Saturday, May 30, 2015

Chapter TEN

Previously- At dawn, Joshua and Celeste set off for Forellia.

  They met no travelers that day, and when orange twilight fell around them, Joshua and Celeste found a suitable grove of trees a little off the beaten path in which they decided to set up camp. Celeste, by now used to such chores, quickly lost herself to the actions she had completed every night she was on the road. First, she relieved Nutmeg of his load, saddle, and reigns. She took from her pack a collapsible bucket made of sturdy canvas and poured some of her water they had gotten from a river earlier in it for Nutmeg so he could drink as she gave him a quick brush down. It took only a few minutes before she finished. Then she covered the horse with a blanket to keep him warm as he cooled in the evening air. Satisfied, she brought the horse to a nearby tree since he was known to wander in search of greener grass if he were allowed. After tying him, he turned a baleful eye upon her. “Don’t look at me like that.” Celeste tutted. “There’s green grass here. Well,” she corrected, looking at the grass, “it is a little brown, but spring hasn’t fully come yet, so you won’t find better elsewhere.”

  “Are you talking to your horse?” Joshua casually asked from nearby where he was still brushing down his horse Amos. Celeste, having forgotten she was not traveling alone anymore, had slipped back into her habit of talking to Nutmeg.

  “Yes, I am. The horse talks to me sometimes, and I talk back… I’m not crazy, though, just so you know.”

  “No, no, I would never call you crazy.” He shook his head to reassure her. Glancing away then back at her, he finished his train of thought, “Perhaps you may be missing a few arrows in your quiver, if you know what I mean, but I’d never say crazy.” He ducked, laughing, as a rock flew over his head. “Hey! Now that was just rude. Do you have any idea how much being struck by a rock hurts?”

  “Ah, so unsurprisingly, this isn’t the first projectile that’s been aimed at your head. Are rocks the usual or do others get more creative?”

  “Oh,” Joshua murmured humbly, “I may have gotten a lump or two from stones that seemed to fall from the sky for seemingly no reason.” He waved his hand dismissively. “Of course, I could not have caused someone to throw something at me. I’m really far too well behaved.”

  Rolling her eyes, Celeste said, “Sure you are.” Looking at Nutmeg, she gave in and explained, “Until I came to Juroosh, I had always traveled with someone. This time I traveled alone. Occasionally the dreary days and nights got lonesome, and this was when I really started talking to Nutmeg. He’s actually a very good listener. As a matter of fact, sometimes he gives me such looks that I don’t think he needs language to communicate. He conveys himself quite well.”

  “Interesting. I can’t say I’ve never spoken to Amos, but I guess he’s more the strong, silent type, as I’ve never noticed him talking back.” Joshua patted his almost black horse. Amos stood tall and strong. He was beautiful.

  “I don’t know about that.” Celeste said, watching the horse. “I think he’s speaking to you right now. Look at the way he holds his head and glances at you and then me. He’s saying ‘we’re really traveling with this girl?’” Celeste tilted her head at Amos. “He’s rather proud for a horse. Perhaps this will help.” She pulled a lump of sugar from her pocket. She’d had plenty extra money from the coins Joshua had given her after buying their own supplies, so she’d bought some sugar for the horses. Amos’s eyes found the lump in her hand, and his nostrils flared, his hoofs shifting slightly as he fought an inward battle. “Oh, come on,” Celeste said, “I’m really not as bad as you think I am, you know.” She held the sugar out to him, and, with a snort, Amos gave in, devouring the sugar in her palm. Celeste chuckled as the horse peered at her out of the corner of his eye, seeming to say, “Ok. A truce.”

  “Well, what do you know?” Joshua said. “I think you made a new friend. It took me years before Amos began to tolerate me.

  “You should have given him more sugar.” Celeste returned to Nutmeg to soothe his jealousy with two lumps of sugar.

  “You should have seen the buckets of sugar I gave this guy.” Joshua pretended to be offended. ”Obviously, he’s more easily won over my women.” Amos huffed at this remark, shook his main, and nudged Joshua.

  With a chuckle, Celeste murmured, “no worries. He still likes you better.”

  “If you say so.”

  Smiling, Celeste began to collect branches for a small fire. Twilight was fading into darkness as the sun sank below the horizon, and pretty soon, they would have no light by which they could see and prepare some kind of dinner. Some of the sticks were damp from the recent snow, but Celeste found the driest ones and got a bundle together to use. With flint and steal, it didn’t take long to ignite a suitable fire that pushed back the encroaching chill and provided a nice circle of light. Setting a pot over the fire, she added some water and one of the packets of prepared seasoning she had bought to make soup. Joshua found a few mushrooms that he promised her were not poisonous, and Celeste even added some of the tough jerky-like meat they had eaten for lunch. The fine soup now bubbling over the fire, Celeste scooped it into bowls, and the two of them ate.

