This is a snippet of one of the many writing projects I've been working on. It all started with this image...
The smoke danced around her, the small fire burning in the brazier warmed the tent which was already sweltering beneath the summer sun causing sweat to bead on her forehead and travel in lazy rivers down her back. The day had been hot from the start but the fire and incense had to be lit. The cloying scent of sandalwood and vanilla wafted through the tent, mingling with the smoke in a most unpleasant way. Liliya scrunched her nose in an attempt to hold back a sneeze. The attempt failed and she soon lost herself in a fit that caused her shoulders to hunch with the force of them.
A cacophony of merchants crying out their wares and shoppers haggling and catching up on gossip filtered through the white, linen walls of the tent; the usual hustle and bustle of market day cocooning Liliya in its familiarity. The sounds as familiar to her as her own breathing. It was the ebb and flow of life, a sound that stirred her heart and made the young woman dream of better days.
A soft breeze rustled the walls, carrying the heady scent of market with it. Closing her eyes, Liliya breathed deep of the air tinted with the scent of freshly baked bread, meat sizzling over open fires and the many bodies that packed the ever growing market square. She bit her lip as her stomach rumbled, reminding her she had eaten nothing since her bowl of porridge at sun up at that morning. But there was no time to eat even a bite of bread. Not if the voices that were quickly growing in intensity were any indication.
Moving about the tent, Liliya peeked through a slit in the fabric, eyeing the people gathered outside the tent, their necks craning to see the woman who would reveal their futures. Some had traveled for weeks to make the market days and to visit the famed Seer of the Romluva clan. Others had scraped together every last penny they had in hopes that she would read prosperity in their futures; sadly, many of them would receive tellings of ill fortune and would leave with their hearts heavy and their pockets light. It was in these instances that Liliya wished she could change their fates, but she could change the cards as much as she could change the direction the wind blew.
"It is time." Grandmother entered the tent. Her body stooped with age, her shoulders hunching in on themselves, but her eyes were bright and missed nothing.
Liliya sighed and drew the veil over her face. Despite its lightness, the blue silk increased her feeling of suffocation as it trapped the warmth of her breath against her face. Beads of sweat slid along the slim column of her neck, slipping between her breasts and causing the loose linen shift she wore to stick to her chest.
"I am ready." She said with a nod, adjusting the veil so that only her eyes, heavily rimmed with kohl, showed to any whom entered the tent. The old woman pulled aside the flap and beckoned to the first in line.
A young man stumbled in as if pushed by the person waiting behind him. His tawny hair, shaggy and unkempt fell in his eyes and the man, who could only just be called so, brushed it aside with an irritated swipe of his mud-caked hand. From the state of his clothing, patched to the point that Liliya doubted much of the original fabric was left and grimy enough that the color came not from the fabric but from the dirt and sweat of life, this was a man who had saved the whole year in order to have his fortune told.
Guilt welled in Liliya’s chest making it difficult to breath. She prayed that the cards would read favorably for him as she did not want to be the reason he or his family went without food. He sat across from her, muddy brown eyes already blurry and red-rimmed from a visit to the alehouse studying her. His gaze moved over her face as if trying to see what was beneath the veil.
Before he could look too closely, Grandmother smacked his shoulder, glaring at him in a silent command to behave himself. With a grimace the man pushed his two copper coins across the table towards Liliya, who pocketed them quickly before shuffling the cards. Silently, Grandmother slipped out of the tent, leaving Liliya and her customer to their privacy.
The familiar weight of the cards in her hands was a comfort and Liliya found herself giving over to the power that emanated from them. The hum of power that coursed through her fingers and up her arms, causing goose bumps to rise on her flesh was like greeting an old friend, a constant companion that had never once steered her wrong.
With her eyes closed, Liliya breathed deep, scenting the power and drawing it to her like a thread. Tugging on that strand of power she drew it close, letting it wind its way about her until it wrapped, like a cocoon, around her. Taking in two deep, slow breathes, she focused on the cards, pushing that power into them, letting it wrap around the deck until they were connected.
“What is it you seek to know?” Liliya’s voice was deep and husky. The opiates that burned on the brazier floated through the air, causing the man before her to sway in his seat as the spell of the moment wove around him.
Liliya caressed the deck with long, thin fingers as she waited for his reply.