by George R. Taylor
“Good day, Hapless Adventure-Seeker of Tuesday the Twenty-Third, Number Forty-Three. What brings you to the Halls of Prophecy?” The spindly old man stepped around the cluttered desk, bending on a creaking knee to elegantly kiss her hand. His clear eyes twinkled with joy at the meeting, as if it were a rare delight to welcome a visitor into the halls of which he was the curator. His hair was thin and gray, and in places shed onto his black robes, standing out against the dark backdrop.
“Pray tell, dear, what is your name?”
“My name is Vena Llena. I wish to read the prophecies.” Her lightning green eyes flicked over the man’s thin shoulder, observing the office behind. The sturdy desk was scattered with scraps of parchment and quills, and one corner seemed to be devoted to the manufacture of ink—from what Vena could see, it was a messy science.
“Of course, of course. But that is so boring. I assure you, the Halls offer much better diversions. For instance, the mountain you undoubtedly climbed on your way to this distant, out-of-the-way, unfortunately misplaced building is the roost of a fully grown dragon? Its incredible! She’s a beauty—name of Esmerelda. She’s green, see?”
Vena’s jaw dropped in disbelief. “There is a dragon? Here?”
“Oh yes, my dear. Oh yes. There has to be something to deter the heroes hasn’t there? They can’t just waltz right in. That’d not make a very heroic tale, now would it?”
“Deter the heroes?”
“Heavens, yes. Always coming up here on a grave mission to save the world from some impending doom. Always need to study the ancient prophecies to find a way to defeat their respective dark villain. It’s dreadfully dreary, really. Always the same story, and the same group. There’s Hero—he’s the fighter, the main enemy of the villain, you know. And then there is Helping Wench. She’s the scantily clad one; I’ve always liked her. And last but not least, there’s Wizard. He’s the fool that undoubtedly told Hero he must come here to search for his answers. Never think to search themselves for answers any more, now do they?”
“But doesn’t the dragon get killed whenever someone wins?”
“Oh, no. Esmerelda just pretends. You should see her at it—quite an act. If you wait another hour you’ll probably get to see her show. Things slow down around midday, when all the heroes are eating lunch or sparring or whatnot; but we still see a party every hour or so.”
“That’s right. Esmerelda and I.”
Vena shook her head in disbelief. “I need to see the prophecies. It’s important.”
“’Course it is,” he said with a smile. “Right this way.”
He bowed her out of his small office, and into the towering chamber beyond. Sunlight streamed through the stained glass windows, emblazoned with the image of a mighty sword being drawn from its scabbard. Long shelves stretched through the room, which was easily the size of a cathedral, all filled to their entirety—and haphazardly so—with parchment.
“It’s so messy!” she exclaimed.
“Can’t make it too easy on the heroes, can I?” He threw her a look that told her quite plainly he thought her crazy; well, she thought the same of him.
“Now, what is your particular interest? Save the world? Natural disaster? Stopping dark magic? Evil lord?”
“Lost love,” she grunted.
“Ooh, lost love. That’s a favorite of mine, don’t see much of those in here.” He looked her up and down. “Should’ve known, you don’t look the Helper-Wench.” He frowned. “Too plain. But, you’re in luck, there aren’t as many lost love prophecies, so it won’t take as long to find yours—if it’s in here.”
“What do you mean if it’s in here?”
“Fates are busy too, aren’t they? Can’t spend all day writing about people’s love lives, can they? I’d hope it wasn’t in here if I were you. They’re a pessimistic lot, really. Only ever write about something if it’s really sad. For the heroes, at least. They always give the evil ones what they want. Rule of all the lands or unending magic or whatever it is they want.”
“The evil guys always win?”
“Do you see any evil lords around?”
“No… But you just said they always get the good prophecies.”
“Hmm, I suppose I did. Yes, that’s right. Evil ones get the good prophecies—your lost love isn’t evil is he?”
“That’s a shame. What did you say your name was again?”
