Willow '06: The Magnificent Blending - Josiah

Josiah carefully folded another shirt and placed it in his trunk. He had been delaying this task as long as possible, trying to decide how he truly felt about the situation. He had packed and unpacked several times, changing his mind about everything three times over, and still he was no closer to coming to a conclusion. With a heavy sigh, he set the shirt on the pile of other shirts within the soft silk-lined compartment and moved to stand on the small balcony attached to his suite. His gaze swept over the reaches of the estate, over the stables and gardens, the orchards and lawns. He took in the expanse of the mountains that were at the edge of his father's lands, barely able to see the small structures that dotting the lowest of the hillside.

"Are you almost finished?" a small voice asked from behind him. He turned to see his sister standing in the middle of his room, glancing from him to the trunk as she twisted her fingers around each other.

"Not quite," Josiah sighed, stepping toward her. She looked so small and frail. Funny how everyone always assumed she was his younger sister, despite being nearly four years older than him. Somehow, with her willowy figure and pale features, the way unruly curls of her blonde hair and the nervous way she always carried herself, even Josiah had come to think of her that way at times. For all of their lives he had been the strong one, the one who made the decisions, the one who provided comfort and assurances. Now he was leaving her behind.

"Father is throwing things in the solarium," she said softly as he stepped closer and pulled her into a hug. "He is very angry about this."

"And the fact that neither he nor I have any say in the matter is not a factor," Josiah said, shaking his head. "The man has never been known to stop arguing simply because there is no point."

"Will you be gone long?"

"I cannot say." Josiah pulled back from the hug a little. "No one knows anyone who has tested for High before. Assuming I pass the first test, no one has been able to tell me what comes after." He lifted her chin and gazed at her gravely. "I may be gone some time. You must be a good girl, Hannah, and be brave."

"I shall do my best, brother," Hannah promised. "But you know I often fail without realizing. I seem to be bad just naturally."

"No, you aren't," he said, kissing her forehead. "No matter what Father says, you are never as bad as he believes."

"I suppose," the girl replied softly, pulling away. Josiah watched as she moved to his trunk and started sorting through his things, repacking what he had already repacked twice before. "Are you bringing enough clothes? You only have two dozen or so outfits."

"If I require more, my suite at Father's house in Four Corners should have a good wardrobe for city wear, assuming the servants have maintained it as expected." Josiah grinned wide. "I doubt I need worry about going naked."

"Will you be stylish enough? We haven't been to the capital in nearly a year now."

"I can always pay a call to the tailors." Josiah shrugged. "I hardly think worrying about clothes will be foremost on my agenda."

"I suppose." Hannah leafed through the other things in his trunk. "Have you books enough for your trip?"

"I don't wish to take too much with me, sister." Josiah chuckled. "Remember, I am required to travel by public coach, which means I'll likely be sharing it with other people. I suspect that might make it difficult to concentrate on my texts."

"I cannot believe they insist on you using such means." Hannah scowled. "You should not be degraded in such a fashion!"

Josiah shook his head. "Hannah, it is not a crime to travel by public coach," he reminded her. "In fact, I happen to be looking forward to the experience. I expect I shall get to meet people whom I would not normally get to encounter."

"Commoners!" Hannah exclaimed in dismay, and Josiah couldn't help but laugh.

"Commoners are simply people without titles, sister," he said, taking her hands. "They are the same as you or I, just poorer and without the Lord and Lady in front of their names."

Hannah looked at him with sheer horror, and Josiah sighed. For all her delicacies and her usually generous soul, Hannah did have a certain… snobbishness in her sometimes.

"Lord Josiah, your father wishes to see you in the library."

Josiah glanced at the door where one of his family's servants in the doorway. "Thank you, Aaron, I shall be there momentarily."

The servant nodded. "Shall I deliver your trunk to the carriage?"

Josiah gave his trunk one last look-over before shrugging and closing the lid. His discussion with his father was certain to last more than a few minutes, and as such he would not have time to repack again. His latest choices would have to do. "Yes, I would appreciate that. Also, there's a smaller travel bag on my side board, and my satchel on the night stand."

