A Wish for Hope

Chapter Thirteen
(Esgalia)

The fox people from Gernord told a really strange story of how they came to be.  I was glad to hear their history, as it sounded a lot worse than our own.  They however spoke of our situation as being tolerable, and I let them know that we did not want to be fox people at all, even if blessed with a more responsive body.

My group stayed up late discussing our situation and our options.  We definitely did not have the history of Gernord.  What was said by the group had me prepared to seek answers, so I moved out when someone mentioned Honored Duchess Jelnaya heading to the practice field.

There were men standing around.  Most had introduced themselves, so I did not fear them.  What bothered me were some men not of Davelda moving up to engage the duchess before I could speak to her.

Baron Horgulse said, “Honored Duchess, were you given any advice this morning?”

She picked up another practice sword then began juggling the two as she replied, “Of course.  None in my family are known for sleeping.  When I rose from my bed I had my attendant letting me know that my grandmother and aunt were wanting to speak to me.”

“May I ask what your decision was?”

“I am going to leave for Chetorly this afternoon.  That gives time for the rest of my barons to demand my time.  Assuming they do not, it will have me arriving in Chetorly probably when they are not expecting me, so I might discover something.  Note that I am more than pleased with the work done by those from Davelda, but I am surprised that others have not come seeking to gain a position.”

“There could be a lot of reasons, Honored Duchess.  Still, let me say that I am pleased with what I have learned about you.”

She stopped juggling, then walked up to the man to say, “I have my personality, Horgulse, but that should be true of everyone.  I expect each of my vassals to have their personalities.  What you better not doubt is my commitment to Fergush or even Samayer.  It is not what advice I get that should concern you, but what I am told to do by the gods.”

“And what have the gods told you?”

“That I’m getting good advice.”

“And yet they won’t tell you why you even need that advice.”

The wooden swords were dropped with me barely registering the movement of the point of her actual sword to the neck of the baron.  “I don’t believe you understand this.  I am getting the impression that you think I am some type of weapon, that I am Fergush’s little slaughtering machine.  I am going to rule this land.  I am going to give you good advice.  Your heirs are in fact going to seek my advice because they will grow up knowing how wonderfully wise I am.  I don’t just kill people, but act to solve problems.”  It shocked me to find a dagger sink into the ground in front of me.  “That is why the fox people are here.  They have a problem and they want me to solve it.  If you are thinking I am Fergush’s little mouthpiece and executioner, you better change your mind about me right now.”

The man worked to keep himself from choking with the point of the weapon at his throat while saying, “Astoch will ever stay strong, Honored Duchess.”

The blade went back in its scabbard before Honored Duchess Jelnaya replied, “As will I.  Now, you are my vassal, so there should be a trust between us.  If you ever wish to confront me, or simply watch as I go about my business, feel free to be a polite, friendly, or annoying shadow.  I did not kill you, and I won’t.  Hopefully I also will not feel the need to be so dramatic to make my points.”

“Uh, yes.  What I was going to ask, Your Honored Grace, is whether you would desire for me to recommend people for you.”

“I have an attendant.  Actually, it is one of the immortals of Davelda, but I do trust them and she asked for the position.  Her name is Merilay.  At the moment I would say let her know of any applicants.  You do have the right to speak to me, but at present I would just refer them to Merilay.”

“I see.  Thank you, Your Honored Grace.  Just so you know, my quarters were rather disgusting.  I was grateful that another room was made available.  I am thinking about leaving some here to continue the cleaning work while I return to my home to get more.  With your leave, Your Honored Grace.”

No sooner did Duchess Jelnaya say some kind words to the man, than I found her to approach me and retrieve her dagger.  “Now, Esgalia, what do you want?”

I attempted to stand straight as I replied, “We do not want to go to Gernord.  We want to return to being human.  Whether or not we desire to return to our world is right now questionable.”

