A Wish for Hope

Chapter Sixteen
(Jelnaya)

I stepped out of the church to see Shospeck standing as if waiting, so I said, “Go ahead and start the cleanup.  Esgalia and I are heading to the sewers.”

He replied, “We saw the light inside.  We assumed Samayer was showing you something.”

“No.  She didn’t show us anything, although she also did not deny it when we found it.”

Vulge said, “I’ll accompany you to the sewers, Duchess.”

“You’re not my bodyguard, Vulge!  This is my county, and I’ll go traipsing around in the sewers if I want.”

Shospeck commented, “You tell him, Jelnaya.”

Vulge said, “Hey, he’s just calling you by your name.”

That statement had me ask, “Hey, Shospeck, where are you from?”

My fellow divine champion replied, “Gehorgen, a good distance to the southwest.  In the kingdom on the other side of Mekont.”

“I’m not his duchess, Vulge, or his princess.  I do now have a position of nobility, but I am not acting in that capacity right now.  He’s been recognized by Fergush just like I have been.”

“The term is ‘honored,’  It is Honored Jelnaya, and you can refer to me as Honored Shospeck.  Even royalty uses those titles.”

Vulge sternly said, “Jelnaya’s my princess.”

Since he had my honor, I admitted, “I’m his princess.”

Shospeck asked, “So you have noble blood?”

“It wouldn’t do me any good to deny it.”

I suspected Vulge would make a statement, so was actually glad to hear Shospeck speak instead.  “Well, then enjoy being a duchess, Jelnaya.”

“My ancestry is not the reason I gained the status.”

“It doesn’t matter, as I think you’ll do good at it.  Me, ain’t no way.  Once I feel these other fools won’t get into trouble, I’m back out away from civilization.”

“Well, then, I’m glad to have met you, Shospeck.”

I held out my hand.  He grabbed it, then lifted it to his forehead.  I probably had an odd smile, as I felt my hand hit his helmet.  He called over one of the men nearby and ordered him to remove his helmet.  With that done, he again lifted my hand to have it meet his forehead.  His face was not nearly as rugged as I had expected, and showed signs of recently having shaved.  I thus had a pleasant smile on my face when he did release my hand.

As I stepped away, three men stepped up.  I noticed they came from the city and not from a position around the church.  Wondering about them, I stopped to allow the men to state their positions.

When all they did was kneel while presenting their weapons, I went ahead and allowed, “Come on.”

Now Vulge spoke, “Hold it, Duchess Jelnaya!  Why are you allowing them?”

“Because they are stupid, Vulge.  This however is a realm to Samayer, so if they manage to survive I’ll deal with them.”

“Actually, Honored Duchess,” one of the three said, “we are here seeking to prove ourselves as worthy to gain the county.  I am Nerbink.  My grandfather was a brother of the king’s father.  The one to my immediate right is Lokell.  His grandfather was a high priest in this very temple.  The one to my far right is Abreyon, whose family has historically been trusted counselors to the count.”

Abreyon declared, “I know the domain, the people, and how is was run.”

I replied, “It was run in a manner that resulted in me slaughtering a large number.  Still, I do not mean to put you down, as I could say something derogatory to the other two as well.  The problem before you is that Samayer is extremely displeased with this realm, and I am a Champion of Fergush.  Proving yourself to me might spoil your approval with Samayer, who will be consulted before I approve of any position.”

“We understand the challenge before us, Honored Duchess.”

It did not surprise me to hear, “They are men, Duchess, and I am your chaperone.”

Not wanting to argue, I made a show of providing a proper introduction, “Men, Vulge.  Vulge, I hope you got their names.”

“I will before they meet with you in other circumstances.”

“Oh, men, Esgalia.  Esgalia, I hope you got their names.”  He just smiled, so I continued to speak.  “Listen, we are going into the sewers to look for trouble.  I do and I don’t know where to go.  What I mean is that I know where I want to go to start looking, but I don’t know the sewers.  For your information, Samayer told me the trouble did still exist.”  I then thought of something, so added, “Let me say that this is really serious trouble, and you three men might not have the weapons for it.  Should that be the case, your challenge will be to prove yourselves to Samayer, as I can assure you I will be doing all I can to prove myself to Fergush.”

Having grown up on a world where high science was possible, I found a number of people who thought of the ancient cities as being dirty places due to a lack of a proper sewer system.  Honestly, filth and hygiene were problems even the most ancient of societies understood.  I saw a lack of concern for removing certain wastes to be a result of laziness, a lack of decency, and other deplorable traits in those of the community.  Moving to where Abreyon said the outflow of the sewer system dumped into the river, I was glad to see a large opening.  There was a strong flow, and I did know most societies sought a strong underground source to wash away the filth.  Other concerns, such as people needing a source of fresh water, did complicate the consideration for removing sewage, but each society did their best using what science they knew to come up with a solution.

