“Thorleif Spake’s weary eyes looked towards the door as he heard a tentative tap. His haggard countenance complimented his withered body for the murder of Queen Ragnhild extinguished the spirit inside of him to live. Spake summoned up what little strength he had left and called out, “Enter.”
When the door opened and the beautiful Lady Mercie entered he felt that spark of life again for a few moments before it dulled seconds later. His senses refused to take pleasure from her company. His eyes then moved to the woman who had walked in behind her. I know her, but from where? Until the death of the Queen his clarity of vision was his most powerful skill. Now, feeble mindedness dominated every thought process.
“Thorleif how are you today?” Mercie asked sincerely. She stepped quickly towards the old man and hugged him tightly before kissing one of his weathered cheeks.
Although the old man didn’t respond, Jennifer thought she saw a few seconds of a fleeting smile. I didn’t know him when I came here but I’ve heard much of what he used to be like. The poor man seems to be a virtual prisoner of his grief.
Mercie moved slightly so she could take in Spake’s condition. My time away proves one thing, nothing has changed – he’s the same. Inwardly she sighed. Perhaps even worse. If my beloved were taken away from me I would feel the same my old friend. “Thor, I need to ask you some questions. Are you up to helping me?” Mercie’s pet name for the man was in total contrast to the namesake.
The first councillor’s old eyes darted to the woman standing at the door and in a voice that sounded like sandpaper from ill use he asked, “Who is that?”
Mercie switched her gaze away from the man to Jennifer who shrugged slightly. “That’s my friend Thor, my good friend Mgni. You remember she was the stranger that helped us greatly after our loss.”
As the old man shook his head his gaze never left Jennifer. The uncomfortable feeling Jennifer had from the look had her resting her hand on the doorknob. I don’t want to spook the old man if he doesn’t want me here I’ll wait outside.
“Thor it is important that Mgni stay to hear what I ask of you. Please she is a friend and I trust her with my life.” The sincerity in Mercie’s words relieved some of the old man’s tension and brought a fond smile to Jennifer’s face.
“As you wish Mercie, come inside child. I do not bite.” Thorleif’s lips tugged into a brief smile and he touched them in surprise. It has been a long time since that has happened.
Jennifer’s smile grew as she entered the room and stood next to Mercie before they all sat around a small writing desk. Mercie cleared her throat and said, “Thor I need to know why Queen Ragnhild never allowed anyone to see the tapestry in her bedchamber.” She paused and cleared her throat again before adding, “Did she know it would bring about her downfall?”
The old man’s eyes narrowed as he looked at the young woman that he deeply cared for as he would a daughter. “It is of no consequence now Mercie our beloved Queen is dead.”
The defeat and sadness in Thorleif voice was not lost to Mercie as she gripped the edges of the cloak he wore. Her eyes bore deep into him beseeching him to share any knowledge he possessed. “It is of consequence Thor,” she said with urgency. “I need to know! If she knew the story behind the tapestry was coming true, we need to be ready.”
Jennifer furrowed her brow. What is she talking about and why am I here? Her eyes darted between the man in her friend’s grip and her friend. Guess Mercie wants me here for moral support although it looks like... Her thoughts ceased when the old man spoke and she found herself more confused.
“Mercie, Queen Ragnhild was sworn to secrecy as a child by her father that she would not allow the tapestry to shape the destiny of Xanadis. Then on her father’s deathbed she vowed never to let that happen. No one in her position would take that promise lightly; hence she removed the tapestry from even those closest to her. You see, she believed that the runes were correct and she realised too late that her own actions had tempted fate.” His face dropped and he looked down at his hands knotted together like an old knurled tree trunk.
Jennifer watched Mercie go pale as she let go of the man’s cloak and slumped back in the chair. I still don’t understand what all this means.
“How Thor, how did she do that?” Mercie said softly.
The old man, with eyes full of unshed tears, looked directly at the young woman. “She tried to follow her mind, but the heart betrayed her and she fell in love with a stranger.”
Although the dialogue was fascinating to Jennifer she felt even more perplexed. I haven’t a damn clue what’s going on she thought biting back a retort to say will someone tell me what’s going on here?
