Boisterous laughter filled the Golden Mare as Lucien Valtieri slammed his empty glass down on the table in perfect time with the crescendo of his heroic tale. His companions were all around him, cheering him on and toasting to his honor – this was life. But the debauchery, the drinking, and the ass-kissing cronies left a bit of a shallow taste in Lucien’s mouth. “Let’s get out of here,” he started as his toadies gathered around. He got to his feet and led them out the tavern door.
He led his pack of boot-licking cronies down the avenue towards their next stop – a pub, a brothel, he hadn’t decided yet – but his night was just beginning. While he walked through the gloom of the evening, his mind was elsewhere. His coin purse jingled with the stipend his father had just sent him – a petulant gesture of fatherly love. Lucien was born into one of the noblest families in all of (…); his father, a cold aristocrat, was always keen on investing in Lucien’s older brother rather than in Lucien himself. He reflected about the countless times his father would preen and prepare his brother to assume the role of successor for the Valtieri name. And that meanwhile, Lucien was sent to one school or another, and to foster with one minor lord or another. It was almost as if his father thought Lucien inadequate to wear the family name. But this only tempered his resentment. “One day the glory will be mine, father,” he thought to himself as he walked down the street.
Off to his right, he peered down a side alley, where lantern in the window of a ramshackle fortune teller’s shop caught Lucien’s eye. He broke off from his group of toadies, who continued to swagger on. Approaching the beaded door, the thick smell of incense and exotic spices wafted through the air. He entered and took a seat at the small table. Across sat a frail, blind, old woman, her hands outstretched palms-up. Instinctively, Lucien placed his hands in hers and she began to mumble incoherently. In a flash she looked up and spoke.
“I’ve been waiting for you. Long have you lived in the shadow of your father and elder brother. You know your true worth, and you know that your family has always stood between you and greatness. I can see what you have it in you to become, if only you are willing to reach out and grab it.” She produced a folded piece of parchment and placed it into his hand. “To supplant your brother, to supersede your father, to claim your birthright, you must go to this address on the morrow.” And with that, Lucien stood up silently and exited the building. His toadies were just a few yards down the alley, so he quickly rejoined them and wandered off – slowly turning the fortuneteller’s words over in his head.
The following morning, Lucien could not escape the echoing of the fortune teller’s words inside his head. “How could she have known about my family with such accuracy?” he wondered, but dismissed the notion – after all he probably let something slip at the tavern that she must have heard. Still, curiosity nagged him as he studied the scrap of paper and walked back to the alley with the fortune teller’s shop. As he walked down the dim alleyway, he approached the shop where the old hag had given him the cryptic message. But to his surprise, there was no such building. He immediately recognized the surroundings, but the exact spot of the storefront was nothing but a plain brickwork wall. Could he have imagined the whole thing? For a moment he could have sworn he smelled the faint aroma of incense, but the fortune teller and decrepit shop was nowhere to be found. He looked down at the scrap of paper in his hand, and knew that he must visit the address…