I’ve been trying to figure out a title for my new story. Since it’s set in the Land of Enchantment universe, It needs the word “magic” in the title. But what kind of magic? Since the story revolves around fortune-teller Emilia Dunmoor, it has to include something about the future or foreseeing. Prescient Magic? Imminent Magic? Foreboding Magic? Fortunate Magic?
For now, I’ve settled on Fateful Magic as a working title. I like the play on the word “fortune,” although the magic involved isn’t exactly fortunate.
If you missed the prologue, you can read it here.
Two years later…
“I had that dream again,” Emilia said.
Beside her, Livy pushed her ever-present shopping cart. This time, it was mostly empty—Livy was heading to the beach to gather driftwood for the sculptures she created. A breeze tasting of salt fluttered her greying hair under her hairband.
“The one about the house?” Livy said.
Emilia nodded, pleating her skirt with her fingers.
For a few paces, Livy only pushed the cart, its wheels squeaking and rattling along the pavement. A pine and fir-clad slope rose behind the buildings on the landward side of Highway 1. Hotels dotted the strip of cliff above the Pacific. It was too early yet for most tourist traffic, although the local restaurants had drawn in a few for breakfast.
“True dream, do you think?” Livy said at last.
Emilia hesitated. “I don’t know. It’s so persistent, yet seems so nightmarish—”
Livy snorted. “Running through a big, beautiful house doesn’t sound very nightmarish to me.”
“I’m running because I’m trapped in it.”
“Trapped in a big, beautiful house. Uh-huh. The stuff of nightmares.”
“It is if one if frightened and desperate,” Emilia said, exasperated.
Livy made a considering noise. “Well, if it’s a true dream, it’ll only do you good if you know who trapped you.”
And her gift had been unreliable on that point in the past. That was what had led to her downfall two years ago. She shook her head. No, two hundred years ago, she corrected herself. When a man she’d trusted had betrayed her, tearing out her gift and plunging her into long, long darkness…
Had she been another of those shadows she’d seen when she reawakened, an empty husk of herself drifting through the centuries until some convulsion of magic restored her? How many others like her had there been?
Livy’s voice broke into her thoughts. “Have you laid the cards?”
Emilia shook her head, both in answer and to shake away the disturbing thoughts. “The cards aren’t trustworthy. They’re open to too many interpretations.” As were dreams, of course.
“Still, something’s better than nothing.”
Emilia sighed. “The King of Spades—a powerful man. The Ace of Spades—destiny. The Ten of Diamonds—an improvement in circumstances.” She waved a hand. “Any assortment of Change cards. The Two of Hearts—the lovers.” She frowned. Of all of them, that was the card that sent a chill straight to her middle.
“Huh,” Livy said. “You’re right. That’s not much help.” She slanted her a look. “Other than you better be careful around any powerful men.”
They walked a while, the squeak and bump of the cart wheels over the asphalt and the occasional passing car on the highway filling the silence.
“You told me before the future is always subject to change…” Livy said.
“And our actions shape it.”
“What if you went someplace else? Get away from here for a while. See if the dreams stop.”
Emilia pursed her lips. “I suppose I could…”
She didn’t like the idea. She’d have to find another place to live that didn’t require papers and identification cards. Another place to ply her trade unmolested. And what if it was like last time? Her gift had shown her a dragon she must flee. But that hadn’t been the danger at all.
“…but I might just as easily fulfill what my dreams warn of,” she finished.
“I think I read a story like that one time. Something about this guy trying to run away from Death. And he goes right to the town where Death was supposed to meet him.”
Emilia looked curiously at her friend. “I believe I heard the same story somewhere.” It must be a very old story.
“So what will you do?”
Emlia sighed. “Bide my time until I know more.”
Livy gave a laugh that made her sound like the young girl she once must’ve been. “That’s just not fair. To be able to see what you do…and be just as uncertain as everybody else.”
“Say rather that I’ve learned to wait until the signs are clearer.”
Livy grunted agreement.
“I can tell you this, though,” Emilia said. “You’ll find something of interest on the beach today.”
“I’ll hold you to that,” Livy said, leveling a finger on her.
Emilia nodded complacently. “You’ll join me for dinner tonight and show me what you find?”