“That was what the tapestry indicated wasn’t it?” Mercie sighed deeply. “I didn’t understand that part.” She shook her head and frowned slightly before her eyes flew open wider. “It is all going to come true isn’t it? I need to speak with Berdlukare…I’m sorry Mgni.” Mercie stood rapidly, kissed the old man and rushed out of the room.
Bewildered, Jennifer’s eyes traveled to the old man and then to the closing door. Ok what do I do now? Why did Mercie say sorry? “Councillor Spake, I’m sorry to ask, but can you tell me what has just gone on here.”
For the first time since her arrival, Spake cast an appraising look in Jennifer’s direction. She’s not beautiful like Mercie, nor does she have her delicate body but she is nonetheless pleasant to look at. Her build is like a small warrior, fit, with rippling muscles that are not out of proportion. She has strength but not as her namesake, I would have thought Megan better for her. “Mercie did not tell you?”
“No, it was kind of like a …” Damn how do you say spur of the moment in Norse. “She forgot I suppose.”
The old man’s eyes gentled as he saw the confusion on the young woman’s face. I’m tired and too many old memories still haunt me. “Have you seen the tapestry Mercie talks of?”
Jennifer shook her head.
“Perhaps it is as well…for if you do not understand how to read it then it can be wrongly interpreted. There are very few among us that know how to read the tapestry…we are a proud race and take our gods and our ancestry seriously Mgni.” The old man bent his head and began to contemplate his hands again. Then he lifted his eyes and fixed them on Jennifer. “What the runes told us in the beginning we accepted.”
Jennifer even more confused. Sure, I know they still worship gods and stuff but runes…what the hell are those! I guess if I don’t ask I’ll never know. “What does that mean exactly?”
“To you Mgni it means nothing, but to many of the older families it means life and death.”
Jennifer felt a deathly silence fill the room before she gazed at the old man with a serious expression. “I know this is asking a lot First Councillor, but will you acquaint me with the story behind the tapestry and what it means for us today?”
Spake felt another jolt of energy surge through his body. Perhaps not all is lost in my life after all. “Mgni I cannot explain fully for I do not truly have all the answers. Only a Haliarunos can translate the runes.”
“Where do I find a Haliarunos?”
Spake smiled and this time his lips didn’t feel as strange as earlier. “We have only one left in our lands Mgni. She is very old and though I have not heard of her death, she may not be of any help to you.”
“I don’t know what’s going on First Councillor but I have a strange feeling whatever it is isn’t good for me or anyone else for that matter. I suppose I’ll take the chance that this Haliarunos can tell me what’s going on.”
Spake stood up and, for the first time in two years felt vigour in his movements. “I will need to speak with some people Mgni. Meet me in an hour at the town gates and we shall find the Haliarunos together.”
Jennifer smiled at the old man and impulsively kissed his cheek. “Thank you, oh thank you First Councillor.”
The old man grinned as the young woman left his chamber. It feels good to be useful again.
+ + +
Carolyn looked at the various volumes on the first set of shelves she came to. I’m going to have to use the last ounce of my intellect to solve this riddle. She frowned as she picked up the first book and flipped through it. From the diagrams inside, it was a volume on architecture or something along those lines. Several books later she closed her eyes. Damn every language but Norse! I need to think of something pleasant to take my mind off thoughts of defeat - Jennifer. Her smile beamed out as the picture of the woman, she now knew in her heart she cared deeply about, swam in her mind. I’m going to beat this Jenn, for you and only you. Her eyes scanned the shelves and she decided that the only way to do this was take it one step at a time and in this situation one book at time. She walked towards the first set of bookshelves and selected the first volume.
Carolyn was so engrossed in her task that she didn’t know how much time passed when she heard knock on the door. Looking up, she saw the wooden door swing open and a small rotund woman walked. The warm smile on the woman’s face as she placed a meal on the table made Carolyn respond in kind.
“Thank you, I didn’t know I was hungry until I smelled the food.”
The older woman smiled broadly. “The Queen wanted you to feel comfortable while you complete your quest, Hrafn.”
