To Face the Ugly Deed
I heard a knocking on my door early, and went to it to find Jelnaya there. She mentioned a desire to saddle three of the horses gained, and said I would know the people and possibly how to handle the animals. I told her that I was not certain about those creatures; I did not use the term animal. Jelnaya laughed at my choice of words, then told me it was time for us divine champions to start our day.
Eashae put on a robe and began fixing breakfast. Jelnaya thanked her, presented four squirrels already skinned and gutted to fix later, then mentioned where to find the skins should we desire those. She then told Eashae to also fix something for Makinor before speaking of her plan for the day.
I had to agree with what she said, although after I spoke those words she made a statement that caused me to pause. “Nebard, I believe you were targeted because those of your community did not truly worship your gods.”
Eashae said, “That would be true of those of my home as well.”
I had to admit, “We really did not consider the gods to be important to our lives. We live a really basic existence. We asked nothing of the gods in our daily lives, so expected nothing of them. I believe Quafrey was prayed to because childbirth and finding the right mate was regularly considered important by the women.”
Jelnaya said, “Well, you give honor to Quafrey. She went to find me, and she sponsored your own status. I however also want to say that you might want to encourage the others of the community to learn of the other gods.”
“I believe we have a lot.”
“You believe? What does Quafrey say about it?”
I suddenly was taken by my goddess and given a lecture about the various deities. There were indeed a number of gods in the pantheon of my world. When I came back to be a part of my life, I found Eashae telling me to eat. I looked at the plate of food, but before taking a bite I said what I needed to relate from my goddess.
“Jelnaya, Quafrey says thanks. You seem to be the lady she was told you would be. Oh, and we do have a lot of gods.”
She swallowed what she had in her mouth, then said, “If Fergush was nothing but fight, fight, fight, I never would have accepted him. I keep telling you that I like the guy. I hope you like Quafrey.”
“She’s nice. I don’t know, but when I think of love I think of smothering. There is an honor and pleasantness in her. My times with her have not been smothering at all.” I then looked to my wife and had to say, “Eashae is not smothering either. She is everything she said she would be, but I find her pleasing. I am not smothered by her, but… just… pleased with her.”
I saw my wife smile. The expression made me feel really good. I believe the smile on Jelnaya’s face indicated she caught our expressions, although her words were not to embarrass us.
“Well, good. Listen, you tell Quafrey that I appreciate the freedom she is giving me in doing this job. I feel it is going to get bad, really bad, and I don’t need some smothering goddess limiting my options.”
Eashae asked, “Really bad?”
Jelnaya reached and pulled a locket from a pocket. It appeared to be a delicate work of jade and ivory, but I saw silvery thread set around the pieces holding them in place. I suspected the piece to be for Eashae, but Jelnaya told me to wear it.
She explained, “It will reduce the momentum of incoming attacks. Against normal arrows, it allows me to survive. Against the weapons I suspect could be used against us, you move as you really cannot depend on this thing.”
I had to ask, “How about you?”
“My father’s company makes weapons, really dangerous weapons. He has sold a number because I danced in front of them. What I gave you tends to protect me from a sniper I did not spot. Considering that I plan on going into this situation intending to cause trouble, I hope to have them fearing me. Anyone that shoots at me will die. I’m not worried about me, but about you. It’s my thanks to your goddess. Stay alive, Nebard. I believe this town needs you.”
“What about Makinor?”
“He said he had me on his list of eventual debutants. He has things to learn.”
Eashae asked, “Where is Makinor? I could bring his food to him.”
I ate my food while I listened to Jelnaya explain some details to her plan. It sounded rather audacious to me, but it matched her style. I thus ate my food trusting that the plan had a history of working.
Hearing that a number of other horses had fallen dead after my experience of looking in the eyes of the one, I actually found myself surprised that we found three to saddle. The memory of slaughtering a multitude of strange souls had me believe that I probably killed them all. Hearing a couple of others that also had surviving horses, I found myself told to return with information about their quality as mounts, I looked to the one I was going to saddle wondering about what the animal really was, and how it would react knowing it would be only an animal for the rest of its life and through eternity.
Jelnaya got her horse saddled, then spent time breaking it. The whole time she kept talking to the creature of it needing to accept its fate as a horse. As she simply had the animal carry her through simple movements, she spoke to Makinor who strode up accepting that he would need to break his own mount.
I asked, “What if we breed these with our horses, Jelnaya?”