"Certainly sir." The servant nodded.

Josiah offered his sister his arm. "May I escort you to the sitting room on my way to see our father?"

"I do have my afternoon music lesson to prepare for." The girl sighed. She took his arm, both siblings knowing it would likely be the last time they would spend time together for a very long time.

They walked slowly through the house, in the dignified manor they had been taught was appropriate for people of their station. Josiah left his sister in the care of one of the house maids and moved on reluctantly to the library. There he found his father pouting in his favorite chair before the fireplace, scowling into a brandy glass.

"You took your time." The older man growled.

Josiah stiffened at the tone, but held his head high. "You would prefer I ran here in an unseemly manner?" he sniffed, deliberately using an arrogant tone. "You would rather have your son behave in a manner more fitting of a commoner?"

Lord Ramiro Sanchez sneered at his son's comments but didn't respond. He gestured grandly for the younger man to sit in the chair across from him, but Josiah chose to ignore the man's inherent order. "I'm afraid I don't have time to enjoy another lively debate with you, Father," Josiah said haughtily. "If I don't leave within the half hour, I will be late arriving at the depot, and you are aware there will be consequences."

"How dare they have my son jumping through hoops!" Ramiro hissed. "Do they not have any idea who I am?"

"I more suspect they don't care," Josiah said, trying to hide his amusement at his father's irritation.

The older man was seething, his knuckles turning white as his grip on his glass tightened. Josiah was certain that had the glass been anything but the most expensive and finely made, it would have been smashed in anger some time ago. Ramiro hated not being in control, and Josiah's being sent to the capital was far outside his control.

"When I get my hands on that freak…" Ramiro said darkly. "How dare that creature pass himself off as a person of quality."

"He is the son of a minor Lord, Father," Josiah replied, moving to the bookshelves and running a finger along a selection of leather- bound Shakespeare compendiums. "His mother was a guest, and he was her escort."

"She should have drowned him at birth," Ramiro spat, throwing back his drink. "Certainly she should never have dared take him out in public."

"Some people," Josiah said softly. He didn't finish the comment, letting his father believe it was a slight on Lady Halina's behavior. It would never occur to Ramiro that his son might dare to disagree with him.

"Well, I need to be leaving for the depot," Josiah said, more to himself than his father. "I don't suppose you will be coming to see me off?"

"And allow people to think I support this nonsense?" Ramiro snorted in disgust. "Besides, I have far too much work to do."

Josiah sighed and nodded. "Of course, Father. If it's alright I shall have Ko-Je drive me."

Ramiro waved his hand which Josiah decided to take as approval of the idea, and the younger man gave his father a brief bow before exiting the room. He tried to ignore the fact that Ramiro had already dismissed Josiah from his thoughts before the younger man had even left the room.

Josiah walked the halls of his father's estate house, nodding to those that bowed or curtsied as he passed. It had always bothered him how nervous – in some cases terrified – the servants were of him. He knew it was mostly in deference to his father's harsh ways, but it still saddened him.

He returned to his rooms for a moment to retrieve the riding coat and hat he had chosen as his garb for the journey. Normally he would have chosen a nicer uniform for traveling, but the requirement of riding in a public coach had made much of the decision for him. He also had no knowledge of how long he would be traveling, or who he would encounter on his travels, and it seemed unwise to wear one of his finer garments in such questionable circumstances.

Josiah carried his coat and hat as he made his way to the kitchens; his early leave meant he would miss lunch, and he had no intent of subjecting himself to travelers' fare any sooner than required. A fast meal from the hands of his father's chef would be his sendoff and then he could be on his way. He was pleased to find Annella had numerous delicate meat pastries and a bread pudding fresh from the oven waiting for him, as if she had known exactly when he would arrive. Knowing Annella and her network of spies within the household servants, she probably did; it was the way she made sure the Sanchez family members had exactly what they wanted on hand exactly when they wanted it – by keeping careful track of ever scheduled activity and planning accordingly.