All of us made comments seeing movement in the darkness ahead of us.  Abreyon and Nerbink had lanterns with magical light sources.  I did have something to help my sight, but it would not help those with me.  While I could call for a blessing in the temple, I doubted very highly the same would happen in the sewers.  I had worked at being effective in combat even without the benefit of sight, although what I had to consider was the skills of those with me.  Seeing disturbing movement on the walls and ceiling right on the edge of the darkness, I listened to the comments of the others attempting to determine their willingness to actually see battle and how effective they would be.

Considering what we had seen, none of us were unprepared for a fight.  The sound of something large could clearly be heard.  While there was a strong current, the water was not deep enough to hide any sizeable creature.  We heard it coming, the young men stepped up to take on the fight, and I let them have the honor.

What I saw was something like an alligator with strong rear legs.  It did not appear humanoid, although had the power to make more from a charge than just closing for a bite and could lift its front to strike higher than the legs.  Going directly at this monster would play to its strength, so it did not surprise me when the men suffered damage.  Seeing an opening as Nerbink spun from having his breastplate almost ripped off, I stepped up to sink NeverRose through a side of one jaw of the alligator creature down into the throat.

Nerbink adjusted his armor while griping, “Why didn’t you step up earlier?”

“Thank Fergush for a successful fight,” I sternly replied while performing a certain rite of cutting away a piece of the heart.  “You step up into battle, I will let you have the fight.  I am to represent He-Who-Fights and promote his ways.  Being beneath a city that stopped promoting our gods, I can only support actions of those I am meeting that give honor to the gods.”

Vulge said, “Take it, Boys.  She didn’t go easy on me either.”

Lokell asked, “Will there be more like that?”

“More like that?” I said with an exasperated tone.  “I did not slaughter all the people I did because of creatures like that.  There are things worse than that, and something really bad behind them.”

“By Fergush, I will best this.”

Nerbink looked to Vulge as he said, “You did not fight at all.”

Vulge replied, “I’m just the chaperone.  You boys better treat Duchess Jelnaya as a lady.”

Abreyon admitted, “Honored Duchess Jelnaya, you are correct that we should have known the seriousness of the threat.  By Samayer, I will stay strong.”

While I had been listening, I also had been noticing something else, which had me say, “Well, another one is coming.”

Nerbink was still working on his armor, so I considered him wise when he backed over near Vulge.  Lokell moved to a side probably working a tactic, although he might have also been hoping to avoid combat.  Abreyon however pulled a shield and set himself behind it.  Seeing what he was doing and judging the rush of the monster, I stepped behind him to see if he would consider a suggestion.

“Meet the monster and roll him to your right.”

He replied, “The previous monster was tough.”

“I’m a girl.  I am all the time going against things stronger than me.”

“You’re right, Honored Duchess.”

That was about all the time he had.  I however saw him adjust his position to meet the monster.  While he did try the move I suggested, the rear legs of the alligator-like monster held as they tried to lift the head over the shield.  I still saw my opening to strike from the side, and found Lokell to quickly step up and attack from the other side.  By the time Abreyon was about to collapse from the force of the monster, it stumbled to slide into the water as its life ended.

Nerbink said from behind us, “You have a good sword, Honored Duchess.”

I replied, “I had to study historic documents to find it, then I needed to take some actions to get it.  I wasn’t just handed this sword.  The enchantments on it, I took part in casting them.  The larger weapon with me, if I had not been active in the conflict already I never would have gained it.  Some say I should not have taken on most of my early challenges on my own, but there was none to say that I did not gain the victories.”

“All I was say –“

Vulge said before I could, “What you were implying was that she had an advantage.  Duchess Jelnaya started no better than you boys.  Worse, she was a girl.  You want me to start calling you a girl?”

“I apologize, Honored Duchess.”

Abreyon said, “Listen, we were not forced to come.  Honored Duchess, how would you fight these things?”

I replied, “A lot more movement.  When I started, I needed to make some really drastic strikes to assure they were fatal.  While success was satisfying, I realized the importance of better weapons.  The experiences I had however allowed me to know what type of weapons would work the best for me.”

Nerbink looked to Esgalia to ask, “Do you fight?”

The fox-person replied, “I am not here as a fighter.  I am here as someone who survived.”

“May Samayer gain her glory.  Okay, Esgalia, what’s your story?”

I had to say, “I doubt he has time to tell it right now.  Keep your focus on what we are doing.”

“Yes, Honored Duchess.  My armor is back where it needs to be.  Let’s get going.”

Things are happening back at the castle, so will go back to Neselle.