Carolyn flicked her eyebrow at the name. Usually she only heard it when the Queen spoke but the way this woman said it inferred a familiarity too. She doesn’t look like anyone I’ve met. Hmm I wonder who she is. She cocked her head to one side and casually asked, “I’m sorry but have we met?”
The woman’s belly laugh was so infectious that Carolyn chuckled too. “No Hrafn we have never met, though I know of you of course.”
Oh yeah of course! “I’m sorry should I know you?”
The woman grinned and winked. “Mark has told me of you and how close you are to his granddaughter.”
Mark, Mark who is he…oh crap of course, Jenn’s grandfather. This has to be Freya the royal cook. Ah, now it all makes sense. “Freya right?”
The old woman smiled and nodded. “I’m sorry we have not met before. When the Queen was away, I took the opportunity to visit a sick relative. Is there anything else I can fetch you?”
“No, no. Thank you for the meal it smells delicious,” Carolyn replied. As she watched the woman make her way to the door her eyes flew open wider. Why not, no one said I couldn’t ask. It’s a long shot but what the heck… “Freya, would you please point me in the direction of a book that shows me your language…you know like you’d use to teach children to write.”
Puzzled, Freya looked at her for a few moments then walked over to the middle bookcase and selected three volumes before placing them on the table. “These are the books we use to teach our young. I need to go now Hrafn. Enjoy your meal.”
God it would have taken me until the early hours to get to that bookcase and I probably still wouldn’t have realised it was the book I was looking for. She sat down, let her eyes scan the aged, worn volumes, selected one and carefully dragged it towards her. I can eat while I read. Multi-tasking is one of my strong points. As the first forkful entered her mouth she sighed in pleasure. This is wonderful.
+ + +
Queen Berdlukare flexed her powerful muscles as she trained with Larsen in a private session that no one but two of the royal personal guards were privy to. I missed this daily routine while I was gone. She smiled broadly as she thought of her consort. I can’t complain for Mercie ensured that I exercise other muscles in exchange.
Keeper Larsen noticed the heightened colour in the Queen’s cheeks. “Are you well my Queen?”
Berdlukare shook herself out of her erotic thoughts. “Yes Larsen. Thank you for your concern.”
Fifteen minutes later, they had finished the final exercise and sat on the ground under the old tree of wisdom in silence. “Do you think this stranger should remain?” the Queen asked quietly.
Larson thought carefully. “It is not for me to say at this time my Queen. The test you have devised will decide.”
“Yes, yes I know the test,” she said exasperatedly. “Larsen, I want to know what you think.” Berdlukare stared hard at the man. If anyone will be honest with me, I know he will.
“Mgni trusts her and I trust Mgni. I want Mgni to remain for she is good for our people and they like her.”
“You think she will leave if Hrafn cannot remain?” I did not think of that.
Larsen dropped his gaze from the Queen’s and said, “Yes my Queen. I believe that Mgni loves Hrafn as you do the lady Mercie.”
Berdlukare stood up and paced the private courtyard. That will not make my Mercie happy if Mgni leaves us. It would not please me either. A plan…I need a plan.
The small gate, which was the only entrance and exit to the courtyard, opened and Mercie stepped into the darkened area. “My Queen I need to speak with you urgently,” Mercie implored.
Queen Berdlukare initially smiled then frowned when she saw the agitation in her lover. She moved quickly to Mercie’s position near the gate and placed her powerful arms around her. “Are you hurt?”
“No, no I’m fine. Can we speak privately?” her eyes glancing at Larsen.
Berdlukare looked quickly at Larsen who was collecting his belongings and whispered, “Is it a royal issue or a private one?”
Mercie shook her head for a moment before replying. “It is about Carolyn Black.”
The Queen motioned for Larsen to join them. “My friend, I may need your wise council. Please Mercie explain what is bothering you.”
Mercie gulped down the bile that threatened to choke her and said, “You cannot allow Carolyn Black to remain she will destroy us!” I’m sure that was why Queen Ragnhild was disturbed at Hrafn’s first appearance in Xanadis. I bet she knew she was the stranger who would bring her downfall, what other reason could there be.
