The Circles - Book Seven - Chapter 36

The Circles - Book Seven - Land of Treachery
Chapter Thirty-six
A Reader of the Future
Written by Angmar and Elfhild

While they waited for Laskohki to consult her astrological charts, Elfhild and Elffled fretted at the length of time they had spent in the fortuneteller's wain. They had been forced to be with her strange daughters, who seemed more like the deranged, undead denizens of a haunted barrowfield than they did children. Her face set rigidly in a smile, Elffled fought the urge to drum her fingers impatiently upon the table. She was certain if she said the slightest thing that could be considered offensive that one of the two imps would be quick to report it to their mother. Elfhild tried to concentrate upon pleasant things as she stared at the candle burning in its holder on the table. The time dragged by as they waited.

One of the daughters seemed to have disappeared, but the other remained nearby, playing with some pebbles which she had arranged upon a piece of leather. The twins watched her as she put one brown stone at the top of the leather, a dull, whitish stone to the left, a mottled gray to the right, and a slate colored stone at the bottom. The rest of the stones she put in the center of the skin. The child looked approvingly at her handiwork before taking a small crockery jar and mixing a powder into the vessel. Humming to herself in a singsong voice, she then poured a malodorous liquid over the mounded pile. She glanced at the twins and then giggled, the happy sound discordant in the silence.

"What are you doing?" Elfhild asked curiously.

"Mixing the dried monthly blood of a bitch and the urine of a mare in heat," the girl explained matter-of-factly.

"Why are you doing that?" Elffled was not sure whether she really wanted to know, but still morbid curiosity demanded that she ask. The smell of the pungent liquid saturated the stale air, causing her nose to burn. Picking up a section of her long hair, she twirled it around her fingers and brought the strands up to her nose, hiding the scent with the lingering fragrance of the soap with which she had bathed. She wished now that she had bought some of the fortuneteller's perfume to mask the foul reek.

"The magic will not work if the essences are not combined," the girl explained. "After the blood and urine have dried, the weaker stones will be ready to set on a leather string. Then they will be sold as love amulets."

"Were ours dipped in this concoction?" Elfhild asked, her face twitching with disgust. She hoped that the necklaces she had bought had not been doused with such a foul mixture.

"Your stones did not need it, for they are strong in themselves. Mother had only to call forth the spirits which dwell in them to bless and empower the stones," the girl answered.

"I see." Elffled glanced down at the candle, which seemed to be glowing brighter. A moth fluttered too closely and was incinerated in the flames. Upon seeing the singed insect fall to the table, Laskohki's daughter giggled wildly and clapped her hands. After the little carcass had cooled, the child caught a dab of hot wax which dipped down the candle and touched her finger to the moth.

"Pretty," the girl murmured, sticking the tiny ball to her forefinger, as though it were a ring. She sucked in a deep breath of air, and as blithely as another child would blow upon dandelion silk, she puffed gently on the mangled remains of the moth. She watched, apparently fascinated, as the wings tore loose from the body, disintegrating in the air. "Now I have freed its spirit, and it will always be with me."

Elffled watched the shattered remnants of the moth's wing float down to the table. She could feel her stomach twist in fear and revulsion.

While the twins were thinking of something to say, the curtain to the inner chamber parted, and Laskohki stood in the opening, her face wreathed in a smile. "Did my darlings keep you occupied?"

"You could say that," Elfhild remarked. Her sister nodded politely, wondering if the child's antics were merely an act which she affected to intimidate and intrigue.

"My darling, if you have finished preparing the stones, you may put them away." She glanced down at her daughter.

"Yes, Mother," the child replied. "Everything has been done as you wished."

"Ah, good! You are a wonderful helper." She bent down and kissed the child on the head and then looked at the twins. "If you will follow me inside, we will begin."

The sisters followed as Laskohki guided them into a section of the wain which had been curtained off by dark, heavy drapes. The air was even closer in the small chamber, heavy with the scent of some strange incense that burned in a small brass bowl.

"Sit down, please." Laskohki motioned to the table, which was lit by a single candle. Stirred by the breeze of their movement, the flame bent and swayed as they sat down. "My dears, I have wonderful news," her sultry voice purred like a kitten as she lowered herself to sit cross-legged across from them. "I have completed your star charts."

