A Wish for Hope
I had already found myself believing in Honored Duchess Jelnaya. Any doubt of her facing the Privileged and defeating them along with the power behind them had been erased. While I still wondered about my physical restoration, I fully believed that Honored Duchess Jelnaya would do what she could to solve my problem.
The three men that joined us knelt as I felt they realized just how wonderful Honored Duchess Jelnaya was. They were about to run hearing a number of the large monsters coming. They held her place as she advanced past them, then told Vulge to finish off any monster that got past her. I believe what motivated the men to prepare for the threat was the exchange ridiculing their masculinity. As she had said, Honored Duchess Jelnaya performed a lot more movement in her battle with the powerful monsters. Instead of attempting to meet the creatures in direct combat, she twisted and turned to protect herself while causing them damage. Those that came directly at her impaled themselves upon her sword. Actions to get past her had a dagger slice through their skin before Vulge’s sword went into them. They both did have very good weapons, but it was their knowledge of tactics in desperate situations that enabled them to secure the win. When the three began apologizing, it was Vulge who spoke to assure that Honored Duchess Jelnaya received her respect.
“It is Honored Duchess when you speak to Jelnaya. And let me say that you better have something of value to say to her, because you have lost any respect enabling you to simply converse with her.”
“All right, Vulge,” Honored Duchess Jelnaya replied. “Unless they simply turn and leave, they still have the grace of doing more than most others.”
“They’re still nothing but worms in my book, Princess.”
“Your opinion counts, Vulge, but right now we need to be about business. That means we act as professionals.”
Both began advancing further as Vulge said, “They don’t rate too highly there either, Princess.”
“There was a time you and I did not rate that highly either, Vulge. We had to prove ourselves, so we give the three the same hope others gave us.”
“How are you fairing, Esgalia?”
It surprised me to be spoken to, although I felt pleased being able to say, “I was ready should one of those creatures have moved past Officer Vulge.”
“Not an officer,” the big man said. “Chering is the officer, and I proved myself to him. He couldn’t hold his liquor, and I could. He woke up a couple of times back on the boat with no memory of getting there, and I found myself able to take a few liberties without any problems from the other officers. That relationship is why he had me come with him when he wanted to court Princess Jelnaya. He failed in that, although we earned her respect in another way.”
The conversation stopped when Honored Duchess Jelnaya moved up to look down a side passage. There were various pipes and openings, although most were not large enough for us to pass through. The one she looked down was large enough for most of us, although Vulge would have had to stoop over. While she kept her eyes looking down this alternate passage, we moved up to Honored Duchess Jelnaya when she made some statements.
“A different smell, so don’t know what to expect. Watch for threats from behind.”
It was Nerbink that asked, “You mean there could be more?”
“I would hate to think I had to slaughter so many people because only a few monsters bothered you.”
Vulge commented, “Although I am starting to believe it would not have taken much.”
Nothing further was said, as the men simply followed Honored Duchess Jelnaya as she advanced into the other corridor. There was a different smell. I heard others stop when I moved to a section of wall seeking to determine the source of the aroma. Honored Duchess Jelnaya laughed when I said something about what I smelled.
“Something pleasant,” she replied. “Evil can work to be deceptive.”
“But it’s slime.”
“I am sure they hoped people would just come through here pleased with the smell and not wondering where the smell was coming from. It would however be even more unusual to have flowers down here.” I saw her step up to take a stance even as she ordered, “Men, watch the back.”
A high pitched female voice said, “Now, you should not feel threatened. There is a hunger, but with a proper gift things can again be pleasant.”
“Boys, were things pleasant?”
I actually saw the lady that approached release a button to drop a part of the front of her dress, although the action only revealed an undergarment. A feeling did come over me of appreciating what I saw, or only what I felt I might see. It was true that I still preferred the hairless bodies of humans, but I also knew the tricks women would pull to entice a man without them truly offering anything. Yes, I would have been excited should the lady had shown something of herself, but simply loosening a part of her outer garment was not enough to have me think beyond what actions my wife and other ladies had done to get something from me.
Honored Duchess Jelnaya turned back to us men to ask, “Any of you know this woman?”
“Honey, it’s not the men who need the help, but you.”
The words by the lady did not gain the response she probably expected. Honored Duchess Jelnaya sent a dagger into her throat. No sooner did she react than Lokell made an exclamation of cursing Honored Duchess Jelnaya. Vulge stepped to take a defensive stance as if expecting the man to attack. Seeing that had me react to defend as well. Abreyon and Nerbink only looked at us for a moment, but their faces registered more shock as the form of the unknown lady suddenly grew in size with her skin growing scaly as her fingers extruded talons. Honored Duchess Jelnaya simply spoke words of warning before moving forward as the dagger she had thrown dropped to the ground.
“Watch your backs.”
