6. The Fortune Teller
I huddle underneath my shawl, trying not to glare up at the man looming over me. How dare he snap at me for something he knows I can’t control—but I shove the thought away hastily. As long as I need him for my food and shelter, I must continue to serve him, however disgusted I am by it. And can I really blame Targil for my oft-wayward foresight, both gift and curse? He still treats me better in some ways than my own folk did, for if not for their fear and cruelty, I never would have ended up here in the White City. “Yes, sir,” I say softly. Targil storms out of our sky blue silk tent, brightly painted with moons and stars, and I fight down the bile in my throat while I recall the past.
I was born and bred in the nearby village of Minrimmon, and my childhood days were ordinary enough, much like any girl’s in Gondor. But I stopped being ordinary when I was twelve or so. The headaches I began to suffer from brought visions too, of things that had not yet come to pass. Young and innocent, I blurted out what I saw, not thinking what the consequences of doing so might be. As my visions came true—a slashed leg from a dropped sickle, a cow dying from the milk-sickness—the whispers started that the black hand of Mordor was on me and that I should be driven away before I brought evil to all. My parents protected me the best they could from our neighbors’ malice, but then my mother died when I turned seventeen while birthing another babe. Father remarried soon, to a whey-faced wench who never liked me. I struggled to live with her until I was twenty, but when I saw my baby brother falling into a well during a head-ringing attack, she had had her fill.
“She’s a witch, I tell you, a witch! Either turn her out, now, or I swear I’ll flee with my poor boy! She wants him dead, she does,” my stepmother screeched at my father as I wept beside him.
He turned to me with tears in his eyes. “Is this true, my dear?” he whispered.
“No,” I choked out, “but I will not stay where I am not wanted.”
“Maybe we can marry her off soon,” my stepmother muttered. “The old butcher’s wife died a few months ago, remember?” I cringed inwardly as I pictured the butcher’s paunch and red nose, and decided to seek my own fate before something else happened.
I climbed out my window that night, a small bundle of clothes, food, and mementos clutched in one hand, and walked to the Great West Road. There I met a small group of farmers heading to Minas Tirith the next morning. They offered to take me with them, and I accepted gratefully, sure in my youthful folly I could find honest work there quickly.
But I found out differently after I arrived in Minas Tirith, for even three years ago there was little work to be had alone and friendless in a strange city. I thought I might be reduced to begging, or selling my body, as I wandered the streets looking for a place. At last I discovered a tavern in the poorest part of town that needed a serving maid and occasional cook; the owner paid little, but gave me a warm nook to sleep in and ignored my fits. The labor was hard, but except for dodging men’s groping hands, I was reasonably content, and my plainness meant few pursued me farther.
One night, my headache became so painful I could not stop myself babbling in the common room while I tried to pour more ale for the gamblers at a table. Targil was there, a notorious cheat who regularly fleeced the unsuspecting at the games of chance he ran. Afterwards, he cornered me in the kitchen, demanding, “You see the future? How often? When does it happen?” I tried to explain while he listened carefully. When I finished, he said with a canny smile, “Come and work for me! You can make far more money using your gift, even while you save your back! I shall teach you the tricks of the trade, so you need not always rely on something so uncertain.”
I was tired, and sick of the hard physical work, so despite my master’s kindness I left the tavern and joined Targil in his dubious enterprise. True to his word, he taught me how to read the cards and tea leaves and palms, and how to spin a convincing tale that made people happy and caused them to pay me better. But he was often brutal, beating me when I lost control of my gift and uttered dark truths someone did not wish to hear. His rare bouts of drunkenness were a blessing, for then he tossed me more coins and then ignored me, which meant I kept myself well dressed and fed compared to other girls and did not have to bed men to do so. Most times I worked out of the rooms we rented, but I persuaded him to buy the tent last year so we could gain business at the spring and autumn fairs here.
I hear voices outside, speaking to Targil. Memories vanish as I push my shawl onto my arms and smooth my hair back. Targil asks, “Would you care for a chance at the nutshell game, good master? Few win, ‘tis true, but you’ve the look of a lucky man.”
“No, I think I and my friends would rather have our fortunes told.” The man’s voice is pleasant and cultured, with an aura of command. I perk up, for he sounds far grander than my usual patrons.
