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They were at their feasting when she came to their door. Kings, queens, nobles and knights; they ate together but watched each other with suspicious eyes. Even when all glasses were raised in a toast, none allowed the wine to pass their lips until they could see that their host had swallowed his.

Silence fell as she walked in, blood covering her fine white dress, soaking through her hair, her arms stained all the way up to her elbows. She walked the length of the hall to stand before the King’s high table.

“I have seen your doom,” she said quietly.

Taking it as a threat, the King’s guard sprang forward, unsheathing their swords. The King stilled them with a wave of his hand and leaned forward.

“Explain yourself, priestess,” he said.

She glanced contemptuously at the knights who were still poised to grab her.

“It surrounds you, even now. Your doom feasts with you. Drinks with you. Listens to your bards and sleeps in your guest rooms.”

She raised her arms and gestured at the long tables.

“All these men, all these women. They are all your doom,” she said to the King, who sat still, listening to her every word. “And each others. I have seen it in the entrails of the sacred bull. It is so.”

She turned her back on the King and walked away.

“Wait,” he called, “Oracle, stop!”

He leaped up and over the table, raced down the hall and stopped her himself, catching her arm and spinning her to face him, heedless of the still-wet blood on her dress as he pulled her to him.

“There must be something that can be done,” he said, his eyes desperate with fear.

“Oh yes,” she said lightly, “But it is not a small thing. Not an easy thing.”

“Tell me,” he whispered.

“Not small, not easy, but simple. Make these men and women, these gilded savages, your nobles and knights, work together. Agree on the common purpose for which they have been brought together. Co-operate. Compromise.”

He blinked and looked around. The mistrust in the room was almost tangible. Ancient feuds and new disputes, bad blood, old grudges, fresh vendettas – all this was common knowledge. The task set seemed almost impossible.

“Freedom, peace and riches await those who can achieve this,” she said, staring into his eyes with a dark, confident stare.

“And if we fail?”

She smiled and stroked the King’s cheek, leaving a red streak of fresh bull’s blood on his face.

“Death,” she said. “Only death and destruction.”

© Kari Fay