“No.”  I stayed erect with shock, although was glad she said more.  “If you had been sent to, or simply found yourself working with, someone else, maybe those words would be enough.  I however am a divine champion.  If you are going to stay here, you are going to have to accept the gods of this world.  I’ll dump you back on your world in a heartbeat otherwise.”

Thinking quickly, I replied, “But, Honored Duchess, that answer would also apply should I have spoken in favor of joining the other fox people.”

“Yes.  Aunt Neselle is a divine champion as well.  Those fox people with her are that way because the Goddess of her world made them that way.”  Yes, that had been told to me.  “The only way you would have been allowed to become like them is if you accept the Goddess of Gernord.”

“Then we have no choice?”

“Right.  You know what happened to the Privileged?”  It was a rhetorical question, as she just kept talking.  “Another group of people bothered by them actually had someone committed to a god of their world.  That is who sponsored me wiping out the Privileged.”

Actually, that is what I had been told, although I had to admit why we had discounted one option as a solution.  “But we really don’t know who our gods are.”

“Well, I have some bad news for you.  I don’t give a damn who is in charge of your reality.  If you care about your fate, you, or someone in your group, is going to have to figure out some things.”

Those words hurt.  I had some counters to what I expected her to say, but hearing a complete lack of concern for offering us hope silenced me.  Some in my group did want to go with the other fox people.  Some did see a future in staying here in this land.  I expected to work out a compromise with Honored Duchess Jelnaya.  Hearing words that there would not be a compromise had me feel despair.

I softly said, “Maybe in continuing to work with you will we find our answer.”

“My god is Fergush, He-Who-Fights.  You want my help, you stay in this.”

I could not believe what she said.  She had given me permission to continue to work with her.  Suddenly I found hope in my situation.  I saw her smile as if able to see the relief in my features, and I listened closely to what she said.

“Listen, Esgalia, I want you and your group to pay attention to things.  Small things.  Details in paintings.  Pieces of minor statuary.  What I want you to inform me of is anything that really bothers you.  Not as in you do not understand, but as in you clearly understand what is being represented and you would not want something like that in your home.  Whatever happened here is actually beyond my comprehension, so your alternate history and situation could give you the benefit of seeing what I do not.”

I almost turned with the need to inform the others, but then I considered what I truly wanted to do.  “Honored Duchess, what if I traveled with you?”

“I’m not going into a different or better situation, Esgalia.  You heard me say that I can’t comprehend what happened here.  This is just a castle, a home.  People do strange things, especially in the privacy of their homes.  Where I will be going is to a church.  People do not do things like happened here in a church, at least you would not think so.  I definitely would not think so.  I probably need you there more than here.”

Actually feeling some joy, I said, “That is good.  You said that you were not going until after lunch.  Good.  Good.  I’ll be ready.”

I ran to where I thought my companions were.  Seeing them closer, I had to stop to change directions to go to them.  No one ran up to meet me, but I saw a serious expression on my wife as if she was mad at me.

It brought me some comfort to hear Motorgy and not my wife ask, “What did the Honored Duchess say, Esgalia?”

I answered, “She said that one of us could go with her when she leaves.”

My wife shot back, “Why should we have someone go with her?”

“Because she has her own problem.  We have to make our own decision.”

“What decision, Esgalia?  We want to be restored to being human.”

Considering my wife and others had followed me, I felt a little bad admitting, “We didn’t go to someone to be restored, Keleaf.  We went to the person who stopped the Privileged.”

“But, who else could we go to?”

I was glad to hear Kertoll answer that question.  “Our gods.  Honored Duchess Jelnaya and Honored Neselle are not people who can change us, Keleaf.  They however are champions for gods, who can do anything.”

Since it was my wife who would need to be convinced, I took over speaking.  “Their gods however aren’t our gods.  Even if we were changed back, where would we go?  If we go with the other fox people, we will need to worship the Goddess of their world.”

It did not surprise me to Keleaf say, “Why would we need to do that?”

“Because that is why we need to do that!  The Privileged could do what they did because we did not have any divine protection.”

“Esgalia, the gods would not have helped us!”

