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9 April 2020

Ten Minute Tales : A Future Fairy Tale by Erica Lainé

Ten Minute Tales
For your entertainment
a different Ten Minute Tale* every day
(except Friday when we have Novel Conversations)
Enjoy!


A Future Fairy Tale   
by 
Erica Lainé
               
The capsule was definitely not as she had ordered. Six robot hands, reacting to her scowling face, deftly manipulated the paint colour; a faint beige became a gleaming gold as known for ever in the architronic records, as HER colour.
‘Don’t let that happen again,' she growled, looking at the screen set high in the glass wall, or to be precise, the phased array optics,  that stretched all around her. The screen was impassive but she was sure something responded somewhere. Her hair, shaved short this morning, a necessary weekly task, stood on end, bristled in fact. Dor took off her transparent shape shifting metal gloves and ran a hand through it. She did not approve of these atavistic reminders of an earlier humanity.  ‘In fact’, said a voice from the pocket in her uniform, ‘in fact not humanity at all but an animal instinct. There is much evidence in times of stress for an accelerated heartbeat, dilated pupils, and piloerection — the correct scientific name for each contracting muscle creating a shallow depression on the skin surface, which causes the surrounding area to protrude…’ 
Dor clicked her fingers and the voice cut off in mid-sentence. There was a limit to being lectured so early in the morning. Especially the morning designed to appeal to all her senses. Beyond the glass, the real time hologram, a forest was growing, very rapidly and with exactly the right mix of trees. A glimpse of snow on a mountain, a body of water that she had been told in the briefing was known as a loch.
She could see berries and pine cones forming as she watched, thickets crowding together and brambles twining through them, and there were already fallen logs covered in fungi on the forest floor. Soon she would be able to touch the moss, feel the rough bark, the grey spongy lichen and soon she could smell the earth, and taste? Taste what? Her irritation returned. These missions were becoming absurd, but she had no say in where she was sent or asked to do. Not since the unit had broken up when it was overwhelmed by the shock waves that had been caused by the supernovae incinerating that dead star. No one had predicted this, and even though the explosions had been millions of miles away and only lasted a week, the galaxy was thrown off kilter and some planets were sent spinning away and out of the Right Zone, the zone that everyone knew was the best of all possible worlds. The zone where Dor and her tribe had lived for ever.
It was fortunate that there were other units who were eager to take anyone available, anyone left after the chaos and confusion. Dor was assigned to the Mother. The Mother had all control but was capricious and had strange desires. This mission was as the result of one of these desires. The entire unit had worked hard to make the images come true and the architronic records created everything accordingly. The glass dissolved and Dor spun the capsule so that it was facing where she would go. It would guard the entrance, the exit; it would guard her world and this other. She flexed her mind muscle to become receptive not stubborn and walked through into the forest. Her breathing quickened and she said one word. 'Once.' a difficult word to learn, an illogical word, nothing like the precise language that was her mother tongue where every letter made the sound assigned to it and did not deviate.
 The forest sensations whirred and clicked, her mind sorted them out, recorded, compiled, catalogued, almost too much data but she was ruthless and sent it all back to Mother, kept nothing for herself. Her way was winding but she did not stumble or look to left or right. The path she took led her to a square building made of the trees. One door, three windows. She went in. Three shimmering globes, descending in size from something about the size of her shaved head to something about the size of her clenched fist in its glove. She clicked on her first command and opened her mouth. The first globe bobbed in front of her and there was dark burning sensation. The second globe lingered near her face, a smell and a taste of the water that came from Neptune’s Triton. Horrid and not to be drunk. She shut her mouth tight, it was difficult not to send panic signals back to Mother, these first two were making her body ripple with distress. The third globe seemed shy. It came near her and then backed away. Her panic subsided. It almost seemed it was observing her. She opened her mouth and the globe broke into smaller globes and flew in. A feeling of comfort, of goodness, of a taste that was neither burn nor salt, but just right. She was working at top speed to get the information stored so it could be retrieved correctly. Exhausting. Her body began to bend, she needed to rest, a large deep recess appeared in the air and held out promise but even as she relaxed, a danger signal, no not here. A smaller recess formed and her tired legs walked her closer but it spun around and would not let her any nearer. The last, smallest recess was circling her and she allowed herself to fall back into it. And found she was on the floor with an angry staccato message coming from her pocket. 'Leave this alone; you will damage all the protocols.'
Dor stood and gave an equally angry response. ‘I am here to experiment and record, what would you have me do?’ 
‘Explore,’ was the terse response. Dor made her way to the rest of the small dark building; her energy levels were very low. She sent a message to the capsule in case it needed to be prepared for a rescue. Three more objects, similar to the cloud formations they had been trained to observe for changes in Mother's moods. Dor decided it was time for another word. 'Upon.' she said. Not quite as difficult as the first. The clouds invited her closer. She lay on the biggest, so deep and soft that she felt her breathing begin to disappear. She struggled out of it and tried the next, not soft at all, surprisingly hard and scratchy. She left it in a hurry and sat carefully on the third, which enveloped her immediately, but not with menace, with kindness. 
Dor closed her eyes as she said the last two words, 'A Time’.