She replied, “That is a question I would not ponder until we feel this matter is settled. Hopefully, we can find all the answers. At the worst, you should be able to consider those questions with the attitude of curiosity and not concern.”
I really had not broken a horse before, and I climbed into the saddle wondering just how much my experience with animals would help me. Hearing the encouragement from the others, I held my place in the saddle. It calmed rather quickly, and as I began simply directing the horse I mentioned how it handled.
“It seems like a regular horse.”
Jelnaya said, “It better. It better understand that if it acts as anything other than a horse, it will die a horse. It will probably die as a horse anyway, but hopefully it can come to some reconciliation of its fate as time passes.”
Of course we had gained a crowd. Horses were large animals, and what we did to break them required space along with making loud noises. A number spoke out as I gained control of my steed.
While just walking the animal around, I heard Vorling say, “The corpses were not those of regular animals.”
I replied, “What I saw of their souls did not show them as real horses either. Hopefully what we do will provide some answers.”
We spoke some encouragement to Makinor as he broke his animal. We also laughed. He did not show any experience with animals or the strong attitude necessary to overcome the mind of the creature. He did have the mentality to be persistent, so after being thrown once he climbed into the saddle and simply held on. I believe he was as tired as the animal when it finally stopped fighting his presence on its back. As Jelnaya and I had Makinor begin to simply lead the horse around, we heard encouragement from those around us to have a successful mission.
I felt we came out in the same place we arrived once before. Instead of moving toward town, Jelnaya had us move to a nearby building that went up high. Jelnaya easily raced up the stairs, but I was not far behind her. She and I were already scanning the surrounding area when Makinor arrived panting.
Jelnaya took some moments to fill in Makinor on what had been seen. Our position allowed us to have a good view over the security of a line of trees growing before a drop. She spoke of some men on rooves or other high positions in the community below. While Makinor worked to identify those pointed out, Jelnaya took out her bow, then released an arrow. Those that saw their comrade drop lifted weapons to try and locate the sniper, but I guess did not expect anyone from so far away as they received death before spotting us. I had used her bow earlier, and found it to be very well crafted. Her arrows had also been a lot better than anything I could make. She reminded me that her father made weapons of war, then told me how much a bow like hers, lacking any enchantments, and various arrows would cost. While I could not imagine ever having that much money, seeing the quick, smooth, flight of the arrows had me wondering how to get such items for myself. After taking some moments to assure no one else was looking for her, she chose another target and again made a number of kills.
When no one was acting as if they were a threat, Jelnaya told Makinor and me to ride on to the town. Having been told the plan earlier, I did not hesitate to start back down the stairs. Reaching the ground without hearing Makinor follow, I felt I could manage the situation and mounted my horse letting it know that I would ride it to town.
As I came to the start of the houses, Albroth stepped out to say, “Riding those mounts was not a wise thing to do. I could have them throw you.”
I replied, “I was responsible for killing a number. This very morning I got on this horse, saddled it like a horse, and broke it as a horse. I have been riding it as a horse. All you would do is have it turn feral as a horse, and have us kill it as a horse.” I patted the animal while saying, “Go ahead, try to throw me.”
“Haven’t you killed enough?”
I heard the sound of hooves coming down, and assumed Makinor was finally arriving as I answered that question. “You’re not finished, so we’re not finished.”
The eyes of Albroth told me that it definitely was not one of his men that rode down, so did not turn my gaze from him as he said, “Yes, there is that. Well, I understand the logic of attacking potential opponents to warn them away from troubling you. I did use that method of persuasion on your community. What if I said that we had learned our lesson, and promised not to attack?”
“There are souls at risk. As you said, these horses are not horses. They are people.”
“Not your type of people. Why should you care?”
I felt those words possibly explained why the horses just felt different, but did not allow the topic to digress. “This matter has gone beyond the matter of basic antagonism. As I said, there are souls at risk. Gods have become involved.”
“Gods.” Albroth spit after saying that word. “Who gives a damn about gods?”
Makinor replied, “Well, the simple answer is that the gods do.”
“Why should they care what we do?”
“Because you are playing with the things they created. You aren’t just living your life and trying your best to survive, but actually toying with things that aren’t yours to toy with.”
“And what gives you the right to tell me what I can or cannot do?”
I provided the answer to that question. “Our gods.”
“Yes, well let me show you just how much control over your lives the gods have.”
Albroth stepped back with a haughty attitude. I saw a puzzled expression when nothing happened. He then stepped back away from the middle of the street as a corpse fell from a window.
