--Chapter Nine: Profession of the Future

Isa bit her lip and tried not to get in the way of the night’s entertainment at the tavern; a wandering prophetess was reading customers’ fortunes for a price.

Some people saw prophets and prophetesses as magically gifted servants of fate. Isa saw them as frauds. Why, she thought, would a person who knows the future—who could manipulate that future for whatever purpose—end up spending a lifetime traveling from town to town and living off the pocket change of others?

So many people actually fell for the tricks, though... mostly because prophets had a habit of telling everyone exactly what they wanted to hear. To the young male, they would say, “You are destined for greatness.” To the young female, “You will meet a knight in shining armor.” To the older people, “You have done more great than you will ever know,” or, “Your offspring will achieve greatness.” It was all so predictable a scam, and Isa would have kicked all such people from the tavern, but her mother said that prophets were good for business; they made people stay longer, thus buying more rounds of brew and more courses of meals.

Tonight’s prophetess wore a white dress and headscarf. Her specialty seemed to be cold reading, and Isa was able to pick apart all of her methods as they came.

Said the prophetess to a young alpha male, “I see you are strong... and yet, you are always striving to be stronger in your own way. You attract many friends, but some of these friends can be intimidated by your strength.”

Flattery, Isa thought.

“I see that one day, you will become famous. Your heroism will go down in books for the ages.”

Yeah, right next to the ten other men you’ve met tonight, all of whom will also go down “for the ages.”

This went on for two more hours, and when the tavern was ready to close for the night, the prophetess was the last to leave. She had made about as much money that night as Isa had in tips the past two days.

Just before the woman could go out the door, Isa called to her, “Pretty good evening, wouldn’t you say?”

“Pardon, child?”

Though Isa could not guess the woman’s age, this prophetess was clearly old enough to justify calling Isa a “child.” Nonetheless, Isa took it almost as an insult.

“You seem to make a lot of money telling fortunes. Before you go, could you tell me one thing for free?”

“Ah, nothing comes free, dear. I have to feed myself, you know.”

Isa grabbed her broom from a closet to the side of the bar. She started sweeping and said, “Too bad, then. I was just curious, anyway.”

The prophetess could smell the possibility of yet more profit, so she took the bait. “Curious about what, dear?”

“Oh... It’s not much. But I was wondering... You said a number of times tonight that you had read various prophecies on ancient scrolls. Well... That means you can read, right?”

“Yes, child. I can read.”

“Well, I can’t. I was never taught to. There’s a sign on the outside of the tavern door behind you, and I’ve always wondered what that sign read. I was just curious if you could read it for me.”

“Oh...” Well, this the prophetess was willing to do for free. She made to open the door, but Isa interrupted her.

“Why do you need to open the door to look at the sign? I thought you were a prophetess. Don’t you know already what is written there?”

The prophetess paused and smiled. “Now I see your game. You are one of those who have no faith in the power of the psychic mind.”

As correct as that assessment was, Isa reminded herself that this was only a trick—a cold reading used on several minds in the past.

“So what does the sign say?” Isa continued sweeping nonchalantly.

The prophetess frowned but thought for a moment. Isa imagined the woman was trying to remember the sign from when she had first entered the bar. As it turned out, her memory was not completely bad—either that, or she was at least a reasonable guesser.

“It says, ‘Welcome to the Windmill Tavern.’”

Isa nodded and continued sweeping. “Anything else?”

“Well... No, I do not think there is anything else.”

Isa said, “Okay, then. If that’s all it says... I guess that’s it. Goodnight.”

The prophetess wanted to continue working the potential customer, but the waitress’s smile was too big. The prophetess had guessed wrongly on the sign. She turned the doorknob, swung the door outward, and walked around to take a look on the other side. As she did, the waitress’s voice called from inside the tavern, “Welcome to the Windmill Tavern. We are all of us travelers here.”

The prophetess yelled back, “You lied about your illiteracy, you know.”

“True enough,” said the voice from the tavern. “How about this: I’ll keep my mouth quiet if you do, too?”

Isa stilled her broom for a second. Though the prophetess was no longer in view, Isa could imagine her turning her head from side to side to make sure no one was around to hear.

At last, the old woman said, “Deal.” Then the door closed.