To Face the Ugly Deed
I would have been happy in the barn, but Lord Thamoss showed me a room that he admitted had been for his oldest girl before she married. While I had no complaints about being female, I looked at the things in the room with my usual acceptance of having a life quite different than most ladies. I however found an outfit in the closet that I felt would look good on me along with stating that I would not resist being seen as a member of the community.
It was the lord of the house that came to claim me for dinner. He complimented me on my choice of garments. While the words might have simply been gracious, I felt they were said honestly enough and I was not in a mood to be antagonistic. I took his arm signaling my acceptance of his company, and he escorted me down the hall to the dining room.
He brought me over to where Makinor drank something while watching the fire, then asked a question I felt Lord Thamoss had been saving. “Was Nebard’s promotion to being a divine champion anything like what happened with the two of you?”
I answered, “I don’t believe there is a single process. I know Fergush took some work to get me to accept him. He however knew my family, so had every reason to know of me. With my great-uncle being a devotee to Fergush, I had done things to show some respect to the deity. I think it was because of my reluctance to accept his offer that he gave me this hair. Of course, I have done everything to make these red and yellow locks an advantage to my reputation.”
Makinor said, “My story is not like that at all, Jelnaya. My family gave their allegiance to Debogda, so I was almost made to feel like a traitor in turning to Onathia. You cannot believe how many people asked me why Onathia. As a man they told me to turn to Onathia’s husband, He-Who-Assigns. Well, Onathia mentioned she had a use for me, and I honestly preferred her teachings to those of Debogda. As a man in the service of the goddess, I have been able to go places her ladies could not. I am hoping this mission will make me even more useful to She-Who-Loves.”
“Well, my Grandfather Terish is just dangerous, and my father gained control of a company that sells weapons of war. Me and my siblings either accepted the path of our family or did their best to ignore it. After traveling on my own and gaining some confidence, I sought Grandfather Terish, and he put me on the path that led to Fergush wanting me. My oldest brother is getting our family’s business, but I am getting the stocks. The word is thus out that if Balerk does not continue the family line then a champion of a warrior god gets to be in charge of a major weapon industry, which will not be good.”
“Your family makes siege engines?”
“No, Makinor. If Onathia wants you to get deadly, have her send you to me for a week. I will show you deadly. I will have you meet my father and listen to him brag on the kill power of what his company produces. Might let you meet my Grandfather Terish as well.”
His glance to me had me suspect another question, but he instead said, “After this mission I will see if Onathia will reveal more of her path for me, Jelnaya. In a proper arrangement of things, I believe She-Who-Loves will again simply have a champion of He-Who-Fights join me should things truly have a possibility of getting deadly.”
I felt that was enough of that topic, so turned to our host to ask, “Lord Thamoss, how many gods are active in managing your world?”
He answered, “Oh, more than we have been able to count. We try to give our gods some respect, but really find their influence to be minor. It does help our appreciation of them to know when things get desperate they tend to prove themselves, although I remember many times when we were simply praying to any god whose name we could remember hoping to find the one who considered our troubles within their influence.”
“So, no champions?”
“At all that I know of. What happened to Nebard was a definite surprise.”
Being that he was a champion of Onathia, Makinor did not surprise me when he said, “You are very lovely, Jelnaya. You do not think we will be needing to fight?”
His eyes went wide feeling the point of a dagger at his throat with me saying, “Never think I am not deadly, Makinor. This hair I have is not a wig. It is a warning about how dangerous I am, and you better not disrespect Fergush by saying otherwise.” I put the blade back on my left thigh where I had a scabbard set while saying, “Still, I appreciate the compliment.”
“Well, my point was to ask you when you felt a need to get back into your armor. I do have armor as well, and it takes its time to put on.”
Lord Thamoss said, “A very good question, Makinor.”
I answered, “Tonight. When all of you are thinking of climbing into bed, I am going to put my armor on. The horses are important, and I believe they are going to be active in some manner tonight.”
Makinor said, “I will be with you, Jelnaya.”
“Let me warn you that once this starts, it will probably go on.”
He smiled as he replied, “Love can be the same way.”
“Then you better be prepared to stay up tonight.”
Lord Thamoss asked, “What if nothing happens?”
“Hopefully, we will have an idea why.”
One big difference in my policies with Fergush and those of Onathia was that I could lie. I do not mean that my god supported deception, but it was a recognized tactic. While I mentioned tonight, I had demonstrated to Makinor that I still considered myself a serious threat. The mission might have been instigated by a goddess of love, but she had recognized the need for someone who could fight. The fact that I continued to carry some weapons with me should have warned him that I felt a need for them. While I told the champion of Onathia that I would be active tonight, what I really meant was that I had no plans on going to bed as I expected trouble at any minute.
Hearing that there was still time before supper, I took advantage of a quiet period to excuse myself to check on my mount. I guess Nebard had also been invited to dine with Lord Thamoss, as I saw him approaching the house with a young lady. I found one difference in Nebard and Makinor was that the local champion had the mentality to hide in order to watch me. When I slipped my bow and some arrows from where it had been placed with the gear from my horse to move them to a place behind some bushes, he excused himself as he stepped forward.
I really had not been concerned about anyone noticing, so did not react in a worried manner when Nebard asked, “Are you expecting to need them?”
I calmly replied, “Can you use a bow?”
“Take it, string it, then send an arrow into that blue flower.”
When he stopped I almost laughed at him for not being able to even string my bow. His glance to me was not of someone incapable, but just of recognizing that he was not dealing with a normal weapon. He looked it over, managed to string it, then pulled an arrow from the quiver. I directed him to a regular stone-tipped projectile telling him that the flower did not have special protections. He changed out the arrows, then released the tension to appraise the projectile. I heard him speak of recognizing its straight shaft and delicate fletchings. I simply replied that I did take pride in the things I fought with. He nodded in a manner of appreciating my words, then again set the arrow with him releasing it this time to send the point through the center of the blue petals.