“Right this way, then—let me fetch two more stools for all of you—” Targil holds the tent flap up as the man enters with a woman and a boy. He is handsome, his hair raven black and his eyes a piercing grey. The woman is very fair and pretty, with long golden locks—I feel a tiny twinge of envy when I look at her. The boy, or dwarf, or whatever he is, has a round friendly face with a kind of wide-eyed freshness I thought was dead here. The man waves the woman to sit down first, and then takes the other stools from Targil. He and the boy sit down as well, and the woman speaks.
“Do you wish to go first?” she asks.
The man smiles and shakes his head. “Ladies first, my dear—I will not forget my manners.”
She smiles in return and asks me quizzically, “How is this done? What shall I do?”
“You have a choice of methods, my lady,” I tell her smoothly. “I can gaze at the lines in your palm, or have you shuffle these cards and read your future from them. Or if you wish to linger for a while, I will brew you some tea and then interpret the pattern the leaves in the cup form. What is your desire?”
She thinks for a moment, and slowly extends her hand to me. “My palm will do for now, I suppose.”
I take it gently and turn it up to face me. I trace the longest indentation with my index finger, saying, “This is your life line, and it is unbroken, so you shall live to a great age.” I point to the shorter line next to the first. “And this is the line of love. It is braided, so you will have a tangled path to tread to find your true love.” I move my fingertip up to the small mound under her ring finger. “But since it terminates here, you will marry him soon.” She chuckles at this, and gives the man a flirtatious glance; he grins in reply. Heartened by my shrewd guess, I complete her reading with a flourish of good news, predicting many children amid much laughter from all of them. The woman pushes the man’s hand towards me as soon as I finish with her. “Your turn now, Faramir,” she tells him coquettishly.
Faramir . . . I shake a touch when I recognize the name; how could I imagine the Steward of the City would be sitting in my small tent to have his fortune told? I debate whether I should acknowledge him openly, and decide to say nothing; he may prefer moving namelessly amongst the fair crowd. I steady myself, and begin his reading, assuring him he shall enjoy great power along with true love and good health. The woman laughs again and teases him about the outcome; he replies to her banter with wit of his own. I wonder who the woman is, and how she has so clearly gained the Steward’s heart. Then he reaches for his purse and gives me a fair stack of gold coin, more than what I have ever earned before.
“My thanks, kind mistress,” he says with a grin that melts me. “You have a gift indeed for seeing true.” He begins to climb to his feet.
“Hey, what about me?” the boy demands. Both Lord Faramir and his female companion look down at him in surprise.
“We are sorry, Merry,” the woman says contritely. “We quite forgot you had not had your fortune told yet. You still want to have it done?”
He nods vigorously. “Yes, I do, Eowyn.”
Faramir taps Merry’s shoulder and has him shift over to the middle stool. “My apologies as well.” He looks at me. “Please tell our hobbit friend what the future has in store for him, if you will be so kind.”
“A hobbit?” I ask, not sure I heard the word correctly.
“Yes—my name is Merry Brandybuck, and I’m a hobbit from the Shire, in the West,” the small being says forcefully.
“Well then, Master Brandybuck, how do you wish me to do this?”
“I think I’d like you to use the cards for me,” he says in a quavering soft voice.
“Very well, shuffle the deck and hand them back to me.”
He does so, and I start laying the cards on the table in the fan pattern I normally use, but as I do, I feel the pressure mounting behind my forehead. Oh no . . . I hurry to finish the layout and open my mouth to speak, but my speech emerges harshly, nothing like the low tones I used for the others.
“You have defeated the shadow of evil, but you shall battle it once more when you journey home. There all is altered, but not beyond hope, and you shall triumph if you keep your bright particular star before you always. Then you will be able to claim your happiness, but not without losing the kinsman you hold most dear, for his journey has just begun.” My head drops forward limply as I fight to clear the fog in my mind.
“Pippin, or Frodo?” The little hobbit’s eyes are wide as saucers now and full of fear.
“No, Merry, I’m sure Pippin and Frodo are fine, and will stay that way,” the woman says comfortingly—Eowyn, I think he called her. “Thank you,” she tells me then, but her expression is faintly alarmed.
Lord Faramir claps Merry on the back. “And I am equally sure of the same! Nothing will ever touch those cousins of yours, you know.” He takes out three more gold pieces and puts them in front of me. “I thank you again as well, mistress. Perhaps we shall call on you once more on another day.”
“You are most kind, my lord,” I say weakly, ignoring the lights dancing before my eyes. He and the women each lay a hand upon the hobbit’s shoulders and guide him from my tent; I can hear them joking with him as they seek to cheer him up. I rub my forehead and cross my fingers that Targil heard nothing, and that I do not face another beating tonight for an awry prediction.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.