As promised, here’s a little teaser excerpt from the end of Chapter 1 of my NaNoWriMo novel:
SEVERAL MILES away, on the top of a tall hill on Staten Island that overlooked the eastern seaboard of the Atlantic Ocean, the rain continued to fall as more dark clouds continued to roll in. The water churned and roiled, rocking the tugboats and other vessels that were still out in the harbor.
On top of the hill, the palace of the oracle was silent.
The trickle of visitors had been thin but steady all morning, bringing with them their usual questions about the direction a particular deal might go, or where to lay the foundation for a new building, or even the few questions about when someone might expect a new wife or boyfriend or lover to come along (although questions like that were rare and usually brought by foolish young women who didn’t know better, once and then never again).
But no one had seen the oracle yet.
The priestesses stalked the halls silently, their bare feet making no sound against the cold marble floors of the temple. They were strange women, living sequestered in the temple at all times of the year, their faces covered by thick veils, long flowing black robes masking their features – in addition to the weapons they were known to carry. Even the priests of Apollo who worked in the outer courts were not allowed in with them and to even attempt to violate that code was deadly business.
In the dark chambers where the oracle slept, the priestesses had been going about their morning business, speaking in soft whispers in dark corners where the sound would not carry and disturb her sleep. She usually awakened around 9 A.M. and was immediately seen to by her attendants. Her attendants were even stranger than the priestesses. Unlike the other women, they were not veiled, though some wished that they would, with their pale faces and black eyes. They would bring her to the sacred pool where she would bathe and then dress for the long day ahead.
From there she would be brought to the dining hall where she would eat a brief breakfast, and then be led to the chamber of visitation where she would take her tripod seat before the bowl containing a strange liquid into which she gazed, set between the massive pillars made from the same serpentine rock that the hill itself was made of. The room was thick with the smell of incense and myrrh. Then the first visitors would be brought in to see her. It was only in the chamber of visitation that anyone was allowed to speak, but only in hushed tones. Outside the temple the priests of Apollo would sort through the cases brought to the oracle by supplicants, and decided which ones would be brought before the oracle to be heard.
Once a visitor had asked their question, the oracle would gaze into the bowl that was set before her, and she would begin to speak. It was in an odd guttural language that only her attendants understood and they would interpret for her. Occasionally the oracle would throw stones, which the attendants would then read and interpret for the visitors. But once the answer to the question had been given, they were to leave at once, with no further questions.
It was serious business going to visit the oracle, and only the most serious and pressing questions were brought to her. There were plenty of fortune tellers in the city, but you could only be sure of the most accurate answer from the oracle. Leaders from all over the world came to visit her, and it wasn’t uncommon to see presidents and heads of state coming to the temple. But once they were in her presence, they were no longer men of great importance. They were at the mercy of her word, mortal men terrified of the future and what it might bring. It was in the presence of the oracle that all men (and women) came face to face with the implacableness of fate.
The priestesses moved about restlessly, unsure of what to do. It was verboten to disturb the oracle for any reason, even by the priestesses or her attendants.
Then, as a loud clap of thunder split the silence, followed at once by a blinding flash of lightning, the attendants jumped as the oracle suddenly sat up in the bed that was surrounded by a thick veil, her eyes wide and staring at something unseen.
“They are coming!” she screamed in a voice screeching and high. “They are coming! They are coming!”
© COPYRIGHT 2011, DAVID PHILIP NORRIS