“Keleaf, who do you think did help us?  Honored Duchess Jelnaya stopped the Privileged, and she works for a god.”

Kertoll supported me by saying, “Basically, a god did help us.”

It was Veransh, Kertoll’s wife, who said, “The problem, Esgalia, is that we really cannot remember who our gods were.”

With her body shaking from being so angry, Keleaf spewed, “Unnorry did not save our child!  She did not help us!”

While I was glad to hear Motorgy speak, it surprised me that he did.  “Unnorry?  Yes, Esgalia.  Unnorry was the goddess of ancestry.  We were –“

“SHE DIDN’T HELP US!”

“Keleaf, Honored Duchess Jelnaya didn’t either.  She didn’t stop the Privileged for us, but for others.”

I said, “Yes, Keleaf.  She said the Privileged picked on a group of people who had turned to a god.   That is why she was called in to act.  Not for us.”

Probably to help provide an option, Livoyne asked, “Besides Unnorry, is there a god we could turn to?  I cannot remember the gods.”

Looking at my wife, I did not feel her anger had subsided.  She did politely stay quiet as the others spoke of their efforts to remember our gods.  I believe most of us felt disturbed by our efforts to recall things of our lives.  It was clear that we now not only were partial foxes, but we seemed to only recall things basic in our lives, which did not include religious or political topics.  I was proud of my wife for allowing us to have the conversation, although I was not surprised when she firmly stated her displeasure in our conclusion.

“I cannot pray to Unnorry.”

Kertoll replied, “We cannot think of anyone else, Keleaf.  It’s not like we want to spite you, but we cannot think of anyone else.”

“She took my baby from me.”

“Gods don’t do that, Keleaf.  At least not without reason.”  While I could not see my wife’s face turn red due to the hair covering her features, her anger was very visible from the hair coming out straight from her body.  “Listen, Keleaf, there had to be a reason.  If Unnorry comes to our help –“

My wife turned to me and demanded, “What are you going to do about this?”

“Go with Honored Duchess Jelnaya,” I quickly replied.

Trypolk said, “Yes, Keleaf.  There were baby bones found down below.  That door the angel guards, a whole well of baby bones were found.  Surely there is a connection.  Let Esgalia continue his work, and maybe some explanation, maybe an apology, and definitely some explanation from Unnorry.”

I had to say, “Keleaf, there is no other solution.  These are not our people, our gods, or our ways.  What answers they find could well not be our answers.  I am sorry, but if Unnorry is the only one of our deities we can remember, we will need to seek her.”

My wife screamed, “IT’S NOT FAIR!”

Livoyne replied, “Please, Keleaf, don’t make us argue against that.  We can agree with you, but also seek our resolution.”

“Esgalia, an apology.  Tell Unnorry that I demand an apology.”

I had to reply, “Me?  You tell her, Keleaf.  Don’t turn your anger on us.  Have Unnorry hear you.  Please, Keleaf, she might be our only hope, so we need her to hear us.”

Livoyne said, “I will be apologizing, Keleaf.  If I am the one to get to Unnorry to respond, I will not apologize to you until after we are restored.”

There were soft statements of support for those words.  It did not help me to see the hairs on my wife’s body settle, as I knew how quickly her anger could flame.  I could well sense the vile in the statement she made.

“And after we are restored?”

I believe Trypolk hoped to support his wife as he said, “We will need to assure our place with the gods, and hopefully we will remember others than Unnorry.”

“Esgalia, we lost a lot of lives, not just our child.”

I said, “I know, Keleaf.  Why I did not lose you, I do not know, but you are my wife.  I not only hear your pain, but I feel it.  Please, Keleaf, trust that I know.”

“You are right, Esgalia.  Our life is not here, nor on that other world.  We need to find our lives.  I accept you will continue to work with Honored Duchess Jelnaya.  We sought her seeking our restoration.  If she is not denying us then we need to continue to assume she is our guide.”

“Thank you, Keleaf.”

And Jelnaya does get started to resolving her problem.