It was early enough that dawn had barely begun when Jonah Skylar began his adventure. Grabbing his pack from beneath his bed, he crept from his room and snuck towards the stairs. On the way, he passed both of his brother's rooms. Markel's snoring nicely covered up any sound Jonah made, and he was pretty sure that Geoffrey would be passed out drunk with whatever pretty girl he'd managed to seduce into his bed the night before. Still, he held his breath the whole way, until he was safely down the stairs and out the door.
Once outside, Jonah took a moment to look back at the tavern his father owned. The high thatched roof glinted in the first weak rays of sunlight poking up over the hills to the east. The window to his father's room was dark, and the whole place was silent, something that only occurred in the early morning. Soon enough, the place would begin filling with noise as members of the Gveth clan currently passing through came to the tavern to trade with townsfolk, and townsfolk came to trade with the Gveth. More noise would fill the small tavern, the only one in their small village of Dersingden, as people finished work in their own shops or fields and came in for a night of relaxing and drinking. Jonah doubted he would be missed.
The next time he came back here, he would be a hero. His family may not have believed the gypsy woman who had come to the tavern last night with some of the other members of the Gveth tribe, but there was no way the hoarse voice and spasms as she shouted to the entire room that Jonah was going to save the world could have been anything but a true prophecy. Of course, she had vomited all over the floor and fainted right after but, well, maybe prophesies just took a lot out of a person. Jonah's father had thrown her out for being a troublesome drunk, and the rest of the patrons had laughed and mocked Jonah for the rest of the evening. Still, he had gone and tried to find the woman later. When he couldn't find her, he assumed that the rest of the Gveth clan she had been travelling with had probably taken her back to their camp. The Gveth nomads never slept in town when they passed through, always preferring to make their own camps at the edge of town.
Jonah felt a twinge of apprehension as he passed the nomad camp. They too were still asleep, and their silent tents seemed to watch him as he exited the town, judging him and the quest he had begun. Being a hero was going to be a scary business, of that he was sure. It didn't help that he had never even been more than a mile beyond the edge of town in his life, let alone gone on quests or fought dangerous monsters. He had to do, this, though.
It was the only way that he could prove that he really was worth something. He wasn't strong and intimidating like his oldest brother, able to fight off even the most stubborn and surely drunks from their father's tavern, and the winner of every single wrestling competition he had entered since the age of 13. He wasn't even charming and clever, like his other brother, able to charm any girl out of her dress, and then convince her father later not to kill him with nothing more than words and grins. He was just the youngest one who liked to cook and had an obsession with cleanliness that made him all too easy to prank whenever his brothers felt like being cruel.
Jonah loosened his traveling cloak as he walked, wishing he could fit it into his already overfull bag. As the sun rose, it brought with it summer heat that dispelled the misty cool of the early morning. Soon, Jonah's back and feet began to ache from the walking and the heavy pack he carried. The pack held food, water, and a change of clothes, all essential items, however, so he could not exactly get rid of it. He was just glad the path he traveled on was bordered on either side by large old trees that provided plenty of shade. The rocky mountains behind him, however, occasionally cast glinting sunlight reflections at his back to compete with the sun in his eyes, and the foothills he trekked through had his legs aching and protesting in no time. He had only been walking for a few hours before he decided that a break was in order.
Choosing a nice, shady spot in some lovely thick grass under a tree, Jonah spread his traveling cloak out on the ground before sitting down and digging some food out of his pack. The bread was a little worse for wear, and his apples all had bruises on them. With a sigh, he realized that he was going to have to get used to eating somewhat less well made food than he was used to. Why, he couldn't even cook anything unless he could start a fire, and as he had never learned how to do that, it looked like it would be a while before he would get to taste meet again. It was the realization that he wouldn't have a chance to make his special raisin bread or bake a proper apple pie for a long time, though, that really hit him hard.
It was with a significantly lowered mood that Jonah set about making himself a sandwich of cheese, apple slices, and some of the less smashed bread. Before he could eat it however, something fell out of the tree nearly on top of him.
Jonah screamed and launched himself backwards, knocking his head into the tree and nearly knocking himself out in his haste to get away from the sure to be monster that had clearly been sent to kill him before he could save the world, by whatever it was he was supposed to be saving the world from. It took him several moments before the ringing in his ears subsided and he realized the sound he could still hear was laughter. When he had blinked the wetness out his eyes (and no, he wasn't crying over the pain in his head, he'd just got a bit of dirt in them, so shut up), he realized that the person who had nearly fallen on him was not a monster, but may as well have been.
The thing looking back at him was a girl. To be more precise, she was Lucy Hemsworth, a rather odd girl who often wore pants, could nearly rival Markel in fighting skills, and could rival both his brothers in mocking Jonah for his rather unmanly hobbies whenever she came by the tavern. Unfortunately, she came by the tavern a lot. Ostensibly, she was always there to trade with the Gveth who often came through the village, bringing wool from the sheep her family raised, but Jonah had a sneaking suspicion that she really just came to mock him, as her family's farm was at the same edge of town that the Gveth usually made their camp on, and they always passed the farm on their way to the tavern. If her family really wanted to trade things, they didn't need to drag their wares all the way to his dad's tavern to do so.
