To Face the Ugly Deed
I rushed back to where Albroth was held expecting trouble. It surprised me to see him still tied up. He looked at me and smiled as if he felt superior to me, although seeing the crowd that came behind me I believe Albroth realized that he was in trouble.
As if attempting to assert his own importance, he asked, “What did you find out?”
I replied, “Are you even human?”
“I am beyond that.”
“I’m sorry, did you just say that you were irredeemable? The wives you gave us, we rescued their souls. They seem to be good ladies, so I must thank you for mine. Just killed a horse however, and it was not a horse. What about you?”
In a very serious manner, Albroth admitted, “No. I am not human. If you would have checked, your wives were not human either.”
I heard the voice of a lady say, “Don’t let him fool you, Nebard. They did things to us to improve our appearance, but we were human. Jelnaya said nothing about finding us, our souls, different than what she saw of us.”
“Now that I think about it, she’s right, but you just got lucky. Could have been a skunk lady that I put in the body of your wife.”
Attempting to make sense of things, I was glad to hear Makinor say, “I found the skins of men. I assume that you first put them into the skins of horses?”
“Wolves. It is a predator species, so easy for most to make their first kill. Most societies also accept those as potential pets or hunting companions. Those that make a kill get to become horses. A little more of a challenge to make a kill, but it is very possible. Horses that make a kill get to join us.”
That started a number of people talking. Albroth seemed pleased with the commotion. I allowed the people to make comments and ask questions of each other while I looked over the bonds. As the people began to become quiet, I felt Albroth intended to start them talking again by making a comment.
“If that girl was still with you, she might be able to tell you something.”
I signaled to those around me to stay quiet as I listened to my goddess, then smiled as I relayed the information. “For your information, Jelnaya was invited here. She is presently doing one of the things she was chosen to do for us.”
“Oh, and what is that?”
“Verify some information.”
“And what would you need verified?”
I heard the voice of the lady being discussed state, “The horses were transformed people.”
Albroth smugly replied, “I already told them that.”
Jelnaya took a position behind me to face the crowd as she explained, “What Albroth is doing is corrupting people. He does not just alter people’s bodies, but their souls. When I said that the horses were transformed people, I did not learn that from dissecting the body, but from fighting their souls. Their souls were moving about on four legs and had tails.”
I said, “Albroth said that they first became wolves.”
She replied in a voice not meant to carry, “This is corruption, Nebard. We are not talking about magic transforming people. We are not talking about fancy devices doing wondrous medical procedures. This is more than that.”
Albroth said, “She is correct. What you destroyed was our own attempts to gain some control over our lives. Of course, we have a lot of control already.”
I saw his body contort. What I had feared would have happened in my absence suddenly occurred before my eyes. Albroth’s body appeared to blur. I felt it became something slimy and gross, although the transformation enabled him to shed his bonds. As if I suddenly regained focus on him, he appeared again in human form before rushing past Jelnaya. She watched as he moved from our reality to another. I saw the action, and strangely found my goddess also telling me to stay still even as the other divine champion reacted.
“Jelnaya!” Makinor shouted while advancing. “Did you just let him get away?”
She replied, “He went back to where we gained him. Probably is going to warn the others. We are probably going to need to wipe them out, but that is not our fight.”
“Not our fight?”
I saw the lady look to me as she said, “This is probably going to be something to brag about. Are you ready, Nebard?”
My reply was simply a repeat of what I heard in my head. “No. We’re not ready yet, Jelnaya. At least, I’m not. I’m told to go home and rest.”
Makinor exclaimed, “REST?”
Jelnaya returned, “Oh, come on, Makinor! Don’t tell me Onathia is stupid.”
“Onathia, stu – Okay, Jelnaya, she is advising that I should wait as well. However, she is not telling me why.”
“Who do you think I am, or who I worship? Listen to me, Makinor. I plan on one day striding into a grand dining room among a multitude of heroes and champions and having them listen in awe to my stories. Well, this is one of those stories.”
Makinor simply stood still for a moment, then asked, “Just what are we going to fight, Jelnaya?”
“What did we just fight? Think about what you just fought, Makinor. We are going to go up against something that can transform the soul of a person.”
He appeared confused for a moment, then exclaimed, “Oh, that’s just gross, Jelnaya!”
“Yes, but it stresses the point that we need to protect the people. Let’s get our rest and spend time with our deities. We need to be as prepared as we can be.”
I had to ask, “How much time do we have?”