+ + +
Jennifer paced beside the town’s gate. She had taken the hour to change into travelling clothes and inform her grandfather that she was going on an errand to see First Councillor Spake and would be back later. He had been so pre-occupied with the matters of the day that he kissed her cheek absently and murmured that he would see her later and everything would work out. He’s probably thankful that I didn’t ask twenty questions about Carolyn.The question now is will Spake remember his agreement to do this or has he chosen to forget. I kinda did back him into a corner. She shrugged as her eyes moved to the spire that was the tallest part of the royal compound and where the library was located. “ I hope whatever test the Queen found for you Carolyn, you can solve. I have the distinct feeling that something is about to happen and we might be in the thick of it again!”
The crunch of gravel had Jennifer swinging her gaze to the two figures approaching. One was old and obviously finding it difficult to walk without the aid of a stick while the other was tall with a strong gait.
“You are here as instructed Mgni, good, good,” Spake’s voice clearly rang out.
Jennifer smiled warmly at the old man then her eyes caught that of the person at his side - a woman. She looks like a warrior with that bearing. “I wouldn’t be late for this First Councillor.”
The old man smiled back at her. “We have a helper in our quest Mgni.” He gestured towards his companion. “This is Mist, a… relation of the Haliarunos. We have a long walk ahead of us and Mist will lead us safely through the forest and to the home of her kin.”
Jennifer looked at the woman who had all the trappings of a warrior - sword, knives, but the dress code was different. She wore black clothes with a heavy dark cloak and finely crafted metal bracers on her arms. I haven’t seen her before, I wonder why. I’ve pretty much been in the company of most of them. Pity I don’t have the time to speak with Henrickson. “Are you sure this is a good idea first councillor for it will be very dark soon.”
The old man gave a look of censure. “Are you worried about me Mgni or you?”
Jennifer laughed softly. “I guess both, but as we have a warrior to protect us, how can we get into any trouble.”
Mist gazed at the woman. She doesn’t look anything like I imagined. Perhaps she has skills that are beneath the surface. We shall certainly find out what those are on this journey. “We must go.”
Weird, the warrior types here have the most limited conversation I’ve ever encountered in my life. All I can say is, they need the love of a good woman… or man and that seems to do the trick. It has with the Queen anyway. “I agree let’s go shall we.”
The gates opened for them at Mist’s direction to the keeper at the portcullis. They ventured out into the open fields as the moon began to ascend while the sun finally drew behind the curtain of a dark sky. Their journey had begun.
+ + +
Mercie stood her ground as she saw the disbelief on the faces of the Queen and Larsen. “You cannot allow Carolyn Black to remain she will destroy us!” she said again.
Berdlukare chuckled softly and ran a gentle finger down her beloved’s strained expression. “Mercie, how can you say this? What proof do you have that she can do this…why would you think such a thing?”
Astonished, Larsen creased his brow. It is odd very odd for the Lady to make such a statement, something must be going on which we warriors are unaware of. He waited for clarity of her words.
“I know you think this out of character and it is! It is!” she said emphatically when she saw the Queen raise an eyebrow. “…I have spoken to Thorleif and he has confirmed my suspicions. I was there when Queen Ragnhild first met the woman and I believe she had the same thought for she seemed quite disturbed at the time.” Mercie exclaimed. “She just kept staring at the woman seemingly mesmerized by her.”
Queen Berdlukare moved away from Mercie as she swiped a hand to her brow in concentration. What did the old man say to bring Mercie to such a decision and the old Queen…what did she know? “What exactly are your suspicions?” she said casting a speculative eye on Mercie. “I do not recall you ever discussing them with me…why is that?”
Mercie heard the old warrior wall go up around the Queen. Oh my love I do not want you to feel that I do not share everything with you. Her eyes flashed to the leader of the Berserkers and then back to the Queen who was frowning heavily. “We discussed it briefly this morning. The tapestry and what it means and it may be the reason Queen Ragnhild wanted to keep it a secret…especially if that woman is part of the omen.”
