The Shadow Path, Chapter 1

She’s coming! She’s coming!” one of Yasmina’s young friends shouted gleefully into her ears as she slept. Yasmina woke with a start as her friend scampered out of her cottage. She ran to the mirror by the door, which had some cracks and blemishes but still did the job. She quickly brushed her long, blonde hair with her fingers and used her fingers to get the smudges off of her fair skin. She straightened out her dress to make the coarse material as neat as possible. She didn’t expect to get chosen since she was still a child, but it did happen once in a while. She glanced across the room and saw that her parents were still asleep in their bed. She decided not to wake them as she ran out of the house.

Young people who were as young as as Yasmina stood alongside men and women who were as old as twenty. Those who had already gone through this gathered on the sidelines of the town square as they all waited eagerly for her arrival. A few people did some last minute cleaning, shining the water well and clearing away the clutter, when the town crier appeared and announced, “Here ye, here ye! Citizens of Neodrach, please welcome Kadera, the soothsayer of Caragsona!”

Everyone stopped what they were doing and stood at attention. An old woman with stringy, gray hair and a tattered black cloak hobbled towards them, relying heavily on a knobbly cane. She poised herself before the gathered youth, eyeing them as if she were reading text above their heads. Yasmina silently prayed that she would get chosen, and excitement flooded her veins as Kadera slowly inched forward. Kadera stopped in front of a young woman and told her, “You shall be a farmer’s wife. You will work hard but be very happy.” The woman beamed as she rejoined her family. Kadera hobbled down the line and suddenly stopped in front of a boy. “You shall be a blacksmith. You start as an apprentice but one day you will get the higher position.” The young man celebrated quietly as he got out of line. Kadera hobbled closer and closer to Yasmina, whose heart pounded wildly. Her hopes were, however, immeasurably dashed as Kadera past her and stood before another child. “You will grow to be a servant for the future king!” The child seemed too stunned to move, and his family had to fetch him. The rest of the of the youth waited with high hopes that she might pick a fourth, but Kadera instructed someone in the distance, “Prepare my horses, that will be all!” She turned to leave, and the youth who weren’t chosen groaned in disappointment. Despite their dejected feelings, everyone still glowed just to be graced by her presence.

The villagers all turned to each other about the recent fates that were given. Yasmira met her friend under the shade of a yew tree and chirped, “That was so exciting!”

Her friend remarked, “I know! I can’t wait to get chosen! I wonder what I’ll end up doing with my life!”

“Me too!” Yasmina agreed. “I’d rather find out sooner rather than later. Still, it was really interesting to see others find out their fate.”

Her friend disagreed, “Two of them are going to stay in our peasant village, and one will get close to royalty. No one is going to become royalty. Maybe next time someone will! Ooh, better yet, I hope next time she says someone will go down the Shadow Path!”

“Saphra!” Yasmina exclaimed. “No one in our village is that evil!”

“You never know!” Saphra commented. “Evil comes from the most unexpected places sometimes!”

Yasmina stated, “I hope that she says the Shadow Path will get destroyed so the other villages will visit us again.”

Saphra scoffed, “Why would you want that? Our town runs just fine without them!”

“Not really,” Yasmina argued. “We barely make enough to survive. If we got more business, we could see all kinds of different fates! Like, maybe some of us would become a noble! Or a sailor! I mean, don’t get me wrong, it will be exciting to learn what we’ll do in Neodrach, but we kind of already know what we’re going to do here. There’s only so many jobs here. So, unless they venture down the Light Path to work for the royals, we’ll all work hard just to survive here.”

“Unless one of us goes down the Shadow Path!” Saphra giggled. Yasmina rolled her eyes and laughed.

Several years later, Yasmira stood in that line again. She had done this so many times now that she had stopped feeling so nervous, but now that she had reached adulthood, she felt her time had come. She was one of the oldest in the group, but that didn’t bother her much. Everyone would get their turn, so if she didn’t get chosen this time, she knew her time would come eventually. She spotted Saphra in the crowd with her husband gave her a little wave. Saphra and her infant daughter waved right back. Suddenly, a chill went down her spine as if the weather had abruptly changed, and she knew it was time!

Kadera hobbled over to a young man and predicted, “You will work in the horse stalls and mary the stable girl.” Upon hearing this, he excitedly ran off. She went in front of a young woman and told her, “You shall marry the grave digger and bear lots of children with him.” The girl practically squealed as she jumped and clapped with delight. Yasmina silently wished them well but secretly didn’t envy them. She did feel a twinge of jealousy that they now knew their fate, but neither option sounded so lucrative. She needed a vocation, but the idea of the humdrum lifestyles that her village offered didn’t thrill her much. She secretly hoped that Kadera would promise a life of adventure, but she didn’t know how that was possible.