  Finding she was ravenous, Celeste dug in and didn’t bother making conversation. As the meal was drawing to close, however, and she was beginning to yawn, Joshua said, “By the way, I forgot to give you the Prophecy Stone.”

  Celeste stiffened, as a tingling went up her spine and ghostly tremors ran through her. The pain the stone had caused her when she had first touched it couldn’t easily be forgotten. “That’s alright. You can keep it.”

  “You have to take it, Celeste.”

  “Why? You do remember the thing killed me the first time I touched it, right?”

  “There’s no way I could forget, but it won’t do that this time.”

  “How do you know? And please don’t say the prophecy says so.”

  “No, the prophecy just says that the Stone will awaken your power, but we did research into such things after the prophecy came. There aren’t many books on magic left in the world, but the palace library had a few, and all of them agreed that a newly made sorcerer needs his stone. I’m not sure how long you have to carry it with you, but the stone seems to basically add kindling to the fire. It gives your new power some punch while you’re simply learning how to use it, and the stone makes it more powerful in the meantime. Once a new sorcerer no longer needs his stone, it breaks.” Joshua took a small pouch from his pocket and emptied its contents—the Stone—onto his hand. “As you can see, your stone is still whole.”

  Celeste warily observed glowing orb, seeing the swirling mist inside and wondering how such a small, beautiful thing could cause such chaos.

  “It’ll be ok.” Joshua reassured her. “I’m certain.”

  Celeste let out a breath she hadn’t known she’d been holding. She closed her eyes for a second, and when she opened them, she grabbed the stone without hesitating. It warmed slightly in her touch and glowed brighter, but other than that, nothing happened. No pain. No dying. Joshua sighed in relief and looked at her strangely.

“Like pulling off a bandage,” she explained.

  “Here,” he said, giving her the small pouch he had had the Stone in. “You can wear it ‘round your neck.”

  Celeste tied the straps of the pouch and pulled it over her head as Joshua had suggested. She put the pouch under her shirt so it couldn’t be seen.

  “Well, then. Now that that’s taken care of,” Joshua said. “And I’m not weeping bitterly over your prone corpse, I think I’m gonna hit the proverbial hay.”

  “Aw,” Celeste teased, “you would have wept bitterly if I had died? That’s so sweet.”

  “Well I just really can’t stand dead women. They’re really not good at making conversation!”

  “Ah, I see. So you wouldn’t have missed me or anything.”

  “Hm,” Joshua paused to consider. “Now that you mention it, I suppose I may have missed you, so it’s doubly good that you didn’t die.” He grinned, rubbing Celeste’s hair irritatingly as he got up to retrieve his blanket from his saddlebags. As he returned and lay by the fire, he quietly murmured, “Goodnight,” and turned his back the other way.

  “Goodnight,” Celeste whispered, trying to fix her mussed hair.

  She watched Joshua for a few moments, then turned her eyes to the flames, losing herself to the fiery dance. She stayed up for probably longer than she should have, thinking how her life had changed in so short a time. Absently, her hand found the pouch under her shirt and her fingers slipped in to brush over the warm stone. After a while, she sighed, added some branches to the dying embers, and lay down with her blanket to sleep. It didn’t take long before she was fully unconscious.

  In the trees, the animals were silent. Nutmeg and Amos shifted nervously as they smelled the strange scent in the breeze, their breaths creating small puffs of white mist in the air as they huffed. A twig cracked as the man with the Korelian ring shifted his weight and gave the signal to advance.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Chapter NINE

Previously- Joshua and Celeste decided to head back to Forellia the following morning

    Before dawn the next morning, Celeste and Joshua were waving goodbye to Juroosh as it faded behind them. Celeste was always antsy to get going when she knew there was a journey in front of her. This was one of the reasons she made a good courier, for as much as she loved finally arriving at her destination, she also loved the journey there.

 Yesterday, she had gotten the necessary supplies as Joshua had requested and had even packed the saddlebags so that it took no time to depart from Juroosh this morning. Although the two of them had agreed to meet at dawn, both had arrived early at the stables and didn’t bother waiting for the sun to come up.

  When Joshua had come to the inn’s stables with his horse, Amos, in the darkness of the morning, he found that Celeste was already there, waiting for him. He’d seemed rather quiet then and was still quiet now. Celeste glanced at his back as he led the way on a narrow deer trail that he said would take them safely through the pass- skipping another encounter with bandits. He appeared fine from Celeste’s glance, but she thought something may be bothering him. She decided to wait to ask, though, at least until they were through this pass and the sun had risen.

