A Wish for Hope

Chapter Seven
(Esgalia)

I sat and cried.  My head hurt even as I expressed my sorrow in having the mental pain.  I did not want to think like I had, but realized that I needed to, then cried understanding the agony of what I was going through.

Hearing the sound of a large form, I turned to see Vulge rushing to me.  Realizing the situation, I did what I could to force myself to think and act through the torment I felt.  I knew his question.  I knew exactly what he was going to ask.  I however could not help but understand the sounds of my own sobs as the large man rushed to me.

“What is the problem, Esgalia?  The soldiers saw you here crying.  Did you hurt yourself?”

“I’m not human,” I sobbed.  “I can’t think like I used to.  I was listening to you go around speaking with the people who were still alive in the town, and tried to make sense of what advice you were giving.”  Working through my mental agony, I managed to say, “I – can’t – think – like that anymore.”

“Listen, Duchess Jelnaya will be back.  She said she knew where you came from.  She went to get Neselle.  Well, I have been thinking on that.  I know Neselle.  She is not a princess of Davelda, but her husband is a prince of Davelda.  He is the fifth child, the second son, of Terish and Straekin.  Neselle was brought to Davelda.  I really don’t know her story, but I know she was involved in something big.  Just wait out a few more days.”

“It was wrong.”  I forced myself to focus past the pain before saying.  “Thank you for your concern.  We want to return to being human, but I am seeing how far we have gone.”

As I was about to turn, Vulge said, “It was close to six hundred years before Terish came to Davelda.  For over six hundred years it was the same thing.  It is a fabulous place now.  I guess it was fabulous all along, but we did not know it.  Now with the horse handlers dealing with people from a multitude of worlds, with children, with the stories of us who are traveling to places fantastic, Davelda is a really fabulous place.  We had to go through it.  If we had it all along, I don’t believe we would see it as we do.  This castle, Jelnaya did a really horrible thing to gain it.  She however trusted her gods that it was the right thing.  I bet this will become a wonderful place, but it had to go through this.  You’ll see.  What you are going through, it will be something you will one day be proud to have survived.”

“Not if I am still an animal,” I replied.

While I was grateful for what he said, I still felt the need to rush off to my wife.  She was curled up by the river.  I had to stop, then fight tears as I fought to not appreciate what I saw.  There were really things I did not like about our fox bodies.  The female body really was not that attractive when covered by hair.  The elongated jaws made certain signs of affection a little difficult.  A long tongue did have some advantages, but again the amount of hair tended to leave a bad impression in the mouth.  While my wife did have a rather attractive appearance, I found myself wanting to enjoy her from a distance and not in the manners I once did.  She was still the one I chose to share my life with, and in times of need I went to her.

She rose to simply sit, and I moved to stroke her tail as she asked, “Have you learned anything?”

Hoping to direct her thoughts, I spoke my own question.  “Have you tried to think?  Really think.  I mean about how we cleaned our house, organized our yard, things like that.”

I saw tears come to her eyes as she softly replied, “I cannot do that, Esgalia.”

Water filled my eyes as well, but having fought through the pain I managed to say, “That is a house, Keleaf.  Yes, it is very big, but still a house.  I followed Vulge as he went with others discussing the property, businesses, and other things.”  The agony forced my words to be tense, but I said, “That is a house for humans, and I tried and tried to think about what I would need to do if we lived there.”

Keleaf did get angry easily, but I felt she was simply fighting the thoughts as well while saying, “We came to have them change us back.”

“I am worried that they will have us become animals.”

“NO!  That is not what they said they will do.”

“They said Neselle lived with animal people.”

I could tell that my wife was getting angry, but she moved while looking at something other than me.  Of course I let go of her tail, but otherwise stayed still for a moment understanding that she was not directing her ire at me.  I turned to see what had caught her attention, then felt my wife pull an arm as a command to check out who were the new people marching to the castle.

While I had learned various color combinations, these people were all dressed basically the same. They did not simply march in rhythm, but appeared unified in appearance.  In front of the procession was one mounted lady in a lovely yellow outfit whose amber air flowed down her back and settled on the rump of her horse.  Next to her rode a man also dressed in yellow on the back of a lady, a centaur.  Behind the ones marching were some loaded wagons.  Not having a clue who these people were, I advanced to the castle.

Seeing Vulge stop in the gatehouse with a shocked expression concerned me.  A wide grin however then came to his face.  He rushed from the gatehouse yelling out his recognition of one of those arriving.

“CHERING!”

A man in the front of those marching rushed forward to slam his palm in the grip of Vulge, then they shook hands while the man said, “Second fleet my butt!  We were coming into port when Empress Straekin made that decision, and I pulled rank.”

The lady on the horse said, “He did not pull rank, but simply claimed that second fleet would have to be pulled back from leave while he could simply extend the duties of those on board.  When his claim was supported by the entire crew of his ship, I conceded.”

The one riding the centaur said, “And actually their port gave a better route here.  Them needing little time to prepare and a better route is why we are here so soon.”

Seeing others come into the gatehouse, Vulge introduced those arriving.  “King Relecky, this is my Empress Straekin.  The man is Lord Terish.  The centaur is Menasha.  This man with me is Vice-captain Chering.  We can start the cleaning of the castle!”

The monarch advanced while saying, “It is indeed a welcomed sight to see you.  The support for Jelnaya is magnificent.”

