Despite their moral divide, it was not as if Wake Moor and Stone Mountain only encountered each other in warfare. In fact, the castle largely maintained civil relations with the mountaineers. Even though the groups were fated to entirely different sides, destiny did not always slate battles for them and entire generations had lived without any bloodshed.
There was a rapport to the relationship between the sides – and central to that rapport was the sly Knave. He was what the citizens called a Dealer – he was not a tradesman, but he had a connection with the kingdom. When there were rumors or misunderstandings, the guard would call upon Knave. He had even been brought to the castle on at least one occasion to help capture rogue imps that terrorized the citizens.
Knave’s story was uncertain. Before his reading, he had been a mere peasant, a stable boy – but he had a reputation as a cunning trickster, which was how he got his name. When he came out of the caverns and announced his destiny, he said that, in his arguments, he had struck a deal with the Fates: he would recede into Stone Mountain, but he would harbor no animosity toward the crown or its guard. He came to be called the Dealer because he dealt with any conflicts or communication between the sides.
It was the nature of his vocation to know about people. It took a few hours to reach the Stone Mountain pass and he told Oracia about some of the others on the mountain. Though she had heard the stories before, it was it was different now that she would be meeting them.
One of the oldest and a fierce warrior, Drest was most feared of the Stone Mountain oddlings. While the Mountain had not fought with Wake Moor in a century, the oddlings often had skirmishes with the other creatures in the forest. Chief among their enemies was the goblins to the north, led by their sly king. Stories of Drest had streamed through Wake Moor: he carried a large battle axe and had a penchant for cutting off the heads of his opponents. Among the citizens, he was known as Drest the Beheader.
Drest claimed the young girl Braith as his sister. There were few birth families among the oddlings but many created their own. Braith was one of the youngest to ever be taken for her reading. As a child, she had been kidnapped by the banshees and lived among them for several years. After the Wake Moor guard won her freedom, she was returned to her parents but she was never quite the same. Her time with the banshees had left her unnaturally pale and morose. Her fearful father petitioned to have her destiny read and the king granted it. She was only seven years old when she was taken away by Knave.
The only reading Oracia truly remembered was that of the last citizen to be taken: Archane. Only a year older than Oracia, she had not been at the Mountain long. Oracia remembered her from when she lived in the kingdom. She had been one of Princess Samaire’s ladies-in-waiting and the King had been mortified when it was revealed that a future oddling had been so close to his family.
For all her grace and compliments, the lady Archane had adapted to her new life. Her gowns were grander, her hair was more intricate, and her beauty had only grown. It suited her setting – the Stone Mountain was far more beautiful than Oracia had imaged. When Knave brought her through the onyx gateway, she paused to take in the scenery. The mountain was drama, all thorns and cragged rocks, with a forum at the base of the mountain. From there, there were granite stairways that scaled high and dark caverns that descend below.
In the forum, a couple was talking in hushed voiced. Hearing Knave’s footsteps, they turned and Archane’s pout gave way to awe. Oracia, the effects of the Fate’s magic still lingering, could not decide her new opinion of this new Archane.
Ignoring the pair, Knave found his way to the center of the forum and looked up at the mountain careening above him.
“On this the fourth day of November, in the third divide of the year of the moon,” Knave began calling. Faces began to appear along the side of the mountain, looking down from sharp balconies. Oracia understood suddenly. This was a calling – her formal entrance into the Stone Mountain guild.
Every warrior in the realm had a title. Like Drest’s, they were usually fearsome – Svienn the Conquerer, Adelaide the Breaker – or insulting, like Casimir the Craven. In a jest, Prince Aric had tagging his beloved as ‘Oracia the Daring’ because of her dauntless spirit. In the kingdom, the title remained.
But Oracia had another name. Titles were not usually given by those a warrior was fighting for, but rather those they were fighting against. And Oracia had a different reputation abroad than she had in the kingdom.
“…I implore you to welcome one more into our midst,” Knave was continuing.
“And what is she called?” Archane finished the ancient banter quickly, her eyes a sparkling stare.
Knave looked at her and smirked. Then his eyes lifted to the crowds above.
“They call her Oracia,” he said. “Oracia the Unforgiving.”