© Erica Lainé 
website: https://ericalainewriter.com/

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8 April 2020

Ten Minute Tales : The Golden Cavalier by Elizabeth St John

Ten Minute Tales
For your entertainment
a different Ten Minute Tale* every day
(except Friday when we have Novel Conversations)
Enjoy!





The Golden Cavalier
by 
Elizabeth St John
This story was first posted on Discovering Diamonds December 2018

Candlelight illuminated the medieval wall paintings and above the altar the ancient gold stars shone from the midnight-blue domed ceiling. Joyce immersed herself in the poignant harmony of the prisoner-of-war choir as the men sang Stille Nacht, their voices weaving descant and tenor counterpoints of joy. When the last strains of the ancient carol echoed from the stone walls of St. Mary’s Church, her attention was drawn, as always, to the statue in the shadows. Tonight, with the candles lit to usher in Christmas Eve, the stone cavalier shone golden, his handsome features distinct as she had never seen before.
The flames shimmered as tears filled her eyes, whether from the beauty of the singing or the loneliness in her heart, she knew not. Christmas Eve, and her family clear across the other side of England, with no hope of a twenty-four hour leave pass to see them. And yet, there was a reason for her to stay. The young German officer in Field Hospital 302 was still in the ferocious grip of a fever, and her nursing experience told her that if it did not break soon, his life was in danger. He had scarce spoken since he had been brought into the prisoner-of-war camp in late November, and in early December, when the handsome surgeon she had thought herself in love with returned to his wife in New York, her vigil at Captain Erich Hoffman’s bedside was one that helped pass her sleepless nights.
She pushed her pale blonde hair back under her nurse’s hood, and gathered her warm navy cloak around her. Soon it would be midnight, and her shift would begin. These few moments of peace would be all she had to sustain her through the darkest hours of Christmas morning.