“Is that all Mercie? Berdlukare dismissed the comment with a wave of her hand. “Pay no heed to the old ancient writings. Why is this new stranger the one to bring about our downfall?” Her eyes pierced her consort. “How did Spake come to that conclusion?”
Mercie hung her head. I can see it in her eyes, she doesn’t believe me. “He did not my Queen…I did.”
Berdlukare heard the defeat in Mercie’s voice and felt a slight sense of remorse. Gently she touched Mercie’s chin and lifted it so that their eyes met. “I will talk to Spake after dinner and then we shall all discuss this problem. Will that suffice for the moment?”
The gentle tone and the eyes that filled Mercie with warmth and love had her accepting the olive branch with a nod.
“Good,” Berdlukare said with a smile. “Larsen, go seek out our First Councillor and ask him to join us for dinner.” She bent her tall frame, kissed Mercie tenderly, and with words only she could hear said, “Now go my love and I shall join you in a moment.” Berdlukare twisted her to the gate and gave her a small pat on the backside as she left.
Once satisfied that Mercie had gone, Berdlukare turned to Larsen. “That is not a request of the old man. If he refuses, persuade him otherwise.”
“I will do as you wish my Queen. May I ask a question?”
Berdlukare inclined her head positively. What is it about people and all these questions? I wish I were just a warrior again without the incessant chatter I have to deal with these days.
“I have heard rumours of a tapestry my Queen. My father and his father before him used to tell stories about such an object. Is it real… I mean does it foretell our future?”
A heavy sigh escaped the Queen’s lips as she stared at the man with a serious expression. “It is real my friend. As for if it foretells our future… I fear we shall have to solve that question soon. Go find the First Councillor and bring him to me.” She clenched her jaw and ground her teeth slightly. “You should join us for dinner too. Depending on what Spake tells us we may have to consider a strategy for maintaining public confidence if this rumour gets out to my people.”
“What rumour is that my Queen? The tapestry?”
Berdlukare’s lips turned up in a distasteful expression. “No, that the women I call Hrafn is here to destroy us.
+ + +
Carolyn didn’t know how much time had elapsed since she began her quest for an answer. The meal Freya had brought was stone cold and she frowned as she picked at the bread as she tried for the umpteenth time to decipher the alphabet. There’s a key to this…there is always a key to a problem.
Her hand moved to the back of her head as she scratched it in thought. Ok, think Carolyn, think. What do I know already? She closed her eyes then blinked them open as a flash of inspiration settled inside her mind. Of course, why didn’t I see that before? Recalling the signs, she’d seen in the town. All I have to do is compare those letters with the alphabet here and I have a fighting chance.
She pushed aside several volumes strewn on the table and grasped the quill and parchment and began scribbling down the words she knew meant something in the town. An hour later, she had the rudiments of the alphabet and scrambled around for the note that held the question she had to answer. I can do this I know I can. A perplexing situation sure but I’m up for this. Anyway, the sooner I work this out the sooner I get back to Jennifer and we can take care of that unfinished business. The more Carolyn thought about the unfinished business the hotter she felt and the more she squirmed in reaction. “This can’t be good for the concentration.” She giggled and repositioned her body on the chair. Wonder what Jenn is doing right now. She sighed and looked at the parchment. “Right now I need to figure out what does this little ditty says.”
She scribbled a few more words and looked at the question again and smiled. I really enjoy this challenge for it is exactly the kind of task that stimulates my mind. "Brilliant Carolyn, I think you’ve worked it out…”
She read the question for the tenth time. “Yep, it’s right. If your people came through the gate in a threatening way, whom would you support in the battle that would ensue?”
“Great, bloody great that’s all I need a question about fighting.” I’m a scholar not a warmonger! She threw the manuscript down on the table. “Crap this is worse than finding out what it said.” I’m going to have to think carefully about this, very carefully. She shook her head. If I’m my usual glib self in the reply the Queen would see right through it and me. “Damn why can’t I ask Jenn she would know what to say…”
+ + +
Jennifer walked alongside the old man, closely watching the warrior speeding away from them to lead the way. In a discreet manner she appraised the warrior - her build reminded her of the Queen. I wonder if ample proportions are a pre-requisite to being a warrior. She chuckled at her foolish thought particularly as other slimmer figured women were in the warrior fold.