“It’s meatloaf at the Senior Center today. You bet I’ll be joining you for dinner.”
With a wave, Livy turned her cart into the Seacliff Gallery parking lot, where a trail led down to the Gualala River’s lagoon.
Emilia continued along the highway to the Galleria Mar Azul, a collection of galleries and shops selling clothing, curios and candy. The landlord rented her a spot in the breezeway where she could set up her table and chairs out of the way of foot traffic, yet conveniently visible to passing tourists.
She first stopped at Terra Bakery. This time of the morning, the selection of day-old items was excellent. She chose a cranberry and orange scone, a cup of hot tea, and for dinner, a rustic loaf. The tea in its paper cup always tasted a bit odd to her.
The shopkeepers greeted her as they opened their doors.
“Hey, Ms. Dunmoor.” Morgan from Candy’s Kitchen turned the lock to her door.
Emilia had long since given up explaining it was Mrs. Dunmoor, as she was a widow of—well, far more than eight years now.
“Good morning, Morgan. You look like a winter sunset today.”
Morgan’s hair, which she’d previously dyed a silvery grey, now shaded at the ends to a vivid shade of vermillion.
“It’s ombre.” She flipped her hair. “Isn’t it cool?”
Emilia still found the girl’s hair colors, piercings and tattoos as barbaric as the first time she’d glimpsed them, though by now she understood them to be quite the fashion among young people.
In the little nook between the gallery and The Beachcomber, a shop that sold shells (and lamps, clocks, jewelry and creatures with alarming, buggy eyes made out of shells), Emilia set up her table.
She supposed she made a credible seeress, with her long skirts and full blouse and shawl, her hair coiled into a crown atop her head. People’s glances as she walked along the street or through the market showed they thought her somewhat odd, but she simply couldn’t bring herself to wear trousers. Although she had to admit she found the idea of trousers less shocking than displaying her legs for all the world to see.
Whoever had invented the bra, however, had her undying gratitude. Corsets had been a misery no women could regret.
Traffic among the shops increased quickly. It was the weekend, and a lovely, sunny day, perfect for luring sightseers to a charming little northern California seaside town. The first to sit at her table were two young girls who giggled and squealed throughout Emilia’s reading. Then came two young ladies perhaps ten years older, then a married woman whose husband stood listening with poorly feigned disinterest.
The reactions of the more mature couple seemed to convince other passersby that Emilia’s work was more than silly amusement. People waited at a respectful distance to consult her, hurrying forward as soon as the chairs were vacated. At last a man with a beautiful, red-haired woman at his side slid into the chair on the other side of her table.
He was her first male client of the day. Consulting a fortune teller seemed to be considered unmanly, for nearly all her clients were female. This man, from the way he leaned an elbow on her table and preened before his young lady, considered it a joke.
“How much to tell my fortune?” he said with a Russian accent.
“Twenty dollars for fifteen minutes,” Emilia replied, tapping her cards straight in front of her.
“Ha! You charge almost as much as my tailor!” This, though ostensibly to Emilia, was clearly meant to impress his lady friend.
Emilia only smiled politely.
“C’mon, Niko. Aren’t you curious?” The red-haired woman said.
With a show of an indulgent smile, the man—Niko—pulled out a money clip. Peeling out a twenty from among the large bills there, he slid it across the table.
Emilia moved it by her elbow as if it were no more than any other slip of paper. She could put on a show, too.
“Cut the cards.”
“No. I want you to read my palm. You can read palms, can’t you?”
A sudden, strong disinclination to touch him gripped her. “Very well. Lay your hand on the table.”
He snorted, but did as she bade.
He’d broken a finger or two sometime in the past, but his nails were manicured and his fingers clean and uncallused. She let out a quiet breath, bent over it and opened herself to her gift.
The roar of gunfire. Blood. Tortured men screaming. Death.
Emilia caught her breath and sat up. The man sat across from her, smiling, his young face with its high Slavic cheekbones showing no trace of the ugliness she’d seen. She wet her lips, her heart suddenly beating quicker.
“You’re in a dangerous line of work, sir.”
He glanced aside at the woman with him. “It can be,” he said casually.
Fifteen minutes. Emilia had a suspicion they would be long ones. She knotted her hands in her lap and bent over his hand again.
