Andriel sighed as she looked out on the crowd outside the tent. Her black cloak weighed heavy on her shoulders today.
“No one will come in if you behave like that!” the admonishment came from behind her.
Andriel turned and beheld the old woman who had been her constant companion the past three years. The woman looked about 50, but she knew Elora to be at least 120! She had yet to start learning the spells that would keep her from withering in old age.
“Not needed for you yet!” the woman had insisted every time Andriel asked to be taught the spells of longevity. “That should wait until you are past child-bearing and you haven’t even begun that stage of your life! And that’s a good thing! At sixteen, you should only be worrying about your education.”
The words impressed themselves on her brain, almost as if Elora had spoken them aloud again.
Andriel had been surprised to learn that magick was so much work! No easy way out of anything! She sighed again and lifted her dark magenta gown from the ground as she returned to her place behind the table – ready to read the palms of anyone who wanted to know more about themselves – and sometimes the future. It was always the same. Young women wanted to know about love. Young men wanted to know about business or their ability to earn wealth. Older women wanted to know if their husbands cheated and the elderly wanted to know about their children – or about when and how they might die.
“You mustn’t think so ill of people,” Elora admonished. “They ask you what is deep inside their hearts. It’s a position of privilege and trust. Maybe you should practice your skills of telepathy and empathy. See if you can figure out what they want before they ask. Like the young man coming this way now. What does he want?”
“I don’t know…,” Andriel replied before realizing her mentor didn’t expect an answer. She straightened herself and adjusted her velvety cloak and found herself holding her breath when the anticipated young man entered the tent, ducking slightly through the low door. His complexion was slightly tanned, like someone from X’lea or Varkevand. His hair was a fairly solid brown with a hint of red. His eyes met hers and she felt her cheeks warming despite her training. His simple tunic and trousers were shrouded by an ankle-length aqua cloak that she knew to be typical A’mara garb. He couldn’t have been 18 yet, so probably had a maqla mentor nearby.
“I need my palm read,” he said nervously, as if he didn’t believe in what he was asking.
“Sit down, son,” Elora invited. “Andriel will be happy to do just that.”
Andriel tried not to gulp her nerves, just thinking about touching the man’s hand. She tried not to let it show on her face as he sat across from her and lay his forearm on the table between them. Andriel looked at the palm offered and began, not daring to touch him at first. She explained everything she saw from his childhood illness and loss of his parents to the fact that he felt deeply despite his insistence that he didn’t need such feelings.
It was the strange pattern near his wrist that caught her attention. Andriel’s nerves faded for a moment and she felt the need to touch him. She traced her finger over the pattern which looked something like a butterfly. She’d never seen one before. “Stella!” she called to her mentor. “What should I make of this?”
“Very rare,” Elora replied. “It almost matches yours...”
“Show me,” the man requested.
Andriel slowly turned over her own palm where there was a pattern that looked very much like a flower. As the man placed his hand over hers, she felt his butterfly land on her flower and a shock, like lightning that pulsed through her body. She quickly pulled her hand from his grasp and stood, still shocked from the exchange.
“Mr. A’mara,” Elora quickly intervened. “Andriel feels unwell. I need you to leave.”
“Sorry,” the young man replied instantly.
“What seems to be the trouble?” another man asked. “Has my chola upset anyone?”
“Maqla,” Elora implored respectfully and urgently. “Please take your chola. My apprentice is unwell.”
Andriel somehow made it onto her sleeproll in the back before she blacked out.
“Drink,” Elora’s voice reached through the fog to pull Andriel back to consciousness.
“What happened?” she asked cautiously
“A very powerful connection,” Elora replied. “I’ve never seen one so strong before.”
“Connection? But we’ve never met!” Andriel insisted, thinking of the handsome young man she had read for.
“Perhaps not in this lifetime.”
“In another then?”
“I can almost guarantee that. You two have unfinished business.”
“Stella?” a voice called through the tent.
“They are back. Do you want to see your young man?” Elora asked.
“He’s not my young man!” Andriel corrected quickly.
Elora made a clicking noise that indicated she wasn’t convinced. She left the room without another word.
Andriel quickly tried to make herself presentable, adjusting her gown to show her pale Towani skin without immodesty just in case the young man’s maqla decided to come in as well.
The young man came in, his smile melting her heart as soon as his eyes met hers. As he sat beside her sleeproll, she realized his eyes were green, like peridot.
“I’m sorry I startled you earlier, Andriel,” he began.
She took a shaky breath, unsure what to say – something about how she must not touch his hand again or similar, she supposed. “It’s okay,” she replied, not wanting him to feel bad in any case. It wasn’t his fault that the butterfly on his hand wanted to land on the flower in her own! “What’s your name?” she finally asked.
“Luken,” he replied. “Are you feeling better now?”
“Yes,” she replied. “Amazing what a nap and a cup of tea will do!”
“I’m so glad my maqla made me come to you, though I am sorry my being here made you nervous and tired. I would make it up to you if you would allow,” he said, taking her hand.
