Beyond the far range of bare mountains there rose the stark and solitary peak of the Khirgiz. This was the home of the oracle. After the monsoon it would lie under a thick blanket of snow and it would be impossible to reach. Skyros picked up his pace, he must get there before the snows came.
An eagle circled high above him. He was sure the eagle would lead him to the Oracle.
But what would he do when he got there? What questions would he ask? It was said the Oracle was often mysterious and contradictory and sometimes a wayfarer could return confused and empty-handed, he might be executed for his failure .. should the Helenes march on Gaul? Would the fields be fertile enough to feed the poor this year, or would there be food only for the wealthy? The question he was told to ask seemed so simple, yet Skyros knew when he reached the Oracle in the mountains of Khirgiz he would forget it.
He reached a patch of trodden snow and he saw footprints of other men who had gone before him – men from Troy probably, He looked up. The bird still circled above him and pointed the way. Had he done that for the other men? Already some men were returning, looking puzzled and talking in hushed voices as they made their slow way down the mountain ... he overheard some of them as they plodded by.
"The oracle said the seeds will grow with the melting snow."
"What does he mean by that? It never snows in Athens. The king will not like the answer."
"They will find their heads on the end of a pike," Skyros thought.
Skyros pushed on, and finally the bird settled in the topmost branches of a nearby cedar. It hunched its shoulders and folded its feathers neatly, then stared at him. "We are here, young man. Do you have your list of questions ready?"
Skyros gulped convulsively and reached in his jerkin for the paper with the question the king had given him. "Yes, please, your birdship, I'm ready."
"Bag of gold in hand?"
Skyros held up his bag of gold and jingled it eagerly.
A curtain was pulled back from an opening in the sheer rock wall of the mountain and revealed a hand-lettered sign reading, "THE ORACLE IS IN." An old man sat in a wicker rocking chair dressed in a cape decorated with stars, moons and comets. Above his head, another sign read, Sid Rabinowitz, Oracle.
"So. What brings?"
"My master, sir. He seeks advice."
"Oy! King Xylophone again! Don't tell me – he sends because the newest Queen is infertile, no?"
"That's right, your Oracleship."
"This is the fourth queen already. Queens are not his trouble. Go back. Tell him in the mirror to look. He will see there the reason he is without heirs. Too much shellfish, too much pork. Tell him to diet. Lay off the carbs and the wine; and this God thing of his! For each day of the week he has a different God – what's with that?"
"He will not be pleased with my report, O mighty Oracle."
"You will be chopped liver when you tell him, right?"
"He has a terrible temper, sir."
"Tell you what. You will carry a note from me inviting the new Queen to pay me a visit. Sure as there are settlements on the West Bank it will take only one visit. She will return to King Xylophone, fully and permanently pregnant."
The Oracle scribbled a note and handed it to Skyros, "The bird will show you the way down the mountain – leave your bag of gold on the table," he said.