  They made slow progress along the overgrown trail, their horse’s hooves clip-clopping on the dirt, and Celeste thought of returning home to Forellia. She’d been on longer excursions before, but for some reason, it felt this time as if she hadn’t seen her home for years. “Forellia” was both the name of her country and the capital city where she had spent the last several years. The city was huge and grand. Of course there was the poor district, but even those who lived there were wealthier than most in other cities or countries. Forellia boomed. There were constantly new people coming to town- to trade, to buy, to sell, to join the army, to visit family, even to become a courier as she had. It was a great city.

  A long time ago she had been a stranger to Forellia, and when she had walked through the city gates with her father, she had gazed around her in awe at the buildings and people and the impressive grandeur, far superior to the small town she had lived in until her mother died. Celeste had been quickly swept off her feet by Forellian life. True, it was a faster pace than she was used to, and it was a long time before she felt she could confidently travel the cobbled streets without becoming lost, but there were so many people and things to do and lovely aromas. Most people were nice, which one wouldn’t imagine for a large city but was true nonetheless. Celeste never seemed to have trouble finding someone to ask for directions when she got lost during that first year or two.

  Moving to a new, strange place was, of course, a little scary at first. People weren’t as close-knit as they were in a small town, and Celeste had missed the things that reminded her of her mother. On the other hand, it was less painful too. Celeste’s father had told her they would be moving to Forellia so that he could open a new cobbler’s shop and get more business. He had said it would be good for them, and it also it be closer to the Royal Academy of Couriers, which Celeste had wanted to join for as long as she could remember. These reasons were all good excuses, but Celeste had known the actual purpose for moving was her father was hurting too much from the death of her mother, and he needed a new start somewhere completely different.

  Thinking of this, Celeste supposed Jeremy really had loved her mother very much. Celeste wondered if her mother had ever grown to love Jeremy the way he had loved her.

 Either way, Celeste was glad they had moved. It had taken no time for her to grow to love Forellia. She had made a lot of friends there too, and of course she had become a courier- her dream- and she thought she was pretty good at it also.

  Being a courier had gotten her into this mess, though, which she would have preferred to avoid. If the things Joshua said were true, however, and if she had managed to avoid it, it probably would have found her one way or another anyway. It was a lot to try to believe, this magic and prophecies, and Celeste still had her doubts. Joshua seemed to be so absolutely sure in the face of all this that it rattled her wall of uncertainty. The things he’d said… Could this be her great destiny? It sounded silly, even in her mind, but it also kind of felt true.

  Her head started to hurt from puzzling such things. Celeste shook it slightly to clear it and drew her attention back to the present. They had gotten through the pass and were off the deer trail now. Celeste glanced up at the just risen sun in the sky to determine what direction they were traveling. East and slightly north. Since Juroosh was on the southern and western border of the country of Forellia, the castle would indeed be to the east, so they were headed in the correct direction. Celeste deduced they were near the carriage-made dirt path that was considered a road around here. Celeste had used this “road” to travel into the city. It was rough and narrow, but it was better than nothing.

  The sky was a pinkish grey as the sun continued its ascent, lightening the sky with touches of gold and deep blue. It didn’t take long for a vast, azure sky dotted with fluffy clouds to be born. It was a gorgeous morning, and Celeste turned her face to the sky, basking in the warmth emanating from it that knocked off the chill and made it finally feel as if spring was coming.

  “What a beautiful morning,” Celeste murmured, breaking the silence.

  “If you say so,” Joshua replied, “I prefer rain.”

  Laughing, Celeste said, “are you serious? Surely not! The sun lights the way and keeps you warm and dry.”

  “And hot and tan and in desperate need of a hat. I didn’t bring a hat. And besides, rain is refreshing, and it gives you something to look at as you travel. Rain is beautiful.”

  “Surely you would have a different tail to tell were you trying to sleep in the wilderness as rain soaked both you and the grass on which you lay.”

  “Mm, perhaps, but it would provide an excellent excuse to snuggle.”

  “You are the strangest man I have ever met.”

  “Truly? Why thank you very much, my dear Celeste. And you are the most interesting girl I have ever met.”

    They returned to their silence. As Nutmeg picked his way over the logs and through the plants of the forest, Celeste ducked occasionally to avoid a tree branch.

  “Are you alright, by the way?” She asked after a time. “You seem quiet today.”

  “Do I?” He tilted his head thoughtfully. “I suppose you’re right; I have been quiet. I guess my silence is simply due to leaving Juroosh. It’s been my home for three years, and I’ve grown used to that life. It certainly wasn’t always easy, but I still enjoyed it. I knew the people, and I could run my own life. Also, I had to burn everything in my study before we left. Of course, most of it is up here,” he tapped his skull. “And the rest has been carefully sent to Forellia over the years. Still, there was a lot of hard work in there I had to destroy. I’m glad you got to see it first.” He smiled at her. After a moment, he continued, “I’m also thinking of returning home, of seeing my family.”

