An old woman sat meditating upon a bare crystal dais, surrounded by a circle of five torches that cast the shadows of ten pillars away from the center of a quiet temple. Before her, lay a clay bowl of water which smiled up at her.
Her white hair was tied back in a bow of silver ribbon. And upon her oddly youthful face, far more exotic than the gold paint upon her face, were the orbs of metal that sat in her eye sockets, watching the world without an iris.
When those eyes flung open, revealing the fanatical metal gaze to the rest of the room, the burning mullein seemed to cower away from her in reverence.
"Do you want me to help you open a portal?" she asked the empty room.
The inaudible answer was readable on the lips of face the old woman had scried upon the water in her bowl.
"Your Highness... did you know that your people are not alone in the Combs Wood?" she paused. "Don't give me that face, boy!" Then she rolled her eyes, thinking, I am far more than a rune-faced witch! "Hmmph!"
A silky soprano voice came from the entrance to the temple's inner sanctum, "Did you call me, mistress?"
"No, Modesta!" called the old woman. "Did you seal the tower?"
"Yes, I did. And I used one of the scrolls of Old Ak'karell to summon... something," the beautiful silhouette of a woman at the entrance seemed to shrug frowningly with her bodice. "I'm not sure what, but it should keep the hungry wolf at bay."
"Very well, please leave me be," the woman requested. "I am scrying and orally communing with His Highness."
"Mistress, there is no news of Gormund. But he may use this opportunity to confiscate your eyes in the name of the Order."
"The coward can gouge them out himself, but I'll see it coming! You worry about your pretty little paintbrush, darling..."
"Yes, Reverend Mistress," said Modesta and then she left.
The Oracle of Stonegard looked back down at the clay bowl, reading the prince's lips. Then she smiled. "That is very interesting indeed. If it looked and acted so human, I can venture a guess as to who summoned it... or, whose offspring."
She nodded. "Yes, definitely in league with the old gaffer."
Then, the Oracle looked thoughtful. "Well, I know what will happen if you detain the rest of them. You will succumb, for there is a weapon among them. And I suggest you release the sprite, for now is not the time to study it."
The old woman smiled widely, showing her teeth and curling the lines of the runes that were painted on her face. "I'm glad to know they are still there. They should disappear the moment it becomes likely that my eyes are to be taken from me, so I don't have to constantly watch my future. I'll feel a tingly sensation."
The prince in the bowl spoke for a longer moment this time, occupying the old woman's attention more than ever, "Of course I remember that spot in the woods!" And then, a while later, "Yes, I know you want to be the first to kiss her there, but I'm not sure she's even alive. When I try to read her, I see nothing. Not even ashes or bones. I fear what Wolfram did to the poor girl!"
The Oracle laughed, "Nothing would please me more than Summerealm and Skathain under the same rule. However, you must observe tradition - Skathain is ruled by women. Always has been, always will be. And no woman of Skathainian royal blood is going to be your puppet of a wife, dear boy. It will be ruled not by you, but by your marriage. You are a foolish dreamer, and I adore you for that."
The bowl, his face talking quickly and lovingly.
"Yes, I know. Now, shall we open the portal?" she hunched over the bowl, muttering to herself, "Location, location, location..."
His Highness's countenance in the bowl waited patiently.
"Half way down the tower is as far as I'm willing to risk going. Otherwise, with both you, Wolfram and the Order nearby... I see the paint on my face disappearing." She paused, pursing her lips. "No, I don't blame you, my boy. Look, half the time it's this frantic woman with the likeness of the Paladin. Sometimes the potential future makes no sense to me! Now, give your great aunt a kiss, and I'll see you soon."
Pressing her face into the bowl, the diminutive old woman kissed the prince's face, causing a ripple that dissipated the scried magic. Then, the Oracle of Stonegard decided that she was thirsty, and so she brought the clay bowl to her lips, tilted her head back, and gulped down the clear glacial run-off.