The root Avrindân gave him to chew tasted like moldy bread, but he did feel more alert by the time he and Arring stood together on the stone dias. The strong man looked at Einarr for a long, awkward moment before accepting the presence of his prince alongside him for this.
Einarr shrugged. He couldn’t exactly fault the man for that reaction. Sivid hadn’t seemed to mind, but there was a great deal that Sivid didn’t tend to mind that other men did. Like losing. Through all this, the Oracle stood with her hands folded, calmly watching the current supplicant.
Finally Arring stood forward, his hand clenching nervously. He opened his mouth as though to speak, then seemed to think better of it.
The Oracle raised her eyebrows, but said nothing.
Arring sighed and straightened his shoulders. “You see it’s like this, milady. My wife, our bairns, I had to leave behind on Breidelsteinn, and I don’t think we’re like to take our home back without a fight. I’d like to see my family again. Is there anythin’ I can do to help them come through all right?”
“Let no-one accuse you of cowardice.” The Oracle spoke softly and offered him a gentle smile. “For that is one of the bravest questions a man can ask. Brace yourself, for I give you no promises you will like the answer the threads will weave.”
Arring swallowed audibly and nodded. Einarr turned his attention back on the Oracle: his task, once more, was to pay attention and look for connections in the tapestry. The better he became at spotting those, the better he would serve his Calling.
She stepped back towards her loom, unhurried, and contemplated her shuttles. Einarr might have thought her hesitant if he hadn’t seen her do the same for Sivid that morning.
Then the shuttles were flying back and forth through the warp lines, and wood and thread alike soon appeared to glow.
Arring’s tapestry was somewhat more straightforward than either Sivid’s or Jorir’s had been. An ox followed the tafl king and the broken crown against a black wolf and his army of… well, Einarr hoped the skeletons were thralls, because otherwise retaking Breidelsteinn would be a grim task indeed. Then a pile of bones lay scattered around the ox’s feet and it raised its head to trumpet victory.
The next image was nothing but the ox’s bloody head. Einarr caught his breath. Arring groaned.
The final image was almost superfluous. The ox, now whole again, stood with a cow and calves, grazing.
When the Oracle finally lowered her hands from the loom she did not immediately turn around. “I am sorry, Sterker Naut. Your family has already fallen. If it is any consolation, they fought and died honorably, and now sup with the gods.”
She paused a long moment and turned to look at him. “As will you, although the time of your demise remains murky. Remain steadfast and true and you shall see your wife and children again… and do not feel bound to remain unwed until that day comes, for else your line may pass from this land.”
Arring did not look away from the tapestry that still stood on the loom, it’s story daring him to deny it.
The Oracle stepped forward to stand before him, placing her hands on his shoulders. “And that would be unfortunate, for the northern seas are ever in need of men of great honor and strength. Those who sup with the gods are wont to overlook such things, though in life they were unforgivable.”
“I thank you, milady.” Arring sounded like he was choking on phlegm.
“Do you? I wonder. Nevertheless, asking the question marks you among the bravest of men. Bearing the answer so well speaks to your perseverance. You expected this answer?”
He nodded once.
“Then allow my Weaving to free you from uncertainty and open your path forward. Take comfort where you find it, Sterker Naut.”
Einarr did not realize that the sun was setting until he watched Arring trudge down the steps of the dias and the light bathed him in its red-orange glow. “I feel like I shouldn’t have seen that.”
“Perhaps your friend also wishes you had not. …But it is good to remember that sometimes the straightforward path is also the correct one, and not every link is veiled.”
Einarr rolled his shoulder, trying to shrug off the uncomfortable feeling of seeing a man laid out bare for all the world to see. “I suppose so.”
“Come along. The evening grows long, and supper awaits.”
Wooden bowl in hand, Einarr folded his legs to sit on the ground next to Stigander around the fire that night. The table had not been set for their second evening in the meadow, but Einarr and Arring at least were in no mood for revelry.
Stigander seemed to accept his son’s desire to sit quietly, if not entirely comfortably. But… the subject of Arring’s weaving was not Einarr’s to tell. And tomorrow the Oracle would weave for each of them. Given what he had seen that day, he was more anxious than excited, and the fatigue of watching all day had begun to catch up with him.
“So your dwarf was right? My son has a calling?” Stigander rumbled after a time.
Einarr nodded, and his father’s first response was a long, loud sigh.
“Gods know we need one… and you’ll bring glory to our name again…”
Stigander sounded as reluctant as Einarr felt. “But it’s a hard road?” When his father nodded, he continued. “Pretty much my thoughts exactly. But I’ll deal with it, and I’ll come out on top. I’m a son of Raen, after all.”
Now his father grinned at him. “That’s my boy. Ready to learn how to unravel Urdr’s work?”
Einarr looked at his father, pursed his lips, and shrugged. The answer was no, but there was no sense bringing that weight down on his father’s head.