As she made an attack upon what had appeared as a lady, Lokell drew his weapon and moved forward only to have Vulge stop him. At the same time I turned hearing movement from behind. Abreyon told Nerbink to help with Lokell. As I joined Abreyon in making an attack upon one of the alligator-like creatures, I heard Nerbink ask something of the other man.
“Lokell, what are you doing?”
The one not moving behind sounded angry as he replied, “This attack is senseless. It must stop.”
“You act to stop our honored duchess, and I swear you’ll regret it.”
Vulge proved himself as a threat after seeing Abreyon fail at trying to stop the alligator-like monster. As he fell down into the water, I feared for my life. Vulge worked a sidestep motion around Lokell and Nerbink like Honored Duchess Jelnaya had done, but did not have her grace. He however did force a decision from the creature on who to attack. When it turned on Abreyon as he attempted to rise, Vulge stepped in and sent his weapon through ribs, internal organs, and I saw the tip come out through the skin on the other side of the torso.
He then pointed to Lokell while declaring, “You attack my princess and you will die.”
I had to turn hearing the lady reply, “I think he is aware of that, Vulge.”
The corpse of some strange monster disrupted the flow of water. I could tell Honored Duchesss Jelnaya had ended the life of one opponent and was ready to face another threat. Nerbink stepped away from Lokell while speaking of hopefully having one of his comrades stop the actions that would have him end up as a corpse.
“She will kill you, Lokell.”
The one spoken to did not sound like he wanted to admit defeat as he strongly replied, “Is she going to kill everyone? If she will attack a simple lady coming out to greet us, who knows who she will attack next.”
Honored Duchess Jelnaya said, “Yes, as I never know who is going to try and turn against me.”
Nerbink informed his comrade, “That was no lady, Lokell. What we fear is you working for the monsters and not us.”
Lokell declared, “That was someone trying to help us deal with Hinchetin. He was a high priest that worked directly with Duchess Tigella. He was a powerful figure, and he authorized these who work here. If you act properly, they will treat you well.”
Honored Duchess Jelnaya asked, “Who told you that? Was it your grandfather, or those that knew him?”
“The one who was high priest to the temple. I can assume one of those who started the problem that had me wipe out so many people. Or your grandmother.” Not hearing Lokell say anything, she went on. “That’s it, isn’t it? Or was it your mother?”
Another female voice said from a distance, “Either way, it was the voice of reason.”
Honored Duchess Jelnaya made a motion with her hand, and I saw Vulge move to a wall. She then twirled the dagger she had thrown earlier before putting it back in its sheathe. As she moved to the opposite wall I felt it best to state my place with Honored Duchess Jelnaya.
She saw me come to her side, then said, “Go ahead, men. Make your decision.”
“Oh, Hell, no,” Abreyon said before taking a position next to me.
Nerbink moved to the other wall while saying, “I’m with you, big guy.”
Vulge replied, “You can talk to me as you want, but I would recommend you talk better as I am the one who will handle your relationship with the duchess.”
“So, what is your title?”
Honored Duchess Jelnaya said, “Just call him Sir. He might not be a knight of my realm, but he has my honor.”
“And how long have you known this lady, Sir Vulge?”
He replied, “I remember when her father came to Davelda, and I have followed his career. Chering was actually more interested in Jelnaya, but –“
Lokell exclaimed, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”
No one spoke. Honored Duchess Jelnaya had an arm point a finger down the hall to where we heard the female voice, then two fingers were displayed when she moved the appendage in the other direction where I suspected she considered more monsters to be waiting. I do not know what Lokell thought about her actions, and when he spoke I felt he was not certain about what he should do.
“Why can’t you see that to go against…” His eyes fixed on Honored Duchess Jelnaya, then he looked in the direction we were going as he said, “Hinchetin is not one to be denied. If you challenge him you will…” His eyes again fixed on Honored Duchess Jelnaya, but defiance came to his voice as he declared, “You have no idea what you are up against.”
Honored Duchess Jelnaya replied, “Why don’t you go on ahead and see what I am up against?”
“NO!” Nerbink charged up and slammed his gloved fist into the side of Lokell’s head, then as the lad fell Nerbink yelled, “NO! Enough has died, Honored Duchess! Not Lokell. He’s my friend.”
She ordered, “Vulge!”
The man stepped out while saying, “I would do the same for Chering.” As he began tying the lad’s hands behind him he admitted, “I however cannot stop him from getting free somehow and continuing with his stupidity.”
Nerbink demanded, “Then we go! We go now.”
Honored Duchess Jelnaya did not pull her usual dagger, but a heftier blade from a sheath on her thigh beneath where her sword usually hung. “Here. If your sword does not hurt your opponent, this will.”
Taking the weapon, he asked, “Are we going to die?”
“Vulge didn’t die.”
The large man said, “It will get scary, however, and the fights can get long.”
“Let’s go. Abreyon?”
The third of the lads said, “A friend like you I could definitely use. I’m with you, Nerbink.”
“Then, come on. We got to stop this.”
And the group does begin to face the more responsible adversaries.