- The Hidden Oracle
“No, my dear. There is only one Pythia—you. Delphi is absolutely unique.”
Rachel still looked like she wanted to jam a number ten bristle paintbrush up my nose. “So these other four non-unique Oracles…”
“Well, one was the Sybil of Cumae.” I wiped the sweat off my palms. (Why did mortal palms sweat?) “You know, she wrote the Sibylline Books—those prophecies that Ella the harpy memorized.”
Meg looked back and forth between us. “A harpy…like those chicken ladies who clean up after lunch?”
Chiron smiled. “Ella is a very special harpy, Meg. Years ago, she somehow came across a copy of the prophetic books, which we thought were burned before the Fall of Rome. Right now, our friends at Camp Jupiter are trying to reconstruct them based on Ella’s recollections.”
Rachel crossed her arms. “And the other three Oracles? I’m sure none of them was a beautiful young priestess whom you praised for her…what was it?…‘scintillating conversation’?”
“Ah…” I wasn’t sure why, but it felt like my acne was turning into live insects and crawling across my face. “Well, according to my extensive research—”
“Some books he flipped through last night,” Meg clarified.
“Ahem! There was an Oracle at Erythaea, and another at the Cave of Trophonius.”
“Goodness,” Chiron said. “I’d forgotten about those two.”
I shrugged. I remembered almost nothing about them either. They had been some of my less successful prophetic franchises.
“And the fifth,” I said, “was the Grove of Dodona.”
“A grove,” Meg said. “Like trees.”
“Yes, Meg, like trees. Groves are typically composed of trees, rather than, say, Fudgsicles. Dodona was a stand of sacred oaks planted by the Mother Goddess in the first days of the world. They were ancient even when the Olympians were born.”
“The Mother Goddess?” Rachel shivered in her patina jacket. “Please tell me you don’t mean Gaea.”
“No, thankfully. I mean Rhea, Queen of the Titans, the mother of the first generation of Olympian gods. Her sacred trees could actually speak. Sometimes they issued prophecies.”
“The voices in the woods,” Meg guessed.
“Exactly. I believe the Grove of Dodona has regrown itself here in the woods at camp. In my dreams, I saw a crowned woman imploring me to find her Oracle. I believe it was Rhea, though I still don’t understand why she was wearing a peace symbol or using the term dig it.”
“A peace symbol?” Chiron asked.
“A large brass one,” I confirmed.
Rachel drummed her fingers on the couch’s armrest. “If Rhea is a Titan, isn’t she evil?”
“Not all Titans were bad,” I said. “Rhea was a gentle soul. She sided with the gods in their first great war. I think she wants us to succeed. She doesn’t want her grove in the hands of our enemies.”
Chiron’s tail twitched. “My friend, Rhea has not been seen for millennia. Her grove was burned in the ancient times. Emperor Theodosius ordered the last oak cut down in—”
“I know.” I got a stabbing pain right between my eyes, as I always did when someone mentioned Theodosius. I now recalled that the bully had closed all the ancient temples across the empire, basically evicting us Olympian gods. I used to have an archery target with his face on it. “Nevertheless, many things from the old days have survived or regenerated. The Labyrinth has rebuilt itself. Why couldn’t a grove of sacred trees spring up again right here in this valley?”
Meg pushed herself deeper into the cushions. “This is all weird.” Leave it to the young McCaffrey to summarize our conversation so effectively. “So if the tree voices are sacred and stuff, why are they making people get lost?”
“For once, you ask a good question.” I hoped such praise wouldn’t go to Meg’s head. “In the old days, the priests of Dodona would take care of the trees, pruning them, watering them, and channeling their voices by hanging wind chimes in their branches.”
“How would that help?” Meg asked.
“I don’t know. I’m not a tree priest. But with proper care, these trees could divine the future.”
Rachel smoothed her skirt. “And without proper care?”
“The voices were unfocused,” I said. “A wild choir of disharmony.” I paused, quite pleased with that line. I was hoping someone might write it down for posterity, but no one did. “Untended, the grove could most definitely drive mortals to madness.”