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.
“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.”