|Conan and Reynard escaped during the virtual tour of The King's Palace
"There can be no doubt now" Conan said, morosely, retrieving FirstSearch's
reins, "We are in the Forest of Lost Souls."
"Oh, dear," said Reynard, jumping up onto the saddle, "Are we are now
doomed to wander from one useless, time-sucking site to another for eternity?"
"Not necessarily," Conan answered, "It is only dangerous when one is
weak of purpose or when one wanders in accidentally without wearing a button
with the proper homing spell..." his voice trailed off.
"You mean as we did," Reynard said, climbing up to the pommel. Conan
scowled and mounted the horse.
Reynard took no notice. He stretched his nose high to sniff the air.
"Over that way," he yipped.
"What do you smell?" Conan asked.
"Something I remember from long ago; slightly stale and too sweet, but
redolent of food...and science."
"Scientific inquiry is a hallmark of the Third Kingdom," Conan said,
urging FirstSearch to a trot.
They followed Reynard's nose to the source of the sweetly compelling
odor. It was an old site by the standards of the Web, its popularity so
long established that it was attended only by a mail slot stuffed to overflowing
with messages. All the experiments seemed to involve a Golden Sponge Cake
with Creamy Filling. Most of the messages involved a chocolate counterpart.
Reynard licked his lips. Conan looked puzzled.
"This seems to be a study of the effects of the four elements on the
subject cake," Conan said at last, "though I confess I do not see the purpose."
"But it looks yummy," said Reynard, drooling.
"Humorous, perhaps." Conan said, scrutinizing the results of the water
test, "but not appetizing. Nor helpful."
They rode on silently until Reynard perked his ears up again.
"How about that link?" the fox said, pointing with his nose, "isn't
that a symbol for wisdom?"
The link was a drawing of an unblinking, violet eye. It marked the edge
of a rocky trail that spiraled steeply up the side of a hill. There was
no telling how far the trail went and it looked too steep for the horse.
As they pondered what to do, a man approached. He wore ragged clothes of
a coarse and colorless fabric. His sandals were dusty and worn from the
trail. He leaned heavily on a crooked staff.
"Hello," Conan hailed him, "Where are you going?"
"I come to grovel and place my question before the Great Oracle," the
"Can this Oracle direct us to the Third Kingdom in the center of the
Wide Web of the Worlds?"
"The Oracle is all wise and will answer any question, though it sometimes
requires some small service in return."
"Can anyone ask a question of the Oracle?"
"Only the priests communicate directly with the Oracle. Supplicants
must submit a question to them and then wait." He handed Conan a form that
began: Oh Oracle most wise...
"But there are samples of the Oracle's wisdom posted down there." He
pointed back down the trail where it wound into the woods. "Perhaps your
question has already been asked and answered."
The man continued his difficult way up the path while Conan backtracked
to a small shelter of rough-hewn wood where a group of people were reading
and laughing at the posted writings of the Oracle. After tying the horse
to a tree, Conan and Reynard joined the group. It took only a moments to
see there was no mention of the Third Kingdom. Conan turned to Reynard
and said, "There seems to be more humor than wisdom to these pronouncements."
Before Reynard could comment, someone hailed them. "Conan! Yoo Hoo!"
They were approached by a woman wearing sequined body armor, sleek silver
earrings, and sandals made of thin strands of red leather. The sandals
were elongated at the heel so that she stood on impossibly thin red stilts
that added three inches to her height.
"So nice to see you again," she said, extending a perfectly manicured
hand. The red jewels in her ring matched the color of her nails. "Remember
me?. We were on that panel discussion on the image of the information guilds
some years ago at the annual convocation."
He took her hand for a second and mumbled, "Oh, yes. Of course," while
frantically trying to think of her name. She was strikingly beautiful with
flowing black hair, smooth, ivory skin and perfectly sculpted eyebrows.
Conan's mind was as blank as the Oracle's form. Just then she excused herself,
reached into a small, red satin bag hanging from her shoulder and pulled
out a round case and a small tube. When she opened the case, looked at
herself in the mirror within it, and used the tube to paint her lips the
same shade of red as her nails, he remembered exactly who she was.
© 1998, by Hadley V. Baxendale