A Wish for Hope

Chapter Thirty

We were holed up in a chamber where I had been shown was the portal to the next world.  Something had me feel that it was not the home of Esgalia, but an important place to him all the same.  While I had allowed myself to doze, I had not dropped off into a deep slumber so became alert when Abreyon moved to gain some rations.  He saw me look to him, then walked across the chamber to whisper a question to me.

“Honored Duchess, is the fact we were told to rest a good thing or a bad thing?”

I replied with my own question, “Considering what we have gone through, what would you consider a good thing or a bad thing?”

He chuckled before admitting, “Being a Champion of Fergush, I guess you and me might have a different opinion on that.  Okay, so, are you expecting another grand fight?”

“What we just fought was not a grand fight.  Slaughtering masses of creatures, people or not, is not a grand fight.  Nothing grand about it.  We simply needed to get through them.”  Seeing Abreyon nod, I then added, “I am however expecting a grand fight.  Whatever is responsible will need to be stopped, although powerful enough that a simple exchange will not bring about an end.”

“Just how powerful do you think it is?”

“Think about it, Abreyon.  Esgalia’s people were not forced, I mean beaten into submission.  They were convinced.  I am going to force a fight, but not because of my association with Fergush.  I am going to force a fight because I don’t want to face this being on its own field of battle.  The evidence is strong that I might not win that fight.”

“So, you can be scared.”

I wondered about the mentality of the lad in asking such a statement, so with a suspicious attitude I replied, “Call it what you will, but I do study my opponents.  Great-uncle Ferrigote teaches that, and I have found it to be a good lesson for one who serves Fergush.”

“Sorry, Honored Duchess, but I was told to watch you for signs of not being human.  There is something different about you.”

“Well, fears are to be faced.  So, if I feel scared then I know to search for a method to confront what is before me.  You can either provide counsel in how to face those fears, or seek to trust in my leadership to see you to a victory in the battle.”

Abreyon moved to sit beside me, then said, “They wanted more to life than Samayer was providing.  Life was, well, boring.  They committed themselves to simply having some excitement to their lives.  The baby eating, well, that was too far, but I got the feeling they did not have any concept on how far they would need to go.  They were just going to enjoy things that were new and exciting.”

I had to ask, “You know about that?”

“Had family involved.  I was left with grandparents who lectured, and lectured, and lectured me.  I did not want to listen, but what I saw hurt just as much.  Nerbink was the same way.  When we learned of what you were doing, the elders, and I am talking about old folks, told Nerbink and me to do what we did.  We’re different, not really friends, but we have a lot in common.”  I was glad to hear what he said, although should have expected his question.  “Just how much of your family is from Sennapre?”

“Just my Great-uncle Ferrigote.  His story is that he was tricked by a witch to step through a portal to another world.  Exactly how much divine guidance was instrumental in him meeting with my Grandfather Terish has never been revealed, but both speak of Fergush knowing all about them when they returned to Sennapre.”

“So, you travel between worlds a lot?”

I was actually glad to have time to simply converse with the lad, so replied, “Yes.  My mother is from Emigaila, the world I was born on.  My father however would have us visit his parents on Thiminy or Davelda, depending on where they were at.  Great-uncle Ferrigote was of course on this world.  I have aunts on other worlds, so just visiting family I travel a lot.”

“So, you probably won’t be in your castle a lot?”

“I did not ask for a residence to settle into, but simply a place to call home.  When I placed my demand before Fergush I clearly let him know that I set my standards according to Grandfather Terish and Great-uncle Ferrigote.  Both travel.  Actually, Nehallum is being ruled by Nuchirg, who I consider as much an uncle as my father’s brother.  Great-uncle Ferrigote calls Nehallum his home, but does not stay that often.  Phanigist could well end up being actually maintained by one of my children.”

“So, you do plan on getting married?”

“I get it all, which includes a husband and family.  The problem there is that both Grandfather Terish and Great-uncle Ferrigote have rather unique wives.  Exactly where I get my husband from and other things about him I will just have to wait and find out.”  I had to chuckle as I admitted, “I really don’t like Grandmother Straekin or Great-aunt Dirchein.  They are both fabulous ladies, but not ones I enjoy spending time with.  That has me worried that I won’t like my husband at all.”

“Forgive me if my words sound bad, Honored Duchess, but you don’t sound like a lady that will eat babies.”

I had to admit, “But if Fergush tells me to kill them, I will.  Don’t fear me, but also don’t get into a position where you fear the gods.”

“I don’t think the old folks will be concerned if I go back telling them that.”

“I was told to kill those in uniform and anyone else who was along my way.  I was not told to go through the town and kill people in the houses.  I would hope most of my citizens are not angry at me or scared of me.”

“No.  What they were angry at, or scared of, was Fergush sending something nonhuman to do his bidding.  You are something different, Honored Duchess, but I believe they will be glad to come to know you.”

He started to rise while asking, “You want me to cook?”

I pointed over to a plate while saying, “You can take credit for them.”