  “Oh, you have family in the city?”

  “Yes, I have a mother and brother and a sister-in-law I’ve never met. I probably even have a nephew by now.”

  “Your family didn’t write you often?” Celeste asked gently.

  “They couldn’t. I got an odd letter here and there, but what I was doing was very important and very secret. The letters had to be forwarded to many places before they could find their way to me. Otherwise, people would notice. In any case, a messenger rarely comes to the out-of-the-way town of Juroosh. So it was nearly impossible to stay contact. I got some of the highlights, you know- my brother’s wedding, my father’s death.”

  “I see… I’m so sorry.” Celeste was at a loss for words. Joshua shrugged. Trying to change the subject, Celeste asked, “Well what does your brother do for a living?”

  Celeste noticed a secretive sort of smile flash on Joshua’s face before he pushed his horse ahead and replied, “Oh, he’s a manager of sorts. Mostly it’s quite boring work, but he’s suited to it. I was never particularly interested in the family business, which is why I came out here.”

  Celeste wondered at the vagueness of his answer and was tempted to ask more; however, as Joshua pushed his horse even farther ahead, it became apparent he didn’t especially wish to discuss the subject of the “family business” anymore. She looked at his back curiously, wondering who Joshua was. With a shrug, she nudged Nutmeg to catch up.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Chapter EIGHT

Previously- Celeste touched the Prophecy Stone, and, when there was an explosion of energy, Joshua realized that she was the girl in a prophecy that said she would save Forellia. Trying to convince Celeste of this, he told her that she was the girl who would save the world.

  “How am I supposed to believe something like that?” Celeste demanded. “Are you hearing yourself? Think of it from my perspective. What if I walked up to you and said, ‘oh, by the way, there’s this prophecy by some magical woman that says the fate of Forellia rest in your hands. You’re gonna get some superpower and either save the world or let it be destroyed. It’s up to you, but I just thought I’d let you know.’”

  “It’s… hard to believe, I grant you. I know it must be difficult without any proof…,” he looked down, thinking. “But,” he said, a thought occurring to him, “don’t you feel different since touching the Stone?”

  As her mouth began to form a retort that other than being incredibly sore, no she did not feel different, she stopped herself. Because she did feel different. She had felt different both last night and as soon as she had woken up that morning. But could that be from touching this Prophecy Stone? She had assumed it was a combination of dying and her mother’s revelation to her. But was that all it was?

  Celeste hesitated, thinking over Joshua’s question. Her sore body explained the dying, and her rattled mind explained the revelation. Was there anything else to testify to a change inside her somewhere? She put her hand to her chest, remembering that strange, open feeling she had experienced when she touched the Stone. She hadn’t really thought about it at the time, what with the incredible pain exploding throughout every inch of her body as soon as her finger connected with the Stone…, but now she closed her eyes and focused on her chest, wondering if she could find that feeling again.

  It took a moment, but suddenly, there it was, blossoming in her chest like a flower and seeming to open a door in her mind as if Celeste suddenly had found the key to unlock it. It was raw and strange, like nothing she had felt before. It frightened her. With a gasp, she opened her eyes and lost her focus, the feeling disappearing instantly.

  Across the table Joshua stared at her. “You do feel something, don’t you?”

  Celeste had almost forgotten he was there. Looking away, she bit her lip, not knowing if she wanted to tell him, not knowing if she was willing to try to believe this story of his. And if she did believe it, then what obligations would suddenly be hers? The fate of Forellia and possibly the world? She was just Celeste, just a courier, just a small girl who talked to her horse when she was lonely. She couldn’t do this.

  She felt as if she were at crossroads, and whichever path she took would forever change the course of her life. Good? Bad? She didn’t know which path was which, and she wasn’t sure if that even mattered at the moment. All that mattered was that she had to choose, and when she did there would be no going back.

  At the crossroads, she looked to the right and felt as if that path looked nicer. There was familiarity and nobody relying on her to do the impossible. She looked to the left and saw a path less traveled, more rough and difficult, and it was strange, nothing like what she’d seen or imagined or believed before. Both paths beckoned, and Celeste stood between them, swaying, unable to decide. Which path? Which path should she take?

  She shut her eyes, overwhelmed and suddenly dizzy. The decision before her was greater than anything Celeste had decided before, and she was both afraid of choosing incorrectly and simply afraid of choosing at all. She wished she could just run away with Nutmeg and… and be alone. She felt so lonely. She had a choice of this magnitude, and she had no one with her—no friends, no family. What should I do? She thought.

  “Celeste?” Joshua murmured across from her. “It’s ok,” he said, “I know it’s a lot to take in, but you’re not alone. All of Forellia will stand behind you. Not only Forellia, but I’ll be there too— every step of the way if you want me to.” He reached across the table and took her hand, just holding it and connecting her to someone.

