The Oracle turned her back on him almost languidly and walked back to the finished tapestry. She raised a hand to touch the lyre that tied itself to a tafl king whenever the instrument appeared. “Tell me, the harp. Is that the pretty young maiden from your vision? The one whose father you wish to ask me how to win?”
“Probably. She is the one who gave me what was later the ‘instrument of Jorir’s defeat.’”
The Oracle nodded. “You may need her ruthlessness, but keep close watch on it.”
“Then… a Tuning…”
“Is the black art of song. You didn’t seriously think the only Art that could be turned to evil was weaving, did you?”
The Oracle shook her head. “Weavers bind fate, Singers influence the mind, Painters and Sculptors create physical effects, the work of a good Smith is said to have a soul. Which of these could not be perverted? …But that is not what you are here for. Tell me what you see in your friend’s weaving.”
“The black mountain topped with black clouds is his home, oppressed by a darkness blacker than Urdr’s. The king and the lyre dance about outside the darkness, until the lyre is swallowed by it…” He had to swallow. Didn’t she say the lyre was Runa? “And the king pierces the clouds. When the lyre plays, it rains.”
“Not bad. With the proper training, you could have made a passable soothsayer.”
Einarr grimaced, and the Oracle laughed.
“You see how things connect. It wasn’t perfect, of course, but better than expected – even for a newly fledged Cursebreaker.” She turned her attention to Jorir, and her tone became distant. “Smed Världslig, your fears are exaggerated, but not unfounded. The monstrous ones have gained a foothold in your home, have gained the ear of the thane. The svartdvergr of the mountain will soon descend again into the barbarous caves. Even should you defeat the witch in time, her poison will take time to purge. Gather allies to the cause of your lord, and he will reward you handsomely when the time is right. Act swiftly, but prudently, that the Cursebreaker will be ready when the time approaches. You will know the time by these signs: the eagle will feed on the wolf; demons will claim the waves; and dragons shall bear winged spears.”
Einarr blinked. He had seen none of those symbols on the cloth until she spoke their names, but as she did his eyes were drawn to them. Well. This is why she is the Oracle and I am just a prince with no holdings.
Now she turned a gentle smile on his liege-man. “Take heart, young child of the earth. You yet have time.”
Jorir bowed deeply before the Oracle. “My thanks, my lady. What payment do you require of me this day?”
“Though it has been more than a century since you were last here, this cannot be considered a separate weaving. The presence of the Cursebreaker was both the prerequisite and the payment, and so our debts are paid. Unless you had something else?”
She nodded before turning her attention back to Einarr. “As for you.” She pursed her lips, considering. “Your fate is sufficiently intertwined with the others that I would have you stay here as I weave for them. This is not like to be a quick process, however, and your threads may become knotted in unexpected ways. Do you assent?”
“These men are my crewmates and my family. If my presence is required, I shall not withhold it.” He did not hesitate, although his mind still reeled from what he had been shown already this morning. How was he going to take in the Weavings of all the rest, as well?
“Good. Watch carefully, as we go. You will learn much that will aid you on your way.”
It took two hours for the Oracle’s assistants to re-string the loom, even working quickly. Then Sivid was called up. Images rose before Einarr’s eyes, one after another, while the Oracle shuttled colored threads backward and forward faster than his eye could follow. Some of them made sense. More of them did not.
Here and there the tafl king reappeared. Did it mean the same thing for Sivid as it did for Jorir? If so, he thought it likely Sivid would no longer count him a friend by the end of it: he would be responsible both for setting the man on the path that would get him what he wanted, and for it’s destruction. Einarr was too dazed by the end of it to really take in the Oracle’s interpretation of the weave.
They broke for lunch, all except the two apprentices. They used the time to set up the loom for Arring’s request.
For about five minutes, Einarr stared into the bowl of nut gruel, clutching his spoon in hand. He sighed and stood, shoving the spoon into the mash in the bowl, to stride across the clearing to where the Oracle took dainty bites of the same stuff. “My lady, might I trouble you for a moment?”
“Sit down, Cursebreaker. You have questions about your friend’s reading this morning?”
“Very well. His was a deceptively simple request, was it not?”
“And one I wonder if he won’t come to regret.”
“You’re concerned about the shattering in his path?”
Einarr nodded. “It looked like it was my fault?”
She shook her head. “Only time will tell. I suspect not, however. That is an inflection point, a point of choice, and I would remind you that I told him as much.”
“I… of course.”
The corner of her mouth quirked in what was not quite a smile. “I suppose this is all rather a lot to take in, isn’t it. Ask Avrindân: she can provide you with something that will sharpen your senses this afternoon. There will not be time to read for you or your father today, so take comfort in that.”
“Thank you, …my lady.” She had thus far shown no inclination to give a name, and Einarr was not inclined to test her on it.
The Oracle nodded, and he ate as he moved over to where Avrindân and the girl with a voice like silver bells still worked.
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