There were over a dozen tarts set there.  I had the flour and the fruit was beginning to spoil, so I had spent time assuring that the food would not go to waste.  I however did not explain why I had done what I did, although appreciated the fact that Abreyon showed pleasure in eating a tart.

I got Nerbink and Vulge up while Abreyon prepared some meat.  While there was some speculation on what we might face, I did not say anything except to encourage the men.  I did go through certain katas.  The men made assumptions from what I was doing, and started preparing for another battle.  In a way I was glad they acted as they did, although I also felt like the worst of the physical combat was over.  With the meat cooked, I woke up Esgalia and told everyone to be alert for whatever.

The man that had been a fox person asked, “Honored Jelnaya, you let me sleep?”

It was Vulge that replied, “How do you feel?”

“I slept well, although now awake I am troubled by things I cannot remember just as I was when I went to sleep.”  He started to take a bite, then said, “I didn’t sleep well as a fox.  When I went to bed, I could sense the fox.  Not having that separate mind I guess is why I collapsed into deep slumber.”

“You were rather simple-minded as a fox, but I mean that in a good way.  We could depend on you.  We will still need that.”

“Yes, Sir Vulge.  Oh, I had a title.  I was a margrave.”

I quickly replied, “Then we can skip our titles.  I’m Honored Jelnaya, as I will not have you deny Fergush.  He’s Vulge, and you are still Esgalia.”

“Well, I believe you are the leader, and having a divine standing does put you in a different category.  I believe I will have no problem still calling you Honored Jelnaya.  I however believe I was already calling him simply Vulge.”

The large man said, “I don’t care what you call me, but I am still the chaperone of the lady.  You don’t treat me right, and you will be severely limited in your access to her.”

Again I was quick to reply, “Not if it’s business, Vulge.  Esgalia is business.”

“Yes, and he’s also married.  Okay, Esgalia, you get a pass.  Abreyon and Nerbink, you’re not so lucky.”

Both of the young men began speaking of what they had been doing.  I helped Esgalia prepare his things for travel.  Actually, I spent time helping him adjust to again being a man.  He actually did not have things he should have.  He spoke of not needing some things as a fox person, or just finding them useless, but also of dropping a number of items as he fled.  I actually gave him my Kallotech blade to shave with, as the one he had been given to fight with was a little too dangerous.  As I spoke of taking advantage of what some corpses might have on them, he spoke of having me just continue what I was doing.

“No,” I replied.  “Esgalia, let me say again that I am not doing this for you.  I am doing this for me.  I am certainly willing to help you, but you need to assure that we handle your situation while out here.”

“Yes, and you have done so much already.”

“I’ve done nothing but chase the people that caused me to slaughter hundreds of lives.”

“No, Honored Duchess.  Your aunt, Neselle, she spoke of repaying a debt.  Even though you are family, she considers what you did for her to be a debt.  Well, I will be the same.  I will be indebted to you.  My people will be indebted to you.  If you ever have a need, think of us.  Give us a chance to repay the debt.”

Not really wanting to form an attachment, I replied, “When I go to Aunt Neselle’s, it is not just Aunt Neselle and Uncle Althery that treat me as family.  Their whole world does.  Vulge might call me princess, but actually all of Davelda does.  They all consider me one of their own.  These aren’t debts being repaid, but family supporting one another.  The debt is by blood, not by deed.  As for my deeds, I am doing what my god requires.  To repay your debt, do what your gods tell you to do.”

“There are always exceptions.  With my people it might be by deed, but we will still treat you as family, because we owe it to you.”

Vulge said, “You might as well admit it, Princess, you lost that fight.”

Hearing a voice in my head agree, I accepted the conversation as being finished.  I reached beneath my crystal armor to where there was a pocket in my clothing.  Pulling out a gold coin-sized object with the symbol of Fergush, I breathed on it stating that honor had been earned.  The gleam of the metal changed to a yellow and red shimmer.  Instead of displaying honor in being handed the coin, the head of Esgalia showed confusion.

“Are you increasing the debt?”

“No,” I answered.  “Don’t expect me to conveniently show up to rescue you.  Contact me if you have a need.”

“This will do that?”

It was Vulge that replied, “If you have a need, and don’t try, Princess Jelnaya is not responsible for you.”

I tried a more rational explanation.  “My god is He-Who-Fights.  That does not only mean with weapons.  Words are also a contest, and you won.  The coin honors that.  Most just keep it to brag that they earned it.  It however can provide other benefits.”

Esgalia examined the coin, then said, “I might just put it away as a treasure.”

“Then you will probably never see me again.”

“Will you come to my death bed?”

“I’ll just come.  Unless you just inconveniently summon me at a really bad time, I’ll come.  I won’t know you are on your death bed.”  Wanting to assure him of my honesty, I admitted, “I will cry if you are on your death bed, Esgalia.”

“But everyone will know that the stories I told all my life were true.  That will let me die with peace.”

“Then I will accept it as an honorable use of the icon.”  I thought of him as the fox-person and tapped him on the nose as I commanded, “Now, stay alert.  You make certain I notice what I need to do to restore your people.”

And they set themselves back to the challenge.