Reki was arrested, briefly, by the sharp cunning in the old crone’s eyes – eyes that, were she to let her guard down at all, would see through any plan she might concoct. They would have to be careful.
“The pleasure is ours, I’m sure,” Reki purred, offering a slight bow in the other woman’s direction.
Urdr, the weavess who bound all of Breidelstein to the will of herself and her two-faced son, merely hummed before turning her attention back to the table before them.
Ulfr blanched a little, then swallowed before continuing. “Please, be seated, and tell me what brings such a delegation of Singers to my waters?”
Reki’s mouth curled up in what was half a smile, half a sneer as she approached the table. He intended to play stupid, did he? That would never do. “Surely you cannot expect me to believe you are unaware of the ships we rode on to come here? The Lady Runa is one of our apprentices, yes, but I am attached to the Vidofnir, Eydri is attached to the ship led by not just your nephew but by Runa’s betrothed, and Aema is attached to the leader of the ships out of Kjell.”
Ulfr raised an eyebrow. “That accounts for three – well, four, of you. What of the others?”
Reki laughed as musically as she knew how. If the man was even half so stupid as he pretended to be, she might be able to charm him. “Svana signed on with the Eikthyrnir, captained by an old friend of your half-brother’s, and Ria is an apprentice who happened to be traveling with them. And I assure you, after all that has happened? Making nice with the Matrons is the least of your worries.”
The man stared at her, thin-lipped, as he took his seat at the head of the table. The throne, interestingly. He was perhaps not so confident in his rule as he pretended to be.
The other women all stood at ease around the table now. With poise and grace she could be proud of, each of them sat. Not one of them reached forward for the wooden mug – filled with who-knew-what – or their trancheon to fill it with meat.
The usurper gestured, and suddenly thralls swarmed about the table, lading everyone’s trancheons until they were piled high with venison, fish, bread, and more braised vegetables than Reki could count. She offered a thin-lipped smile to her hosts and their thralls, but did not stint on filling her belly. There was more food, she thought, than all the crew of the Vidofnir could have eaten at one sitting, and she wondered whose idea that was.
Ulfr, once they had all finished their first cup, smiled a little more loosely, as though he thought himself safe enough to speak now. “I understand you may bear some loyalty to your respective Captains, but it really is hopeless you know.”
Eydri smirked. “Oh? Are the vagabonds, who spend all their seasons out raiding and fighting, really so much weaker than your little navy, kept at home every season just in case your half-brother decides to try for your throne?”
“Not at all.” A grin split Ulfr’s face. There was nothing at all pleasant about it. “It’s just that my victory is certain. I cannot lose.”
“There is no-one in this world whose victory is certain – not ever,” Aema snapped. “The Norns will not allow it.”
“But what, then, of Oracles? Do they not foretell the future? And should they foretell victory, is that not certain?”
“I think you will find,” Reki purred. “That Oracles very rarely speak of victories and defeats.” Certainly the one on Attilsund, according to Lord Stigander, had shown the results of battle only incidentally.
“But Oracles, I’m sure you know, have sworn a very particular oath. Most weavers are under no such compunction.”
Reki’s white eyebrows rose. “I’m surprised you know so much about the Oracles.”
Ulfr scoffed. “Please. Mother went through her apprenticeship, as all proper Weavers must. The Elven Oracles are famously extreme.”
“If your lady Mother went through her proper apprenticeship, then she must be intimately familiar with the ways of the Norns and of fate…” Svana ventured.
Good. Get the old woman talking. Reki inhaled and tried not to hold her breath, waiting for Urdr to finally speak.
“Aye,” the old woman croaked, then returned to eating in silence. Reki saw her disappointment mirrored in the faces of those around her.
“Mother.” Ulfr’s voice was half-scolding, half-pleading. “What’s the harm in sharing? They, too, are enchantresses.”
“Their Art is different,” Urdr croaked.
“The mysteries of Song and the mysteries of Cloth are two separate things. You cannot enchant a rug by singing at it, just as you cannot strengthen a man by Weaving at him,” Runa answered – and not by rote, Reki was pleased to hear. The girl had been learning, after all.
“Bah! Fine, then,” Ulfr said, throwing up a hand. “Well then I’ll tell you -”
“You shall not!” Urdr shot to her feet, and it was as though lightning shot from her eyes at her son. “Speak no more, idiot boy, and allow us to enjoy our meal in peace.”
Ulfr, cowed, shrank back into his throne. “Yes, mother.”
Tcheh. Too bad, that. Ulfr had been looking for a chance to boast, and probably hadn’t really cared that the women at table with him were his enemies. It was even possible he didn’t think they were a threat, despite being enemies. Some men were stupid that way, and it began to look as though Ulfr were one of them.
Afterwards, they ate in silence for some time. “Lady Urdr,” Bea ventured at one point, but was silenced by a look even deadlier than the one she had given her son. She would be a formiddable opponent.
Reki hid a vulpine grin behind the rim of her mug. This was going to be fun.
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