She had been so lost in thought that it took a while to notice that Kadere was standing before her! Everyone waited with bated breath, and the tension from the villagers was palpable. Yasmina hadn’t realized it before, but Kadera never smiled. The many lines on her face actually gave her an almost menacing demeanor. She never noticed her eyes before either. They were a very light gray and almost milky, and yet they had a shrewdness about them that sent shivers down her spine. They were deep, and she could almost see her celestial thoughts swirling. The more she stared at her, the more uncomfortable she became. She wished that Kadera would reveal her fate and get it over with! The crowd murmured a bit, clearly questioning why she took so long with Yasmina. Just when Yasmina thought she couldn’t take it anymore, Kadera unexpectedly announced, “You are a witch!”

The crowd gasped, and Yasmina’s thoughts hadn’t registered the reality of what just happened yet. It almost felt like a sick joke. Everyone stared at her in shock, and all she could think to say was, “What?”

Kadera elaborated, “You are a witch. Soon your powers will grow, and you will try to kill the king!”

“No!” Yasmina refused to accept this. “I’m not a murderer! I’m a good person! Surely, there’s a job for me! Don’t I at least find true love?”

“No,” Kadera insisted. “You will be penniless and very lonely.”

Yasmina’s heart sunk, and it hurt her so much to hear such insulting predictions. “No! You made a mistake! You-!”

“I do not make mistakes!” Kadera snapped. “I have spoken, and my word is final!” Kadera hobbled away, and all of Yasmina’s hopes were dashed as she watched her leave.

Once Kadera was out of sight, Yasmina turned to the villagers, who stared at her in horror. “Look, I’m not a witch!” She took a step towards them, and they all backed away. “You’ve known me for years, you know it isn’t true!” Everyone stared in disbelief and a growing distrust. She found Saphra and pleaded, “Saphra, tell them!”

Saphra scooped up her child and scowled. “Stay away from my baby, witch!”

Yasmina felt utterly bewildered by her friend’s betrayal. As she saw everyone’s loathsome expression, she started to grow frustrated. “Just because Kadera said it doesn’t mean it’s true!” They all look insulted at her criticism of the soothsayer, which caused her to bellow, “Ugh! I am not a witch!” She felt the anger course through her veins, and it flooded to the tips of her fingers. To her astonishment, green shots sparked out! She stared at her hands incredulously; she had never done that before! She refused to comprehend what it meant and turned back to the crowd, but they were all gone. Despite her disappointment and new obstacles, she vowed to find a way to have a real life.

Her parents had gathered her things in a box and had it waiting for her when she got home. She tried to open the door, but it was locked. She knocked and begged to come inside, but her parents refused. With tears rolling down her face, she picked up her meager possessions and walked away. She went to almost everyone in town searching for someone who would take her in, but not a single soul did. She stood outside the entrance of Neodrach and stared forlornly. She didn’t want to say goodbye to her home, and she bitterly regretted thinking such ill things about their humble lifestyles. She sighed and turned the other way.

Before her stood a fork with two paths. The one on the left had gnarly trees, dark leaves, and storm clouds overhead. No matter what Kadera said, Yasmina refused to go down that path! Her only alternative seemed to be down the Light Path. She saw plenty of sunshine and lush, green plants down this way, and she knew that the king’s castle was located down this way. In her heart, she knew she wouldn’t kill the king, so she felt perfectly safe going down to Rogamaith to ask for help. She steeled herself and headed down the Light Path.

Not that long after setting foot on this path did something catch her eye. On the right side of the path, between some trees, she saw a small cottage. She didn’t realize that anyone lived outside of Neodrach until this moment! She treaded the lawn and walked up the rickety steps carefully. When she knocked on the door, it swung right open. She could instantly tell that the house was abandoned, and she realized that she had found her new home!

The house stood close enough to the village for her to walk there, and after giving them a little time to recover, she did venture back. In time, a few people acknowledged her without flinching. When people were desperate, they gave her work to do, helping them with their vocations when they were swamped. She managed to earn enough to keep herself from going hungry and even had a little leftover to fix up the house a bit. She didn’t have much space, but she did what she could to make it feel like home. She even cleared the brush away so she could see the village from her back window. Her successes weren’t frequent, and she didn’t get to stay at any job for too long. Often times, she went months without finding work. Despite her struggles, she took some solace in the fact that although she sometimes emitted magic, she had refused to succumb to her predicted fate.

The years rolled by, and she watched generations grow and form their lives. She grew to her thirties, and she began to lose hope of ever having a happy life. No one seemed to be motivated to give her a permanent position, and she wondered if she really would struggle her whole life as foretold. She even dared to hope that she would find a husband who could help her with the house and consistent money, but she was no longer young with a taut little body. She was growing older, and the more time that went by, the more she doubted that she would ever become a bride. She agonized over different plans to change her situation, but she was at a point where she drew a blank. She had tried so many different things, and nothing ever worked out, so she didn’t know what more she could do. All that she came up with was to keep searching for work and hope for the best. That’s all she could do right then…

…Or so she thought! The possibility never occurred to her, but it came on a seemingly ordinary night when she heard on a knock on her door…