Aska was doing her homework while her Aunt Joy cooked dinner. “Do you remember when I was little and asked you what gift was the best one?”
Joy thought for a second about the conversation they had had when Aska was still very little.
Aska was staying with her Joy while her parents were having a grown up date night. She liked to hang out with her Aunt. Aunt Joy was a teacher and always had fun things to do. Today they were coloring in Mandalas with colored pencils. Aunt Joy had even let her sharpen all of the pencils in the electric sharpener before they started.
“Aunt Joy, what’s the best gift?”
“Well I guess it depends on the person. Who are you planning on getting a gift for?”
“No, not a present, a gift. Like GIFT. Spell-caster, Healer, Warrior, Prophet, which is the best to get?”
“Hmmm, I guess I’ve never thought about it. Why does there have to be a best gift?”
“There’s always a best at something. Like when Mom and Dad were in school they were always competing to see who was best. Everyone talks about it. Sometimes Mom was the best and sometimes Dad was. And Grandma says that Aunt Dot is the best Prophet to ever sit on the High Council. And Grandpa Keeper is head of the Guard so he is the best Guard. And Grandma Springwater is in charge of a whole hospital so she’s the best Healer. But what is the best to be?”
“Well what do you think? Your parents are Warriors, are they better than your Grandmother Keeper who is a Spell-Caster? Or better than Grandmother Springwater? How about Aunt Dot and me? Are we better than they are because we are Prophets? Which of us is best?”
Aska narrowed her eyes and thought about it. “Mom and Dad and Grandpa are best when you need someone brave. I went through the haunted house at school last year and didn’t even get scared because Grandpa was with me.”
“Okay, so does that make them best? How about when you fell out of the tree last year and broke you arm? What happened then?”
“Grandmother Springwater fixed it.”
“So does that make her best?”
Aska thought about it for a minute, “If you could have picked what would you have been? Are you happy that you are a Prophet? You don’t do what Aunt Dot does with her gifts, you don’t go to court or sit on the council. You’re a teacher like a lot of Spell-Casters are, do you wish you were a Spell-Caster like Uncle Aric?”
Aunt Joy shook her head, “No, I think your Uncle Aric is pretty cool, don’t get me wrong, and he knows a lot of things. But I like being a Prophet. And I like being able to teach kids and using my gift helps me. You know how Uncle Aric can tell you about just about everything? Because he studies all the time? And he always wants to learn more? That’s part of his gift. But he wants you learn as fast as he does. Patience is not part of who he is. Or part of your mother for that matter.”
“But for your Aunt Dot and me? We are patient. Because I know when I tell you something that you are thinking about it. Working it out on your own. I can see you learning. So I can be patient and wait. It makes me a good teacher, and growing up with your uncle and your mother being patient was a benefit. Reminding them to slow down helped out our parents.”
Aunt Joy took the pencils Aska was coloring with and started to lay them out next to her picture, “Which one of these colors is best? You used them all in your picture, so which one is the best one?”
Aska looked at her picture.
Aunt Joy said, “You used the blue more than the orange, does that make it best? Should you have only used the blue?”
“No, because the orange looks better in the small diamonds. See how it stands out? If I had used the blue it would have been too plain.”
“Okay, so the blue would have been too plain there, does that make the orange best? Should you have only used the orange?”
“No, that would have been the same, if it was all orange it wouldn’t have looked special either.”
“So maybe there isn’t a best? Just a best for that triangle? A best for that circle right there? But you need all of them to make the picture the best?”
Aska wrinkled her nose at her aunt, “You tricked me.”
“Maybe I’m best at tricking.”
Aska went back to coloring. Keeping her eyes down at her picture she quietly asked, “Do you know what I’m going to be?”
“Will you tell me?”
“Of course. You are going to be strong. You are going to be smart. You are going to be kind. You are going to be helpful. You are going to be fair. You are going to be beautiful. And most of all you are going to be loved. But you are already all of those things so I’m not sure why you would ask. Now finish up your picture and get ready for bed. I will lose my babysitting privileges if they ever find out I don’t do anything but color with you all night!”
Aska walked over to her aunt and gave her a hug. “Best at tricking.”
“We decided that the best gift was being able to be tricky, right? I think that’s how we ended up.” Joy smiled at her niece.
Aska smile back at her aunt, “Yeah, and remember I asked if you knew what I was going to be?”
“Did you already know I was going to be a Prophet?”
“Yes, we were all pretty sure that would be your gift.”
“How? And if you knew why didn’t you tell me?”
“Well, you had always shown the signs. Little things that you took for granted, knowing who was at the door. Knowing when your parents were almost home. Never being surprised by a wrapped gift. You just didn’t realize that not everyone could do these things. And there is a feeling of like calling to like. Does that make sense? The Prophet in me recognizes other Prophets more easily.”
“Like I know when Aunt Dot is listening to people more than just what they are saying out-loud?”
