From Greg Chapman at Quadrant Online
The Emperor was rightly proud of his achievements. His legions had conquered his neighbours and tributes were being collected to pay for his armies, his court, his administrators. There was even enough left over for the entertainment of the masses. Bread and circuses. In spite of all his victories, there was still disquiet in the land from ungrateful plebeians.
With three seasons of drought, the harvests had been poor and it had been difficult to collect taxes to pay for the upkeep of his empire, no matter how hard he squeezed the peasants. Even the patricians in their gilded villas had become agitated about the sustainability of their protected positions, and they recommended he consult the oracles to see what the future held. Thus the Emperor summoned the High Priest to his palace.
Dressed in magnificent robes with borders embroidered in gold thread and wearing a mitre that made him tower over everyone else in the court, the High Priest entered with due ceremony. He acknowledged no one but the Emperor, to whom he made a slight bow when he reached the podium upon which sat his throne. The Emperor gestured to the High Priest to approach him. “Ave, High Priest. I have a question for you: why are the gods punishing us with these droughts? Everyone in my Imperium suffers. Why at the feast last week, even I as Emperor was unable to acquire sufficient pheasant to satisfy my guests and the wine this season has been inferior to any other in living memory. This cannot continue.”
The High Priest considered his Emperor’s challenge. “I’m most sorry that you have suffered so, but it’s difficult for us mortals to comprehend the ways of the gods Your Highness. However, I and my fellow priests have a way to predict them with some certainty. Would Your Highness be interested in knowing how?”
“Of course” said the Emperor. “To see the future is to control it. How would I do that?”
“Well,” the high priest continued, “Your Highness would be aware that the priesthood has for many decades been sacrificing chickens and examining their entrails. What Your Highness may be unaware of is that after each sacrifice, we record an analysis of the entrails.”
“I did not know that,” the Emperor nodded. “You may continue.”
“As Your Highness would also know, we have a record of all harvests over the same period from your tax collectors, so it should be straight forward to compare the two so we can use these sacrifices to forecast future harvests.”
The Emperor appeared rather dubious about this proposition and motioned to his head counsellor. “What do you think of this?” he demanded.
The counsellor, well known for his forthrightness, which the Emperor valued when he agreed with his own opinion, not so much when he didn’t, stroked his prominent chin and after some consideration addressed both the Emperor and the High Priest firmly. “I can’t believe that there is any connection between the size of the harvest and the condition of the entrails from slaughtered chickens. This is just superstitious nonsense and a waste of the Emperor’s wealth.”
The High Priest glared at the counsellor. “How dare you question the authority of the High Priest and the consensus of the IPCC.”
“What’s the IPCC?” interjected the Emperor.
“Why Your Highness, the Infallible Priesthood Chicken-entrail Convocation. The highest authority on these matters in the Empire.” Turning to the counsellor the High Priest demanded, “By what authority do you challenge this sacred knowledge. Have you ever been a part of the priesthood?”
Suitably admonished, the counsellor withdrew. “Very well,” said the Emperor, regaining control of the audience. “What do you need?”
Read the rest of the article at Quadrant