Spread across the table were volumes of parchment sheets sewn together and numerous charts arranged in an orderly fashion. Strange markings and diagrams covered the pages, filling them to the narrow margins. One large chart showed pictures of animals and people arranged in a circle with lines connecting each figure. Another depicted men and women candidly in all manners of intimate congress. The twins turned their eyes away to concentrate on the less scandalous drawings.

Laskohki pushed a chart towards them with one of her well-manicured fingernails. The twins looked down at the drawing depicted upon the parchment; it was a circle which reminded the twins of a wagon wheel with twelve spokes. At its very center were diagonal lines which crossed and crisscrossed each other in the triangular shape of a faceted jewel.

"You were both born on June 20th, Midsummer Eve, a time of magic, upon the cusp of the Great Twins and the Crab." The candlelight cast Laskohki's face in shadows, her eyes dark portals. "You embody the traits of both signs, the enthusiasm and unpredictability of Krulalu, the Great Twins, and the sensitive, emotional nature of Danposhak, the Crab. Those who are born under the first sign are noted for their curiosity, cleverness and love of learning. Charming, witty and playful, they love to talk and make friends easily. The negative traits of this sign are a tendency to be fickle, inconsistent, moody and nervous. The second sign, the Crab, is the sign of home and hearth. Compassionate and sympathetic, those born under this sign cherish their families and friends. They possess a strong sense of empathy and intuition and care deeply for others. Unfortunately, their feelings are easily hurt, and they have the tendency to hold grudges and sulk." Laskohki paused to sip from an earthen cup, and the twins used that time to make some comments of their own.

"Oh, Elfhild, that is so like you," Elffled giggled, putting her hand on the other girl's shoulder. "You talk so much that your foot is usually in your mouth."

"And you sulk continuously." Elfhild smiled sweetly, her eyes narrowed.

"And when the two of you are irritated with one another, you are like cats who eye each other contemptuously, the tips of their tails twitching while they decide when to strike," Laskohki laughed. "Of course, you resemble your signs, for the stars and planets rule our lives. They never lie, but we can interpret them incorrectly."

A loud knocking on the door startled the twins, and they jerked their heads towards the noise. "Little Mistresses, what is taking so long?" Growing impatient at the long wait, Akil opened the door to the wain, blinking as his vision adjusted to the dim light. As he peered inside, his gaze was caught by the sight of Laskohki's daughter. The child was playing with a small wax figure which had been dressed in clothing which looked suspiciously like his.

"Go away," the child giggled as she stuck a pin into the poppet's foot.

"You play strange games, child." Akil shook his head. "Where are my mistresses?"

"In the back." The girl motioned with the doll to the inner chamber. "But they do not want to see you now."

"They must hurry, for the hour is growing late." Akil frowned as the little girl shoved another pin into the doll's foot. The lamplight seemed to dance on the thin shafts of metal, reflecting their glow into his eyes. "Mistresses, are you in there?" he shouted from the doorway, his high-pitched voice squeaking too loudly for his own ears.

"Yes, Akil," Elfhild called back nervously, prickles of panic shooting through her body. "We are still deciding what we want." Wiping her clammy palms upon her garments, she cast an anxious glance at Laskohki. When would the woman ever get around to casting a clear light upon their destinies? So far, all she had done was tell them about themselves, not what would happen in their future. Elfhild's distress was increasing with every passing moment, and she imagined Akil barging into the wain, with Esarhaddon right at his heels. Trembling with shame and fear, she and her sister would have to listen to the scalding condemnations and bear the brutal beatings, with the accompanying pain and tears.

"How much longer will you be? They will be missing you back at the camp." Akil rested his hand against the doorway and tried to see inside to the shadowy interior of the wain. He debated upon whether he should stay outside or see what mischief was going on inside. Perhaps it would not be judicious to enter the wain, for then he would run the risk of angering Laskohki and thus alienating her husband, the Master Cook. He did not want to make enemies over something so trifling as two dawdling slave girls.

"Not much longer, dear Akil," Elffled replied sweetly. "Please try to be patient for a little while longer!" She glanced to her sister, who was obviously panicking. Smiling sympathetically, she squeezed her hand in an attempt to comfort her.

