A Wish for Hope

Chapter Fourteen
(Jelnaya)

I found myself wondering what the king was doing when I left my castle only to come across one of the armies I attacked.  By now the bodies were stinking.  It was not the smell that bothered me however, but the monsters that were feasting among the corpses.  While the sight of the people I had slaughtered still disturbed me, I attacked the creatures of malignancy with joy.

There really was not anyone traveling with me.  Vulge did, but he lectured me about his duty to specifically apply to occasions when I went to visit other men.  I gave him serious explanations of where he was and how I would do what I wanted in my realm, but it did not surprise me when he continued to travel with me.  I did not have the company of Merilay, even though she actually had a service to perform.  While I took pride in being able to care for myself, I accepted that as a noble I needed someone to help track certain people and events, as well as help with some of the fancier outfits I had to wear.  She had been left at my castle to oversee what garments could be found down in the large storage area beneath my castle.  The only other one with me was Esgalia, but I attacked to assure even the fox person that there was nothing to fear when traveling with me.

While not a large lady, I had enough size to pull some stunts.  Simply to have fun, I took a coil of rope from the corpse of a horse.  Making a loop, I had it go around a foot of one monster.  My original intent had been to catch a hand, but the creature lifted his lower appendage as if to squash me and I put the rope around it.  I then used a dagger more defensively as I darted around it and another vile beast.  With a few passes they were confined together making it easy and fun to use NeverRose to remove their heads in one single stunt.

Looking for more monsters, I saw a group of men wearing the violet and black of my northern barony, which I felt needed to be pointed out to them.  “You should not be here.  I am headed to Chetorly, actually the church, and that is in the opposite direction of Vytech.”

A young man honestly not dressed in the manner of having any status said, “Honored Duchess,” before leading the entire company in taking a kneeling position.  “We spent time with King Relecky, Your Honored Grace, as he headed to Lecholt.  We had turned to visit Phanigist.”

I thought for a moment, then said, “I would invite you to go with me, but these bodies need to be buried.  You just got the job.”

The young man rose to say, “That would be good for the men, but I ask to accompany you, Your Honored Grace.  I am Prince Mesonch, and I would like to get to know the one who will become my superior.”  He really should not have added, “His majesty said that you were pretty.”

I saw Vulge grinning, so advanced on the young man, let me say that he might have been fifteen, as I said, “You had me lose an argument, Mesonch.  Still, get who should accompany you and come on.”

“Who should accompany me?”

I pointed to the corpses of the monsters as I asked, “Could you have beaten them?”

“No.”

“Good answer.  Now, get at least a couple of men who could keep you alive until I could get to you.”

“I’m not a child.”

I was about to lecture the young man, but Vulge calmly said, “She didn’t speak of your age, Boy, but of your capability to keep yourself alive.  Now, apologize.”

When one soldier said, “You should do as you were told,” I pointed at him and commanded, “You have elected yourself as one of his two.”

Mesonch declared, “He would have been one of..”  I glared at him, but the one I selected also whispered something, so the young man wisely said, “I apologize, Your Honored Grace.”  He also bowed, so I allowed him to finish speaking.  “That one is my bodyguard.  Still, this is a realm to Samayer, so I trust that I would have survived.”

I now pointed to the area of rotting corpses as I stated, “They didn’t.”

“You killed them under divine authority.  I trust that Samayer, Fergush, or any of the other gods have not told you to kill me.”

“I don’t know.  That attitude isn’t working to keep you alive.”

While the bodyguard again whispered for the youth to apologize, he declared, “I will take Captain Bediston as well.”

“No.  The men need an experienced officer.  The work is rather gruesome, and I will demand some accountability for the work done.  You can take the lieutenant, but not the captain.”

“I don’t like the lieutenant.”

I turned to the man to declare, “You have just been selected to watch over this young man just long enough for me to show up and take responsibility for his ass beating.”  Actually pausing to give the lad an opportunity to rant, I whispered to the minor officer, “I’ll apologize to you later.”

The lieutenant bowed, then turned to say, “Prince Mesonch, I will get the horses.”

Mesonch looked to me as he asked, “Do you plan to go around telling us what to do?”

I replied, “I intend on going around and doing what I want to do, or feel it is necessary for me to do.  This is my realm, and I will treat it as my realm.”

“This is Samayer’s realm.”

“Look at those corpses again, then go ahead and tell me that I do not have the authority to do as I damn well please.”  When he wisely did not say anything further, I said, “I am a Champion of Fergush.  That is Samayer’s husband, in case you don’t know.  Further, as you have spoken to King Relecky you might know this, Samayer herself spoke her appreciation for what I did.  Now, do you still want to go with me to the church?”

“Men, you heard our honored duchess.  It is gruesome work, but you saw the monsters that were coming to feed.  We need the bodies buried.  I will be with Honored Duchess Jelnaya.”

