he almost even lost today because of that. Alana is lonely and unhappy and her mother, Amina’s heart would break if she would have seen that. Her dresses are awful, and I have not seen her beautiful hair for a long time. Did you know, that no one ever asked her to dance or courted her? She thinks that something is wrong with her, but she is just as beautiful as her mother and her aunt was. Men should be around her instead of avoiding her.’
‘I know,’ Shirela said, ‘Sometimes there were questions about her, but I cannot see her being a part of anyone’s future here. Shiveron,’ the woman’s voice became serious, ‘you must let them go, they do not belong here. If they don’t go now, they will go later for another reason. Their destiny is pulling them to the capital.’
‘So, I should prepare them,’ my uncle sighed.
‘Yes,’ Shirela said, ‘I’ll do the same. They must leave as soon as possible.’
‘So be it,’ my uncle said, ‘Sooner or later I will follow them.’
‘I know,’ Shirela said nicely.
My uncle left the house, I was thinking about what I had just heard. Being a traitor, never came to my mind, I was thinking about myself rather like a royal guard. I had no idea why anybody had predicted such a thing, but I started to understand my parents’ decision.
‘I’d like to sleep soon, please come in,’ Shirela said loudly with a laugh.
I entered the house. Shirela’s house was smaller, she had only one bedroom, but the living room looked gorgeous. In the corner she had two sofas with a coffee table, she had beautiful curtains and huge candlesticks with a mirror were hanging from the ceiling.
Pigeons were sleeping in a cage in a semi dark corner, Shirela sat on the sofa with a cup of tea waiting for me.
‘What was all of that?’ I sat down on the sofa, ‘why will we be called traitors?’
‘As you don’t know much about us, fortune tellers, I’ll tell you a few things so that you understand everything,’ she said, I nodded.
‘When two people are getting married, at least one fortune teller must attend the ceremony who can talk about the future of their wedding,’ Shirela started to talk, ‘we don’t offer wealth or happiness for everyone and many people do not like what we tell them. Over the years we learned from each other to stay quiet rather than to tell too much.’
‘It is understandable,’ I said.
‘When your parents got married, at their wedding they got to know that their first born will be a boy and that they will love each other until the death of your mother.’
‘And it happened like that,’ I said, ‘I’m the first-born child.’
‘When a child is conceived, his fate is very sensitive, and we don’t like to tell anything. In your case one of the fortune tellers said something to your mother and you were called traitor immediately.’
‘What did he say?’ I asked, ‘Is there any record?’
‘We don’t write down what we can predict at that moment, and in the past I’m not able to see the exact sentence only the feelings and reactions.’
‘So, you have seen this only in my parent’s past?’ I asked, she nodded.
‘The fortune teller, your mother and the father of King Darion are dead already. Only your father knows the real prophecy, but he is gone now as well. After the prophecy your parents had to leave the capital almost immediately, they got only a few days to prepare. Until then they used to live in the capital.’
‘And my uncle?’ I asked, ‘does he know the prophecy?’
‘He was not present when the prophecy was told.’
‘I didn’t know that I had an aunt,’ I said.
‘You had. The King’s guards pushed her too hard while they were looking for your mother. Her death was an accident, your uncle did not arrive on time. It is your uncle’s past and I can share this. Her death was unexpected and a consequence of a prophecy which threw everything into chaos and many of us do not even believe it.’
‘Why would Alana and I be pulled by our destiny to the capital?’ I asked.
‘If I look at someone, I can see his possible future and his past. For some people it is variable, like for example a noble whose life depends on others. There are people who have got a straightforward future, like Inula who will never leave this city. There are others for whom we cannot see anything.’
‘Who is like that?’ I asked with curiosity.
‘Alana and you,’ Shirela said, ‘when I look at you, I can see nothing. Neither your past nor your future. Visiting me was not forbidden because of what I will tell you, but to let you know that you are not part of the tree of fate.’
‘How is it possible not to be part of the tree?’ I asked.
‘A few years ago, some branches of the tree became sick, but the leaders of our council were not able to find out the reason. When you were born, the fortune teller who used to live here before me had not seen you at all, as your father pushed her out of the house. She had never seen you. When I arrived, I met the child Alana accidentally when she was running into me while running from other children who called her pale face. I found out that I could see nothing at all, neither her short past, nor her possible future. During that time, we found out that the branches were sick because of you because you are not part of the tree. Your parents probably simply just cut you off.’
‘How is that possible?’ I asked.
