For tens of years, Pythia the Oracle sat up there, like a roosting chicken. There, at the centre of the unknowing World. On the summit of a bronze tripod she passed her days and nights, her weeks and months, come heat, come cold, come wind, come pigeons.
The veins crimped in the crooks of her knees; her legs buzzed with pins-and-needles (on the days they felt anything at all), while the smoke issuing from the ground wreathed her round with the stench of rotten eggs, and took away her sense of smell and taste. Prophecies afflicted her, making her stomach gripe, and giving her asthma, too. Amid the smoke, words funnelled upwards through her body like termites, swarming.
Once in a while, she sensed some huge upheaval coming – a war, a murder, a curse – and wanted to pitch herself aside before it ripped through her: a volcanic eruption of bad news through the crater of her body. But duty kept her there, impaled on her bronze tripod: Fortune-teller to a frightened world.
Pythia had always wondered how it would feel if, one day, one particular prophecy fumed up out of the stony ground and caught her in the rump: a prophecy about the Oracle of Delphi; a prophecy about her.
Today she felt it.
One moment all the pictures, words, sounds, feelings were in the barren ground, the next they were loose inside her:
… a girl, a boy, a monstrous army, the Delphic…
the one prophecy she had always dreaded.
So, quite simply, she got down. Before it could take shape – while it was still just a smear of colours and noise and bad smells, Pythia the Delphic Oracle got down in the only way she could. Tilting her body, she capsized her tripod. Her puny, wasted legs would not unfold to break her fall, and she landed painfully hard - had to drag herself, using only the strength of her arms, out of the speaking smoke
… a place under the ground… a mountain piercing the clouds…
trying to shake the words out of her hair as she went. Asthma clutched tight hold of her windpipe and she wondered if she might die then and there, on the ground; at least she would not know, would not feel the knowledge embed itself in her skull like a pebble from a slingshot.
She had seen what that did to people. They thought they wanted to know what life held in store for them – thought it would help them be ready…. But that was before she told them: their Certain Unavoidable Future.
Pythia scrabbled as far as the bushes. The gods must not see her deserting her post! They would never allow it. What master tolerates a runaway slave to escape unpunished? So, in terror of the blades of sunlight slicing through the silvered clouds, she lay there among the scrub and thistles, still able to see wisps of prophecy curling out of the ground.
Of course she wanted to Know. What would that prophecy have said? What had she missed hearing? Just what did Fate have waiting for her? But she had warned enough poor fools: Don’t ask! Better not to know! She took her own advice now and resisted the whispering smoke.
Though the circulation came back to her legs - a roaring, prickly pain - the use of her legs did not; the muscles had shrivelled. So, with a broken branch, she hooked and dragged the fallen tripod into the bushes too, and used it to fashion herself a pair of bronze crutches.
Then she set off to beg her way through the world. She deliberately avoided choosing which way to go. Let the Future take her where it inevitably would.
Just so long as it did not tell her in advance.