  She look at Joshua in appreciation. It was as if he had read her mind and said exactly what she needed to hear. At the crossroads, the choice seemed easier now, scary, but easier. Celeste looked at the strange path to the left and thought, you aren’t alone, Celeste, and anyway, you always enjoyed a challenge. She stepped onto the path.

  Looking at Joshua, she said, “thank you.” She glanced at their clasped hands, “what you said means a lot. And to your question a moment ago— I do feel different. The Stone did something to me. I don’t know what, but something has changed. You were right.” She raised her hand, “And this doesn’t mean I completely believe all this prophecy stuff, by the way. It will take a bit more time before I can change my complete outlook on life, but I’ll try to—” she paused, looking for the right words. “To work at it.”

  The grin spread across his face, and she wondered how he could smile so often and so genuinely. However, his smile quickly spread to her. “Stop it,” she said. “I’m really annoyed at you right now. You’re not allowed to look so triumphant.”

  “I do beg your pardon,” he said and just kept grinning.

  “So,” Celeste said, trying to change the subject. “What happens now?”

  Joshua hesitated, a thoughtful expression on his face. “Good question. I didn’t think this far ahead, to be honest. I was so concerned about convincing you of who you are that I completely forgot to think of what to do after I had managed that.”

  “Well, um, what about the Prophecy Stone? Does that still have to be taken back to Forellia?”

  “Right. The Stone. The Stone will stay with you now.”

  “What?” Celeste asked in an embarrassingly high-pitched voice. “No, I can’t touch that again. You did notice the affect it had on me the first time, right? All the pain and dying?”

  “That won’t happen again. It was just awakening whatever power you have in you. I’m sure it won’t happen anymore.”

  “How ‘sure’ are you?”

  “Well…, relatively.”

  Celeste’s laugh was without humor. “Oh, that seriously inspires confidence in me, Joshua.”

  He completely ignored the overflowing sarcasm, and said, “Good. I’m glad I could help. So now the Stone’s been settled I suppose that means I have to pack.”

  “Pack?” Celeste said absently, her mind still on the potentially deadly Prophecy Stone.

  “Yes, of course pack so that we can head back to Forellia.” He looked at her as she stared into space, a nervous expression on her face. Waving his hand in front of her eyes to get her attention, he said, “you in there, Celeste?”

  “Hm? Yes, pack. What now? Forellia? You’re coming with me to Forellia?”

  “Of course I am.” He smiled. “You think I’d stay here when Celeste Mariah Teal needs me? And anyway, it’s probably time to go back. There’s not much more I can do here,” he glanced around as if thinking the walls may have ears. “If you know what I mean.”

  He was of course referring to his many trips into Korelia to spy. With war nearly upon Celeste’s country, there was really not much use for him here anymore. Agents of espionage would be far more useful somewhere closer to home.

  “That’s true.” Celeste replied. “Well I’m very happy to have you along.” She grinned, realizing she was very pleased at the thought of having a traveling companion again. “So we leave at first light?”

  “Yes, first light. In the meantime, I’ll be packing and… taking care of a few documents I no longer need. I’ll also have to say goodbye to a few friends,” he murmured, appearing a little sad. “Ah, well, I knew I wouldn’t be here forever. Here,” he pulled a leather bag from his pocket and dropped a couple of shiny gold coins on the table. “That should be enough for supplies for the trip. You can take care of that while I’m packing?” Celeste nodded.

  With no more reason to stay at the inn, Joshua half stood before he realized that his and Celeste’s hands were still clasped. He coughed, and Celeste, having noticed it at the same time he had, awkwardly let go. “So,” he said, standing, “I’ll see you in the morning.”

  “Yes,” she said, for some reason a blush coloring her cheeks. “See you in the morning.”

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Chapter SEVEN

Previously- Celeste touched the Prophecy Stone and died. She saw her mother who told Celeste that her father was actually not who she thought he was. When Celeste woke up, Joshua said something about her saving the world, but she just wanted to sleep so ignored what he said and went to her hotel room.

  Celeste woke before the sun, her mind and body sore, her mother’s words echoing in her mind. Groaning, she opened her eyes, her whole body tired. She felt she may have to sleep for a year before she felt back to normal. Touching her chest, she thought maybe she would never feel completely normal again. Something seemed to have changed. She supposed it was the knowledge of her father (or fathers), but thinking about it just hurt her head, and she didn't feel like thinking deep thoughts that morning.

  Celeste was not usually a coffee person. She generally preferred tea, to the scorn of her fellow couriers, but this morning, Celeste didn't think she’d ever wake up unless she smelled that beautiful aroma and tasted that bitter liquid. So, joints and muscles complaining, she forced herself downstairs to see if the Tipsy Tankard had a coffee pot.