“Yes, just like that. How you can see her connection as she works. If you weren’t a Prophet you might be able to feel something, feel the tingle of the power, but you wouldn’t see it. Like Uncle Aric can see the way that flower in that vase is connected to that onion on the counter over there. You and I both know they were both grown in your mom’s garden, but he can see a thread that ties them together. And if another Spell-Caster were standing near him they could tell that he knew as well. Two Warriors can feel each other in a room. The energy they give off is different than that of a Healer, right? So even if your gift hasn’t really fully come in yet, you still have a little of that feel to you. Some more than others.”
“So why didn’t you tell me?”
“What if I was wrong? What if you did have a touch of Prophet but when your full gift came in your were actually called to Healer? What if by telling you that you would be a Prophet you started to trust your instincts before your gift was realized? You were 5 at the time right? Or were you 6? Either way you were still young enough that your make believe stories were as real to you as anything else. What if you thought something you had made up were true because you knew you were going to be a Prophet? And you were too young to know. Taking away the what if time isn’t fair. Playing at being a Warrior or a Healer is more fun if you aren’t positive you are going to be a Prophet or a Spell-Caster right?”
“I guess, but you knew.”
“I did. I was probably 90% sure. But that is part of being a Prophet right? Even when you know something sometimes you don’t say anything. When you start at Martindale you’ll learn even more. You will do experiments with vision that will teach you why you can’t always trust them.”
“But sometimes they are true and there is nothing you could do.”
“Yes, sometimes they are true and no matter how much you wish you could change them you can’t.”
Jocelyn ached for her niece. She knew she was thinking about the night her father had died. How she had seen it all happening but didn’t realize it was a vision not a bad dream. They had talked about it many times and Aska knew that there was nothing she could have done even if she had realized it was a vision, that it happened too close to the actual event to change anything, but Jocelyn knew that didn’t change the way Aska felt about it.
“What’s the point in seeing something happening that needs changed if you can’t actually change it?”
“That’s complicated. It’s not up to us to say what needs changed. Sometimes changing something for ourselves would make it worse for everyone else.”
“But I don’t care about everyone else. Sometimes I wish I weren’t a Prophet.”
“I know. We all wish that sometimes. I’m going to tell you a story I’ve never shared with you before. Okay?”
Aska just shrugged.
“You know that it’s rare to get your gift as young as you did right?” Aska smirked and nodded, she’d heard this for years, but she got hers young, Aunt Joy had as well, it wasn’t that big of a deal.
“Well I did too, you know that. And when I was around 9 years old I knew our dog was going to die. And die soon. I told my mother, I told Dad, I made them take him to the vet to be checked. And there was nothing wrong with him. But I still just knew it was going to happen if I didn’t do something. So I followed him around for days. I watched to make sure he was safe. Never off leash. He didn’t eat anything he wasn’t supposed to. I was going to make sure nothing happened. And then about three days after I had the vision he lay down to take a nap and didn’t wake up. I was angry. Angry that I done everything I could and nothing had changed. Angry that I knew it was going to happen and it did no good. And angry at our dog for daring to die when I hadn’t wanted him to.
No one in the family could comfort me. Your Uncle Aric tried to explain to me that our dog wasn’t dead, he was just part of a new circle. That his body would nourish the ground when we buried him and that his energy had been released to join the greater world.”
At this Jocelyn looked at her niece and made a face, Aska laughed, “That sounds like something Uncle Aric would say.”
“And your mother offered these words of encouragement, ‘everything dies. We are going to die too, no big deal’ She was already a Warrior at heart.But what no one seemed to understand was that I had seen it, and not been able to stop it. And what was the point in seeing if you can’t change things? What was the point of being a Prophet if you were just going to bear witness to the horrible things in life twice?”
Jocelyn took a deep breath, “So Mom called Aunt Dot to come help. When she got there she took me for a long walk. We talked about the vision I had. That I knew our dog was dying but I couldn’t stop it from happening. I told her how angry I was. How I wished that I would never have another vision again. Then she asked me what I did after I had the vision. I told her about taking our dog to the vet, I told her about spending all of my time watching him. Playing with him. Sleeping with him in my room at night. And she asked if I thought he liked the attention. That with all of us being busy maybe sometimes the dog didn’t get a lot of attention, sure he got a walk everyday and fed and pet and played with, but for those three days he was the center of my world. I brushed him, I walked him, I played with him, I slept with him. How would I have felt if I hadn’t spent that time with him? Maybe I saw the vision so I could say goodbye instead trying to stop what was coming. He was an old dog, my parents had him before they had any of us kids so he would have been 15 at least. He died peacefully in his sleep after spending three days being doted on. Wasn’t that better than if I had found a way to make him hold on and he got older and maybe started to suffer? Who was I to think he should live like that?
Then she told me that she understood not wanting to have any more visions. That she sometimes felt the same way. She also said that the reason most children didn’t get their Prophecy gifts until they were much older was because they were too hard to see. That you had to be very strong to bear them. And that there was a reason why I had this gift so young. She didn’t know what it was, but she had faith that it was important.”
“So what was the reason? Why did you get your gift so early? If you couldn’t do anything about your dog what was the point?”
