A cool wind buffeted Hjay as she walked down the street, squeezing between crowds of people swaying across the pavements like tides. She dodged between two tall cloaked men having a leisurely discussion while creating an partial road-block and breathed a sigh of relief as she found the crowd beginning to thin.
Hjay glanced around her. She could see the tops of small market stalls over the heads of their many observers, and the small stone houses that walled in the street. They had high windows, set deep into the stonework, their panes shining dully from lights within. Above these, with their crooked chimney pots and roughly-tiled roofs, the sky was grey and scattered with tufts of clouds.
Hjay shivered: it was getting cold. She turned her collar up and as she did so, she noticed that people around her were looking uneasy. She saw a woman pull up her hood and hurry away with a pinched look on her face; another man walking quickly down a side-street, glancing back over his should as he went.
What's wrong? Thought Hjay.
Curious, she continued down the street to a narrower, darker area. Looking about her, through the wary, almost jittery crowd, Hjay noticed a woman sitting on the pavement. She was wearing a thin grey cloak and her head was obscured by a hood which hung low over her face. Her long grey hair fell out of the hood and down her chest to her knees, on which her two, weather-worn hands were resting. She seemed to be scanning the crowd, the way her head was turning, but as Hjay, nor anyone else could see her eyes, this was only assumed. Every now and then, Hjay noticed, she would call out to a passer-by, gesturing with one of her hands, beckoning them to come to her. But whoever it was she wanted either shook their heads or pretended not to hear her. No one, it was apparent, wanted to be associated with her.
Hjay was intrigued. What was this woman doing? What did she want? She moved closer, curiosity getting the better of caution, but her view was blocked by a tall man in a long black cape and hat. He limped slightly as he walked and used a tall hazel staff for support. Hjay edged around him, glancing up at him as he went. He had a kind, but rough face with small dark eyes and untidy locks of greying hair poking out from under his hat.
'What does she want?' Hjay asked him, feeling, intuitively, that he wouldn't mind.
He looked down at her in surprise. 'Ach!' he made a face, wrinkling his long nose dramatically. 'She wants a person to read. She's a fortune teller.' He moved off, on his uneven gait, leaning heavily on his staff and Hjay turned back to the woman. So, she's a fortune teller.
Hjay watched the woman closely, trying to detect some sort of unearthly power or energy emanating from her. But she seemed totally normal, just a drab, cloaked woman sitting on the pavement.
'Come! Come!' called the woman, beckoning with a hand towards a small man with a short blue coat. He jumped when he saw the woman's head directed towards him and scurried away, terrified.
Hjay watched, wondering who would be next. Slowly the woman's head turned, her obscured face scanning the crowd before her. Her head continued turning until it came to rest facing Hjay. The woman lifted both hands, beckoning wildly and called in a clear voice, 'Come, girl! Come!'