Captain Edward St.John slipped into Hut 9, as he did every night, and when the ward sister looked up from her notes, he paused. She walked briskly to the narrow door and tugged the blackout curtains shut. Edward smiled. Sister may think that the freezing December weather caused the sudden cold draft, but he knew better. He looked around the ward; no new arrivals tonight, thanks be to God.
He had watched the strangers build the hospital on the grounds of Lydiard Park in July, and when the wounded German prisoners started arriving after D-Day, Edward found himself compelled to spend the nights walking the crowded wards, bringing comfort to those delirious with pain and fearful of death. He recalled his last Christmas at Lydiard, when his own battle wounds drew a veil over his sight and a coldness descended upon him that could never be warmed. Did he know even then that this would be his last? Perhaps his father did, for he never left his side, and when the spring came and his dearest Luce arrived, Edward knew in his heart that he would not live beyond Easter.
And so, each night, he walked between the beds of the sick and dying, speaking to the men as only one soldier could to another. In truth, he had not seen such wounds as these, for there were little from the sword and many from a musket and trauma, but despite the care of the surgeons the men were still so vulnerable. And, if there was a way to help these nurses, who reminded him so much of Luce and his Aunt Lucy Apsley, he would do so. Their soft voices and courage in dressing the terrible wounds of their own injured soldiers brought back such memories. To some of these men he could bring immediate comfort, but others would not accept that death waited, and that he heralded their own mortality.
This young soldier in bed seven. Dear God, how much he reminded him of his cousin Allen, his handsome features now contorted with pain. He was next, Edward thought. The least he could do was to ease his path and honour his bravery by walking with him.
“Erich,” he whispered. “Erich, you may let go. There is peace at hand, and your pain will be over.”
The young German officer groaned, and shook his head. His dark hair flopped over his brow, and Edward gently pushed it back from his damp forehead.
Mein Engel,” the man called. “Wo ist sie?”
“Come with me,” Edward said. “I will take you home now, Erich.”
Nein. Nein.” Erich’s eyes fluttered open, charcoal grey in the dim light of the hut. “Please. My angel. Bring her.”
Edward knew only too well how a last glimpse of those loved ones was all that a man desired in his last hours. And how that wish had been denied him in his own journey.
“Wait, then,” replied Edward. He glanced around the ward. Sister was at her desk, her back to him. Drawing the blanket around Erich, he nodded, and slipped through the door again. If he could delay Erich’s departure so he could say goodbye to the nurse, he would. But there was little time.

In St. Mary’s church, Joyce replaced the worn hymn book on the wooden shelf in front of her, and gathered up her bible. And as she nodded her head to the golden cavalier, wishing him a peaceful Christmas as he stood in his golden armour in his Civil War tent, her attention was caught by a man sitting at the end of her pew. She blinked, for she had not seen him arrive, and surely he was not there but a moment ago. As the choir sang the first verse of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” the man turned to her and she found herself looking into piercing blue eyes and a familiar handsome countenance that she could not quite place. He was muffled in a great cloak, old-fashioned in its cut. His hair was long, pulled back by a ribbon, so unusual for these days.
“Nurse Mayfield?” he asked softly, urgently, under the rising chorus of the choir.
“Yes,” she replied. “How did you know my name?”
The man smiled, and reached out a hand to her. His glove was thick leather, and had a wide cuff. She glimpsed an edge of lace beneath.
“Please, I would ask you to accompany me.” He caught the reluctance in her. “You are quite safe. I just want to escort you across the park to the hospital. Sister sent me, on an urgent mission.”
“Captain Hoffman---”
He nodded, his face grave. “Yes.”
Joyce stood, and hurried from the church, aware of the eyes of the rest of the parish upon her, but not really caring what they thought.
Stepping out from the ancient oak doors, she followed the man, whose cloak fell almost to the ground. Where it fell just short, she noticed he was wearing riding boots, not a uniform.
He lifted his head as the strains of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” echoed from within the church.
“My favourite hymn,” he said quietly. “I heard it first, here at Lydiard.”
“Mine too,” she replied. At her words, a single flake of snow drifted down into the pool of light from the church porch, and she trembled as the man pulled her hood over her head to protect her from the winter weather.
From the church he swiftly led her across the gravel to the stable block, and then around the front of the old mansion. The darkness enveloped them, and he picked up a lantern left on the doorstep of the deserted house. Its tremulous flame threw a glow around them, and for a moment she thought she saw candlelight within the rooms beyond the darkness. She shook her head, for it could only be her imagination, the house was long empty of the last of the St.John family.
Across the park the man strode, confident in his path, as if he had walked this many times before. Soon, they arrived at the guardhouse to the camp, and as Joyce approached, she waved at Joe, the guard on duty tonight. He raised his mug of tea to her and waved her through.
“Goodnight Miss Joyce,” he called. “Merry Christmas!”
“Goodnight Joe,” she replied. “And please allow my…” she turned, but the man was no longer by her side. Puzzled, she looked around, and saw him already across the field, standing by the entrance to Hut 9.
“Go on with you.” Joe had already turned back to his warm guard post. “And hurry, before the snow falls thicker.”

