The clock struck, and the gongs rang out. Each gong sounded like a person screaming a lie to the heavens. “Dead King!” The gong with a voice of a young, strong man cried as the king laughed and danced about gaily. “Bad Crops!” This time, the gong sounded like a sweet-voiced woman as farmers brought in many vegetables from lush fields. Another, a child with a stutter, cried “No w-war!” but the land was quickly razed by men covered in blood and iron. The last peal was a horrible cry with a hoarse, loud voice. “Hero comes!” It screamed, like an old woman under torture, just as a man in shining armor was killed under an unknown figure’s axe.
The world suddenly became dark, and shadowy fog hid all, save the torso of a woman. With blind, groping hands she reached into the shadows. A few times, she pulled something from them, but returned it. Finally, she drew forth a tattered robe, like a wordsmith of old. Dark red curls framed her bare breasts and her round, pregnant belly. Her flesh pale and soft, save where deep, ugly scars encircled her belly. There were more than might be counted in that brief instant I saw her.
My eyes opened, and I stared at my mentor. Baretly’s ancient face was filled with shock. Somehow, he looked completely devoid of color, as though someone repainted him with only black, white, and the shades between.
I began to stand, but he stopped me. “No,” he said. “Remain, and tell me of what you saw.” The old, be-whiskered man unraveled a blank scroll and dipped a brush.
I took a deep breath.
“The clock struck the fourth hour.” I frowned as I struggled to recall everything. “Each sound of the gong was a different person’s voice. A young man was the first, and he said the king was dead, even though a man in the crown was dancing about gaily and with energy.” I closed my eyes. “The next sounding was a sweet woman who declared the crops were bad, even as farmers brought in more than people could eat. A stuttering child cried that there was no war, but an invading force, covered in blood and armor, crossed the border and began a horrible attack.”
Baretly waited, enraptured. I took a deep breath to calm myself Something about this was unnerving. “The last voice was an old woman. She sounded like she was in horrible agony, and her voice was hoarse, but strong. She said the hero was coming. He wasn’t, though. A stranger killed him with an axe.”
“Dark.” Baretly murmured. “Was there more?”
“After that? Yes. The entire world became abruptly darkened. There was a sticky black fog, too. I couldn’t see or hear anything, until a woman’s torso appeared. She was pregnant, and her hair, what I could see, was dark red. Her belly was covered in many scars, and she looked almost ready to give birth.” I paused. Somehow, it felt like she was supposed to be doing something. I couldn’t recall. “There was something else. I don’t remember.” I gripped my head.
“Come on, Brennet! If you don’t remember, nobody will know until the time comes!”
Something snapped in place. “In the time of deceit, she who bears a half-murdered babe mends for an unborn smith.”
I must have blacked out. When I woke up, I could barely remember my own name. Father Baretly sat, sleeping, at the side of my pallet. His ancient face looked worn and harried. He looked far older than I ever recalled. He looked hollow and tiny within his rough brown robes. I didn’t want to wake him.
His eyes opened before I could decide what to do next. He looked down at me and smiled when he saw my eyes were open. “You’re awake,” he murmured, his expression filled with warm relief. The old man rested his hand against first my cheek, then my forehead. “We had worried you were struck down for telling prophetic words.”
A smile tugged at my lips, and I opened my mouth to speak. No sound came forth. I knew why, but I could not reassure my master as I watched his face become white like uncooked Tafa bread. I reached out to him and gripped his shoulder firmly. This seemed to pull him from his shock, and he pushed my hand away with uncertainty.
“I was told to tell the other elders when you woke, and in what condition.” Father Baretly excused himself as he fled.
My master was terrified of what happened. He had no idea why I could not speak, and I could not tell him. I pushed this trouble from my mind and instead decided I would better spend my time in meditation. I folded my legs and rested the backs of my hands on my knees.
Thoughts left my mind as I closed my eyes and adjusted my breathing. The peace of meditation came so much more easily than usual.
Perhaps I fell asleep, or perhaps not. Several times, I saw great changes around me. The world moved so quickly. The temple fell to ruin, and was rebuilt in the name of a new deity. I was walled in. The walls were torn down, and I was carried along many roads. Bandits attacked, and I sat at the side of the road while merchants and others passed by. A scholar and a group of soldiers and workers carried me away once more, into a large city. I was placed on an altar, and many days, nights, weeks, months, and years passed. The temple around me was kept well, and the cleaning staff often walked up to me and stared for a few moments before they went about their tasks. They all grew older very quickly.
Time was moving on around me, as though I was waiting.
My eyes opened. I was inside that ornate temple, seated on a cold stone altar. The girl in front of me was dressed as though she was a kitten of night. I was certain that with such soft, curled hair, she was popular with the men who appreciated youth in their whores.
The girl gasped and stepped back quickly. I held up my hand, and knew I could speak again. “Don’t be afraid.” I urged. My voice was different. “I am a friend.”
Now, finally, I was confused. Why was I her friend? Rapidly, my memories faded. I smiled at her. Something about her red hair drew me to her. “You should not dress like that. The colors don’t fit your hair. They’re suited for a much lighter color.”
“I’m sorry?” She spoke slowly, in a bewildered voice.