PART FOUR: QUESTIONS OF DEATH
Her garden was a wellspring of vitality, a source of hope and cheer. Meg did not remember what "green" was like - she had been young when her eyes had been put out - but she could imagine it was the color of health and renewal.
She liked to sit out here, amidst the chirping crickets, buzzing bees, and teeming vegetation. It was so much more comforting and enjoyable than brooding away in the dreary hovel that sheltered her. If she had been able, she would have spent every moment of her life out-of-doors, but her body was only mortal, and she did not relish the cold of autumn nights and winter days. Also, this far from the center of Vorti, there were often predators at night - some of the human variety - and it was best not to provide an easy target.
Meg was lonely. It was not a new sensation. All her life, she had craved companionship, but the gift which made her special kept others at a distance. They saw her as some sort of paragon, set apart from the rest of humanity. They did not understand that the only difference between her and her two sisters was that she saw with a different sight. Her emotions were as alive and variable as theirs, and her body was capable of experiencing the same pain and pleasure that they could.
Nevertheless, no one dared get close to her. Many wanted her advice, for which she never charged, but no vision that she spoke of was repaid with friendship. In fact, even kindness was a rarity. Often, alone in her house at night where no one could see, she would weep without tears. If there was anyone out there that cared about her, she hadn't yet found them.
In her youth, she had tried hard to make others like her - too hard, her mother once said. She had used everything in her power, including her abilities and her comely looks, to win a friend. Nothing had worked. In earning the respect and fear of everyone in her village, she had lost the chance to be loved. They could not - would not - see past the mutilated eye sockets that marked her as a seeress.
It was then, during the most bitter time of her life, that she had begun to neglect her appearance. After shaving her head of its long pale tresses, she had stopped bathing and allowed the grime and dirt to accumulate. And when people had treated her no different than when she had been pleasant to look at, she gave up in despair. One dark, moonless night, she had stolen out of the village, never to return. The next morning, everyone had probably been relieved - especially her family, for whom she had become a burden.
Eventually, after a long period of wandering, Meg's travels had brought her to Vorti. She did not like this city. It was squalid and frightening. But fate and its ultimate purpose had brought and kept her here. Whatever future event had drawn her to this place had not yet occurred. So she waited and played her role as the calm, cool bitch of prophesy.
For the most part, she had few visitors. Everywhere else she had lived, they had come from miles away to see her. She could remember lines a hundred people long in some places. But not in Vorti. It was a rare day when she had more than one visitor, and there had been times when she had gone for weeks without seeing anyone. The lifestyle of solitude suited Meg, however. Since recognizing that those who sought her out cared only for her abilities, the bitterness of isolation had become bearable.
There were a few of her more frequent clients that Meg had come to like. Chief among them was the king, in whom she sensed a kindred spirit. In his own way, Sor was much like her. He too was a lonely man who people sought out not because of who he was, but because of the power he controlled. Apaths and seers were not all that different. They both wielded strange and unusual abilities while being feared and respected by everyone, yet loved by few.
Meg had met Sor five times, and, of course, had never seen him as most humans would. She could not say whether he was attractive or appealing. Her symbolic vision of him told her much about Sor the Apath and Sor the king, but little about Sor the man. However, the flat monotone of his voice spoke volumes about how he felt about life. Meg understood that outlook and hoped that upon it they might lay the foundation of a more lasting bond. So it came as an unpleasant surprise to learn that he had taken a third wife.
The seeress had never specifically had designs to become Vorti's queen. All she had desired was companionship. Only in her fantasies had she permitted herself to imagine being Sor's wife. Now, however, reality had intruded. It was difficult to envision any kind of rapport with the king since he had regained something which she had never experienced.
Through his former chancellor, Rim, Sor had requested that she come to the palace to examine his new wife. Rumor had it that the queen was strikingly similar to Joi, a woman he had married thirty-five years ago and who had died only weeks after the wedding. Moreover, it was hinted at throughout the city that not only was this new queen - coincidentally also named Joi - like Sor's first wife, but she was the same-body reincarnation.
Meg was skeptical about that. In her capacity as a seeress, she had looked into the souls of thousands of men and women. Never had she met one that in any way resembled the person they had been in a previous life. The notion was unsettling. Fate was capricious, certainly, but the universe had its rules, however hard they might be to comprehend. One of them demanded that reincarnated spirits must inhabit a different body.
Then there was the issue of memories. The new Joi was said to possess some memories of the old Joi. That, at least, was more believable. While it was rare for people to recall things from their previous life, it was not unheard of. In fact, using her gift, Meg could often summon some of those recollections to the surface.
It would be interesting to meet this woman. While Meg would not be able to tell how much physical similarity there was between her and her predecessor, it wouldn't be difficult to determine whether there was any spiritual kinship. She wondered if Sor had married her in the hope that she was his first wife. If so, it would be unpleasant to watch his reaction if she turned out to be something different.
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