A Wish for Hope

Chapter Five
(Esgalia)

I thought the terrain around the estate was wonderful.  There were a lot of trees with squirrels.  Outside the castle there were fields with little grass, which were being filled with tents for soldiers, but beyond that one could find meadows where grass and other plants grew freely.  One could see a mountain in the distance over the trees, but most of the terrain in the area did not have steep or rocky slopes.

People did think we were odd, but no one threatened us.  The soldiers had been told about us, and would yell out messages from Vulge who stayed around the castle.  We actually could not understand the local people, but simple things like calling us to eat, pointing out directions, and other basic instructions were easily transmitted.  The bodies had not been dead long enough to stink, but other aromas that bothered the local people as much as us told all that Duchess Jelnaya had not just slaughtered living residents of the area.  The military took on the job of cleaning up the carnage, and to keep us out of their way we were given the freedom to move off beyond the castle with many assuring us that we would not be threatened.

We were curious about our surroundings and the people.  Among ourselves we speculated about the truth of things we had heard.  Coming back to the castle to get something to eat, we heard someone tell Vulge that his presence was requested by the king to answer some questions.  Realizing that we understood the person had us curious about who was summoning the man.

While work had been going on to clean the castle, no one was yet staying in the building.  The king and his people stayed in tents within the walls of the grand residence, although they kept the gates open to assure the flow of air.  No one stopped me from moving with Vulge with the monarch showing pleasure in seeing me.

“Esgalia,” he said, “I will have some questions for you as well.  For that purpose I have activated a device enabling us to understand each other.  Sit down.”  As a chair was brought for me, the monarch started his inquiry.  “Vulge, it is said that you claim to be from a world called Davelda.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” the man replied.  “I really do not know what rank Straekin and Terish have here.  She is Queen of Thiminy and empress of my world, but Thiminy is on another world as well.”

“Yes, well, we still do know of the couple.  My question however was to ask if Jelnaya has noble blood.  What you said indicates that she does.”

“Well, I don’t know the qualifications for one truly being noble, but those of her family are important people.  Her paternal grandparents do have noble ranks.  Terish is King of Thiminy.  I already told you the titles of Straekin.  Jelnaya’s maternal grandparents were wealthy owners of a company that make weapons of war.  Venicht, Terish’s and Straekin’s oldest son, married the oldest daughter, all they had were daughters, and gained the company.  He has expanded the business.  Jelnaya is the oldest child, and will inherit the stock, basically the ownership, of the company.  Balerk, the oldest boy, actually will gain the management of the company.  The talk is that if Balerk does not do what is necessary to keep the company and family going, you will have a champion of a fighting spirit gaining control of a weapons company.”

There were coughs and some squirming in the men around us before the king replied, “We can well understand the problems that could result from that.”

“Jelnaya is a good kid, though.  I went on a mission with her, and was very impressed with her.  That is why I am here.”

“To have her honor means that you impressed her as well.”

“She does not go against normal things.  I admit that I got scared.  I however kept my head and managed to survive.  I’m not going to go into details, but as her elder I felt able to confront her a few times.  She’s a good kid and handled things, including me.  I believe she honored me simply because I was her elder.  She however impressed me, so I will not ever have her regret giving me her honor.”

The man looked at me for a time, then turned his gaze back on Vulge to ask, “How old is Jelnaya?”

“Ah, well, Balerk, according to what I heard, just turned twenty-seven.  That would make Jelnaya twenty-eight or twenty-nine.”

“She doesn’t look that old.”

“Never will.  She’s immortal.  I’m over seven hundred.  Considering her family, Jelnaya had access to some odd personalities and situations.  Unlike most of her family, she took to them determined to make her life where odd, unusual, and I would add scary are normal events.  Fergush did not just claim Jelnaya, but went out on a limb to gain her.  The fact that he is still proud of her should tell you more than you want to know.”

The king pointed as he said, “That castle tells me more than I want to know.  Now, this fox-person with you, how much would I want to know about him?”

Before I could respond, Vulge replied, “I got him from Prince Venicht.  Trust me, if he was a problem, him and the other fox people would be fertilizer on the man’s lawn.  The only problem is that I was told to take him to Jelnaya.  That means he represents something beyond the normal, and I would leave that to Jelnaya if I were you.”

The monarch looked to me as he asked, “Esgalia, what do you have to say about that?”

I replied, “I was transformed.  I was a normal person.  I don’t want any trouble, but I would like help to be restored.”

“So, you’re hoping Jelnaya can restore you?”

“She was the one that stopped the ones that changed us.  We are hoping she can have us changed back.”

Vulge said, “Your Majesty, I believe he just said for you to wait for Jelnaya to get back.”

The monarch nodded before asking, “Esgalia, are there things you would require?”

I replied, “We would request the freedom to make our camp near the river.”

“There will be soldiers down there, so you should be safe.”  He then turned to the other man to ask, “Vulge, I am stretched thin, and this is now Jelnaya’s realm.  Is there any way you might gain people to get to work on this place?”

“I don’t know,” the big man replied, “but let’s find out.”  He took out what appeared to be an ornate medallion, then did some things with it before I heard the voice of a lady to which he said, “Empress Straekin, this is Vulge.  Jelnaya just gained possession of a castle, and it is really filthy from the vile monsters that were in it.  How hard would it be to get some people here to help clean it?”

I heard the voice of a man in the background.  He and the lady spoke of places and type of personnel.  It seemed that Vulge was a seaman, as some comments about getting the castle ship-shape were made.  Finally, I heard the voice of the lady give an answer.

“Probably four days, Vulge.  How bad is the castle?”

The man replied, “The castle is not destroyed.  Tell those coming that if they want beds, fresh water, or even food they will need to clean things.  Oh, and she left to visit Neselle.  Does that tell you anything?”

