A Wish for Hope

Chapter Twenty-Eight
(Esgalia)

The ones that rushed out appeared human at first, but I quickly could tell they were not.  I thought of them more as insect people.  When one cut through their tough skin, the wound oozed without any sign of something substantial beneath.  Facing one did not have me gazing into the countenance of another living soul, but some strange monster with hard mouth pieces instead of lips and dark eyes that did not speak of there being a true mind in their head.  Looking at them I wondered what people thought when they gazed on my face.  Did they see me as human, or quickly assume I was not?

As I faced combat, I could not help but think on my wife.  She was such an angry person, but I could not believe the lady that I had pulled, carried, and fought to have stay with me truly had that personality when I courted her.  Whatever I now was, the person I considered myself to have always been, could not have fallen in love with the one who was my wife.  She had to have been different, although that also convicted me of possibly once being different as well.  Finding combat to turn with me facing death, I could not help but wonder if dying as a fox person I would leave as a better person.

Opening my eyes back up, I saw no one immediately around me as I heard the voice of Honored Duchess Jelnaya say, “You’re good, Esgalia.  Keep fighting.”

I rushed another insect person while screaming, “HONORED DUCHESS JELNAYA!”  Hoping she was listening, I said, “I don’t think I am who I was.”

It brought me comfort to hear her voice still nearby.  “How do you want me to respond to that, Esgalia?”

“My wife.  I cannot believe I kept rescuing my wife.  She had to have been a different person once, or I had to have been a different person.”

“That’s not a confession for me.”

My first thought was that she was correct, although I quickly spoke a correction.  “You cannot save me unless you know.”

“Well, I will admit that you are here with me through my struggles, so I guess I need to stay with you when you confront yours.”

My struggle?  This was not my struggle?  I sent my blade into the torso of one insect person, and as I turned upon seeing the internal fluids spill out I could not help but believe this was my struggle.  I could have stopped this.  Maybe not for Jelnaya’s world, but for my own.  I could have made decisions that would have caused the people, including my wife, to rethink certain choices.  As I fought I found myself believing that I was in my predicament from my own complacency.  This was my struggle, because I did not stand up and fight when I should have.

What further troubled me was that I could return to where I had lived only to find that somebody had annihilated my home.  Where there had once been a thriving community, a call had gone out to wipe out the entire population.  Honored Duchess Jelnaya did not like what she had done, but stood with pride in obeying her god.  I had no pride.  I was a lowly fox person, and I probably deserved being who I was.  While the thought troubled me, I had to admit that taking on a future as a simple animal probably was what I should be.

I set myself to the conflict accepting that this was my struggle.  Honored Duchess Jelnaya had not rescued us before, and would not necessarily do so this time.  She had her own concerns.  She had stopped the Privileged, but not to save my people.  While she deserved her honor, I did not.  I had not fought for my own people, for those I should have been concerned for.  I needed to do so now, and I took part in the conflict accepting my duty.

My wife.  I had rescued my wife.  Why?  Because I loved her.  There was something about her, something that possibly had once been about her, that had me desire her.  I needed to see if I could restore that.  Not only did I not find myself loving her as a person, but I really did not find her attractive as a fox person.  She was however the lady I chose to be my wife, and I needed to refind that person both for myself and her.

I fought, because I had to.  The insect people rushed upon us like ants from a disturbed mound.  Jelnaya stayed active, although I felt she mostly worked to keep us men from being swarmed by a multitude of opponents.  I felt she started the first song simply to hush the constant sound of someone thanking her.  It however quickly stopped by the lads needing to discuss tactics.  I did not see how they could think going one way would help over going any other.  The mass of opponents was too great.  We needed to keep attacking, and seeing creatures coming upon me I fought.