"I've also packed a small basket for you, my lord," the plump woman told him as she dished up a plate of pudding and drizzling it with a thick butterscotch sauce. "Some dried meats and cheeses, dried fruits, and a selection of traveling pastries. I'm afraid it's not what you're used to, but I am not terribly familiar with preparing foods that will travel well."

"You're efforts are appreciated," Josiah smiled as he dug into his lunch. The old woman smiled as she placed in front of him a large glass of milk and a plate of fresh vegetables with a thick white sauce. Josiah frowned at the drink. "I would rather a nice wine."

"You've never traveled by public coach before." Annella smiled. "You'll thank me for this later. Public coaches are not so smooth a ride as the carriages you're used to; you'll find this will sit better with your stomach."

"I dread to think what that means for the next four days of my life." Josiah sighed. "But I thank you for your thoughtfulness."

"I had Ryan send for Ko-Je," the chef said as she moved to the fire to stir a pot. "By the time you're finished he should be here to drive you." Josiah smiled to himself, hiding behind his milk as the woman continued. "I understand Aaron has put your things on the carriage and it awaits you outside. Have you everything you need?"

"I'm ready to go," Josiah replied. "Can't say I'm too happy about it, but I'm ready."

The old cook laid a motherly hand on Josiah's arm. "You'll do fine. It's passed due you were sent out on your own."

Josiah thought to counter the point with all same arguments he had used in the past – that his father wished to protect him from unfavorable influences, that his father wanted to ensure he was ready to handle being out alone. However, in the last two weeks since he had been informed he was required to test for High, he had begun to question his father's teachings. All the things Ko-Je had been teaching him in the last ten years suddenly seemed to make more sense, instead of simply being the fascinating but irrelevant beliefs of a savage race. He had been happy to accept Ko-Je's lessons as interesting trivia, some more applicable than others, but in the grand scheme of things not very useful to his actual life. Now, he was faced with a life outside the watchful eye of his father or one of the man's loyal allies, and Ko-Je's teachings actually seemed to have merit.

He smiled when the old man appeared in the rear door to the gardens, his long black braids streaked with much grey. Dark eyes studied him from below a colorful headband, and a small smile graced the wrinkled face.

"Greetings, my friend," Josiah said solemnly, raising his hand in the formal greeting of Ko-Je's people. "I am grateful for your willingness to assist me."

"I am honored to be asked," the old man replied. He bowed slightly to Annella, who bowed back respectfully. Josiah had long been baffled by the careful balance maintained between his father's white staff and his hired hands from the Indian reservations, and why his father would bother hiring those he considered savages unsuitable for his presence. The Indians on staff were not permitted to set foot in the house itself, nor were they allowed to show their faces without specifically being sent for. One might assume Ramiro Sanchez would forbid them on his staff at all, until they considered that legally he could pay them a mere fraction of what he would be required to pay a white man.

Ko-Je had only been approved as Josiah's tutor because the old man had been assistant to one of the province's most historic professors, and as such possessed a fine education himself in numbers and science. Ramiro had been hard-pressed to find a scholar equaling the man's knowledge anywhere within the surrounding provinces, and was unable to convince any he considered qualified to travel to Maryland, and so reluctantly agreed to allow the savage to teach his children. The man still wasn't allowed to enter the house proper, but gave his instruction in a small schoolroom that had been set up off the servant quarters.

Ko-Je had been a bit intimidating at first, but it wasn't long before Josiah had found in him a friend and confidant. The old man knew much more than simple science and mathematics, and Josiah found himself engaged in discussions on art and philosophy, history and literature. Ko-Je told stories of faraway lands with strange and wondrous peoples and cultures, and could expound on both the popular beliefs of Unitas as well as those of the surrounding countries of Mexico and Canada, the Negroes and his own people. Josiah had well understood Ko-Je's insistence that Ramiro not learn of their expanded discussions, as the older Sanchez would never have approved of his son learning anything beyond the selected courses.

Ezra's Story