  She was dangerously low on coin, and she would have to figure out what she was going to do pretty soon or else she and Nutmeg would be sleeping on the street. Hopefully no one else was up yet so she could sneak herself a cup of coffee.

  Arriving in the dining room, she saw Joshua sipping from a teacup, he the only person awake other than she at this time of morning. Celeste backpedaled into the hall before he saw her, having forgotten that he had stayed at the inn last night in case she needed him, and she had been rude- yet again!- to his gentility. She closed her eyes and sighed, wondering what he would be like this morning, wondering what he thought of her, and wishing she didn't have to face him just yet. Oh well, she thought, gotta do it sometime. She took a breath and cautiously stepped back into the dining room.

  Joshua raised his eyes, saw her, and smiled. Celeste’s worries melted away, and she sat at his table. “Coffee…” she moaned.

  “Oh, you want some coffee?” He muttered, taking a sip.

  “Yes, please.”

  “Hm, but that would mean that I would have to go back to the kitchen- which would be a great effort on my part- just to pour you a cup of the coffee I just brewed. This would, of course, mean that you would owe me big time.”

  “Or you could give me yours. I’m not picky.”

  “My coffee? Now’s she’s asking for the one thing that has the power to bring me to life each morning. She might as well be asking for my lifeblood.” He shook his head doubtfully, muttering, “I just don’t know if I can make that kind of sacrifice.”

  Celeste laughed. “Aw, come on, next time you die and get resuscitated, I’ll give you my coffee. Doesn't that sound fair?”

  “Well,” Joshua tilted his head, “when you put it that way…” He passed her his teacup.

  “Thank you!” Celeste just held it for a moment, letting the warmth and aroma melt into her. Then she drank and sighed, already feeling more energy coursing through her.

  “So,” Joshua said, “how are you doing this morning?” His voice was quiet and concerned.

  “Oh, I’ve had better mornings,” she said with a mirthless smile. “But, all considering, I think I’m doing alright.”

  “Good,” he said, “that’s really good. I’m glad.” She remained quiet and continued to sip the coffee. Joshua broke the silence, “have you ever heard of the Hall of Prophecy?”

  She scrunched her brow in thought. “Wasn’t that in that old folk tale about that Knight von Liechtenstein? Yeah,” she said, remembering. She always liked the story because of the knight’s ridiculous name. “An ancient woman- the Prophecy Bringer- saw that this knight would win an impossible battle and triumph over evil. She inscribed the prophecy on some secret room in the castle, and eventually the prophecy came true. I used to love that story.”

  “Yes, that’s an excellent example of the Hall of Prophecy. So, um, this might sound odd, but did you ever believe in this ‘folk tale’?”

  “Well, maybe when I was little; I don’t know. Why?”

  “What if I told you it was real- the knight, the battle, the Prophecy Bringer, pretty much all of it.”

  Celeste laughed, “Yeah right. There’s a secret room in the castle that the king doesn’t tell anyone about. There’s a- what?- three thousand year old woman who appears in a whirlwind and inscribes a prophecy on a wall. This stuff makes a good story, but that’s all it is.”

  “You would have to be a skeptic.”

  “Well do you believe it?”

  “Actually, yes.” Celeste looked at him like she wondered if he had lost some of his marbles somewhere. “Ok, fine, some of the fact has been mixed with legend,” he said, “but most of it is true. For example, the Prophecy Bringer isn’t actually three thousand years old. She lives outside of time mostly, and she only returns to the flow of time when she needs to inscribe a prophecy.”

  “Where is this coming from?” was all Celeste could think to ask. “Why do you believe this?”

  “Long story, but basically because I’ve been in the Hall of Prophecy and seen it all for myself.”

  “If all this were true, than the ‘Hall of Prophecy’ is in the castle, and- again- if this were true, only the royal family and perhaps a few very close advisors would know about it or be permitted to enter. So how could you have possibly gotten in?”

  “Eh, you’re focusing on the details, Celeste. Try to look at the big picture here. Imagine that, like I’ve said, this really is all true, and there are prophecies that tell of future events.”


  “Imagine that there is a new prophecy, but this one is different. This one separates into two distinct paths depending on the outcome of certain events. One path leads to peace and the freedom to live as happily as you like. The second path leads to destruction, thousands dead, cities burned, and a tyranny set up. Which path would you choose?”

  “Um, is this a trick question?”

  “So of course, you would choose the first path. Now, what if- and this is the important part by the way- what if the outcome of these events all rested on one person. Let’s say-“ he shrugged “for the sake of argument- that this one person is you. The prophecy says that this person- you- will have a power awakened, a power that has not been seen in this world for a thousand years, when you touch a certain stone, or in other words, the Prophecy Stone, and that with this power, you will either save the kingdom or let it fall and all that destruction I mentioned a moment ago,” he twirled his hand “commence.”

