“It will take more than the Stone, also,” Bevan mumbled. The plan weighted him with reluctance, though he could not say why. Other problems burdened him, perplexities of mortality and longing and the lady that he and Cuin did not name. “Cuin,” he said abruptly at last, “there is one who is ancient even in the memory of my mother’s people, and full of wisdom. Let us go to her and see what she has to say to us.”
“Where?” Cuin asked, startled.
“Not far. A few days hence.”
It was a day’s ride from the Wildering Way, and only two days’ ride from Caer Eitha; it seemed odd to Cuin that he had never noted the place before. It was only a valley with a cottage and a little stream, a few chickens and a garden plot; but there was a strange radiance about it all. Inside the cottage sat the old woman working at a loom. She was ancient indeed, but there was no infirmity in her movements or her placid glance.
“Welcome, Bevan of Eburacon. Welcome, Cuin Kellarth,” she greeted them.
Cuin glanced inquiringly, and Bevan gave him a rare smile. “It means Cuin of the Steadfast Heart.”
“So he has been called since Time began,” the old woman said matter-of-factly.
Bevan sank onto a stool by her side. “What is that web, Ylim?”
“I weave the threads of days and dreams,” she said. “The days are troubled of late, but the dreams are good. Look.”
Cuin came closer to see. The cloth glowed with colors that were more alive than dye could make them. It was midnight-blue for the most part, or so Cuin was to remember it, but it was also hues of moonlight and storm clouds, Pit-blackness and the gleam of distant armies. Through it all leaped the form of a great white hart crowned in silver; it seemed to move before the eyes. Cuin blinked; he thought he saw blood on the stag, but then all went to confusion for him. He turned away his head.
“What have you seen for us, Ylim?” Bevan asked.
“You should be the greatest of the High Kings,” the old woman replied, “and Ellid Ciasifhon should be your Queen.”
Bevan flinched and glanced sidelong at Cuin, who met his eyes with painful reassurance.
“But that is a dream, Bevan,” Ylim continued gently, “and you know the pattern is ever changing. You do not need me to tell you these things. What troubles you, son of Byve?”
Bevan was silent; they all waited for his reply. “Pryce Dacaerin,” he burst out at last, to Cuin’s surprise. “What of him?”
Ylim stared for long moments. “He has not yet resolved the bent of his mind,” she said at last. “He is the father of your sweetheart, and for that reason alone he should cleave to you. But he is a proud and ambitious man, and the love of his child does not always constrain him. I believe you must strive to make him your friend, Bevan, but yet you do well to be wary of him.”
“I have not known Pryce Dacaerin to do dishonor!” Cuin exclaimed.
“Nor have I,” Bevan soothed him. “And in times to come, likely he shall set my worries all to naught.”
“Declare yourself from Caer Eitha,” the seeress told Bevan, “and scruple not to call on the power of Pryce of the Strongholds and on the saying of the Stone.” Ylim shifted her gaze. “But what thought is in you, son of Clarric?”
“That Bevan of Eburacon is much man,” Cuin told her. “Deep and subtle are his own powers, and mighty is my uncle’s power to aid him. But if he is to win his throne, he will need power to dazzle the eyes of men of shallow sight. Above all, it seems to me, he will need a kingly sword.”
“You are well named, Cuin.” The ancient seeress studied them both, gauging their strength. “There is such a sword to be had in Lyrdion,” she said presently.
“I do not know that place,” Bevan said.
“I have heard of it,” Cuin remarked, “but I do not understand what happened there.”
“That memory had faded in men when Byve was a boy,” Ylim mused. “An age before the High Kings of Eburacon ruled Isle, the Royal House of Lyrdion came to woe. But great was its power before pride overtook it, and great power yet resides in its chiefest treasure: the sword. Hau Ferddas is its name, ‘Mighty Protector,’ and he who wields it cannot be vanquished by force. Yours is the birthright, Cuin, for you are of that lineage, through your mother’s folk.”
Cuin gaped in astonishment. “Where now is this sword?” Bevan asked.
“It lies in the treasure barrow at Lyrdion, along the Western Sea. Dragons guard the place.”
“Dragons I can deal with,” Bevan sighed, “but there is a destiny laid on me that I may not behold the sea.”
“I know it well, Bevan of Eburacon. Therefore, behold it not! Cuin must get the sword for you.”
“Is it to be Cuin’s lot,” Bevan asked ruefully, “ever to give up his birthright for my sake?”
“I cannot answer that,” Ylim replied, “unless Cuin asks it for himself.”
“I ask it not,” said Cuin quietly. “Great is your gift of love, Cuin Kellarth,” the seeress told him, “and great will be your pain in it. May the Mothers comfort and guide you well.” But Cuin hung his head in unease at her words.
They ate with the ancient woman, and they could never afterward remember what had been that meal. Then they went on their way with the enchantment of deep time upon them and the threads of Ylim’s web before their eyes. “Who is she?” Cuin demanded at last. “She is no goddess that I have ever heard of, Bevan. Is she one of the Mothers?”
“Nay,” he replied dreamily. “The ages wash over her like tides. Before the Mothers brought man to Isle there were the Gods, and before the Gods there were the Old Ones, and before either there was Ylim. She is a part of none of it; she is here still, and no one does her reverence. She weaves.”
“Then she is the master of us all,” Cuin whispered.
“Is it the dancer or the piper who is master of the dance, or yet the one who made the tune? But Ylim is one who sits aside. She catches the dance in the web of her loom, but I think—she makes it not.”
Bevan paused; his dark eyes had grown as deep as distant skies. It was moments before he spoke again.
“It may be that there is One in whose sight she is younger than the dawn.”