Celeste stretched and murmured, clutching her pillow like a teddy bear. The night before she had woken the innkeeper of the Tipsy Tankard (the only inn in town) and managed to charm him into letting her and her horse stay the night. Of course, some of her few coins had exchanged hands, but Celeste liked to think it was mostly her charm that had softened him into giving her a room, even after she had woken him. Once she had wearily brushed down Nutmeg and gotten him settled in the stables, she had wolfed down some reheated stew from the inn’s kitchen and barely managed to take off her boots before collapsing into bed.
Now, with the sun streaming down on her through the window, she slowly regained her senses. Remembering last night, she opened her eyes and moaned, thinking that whether she was in a hurry or not next time, she wouldn't risk being captured by bandits again. It was miraculous and possibly a little lucky that it had all worked out in the end. Thinking of the stranger with the bow, she wished now she would have thanked him more sincerely. If he hadn't come when he had- well, she didn't want to think about what would have happened.
Getting up slowly, she opened the curtains to look out at Juroosh and frowned at what she saw. It had snowed more last night, and now the small town was covered in slushy half-melting ice. Celeste usually liked winter; it was new and fresh and cool instead of sweltering, but this year, it had just gone on long enough. She was more than ready for spring.
After getting dressed and eating breakfast in the Tipsy Tankard’s “dining room” (more bar than dining room), Celeste wandered outside thinking she might explore the small town and see if there were any place she might acquire a weapon. A dagger might be the only thing she could afford, but she would feel better having something she could protect herself with.
Striding down the alley with the sound of crunch crunch from the icy snow following her every step, she pulled her furs more tightly around her, shivering, and glanced at the small shops she passed. Juroosh was awake, and this being the main street, there was a quiet buzz of activity: the baker opening windows and setting out breads to cool and draw in customers with their fragrant scents; the basket weaver setting up his booth; the dress maker drawing her curtains and dusting her shelves; and the smithy, hammering a horseshoe and plunging it into a bucket of water. Celeste stopped there and asked, “excuse me, do you make weapons?”
“Weapons?” He pulled the horseshoe out and threw more coal on his burner. “There aren’t many people who come to Juroosh looking for weapons, especially not young pretty lasses like yourself.”
“Do you sell them or not?” Celeste asked, wishing she could tell him she was a Forellian courier here to get a package for King Damias himself.
He glanced at her, “no, I only fix ‘em.”
“Well do you know anyone in town who does?”
“Sure, Randall, up the road on the left.” He gestured in the direction she had been walking. “He has about every weapon you could hope for.”
“Thank you,” she said and continued walking.
It wasn’t far, and she recognized it immediately because only weapons shops have iron bars on the doors and windows.
Upon entering, she was astounded by the number and variety of weapons. The smithy had not exaggerated, and with child-like glee, she began to explore the weapon racks. First she examined Randall’s selection of swords— from long and broad to the slender rapier, he seemed to have almost anything she’d like. Trying a few, she swung them through the air, many of the slender or curved blades feeling good in her grip. Next she found the bows: long bows, short bows, recurve bows, crossbows- did he have everything?
While testing the pull of a recurve bow, she heard a deep chuckle behind her and spun. There stood a tall, bald man with scars watching her. He wore a white shirt and brown jerkin and seemed surprisingly neat and trim. “Oh,” she murmured, looking up at him. “I suppose you’re Randall?”
“Aye, and who might you be who can handle a sword and shoot a bow? It’s not often I see a lad in Juroosh who appreciates a good weapon, let alone a lass.”
“I really wish folk would stop calling me a lass. My name is Celeste, and in the city I come from, it’s not so strange for a woman to be proficient with a variety of weapons.”
Randall laughed, saying, “people keep calling you lass because you are one. Ye can’t deny it, lass, and around here, girls embroider and bake. I keep telling folk that one of these days our border may need protectin’, and when that day comes already knowing how to handle a weapon would be useful. They don’t listen, though. At least most don’t. There is one lad who agrees with me. Glad to find another with a fighting spirit.”
“Well,” Celeste muttered, not completely sure how to reply to this short speech. “Yes, I agree with you that people need to be more prepared to fight. That’s one reason I became a—“ at the last second she remembered she was not to tell anyone other than her contact who she really was.
“What did you become?” Randall asked.
“Oh, you know- just- a- a lass with a fighting spirit.” She raised her fist and smiled awkwardly. “So um, how much does this cost?” She asked, looking down at the bow still in her hands and quickly changing the subject.
“Ah, the recurve bows from this rack are four silver.”
“Wow, really?” Celeste asked, disappointed and carefully replacing the bow on the rack. “I was ambushed and robbed by bandits, you see, and am rather low on coin as the moment. Um, where are your knives?”
Randall tilted his head sympathetically, looking at her. “Tell you what, I like you, and ye being one of the few I actually like, ye can pick out something you like and keep it, no charge.”
“Are you serious?” Celeste asked.
Randall grinned. “Yer eyes right lit up! Yes, of course I’m serious. So what’ll it be? Sword? Bow? Mace?” Celeste laughed and looked around the shop with new eyes.
She spent the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon browsing, but in the end, she found herself standing once again before the bows, feeling, weighing, testing. She liked all of them, and almost decided on a crossbow, but after some deliberation, she picked out a recurve bow that just felt right in her hands. It was faster than a crossbow, easier to handle than a longbow, and it would have better maneuverability and aim when riding a horse. Overall, Celeste was very pleased with her choice. She also selected a knife, small enough for throwing, but large enough for fending off an attacker.
Finally, she found Randall and showed him her choices. Paying for the knife, she sincerely thanked him for his wonderful generosity and left, walking back to the inn for a late lunch, feeling capable again with a knife in her belt and a bow on her shoulder.