It was a strange feeling when I wondered if my wife would be proud of me.  Here I was fighting instead of fleeing, and I could not imagine her coming upon me praising me as finally acting as a man.  She had called me stupid for what I done, but never had she spoken of a better plan.  She had not even challenged me to stand and fight.  She had only fussed at me for doing what I did with no mention of being ashamed of us running.  While I had the feeling of finally doing something to act against the evil that had changed my life, I could not help but wonder if my wife would care.

Looking at Honored Duchess Jelnaya, I had to consider why she fought.  While I understood she had a fighting spirit as her god, there was still the question of why she took to the battle.  Seeing her in action did support a belief that she did it for enjoyment.  My time with her however had showed me that she did care.  It bothered her that she had slaughtered people.  There was a desire in her to have the conflicts make sense.  She was not simply passing time in a pleasant activity, but fought accepting things would be better if she could spend the period doing something else.  That had me consider why she was willing to do something I had not done myself.

The next time she passed near me to clear out the group gathering to attack me, I asked her, “Honored Duchess Jelnaya, did something like this ever happen to you?”

She continued to attack while answering, “No.  What makes you ask?”

“Why do you do this?”

“Never did enjoy simply staying around some house.  I was the oldest child in my family, but my aunts had some girls older than me.  Did not like visiting them at all.  I would spend my time studying magic, or matching my male cousins at what they were doing.  I picked up my first weapon simply because the boys were trying to ignore me, and I found my uncles teaching me how to use them.  I kept a sword and some daggers and practiced with them.  I then had a weekend with my father where I got him to speak on the family business.  I believe that set me on my path.”

She said all of that while killing ant people.  While every attack I did took effort and concentration, so much that I almost lost track of what Honored Duchess Jelnaya was saying.  I however saw an ease in her movements that let me know she truly had no problems with her life.  She was the lady capable of restoring my situation, but that was because she was the only one who could get me through all the problems I had run from.  I had my weapon strike through the carapace of another ant person, then realized what I wanted to ask.

“Is it worth it?”

Honored Duchess Jelnaya stopped to turn to me while saying, “You don’t hear me complaining.”

The press of the fight really made that short statement almost enough for her to be overwhelmed.  She however smiled as if glad to have a challenge.  She already had the double-bladed weapon she called a drahaberd in her hands, but I saw it slice through the carapaces as if their bodies were only protected by paper.  I did see her express joy in what she was doing, and that had me think of what I had been doing before my life changed.

A woman’s voice said, “You can’t spend time on that, Esgalia.  Fight.”

I turned wondering what other lady was around us.  It was possible that there were female ant people, but none had bodies that I recognized as being women.  It helped having Honored Duchess Jelnaya nearby, as my distraction from attempting to find the one who spoke almost caused me to be killed.  She again cleared the area around me.  While she said nothing about needing to save me again, I considered the desperateness of my situation.  I accepted that what I heard, either from a lady I could not see or my own mind.

Suddenly, I saw things clear out.  Both lads almost fell to their knees from being worn out.  I did feel tired, but I had felt stressed before the conflict from things around me and running for lengthy periods.  Actually, the fight had not tired me out.  I would confess that I had not fought with the intensity of the others, but I felt it was to our benefit that I did what could as effectively as possible.  Seeing things clear out did not have me feel able to relax, but actually I only saw an opening to flee.

Honored Duchess Jelnaya commanded, “To the temple!”

That made sense, so I took off.  Honored Duchess Jelnaya did yell to the men behind me, but I saw her matching my pace.  It did help hearing Sir Vulge continue to speak encouragement to Abreyon and Nerbink.  Assured that no one was being left behind, I continued to take off to the temple.

It actually surprised me to reach the building without another mass of ant people coming upon us.  Finding myself coming between columns decorated with what had probably been stories of wonderful occasions in the past only now gouged beyond any chance of reading, I felt the ability to finally catch my breath.  What I saw was more of an open place, although signs of once beautiful paintings, statuary, and other details were present.  I did think of certain questions as I looked around, although it surprised me when Abreyon actually asked one.

“Why aren’t they coming in here?”

