“I just wanted to say thank you,” Dewin sputtered nervously. He was one of Althea’s regulars. It was cute how much meaning could be found behind his eyes. He truly believed in her ability to see the future. Then again, why wouldn’t he? She was part of the ancient family of Araminta, after all.
“Glad I could help, Mr. Dewin. I’ve been meaning to ask, how is your grandmother?” Althea inquired, barely withholding her famously coy smile.
“Fine, as far as I know…why? What did you see?” Dewin replied, growing more anxious by the second. Perfect.
“Gee, Mr. Dewin, I would love to tell you, but I already gave you today’s vision. You’ll have to pay for yesterday’s to get the answer you seek. You know, so it’s fair to the people who come every day.” No one visited Althea’s shop daily. Most villagers believed her craft was nothing but a hoax, and they would be right. The only magic known to Nevergate was that of the Araminta family, to which Althea no longer belonged. Her banishment was quite the scandal. No one outside the royal family knew the true cause, and for that, Althea was grateful. She would be entirely out of business if word got out that she was the only member of Araminta to have come of age without an otherworldly gift.
“Of course, of course. I apologize,” Dewin stuttered as he frantically searched for enough coins to cover her outrageous fee. Ever since Althea’s landlord had raised the rent on her tiny cottage at the edge of town, the amount of silver “needed to produce a vision” had also increased. After about a minute of intense scavenging through his satchel, Dewin was able to produce just three-quarters of the listed price. Althea would take what she could get. She sighed, saying, “Well, Mr. Dewin, I’ll do it - but just this once! And only because this vision is an important one. Follow me.”
The pair made their way through the deep purple curtains that served to section off the back of Althea’s shop. The “seance room” contained an ornate, circular table with a stone bowl as its centerpiece. Four chairs huddled around it, none of which matched another. Althea took the grandest-looking one, although its beauty was utterly trivial. In reality, her throne was merely an abandoned stage prop she had found in a rat-infested alley. She gestured for Dewin to sit across from her, which he did immediately, nearly tripping over his ill-fitting shoes.
“Well then, let’s get started, shall we?” Althea took two stones from the bowl and knocked them together. With a swift crack, a fire surged. Fire was a mysterious thing, and for Althea, this meant she could put food on the table. If she led them to it, people could see anything in the crackling flames and billowing smoke.
“There!” she exclaimed, pointing at a random pillar of smoke about to flow out of the hole in her roof. “Did you see it? Of course you did - you’ve done this enough times. You must be a pro by now.” Althea shifted her gaze from the ceiling to the man cowering on the other side of the flame. His eyes were wide with the pressure she had just put on him - the perfect victim. Dewin shifted in his seat, his eyes dancing around the room, landing everywhere but her face. Poor thing, Althea thought, he really thinks there’s a right answer.
“I think I saw…well, I don’t know if I’m right - you’re the expert with this sort of thing….”
“Oh come now, Mr. Dewin, you must have more faith in your skills if you are ever to -” Althea made her eyes wide as she leaned back in her throne. She gripped the armrests so hard her knuckles turned white.
“What? What is it? What do you see?” Dewin whispered urgently, peering into the flames. Althea counted to ten before answering. This usually gave her clients a chance to come up with a fate of their own. Dewin said nothing.
“I’m surprised you didn’t see that considering your bloodline,” she finally said.
“The vision of your grandmother - it is now complete. Everything is coming together. She was a seer, too.”
“Does that mean…that I…no.”
“Yes. With enough training, you could become as great as she once was.”
“What happened? Why doesn’t she use her gift anymore?”
“Ridicule. To be completely honest, I don’t blame her. It is a challenge I, myself, face every day.”
“Excuse me, but I must go,” Dewin was scrambling again. He almost tripped over the leg of his chair; he was in such a hurry.
“Wait! Wouldn’t you like to start lessons? I am willing to teach you for the right price.”
“A very generous offer indeed; however, I must pay someone a visit as soon as possible,” Dewin replied. He could hardly contain his excitement at the most significant news he had ever gotten in his dull, miserable little life.
It wasn’t until after he had left that Althea realized her mistake. There was only one person in the village Dewin trusted more than Althea, and that was his grandmother, Mrs. Darrow, an old widow of whom nobody ever spoke. It wasn’t that she was hated or feared - she was just astoundingly forgettable, much like her grandson. Once Mrs. Darrow told him Althea’s visions were a lie, she would lose her only true advocate. Althea would be a disgraced street rat within days if she didn’t think of something soon.
Those days passed, and Althea had yet to see a single soul wander into her shop. The damage was done. Her already-small group of clients had shrunk to none, and her rent was due. The next morning, she would be hearing the pounding fist of her landlord at the cottage door. He was a small man, but he had a booming voice and no mercy. As she was staring at the familiar crack in the ceiling above her bed, the only idea she had come up with over the past forty-eight hours resolved in her mind. Althea yanked her quilt from over her legs, letting the cold night air seep into her skin. Her eyes glowed with nervous energy. She walked across the room to the soot-covered hearth and started a fire using her most trustworthy stones. Althea peered into the flames, searching as she had never searched before. Her life truly did depend on it. Her eyes danced from flickering flame to flickering flame, from the sparks above to the ash below. Nothing. She could have talked herself into seeing the form of Dewin, but who was she trying to fool? Althea had nothing - no valuable skills and certainly no gift. Perhaps she did belong on the streets.
Bang, bang, bang! Althea shot up from the floor - had she been there all night? Her throat ached, and something black smudged her cheek, so the evidence pointed towards yes. She sighed and rubbed her burning eyes before trudging toward the door.
“You vile, conniving witch!” a rotund, spectacled woman that looked to be in her mid-sixties shouted as soon as she saw Althea.
“And good morning to you too,” she replied dryly.
“You cursed him. I know it was you. My son told me everything.”
“I see…and how did I curse him exactly?” Althea asked Mrs. Dewin, a glimmer of hope rising in her chest. Even if Mrs. Dewin was mistaken, which she probably was, she could use it to her advantage.
“Alastor was fine until you poisoned his mind with your insidious words. How dare you. Where do you get off ruining the lives of everyone around you? Hm? You know, I have a right mind to -”
“Good God, woman! Just tell me what this is about!” Althea shouted, impatient. Fear flickered in Mrs. Dewin’s eyes, but she concealed it as quickly as it had appeared. Her gaze brightened, and her shoulders lowered.
“My son is now claiming he can see the future. He’s delirious. And all because your satanic prophecy touched his innocent ears. I’ve kept him inside for days - all the while making your witchcraft known to all of Nevergate.”
“Perhaps you should have more trust in him. Magic is known to live outside the castle walls. In fact, forest pixies are fluttering over your head at this very moment,” Althea announced, barely holding back a wince of anticipation. She knew this was not the person to be lying to, especially regarding magic.
“What?! Really?! Get them away! Get them away!” Mrs. Dewin shrieked, flailing her arms above her head. Althea gaped at her, frozen in the doorway. Why would this woman believe anything she said? She smiled, a theory forming. It was time to put it to the test. Althea slipped past the still-hysterical Mrs. Dewin and headed to the village square. There, she found a young woman drawing water from the well. Althea drew so near the woman that their shoulders touched before she whispered, “You know, true love is said to be found at the bottom of this well. All one has to do is take a leap of faith.” The woman didn’t even hesitate. As soon as Althea said the words, she jumped. Splash. Althea beamed at the sound. Her family hadn’t ostracized her for her lack of gift. They had been scared of how powerful she truly was. And she was just getting started.