Andriel feared she would fall ill again, but she let him pull her to her feet anyway. There was something about Luken that drew her to him inexplicably. To touch him and let him pull her close seemed as natural as breathing – unlike anything she’d ever felt before. “I would dance with you tomorrow night, if I may,” he breathed, so close to her face. She feared he would kiss her.
“Sure,” she answered, beginning to fear that he wouldn’t kiss her.
He cupped her chin and met her lips with his, so gently that she thought that she had dreamt it.
“Chola,” his mentor called at the doorway.
“Until tomorrow night then,” he murmured and kissed her good-bye.
Then he was gone, and Andriel wondered if she would ever be the same.
“Sometimes it happens this way,” Elora said wistfully as they ate together that evening.
“What?” Andriel asked, unsure of what they were talking about.
“Love. Soul mates.” The old woman’s gaze drifted to the wall where the pictures of her children and grandchildren cluttered. Andriel followed her gaze as the old stella took out a handkerchief and cleaned the center picture of a handsome young couple, clearly in love, the woman’s belly swollen with child. “Hugo, I will never forget you.” She wiped a tear from her eye and looked back at Andriel. “We will be together again and hopefully, in our next lives we will recognize each other quickly so that we can have another lifetime to love.”
“You were very lucky,” Andriel recognized.
“I knew he was mine when I was your age. It wasn’t a palm reading, of course, but there was something about him that held promises of forever. We were hardly separated in the forty years that I had him – before he was taken from me.”
“So romantic! How long did you know him before you married?”
“It might have been a full month, Scandalous in our town!”
“And I’ve known Luken all of a few hours! How can I know anything?!”
“Andriel, I’ve told you about A’mara before and how their relationships tend to be scandalously quick. The fact that you two have clicked so quickly makes me think ...”
“Just that… it makes me think! I mustn’t say anything more than that!” she turned and indicated Andriel should join her in the living room. “Let me see your palm again.”
They sat and Andriel let the old woman hold her hand, looking over the various lines and creases. “It was this, wasn’t it?” she asked, fingering the flower. “I had always wondered. Nothing is said in any of my texts about flowers or butterflies, but if I wanted to create some sort of sign to make sure Hugo and I could recognize each other in our next life together, I’d do something like that!”
“I would almost bet money that you two agreed to this before you were born into this life,” Elora said with a grin.
“Don’t I get any say in this?!” Andriel cried, rising to her feet again.
“You’ve decided he’s my partner. Luken seems to have also decided! What about me?”
“What about your agreement from your life between lives?” she challenged. “What about your promise to him?”
“And how would I even know?!” She ran from the room, angry tears flowing from her eyes. How was it that everyone seemed to know what was right for her life? Everyone except her?!
<Do you not like him?> the voice impressed upon her mind, even as she threw herself onto her bed.
Of course she liked him. She liked everything about him! But she was only sixteen. How could she know about love and such things?! Good grief! How could she consider the word??? Love? Surely, it wasn’t possible that she could love Luken already! Or him her!
But the kiss…
The kiss which had spoken volumes.
He had barely touched her, yet his lips had burned straight into her very soul!
<Your own grandmother was fifteen when she met your grandfather,> the voice spoke to her.
<They didn’t live as long then either, did they?> Andriel wondered.
<That’s hardly the point. Was your grandmother smarter at fifteen than you are at sixteen?>
Andriel awoke, barely realizing that she had even slept. Her dreams had been full of frustration and confusion. Once, she even dreamt of meeting Luken before… could it really have been before their respective births?? She heard herself promising to recognize him when they met – that his butterfly would find her flower – and then they would know.
She thought about this dream throughout the day as she read the palms of various people who came into their tent. She wondered several times if Luken would come back before the evening, but he didn’t. Maybe she had dreamt up the whole thing!
Just as they were closing up the booth, he was there, his aqua cloak flowing in the breeze.
“Are you ready or do you need a few minutes?” he asked, smiling at her.
“Go ahead, Andriel,” Elora encouraged.
“I’m ready,” she replied, wondering at the words as they tumbled from her mouth.
“Good. I don’t dance much, but maybe you will overlook my clumsiness?” he suggested as they walked.
“I’m sure we’ll manage,” she replied.
Reaching the dance hall where many young people disappeared through the large front doors, with eager smiles on their faces and perfect hair. Andriel felt slightly out of place.
“Don’t worry,” Luken said, answering her thoughts and taking her hand. “I’m always slightly out of place!”
Inside, he didn’t waste any time, but pulled her against him.
Andriel put one arm around his neck, but her other hand found his. She pressed her flower against his butterfly; she wouldn’t break her promise.
His lips reached for hers and she answered with her own kiss, one of promise, one of hope. Tears formed in her eyes, but rather ones of anger or frustration, these were ones of pure joy – the joy that can only be had when one finds their other half – when the butterfly finds the flower of love.
The first kiss gave way to a second. There would be so much to do and think about in the coming days and weeks, but for tonight, she was free to simply enjoy the love of the one she was meant to bond with. She knew that now.
She wasn’t even surprised when his thoughts came directly to her head. She nodded and kissed him again when he asked so simply… <Do you believe?>