Chapter 15:

The Oracle of Oberon

Red Storm Over Ganymede


**Tristan**

Several hours later, I stood between Nona Regina and Chet before the doors of the Oracle’s room. They were real wood, and carved with important scenes of Uranian history, the last of which was their agreement to become part of the greater Jovian Empire.

“I sincerely hope you’re ready, Tristan,” Nona Regina said as the guards slowly opened the heavy doors.

“That makes two of us,” I replied as the light fell across my face.

The scene of a pleasure garden opened before us. Blooming trees with white blossoms, radiant flowers in well-tended beds, paths lined with carefully-clipped hedges, and ornamental water features. I practically gasped at the opulence of it all - there wasn’t another place in the Empire as lovely outside of the royal palace. The Order certainly must have had plenty of donations flowing into their coffers to afford such a spectacle.

Nona Regina’s voice was as awestruck as my thoughts, “The Gardens of Light,” she breathed. “I never imagined I would one day see them.”

“This isn’t a public space?” I asked, bewildered.

Nona Regina shook her head as we began following the guards down one of the paths. “No, the Gardens are tended for the Oracle and only those invited inside may gaze on their loveliness.”

I bit my tongue to avoid saying something impertinent about the absolute wastefulness of building gardens for the enjoyment of one man. We followed the guards to a huge tree with branches spread out over an artificial river. The guards parted the hanging leaves like curtains, and inside, sitting cross-legged on the grass with his eyes closed, was the Oracle.

He was old - or at the very least appeared older than Nona Regina. His head was shaved, and shone in the diffuse light of the garden. Without opening his eyes, he said, “Come, Empress, Prince Tristan, Baron Lavigne, be seated and join me for a cup of tea.”

As if summoned, servants appeared carrying a small table, a tea set, and three cushions. The Oracle still did not open his eyes. We sat in silence for long, uncomfortable minutes and sipped the jasmine tea. I was surprised that even Nona Regina remained silent. Was this a man even she feared to offend?

Finally, the Oracle opened his eyes, and I saw they were a milky white. Anger coursed through me then as I felt my left hand ball into a fist. They kept a pleasure garden for a man who could not ever see the flowers? “Prince Tristan, your emotions betray you,” he said.

“Excuse me?” I answered.

Nona Regina interrupted, “Apologies for his rudeness, Master.”

The Oracle waved a hand for silence. “Prince Tristan, you were angry first at being kept waiting, then angry at my blindness.”

“How did you know that?” I asked, without bothering to deny it.

The Oracle’s mouth was set in a grim line. “I may be blind in my sight, but there are far more ways to see than simply with my eyes.”

I turned my gaze away from the old man in embarrassment. “Am I wrong to be upset over the waste of this space when so many others could enjoy it?”

“When you have the Visions as I do, and the exhaustion that comes with mentally traveling the solar system, perhaps then you can judge me for having a place to feel the solid ground beneath my feet and inhale the scent of the trees and the water,” the Oracle replied. He then turned to Nona Regina, “Empress, perhaps the Council was right in sending you to me for vetting. It appears our Prince could perhaps use a lesson or two in manners.”

I felt as though I had just been slapped across the face. Who was this old lunatic to judge me after saying how awful it was to be judged?

Nona Regina replied, “We abide by the decisions of the Council, Oracle.”

The Oracle turned back to me. “Prince Tristan, I shall test you in three different ways to see if you are truly ready to assume the throne. We will test your body, to assure you are physically capable. We will then test your brain, to see if you have the knowledge necessary for the role, and finally we will test your spirit by looking into your future.”

“Why not look into everyone’s future if it’s that simple?” I asked, trying desperately to not let the irritation bleed into my voice.

The Oracle’s sightless eyes narrowed. “Because, Prince Tristan, not everyone is going to be the next leader of the Jovian Empire. The process is difficult when it needs to be so focused, but if the Council has recommended you for vetting based on behavior they believe would be a detriment to the Imperial future, then you are the one who must stand for your actions.”

“Very well, let’s get this over with then,” I said, the Oracle’s tea suddenly tasting bitter in my mouth.

Nona Regina flashed me a supremely irritated glare before she interjected again, “Oracle, may I also present the Baron Chet Lavigne of Enceladus? He is to be Prince Tristan’s consort.”

“You’re Excellence,” Chet said as he gave me a terrified look.

What I could only describe as a predatory grin spread across the Oracle’s face. “Baron, I’m sure we will have much to discuss later. For now, please enjoy our hospitality this evening, and we will reconvene tomorrow morning for the first of your trials, Prince Tristan.” With that, he rose from the ground in one fluid motion, bowed to Grandmother, then to me, and left.

*****

I didn’t care how bad it appeared to Nona Regina or the Uranians; I slept in the Princeps that night. There was no way I was going to accept that old coot’s ‘hospitality.’ I’m sure it would have come with a price.

“Oh, you should have seen it, Isul! That withered fossil enjoyed lording over me every second,” I vented.

Isul looked up from where he was making up the bed in the back of the ship. “Are you sure you’re not exaggerating? Besides, you really ought to not try and get on the bad side of the man who’s supposed to approve you for office.”

I was doing push-ups in the small space behind the pilot and co-pilot chairs in an attempt to work out some of my anger. “Oh, I’ll pass his bloody tests. I’ll ace them.”

Isul peeked his head in from one side of the door frame. “Well, I’m glad you seem to have your self-confidence back, even if it’s perhaps with a touch of overconfidence.”

I finished my exercises and pushed up off the deck of the ship before stripping my shirt and heading for the closet-like sonic shower we had aboard. The pounding vibrations stripped my skin of built-up grime, and I emerged from the the booth wearing only my undergarments before I fell onto the hard mattress.

Isul was seated at the workstation in the corner, and appeared to be going over pages and pages of documents. “Isn’t Chet returning?” he asked, trying to appear casual.

I propped myself up on one arm. “No, he decided to check out the steam baths and take advantage of having a soft bed.” I looked at Isul and felt my heart constrict a little. I wanted to run my hands all over that beautiful new body of his, and I knew he was hoping for it as well. If not for that damn virus, I would have jumped him right then and there. But I couldn’t risk undoing Winnie’s hard work and putting myself or Isul in danger right now. It would have to wait. I only hoped that when he was fixed, he would still want me the way I wanted him.

“What are you working on?” I asked him.

“In case you’ve forgotten, I’m still working with the Lord Mayor’s office to iron out all the details for your coronation,” he answered, sounding a bit peeved.

“Well, uh, keep up the good work. I’m going to sleep; it’s sure to be a long, shitty day tomorrow.” I rolled over, facing away from Isul, and pulled the sheet up over me before telling the shipboard computer to reduce the lighting.

“Pleasant dreams, Tristan,” Isul whispered, almost so low I couldn’t hear him.

“You too, Isul,” I said, making sure it was loud enough for him to hear. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”

Steward McOy
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