Joshua pulled his coat tighter around his body, sighing and trying in vain to block out the sound of his mother's droning voice. It was bad enough that she didn't trust him on a simple peacekeeping mission, but the fact that she was now lecturing him on proper manners was simply unforgivable.

At nineteen, Joshua St. Claire was used to this treatment by his mother, the Queen. He himself was Crown Prince of Avalon, but it was his older, -perfect- brother Nikolas who was King. He was the black sheep of the family, constantly making mistakes that his mother chided him for relentlessly. It wasn't his fault that he'd slept in for Nikolas' coronation. It wasn't as if he'd planned on going anyway. And the horses would've gotten away whether Joshua had left the door unlocked or not. Really. Who could tame wild horses? It wasn't that Joshua and Nikolas weren't close; they were just competitive. And maybe Joshua was a little jealous. A little bit.

Although Nikolas was only three years older , he'd already accomplished more, and he had women fawning all over him all the time. 'Stupid Nikolas.' He thought bitterly. 'Ooh, look at me. I'm a stupid king. Which one of you sexy ladies wants to touch my big, hard staff-' He was snapped back into reality by his mother's sharp voice.

"Joshua! Are you listening to me!?"

"Of course I am, mother." He rolled his eyes and grabbed a dark cloak from a hook off the wall.

"Then where is the priestess going to meet you?" Queen Michaela put one hand on her hip and raised an eyebrow at her younger son. Joshua blinked, his mind frantically trying to come up with an answer. Michaela sighed in frustration. "Joshua Francis St. Claire. This is why I'm making the priestess go with you as a consort. If you can't keep your attention straight for a simple conversation, how do I know you won't get distracted?"

"Consort? You mean a babysitter." He mumbled under his breath.

"This is important to the kingdom. What if you get attacked? You haven't taken battle lessons like your brother."

"Mother, all I have to do is deliver a treaty to a couple kingdoms over. I don't need some wrinkled old bitch following me around."

She decided to ignore that. "Miss Greenspell will meet you in the square in Avalon."

"The village?"

"Yes."

".. Wait. Greenspell?" The name caught his attention like a shiny object floating in the spring breeze. The Greenspell family name was known throughout their kingdom for the power that they could wield, but years earlier, the whole family had been slaughtered, except for the youngest daughter, Minako. He'd heard rumors about that girl. Rumors said that her beauty was enough to bring a dark lord to his knees.

"Yes. She comes from the temple of Mattegoud in the South."

Ugh. Probably Minako's grandmother or something. He had no luck at all, and getting a gorgeous girl to travel with him would completely mess with the laws of reality. And he had a hard enough time hanging onto reality as it was. "Fine." He grabbed the treaty ad put it into the shoulder bag of the waiting house.

"Don't get hurt, Joshua. And don't lose the treaty."

"I won't." He hopped onto the horse and kicked it lightly in the flank. "Hyah!" The horse obediently broke off into a slow run, then stopped upon entering the village. Joshua climbed off and took the reins, leading the horse further into the village, his eyes roaming the crowds for an old woman in priestess' robes. No one. He sighed, annoyed. "You'd think the old bag would have some courtesy." Joshua mumbled to himself, shaking his head.

A soft purr at his feet made him look down. He bent down and picked the small cat from the ground, scratching behind its ears. The cat nuzzled his hand for a moment before hopping off, using Joshua's shoulder as a jumping point, landing in the saddle of the horse. Joshua barely had time to wonder what the hell had happened when suddenly, in the cat's place was a rather beautiful young woman. Joshua gulped, staring at her. "..h.. hello."

"Old bag?" She repeated, raising an eyebrow, tossing her long, whiteish blonde hair over one shoulder. "I'll have you know that I'm only twenty- one, your highness."

"You.. you must be Miss Greenspell.."

"Mina." She confirmed, stroking the horse's mane.

Joshua's eyes widened. -This- was Mina Greenspell? Well, she was certainly attractive. He looked her up and down, swallowing. Mina was wearing high boots, a short skirt, tight blouse, and a long cloak. ". You don't look like a priestess." He muttered dubiously. She looked more like a prostitute to him.

She rolled her blue-grey eyes, and murmured something. Immediately, priestess robes appeared over her clothes. "Better?"

"To be honest, not really."

"Behave yourself, Prince." She changed back to her previous outfit, and Joshua noticed the two swords that she was carrying around her waist. They certainly looked like they could cause some damage to someone, that was for sure. "Can I ask you a question, Miss Mina?"

"Shoot." She hopped off of the horse, leading it through town. Joshua followed her.

"Is it true what they say? I mean.. that you brought a dark lord to his knees?"

"His knees, yes. And countless other positions." She smirked, looking back at him. "Is that all people say about me, your highness?"

"Pretty much. And stop calling me that. My name's Joshua."

"Hm. So much for respect. Kids these days."

He finally caught up to her and looked curiously at the girl he was traveling with. She didn't seem like a babysitter. But then again, looks could be deceiving. "Where are we going again?"

"It will take us a week on foot to reach Monova. We'll reach my temple by nightfall, and we can rest there."

"Oh. All right."

"How old are you, anyway?"

"Nineteen."

"Young." She commented, smiling a little sadly. "But then again, I guess we both got pushed into these professions too early." There was a wistful look in her eyes, but it disappeared before he had a chance to really figure it out. After all, being a teenage boy, it wasn't her -eyes- that he was looking at. "Eyes up top, highness." Mina hit him on the shoulder.