“It was so I would understand what it is like for you. That’s what I believe. So we could have this conversation, and all of the others we will have over the years. I know what it’s like to see something and wish you could change it, I know what it’s like when the biggest concern your friends have is what color dress to buy for prom but you know that the boy they want to go with is going to ask someone else. And how to most adults that might not seem like a big deal, but to your friend it’s the world. Some of the things you will see and know are small and some of them are big. But you will see them and have to deal with them. And that takes a lot of strength. And a lot of acceptance of things you don’t want to accept.”
“Like your dog?”
“Yes, like my dog. But more importantly like your dad. What do you think might have happened if you hadn’t seen what you did? If you hadn’t been brave enough to tell everyone. And tell everyone over and over? What if that vision hadn’t come? Would your dad had lived?”
“No. But what if I had had it earlier and could have stopped him from going to work?”
“Do you think you would have been able to stop your father from doing his job?”
“No, you wouldn’t have, you are right. But what might have changed is the circumstance he found Shakel, what might have changed is Shakel might have gotten away with it. He might have added the gift of Warrior to what he had already taken and then escaped. The consequences of that would have been far reaching and devastating. People like Shakel have to be stopped. And you stopped him. You and your dad. He would have been very proud of what you did. How you handled yourself.”
Aska sighed, “I know. I KNOW. Everyone tells me that all the time. I know he would have been proud. I know I did the right thing. I know! All right? I know.”
“But all you want is your dad, right?”
And with that Aska started to cry, “I just miss him so much. And it’s just not fair. It’s not. Not at all.”
Jocelyn took her niece in her arms and gently rocked her like she had done when Aska was much younger, “I know, sweetheart, I know. It’s not fair. It never is.”
When Deidre got home from work that evening her sister Joy met her on the front porch. “Come take a walk with me for a minute.”
The two sisters started off down the street. “What’s up?” Deidre assumed Joy wanted to talk to her about something out of earshot of Aska. Not like secrets were kept for long in their house. Living with two Prophets did not lend itself to that.
“Aska and I had a talk today about visions.” Joy saw her sister tense slightly, any talk about visions with Aska generally led to talk about the one she had of her father. Deidre had no idea how her daughter dealt with seeing that. Just hearing what happened haunted Deidre’s dreams. “She’s missing her dad a lot right now. I think knowing that she is starting Martindale soon, that she will be going to school where you and Cal went is weighing on her.”
“Maybe, or maybe she overheard us talking about Charles the other night. I found her up and reading after mom and Aric left. Maybe she hadn’t been reading but eavesdropping. If she heard us talking about Charles she wouldn’t be able to help but think about her father, the same way we did. Did she say anything about that?”
“No, not at all. We just talked about gifts and visions and how hard they can be. Then she talked about how much she misses her father.”
“Of course she does, I miss him as well. Especially right now. Thinking we could be facing something like that again? What if it is a group of Stan’s people out there? What if the reason the spell isn’t the same is because they aren’t as strong as he was, but they are working on it? I’m not sure I can do this again, Jocelyn. I don’t know if I have it in me.”
“You are the best at your job, if you need to do this you will be able to. I know you.”
“I know myself as well. And if I find someone practicing the sort of evil magic that took Cal’s life? Joy, I’m not sure I could arrest them and bring them in for trial. I’m not sure that I wouldn’t rip them apart with my bare hands first.”
Jocelyn took her sister’s hand in hers. “You will be able to do what is right. I have faith in your strength. You know the system worked for Shakel, excuse me, Stan. You know justice was served. By your own hand, it was served. And it was done right. You do the right thing. You are that strong.”
“I’m glad you are sure. Because I’m not. Not at all.”
The sisters walked for awhile longer, “What should we do now? Do you think I should talk to Aska?”
“I think she is afraid to bring up her father’s death around you. I think she is so worried that it will hurt you that she keeps her own pain tucked away inside her. So maybe it’s time for the two of you to sit down and talk about it more? Now that she’s a little older. And maybe talk to her about Charles and what you think. I can be there if you want. Or we can invite her to listen the next time Aunt Dot and Aric are over. She’s young and I know we’ve all tried to protect her from this, just in case, but maybe that’s not the right approach. Like you said she has had to handle what she saw everyday since she was 8. I know adults who would have buckled under that. She hasn’t. She’s as strong of a woman as you are going to find already. And she’s only 12. I think it might be time we started treating her not just as the niece of a Prophet but as the daughter of two Warriors.”
Deidre stopped and looked at her sister, “You’ve been thinking about this for longer than today haven’t you?”
“I have. I told Aska today about something Aunt Dot taught me, we all have a purpose and I think part of mine is to help Aska. Not just with managing her gift, but with managing her life. The extra pressure and burdens she has. I mean it’s not easy having Pain for a mother.”
Deidre laughed, “No I would imagine it’s not. Okay, you’re right, you are always right. Tonight at dinner lets all talk about what we need from each other right now. And if that means she needs to talk about how Cal died, I will be there for her.”