King Martemic and Queen Jolene of Kashkar were well known throughout their land for their strength and fairness, and were therefore loved my most everyone. Of course, those on the receiving end of some of the harsher judgments thought they were dealt with too harshly and unfairly, but a line had to be drawn somewhere; the laws were the laws and the king was quite strict about the breaking of them.
Martemik was a big, powerful man, standing over six feet tall with the wide shoulders of a swordsman. In keeping with his fathers before him, he had the white hair of the royal family. Other members of the nobility all had varying shades of blond hair and light eyes, but the children born to the rightful king always had thick white hair and pale gray eyes. Even daughters born of the bloodline had the white hair and gray eyes, but their children did not carry on the family trait.
Jolene was also tall; coming from a bloodline that produced men much like her husband. She was a proud and stately woman with copious amounts of pale gold curls and striking blue eyes. With effortless ease, she commanded the attention and respect of everyone around her. She was also great with child.
The knights of the nobility and most of the soldiers wore their hair pulled up and bound in several bindings down the center of their heads in an imitation of the manes on their horses. The number of such bindings was dictated only by the thickness of the hair; a knight wanted a proud crest, now a collection of horse's tails.
Since it was a tradition in the queen's home country to seek out a fortune teller and have the child's future told in the last month before birth, she requested this of her husband, and though it was not necessarily a custom in this country, he was familiar with the practice, so he relented to the wishes of the beautiful wife he had come to value highly and adore.
So they packed up, ostensibly for a tour of the country, to show the people that the queen was soon to produce an heir to the throne. They planned to be gone for a week to ten days. This would only cover a small portion of his kingdom but it would do to spread the word of the coming birth.
Everywhere they went, they were greeted with cheers and many of the women gifted the queen with good luck and easy delivery charms. Jolene accepted them all graciously and treasured all the charms with the respect and deference with which they were offered.
The custom of visiting a fortuneteller at this time was fairly common among the peasantry, so it wasn't difficult to find what they were looking for.
Late one night, the royal couple approached an old cabin in the woods. "I don't like this, Jolene," said the king. "There's no light inside. If you would only consent to one of the fortunetellers who were willing to call at the palace, we wouldn't need to go through all this."
"You just don't like sneaking around in the dark, dear, and you know that those fortunetellers willing to call at the palace would say anything to make us happy; who would know if it was a true telling or not. At least coming this late at night, she won't have any time to set up some show," replied the queen with quiet patience.
The king knocked solidly on the old door. A few minutes later, the old woman who answered was greatly surprised to see the king and queen standing on her doorstep so late at night. There was no doubt that's who they were; everyone knew who the king and queen were. She quickly invited them into her humble home, wishing fervently that her accommodations were better than they were, but there was no helping it now. "What can an old woman like me do for you, Lord and Lady?" she asked as she poked up the fire and added some wood, and then lit the one lamp she owned with a coal from the fire.
"Are you a fortuneteller?" asked King Martemik as he moved his wife closer to the fire; the night air was chilly and damp.
"I am that, my lord, among other things. Do you seek your fortune?"
"My wife seeks the fortune of our child soon to be born. Can you do this?"
"I can, your grace," she replied with a small bow. "My lady, please have a seat." The old woman offered the queen the only seat and pulled a crate out from beneath the cupboard for herself to sit on. "My lord, I have nothing else for you to sit on, even my bed is on the floor."
He was somewhat impressed with the way the old woman so readily handled the simple preparations for this ordeal, without making any attempts to set up any kind of stage or use any elaborate bobbles, but he was still very uncomfortable about all this. He never did like this mystic stuff. "Never mind me," said the king. He had no interest in becoming comfortable.
The queen smiled at her husband as she took the offered stool. It was amusing to see her tall brave husband unsettled by this small frail peasant woman. She would have to tease him about this night many times.
The fortuneteller sat across from her and held out her callused hands to the queen. When the queen's delicate hands were in hers, she closed her eyes, and with a deep breath, she rested her forehead on the table and searched for the future of this child.
Just as they were beginning to worry that the old woman had fallen asleep, she raised her head and spoke in a resonant voice that could not possibly have issued from the throat of the old woman.
"The news I have for your son is grave and troubling. Are you sure you still wish to hear it?"
"I do. Speak your news. I must hear it," said the queen as color drained from her cheeks.
"Your son's life line will be fraught with sorrow, anger and danger. He will loose his father to death, his mother to fear and treachery will hunt him like a rabid wolf. All of this will beset him before he comes of age. But, there is still hope. There is one man who is close to you now; one whose loyalty to you will remain strong, despite all the evil he must see. This man will find your son and help him to see through his sorrow and bitterness. If your son has not become too lost, if he is not too bitter and angry, this man will be able to lead him out of his darkness. Only then will he be able to gather the people to him in a union that will surpass even his father's. If he can do this, he will ascend to the throne and become a king far greater than any of his forefathers."