"Only a few more minutes!" Akil huffed, glaring at Laskohki's daughter, who had started stabbing the poppet's groin with needles. He felt a sharp pain strike him in his mutilated loins, and he feared that he might be coming down with another painful bladder infection. "If you are not ready by then, I will drag you both out of this wain!" He shot Laskohki's daughter a reproachful glare. "And you, little girl, need to find more wholesome games before you go straight down the path of wickedness!" Slamming the door behind him, he heard the child's giggles following him as he stomped around to the other side of the wain.

"The best eunuchs are those who have had their tongues cut out," Laskohki muttered darkly. "When they are allowed to keep their tongues, they chatter and gossip incessantly." She snorted disdainfully and then passed her hand over her eyes, as though to drive away any negative influences emanating from the eunuch. "I must now separate myself from this plane of woe so that my mind may float freely into the celestial domain. Only there can I perceive your destinies. Be silent while I meditate!"

The twins looked about their surroundings uncertainly. Laskohki slid her hand into her low bodice and drew out a black stone whose onyx surface revealed nothing but the dusky unknown. Her eyes seemed to glaze over as she stared at the smooth, convex disk. The light of the candle reflected off the stone, making it glow with a ruddy light.

"As the spirits begin to lead, the images swirl up through the ethereal mists from the World of the Unseen." Laskohki's deep, sultry voice dropped to a whisper. "They know all – our past, our present, our future," she chanted. "Come forth, O spirits of those who have gone before, and grant me the gift to see the unseen! Let this stone be the mirror to the beyond!"

Laskohki stared into the murky depths of the stone, such an expression of concentration upon her face that her features seemed frightening to behold. "I see now..." she rasped. "The shadows are swept away as the dark clouds retreat before the winds. The past is before me, and it is interwoven with the future." The glassy eyes of the scryer were fixed upon the stone. "Come, Elffled, the younger, daughter of destiny, and see what the future holds for you..."

"You want me to look at the stone?" Elffled's eyebrows raised in surprise.

"Of course, my dear," Laskohki murmured. "You have the power, if you will but use it."

Bowing her head, Elffled gazed into the shew stone, terrified at what she might behold but still too curious to resist. "Nothing... I see nothing." Her voice trembled with disappointment. She looked up into the dark eyes of Laskohki. "Does this mean I have no future?"

The witch laughed indulgently. "No, my dear. Your inability to see means only that you have not yet developed that power. Do not be discouraged. While you are not yet able to use the gift of seeing, you can be sure that the spirits have not forsaken us. Perhaps they will part the curtain and show me what you cannot see."

"What do you see, Mistress?" Elffled asked, making sure her voice sounded appropriately deferential. A suspicion began to grow in her mind that the fortuneteller was not all she appeared to be. Laskohki kept claiming that she and Elfhild had magic powers, when it was quite obvious that they did not. Perhaps all along Laskohki had been manipulating them so that they would appear weak and ineffectual, while she would seem like a great prophetess.

"Though the mists are thick, blinding you to what lies beyond the hidden door, the spirits are here, wanting to bring you visions from the beyond." Laskohki stared deeply into the stone, and then, suddenly, her eyes rolled back in her head. "Treachery reveals itself to you, though you seek it not. Thus the Journey of Destiny begins." She began swaying from side to side in her trance, her head rocking upon her shoulders. "Escape! Escape! Swift feet flee in the night. The Herald of Doom comes to the sleeping city, bringing war in her wake! The flames rise high; the temple is engulfed by black smoke. The victor travels upon the north wind, a fallen star descending from the heavens."

"Mistress, what does the vision mean?" Elffled asked in a tremulous voice, her panic growing by the second. She understood not a single word that the fortuneteller had said, but the prophesy terrified her nevertheless.

"Dark days are coming," Laskohki intoned, her voice a grave whisper as she slowly came out of her trance. "A storm approaches, and you shall find yourself caught in its midst."

"When will all these terrible misfortunes befall me?" Elffled was close to tears.

"What is time to the spirits? Perhaps a month, perhaps a year, perhaps even longer; I know not." Closing her eyes, Laskohki lifted a shaky hand to her forehead and dropped her chin to her chest. She spent a few moments taking in deep, labored breaths, as though she had run a great distance or completed some other impressive feat of strength. At last she raised her head and looked upon the twins with dazed, weary eyes. "These are dire portents indeed! I must meditate upon this vision which the stone has given me and beseech the spirits for wisdom."

