Seven Days to Apocalypse:
“In God’s name shall he preach, In God’s name shall he warn, In God’s name shall he lead...lead you, a son of God, to your downfall” said the shrill voice, of a ninety year old hag, the one they called, the Oracle of Blemfl.
His Highness, Montaine Flumberg, to whom the Oracle’s words were addressed to, sat opposite her, his legs placed on a tree stump fashioned into a stool, his gaze fixed on the seemingly mad woman in front of him, hovering her hands over the large bowl of fire, the flames of which were said to show her the future. His mind put forth a million questions, but his lips remained shut as if the mind refused to let it function knowing very well they needed to hear a little more of what the Oracle had to say.
The mind of his companion, Prime Minister Elis Frankton, though was already coming forth with a million reasons to say why they were wasting their time in the cave of an obviously mad woman who could hardly see the people in front of her and was often seen mistakenly refer to the plump Frankton as Sire, Highness and majesty and directing her predictions towards him.
The constant cawing of the one eyed raven, imprisoned inside a clunky cage that rattled as the easterly winds intruded the mostly humid, cave high atop the southern end of the volcanic Galapharus range, didn’t do much to change the cranky mood of the visitors at the Oracle’s den.
The whole place reeked of blood, death, decay and plain dust, if it had any stench of its own. Montaine’s gaze momentarily shifted away from the yapping hag and on towards her cawing companion, at whose claws lay a dead rat, its entrails dropping out of the bird’s cage. The majesty, whose forces had been responsible for the death and impalement of hundreds of thousands of men over the past two decades, but whose royal sword hadn’t ever tasted blood, cringed at the sight of the vermin’s corpse.
The prime minister’s eyes grazed over the large dusty shelf behind the Oracle’s throne, inside which were arranged books of great density, dense both in physical size, as well as the knowledge they possessed, but whose gifts were being ignored by the old woman and whose original purpose was misunderstood and was therefore being misused. The old hag used the paper from the books as fodder for the fire which seemed to tell her the future, instead of the more reliable facts or the more imaginative fiction that the books originally contained. The bookish Frankton’s rage knew no bounds when he saw the old lady carelessly rip off a page from his favourite book, The Gratifying Entanglement, by Sir Willy Woodshaft, the pages of which had helped the prime minister save his marriage but unfortunately had also lead him to father some bastards.
“Sire, do you not think it is time for us to shift our focus on other important issues that requires our attention at the earliest?” asked Elis, tired of the Oracle’s gimmicks with her bowl of fire and her vain attempts to appear mysterious and supernatural.
“Heed my warning, young King! The single greatest threat to your crown is fast approaching your castle even as we speak and his words shall lead you astray…” repeated the Oracle, lifting a cat’s skull from a table nearby and caressing its sharp canine teeth, while eyeing the two men in front of her, with her own head tilted.
King Montaine shifted his gaze from the hag to his trusted lackey, who was shaking his head and puffing out air, restlessly, incredulous of every word being uttered by the Oracle, disgusted by the lady’s silly affectations.
“My Lord’s downfall you say? By a single man you say? I can assure you, m’lady, there is no one in the entire world who is strong enough, clever enough, insane enough to even attempt to harm the greatest ruler of Calmenforde,” said the rotund minister with red cheeks, thick, well maintained silvery beard, hazy grey eyes with puffy under bags, bushy eyebrows and wrinkly forehead. “Lord Flumberg is the heir to God’s kingdom and he is to be defeated by a mere follower?” snickered the sixty five year old man.
“He is no true follower of Him and he certainly has no need of fearing you to be His son, as he doesn’t believe in His existence in the first place” said the Oracle, in a very calm, slow manner, this time staring sternly at Montaine.
“The Oracle seems to have lost her mind, Sire” whispered Frankton to his King. “It’d be wise to end this absurdity and return back to our business.”
“So how shall I identify him? This deceiver you speak of” asked Montaine calmly, taking a sip from his wine glass, ignoring his lapdog’s comment. His brilliant blue eyes shimmered from the radiance of the fire in front of him and his short, well maintained black hair moved serenely as an occasional draft moved through the cave. He was a handsome man with fair skin, lean pointy nose, a thin goatee, wiry frame and with a menacing gaze. A quick glance at the man could make one think that he was made more for the bed than for the battlefield and he had almost always been battling with his courtesans while his men had been dying for him in the warzone.
But little did he care for the well-being of other men and little did their deaths mean to him, for he believed it was their privilege to lay their heads for him, as he slowly worked towards fulfilling his destiny and claimed what was rightfully his, the tag of being the ultimate ruler of every land discovered by mankind. His efforts were still at its infancy though as he found some annoying resistance even from the neighbouring land of Rimvaugn whose resources and capabilities he had already dented in a massive unexpected invasion not so long ago, but whose forces were rumoured to be regrouping for payback. Invading foreign lands was a costly affair and the modest coffers of Calmenforde, at one point threatened to disappear into nothingness, which forced Montaine to sign a treaty with the Rimvaugnians. The spread of the fatal Scarlet Fever also did its bit to slow his progress.