“Yes, Vulge, it means whatever trouble was there remains.  Neselle and Jelnaya get along very well, but Jelnaya does not leave work behind.  Getting Neselle, Jelnaya felt a need for a different type of battle.  Do what you can to prepare things, Vulge.  You’re in for another really deadly situation.  Listen, Terish and I will be bringing in personnel from the second fleet.  We can make decisions on things when we get there.”

“Thank you, Empress.”

“I always said I ruled good people, Vulge.  You keep me proud of you, and I will keep you proud of me.  See you when I get there.”

When the conversation ended, the king said, “That right there answered a lot of my questions.”

Vulge replied, “Well, let me get some things straight.  If this is Jelnaya’s land, it is my land.  I don’t mean my home, but someplace I will consider to be a home.  She’s immortal, so you better get used to her.  I’m immortal as well, so you might as well get used to me.  My actual purpose for being here is to assure any who want to court her does so properly.  The man better have some self-control.  The man better be immortal.  Jelnaya’s immortal, so in no rush, but she does expect to get married eventually.  I’m immortal, and in no rush to get the lady married.  I will chase off a guy in a heartbeat.  Just as with her work to gain the throne of this place, nothing with Jelnaya needs to happen quickly.”

“Strangely, Vulge, that is the right attitude.  While the people will complain about us nobles not acting quickly enough, what they really want is a constancy in their lives.  I’m not king because of what I have done, but because my father and fathers back ruled over this place.  What the people wanted when I came to power was for me to simply enable them to continue their lives.  I hope you like this place, Vulge.”

“Maybe you will hear my stories.  I can deal with this place whether I like it or not.  However, Jelnaya will have her influence.  She had it on me, on Fergush, and you can be assured this realm will adjust to her.  If Jelnaya can make it her home, I feel certain I will come to like it here.”

Again I saw the monarch look to me, but he turned his gaze back to the large man.  “Have you ever been married, Vulge?”

“No.  I was married to my career.  That all ended in the war we had on Davelda.  I still served in the Navy, but after the war it quickly became dull routines.  There were no more inductees.  No more serious trials.  We kept the ship in shape, did our patrols, and the years passed.”

“So, while assuring a proper husband for Jelnaya you could be seeking a wife for yourself.”

The large man squirmed in his seat, then replied, “No.  I am over seven hundred years old.  Honestly, I feel old.  I feel my time has passed.  I’m here for Jelnaya.  You have to understand that she is the granddaughter of my empress.  She is part of the younger generation.  Being immortal, I feel that she will always be that to me.  At the same time, I feel that I will always be old.”

“Well, just as you are here expecting to have immortal men come for Jelnaya, I can say there are probably immortal women who will hear of you.  Immortality is not unknown.  It is something people seek, and some gain.  Most stories speak of the one blessed quickly doing something to bring about their end, but others have me feel sorry for the person.  What I hear of Jelnaya has her as a positive person, and what I hear from you speaks of something positive as well.  You keep that, and I will ever support this realm.”

This time when the monarch looked to me, he actually spoke to me.  “Esgalia, what do you think about what you have heard?”

I replied, “I feel I am with good people.”

“Good.  You let us see good in you, and no problems should develop.  I was going to say more to you, but I am accepting the advice to leave your situation to Jelnaya.  I will simply do what I can to support her, and will expect any word about you from her.  Is that all right with you?”

“Uh, yes, Your Majesty.”

The monarch brought the session to a close, but while I heard words of support I worked to understand my situation.  I thought about the things that I had endured.  Conversations I had with those now dead bothered me.  The hopes, the goals, the reasons for me being here seemed to clash with what I was realizing.  While I was grateful for my wife asking me to speak, her words conveyed the tone of thinking I had a clear message for her.

“What are they going to do about us?”

I turned, then signaled for the others to approach as I answered my wife with the question I felt truly needed to be answered.  “That is the problem, isn’t it?  What are they going to do to us?  We’re not people anymore.  We’re animals.”

Motorgy replied, “We’re not animals!”

“We are animals.  Our fate is not our own.  If we are penned up with our children taken to be eaten, what can we say about it?  We came here under the assumption that Jelnaya could change us back.  What I was told spoke of her being part of a bigger picture.  Well, we are in that picture.  Jelnaya wiped out the Privileged.  Jelnaya wiped out that castle.  Jelnaya now owns this land.  We are hers to do with as she will, and we have nothing to say about it.”

It was Kertoll’s wife, Varansh, who asked, “Are we doomed?”

“No.  We are just going to have to understand that we are now part of a bigger picture.  Jelnaya went to get someone who can help, someone who works with other animal-people.  An answer could thus be coming for us, but I am just realizing that it might not be our answer.”

Motorgy replied, “Our answer?  Our answer is to change us back!”

“To do what?  Return to our homes?  They’re destroyed.  All that we had is gone.”  I looked around to my companions as I said, “We could.  I am just admitting that we have no control over what happens to us.  Still, this is a bigger picture.  I don’t want to be some pet, but someone respected.  I however am realizing that I need to look at this picture to see where we could fit in.”

My wife suggested, “Maybe returning to where we called home would be for the best.”

“Look around, Keleaf.  That is what I was doing, I was looking around.  While we have been moving about, we really have not been understanding our place, or where our place could be.  That is all I am saying.  If we are not going to be animals, we need to stop thinking as animals.”

“It’s hard at times.”

“Well, that is what I did not hear.  I did not hear anyone speak of wanting things to go easy.  They were talking about how things were, who the people were, and what was necessary to be done.  I heard them talking about facing their future with dignity and acceptance of the jobs they expected to hold.  We need to think beyond simply being returned to being humans, but what our lives will be as humans.”

And finally Neselle gets to join Jelnaya in one of her stories.