“Some thing or one, amuses you Mgni?” Spake asked quietly hearing the soft chuckle.
“No, well not exactly. Do you know how far away the Haliarunos lives?”
The old man peered at the woman and shook his head. “You will have to ask our guide Mist. I for one hope it is not too much further…my old legs are not used to walking these days.”
Immediately Jennifer offered him her arm. “Do you need some assistance First Councillor?”
Spake gave her a long look and smiled slightly. Her tone doesn’t appear to offer me pity. “Thank you for your offer Mgni, but for the moment I’m quite able to walk unaided. You may call me Spake, First Councillor is a heavy mouthful and I fear it is an honorary title these days. I have no power in the council chambers since my beloved Queen died.” His tone filled with sadness as he looked ahead at the confidently striding warrior. “The warriors rule now so there is no room for politicians.” The council of Elders are mere puppets in the hands of the warrior Queen. “Perhaps that is as it should be with the events that led up to Queen Ragnhild’s death,” he lamented.
“Thank you...Spake, I shall.” Her brow furrowed. “Mercie inferred that you have chosen to rest after the tragic situation you endured,” Jennifer said gently.
Spake stopped in his tracks and turned to Jennifer with concern in his eyes. “The Queen holds all the power Mgni never forget that,” he said firmly. “Mercie is …she will never see any wrong regarding Queen Berdlukare.”
Puzzled, Jennifer asked, “Should we be worried that Berdlukare is queen?”
The warrior ahead of them turned and called out, “Is there a problem?”
“We must move on Mgni, we cannot upset our warrior friend.” The old man waved the warrior onward and set off at a faster pace.
Jennifer stood rooted to the spot. I must be crazy to be out here with an old man and a warrior I’ve never seen before looking for a woman who supposedly can read the future. Maybe I should have just waited until Carolyn passed the test. Why did my imagination get the better of me? She looked at the departing back of the old man, decided against turning back and stepped up her pace.
Some time later the warrior stopped and pointed at smoke rising out of the tree line at the outer edge of the forest. “Olrun lives there.”
Jennifer watched the smoke for a few seconds then placed a hand on Spake’s frail arm. “I guess I will now find some answers.”
The old man looked at the billowing smoke and said, “Yes that is probably true Mgni.” His stare turned in her direction. “You may also find that more questions arise than those you seek answers for.”
A shiver ran up Jennifer’s spine as they began walking towards the outer fringes of the forest and their destination.
+ + +
Keeper Larsen rushed into the royal dining hall and sought out the Queen with his eyes. He saw her smiling at something her consort was saying. Maybe I should come back later. No, the Queen needs to know. He took in a deep breath and he ventured forward until he was only a few paces away.
Berdlukare looked up and gave the man her full attention. “You’re late Larsen,” she barked. “Is there a problem?”
“I’m sorry my Queen but the task you set me on is impossible at this time.” Larsen bowed his head in fear. She’s probably going to rip out my heart with that temper of hers.
Berdlukare brought one of Mercie’s hands to her lips and kissed the knuckles tenderly before she growled out in contrast. “Impossible? I’m the Queen how can anything I request of my people be impossible?”
Mercie heard the steel and arrogance in her lover’s voice and shrank back in her chair. I hate it when she reverts to her old warrior behaviour. “My Queen, if Thorleif is indisposed perhaps it is best we leave it until the morning.”
Berdlukare turned slightly and gave her consort an icy gaze. She has no right to dictate to me! If I do as Mercie requests what happens next… anarchy? I will not allow that from anyone! “I will not have my invitations to dine thwarted by Spake or anyone else.” She turned her attention back to Larsen. “If you are too weak to obey my orders Larsen, I shall be forced to personally haul him here indisposed or not!” She stood up casting a long, dark shadow over Mercie.
Keeper Larsen drew in a deep breath and spoke again with fear dancing in his eyes. “The reason I cannot bring him here my Queen is that he isn’t in the palace or within the town walls.”