Inside the hut Joyce quickly removed her cloak, shaking the snowflakes from the dark blue wool. Sister nodded at her, and gestured to the corner.
“Captain Hoffman is very weak,” she said shortly. “You’d best stay with him. Moira can take the other beds tonight.”
Joyce walked to the Captain’s bedside, still wondering where the man was who had guided her from the church. In the dim light, Erich’s pale face gleamed, shadows blue under his closed eyes. The shadow of his beard enhanced his firm jaw, and with sorrow she reflected she might not touch his face again to shave and bathe him. As she turned the lamp low, she opened the blackout curtain, revealing a crack of window. Against the darkness, a whirl of snowflakes kissed the glass, and the Captain turned his face towards them.
“Home,” he murmured. “The snow falls so in Bavaria.”
She could not speak for the sadness in her throat, and taking his hand, she sat with him as the snow drifted by the window, and his hand grew slack in hers.
She must have dozed, for the next she knew, the pale light of dawn was edging through the window, and within minutes the first rays of the rising sun pierced the morning. Joyce gasped, for Erich lay still. She closed her eyes to stop her tears from falling, whispering a farewell blessing.
A gradual wellbeing warmed her, and when the light brought a golden glow to her closed lids, she opened her eyes to find Erich gazing at her, his own eyes clear and a smile on his lips.
Mein Engel,” he whispered. “You came to me when I needed you most.”
She could not speak for the joy that leaped into her heart. His eyes were a translucent grey, unclouded, and full of love for her. Erich’s fever had broken.
Glancing through the window across the sparkling snow to the woodland that led to the mansion, she glimpsed a shadow in the bare trees. A man in a long cloak, booted, his hair tied back with a ribbon. He lifted a hand and then walked into the woods, leaving no trace in the fresh snow.
She turned back to Erich.
“Yes,” she said. “I am here. And you are going to be well. Happy Christmas, Erich.”
“Happy Christmas, mein engel.”

©  Elizabeth St.John

Author’s Note:
American Field Hospital 302 was built on the grounds of Lydiard Park, and in 1944, it was turned into a prisoner-of-war hospital for German soldiers injured after D-Day. Captain Edward St.John, “The Golden Cavalier” in St. Mary’s Church, Lydiard, sustained mortal wounds at the Battle of Newbury, and died at Lydiard in 1644. Hark the Herald Angels Sing was first noted as a Christmas hymn in the mid-1600s. December 1944 was a particularly cold month, and the first white Christmas at Lydiard for many years.



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7 April 2020

Ten Minute Tales : Fortune Told - the First Adventure of Swordsman Caelan the Cat by Nicky Galliers

Ten Minute Tales
For your entertainment
a different Ten Minute Tale* every day
(except Friday when we have Novel Conversations)
Enjoy!


Fortune Told
The First Adventure of Swordsman Caelan the Cat
by
Nicky Galliers


The outbreak of peace following the Great Conflict doesn’t suit everyone and mercenaries are finding their services are no longer in demand. Caelan Thorn, also known as Caelan the Cat, has chosen to use his particular talent, not for fighting, but to fill his purse another way - by telling fortunes.