It was just starting to get dark, but there was a gentle wind blowing through the forest. She shivered, and Joshua's first instinct was to wrap his coat around her shoulders, but a teasing smirk from her made him change his mind.

The dry branches cracked underneath their feet as they walked, and Joshua couldn't help but feel a little nervous. He'd never really been this deep into the forest without a bunch of guards before. Mina was quiet too, and that wasn't helping to quell his fears much, either. He was about to make some sort of idle conversation (or flirt with her - he hadn't decided which yet) when he heard a growl from the bushes.

There was the sound of metal scraping against leather, and Mina pulled him close to her. Before he had time to react, she had her sword out, but suddenly burst out into giggles. Joshua stared at her until he realized what he'd been so scared of.

It was a puppy. A big, ferocious.. puppy.

Mina sheathed her sword and took the reins in her hands once more, still giggling softly. Joshua sighed, embarrassed at the young priestess' laughter. "It could've been a wolf." He mumbled in his defense. She turned to him with a grin, and he noticed that she was wearing a longer skirt than before.

"My legs were cold." She explained. "So, how's your brother?"

"You know Nikolas?" He asked, then sighed at his own stupidity. "Never mind, of course you do." Heaven forbid Nik could leave any decent-looking ladies for his little brother.

"My job is to protect the Royal sons from. well, certain evil."

"Certain evil?" He repeated. "Like what?"

"The thing that killed my family." She murmured softly. Joshua winced. Oh, nicely played! She'll be -begging- to jump your bones any minute now, Joshua. Hey, why don't you stab her with her own sword? That'll get her all hot for you.

"So if you're supposed to be protecting us, why are you on a job like this?"

"Because you're a wuss?" There was a mischievous sparkle in her eyes, and a smile playing on her lips as she said it. "Your mother requested me."

"She trusts me around beautiful ladies, I guess." He grinned suavely (or so he thought).

Mina rolled her eyes at him. "It's not that, honey, but that's an awfully nice thought."

"It's getting dark."

"I don't see any puppies. You should be okay." She giggled and motioned for him to climb up on the horse. He complied, giving her a withering glance.

"I told you. I thought it was a wolf.." He turned to ask her something, but she was gone. "..Uh.. Miss Mina?"

"Maiow?" The same black cat from the village hopped up to sit in front of him.

"..How do you keep doing that?"

~Magic~ came his answer. He kicked the horse into a slow run. ~The temple is near here.~

"Good.. the sooner this trip is over, the better."

~Gee. Thanks.~

"No offense."

The Mina-cat made a soft 'hmph' noise, and Joshua rolled his eyes. 'Women.' He thought. Soon, a small cottage-looking place came into view. "Is this it?"

Mina shifted back to human form. Joshua couldn't help but notice that she was practically in his lap. 'Think unhappy thoughts..' He thought frantically. "Yep." She said. "Temple sweet temple." She lightly tugged on the reins and hopped off. "Just give me a minute to calm him down. He's going to be pissed off that I left him here."

". who?"

"A friend." She grinned and walked inside. There was a loud crash. Joshua pressed his ear to the door. Maybe it was a jealous boyfriend or something. He could only hear Mina's voice "I was only gone for a day. Besides, I left you a note. Yes, I brought him here. No, don't you dare. We don't need a dead prince on our hands. You be good. Or else." She opened the door. "Come on in."

Joshua hesitated before stepping inside the temple, and it was only seconds after he had entered that a small ball of brown fur had launched itself at his face, squealing loudly. Mina sighed, a hand on her hip, looking annoyed. "What the hell!?" Joshua yelped, falling backward onto his ass.

The creature was about the size of a large housecat, with big green eyes, floppy ears, and a long foofy tail. It babbled happily, licking Joshua's face and slobbering all over him.

"Bad Merblemikey." She plucked it off, and lightly bapped it on the head.

".. What is it?" He wiped the slobber from his face.

"MERBLE!" It yelled angrily, and let loose a long tirade of babble directed at Mina.

"No, he's not going to shower for you." She sighed, setting it down. It continued its merblerant, bouncing up and down furiously. "It's a Merblemikey." She told Joshua. "A very rare, very pissed off, egomaniacal, nymphomaniac woodland creature. I'm thinking of having him -neutered-." She looked at the Merblemikey pointedly.

"Meefmerb!" To punctuate the merblemikey's statement, a small shrubbery burst into flames outside. "Merr." He looked pleased with himself. Mina gasped, running to the well and dousing the flame out. While she was distracted, the Merblemikey waddled over and sat in Joshua's lap. "Merr?" He asked, looking up with large, tear-filled eyes.

"Uh.. hi. I'm Josh." He nervously petted the creature's head. The Merblemikey purred loudly, not even looking up when Mina angrily tossed the smoldering shrubbery outside.

"Brat." She muttered.

"Meef."

"Anyway.. If you don't want him to sleep with you. Joshua, I'll lock him outside."

"I don't think it will be a problem."

"Merble."

She rolled her eyes. "Great. You can use the guest room to sleep tonight, and we'll leave in the morning.. We'll have to take him with us, but he can ride in my cloak. It shouldn't be too much of a hassle. "

"Sounds good." He stood up, holding the Merblemikey and carrying it to the guest bedroom. He couldn't shake the feeling, however, that the Merblemikey was watching him get undressed and shower. It was eerie.

As he slept that night, the Merblemikey happily snuggled up to him, and Joshua couldn't help but wonder what the rest of their trip would hold. Hopefully, no more puppies.