  “Joshua,” Celeste said, remembering what he had said last night after he had brought her back from the dead: something like ‘you’re the girl who’s going to save Forellia.’ Then he had stayed at the inn. She had assumed at the time that he was just being a gentleman, but now it occurred to her that maybe he thought he was protecting someone important. Celeste began to worry. “Listen, I’m not exactly sure where you’re going with this, but I think I have some idea. Before you go there, let me put this on the table right now—“ she laid her hands flat and leaned in for emphasis. “I am not special. I’m not in some prophecy; I’m not going to save Forellia; I’m not going to have some kind of power awakened in me. I’m a courier. I’m sorry, but that’s all I am.”

  Joshua took a deep breath through his mouth and let it out through his nose. “This is going to be harder than I thought,” he murmured. He let a moment of silence pass, then sat up straight and looked at her with a serious expression. “Ok, you’re right. I was leading up to explaining some things to you. Since you already guessed that, then I’m just going to jump right in.”

  He didn’t give her a chance to reply before he started talking again. “Celeste Mariah Teal—that is the name in the prophecy. Like I said, I’ve seen it with my own eyes. How can you explain that? You’re mentioned by name, described in detail— the first time I saw you I thought you looked familiar somehow, but I—“ he waved his hand in the air, “I just couldn’t place it. Then you touched the Prophecy Stone.” Celeste shuddered, not wanting to think about it. “How can you explain that? It all finally clicked in this slow brain of mine. You are Celeste! You are the girl in the prophecy. You…” his voice lowered and intensified, “you are the girl who can save the world.”

Friday, May 1, 2015

Chapter SIX

Previously- Joshua showed the courier his package- a beautiful stone called the Prophecy Stone. She touched the stone and was suddenly screaming. That lasted for a for moments before she collapsed to the ground.

  Celeste found herself standing in front of a broad burbling river next to an enormous sprawling tree, and on the other side of the river were vast, beautiful mansions. Light filled the air, casting out the smallest shadows, but when she looked up, the sky was white, and she couldn't see the sun. She blinked, tilting her head, trying to remember how she had gotten here.

  “Celeste, my darling,” said a female voice behind her. Celeste spun around and froze. There stood a woman with short blond hair and crystal blue eyes. Celeste’s own eyes filled with tears.

  “Mom?” She whispered, not understanding, not believing her mother could really be standing there. With a tear-stricken smile, her mother spread her arms, and Celeste ran to her and they wrapped each other in an embrace. “But how are you here?” Celeste stuttered. “You- you died and-“ then she realized. Pulling back from her mother, Celeste looked into her eyes and whispered, “am I dead?”

  With a mixture of sadness and joy, her mother nodded, “yes, my dear Celeste, but don’t worry, you will return to life in a few moments. You’re not done living yet.”

  “What? But how do you know?”

  “I just know. Listen, we don’t have much time.” Her mother pushed Celeste’s hair back and cupped her face. “There’s something I never told you.” She swallowed, “this is difficult for me to say.”

  “It’s ok, mom. Just tell me. What is it?”

  She nodded. “There’s no easy way to explain this, so I’m just going to say it.” She took a breath then rushed on. “The man you know as your father—he’s a wonderful man, but he isn’t… Well, he isn’t your birth father.”

  Celeste pulled back from her mother, staring at her, incomprehension written on her face, while she absently touching her chest, feeling a strange pulling sensation. “What? What do you mean? How- how can he not be my father?”

  “I’m so sorry I never told you, my dear child. I always meant to, but Jeremy was a friend. When I got pregnant he married me to save my reputation. He was so good to me, to both of us. He always treated you like his very own flesh and blood. But your birth father—his name was Hezekiah Blackstone.”

  “Hezekiah…” this didn’t make any sense. How could this be? Celeste clutched her head in her hands, trying to understand. The pulling sensation intensified, and she took a few steps back before she caught herself.

  “You’re returning to life,” her mother said, stepping closer to her. “I met Hezekiah before I knew Jeremy was in love with me, and Hezekiah showed me things nobody else ever had or could. I was swept away by him and fell for him.” Touching Celeste’s cheek, she said, “and that’s how you became a possibility.”

  With a strangled cry, Celeste took a few more paces back, gasping for breath. Her mother briefly embraced her once more and kissed her cheek, crying, and saying “don’t fight it, Celeste. It’s time for you to go. You must return to life. I love you so much, and I’m so proud of you! One day, I will see you again, but not yet! Go!” Her mother gave her a push, and Celeste stumbled back, tripped, and was falling, tumbling, in slow motion. She fell down and down, and she felt as if she might never stop falling.