‘Since your birth you have lived in a place which has nothing to do with your real destiny and everything you do now is just pushing you away from it. Alana locks herself more and more away from the outside and you live only for your job. If everything remains the same, you will never leave this city.’
‘So, I should be a traitor just to make the tree of fate nice again?’ I asked.
‘While someone is young his future is sensitive,’ Shirela said, ‘We can advise what kind of profession he should choose, and we see only his possible friends. Some follow our advice, some not, the choice is theirs.’
‘Why are you telling me this?’ I asked.
‘The disease of the tree started to spread, and a few months ago the future of the royal family was obscured. As it had never happened before the council thinks that it is because of you, as you could have a connection with the royal family, but because of your absence everything is becoming more and more unpredictable in the capital.’
‘Like if a branch in the middle broke down,’ I said, ‘the small ones nearby would break down too.’
‘Something like that,’ Shirela said, ‘I knew that you always join the tournament and with the invitation we get a chance to put you back on the path. Gaina’s distraction made your winning difficult and you needed your Uncle’s help.’
‘Can you see something already?’ I asked.
‘No, but when you arrive in the capital, the tree might start to recover. We assume that If you don’t go, the future of the whole Kingdom will be obscured.’
‘Does the royal family know about the prophecy?’
’No. Only some of the fortune tellers had heard about it, including the personal fortune teller of the royal family. Prince Veron invited you to get to know the working class better before he became King.’
‘Will you see me if I leave the city?’ I asked.
‘My skills are not infinite, I won’t,’ she said, ‘We have pigeons and fortune tellers in every city across the Kingdom. If the personal fortune teller of the royal family informs me, I will know about you.’
‘Why were you hugged by the others?’ I asked, ‘They were happy that we will leave, weren’t they?’
‘The tree has got a chance to recover. Today’s event was a clear example of how people are impacting on each other’s lives. Don’t forget it Aleron,’ she said, ‘your destiny can be affected by others’ decisions.’
‘What if I will not accept the invitation?’ I was phlegmatic.
‘Alana cannot hide forever,’ she said, ‘Even without skills I know that you will leave. That is the same reason why your uncle helped you. You simply don’t belong here.’
‘Is my sister invisible too?’ I asked.
‘Yes. I have no idea what is waiting for you, maybe after your arrival the fortune tellers in the capital will be able to see something.’
‘What if I’ll have a wife?’ I asked, ‘What do you predict for her?’
‘Nothing. Your invisibility impacts on others. She might have a husband or might be lonely forever.’
‘That is why more branches are sick,’ I started to understand the connections.
‘Yes,’ Shirela nodded.
‘Do you know something about my father?’ I asked while I stood up.
‘He will meet Shiveron in a couple of months, but your father is changing his possible destinies with his fast decisions, just like your uncle. It is difficult to see them, probably they were trained to be hardly visible.’
‘Why you have never told anyone to court my sister or at least ask her for a dance?’ I turned back from the door.
‘Because my vow forbids me to lie and here everyone’s future is clear.’
‘How does my uncle know about Gaina?’ I asked.
‘He followed you once,’ Shirela smiled, ‘He was obviously not happy, but he understood your reason and he hopes that you are drinking Alana’s potion.’
‘I do,’ I said.
‘I know,’ she smiled, ‘I saw Gaina today and her future too.’
‘How did you know that I was near your window? You said that I’m invisible.’
‘The pigeons outside woke up for a second,’ She smiled, ‘the city is almost empty, so it was either you or Alana.’
‘Thank you for telling me all of this,’ I said, ‘Will our uncle follow us?’
‘Probably yes. He will leave for the capital soon so I assume that you will meet.’
‘Will he leave you here?’ I asked.
‘No,’ she smiled, ‘My path had been clearly changed.’
‘Good. My uncle loves you very much. You should not have declined his proposal when he kept and kept trying for many years.’
‘I know that now, maybe I’ll correct this mistake,’ she smiled.
‘That would be good,’ I said before I left the house.
I said goodbye and went home, my sister was sleeping already, my uncle was waiting for me by the table.
‘Have you heard everything?’ he asked straight.
‘I think so, yes.’
‘Good, at least you will not question any of my orders.’
‘Will you let us go?’ I asked.
‘Shirela is right, you don’t belong here. Go to sleep, tomorrow we have a lot to do.’
‘Thank you, uncle,’ I said.
‘Aleron,’ he said quietly, ‘Alana does not have to know all about this.’
‘I agree, she won’t,’ I said before I entered my room.