I did not congratulate him, but simply explained my plan. “According to what you said, your ladies and certain men were aware of what type of mission and reward would be coming up. Supposedly, I rescued the souls of your ladies. However, I did nothing with the men. Either you have men in your community who are missing their souls, or there is a more direct method of giving word. If it is the former then certain men will be making certain proclamations, threats, or movements. If it is the latter, I hope to recognize it and take it on. If you want to claim my bow, please unstring it for the moment, I will move to gain a more direct weapon to confront the messenger.”
Showing that he did have some understanding of the weapon beyond having a good eye, Nebard did unstring the bow with him speaking as he put it back behind the bush. “I know which men to suspect, but I never heard of anyone noticing anyone unfamiliar delivering messages.”
“Then you are doubly the check. I will hesitate should you not release the arrow, and especially if you do not even draw back.”
“I understand Jelnaya.” I thought that would be the end of the conversation, but then he said, “You are out here in that pretty dress and with that colorful hair, and nobody is noticing you?”
I could not help but chuckle as I replied, “All you young men have wives. As pretty as I might be, you men are thinking of other ladies.”
“My wife told me to work with you.”
Wondering about things, I asked, “How did you pick your wife?”
“They opened up a barn, and there were a multitude of women there. They told us we could take any one we wanted, even offered us two. None of us took two, but we all took one. I chose Eashae because I thought she was so lovely. I still do. There was however also the fact that when I went to her she looked to me, and when I asked her if she wanted to be my wife –“
I had to ask, “You asked her?”
“Well –“ I then saw him smile, and with a very cheerful expression he said, “Quafrey also appreciated the fact that I asked her. Eashae however told me that she would be my wife, and always make me happy. She came with me here after promising again that she would keep that promise.”
“I tell everyone that Fergush knew who I was, and did what he could to get me. I believe there was something about you that had Quafrey already looking at you. Who in your family worshipped her?”
A strange expression came to his face, then he said, “My mother. Yeah, as she was the one that told me to love Eashae, then mentioned Quafrey. Yes, Jelnaya, it was my mother.”
“Well, I know nothing of what it would be like to serve a goddess of love. Makinor should be able to help you there. Still, you seem like a good man. Do Quafrey proud.”
“She tells me that I do that by staying with you.”
“I told you not to stay with me, but to keep watch. You know things about this community, so I will trust you to know a real threat from something local. I will look to you for guidance, but staying with me is to fight.”
He still had a cheerful expression as he replied, “Yes, Jelnaya, you’re right. Do what you must.”
One should not be surprised that I had a few weapons. Being the champion of a fighting spirit, I tended to appreciate a variety of methods of being aggressive. I had not begun to collect an arsenal the way my great-uncle and Grandfather Terish had, but I had begun to fill my room with some weapons that I found being used against me with some effectiveness. NeverRose was my sword. I had gained it on my own, and had worked to enchant it. I however had a variety of combat instruments. When I say that I spread my weapons about town, one should not be surprised that the process took me a while.
It was as I spoke to some of the elder females about my training as a lady that I noticed the movement. I politely excused myself, then took off to where I had a flail set. The metal ball connected to a handle by a short length of chain had advantages in that I could manage blows that other weapons would not achieve. The weapon did have some faults, but I had practiced with it enough to feel comfortable when that was the one in place for me to grab as I considered what tactics I would use should the movement become aggressive.
I could not discern exactly what I followed. There was a misty blackness that clearly had a substantial form being concealed. Seeing it act in a manner indicating it recognized my focus upon it, I rushed forward feeling no need to check with anyone local about the one I followed being an invader. Seeing it react to an impact by an arrow I felt to be the authorization for me to do exactly what I already intended.
Usually I do not see my hair glowing. It was only something I heard others say about me. In this case I have to say that it was the radiation from my hair that enabled me to see something like a large weasel beneath the obscuring blackness.
Just being mean I stepped on the tail, then jumped to start a spin in order to assure a good momentum for the head of my flail to impact the top of the creature. The way it responded not only told me that it was hurt by my action, but that it truly was some type of weasel. Wondering about its corpse, I pulled a dagger to perform a cut after the head of my flail again impacted the creature.
I watched as it dissolved. This time I had a sense of where it was going. I recalled the location I had previously worked to learn, and used that information as I saw the breech in realities allowing the essence of the one I attacked to return. Watching the movement, I noticed something that I had not last time, and felt I had gained the clue that told me I need not worry.
Looking to Nebard, I said, “Good shots. It is up to you, but I am going after it. Let me get my weapons.”
“Of course, I’m going,” he said holding out my bow and arrows to me.
From another direction came the voice of Makinor saying, “Count me in as well, Jelnaya. Do you want your horse?”
I replied, “Oh, no. That guy was sneaky, and I feel the need to be sneaky as well. Something is wrong, so I am not going to be storming in.”
“We both tend to have rather showy armor, Jelnaya.”
My thought actually had been to go in what I was wearing. I however remembered this was not my outfit, but one I borrowed. The intent had been to move about as a local. Realizing that I would be going into combat, I thought about what I would wear.
“I have a dark suit of leather. How about you, Makinor?”
“Let me look through my luggage.”
Nebard said, “I have my hunting outfit.”
I replied, “That’s the right attitude. We’re hunting. We’re just hunting the predators, and not the prey.”
Some preliminary matters need to be handled before Jelnaya brings her champions of love into trouble.