  With a gasp, she opened her eyes to darkness, a stark contrast to where she had just been. She started coughing, sending daggers of pain through her chest where it felt as if someone had been pounding on her. She felt hands help her into a sitting position as Joshua’s voice said, “Oh thank heavens you’re alive.” A moment later a match flared in the dark, and Joshua re-lit one of the lanterns. The light fell on Celeste as she held her chest and took shaky breaths, her throat feeling raw.

  Then she remembered the Prophesy Stone and the pain and screaming. She leaned her head back on the wall behind her as Joshua kneeled in front of her with the lantern. “I thought I had lost you there for a few minutes,” he murmured. “Are you ok?” Though she was shaky, and her body felt like a punching bag, and she had found out her father was not really her father because her dead mother had just told her, Celeste nodded. Joshua looked down. “Good.” He paused, seeming as if he had something else to say. “Um, listen, I know this is a bad time, but I have to ask you something… Your name… would it happen to be Celeste Mariah Teal?”

  She looked at him and croaked, “How do you know that?”

  With a sigh- Celeste couldn’t tell if it were a relieved or worried sigh- Joshua said, “Because you’re the girl who’s going to save Forellia.”

  Celeste had had enough insanity for one day. She couldn’t take any more. Shaking her head, she stood on shaky feet, Joshua immediately helping her rise. “Don’t be ridiculous,” she said. “I need to go back to my room.”

  “Woah, wait a sec. Take a breather. You don’t have to walk back this second.”

  “Yes, I do,” she shook off his helping hand.

  “Hey, you need to relax a minute. You’re not ready to be walking around.” She took a step and almost collapsed, catching the wall just in time. Resolutely, she kept walking. “Celeste, sit down. You don’t have the strength—“

  “Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do.”

  “You were dead, Celeste! I think anybody would need to rest a moment before walking half a mile.” Ignoring him, she made her way steadily to his front door. Taking a breath, she brace herself and pushed the door open, the chill hitting her like splash of water in the face. She froze for a moment from the intensity of the cold. Something warm draped around her shoulders, and she glanced back to see Joshua draping his coat around her, a frown on his face. “Thanks,” she muttered and let him help her up the stairs.

  They didn’t say anything during the walk back to the Tipsy Tankard, but when they got there, Celeste turned and murmured, “I just need to think. So… goodnight.” She didn’t look at him but pulled his coat from her shoulder and gave it back to him. She just couldn’t explain right now, and she couldn’t take any more madness.

  “I understand,” he said, taking the coat. “But listen, I’m going to get a room here too, so if you need anything…”

  “You don’t have to do that, Joshua. I’m alright.”

  “Well, I’d just like to make sure you stay safe.”

  With a sigh, Celeste snapped, “Joshua, I appreciate the sentiment, but I’ve told you before that I can take care of myself. And anyway, who’s going to attack me in the middle of the night? Nobody knows who I am and nobody cares. I’m in no danger.”

  “Just the same, I’m going to stay.”

  Celeste just didn’t have the energy to fight anymore. Shaking her head, she said, “Fine, do what you like.” She knew she was being too hard on him. He was just trying to help, but she felt like her world was crashing down around her. She couldn’t practice patience and civility right then.

  Turning, she went up to her room and sat on her bed. She needed to think, like she’d told Joshua, but her mind just wouldn’t function properly. Whatever that stone had done to her- other than killing her- it had drained all her strength and she could barely pull off her boots. She had a sense of déjà vu from the night before and sighed once more. However tired she was, she didn’t think she’d be able to sleep, but she lay down anyway.

  Moments later, she was drifting away.


  Joshua sat crossed legged on his bed in his room at the inn considering. On one hand, he knew why his brother Damias had sent Celeste here. She being the courier made a lot more sense now, but on the other hand, Joshua wished Damias had just kept Celeste there in Forellia, safe. Someone else could have taken the Prophecy Stone to her, another courier. Damias must have thought the imminent war with Korelia was reason enough to get Celeste to the stone as quickly as possible.

  A little warning would certainly have been nice, though. Although, Damias probably assumed Joshua would ask the girl her name, but obviously, his brother underestimated Joshua’s talent for stupidity. Joshua shook his head at himself, wondering how he could have waited so long to simply find out her name, the most basic piece of information one human could learn of another.

  Celeste Mariah Teal. The name suited her, but he couldn’t believe that the girl he had saved from bandits was the girl from prophecy. He had never thought Celeste seemed ordinary, but neither did he think she was going to save Forellia. It all just seemed… unbelievable.

  Sighing, Joshua thought about the conversation he’d have to have with Celeste in the morning and shook his head, thinking he probably wasn’t going to get any sleep at all that night.