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.