The girl was like every girl I had ever had seated in front of me, leaning forwards, eager to hear what I could see for her. Was that tall, dark-haired young man at the other end of the bar singled out for her by Fate, his modest fortune to be hers to squander if he didn’t waste it all himself first?
‘I see something else for you,’ I said, discarding the more insubstantial images, ‘a shorter man, balding, but rich and kind. You don’t know him yet but he will come into your life by the end of the year.’
Her pretty face fell; it was not what she wanted to hear. She cast a wistful, longing glance towards the handsome boy across the room.
 ‘Rich, you say?’ She turned her attention back to me while she curled a long skein of golden hair around her finger.
‘Very.’ And he was. And ugly. And old. But she would be happy enough. She would find physical satisfaction elsewhere, and until her husband found out, she would live in luxury. But I didn’t expand on what I had told her. There was no point. There was a possibility that she wouldn’t stray, and she would find that looks and hair were not all that mattered in a loving relationship, but it was unlikely.
She rose and, without a word of thanks, she returned to her friends on the opposite end of the tavern bar, swishing her long skirts as she swayed her hips, for my benefit in particular or merely any male watching, I didn’t care.
Her place would be taken quickly. There was never a shortage of people wanting to know their fortunes. Prescients - soothsayers - like myself didn’t visit often in such rural places and we were always in demand.
A tankard landed beside me, the contents slopping over the rim.
Reckon you need it, Prescient,’ the innkeep said, stepping back from my table.
‘How thoughtful,’ I said, and meant it. I leaned towards him, my brows drawn together severely. He ducked down to hear what I wished to say, the sweet stench of stale beer rising from his dirty apron. His hair hung lankly and nearly brushed my nose ‘Two months from now, a hooded man will come. Serve him, say nothing. He is on the run; don’t challenge him.’
‘Hooded?’
‘Hooded. You won’t mistake him.’ My blue eyes bored into his. ‘Have a care to yourself,’ I urged.
 ‘I will, and thank you,’ the innkeep said, backing away, his reticence about having me there still warring with his desire to be generous. However, I had repaid him, even if he would never fully appreciate it - if he did as I said.
 I drank from the tankard, good, homemade ale with a bit of a punch and a satisfying freshness of flavour. It tasted all the better for being free; I had coin in my pocket, plenty of it for now - though less than I was used to - but I am really no different to anyone else and like a free beer here and there.
Another figure sat in the chair at my table; I saw her over the rim of my tankard. She was not as young as my previous customer, had at least ten years on her, and she was not pretty, not so that you would notice. Her hair was brown. There really was no more to say than that, brown and flat in the poor light in the tavern, pulled back in a messy knot at the nape of a long, slender neck. Her eyes were equally dull; her skin was clear, smooth, but her mouth tipped down at the corners and I could feel the desolation coming from her in waves.
     Others in the tavern had noticed she was there and a few jeers sounded from the end of the bar where the handsome young man held court. I didn’t care for bullying, and I rose from my seat, demonstrating my superior height and breadth. From another part of the tavern my prettier customer admired me, her smile teasing. I ignored her and watched the young lordling. He sized me up, openly raking me from my cream coloured hair to my booted feet. He came to his own conclusion that he didn’t stand a chance against me and turned back to his minions. There was a burst of laughter but it held a tone of desperation; mirth more to fool themselves that they were not afraid than me.
I sat again, noticing the anxiety in the eyes of the plain girl in front of me. I regretted that; she didn’t deserve to feel scared.
‘I want to know if anything will improve for me here.’ Her voice was quiet, fearful. She was a shell of herself; abused, albeit mostly verbally, but not always; browbeaten and bereft of all care. I shivered, seeing her as she saw herself - empty, useless, pointless.
 I saw the innkeep watching us, saw others still casting sideways glances at the girl, expressions veering between pity and distaste. They all knew what this girl had suffered and few had done anything to help her or make her life in any way easier. The innkeep, he had tried, I saw, offering her shelter when she couldn’t face going home to a father who used her as a skivvy.
It was a familiar tale - wife dead, leaving a daughter to manage the household; suitors for her hand rejected until they stopped asking, and the daughter remained at home to serve her father, saving him the expense of her wedding and his, for what need had he of another, expensive, wife?
     I looked back at her. She thought my apparent distraction was disinterest in her. Her despair deepened; she found it easier to believe no one cared because so few ever had.
‘What is in your mind is not the answer,’ I said to her gently. She knew as well as I did that she only saw one way to end her misery.
‘Sometimes it is all I can think about. Only my father will miss me, and only because he needs me to cook and clean and manage the farm.’
 ‘There is someone else,’ I said earnestly. ‘Someone for whom you matter.’
‘And why would you be truthful,’ she said with a hollow laugh, ‘for I have yet to pay you anything.’
 ‘I don’t ask for payment,’ but she shook her head. ‘I seek nothing from you,’ I added to reassure her.
‘So,’ she asked, not believing a word I had said, ‘this person? Where are they?’ She looked around the tavern, her eyes flashing with angry desolation. ‘I see no one here.’
The pretty girl came back to the table and leaned across it as if she had the right to command my attention with her straining laces and corsetted waist.
‘Why don’t you join me, over there?’ She licked her lips in a manner intended to entice me. ‘It will be much more interesting than talking to Tessa.’ 
‘I doubt that,’ I replied flatly.
‘I can pay you,’ she tried again.
I should have been insulted that she thought my affections could be bought, but she meant so little to me that I felt nothing other than irritation. ‘Peddle yourself somewhere else.’
 She pouted but my meaning was very clear. She flounced away, but no one in the tavern felt any affront on her behalf.
Tessa still sat in the chair opposite me, shrunken. She risked peering up at me through a curtain of her brown hair that had fallen loose. She held a spark of hope, but so faint that the slightest breeze would snuff it out.
‘What’s your name? Everyone calls you the Prescient, but you must have a personal name.’
‘Caelan,’ I said, and I held my hand to her.
She took it and for a moment hers was enveloped, small and cold, in mine, rough from work. Her skin scratched against my palm with as many callouses as I wore from my sword, mace and my horse's leather tack.
‘I have to go.’ The chair scraped against the wooden floor and she stood. ‘Thank you, Caelan,’ she added, a quick glance before she lowered her eyes.
 I watched her leave the tavern, feeling the hope fade from her, the light that had briefly been lit as she talked with me, burned low. She was returning to her father’s house, dread setting once more into the pit of her stomach.

