At the end of the century before last, in the
market square of the city of Baltese, there
stood a boy with a hat on his head and a coin in
his hand. The boys name was Peter Augustus
Duchene, and the coin that he held did not
belong to him but was instead the property of
his guardian, an old soldier named Vilna lutz,
who had sent the boy to the market for fish
That day in the market square, in the
midst of the entirely unremarkable and
absolutely ordinary stalls of the fishmongers
and cloth merchants and bakers and silversmiths,
there had appeared, without warning
or fanfare, the red tent of a fortuneteller.
Attached to the fortunetellers tent was a
piece of paper, and penned upon the paper in
a cramped and unapologetic hand were these
words: The most profound and difficult questions
that could possibly be posed by the human mind or
heart will be answered within for the price of one
Peter read the small sign once, and then
again. The audacity of the words, their dizzying
promise, made it difficult, suddenly, for him
to breathe. He looked down at the coin, the
single florit, in his hand.
"But I cannot do it," he said to himself.
"Truly, I cannot, for if I do, Vilna Lutz will ask
where the money has gone and I will have to
lie, and it is a very dishonorable thing to lie."
He put the coin in his pocket. He took the
soldiers hat off his head and then put it back
on. He stepped away from the sign and came
back to it and stood considering, again, the
outrageous and wonderful words.
"But I must know," he said at last. He took
the florit from his pocket. "I want to know the
truth. And so I will do it. But I will not lie about
it, and in that way, I will remain at least partly
honorable." With these words, Peter stepped
into the tent and handed the fortuneteller the
And she, without even looking at him, said,
"One florit will buy you one answer and only
one. Do you understand?"
"Yes," said Peter.
He stood in the small patch of light
making its sullen way through the open flap
of the tent. He let the fortuneteller take his
hand. She examined it closely, moving her
eyes back and forth and back and forth, as if
there were a whole host of very small words
inscribed there, an entire book about Peter
Augustus Duchene composed atop his palm.
" Huh," she said at last. She dropped his
hand and squinted up at his face. "But, of
course, you are just a boy."
"I am ten years old," said Peter. He took
the hat from his head and stood as straight
and tall as he was able. "And I am training to
become a soldier, brave and true. But it does
not matter how old I am. You took the florit, so
now you must give me my answer."
"A soldier brave and true?" said the
fortuneteller. She laughed and spat on the
ground. "Very well, soldier brave and true,
if you say it is so, then it is so. Ask me your
Peter felt a small stab of fear. What if,
after all this time, he could not bear the truth?
What if he did not really want to know?
"Speak," said the fortuneteller. "Ask."
"My parents," said Peter.
"That is your question?" said the fortuneteller.
"They are dead."
Peters hands trembled. "That is not my
question," he said. "I know that already. You
must tell me something that I do not know.
You must tell me of another - you must tell
me . . ."
The fortuneteller narrowed her eyes. "Ah,"
she said. "Her? Your sister? That is your question?
Very well. She lives."
Peters heart seized upon the words. She
lives. She lives!
"No, please," said Peter. He closed his
eyes. He concentrated. "If she lives, then I
must find her, so my question is, how do I
make my way there, to where she is?"
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