“It’s made you enemies, but they fear to retaliate.”
“Good,” he said. “They should.”
“They’d drawn far too close. Then you found a—” She caught herself on the word ‘protector.’ This sort of man wouldn’t take well to the implication. “An employer.”
“You could say that about anyone.”
“But not you. Until the fall, you worked for no man but yourself.”
“Doing what?” He was laughing at her, testing her.
She’d have to be delicate. Blunt replies would land her in very hot water indeed. “Selling insurance.”
Now he laughed out loud. “Insurance. Yes. Yes, I ensured nothing terrible happened. What else?”
“You were a salesman…” Of opium. Women. Banes, it seemed, common to all eras. “…of things men entertain and soothe themselves with.”
He curled his fingers and stared hard at her. “You seem to know a lot about my past.”
“I’m a fortune teller. Your past is inextricably tied to your future.”
She coolly met his gaze across the table, searching for any hint of danger. There was…something…a link to some future moment, but it was only an echo, one that might yet be changed by a thousand events to come.
At last, the man grunted, rubbed the back of his neck and opened his hand again. “Enough of my past. I paid to hear my future.”
Emilia nodded and dipped into the flow of possibilities once more. “If you continue on your present course, your future is secure. You will have a place, and a task well-done as long as you live.” She let her finger hover above his life line. It wasn’t long.
“What about love and marriage?” the red haired woman said, slipping her arm around him.
“You will have no wife,” Emilia said.
The woman’s face fell.
“Will I have sons?” Niko said. “To carry on my name?”
“One,” Emilia said, neglecting to add that the boy would refuse his father’s legacy, including his name.
“What about money? Will I prosper?” The question might’ve been mocking, but his gaze on her was quite serious.
She gestured at the twenty still resting by her elbow. “As you do now.”
“What if I want more?”
Emilia sat back in her chair. “You wish me to tell you how to gain more?”
He looked at his watch. “We still have ten minutes.”
A flash of his voice speaking to someone, clear enough to know it would happen soon: I’m telling you, this one’s the real thing.
“You possess valuable knowledge,” she said. “Share what you know, and you’ll be richly rewarded.”
All at once, the web of his future changed in a cascade of shifting paths. She blinked, dizzy, and pulled out of the seeing.
She knotted her hands under the table again. She’d done something. This prediction had opened up entirely new possibilities in his future. Such a thing had happened before only with her husband, and once, with one of her sisters. A chill brushed down her spine.
“What knowledge?” the man, Niko, was asking.
Should she tell him? Should she accept such responsibility, allow herself to change another’s future? But she had already, hadn’t she?
“I don’t know,” she said, not entirely untruthfully.
His face grew hard. “Don’t tell me you don’t know. If you think you’ll get more money—”
“Give it to her, Niko,” the red haired woman said. “Isn’t it worth it?”
Emilia stiffened. “I’m not attempting to extort more money from you. Do you think the future is such a plain, straight path? It changes every moment.”
“Then tell me what it is this moment.” His voice was very soft, very dangerous.
Yet no sense of danger brushed her. And with this man, that was almost more alarming than if it had.
“I don’t need to tell you,” Emilia said. “You’ve learned a truth this hour. Now you have only to decide what you’ll do with it.”
The threat in his eyes changed to…what? Disbelief? Awe? His lips moved as if repeating her words. He took his hand from the table.
“You’re good.” He pulled out the money clip again and peeled off another bill. “I’m impressed.”
Emilia stared at the hundred dollar bill on her table. “No, I can’t—”
He waved a hand and stood. “Take it, take it. Don’t embarrass me.”
Emilia stammered. The red-haired woman was trying to convince him to let Emilia tell her future, too, but he put an arm around her waist and swept her away.
“We’ll have a nice lunch then head back down the coast,” he said. “I have business to take care of this afternoon.”
“Will you be free tonight, honey?”
Emilia couldn’t see her pout, but it was clear enough in her voice.
His hand slid down the tight curve of her jeans. “For you? Sure I am.”
The woman giggled and leaned against him, then they disappeared among the other tourists.
A breeze flicked the hundred across Emilia’s table, taunting her. She caught it before it fluttered away.
No point in refusing it now. The damage, whatever it might be, was already done.