Oracles were a commonly accepted fact of life for the ancients, much as they are to quite a few people today.

They held power from the lowest to the highest offices in the land. Both personal and political uses were found for the oracles --- by kings, nobles, queens, government officials and commoners alike. They held a great deal of power themselves, and the most famous of them remained influential for hundreds of years. Massive amounts of wealth and gifts were bestowed upon them by grateful clients, or those hoping to be grateful ...

Each oracle had their own favored method of divination. The oracle at Dodona, the oldest in Greece, was a mighty oak tree whose oracles were interpreted by a priest from the rustling of its leaves; the cooing of the doves that resided in the tree; and by the clanking of brass vessels that hung from it. The reputation and the success of the oracles were as varied as their methods, so it could be quite the chore to find one that you could trust.

Therein lies the problem.. .. There were no fewer than six famous ones in Greece alone, and by all accounts, a fairly reputable one in Egypt. All of them had their followers, and all swore by their particular favorite.

So, how does one determine who to trust?


Still recovering from being drugged, I was led, blindfold, into a room that echoed like a large hall. I was barefoot and the cool stone floor was covered in places with straw matting. There was a bittersweet smell, first Indian incense, then others, less distinct and less agreeable, that joined in the wet warmth. All around I heard a sound of vague, repetitive chanting in an unfamiliar tongue: "...urg; ...org; ...og; ...om."

My blindfold was deftly removed. In the dark grayness my escort melted silently into the shadows leaving me alone in the center of a large room. I started to make out the vaulted ceiling decorated with seething violent colors. The chanters were squatting at the edges of the hall, faces pressed down so the intonations reflected from the floor. Towards the end of the chamber in front of me there was an area illuminated by shafts of dusty light from stained rosette windows high in the walls, and seated there was a woman dressed in an elegant, slightly revealing, silk robe. A second velvet-upholstered seat remained empty and a cowed monkish figure stood, swinging his thurible, releasing dense exhalations of incense to the rhythm of the chant.

As the chanting became faster, more intense, an Olympian figure in jewelled, gilded robes, carrying a black staff appeared and seated himself next to the woman. The monkish figure muttered something unintelligible and prostrated himself. I was transfixed by an imperious stare as the personage extended a single finger that reduced the chanting to a whisper.

"You are the Pythia of Delphic Research Inc.?" His voice rang round the hall leaving a hushed expectancy in its wake.
"Thank goodness someone here recognises me. I just can't *believe* how these goons have treated me!"
"Ah, one has to be mindful of clever impostors, you know. Now, you have a question for The Oracle?"
"Yes, I have. It's rather obscure: "How does one determine which Oracle to trust?""

"Oh dear," he said with an air of menace, "I see you are attracting questions of better quality than the dross you were supposed to deal with." He lowered the staff towards me and some of the chanters started to chatter excitedly.
"And I see you are not prepared to grovel?" continued The Oracle.
"Are you kidding?" I replied, "No-one ever grovels for us, and since we're a product of your invention, why should we grovel to you when we're doing your dirty work?"
"That's a fair point, sister Pythia, but just remember in future that *everyone* does my dirty work and *everyone* grovels when making supplications, Delphic Research Inc. included." The staff
moved away from its aim.
"Now, before we get to the answer, there's the matter of the tribute to deal with. I hear you've had some success dealing with those weasels at your offices. I have a nasty infestation of Woo****cks (be careful how you say that, I don't want Lisa upset again) in the temple crypts I'd like you to attend to first."

-oOo-

My pump action shotgun and ammo belt were returned to me and I had an entertaining afternoon dealing with the unpleasant rodent problem in the basement. "Crypts? That's so pretentious, don't you think? Anyway, after that we got on just fine", said Pythia, "Though I wasn't too sure what Lisa thought about it."

"Wow!" said Cassidy, "You got to meet The Oracle in person! But ... what was the answer to the question?"

"I was getting to that, though I thought it was a bit of a cop-out after all - he said, "You should trust the Oracle that gives you the answer you want." Stick that in the reply, and add 450 rounds of 12-gauge ammo and one first-class retun to Indiana to the invoice."

"Oh, and Sibyl,"

"Yes, my dear?"

"He said next time we have a question we should send you - he wants you to teach Zadoc some *real* manners."