“Are you saying that the old man has disappeared?” Berdlukare’s eyes flashed with unconcealed anger and impatience.
Keeper Larsen inclined his head. “No one has seen him for the last two hours perhaps longer.”
Berdlukare snarled, “Is anyone else missing?”
With eyes darting in Mercie’s direction Larsen replied, “Mgni is missing too. At least Finch tells me she had an errand and it involved Spake. She said she would be back later tonight. He did not know anything other than she appeared to be agitated.”
Mercie scrapped back her chair. “Mgni is with Spake I wonder why.” It makes sense in an absurd way.
“That is what I intend to find out!” A devilish smile tugged at her lips. “Larsen, have my mount ready in ten minutes we are going a-hunting.”
Mercie placed a hand on the Queen’s strong forearm. “I’m coming too…” she said with determination and trepidation. The disapproving glare from Berdulukare had her adding, “…if I may?”
Berdlukare glowered at her consort. “I forbid it.”
With a chin raised in resolution, Mercie bravely replied, “But I’ll follow you anyway.”
Berdlukare considered her lover’s bravado and gave her a reluctant nod. “Have my Lady’s mount ready also.”
Keeper Larsen looked at the Queen. “Shall I accompany you my Queen?”
“Of course, I would expect nothing less,” Berdlukare said over her shoulder as she strode away from the table. Mercie gave the Keeper a smile of encouragement before she stood and followed the Queen.
+ + +
Mist knocked on the door of the tumbledown cottage, as Jennifer and Spake waited a few feet behind her. Jennifer’s mind filled with thoughts of a wild goose chase. Let’s hope that whoever lives here is who they were looking for. There was a creaking of floor boards inside the cottage and then the door cracked open to allow the lightest blue eyes Jennifer had ever seen stare at them in question. Wow, I was expecting dark brooding eyes.
“Olrun, it is I Mist of Muspell may we speak with you?” the warrior asked respectfully.
A voice best described as rasping replied, “Mist it has been a long time…too long. Who are your companions?”
Jennifer grinned slightly. If this was someone who could tell the future surely she would know a simple thing like who we are.
Mist squared her shoulders and replied, “They need your help regarding the Tapestry of Xanadis.”
The door opened wide and the woman called Olrun stepped into the open. She was barely five feet tall with dark red hair streaked with grey. Her bright intelligent eyes held the wisdom of ages as her body crumbled with the onset of years.
“Who are your companions?” Olrun asked again, her eyes squinting as they traveled over the two people immediately behind the warrior. Before Mist could reply the Haliarunos chuckled. “Ah you have finally decided that life still holds interest Thorleif Spake. Welcome.” Her eyes then dwelt on Jennifer for a few moments longer. “Mgni, welcome too. I have been waiting for you a long time.”
Jennifer, who squirmed slightly under the intensity of the gaze, bit her lip in consternation. Ok what does that mean? “It’s a pleasure to meet you too Olrun.” I guess.
Spake’s own powerful gaze countered Olrun’s trading glance for glance. Then He remarked, “We are here for your assistance Olrun. May we take shelter in your home and discuss the matter?”
Olrun scrutinize the old man a few moments longer then waved her hand towards the interior. With a rapid pivot of her heels, she went back inside with the others following close behind.
Once inside Jennifer’s mouth flew open. I read about this kind of place in fairy tales. There were bottles of all manner of things on shelves. Some of them I don’t want to find out what’s in them...talk about sheep’s eyes and frog’s legs…nasty. Books were stacked on the straw covered floor and on the few side tables in the room. The open fireplace held a ferociously bubbling cauldron hanging from a thick beam. Beside the fire, an old dog looked up then dropped its head and closed its eyes.
The smell inside the cottage was of a wooden fire and something delicious cooking. Jennifer’s stomach rumbled and she felt her cheeks grow red as all eyes turned to her.
“You will share my meagre broth as you explain the reason for your visit.” Olrun stated rather than asked.
Mist stood quietly at the door her stance watchful and waiting, ignoring the offer of food. Moments later, they sat at the table with the broth and soda bread in front of them.
“Tell me Spake why you need my council?” Olrun’s eyes traveled to the old man before moving to Jennifer who appeared to be enjoying her broth.
