Return with us now to the thrilling days of yesteryear, when the Sheriff of the small village of Nottingham was a man named Jericho Pale, a man out of time. Goblin attacks on Nottingham have been increasing, and the only way to discover who is behind the siege is to visit the enigmatic seer, the Oracle of Teeth!
Part Three (of Five)
“The Oracle of Teeth,” Hencher recited, “is one of the five True Oracles of the realm. Despite being considered the most dangerous, she is oft sought out because of her willingness to answer direct questions in simple yes-or-no terms rather than speak in prophecy.”
“See, told you Hencher’d know,” Eliza beamed proudly. “Anyone who doesn’t know anything useful has to be full up with book learning.”
The meek boy blushed, but whether it was in response to the compliment or insult I could not tell. The feisty redhead seemed to have no difficulty in getting a rise out of him, though. Behind the two youth, Sheriff Jericho Pale rode next to the Lady Dorienne, and I brought up the rear.
“Well, I don’t hold much trust in gypsy fortunetelling,” Sheriff Pale said, “but then again, there’s a lot here in your woods what ain’t the way I remember.”
We had already ridden for half a day into the arboraceous wild surrounding Nottingham, our horses slowed by the lack of any discernable path. The stories that had reached me in the civilized Realm had always spoken of the Sylvan Glade as an ocean of forest, deep and unknowable and inevitably perilous. For the first hour I had expected a goblin ambush to burst from the tightly packed trees any second. Despite the fact that Lady Dorienne had accompanied us, I still distrusted the wood.
Hencher, in lead of our party, stopped, raising one hand to signal our attention.
“Sycamore trees,” he said. “Not native to this area, they’re a sign of magical passage.”
“I would not even have noticed,” Lady Dorienne mused. “They are woven into the weft of the wood seamlessly!”
“I… uh… I think that’s the idea,” Hencher said modestly. “There should be seven in all, making a rough circle. We need to trace an acute heptagram around them, circling each tree in order. Around the seventh we will find the way we seek.”
Pale looked suspicious, but said nothing. The elven lady dismounted and took the lead as we began walking the pattern of the seven sycamores.
I had expected something like a cave or a hovel this deep into the Sylvan Glade, but having made our way through the counter-intuitive directions supplied by Hencher’s lore, we stepped from the woods into a wide and impossible space, impeccably tended, more a lawn than a clearing. In the center of the glade was no less than a mansion, two stories tall and windowed with finely crafted glass. Kempt ivy ran up the walls giving a sense of age and dignity to the place. A cobbled walkway led to the front door, simple but well-carved. A brass knocker sat center of the upper half.
Ignoring it, Pale rapped thrice on the wood of the door.
“Oracle, open up! Got some questions for you!”
Hencher winced visibly. “The… the oracles are to be treated with the greatest of respect, sir.”
“Hey, I didn’t kick the door down,” Pale answered.
Before he could demonstrate any further unpolished manner, the door opened. A tall being in a tailored black suit of clothes unlike any I had ever seen, even in the great city of Tobrinel, stood in the doorway. His skin was grey and hung loose on his skeleton. Most jarring was his lack of face; only a wide mouth with black lips extending deep into the folds of his cheeks interrupted his blank countenance.
“The oracle has been expecting you,” he said, and turned to lead us inside.
Through the huge marble-tiled hall, the greeter led us past several doors until he finally arrived at the most ornate of them. This door was marked with six rods, three bare, three marked with a white bisecting line. As if of its own accord, the door opened and the grey-skinned being faded to the side, gesturing us inward.
The Oracle of Teeth was well named. She sat upon a great crimson pillow trimmed with gold that was the size of a horse. Her own body might have once been human but had grown corpulent and pale. Like the being who greeted us, her face was nothing but mouth. If such a thing were possible, I would say that her mouth was so large that it spread beyond the dimensions of her head, but my memory of her appearance is altered forever by the years of nightmares it has inspired between then and this telling. Teeth of all sizes and descriptions poked from her black gums in an obscene orgy of dentistry.
“You the Oracle of–” Jericho Pale began to ask, but Hencher panickedly leapt at him, covering his mouth before he could finish the question. Pale’s hand reflexively went to the gun in his belt holster but he did not draw.
