Mathilda was used to solitude. Prophets had been famous, once. Supplicants flocked to the Oracle at Delphi, loaded down with tribute. The sibyls were a magnet, with their lovely skin and robes. Even then, though, Mahtilda was excluded. The other oracles were flesh and bone, human, mortal. They were god-channels, speaking riddles to their priests.
Mathilda was something else.
She was too large, even with half her bulk buried in the earth. She was unyielding, made of burnished platinum. She was outspoken. Her sister, the Titan Gaia, had warned her to be cryptic. “No one will buy the cow if they can get the milk for free,” she’d said. Mathilda hadn’t listened. “I can see what’s coming,” she’d told Gaia, “and, either way, I’m bound to be alone.” Gaia had perished, more or less, an eternity ago.
If her hands had been free, Mathilda would have mixed things up with runes or tarot cards, casting bones or tea leaves. “Sometimes,” Artemis had advised her once, “a girl needs a bit of gimmick.” But Mathilda’s hands were trapped inside the earth, soldered to her hips. The ground ended at her navel. Her breasts were bared. Her face, unsmiling. When she felt exposed, she conjured up a mist.
It usually wasn’t necessary, as so few came to see her. Mostly, they were children. “Only children want the truth,” Mathilda told the crows who nested in the trees behind her. “Oracle . . . ōrāre . . to speak,” she said, “There’s no room in there for riddles.”
“The truth won’t make you popular,” Aphrodite scolded. Mathilda wished that she could shrug.
Decades blurred, and no one came. Mathilda learned to doze. And then, one Wednesday morning, there was a girl. “Lucinda,” the oracle said to the gazing child. The girl nodded. “Open your eyes,” she said.
“I have no eyes,” Mathilda answered.
“Then how can you cry?” asked Lucinda.
Mathilda shook her head. “Why have you come?” The girl looked eight or nine, with thin straw hair, jeans ripped from climbing trees, hands calloused from the monkey bars. She shrugged. Mathilda tried again. “Do you want to know the future?”
The girl laughed, a sound unhooked from worry. “I know that,” she said. “I’m going to be an astronaut. I’m going to touch the stars.”
Mathilda knew this wasn’t true. She could see the car crumple in slow motion, the press and weight of metal shrugged, the white cross decked with lillies and hydrageas. She thought of Apollo’s sword of truth, the blood of Gaia’s python. Lucinda’s eyes were hazel, wide and specked with faith.
“Yes,” Mathilda answered. “You will. And I will watch you, there.”
The girl nodded and skipped off, humming to herself. Mathilda watched her dart between the trees and disappear. The grove was silent. There was no birdsong, no chittering of squirrels. Everything held still. Even the sun was frozen, stunned, as down below, in a forgotten, nameless grove, the last oracle began to cry.
Learn more about Wing-Feather Fables here