***
I had chosen the timing of my visit well, of course. The Spring celebrations were to start the following day, and after a good night's sleep in a comfortable room at the tavern, I wandered around the flower-festooned village. Everyone wore smiles with their neatest jerkins and finest gowns and the mood was lifted from the usual everyday working gloom.
I spotted the lordling, bedecked in fine raiment, clothes and jewels he avoided telling anyone he had put his house in hock to pay for, and a sword that more resembled a child's toy than the blade I carried. He glanced my way and after he threw me a look of pure hatred, he turned away. Too used to being the centre of attention, he was not equipped to cope with competition, especially not such as me.
Pockets of giggling girls pointed at me, angering the lordling still further, his gold and emeralds a poor second to my broad chest and flat stomach. Other than a small smile - one always appreciates being admired - I dismissed them and found a place to lean, to watch as a group of women began a complex dance to welcome the Spring.
‘I thought you would have left,’ a voice to my side said. I didn’t need to look to know it was Tessa. She carried a wooden bucket of mushrooms and other foraged vegetables and her hands were covered in the dirty they had grown in. Unlike the other girls of the village, Tessa wore her usual working gown, brown and drab; there were no flowers in her hair, no ribbons plaited through it.
‘I was looking forward to the festivities.’
‘I have to take this home,’ she said, nodding towards the bucket.
‘And if you didn’t?’
She looked sideways at me. ‘That isn’t an option.’ She hesitated then pushed the left sleeve of her gown up. Her arm carried a handprint, each finger marked out with a darkening bruise. She flushed in shame and let her sleeve fall back into place again.
Inside, my anger rose and I swallowed lest she notice. ‘I can promise that will never happen to you again.’
‘No, you can’t,’ she replied. She believed it, as well. ‘You are obviously a lot more than a fortune teller; we’ve had fortune tellers here before and none looked like you.’ Another sideways look to take in my thick leather jerkin and black leather hose.
‘True,’ I conceded. ‘I am a hired sword, when I choose it.’
She looked me full on now, studying me, her eyes narrowed a little. ‘Do you use your prescient talents to fight? Can you see where the blade will fall before it does?’
I grinned, delighted that she understood. ‘It comes in useful, yes.’
‘Then you are a better sword than a soothsayer, I think.’ She altered her grip on the bucket. The rope handle was cutting into her palms and I lifted it from her. She sighed but let me hold it.
‘Why do you say that?’
‘Well,’ she said in a voice that would have been playful if she did not hold such sadness within, ‘you survived the Great Conflict and you are still alive; if your swordplay were as poor as your soothsaying, you’d be dead for sure.’
I couldn’t help myself and I laughed. Many people disbelieved what I told them and I was long past being offended, and yet I had never anticipated proving someone wrong as much as with Tessa.
‘What would you like to know?’ I asked her, unable to hide my pleasure.
‘How can you tell me anything? If it has yet to come to pass, I can’t judge its veracity.’
‘Then ask me what has been.’
She hesitated then said, ‘Mistress Emer, over there. She had a baby last month. Boy or girl?’
‘Girl, called Bethan, and she was born as the cock crowed. Her husband was away at market and she was assisted by Mistress Masha and Mistress Lina.’
Tessa stared. ‘You could have overheard that in the tavern.’