As we began riding south, the lad asked me about my horse.  While I did like my new mount, all in my group were on animals from Davelda.  While I did kill those ridden by the military, I did not slaughter those in their stables.  Those in my castle I assumed were killed and eaten by those who took it over, as no horses had shown up seeking to return to their life after being possibly being freed during the invasion.  Sensing something in the lad’s questions, I went ahead and answered a question he did not ask.

“His name is Esgalia.  I gained a good bit of my fame, and honor with Fergush, from travels to other worlds.  He is a complication to my recent situation, but I am never against a challenge.”

The lad asked, “There are worlds with foxes for people?”

“The answer to your question is, ‘yes,’ but that does not apply to Esgalia.  He is a normal person who was transformed by some method into a fox person.  He wants to be restored.  His problem is that I am not someone who can do things like that, and at the moment I have other greater problems facing me.  He is with me because we both believe there is some other greater problem behind this situation, and while we are looking for answers we not going to discount from what source they come.”

It was the prince’s bodyguard that said, “What you are saying, Honored Duchess, is that he believes the situation here could provide answers to his own questions.”

“What I am saying is that you don’t ever, ever, stop looking for answers.  Even when you don’t find them, you might find inspiration on what they might be.  My god is He-Who-Fights.  Do not think that a fight is only something you do physically to draw blood from another.  Esgalia and his people are involved in a fight as well, and I will honor them as long as they continue to take on the challenge presented to them.”

“Prince Mesonch, your father would support those words.”

The lad replied, “I know what my father would do, Jember.”

Those from Davelda would quote little adages.  They had annoyed me when I was young.  Even now I did not like hearing them, but I stayed quiet when they were said.  What I found myself appreciating was Vulge staying quiet when those with Mesonch quoted adages to their prince.

I cannot say that I had any special senses, but I did keep an active watch around me.  Being surprised by monsters was not any fun, and I agreed with those that spoke against those who did not work to stay alert.  All I could say was that I heard something clearly not a noise made by the surrounding horses or birds, so spun to grab my bow while dropping from Rubber.

It felt good seeing my horse hold its position.  I wanted a little more spritely mount than my last one, but simply having one that moved about would not be good.  The training I requested from Brullusk seemed to have taken a hold on Rubber, and I patted its flank to let it know I was pleased with it.

Some might call the monster that flew over a dragon.  On most worlds the grand winged reptiles were normal creatures designed by gods.  I heard the rattle of long scales acting like feathers from the front arms, not separate wings like a real dragon.  A foul smell also accompanied the passing of the monster overhead, so I felt no problem in sending a couple of arrows at it.

Seeing the wings work to redirect the flight from wherever it had been going, I jumped back on Rubber telling it to trust me.  Coming out of some trees seeing clear grassland, I moved to stand on the saddle while commanding my mount to keep going.  One arrow to assure the monster had its focus on me.  A second one to try and get it mad.  When I saw it stop turning to set me as a target and open its mouth to possibly breathe, I pulled a special arrow and released before dropping back down into the saddle.

If the monster was smart, it would have fled.  Having it fly off would not have made me happy, but I was having to admit to myself that I could not spend time chasing various problems.  I however was the divine champion for He-Who-Fights, and wanted my people to know that I would not allow a threat to go unchallenged.  While I really did not have time to chase the monster, I had the hope of the special arrow having the creature seek to harm me.  Seeing the mouth of the monster contort as it found the head of my projective to be more than just a simple point, I smiled seeing it focus with an intent to remove the threat I presented to it.

Rubber proved itself to be a good mount when it darted in one direction even as I jumped to move in another.  I did not have time to practice tactics with my new horse, but only hoped that it would respond as commanded.  What I set as my concern was the actions of the flying creature.  I had chosen the moment to jump from Rubber when the monster began a dive.  It now had to adjust its descent if it was to get me, although now being on the ground it also had to concern itself with what more moves I might make.  I went low to assure it came very close to the ground, although if it saw me smile it should have considered going after some other prey.

As a rear talon came for me, I jumped to send NeverRose into a bone of the leg.  Knowing that I had cut muscles to the feet, I grabbed the rear appendage not afraid of the claws closing on me.  I climbed on the foot then lifted my body along the leg to send my sword into more tissue.  Having the other rear appendage come to me only had me hurt it.  With the front appendages working as the wings, I did not fear them being used against me.  Having the creature spin while working the hurt legs to have them toss me to the mouth should have been a death sentence, except I had another weapon on my person.  Even though being flung into the air, I had enough control to sheathe my sword while pulling the drahaberd.  When the mouth came for me, it closed upon two divinely enchanted blades.

Coming back to the ground was always a concern when fighting an aerial opponent.  I could not say that I had actually killed this creature, so was even more worried.  Its legs were hurt, and its mouth was cut, but the wings and body were still in good condition.  Leaving the drahaberd in place, I pulled NeverRose while sliding out from between the jaws.  Setting my feet to push myself from the teeth, I launched myself to send the blade into the chest.  Slicing through the muscles powering the wings I felt us begin dropping to the ground, and I prepared for a rough landing.