Montaine’s lust for power though hadn’t yet satiated and he prayed to the Gods, from whom he believed he had descended, that he be given all that was necessary to claim his birth right. Prayers alone seemed insufficient to please the Gods and Montaine believed the building of shrines to honour the divine, would help him achieve his life’s mission in a swifter pace. He never for once feared or doubted that he would die without ruling all of the discovered lands, and it was all just a matter of time, in his assumption. He however did not want to attain what he wanted right towards the end of his life, but well in his youth, so that he could relish every honour and glory coming his way and ensure that every single human in every corner of the world can take in his physical beauty, youth and vigour and know that they were being ruled by a worthy one.
And so he wanted to build a shrine to honour the Gods, the ideal location of which, he wanted to know based on the positions of stars to yield him maximum favour and he and his prime minister had arrived at the ageing Oracle’s cave for the said purpose, only for the old hag to threaten them with a strange prophecy.
“Sire, I urge you not to meditate on the old lady’s words” stressed Elis, not bothered about being heard by the person he was insulting, feeling a bit annoyed seeing his Lord encourage the Oracle with further questioning.
“Since my grand-father’s reign, the royal family has been in constant consultation with the Oracle and plenty of important decisions have been made at her behest-“
“I am sure even your grand-father and father hadn’t consulted soothsayers, prophets and Oracles, as much” murmured Elis, “and none of them had been as devoted to this particular Oracle, as you, my Lord.”
“And none before me have wanted control of lands far beyond the Calmenforde’s walls, as I. Greater ambitions require greater guidance. And the Oracle hasn’t ever been wrong, has she?” asked Montaine, staring emotionless towards the old lady, who suddenly seemed oblivious to their presence and was seen meddling with the raven’s cage, poking the one eyed bird, in its good eye with a tiny twig, sending the scavenger into a frenzy.
“Need I say more?” asked Elis Frankton, pointing towards the strange behaviour of the Oracle. “Age catches up, my Lord.”
“You shall do nothing to find this deceiver. He will find you soon on his own accord” said the Oracle, interrupting the conversation between the king and the minister. “And you shall have nothing to do, to save your position as the king of Calmenforde. Your reign shall end and it shall be at his hands” repeated the old lady, with no concern about offending the King.
“Oh yes, and how shall he do it? Does he travel atop a mythical dragon that can burn our troops to cinder or does he carry the weapons of the Gods that can summon storms and rivers of fire, to level Calmenforde to dust?” asked Elis, with a grunt, rolling his eyes.
“Words…there are no weapons that can bring about as much ruin as words. And he has complete mastery over it” said the Oracle, slowly turning her head away from the cage with a serious look. “Do not trust anyone who claim to know the future” the old lady burst into a hysterical laughter, that reverberated to all corners of the dark cave that was illuminated by nothing but the bowl of fire at its centre.
“Case proven” said the prime minister, sighing and gathering himself to leave.
Montaine remained seated, as he watched the ninety year old hag laughing like a mad woman, pricking her hand with a tiny blade that she possessed and poking her bleeding finger into the bird’s cage, allowing the one eyed raven to feed on her wound.
He’s had enough as well. He convinced himself to trust the words of a sycophant over the soothsayer. Montaine picked himself up calmly, took a gold coin from his pocket to drop into a bowl nearby as a fee for the Oracle’s service, stopped midway, pondered for a couple seconds and walked out of the cave, throwing the coin into the hands of one of his soldiers waiting outside.
“Make sure the cave is closed down.”
“Yes Sire…what of the Oracle? Shall I lead her to the prison or chase her beyond our walls?” asked the soldier hesitantly.
“You heard everything from the outside?” smiled Montaine, “Good, then you must know her service is no longer required.”
“Yes, my liege…so is it imprisonment or exile?” asked the soldier again.
“Leave her in the cave.”
“But you wanted me to close the cave” asked the soldier perplexed.
“That’s what the coin is for” said Elis Frankton and the King patted the soldier, giving him a sly smile, as he climbed down the rocks fashioned into stairs leading down to the ground where a beautifully decorated carriage awaited him, with a modest brougham behind it for the prime minister. A group of eight soldiers on horseback surrounded the two wagons and the wagon drivers opened the two wagons for the respective passengers.
Montaine Flumberg halted for a second as he was about to enter his chariot and looked back at the cave. He saw the soldier to whom he had given a coin summoning a couple of his comrades and with their help, working towards moving a large boulder nearby, closer to the entrance of the cave, to shut it down. The Oracle though seemed not to care about her fate and her own haunting laughter, along with the cawing of the tortured raven continued emanating from within the cave.
Montaine closed his eyes, took in a deep breath and tried to forget all that he had heard in the past few minutes, only to fail miserably.“Something about her words churns my guts.”