Blue sky greeted Einarr’s eyes when they opened, and grass beneath his hands and neck that was soft rather than scratchy. He furrowed his eyebrows, trying to recall how he had wound up on the ground and failing. Already the details of the mushroom-visions had faded from his mind, leaving him with only the feeling of strangeness that comes after a particularly vivid dream.
What good are the mushrooms if you can’t remember what you saw? He sat up, shoulders first, and looked around.
In the morning light, the meadow was a brilliant green, studded here and there with a pop of color from wildflowers. The grass still rustled in the mountain wind, and the sound was punctuated with the occasional trilling of a bird or chirp of a cricket.
Sivid, too, was sitting, although he was no longer blinking the sleep from his eyes. Father and Arring were just beginning to stir, although it seemed odd that last night’s brew would affect them more than him or Sivid. It took Einarr another minute or so to realize that Jorir was not with them.
The sound of humming and the clatter of wood drifted over the meadow from the temple behind him.
Einarr grunted and stood. He slapped at the legs of his pants to clear off the grass that had clung to him overnight and half-turned to look.
Even in the clear light of morning the temple seemed to glow with an inner light. That was definitely where the noise was coming from, and once Einarr turned his attention that way he could also hear the low murmur of conversation. Aha. He straightened and stretched out some of the stiffness that always came of sleeping on the ground.
With a roll of his head and a pop from his neck, Einarr ambled over towards the temple. Jorir stood near the edge of the stone dias, his now-familiar black braids shaking in counterpoint with his head and in time with the clacking sound. Einarr lifted one eyebrow and climbed up to join his swarthy liege-man.
Dominating the center of the temple was a loom that could have come up to a jotün’s knee and as broad as Erik at the shoulders. The glow seemed to come from the warm pine wood of its frame. The Oracle stood in front of the loom, her hands flying from side to side as she worked the shuttles that produced the continual clacking noise.
Her golden hair could not obscure the silver-white dress that clung to her body like a cascade of water. On another woman – perhaps even one of her apprentices – it might have been alluring. On the Oracle it was stunning.
Her weaving slowed as Einarr took in the sight ahead of him.
Jorir cleared his throat. “Milord, you’ll affect her Weaving up here.”
“Oh! My apol-”
“Don’t be so hasty, Smed Världslig.” The Oracle’s voice rang like a bell when she spoke, and both men started. “The Weave of the World has called him up here, and none other. The Cursebreaker will stay, for such is the way he will learn his work.”
“As you wish, my lady.”
She did not answer, though her weaving sped again until the shuttles were moving so fast Einarr nearly couldn’t see them and the sound of knocking wood became a nearly continuous drone. Lord and Warrior stood in silence as she continued her work, and now it was not only the loom and the shuttles which seemed to glow from within but the threads themselves.
The Oracle turned to the side as part of her weaving, just for a moment, and Einarr thought he could see what Jorir’s answer was going to be. The pattern seemed clear, although he could not have said why, and he wasn’t at all certain he liked what he saw.
After a timeless period had passed – Einarr could not have said if it was minutes or hours or even days – the tapestry in front of them was complete and the Oracle stepped to the side.
“Your instincts told you true, Jorir,” she began. “And you have fulfilled what I asked of you on your first visit. The Cursebreaker stands before me.”
“Jorir, surely I must be mistaken, but just to be sure. What was the payment asked of you last time you were here?”
The dwarf cleared his throat. “I was to bring you here.”
“Ah.” Annoyance tugged the corners of his mouth into a frown.
“All is as the world weaves it,” the Oracle intoned. “I required your presence here to complete the weaving I performed for him previously, it is true. But it is also true your father has need of my guidance, and that you have need of guidance and wisdom both.”
She stepped over and stood before him, meeting his eyes with steel-grey ones of her own. “You can see the pattern in the weave before you?”
“I see a pattern, certainly.”
She nodded, as though that were his expected response. Given her trade, it may well have been a foretold one. “Good. The ability to see clearly in such a way is a rare gift, and it will allow you to follow your calling.”
Einarr stared at the newly finished tapestry as her words sank like a stone in his gut. “I was afraid you were going to tell me something like that.”
“Afraid? Why? Those who are tasked as Cursebreakers are seated at the head of the Table of Heroes.”
“Because they are only ever called in times of great peril.”
“Aye. And such is upon us.”