One thing that an Augur does not ignore is lightning. No matter the number, color, or patterns of birds that might appear within the lines of the lituus otherwise, a flash of lightning trumps all else. The Etruscan discipline as it was taught by Tages himself emphasized this, as all Augurs knew from ancient times right down to the present.
But even in a dream, lightning is significant. The Augur’s dreams had been full of lightning recently.
The Augur had only been in his post for a few years, and was yet the youngest in the collegium, but he wasn’t sure if it was perhaps time for a change of some sort, a shifting of priorities to something more political, or perhaps even something simpler and not remotely political. It wasn’t clear, but his trajectory as a potential man of distinction did not seem as clear or certain now as it had to him previously.
It was night in the dream–perhaps blacker than usual, both moonless and starless–and he was resting on a couch in his own home. Suddenly, as if the rage of Summanus had been aroused, a blue flash of lightning shot into the house and began to crumble the roof. The Augur’s first thought was that this must have been what the mother of Bacchus saw when Jupiter revealed himself to her in his full glory…but, the thought was cut short by a second bolt of blue lightning, hitting the same location and destroying more of the house.
The Augur awoke screaming from the dream, and the very thought of it had disturbed him for weeks.
At last, he began to consult what references there were on the matter, taking into account that it was in a dream rather than in waking life, and that it had to be handled more delicately accordingly, the interpretation of it less certain than it might have been if it had occurred where others could see and hear it.
He wondered which of the Novensiles might have been responsible for sending him the dream. Even the eldest of the Augurs in the collegium could not give him a satisfactory answer, and so they suggested he speak with an even older Augur who had been retired from the collegium for some decades, of whose expertise they availed themselves occasionally.
The Augur came to his house–a bit shabby with neglect, but once clearly quite beautiful–and was dismayed to see the fog had not yet broken in the midday sun. He found the elderly Augur sitting in his atrium with one of his slaves, simply staring into space.
The Augur had not heard that the old man was blind.
“Who is that?” he asked as his slave touched him on the shoulder.
The Augur identified himself, and was told to take a seat and was offered water.
The Augur outlined his difficulties, and described his dream to the old man.
“Ahh…yes, I know of what you speak. It is an uncertain dream, much clouded in mystery. Bring me my astragaloi!”
The slave signaled to another slave, who brought a small leather pouch and a wooden tray. The old man shook the pouch and then emptied its contents of knucklebones onto the tray, and felt the surface of each one as it lay in the pattern on the tray.
“Yes…very unusual, this.”
“What is it?” the Augur asked.
“I believe the God that sent the lightning in your dream is Vediovis.”
“Yes, the un-Jupiter. If Iove is the lord of lighting in the heavens, then Vediovis is his counterpart in the dark grey skies of the underworld.”
“I know little of him.”
“So few do these days…so few…” The old man seemed on the verge of a great chasm of reminiscence and regret, but he pulled himself from its precipice and continued. “He is one of the oldest of the Gods, and yet appears as eternally youthful. He is like Apollo in the underworld, bringing light and sun to those regions of shadow, and yet his light is not of the sun. And, he is also like Aesculapius, for he has the ability to heal miraculously. Unfortunately…”
“What do you mean? Go on, please.”
“Vediovis does not heal gently, nor with salves and sacrifices, sweet hymns and balms and the pleasures of the theatre. He heals by destroying, often utterly.”
“I don’t understand.”
“He is offered a she-goat on the Agonalia of May, but not simply because it is his due–it is so that he does not instead require a human sacrifice.”
“So, what are you saying?”
“If you can offer the goat today, make sure it is done. If you are unable to do so, then I’m afraid the offering he shall be granted, perhaps even by lightning’s strike, is your own life.”
“Is this true?”
“No one knows whether any augury is true until it comes to pass; we are only given warnings, for the will of the Gods is good when it is known, no matter what we humans might think of it. You may proceed as I have suggested, or take your chances, but do not be upset if things come to pass as I have warned and you have done nothing to avert it.”
“Is that all?”
“No, there is more.” The old man picked up the astragaloi once again and dropped them after shaking them in his own hand, and felt their surfaces once again. “Vediovis can bring one into the underworld, but he can also free one from its clutches if one has fallen into it in some fashion by mistake.”
“Who falls into the underworld by mistake?”
“You’ve heard of Orpheus, I’m certain, as well as Ulysses and so many others…even Hercules found himself there for a time. Perhaps you are there and simply do not realize it, and this lightning strike shall be your stoke of deliverance.”
“This is a strange tiding indeed!”
“Quite. There have been many philosophers who have asked whether or not we may actually be dead in this life, and only death itself delivers us to our true lives.”
The Augur stood and paced for a moment, looking down, shaking his head. The old man listened to his barely audible footsteps and smiled, nodding, and staring into the space before him with his clouded eyes.
“Go now–if before sunset you make the sacrifice, all shall be well; if after sunset, then let it be a black nanny goat that is the victim. But do not let your head rest upon a bed until it is done.”
“Very well. Thank you.”
The Augur was not sure what to believe, or how to proceed.
As he opened the door to leave, a clap of thunder sounded in the distance, as the sky had clouded over and it began to rain lightly.
The old man simply smiled.