A laugh burbled up from the gelatinous body of the Oracle of Teeth. It was a horrible thing.
“So… easy… to catch…” she said, her voice atonally musical and deep with echo. “One… question… each…”
Hencher confirmed with a nod. “Each person who approaches her may only ask one question, which she will respond to with a yes or a no. We have to be smart about this.”
“You… forget… the price… little… wizard,” the Oracle vomited her words.
“P-price?” Hencher asked.
“You didn’t say nothin’ ’bout any price,” Pale frowned.
“After… answer… I… feed,” the Oracle said. “Five… of you… five true answers… then one… of you… is mine.”
“What if we only ask four questions?” Eliza asked.
“You… don’t…” the Oracle said, hner enormous mouth twisting into a satisfied smirk. “One… question… answered.”
“Oh, shale,” Eliza cursed, realizing her mistake. Dorienne put one willowy hand comfortingly on the girl’s shoulder.
“So let me get this straight,” Pale said to Hencher. “You brought us to an oracle who after she answers our questions, she eats one of us?”
“I… I…” Hencher stammered. As if to emphasize the point, the door we had entered suddenly slammed behind us, trapping us in the room with the Oracle.
“Right. Never goes easy.” Pale turned to Dorienne. “So looks like we’ve got four questions left, and apparently we’re gonna use all of them, thanks a lot, Red.”
“Shale,” Eliza repeated to herself.
“Now, we came here to get some answers about the gob attacks, so we’re gonna want t’keep a few questions for that. But now we’ve got this problem where one of us gets et after we ask our last question.”
I had remained quiet thus far, feeling my position as a relative newcomer was best executed by observation and silence, but something Sheriff Pale had just said wasn’t quite right.
“Actually,” I offered, “we don’t get eaten after asking the last question. We get eaten after we get our last answer.”
“Wow, thank you so much, Doctor Details,” Eliza grumbled.
“No,” Dorienne said, looking at me for the first time. Her beautiful eyes froze my body with the weight of the soul behind them. “I believe I know what Achidan is getting at.”
The elf turned to the Oracle and spoke in clear, crisp words. “What will you answer to Jericho Pale’s question?” she asked the oracle.
The Oracle hesitated, and her lack of face twisted up around her scowl, but finally she answered, giving one of her only two possible responses.
“I… will say… yes.”
Dorienne smiled triumphantly. “Achidan, Hencher… I will need you to ask about the goblins. Jericho…”
“I ain’t stupid, darlin’,” Pale smiled. “I can bring this home.”
After a moment’s conversation, Hencher and I approached with our questions.
“Is the true force behind the goblin threat located north of Nottingham?” Hencher asked. The Oracle’s fetid “no” eliminated half of the Sylvan Vale from our area of investigation. A second question along those lines could have cut our search in twain again, but I had advised taking a second tack. The Oracle wasn’t only able to see the world of now; she was also able to see the results of actions taken in the future.
“Will pursuing the goblins directly lead us to their boss faster than investigating this leader through other methods?” Once again, the Oracle responded in the negative. Multiple branches of possible action against the goblins were also removed from our agenda.
Now we only needed to leave here without anyone being devoured.
Finally, the Sheriff stepped forward. “Ah guess since I’m last up ’round here, you can go ahead an’ eat me once you answer. ‘Sides, most o’ these others ain’t more than a tidbit next to me.”
Eliza and Hencher looked nervous, but Dorienne and I shared a confidence in the Sheriff’s wisdom.
“Ask… your… question,” the Oracle spat through her mismatched teeth.
“Did you lie to the nice elf lady?” Pale asked.
There was a silent second as time paused in its flight, Pale’s words hanging in the air between the Sheriff and the Oracle of Teeth.
With an inchoate roar, the Oracle screamed in defeat. She was trapped by her own prophecy; unable to answer the answer she had promised. The fifth answer would never come.
It would not be until years later that the horrible truth of what we had truly done that day would become apparent. All we knew then was that we had avoided an inescapable fate.
“Guess our business here’s done,” Pale said with a gambler’s smile and a nod of his strange hat. “Pleasure meetin’ you, ma’am.”
© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.