“Spend some time with your wife, Nebard. Honestly, I am going to give Albroth time to rally his group and attack us. If we make morning without that happening, I feel we will have the time to make our own attacks.”
Having Makinor stop me, I felt he was just going to comment on the coming fight. He however looked at me with a puzzled expression. Accepting that he was a fellow champion of a goddess of love, I found myself wondering what would be bothering him. I then thought of what one of the ladies said, so spoke a comment to the other divine champion besides Makinor.
“Jelnaya, were you able to recognize the ladies you rescued? I mean, their souls. Were their souls the same as them?”
She looked to the ladies, then said, “I guess. I really cannot say that I paid – Well, I did remember your wife. Oh, and Kairsy. Both of them were partially free, and I remembered them reaching out to me.”
“I ask because you mentioned the souls being changed. They however said that things about them were improved. Did they improve the souls?”
“No, but the experience probably did. Just as whoever is managing this creates situations having people condemn themselves, those that resist can find their souls improved. The ladies were resisting with some showing success at freeing themselves. That speaks well of them, Nebard.”
We men spoke well of our wives. I agreed with the others that we needed to spend time with them. The ladies said things to support that decision. As I went off with Eashae, I heard her remind me of something she had said earlier.
“We are going to have a wonderful child, Nebard. His soul cried out for me, and it was in that way I gained the strength to start pulling myself free. I know it is probably not your way, but if we have a girl, could I name her Jelnaya.”
“There are a lot of considerations in a name, Eashae. Still, names for ladies can be almost anything. It is not unusual for us to gain ladies from other tribes, so strange names for ladies is common. With a boy, there are traditions.”
“So you are not against it?”
I heard the surprise in her voice, so said, “Let us see how this situation goes. My goddess did seek Jelnaya, and she is proving herself. To name a girl after her can be accepted.”
“I was not changed much, Nebard. I really did look this way.”
Those words were spoken softly. I simply grabbed my wife and held her close to me. As she comfortably moved with me, I said some soft words to her.
“I wasn’t changed at all. Are you complaining?”
“Then let us both accept that we love each other as we are. Let us raise our children loving them the way they are.”
She had me stop so she could kiss me, then said, “And do not let whatever happens change you, Nebard.”
“No. That is not my promise, but Quafrey’s. She is saying that I have things to learn, but she will protect me. Unlike Jelnaya, I am not seeking battles to brag about. I am simply doing what is necessary to protect my people. I want to end my life knowing that I can move on to an existence where I can share in the love of others.”
“I cannot remember who the gods were of where I came from. Maybe that was why we could be taken. Still, I will gladly claim Quafrey.”
“Yes, I cannot remember really caring about the gods. I think on what I would do, like those raids, and wonder why we did not pray to a fighting god. I however also do not get the feeling that the gods of this world are that caring. Quafrey says that there are things for me to learn, but now is not the time. Right now I need to set an example for our town, and do things to protect it. Part of setting an example is being a good husband to you, Eashae, but I had planned on doing that anyway. I chose you as the lady I wanted as my wife, and I want you to see me as the best husband possible.”
She rushed ahead to open the door to our house. Eashae stepped over the threshold, then knelt as she spoke of welcoming me home. I really did not feel that action was proper, so walked up to the house speaking rough words.
“You are not my slave, Eashae.”
“No, but I made promises to you, Nebard. I became your wife not from any regular commitment, but as a prize. I could have been your slave. You took me for a wife, and spoke of your love for me, but I also understood that I had made promises. I will do things like this to let you know that I intend to keep them. I am your wife, although more than the bonds of marriage there are the promises I made to have you claim me. There are things I will demand from you, but I recognize that there will be times when you have other demands weighing you down. I am letting you know that right now I will help ease your mind and body. I am also letting you know that I will let you claim the other promises. I accept you not just as my husband, but as someone I will come to love and treasure.”
I had her rise while saying, “I hope I can recognize when you are particularly stressed. Still, I would rather you spend time speaking to me instead of kneeling to me.”
“We were talking.”
“Making promises, not demands. If you have a demand, I would hope you are just as willing to let me know.”
“You are a champion for a goddess of love. If you continue to love me, I believe that I will never have demands.” She kissed me, then said something that actually had me start to relax. “If I have something I want you to do, I will let you know, Nebard. Right now, you need to rest. As your wife, I get to do things to you and for you. I will do them gladly. Now, husband, take off your clothes.”
Some good advice before going into battle is usually worth listening to.