The journey to the Locked Caves was far, but not grueling. It was a high crime to interfere with a reading— the punishment coming from a crown, but the Fates themselves – so the group was small. Oracia and Aric could defend themselves, but the king send Farleigh as well. He wasn’t happy about the head of his guard leaving again, but he refused to let his only son travel without addition protection, no matter how safe the journey.
The trail followed the shadow to the Stone Mountain – the dwelling place of the oddlings, of those chosen for darkness. As they travelled, Oracia’s eyes flickered to the mountain.
“They aren’t going to come down,” Farleigh called to her, catching her stare.
“I know.” She looked away, but his eyes stayed on the mountain.
They reached the Caves by the afternoon. Leaving their horses, they started the climb to the mouth of the caverns.
Farleigh pulled Oracia aside as they approached.
“It’s quite simple, really,” he said. “Choose a cave. Each cave has pool. Touch your hand to the pool and a Fate will tell you your destiny.”
Oracia nodded. Raised in Wake Moor, she had heard the process before. It was instilled in children when they were young.
“If you don’t like what you hear,” Farleigh continued, “you can protest, try to make a deal. But you’ve sworn a blood-oath of fealty to the king. The Fates know that. Your fate was all but sealed when you joined the guard.”
A blood oath was not as permanent as destiny, but even the Fates respected it. One’s blood is the most sacred thing one had and to swear on it was to tie your life to something else. To violate the oath was a death sentence.
Oracia nodded again and turned to the caved but Aric caught her hand before she could slip into one of the caverns and kissed her.
“We’ll wait for you right out here,” he said.
She nodded and swallowed, looking down into caves.
“Are you nervous?” he laughed and tucked a piece of stray hair behind her ear. “Oracia the Daring unnerved by a cave?”
“Unnerved by fate,” she corrected. “And it is easy for you to mock – you already know your destiny.”
“Aye,” he said. “And that’s how I know yours as well.” He kissed her again. “It is my destiny to protect the castle – and I can’t do that without you.”
She smiled and then turned, stepping down in the caverns.