I raised an eyebrow. ‘Do I look like someone who has any interest in the birthing of babies?’
Tessa gave a wry smile of agreement before her lips once more straightened. She leaned next to me on the same plank wall.
‘You see more than just the future, don’t you?’
I rarely discussed it; few ever acknowledged it out of fear. The future, well, that didn’t exist, but reading people, that was intimate, intrusive.
‘Your eyes and hair,’ she said, changing the subject. ‘They give you your talent, they say.’
‘Not give, but the fault that gives me my hair and my eyes, also gives me my Seeing.’
‘Like a white cat with blue eyes is deaf.’
‘Exactly so.’
‘Caelan the Cat,’ she mused. ‘I have heard that name. A fearsome warrior, it is said.’
I shrugged. ‘I don’t listen to gossip.’
She pushed off the wall and stood straight once more and took the bucket from me, hefted it as if it could be made more commodious to carry. ‘I must go.’
I took the bucket back. ‘No. Stay.’
I could feel her embarrassment and fear, that she had overstepped with me, that I had read too much into our exchange; fear of being late back to her monster of a father. And I could feel those delicate tendrils of desire to stay with me. She wanted it, but she was afraid. No one had paid her this much attention since her mother had died when she was a child. Now, a grown woman of twenty-eight, she was starved of it.
She dropped her gaze, accepting that all there was for her was an angry father and just one way out.
‘I have enjoyed talking to you. You are not like everyone else, and I thank you for that.’
‘Don’t you see it yet?’ I asked her, arresting her by taking her hand. I rubbed at the palm and the red welt that was burned across it.
‘See what, the person who is going to save me from all of this?’ She tugged her hand from mine and I had to pull her back. She lost her balance and fell against me. Her steely control over herself and her innate reaction to me was admirable. Many a woman would have softened, not stiffened.
‘It’s me,’ I said. ‘The person I see with you is me.’
Her shock was clear even for someone who couldn’t read people as I did. ‘What are you talking about?’ she demanded, pushing me away.
‘Am I so hideous to you, so terrifying, that you can’t see yourself with me?’
‘You’re teasing me. That isn’t fair.’ Tears clouded her voice and glazed her eyes. Pain pooled cold in her stomach.
‘I don’t lie. I have no need to.’
The burst of desire that flashed through her nearly knocked me to my knees. She would accept it; I knew she would. And soon. But I chose to help her along.
I put the bucket down and, with my hands now free, I drew her towards me. She didn’t resist, and I folded her into my arms and kissed her. She tasted as I knew she would, for I had known her all these years, I just hadn’t found her.
Around us people saw and reacted, with pleasure, with disbelief, with anger. I didn’t care. I was where I should be and she was finally with me. Any who attempted to harm her or ridicule her again would have to deal with me, and, as Tessa said, I was a far better swordsman than I was a fortune teller, and I was an excellent fortune teller.
‘You don’t know me,’ she said when she pulled away from me, her doubts returning. ‘What if you tire of me, decide that you don’t-’
I put a finger over her soft lips and smiled at the joy I would find in persuading her such doubts were foundless.
‘I know you as well as you know yourself.’ At her confusion I lifted a long piece of my creamy blond hair and I added, ‘I’m a Prescient, remember?’

© Nicky Galliers

There will be another story about 
Caelan the Cat on April 13th

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*length may vary! 

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