Chapter 48

The Oracle and the Oligarch

Once again, Byron d’Arcadie found himself standing before the Oracle’s temple, his mind ablur with fast-fleeing recollections of the tunnels that brought him there. This time, however, he left Doyle standing outside, along with the Oracle’s daughter, Jacyntha, for this was a burden of responsibility he alone could bear.

And what a burden it was! Byron had stood before crowds numbering in the hundreds, baring his soul to criticisms cutting, callous and cruel, yet here, in the depths beneath Bolventor, he faced his most daunting crowd — a crowd that numbered but one. As he passed through the temple gates, a trickle of sweat drew a cold line down his taunt features. One in body, that was, but perhaps a legion in spirit.

The Oracle was waiting for him in the middle of her underground pool, its crystalline waters lapping at the subtle curves of her moonlight-pale waist. Shimmering above the ample cleft of her bosom, a brilliant blue supernova caught in a spear of ice, sat the magic crystal of Ketos.

“My Lady,” said Byron.

“Braver men have fled in fear of what awaits you, Byron d’Arcadie,” she said.

Byron slipped out of his boots and tested the water with his toes. “Then I can only conclude that I am a fool,” he said. “But we must all play the role assigned us.”

Sucking in the winter air, he took his first step into the pool and winced as its freezing fingers dug deep into his veins. Fighting back the urge to flee, his dragged his feet forwards, one sluggish step at a time. It was all an illusion, he told himself, a magic, technological or otherwise, to warp his perceptions and twist his thoughts so that the Oracle — or, perhaps, her invisible overseer — could cross the barrier into his heart uncontested. Standing undaunted by the water’s chill, she was his salvation from the cold, the burning, beautiful star whose warmth would restore life to his weary limbs. For Emily’s sake, he could not fail.

He was within arm’s reach of her when the waters reached up and everything turned to ice.

~*~

“Brian!” The bear’s roar bellowed across the fields. “Where in God’s heaven are you, you little shit? Brian!”

He felt her stir beside him. “Brian?” she asked, an amused smirk on her tanned face.

Byron grimaced. “I would rather not talk about it,” he replied.

She ran a finger along his jaw line. “Want me to take your mind off it?” she asked. Before he could reply, she pulled herself on top of him. Waves of silken hair slipped over her shoulders, a glistening waterfall of blues. Her eyes, a shade just above white, bored down into his soul, gateways to a world he could only dream of, of pleasures and passions no man could tame. The straps of her dress slipped down her shoulders, her body desperate to escape its tight constraints.

What, you didn’t think the poet was called Byron by sheer coincidence, did you?