Lucy's laughter finally slowed, but then she looked up at him, and apparently found the sight of him glaring at her as he leaned against the tree with bark in his hair and scrapes on his palms hilarious, because she started laughing again.
"What are you doing here?" he asked, trying to sound tough and hoping he didn't fail too miserably. Judging by Lucy's snort, he guessed that he had not managed very well.
"Saw you leaving this mornin' while takin' the sheep out to pasture," she replied casually. "Wondered what you were doin' wanderin' off by yerself, and decided to follow you." She grinned at him, and he resisted the urge to grit his teeth. When she reached down to pick up the sandwich he had dropped earlier and took a bite out of his food, however, he snapped.
He grabbed the sandwich out of her hands and, using his haughtiest voice to contrast her rough, clipped speech, replied, "If you must know, there's been a prophecy made and I'm going to save the world." He glared at her, before turning up his nose and continuing. "You are not invited on this quest, however, so I would appreciate it if you would kindly go home and stop stealing my food. As a future hero, I need to be sure to keep my strength up so I won't be able to share any food with you. In addition, I cannot be distracted at a crucial moment by you getting into trouble, as there will likely be all sorts of mad beasts and monsters coming after me as soon as the enemy realizes who I am. I need to be able to concentrate fully on the task at hand."
Lucy stared at him for a moment, and he thought he may have actually gotten through to her. Unfortunately, she merely snorted again and started laughing at him, again. "So," she said through her laughter, "you're wanderin' off into the woods with your survival skills all by yerself because of the nonsense that mad ol' gypsy woman was spoutin' last night?"
Jonah raised an eyebrow at her, hoping to convey his disdain for her words. "I did not know you were there last night," he said with as much dignity as he could muster. It had been rather embarrassing how everyone had laughed the night before as well, not a single patron believing for a moment that Jonah could actually be a hero, or that the old woman's words could be anything more than drunken ramblings. Lucy smirked at him.
"Course I were there," she said, now chewing on a fingernail as she glanced at him thoughtfully. "Now, d'you really intend to go off and save the world?" A contemplative look crossed her face. "D'you even know what you're supposed to be savin' the world from, anyway, or where you're supposed to be doin' this savin'?"
In order to avoid answering the second, somewhat embarrassing question, Jonah ignored it entirely. "Of course I plan to save the world," he said archly, his nose still in the air. "Prophecies are generally rather difficult to break, and the lady last night was very specific in her words. It would be dishonorable of me not to set out to do my duty." He wished Lucy would stop looking at him like he was one of the little children who liked to play in the village square on nice days, pretending to slay dragons and rescue princesses. He had always thought those games were silly, anyway, and had not participated in them even when he was a little child. Perfecting his mother's mince pie recipe and creating his own recipe for delicious raisin bread had always appealed to him much more than pretending to fight monsters, but what choice did he have with a prophecy over his head?
Lucy cocked her head to the side, and then seemed to come a decision. "Right then," she said, smirking, "I suppose you're headed fer the Capitol, since that's where most heroes end up one way or another, and I'd bet you don't know what you're supposed t'be doin', so that's as good a place to start as any. I'm comin' with you." Jonah, who had been working on packing his food back into his pack in an effort to ignore the odd girl next to him, stopped dead.
"What?" he asked, hoping he had heard wrong.
"I'm comin' with you."
Jonah straightened up, scowling at her as he began, "I told you, I do not need other people coming along and distracting me, this is my prophecy to deal with, and-" He never got to finish, as Lucy cut him off.
"Oh please. You need someone who knows 'ow to hunt an' 'ow to fight on this quest of yours, so you don't get yerself killed b'fore you ever get a chance t'do any savin'." She grinned at him in an annoyingly superior way.
Jonah scowled some more as he glanced at the sun, which had already risen quite high in the sky. Though the Capitol was several weeks away at least, Dersingden being an outlying village about as far away from the Capitol as one could get and still be in the same country (thus why the Gveth, also known as mountain people because they lived in the mountains beyond the village and outside the king's land, always traded with them), he had wanted to make good time and get there as quickly as possible. There was no telling when his destiny would begin, and while he didn't want to admit it, Lucy's earlier guess had been dead on. All the previous heroes in their country had either fulfilled their prophecies in the Capitol, or gained the necessary information to begin their quests there. The way he saw it, the sooner he got to the Capitol, the sooner he could figure out how he was supposed to save the world and go about doing it.
Still, it took him a moment before he answered. "Fine," he said, finally, swinging his traveling cloak back over his shoulders. "But you are responsible for getting your own food, and I am not going to rescue you if you get yourself into trouble." He turned away and ignored her when she laughed yet again, but it was more difficult to ignore her response.
"That's a'right. 'M sure I'll be the one savin' you if we run into any trouble, anyway." Jonah took a deep breath and refused to respond, merely quickening his pace on the dirt path.
This was going to be a long journey.