Lord Terish, I thought he was a king, moved up to shake the man’s hand while saying, “I remember my days of teaching Jelnaya.  She can be headstrong, but does manage to allow the instructions to sink in.  She has made me proud of her.”

Empress Straekin curtsied to the monarch, then said, “She can be confrontational, but never lets it get out of hand.  Stay firm, and she will either explain herself so you accept that you were in error or actually admit she was in error.”

King Relecky replied, “This is a realm to Samayer, and the goddess gave this land to Jelnaya.  All I have been doing is work to see that things did not deteriorate.”

Lord Terish said, “Well, Jelnaya and Neselle are preparing to start their way back.  Hopefully we can have some things restored by the time they get here.”

With introductions over, the group began moving into the castle grounds.  I was now the one to pull on my wife’s arm.  She looked at me with a glare that I knew well.  Before she could speak, I explained the reason we needed to follow the group.

“Those are people, Keleaf.  They are people going to a home for people to prepare it for people to live in.  That is where we should be.”

The expression did not appear to me to be anger, but fear, as she replied, “Can we?”

“We need to.  That is where we want to be, where we feel we should be.  Well, come on.”  Feeling resistance when I pulled on her arm, I added, “They won’t stop us, Keleaf.  They have not stopped us.  They have been nice and let us do as we would.  Well, this is what we should do.  It won’t be them that stop us, Keleaf.  It will be you.  If you get angry at me, you will be stopping me from being one with the people.  If you stop yourself, you stopped yourself from being one with the people.”

“Does it hurt you, Esgalia?”

“Being with them?  No.  Attempting to think along the topics they discuss, and make sense of the things I used to have a part of my life, yes.  Still, those are the thoughts of people.  I have been forcing myself to think them.  It hurts, but it is what I want.”

Seeing Keleaf take some steps to the castle had me smile, although I saw stress on her features when she turned back to say, “I’m scared they are going to eat us.”

“We came to Jelnaya because we believed she could restore us.  We have come to find her claiming all this as her home.  Those here have fed us and done nothing to harm us.  We however do not want to continue like this, but return to as we were.”  I pointed to assure my point as I said, “That is where we should be.”

She nodded, but otherwise did not move before asking, “Will they restore us?”

“If we make our life out here, maybe not.  If we want to be restored, we need to act like we belong with them.”

A hand reached out for one of mine as she asked, “Will you stay with me?”

“I should have left you long ago, Keleaf.  That however has not happened.  I have accepted that I am stuck with you.”

As I had told my wife, no one stopped us from moving across the castle courtyard.  Coming to the building, we found the doors open to allow some fresh air into the building.  While they had just arrived, I saw people already at work cleaning the walls and furniture.  Most we could not understand, although what they said to us did not sound threatening at all.  I in fact thought it a good sign when my wife spoke her understanding of some statements.

“They think we’re animals.”

I moved up to one person attempting to clean a table while asking, “Are we animals, Keleaf?”

“No.”

“So we help them.”

Keleaf and I found that we could help without it hurting.  By simply focusing on the work, and not the reason for certain items to be present or how the furniture was organized, we could do things along with the people to restore the residence.  While my wife could get angry about being treated as a servant, I actually found her with a pleasant attitude as she helped clean the castle.

That evening a party was held.  Those from Davelda not only celebrated their arrival, but simply their joy in doing what they could for someone they considered important to them.  The festivities ended in a strange manner, as they began speaking of what had been done, then mentioning what work was still needed.  It was hard listening, but I did my best to focus determined to end my day along with the rest of the people.

I found a stein handed to me as a voice said, “Don’t drink the alcohol.  This should help.”

These were all immortals.  I had heard Vulge mention his age, then noticed how none that arrived showed any sign of gray hair, loss of skin tone, or other indication of the passing of years.  Lord Terish did not appear old at all.  His lean figure with slightly long light-brown hair appeared friendly, although also inexperienced.  I however accepted the drink understanding that he had learned things I had yet to comprehend.

What I drank was like a tea, and as I tried to shake off a feeling of being sleepy Lord Terish said, “That should calm the animal nature.  It should make focusing a little easier.”

I looked at a statue, and finding myself appreciate the flow of the figure I turned to admire a painting as I said, “Yes.  Thank you.  There were animals used to make us like we are, and we are becoming scared that we are more animal.”

“It is possible that you are.  Still, what is truly you is something that is more substantial than most believe.  In that you are lucky.  Jelnaya is a champion of a god.  This is a realm devoted to a goddess.  Neselle, a daughter-in-law of mine, is the champion of a Goddess.  Everything is here, or will be here, to redeem your soul.  Unless you have done something to challenge the integrity of what is really you, restoration should be possible.  Maybe not in body, but definitely in mind.”

I emptied the stein, then said, “Thank you for this.”

“Thank you for helping.  I found what I need to make more, so I will prepare a cask of it tomorrow.  Feel free to drink from it, and encourage the others of your group to have some as well.”

“Uh, Sir, Lord, King?”

“Not king on this world.  My kingdom is on another world.”

“OH!”  It did help me to hear that.  “Well, no one has actually checked with us to hear our story.”

“We all trust Jelnaya and Neselle.  One is a granddaughter of mine, and the other is a daughter-in-law.  I know them both very well.  When I say I trust them, I mean that I know what they are capable of.  Keep holding on.”

“The tea does help.”

And Jelnaya returns to her castle.