I heard a whine as a loud presentation of Jelnaya’s voice said, “You’re in worse trouble than you possibly imagined.”
Albroth was glancing around as if seeking others to help him as he replied, “Why is that?”
“I know how to use this thing.”
I saw the end of some instrument come out of a window. Intense flashes of light then pulsed for a short time. I expected Albroth to be dead, but I heard the sound of things falling and breaking along with a few screams of pain. The instrument was then pulled back into the room, and a short time later I again heard the whine as Jelnaya’s amplified voice made a comment.
“My father could sell you a larger magazine for the weapon. But the people that want those are intending to wipe out the entire population of a town. I can do that without wasting the ammo.”
Albroth said, “We enjoy listening to people beg for us to stop as we reload. Uh, lady.”
Makinor provided the information, “Her name is Jelnaya.”
“Ah, yes, well I was just going to ask if she was a god.”
“Goddess, and no. She doesn’t worship one either. She worships He-Who-Fights. It is Nebard and I that worship goddesses. They are nothing like Jelnaya however.”
“Pity. Any reason I am still alive?”
I felt that was a good question, although it was Makinor that answered, “We still want information, Albroth. You might just be the most arrogant one of your group, but we are assuming that you know something.”
“I am the most arrogant because I have survived the longest. Longevity tends to breed confidence in how to survive. It should also have others respect me.”
I decided it was time to start the interrogation. “Do you regret what you have done to have survived for so long?”
“You mean do I wish I could do it all over again? No. Sorry, but I would not have survived had I done things anywhere different.”
“What you have been through, what you are having others go through, corrupts souls.”
“Oh, it does more than that. You cannot understand the power being worked here.”
Makinor said, “I doubt that. You see, Nebard and I are here to learn. Exactly how much Jelnaya understands, I cannot say. She is the one in charge however.”
“That girl is the oldest of you?”
“Uh, probably. One does not ask a lady her age. Honestly, though, I believe I am older.”
“We give away the women early on. We keep the devotion of the men by continuing to promise them women. We then have to kill them, but there is still the hope to again get women in our lives. I believe I now could take any I wanted, but I don’t being scared that I would be perceived as weak.”
I had to ask, “You would have demanded that I kill my wife?”
“Yes, that is part of it. Of course, you have to survive to get to that point. As I said, I killed mine expecting to get more. I was done with her. I was actually ready to move on. As I said however, I have yet to claim another lady.”
Feeling a need to promote my goddess, I asked, “Didn’t you love her?”
“I didn’t get her for love.”
“You told us to claim a wife – a WIFE! How can love not be a part of your relationship with your wife?”
That response got me angry. I dropped from my mount and advanced upon Albroth. It actually surprised me to find that he let me grab his shirt. Seeing him helpless before me however did not reduce my anger.
“A wife is supposed to share your life. Yes, she is to bear your children and do other things for you, but you have things to do for her as well. There is a relationship there. Love should develop between you.”
Makinor was still in his saddle as he said, “In case you are wondering, Albroth, Nebard and I represent goddesses of love.”
I yelled, “Jelnaya, I don’t see any reason to keep Albroth alive!”
From a distance, I heard the actual voice of the lady saying, “It was your goddess that sought me, Nebard! Quafrey is in charge! If she lets you kill him, I won’t speak against it. I however will not simply be your weapon. I have my purpose. If your goddess tells you to kill, you do the killing.”
He replied, “You heard Jelnaya, Nebard. Our decision is worth crap. You listen to Quafrey. She’s the one you need to seek for advice. She is also the one you need to please. If she says something needs to be done, you had better do it.”
In my head, I heard, “I now fully trust the quality of those I sought for aid. Yes, Nebard, kill the man. I’m sorry to say that you are going to have to kill more.”
I replied, “Quafrey, I have killed before.”
“No. Then you were just following the ways of your community. In truth, you were no wiser than Priven. Both of you were however raised by mothers who loved you, and who taught you to love. You accepted the responsibility of loving Eashae, and I saw the devotion you placed in your relationship with her. Now, Nebard, I am asking you to see the love even through the death. There is a reason, there is a justice, there is a foundation for love that can be established. You must trust me in that.”
That last statement was enough for me. I killed Albroth. He had gained a weapon in his hand, but I only felt some heat from where Eashae had attached the ornament from Jelnaya. Albroth had nothing to protect him from my blade. As the body collapsed before me, I turned understanding that what I had done would not be enough to gain my objective.
Jelnaya works with the men to assure they understand things about this mission.