Honored Duchess Jelnaya replied, “Because they can’t.  It seems those behind this did more than the Privileged.  Their honor is that it worked.  Their shame however is that they were responsible for the evil they sought protection from.  The gods here are not as uncaring as the ones I met dealing with the Privileged.”

Sir Vulge asked, “Are you being told something, Princess?”

“Yes.  Actually more than I expected.”

“And what is that?”

“Your silent Goddess should make you not want to ask that, Vulge.”

Nerbink asked, “And why is that, Honored Duchess?”

“Because gods don’t just chatter.  If they tell you something, it has a lot of weight.”

“Oh?”

I turned hearing the lad go quiet, and saw Honored Duchess Jelnaya with a hand raised to signal silence.  Wondering if she was listening for more ant people, or other opponents, I did not move or say anything.  I however then watched as Honored Duchess Jelnaya moved over to pat a column while asking a question.

“How much do you think this cost, Esgalia?”

“Oh,” I replied, “that appears to be limestone covered by –“

I could not help but scream.  Memories flooded into my mind.  I knew who I had been, although I had to scream out information I felt my companions needed to hear me confess.

“I was married to Keleaf, but she killed our baby!  I wanted to understand.  I wanted to help.  I however was then captured, and forced to suffer the fate of the others.”

A female voice not that of Honored Duchess Jelnaya asked, “And you still loved your wife.”

“Yes.  I had to believe there was a reason.”

“There was no good reason, or really a sane one.  Still, Esgalia, you cannot process the truth as you are.  Hold still.”

I felt something at my rear, then my tail was grabbed.  There had to be pain, but my mind could not process it as it was already flooded with agonizing signals.  What I felt was something being yanked out of me, and with the release of a weight and the torture of working my thoughts I collapsed to the floor.

Having female hands move my head and shoulders, I looked to see myself held by a lady I had come to respect.  “Honored Duchess Jelnaya.”

She replied, “I’m not your duchess, Esgalia.”

“Of course.”  I rose to say, “I worked with the churches.  I wasn’t a priest…”  My voice trailed as I realized I was human again, but looked to Honored Jelnaya while I went on with what I was saying.  “I handled the commissions to design, construct, and install elaborate projects as these columns.”

“I was only told to ask you the question, Esgalia.  I was not told why.”

“Yes, well, marble is actually soft.  The church however came into the possession of some crystal sheets, like glass but of natural manufacture.  I had been assigned to seeing if they could be carved, then working with artisans on making something really fabulous with the material.  That work kept me from home.  I knew Keleaf was pregnant, and I did check on her.  I also checked messages from home.  I however found things to become disturbing.  I was already on my way home when I got word, from Keleaf actually, of the death of our baby.  Coming home, things just went from bad to worse.”

She came to put a hand on my shoulder while whispering for me to pull my pants up.  The lack of hair and tail had caused things to slip.  As I corrected the item of clothing, then noticed how what I had been wearing did not fit my human form, I listened to the lady say more.

“We don’t need to hear your confession, Esgalia.  I was only told that you were not to blame.”

“Well, I was not a fighter, Honored Jelnaya.  I did know materials and tools, which I guess helped me to fight.”

Abreyon said, “If you can just keep managing what you had been, it will be good enough.”

I nodded in appreciation of the words, but turned back to the lady to say, “It hurt to think.  I can think more clearly now.”

She replied, “That might be bad, Esgalia.  That means now you can be held completely responsible.”

“No,” I said emphatically.  “No.  Now I can hope to comprehend the reason for what happened.  I need that.  Not just for myself, but for Keleaf, and maybe others.”  I began to cry thinking, “If my wife regained her memories, she would remember killing our baby.  I need to know why so I can help her.  She cannot escape that.  There is no way for her to escape that.”

“Well, we’re not escaping anything.  We are going to the source of the trouble.”

Keleaf is back at the castle, so we will return to Neselle.