I worked to find a place near a shoulder where I hoped most of the impact would be absorbed.  Seeing clouds and ground move past as the monster tumbled I knew there was no way to plan for the landing.  All I could do is pull out a gem I actually did not like using while hoping the body around me would take most of the damage.

One advantage of being a divine champion was that my body would heal rather quickly.  I had started this life with just the energy of youth.  Many however told me that if Fergush had not granted me the blessings he had that I would be feeling some stunts for the rest of my life.  I rose soaking wet from the use of the cloud stone to move away from the body of the monster feeling the damage I had sustained and thanking my deity for the honor of being his divine champion.

As I made my cut into the heart to perform my sacrifice to Fergush, Mesonch came up to say, “You weren’t scared of doing that?”

“Scared of doing that?” I replied.  “I am more scared of what might happen should no one do this.  The fact that I have a duty to stop threats like that only fills me with joy.”

“My father would fuss at me if I tried to do something like that.”

“You think you could have done something like that?”

“How did you learn to do that?”

I actually felt it was a good question.  Not that I wanted to teach the lad, but simply that he realized he needed some instruction I considered to indicate he had a brain.  I thus gave him an honest answer to his question.

“Half is having the audacity to do something like that.  The other half was having family who had done things like that to inspire me with their stories.  Actually surviving the first few times was probably luck, but I came away from those successes with the attitude of having learned something, although not learning enough.  I found that when I bragged of what I did, there were others who would compare what they did to what I did, and I learned enough to help me survive the next time.”

“I don’t have those people to go to for advice.”

“In a world like this, where there are a multitude who worship Fergush, you have to have someone.  I did not grow up on this world.  It is my great-uncle, the man responsible for the other side of my family, that is from Sennapre and who worshipped Fergush.  You are here.  Fergush is a god of this world.  Fergush is the husband of the goddess who has a church in this realm.  Don’t tell me you cannot find anyone to speak to about doing stunts like this.”

It bothered me to see confusion on his face as he replied, “Not everyone wants to follow the paths of the gods.”

“Most people seek the gods to support their own paths.  I wanted this life, and did not agree to serve Fergush until he assured me of certain things.  If you have a path, surely there is a god that will be willing to accept you.  I mean, this realm is to She-Who-Survives.  Simply asking for her to keep you going along whatever path you want to walk should not be a problem.”

Having him draw a sword and charge me took me by surprise.  I simply avoided his attack, then punched him on the jaw.  Seeing that my little female fist did not stop him, I spoke before the lad could prepare for another charge.

“Fergush, I hope you are not going to tell me to kill the boy.  I am now the ruler of this realm, and Mesonch is the son of one of my vassals.  He is someone I should want to protect.”

It was not the masculine voice of my god, but the feminine tones of his wife that said, “You are correct, Jelnaya, so he may survive.”

Instead of me needing to apply another punch, I saw the head of a mace come around to clang against the lad’s helmet.  While the weapon was deadly, it was not used in the manner of inflicting deadly harm.  Yes, Mesonch went down, but I saw no blood even as the one who wielded the mace knelt.

“Please, Honored Duchess, should anyone need death, let it be me.”

I informed the bodyguard, “Samayer said he could survive.  If I were you, I would work to assure she did not change her mind.”

He rose to look over the lad while saying, “Thank you for assuring the command.  I understood should you be given the command, but… but… but offering myself is the only option I had.”

“Really, Fergush is not He-Who-Slaughters.  I did not seek him out because I wanted to kill people.  I would much rather kill monsters.  Killing that dragon-like thing I fully enjoyed.  I could do that all day without any problem.  People, no.  It bothers me to kill people.”

Since Jember thanked me again, I could well understand his surprise when the point of NeverRose went to his neck before I asked, “Now, tell me, do you agree with what he said?”

He was understandably frightened, so I waited for him to finally say something after stuttering.  “I agree with what you said, Your Honored Grace.  Should we feel led upon a path, there will be a god to turn to for a blessing.”

“Think.  Think hard.  I had to kill people over this.  Why would Mesonch have said that?”

“I don’t know, but we were at the temple not very long ago – probably a day before you.  We weren’t heading home, but someplace else.  King Relecky found us at a camp I had established after the prince dropped from some reason.  He seems to be better, but he also has not said why he suddenly collapsed.”

The tip of my blade did not move as I asked, “Did you go with Mesonch into the temple?”

“No, Your Honored Grace.  I did not think he should need my services in a temple to She-Who-Survives.”

“And what would you say of me interrogating him?”

“Honestly, Your Honored Grace, if you knew his father you would not have asked that question.  Baron Neglest can be rather hard in his discipline.”

I was surprised to see Vulge with some rope, but signaled for the coil to be thrown to the bodyguard while commanding.  “Tie him up.  We need to get on to the church.  Right now I doubt I could ask any questions of value.  I am thus going to save Mesonch until I hopefully learn some things.”

Jelnaya has to deal with another mess she left behind.