"But – but – you must tell us more, Mistress!" Elffled cried out in desperation. "Please! I must know what happens in my future!"

Elfhild reached out and clutched her sister's hand. "What dread fate lies in store for Elffled… and for me?"

"The portals to the realm of the unseen are now closed, and I can see no more." Laskohki's voice was filled with grave solemnity. "In time all shall be revealed."


Even though they both knew that they faced a grueling day of marching under the hot desert sun, sleep was long in coming for the twins that night. As they lay facing each other upon a thick carpet in the slave pavilion, they carried on a lively conversation in hushed whispers. Laskohki's terrible prophesy kept echoing in their ears, and such disconcerting thoughts were not conducive to restful slumbers and peaceful dreams. While they had visited the fortuneteller to receive insight concerning their future, they had departed from her wain with troubled minds and more questions than they had answers.

"Elffled, what do you think Laskohki's vision meant?" Elfhild asked fearfully. "What sort of treachery will you find? And are you the Herald of Doom, or is that someone else? And who is the victor from the north?"

Elffled shook her head in bewilderment. "Nothing she said made any sense."

"The prediction was quite ominous," Elfhild continued. "So much fire and destruction! Do you think that war will come to the Dark Land?"

Elffled gave a little snort. "The Dark Lord brings war to other lands; war does not come to His. I believe that Mordor is the safest place in all of Middle-earth right now. Perhaps Laskohki saw the future of someone else in her scrying stone." Now that she had calmed from her earlier fright and had time to think, she had begun to doubt the veracity of Laskohki's prognostications.

"I certainly hope so." Elfhild sighed. "I cannot bear any more suffering and death!"

"Perhaps Laskohki is a lying thief who steals the coin of the gullible with their permission," Elffled muttered sullenly, wondering if the clever fortuneteller had taken her for a fool. "She probably expects us to come back another night, begging her to reveal more secrets of the future."

"I wonder what my future holds." Elfhild fell silent for a moment, and when she resumed speaking, her hushed voice was filled with emotion. "Since we are sisters, our fates are interconnected, our tapestries hanging side by side in the Weaver's Halls. Whatever doom awaits us, we shall face it together."

"Oh, Elfhild, you are almost as dramatic as Laskohki!" Elffled groaned, rolling her eyes. "You put entirely too much stock in the ramblings of a scheming seer. I will admit that she puts on a convincing performance, but I am unsure how much of her prophesy we can believe. From the very beginning, she acted as though we possessed some secret arcane power, claiming that her people believed twins had an affinity for magic. If she really did have powers of divination, she would have been able to discern that there is not a speck of sorcery about us! She probably tells all her customers that they possess hidden powers, and for a few more coins, she can teach them a spell or two to cast."

"I do not know, sister. I would not be so quick to dismiss Laskohki's predictions." Elfhild's face was tense with worry as she ruminated upon all that the seer had revealed in her trance. "Remember that Tarlanc the Miller was told by his wife's mother, a fortuneteller among the Randirrim, that he should 'beware a woman who dwells within a man's body.' Though it was a strange prediction, it ultimately came true, for if there was ever a woman in a man's body, it would be Âmbalfîm. What a strange orc that one was!"

"Although Laskohki and Ahãma share the same profession, I do not think that the two women can be compared with each other," Elffled scoffed. "Ahãma was using her powers of divination to give her daughter's husband advice, while Laskohki was predicting the future of strangers for coin. Perhaps if Laskohki's performance had been less theatrical, I would be more willing to believe her prophesies."

"Perhaps you are right," Elfhild mumbled, suppressing a yawn behind her hand. It seemed that the day had finally caught up with her, and her sister's lengthy rationalizations were tiring her already weary mind. All she had wanted was to learn who would be her master. Instead, she discovered that some horrible doom might befall her sister. Was there any truth at all in Laskohki's prophesies? If so, could this fate be averted, or had it already been determined by powers beyond their control? Oh, it had been a mistake ever to go to the fortuneteller's wain! Perhaps it was better not to know one's future, lest fear of what was to come fill one's present days with worry!

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