Although the mountain continued to rise off to the north, its tip hidden in clouds even from where they stood, the path Jorir led them on proceeded around the side of the mountain, rather than continuing up it. If anything its general progress was down.
“Not far now,” Jorir called back over his shoulder as the light faded from red sunset to purple night. Einarr was already squinting, trying to see the path within the grass as the light failed. Part of him wished for a place to camp… but even if the Elder’s warning hadn’t meant that camping was dangerous, surely it would be better to reach the Weaver’s Palace before they stopped for the night. He shifted his pack on his shoulders.
The path curved around a rise of rock and dropped into a steep downward slope. Laid out below them was a broad, surprisingly flat meadow, and in the middle of this meadow a blaze of warm light.
The yellow light of torches shone like a beacon ahead of the Vidofnings, glowing from within a circle of stone pillars that could only be the Weaver’s Palace. The five companions found new strength in their legs. Rejuvenated by the sight of their goal, they hastened onward.
A gentle breeze stirred as they approached the open-air chapel, whispering through the night-white meadow grass but carrying no chill to their bones.
The smooth stone columns rose from a flagstone dias, presenting the roof of the structure as an offering to the heavens. Einarr climbed the shallow steps slowly, certain he had never seen a temple such as this before. He felt a sense of rising that had nothing to do with the stairs beneath his feet.
In the center of the dias stood three tall, willowy elven women whose spun-gold hair fell nearly to their knees. If Einarr had to guess he would have put the one in the center as much older than the other two, but he could not have said why.
The woman on the left, whose agelessness felt younger somehow than the other two, stepped forward to welcome them with a smile. Einarr blinked in surprise to realize this was the same strange woman who had appeared in his first vision. So it wasn’t entirely a hallucination.
“Welcome,” she said, and even now her voice had the sound of silver bells to it. “Your trials have proven you worthy to seek my mistress’ guidance, and on the morrow she will weave for you. For tonight, drink with us, and rest in the meadow.”
Jorir stepped up beside Einarr. “Aye, my lady, and our thanks.”
The ageless beauty on the right knit her brows together. “Have we met before?”
“Aye, my lady. I am Jorir of Eylimi’s Mountain. I return with the payment demanded of me.”
“Well. I had begun to suspect the task had proven too much for you,” spoke the oldest of the three. Her low voice reinforced the sense of age about her.
“I was captive a good many years.”
“As you say. Come. Avrindân has prepared the stew and the mushroom mead. We will sup, and in the morning you shall all have your foretellings.”
The Oracle, for that is who Einarr believed she was, turned and glided away from them. Her apprentices fell in behind. They seemed to dip, and then Einarr realized there must be stairs on the opposite side of the temple as well. Jorir was already moving. Einarr and the others were only a heartbeat behind, though.
On the other side of the temple a long table had been set with eight tankards and piled high with wild greens and berries. The smell of roasted rabbit tickled Einarr’s nose and his mouth watered.
Jorir nudged his side. “Eat, then drink,” the dwarf advised.
Nodding, the two took their places at the table. Einarr passed the warning to his father quietly, and Jorir did the same for Arring, who passed it to Sivid as the man’s hand was reaching for his tankard.
The oracle stood at the head of the table and spread her porcelain hands. “Welcome, weary travelers. There are few who reach my table, but those that do will leave satisfied. Eat your fill, and drain your tankards, and know that you may rest in my demesne without fear.”
The fare was simple, as might be expected of a hermit – however powerful – but simplicity is rarely a measure of quality. There had been meals at Kjell Hall that tasted like ash compared to the food on the table in front of Einarr. With a long day’s hike behind him, Einarr’s appetite was monstrous, and so he took her at her word.
His companions, also, ate their fill, and so intently that there was little room for talk among them. Three times he nearly reached for his tankard, and three times he remembered Jorir’s warning before he raised it to his lips. Eat, then drink. She had called it ‘mushroom mead.’ Did that mean it was like the mushroom ale village soothsayers sometimes used?
He did not know how long he ate before a comfortable fullness spread out from his belly, and with it an unaccustomed lethargy. He had eaten more than enough, although it seemed the table was no less full now than when they sat down to sup. With a nod he picked up the tankard and swirled it a little. By the light of torches it looked golden, but so would water. The smell was earthy and a little sweet.
Einarr quirked his mouth in a half-smile and drank. The last thing he saw that night was the bottom of the tankard.