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The entourage that arrived with King Saerus stretched from my grandmother’s hut all the way back into the village. There was a huge cacophony as instructions were given to attempt to get the entourage to turn around and return to the village leaving only King Saerus, his three bodyguards, Hammael, Raziel and Ezekiel, and a small handful of armored royal guard at the hut.

I waited between Raziel and Ezekiel as orders were given, and the entourage tried to turn back. Hammael stood near King Saerus, holding the reins of the king’s horse. A huge animal that had been bred to carry an armored soldier. The King was dressed in partial armor and silks, a cloak of velvet and ermine on his shoulders. A golden crown upon his head of long brunette locks. He appeared younger than Hammael and older than Raziel. Perhaps somewhere in his upper thirties. He wore a full beard, and carried a bejeweled sword as his only obvious weapon. He dismounted from the horse and approached with Hammael.

Raziel’s heavy hand dropped on my shoulder, and I nearly fell to my knees just from the weight of it and surprise. I managed a clumsy curtsy, and nearly knocked Raziel in the face with Grandmother’s walking stick, but he easily dodged it, all the while still managing to kneel before the king.

“Your Majesty,” Hammael began, “May I present Madame Entia’s granddaughter, Miss Hazel.” A blush rose into my cheeks. Raziel and Ezekiel stood next to me, and I kept my eyes glued to the toes of my boots.

“Sir Hammael tells me that your grandmother has passed, I am sorry for your loss,” the king said but I felt he wasn’t sincere in his sympathies, he was simply being diplomatic.

“Th-thank you, Your Majesty,” I managed to mumble, still not looking up. I only wished I could turn and run but I was certain that I’d have to deal with Raziel and this was the lesser evil.

“Perhaps you can help me in her stead,” the king began and it wasn’t until I felt Ezekiel’s hand steady me that I realized I was swaying. My head had gone all light and fuzzy. My boots wanted to blur and black splashes began to appear in my vision. “Have you learned her arts?”

“I-I have, Your Majesty, but I do not think I am as capable as she,” I replied quickly, hoping to get out of helping him. Was there a punishment for failing the king at soothsaying? Flogging? Imprisonment? Death? I could feel the blood draining from my face.

“Forgive her, sire,” came Hammael’s soothing voice, “she is young and still in mourning for her grandmother.”

“Allow us to continue into Madame Entia’s home,” the king more or less ordered and I was escorted towards my home.

 

The hut that had been so empty before, was now too crowded. The handful of royal guard had remained outside, Dynill had been escorted back to the village, but now Grandmother’s hut contained the three large forms of Raziel, Ezekiel, Hammael and the King. Ezekiel was the smallest of all four, being not as broad in the shoulder, but still had muscles you could break rocks on.

What did Grandmother do first? Oh, TEA! Offer them tea!

“Would any of you like tea?” I asked my eyes sweeping among them, the only eyes I couldn’t bring myself to meet were the king’s and Raziel’s. He had sat, more like lounged on Grandmother’s cot and though it creaked under his weight it did not collapse. He was currently using a small knife to clean and trim his nails. Ezekiel stood near the door, leaning on the frame, arms crossed. Hammael had taken a seat in one of the chairs at the table in the center, and the king had taken Grandmother’s rocker, the most comfortable chair in the hut.

“Please,” the king answered. I opened a chest and removed Grandmother’s tea set. It was not fancy, but very old and serviceable. Grandmother’s tea could calm anyone’s nerves, and mine were so frayed that I was certain a loud noise would send me leaping straight through the roof. Tea I knew, I always served the tea when someone came to seek Grandmother’s aid. She would then read the leaves. I would not try to read the leaves, I did not know how.

I added the tea and boiling water from the kettle that sat on the hearth next to the letipa where is simmered in its covered cast iron cauldron. I poured and offered the king his first, everyone accepted tea except Raziel. After a few sips, even I began to calm, began to feel braver, as if a dash of brandy had been thrown in. We drank in silence and when I realized my cup was empty did I speak.

“What did you wish of my Grandmother?” My voice was calm, even, my heart still pounded in my chest but I suddenly for the first time all evening felt better, good even. I was courageous enough to even look at Raziel, who had his eyes once again staring at me and like a cat did not blink. I was nearly unnerved again.

“I am ready to choose a wife, please read my fortune in the leaves and tell me who will be my queen,” the king stated and all my nerve tried to run screaming out the door. He handed me his tea cup, and I took it with a trembling hand.

Keep it vague, Hazel, make something up if you have to.

I looked into his cup. The leaves were all in a clump in the bottom, some undissolved sugar crusted them, remnants of tea and milk oozed between them. I waited a moment, hoping something would come, all I saw were tea leaves in the bottom of a tea cup. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath trying not to think of the King, of Raziel, of Grandmother’s passing. Even without looking at him, I could feel his gaze boring into me.

Stop staring at me!

Suddenly it came. I opened my eyes reached into king’s cup, stirring the leaves with my finger. I wasn’t so much as “reading” the tea leaves as getting a sensation, a feeling, like I was trying to recall a dream.

“Your queen will be a golden maiden fair,” I said in a voice that really didn’t sound like my own. It was like someone had replaced me with the woman I was meant to be, not this bundle of frayed nerves. “Beware the Blood Moon will deceive you.” I glanced at the king and he smiled, nodding to me.

“Thank you, Miss Hazel, I will look for my Golden Maiden Fair,” the king stood and I immediately jumped to my feet, nearly dropping the tea cup. “Goodeve to you.” He left the hut followed by Ezekiel and Hammael, Raziel taking the rear. Each had bid me good eve except Raziel who said nothing. I was so glad to see them retreating from me, from my home, from Grandmother’s hut. I was going to barricade the door behind them. Just before he went through the door, Raziel turned to me, surprising me, the tea cup thrown from my hands. He caught it deftly before it smashed into the floor. His face was not kind.

“My father and brother may believe in your magic but I don’t,” he said sternly. He placed the tea cup on the table with what seemed like deliberate slowness, his large form crowding me, and I couldn’t help but shrink back from him. His anger flowed out from him like a storm. He turned and left the hut having to duck to make it through the door, slamming it so hard that dirt and dust sifted down from the thatch roof.

“I don’t either,” I whispered and sagged into a chair, placing my head in my hands, sobbing with relief that they were finally gone.

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