“Hmm. Now where did I? Ah, yes, here it is.” He cleared his throat. “Vena Llena, born to the sign of Capricorn, in the land of Hyerlon, et cetera, et cetera. Ah, here is the good stuff… hem, hem. The one whom you hold most dear shall leave you forever, and you will be doomed to eternal despair. And furthermore, it is foretold that you will never again cross the doors of the Halls of Prophecy as a living woman.”
“You… you can’t be serious? It must be wrong, it must be!”
He placed the parchment in her hands and took her around the shoulder, leading her back to his office. “Serious as stone, my lady. You wouldn’t want a cup of tea, would you? No? Well, you don’t mind if I do? What about a biscuit? Nice and fresh, made them myself. Oh, listen. I think I hear Esmerelda roaring now, I bet someone is here. Care to watch?”
“I… I guess. My life… It’s ruined.”
“Now, now, precious. Don’t say that. No need to cry over spilled ink. Just watch, and I promise you’ll feel better. Quick, hide in my office. There, yes. Crack the door so you can listen.”
“Greetings, worthy adventurers. You have bested the fiercest of dragons left to the world. I am humbly at your service.” The curator bowed.
The Hero—Vena could tell which he was because he had a great big sword and a cape—nodded to the Keeper of the Prophecies. “I have traveled far and with great need to read the words of the foresighted. I must defeat Delekand Han, the scourge of the east, before he closes his grip upon this very world, enslaving us all.”
“Then be of noble heart, worthy one, for the words of the future are both blessing and curse.” His tone became lighter. “Third shelf on the left, second rack. Just leaf through them. You’re number forty-eight, by the way. That’s who it will be addressed to.”
The hero nodded once more and disappeared amongst the tall shelves, the Wizard and the Helper-Wench started forward, but the curator stopped them.
“The words of the forespoken are only for whom they apply. You cannot read the prophecies.”
The Helper-Wench gazed at him for a moment, then asked “Then how will Kent find the prophecy about Delekand Han’s death, if it is not about him?”
The Keeper jumped in delight, clapping his hands. “Oh, you are a rare one. Surprisingly intelligent, yes. Hmm… There is some ancient magic… I don’t remember it exactly… but it said something about Helper-Wenches and Wizards not being able to read the words of the ancients or they will suffer terrible, gut-wrenching deaths. Oh, and ruin the chances of Hero, if I remember correctly.”
“What did you call me?”
“The noble and valiant aid to the hero, without whom he would be doomed to defeat.”
“Oh… I thought you said something else.”
“A trick of the acoustics, I imagine. Tricky building, big, vaulted ceiling, see? Ah, look here comes Hero now. My, he does look ash-faced.”
“Kent! What’s wrong?”
“The prophecy… It… I can’t say. All is lost! Let us leave this cursed place, quickly.”
The curator smiled at him. “Sorry you couldn’t stay. I’m boiling tea in my office. Splendid flavor, all the way from the far east. Out of the dark lands, come to think of it. That’s ironic, eh?” He opened the door, and began shoving them out. “Come back if you need anything! Stay in touch!”
Boom. The oak doors slammed shut, causing the parchment to vibrate on the shelves.
“Now, what were you worried about, Miss Llena?”
“My prophecy… I’ve lost him forever. And I am doomed to die when I leave here. What if I never leave? Can I stay here?”
“Hmm, afraid not. Sorry, dear, but the missus wouldn’t like that. Not a bit. She gets dreadfully jealous.”
“Am I doomed to die then?”
“Of course not! Didn’t you just see what happened? The dark lord can’t always win. I’m sure Hero will do a little soul searching and find a way to work around the words of the prophecy so he can still slay the evil one.”
“Wait… the words can be broken?”
“No, no. But you can find a creative solution to work around them.”
“But how will I get out of here alive?”
He strode to the window and pushed it open. “Can I offer you a window? No door-crossing involved.”
“Oh! Thank you! But… why would I have died if I went through the door?”
He stuck his balding head out the window. “I suspect one of the dragon-whelps is out there. Yes, there she is. Fira, dreadful temper. Watch out for her on the way down.” He ushered her out the window.
“Come back if you need anything!”
Once her body had withdrawn from the frame, the curator closed the window, fastening the shutters tightly shut and sliding a latch over them.
“Now, about that tea.”