Spake put down his spoon and gave his full attention to the Haliarunos before he quietly began. “We seek knowledge of the tapestry of Xanadis and its true interpretation. I believe you are the only one who can do this.”
At first Olrun didn’t speak as she swallowed her broth and contemplated a piece of bread. Then a heavy sigh brought Spake and Jennifer’s attention to her instead of the improvised meal she had provided. “Yes, I suspect that is true. Long ago the runes were read by a few of my sisterhood but now only I remain. Is the tapestry of Xanadis in the public eye?”
Spake shook his head. “No, it remains the secret of a few chosen by our Queen. The story behind it, at least the story that has been passed down through the generations, is known only to the older families.”
Olrun fixed Spake with a look then said, “Queen Ragnhild was asked to take heed of the story.” She cocked her head and added, “Alas, she could not and her mistake allowed evil to take residence in our land.” Her matter of fact tone held no recrimination.
Jennifer looked from one to the other. Ok, this as good a time as any to find out what the hell they’re talking about. “I’m sorry, but as a stranger to Xanadis I’ve never seen this tapestry or know the story behind it. Perhaps you can tell me what it all means and why I feel it has a lot to do with me and people like me.”
“Patience Mgni, all will be revealed,” Spake gently admonished.
Olrun interceded, “No Spake, it may already be too late. Mgni has a right to know that the tapestry heralds a curse set in motion by the actions of a stranger to our lands.”
Jennifer’s mouth dropped open. Damn this doesn’t sound good. “What curse?”
Lost in concentration, Olrun looked at the fire until her rasping voice took on an ethereal quality. “The great tapestry of Xanadis was created after the runes were read when the Draco landed here. The leader, Sven Halfdan requested the Haliarunos onboard the ship to give her blessing in the new land they claimed as Xanadis. At the time it was told that the land was fruitful, filled with opportunity and safe from the oppressive warlords of the old country.” As the Haliarunos continued she spoke of a time when strangers from other shores would join the community to strengthen it. With a sigh she ended with, “at first.”
“At first…what does that mean?” Jennifer immediately saw a frown of disapproval from the older woman for her interruption. “Sorry.”
Olrun inclined her head and continued, “In time there would be a stranger who would create within the land tension that would initiate a civil war. The Queen would die for selfish deeds of the past and warriors would hold the land in trust. However, persecution follows such action and an inner war would rage within the lands bringing about the terrible scourge of Run. It would take the forbearance of a light in the form of a figure that walks between the gods and humans to show the path to salvation.”
Silence filled the room. Finally, Jennifer quietly asked, “Are we in the midst of this situation now Olrun?”
Olrun stood up and warmed her hands near the fire. “Mgni we have been in this situation for a hundred years.”
Spake chose that moment to speak. “Is it foolish to love?” His voice trembled. “That was all my beloved Queen was guilty of.”
Olrun paused in her hand warming to turn to the old man and smiled slightly revealing rotting brown teeth. “It is never foolish to love. But to love the wrong person and continue to do so beyond reason was, for our Queen, unwise.”
“How do we stop this action? Better still, can you tell us who the figure of light is?” Jennifer mentally shook her head. Damned if I know if any of this is true.
Olrun stared at Jennifer and smiled slowly. “The person is already among us. She does not know it yet and perhaps may never fully appreciate her gift but she will provide the answer.”
“And if she doesn’t?” Jennifer insisted.
The old woman gave a rueful expression. “The runes have never been read that will tell us if she does or does not succeed.”
Jennifer stood up scraping her chair back in haste. “Well let’s do the runes and find out.”
All eyes turned to her before Mist, who had been silent at the door, answered. “Only the one who has the lineage of the ancients may ask for such a task to be undertaken.”
Well that’s not difficult. “Ok I’ll ask the Queen to ask you Olrun…will that work?”
The high-pitched noise of Olrun’s laugh was deafening. “The Queen must ask for herself and her people not because she has been told to do so.”
Damn, there goes that theory. Jennifer frowned before she turned her attention to Mist who announced, “Riders approaching.”