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The shadow of Araratby Thomas Harlan
delphi, achaea: 710 ab urbe condita (31 B.C.)
The Greek woman raised her arms and her face, pale and regal, was revealed as the purple silk veil fell away. Deep-blue eyes flickered in the dimness of the narrow room. A mass of raven hair cascaded down over her pale shoulders. The smokes of the crevice rose up around her as she stood in supplication. Far away, behind her, the low beat of a drum echoed in the sun-baked little plaza in front of the temple. She waited, patient and calm.
Finally, as the irregular drumming settled into her blood and she grew light-headed in the haze of bitter-flavored smoke, a figure stirred in the darkness beyond the glow of the brazier. Strands of long white hair gleamed. Withered fingers brushed against the lip of the corroded bronze tripod. A face appeared in the smoke, and the queen barely managed to keep from flinching back. Unlike the gaudy display at Siwa, here there was no grand chorus of priests in robes of gold and pearl, no vaulting hallway of Stupendous granite monoliths, only a dark narrow room in a tiny building on a steeply slanted Grecian hillside. But at Siwa, when the oracle spoke, there had been no stomach-tightening fear.
Here the Sybil was ancient and wizened, her eyes empty of all save a sullen red echo of the flames now leaping in the pit below. The mouth of the crone moved, but no sound emerged. Yet the air trembled and the queen, to her utter horror, felt words come unbidden to her mind, forming themselves pure and whole in her thought. She flinched and staggered back, her hands now clawing at the air in a fruitless attempt to stop the flood of images. She cried out in despair. The empty face faded back into the darkness beyond the tripod and the crevice. The fire sputtered and suddenly died.
The Queen lay, weeping in bitter rage, on the uneven flagstones as her guardsmen entered the chamber to see what had befallen her. The vision had been all that she desired, and more.
Copyright © 1999 by Thomas Harlan
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