It Only a Dream Can Be
I spun from speaking to some farmers about the quality of the crops to see who had now entered my home. The horns had sounded the arrival of visitors, but not any tones indicating someone special. Seeing people I definitely recognized, my first thought was to berate my soldiers. Realizing that this was the first time for these members of my immediate family to arrive, I however simply broke from those I was with to rush across the grand room and throw myself on the man.
He appeared healthy, although I could see signs of age. His soft brown hair, the same color I once had, did not yet show gray, but he was having it cut in a fashion only those serious about being an adult would wear it. His brown eyes had a depth to them that my dark blue ones should have, but I enjoyed my life too much. I knew the circles our father moved among, and he had learned a strong physique helped him in dealing with certain figures. Balerk showed that he had accepted that lesson, although would one day begin losing the battle the way our father was.
After some signs of affection, I continued to have an arm go around my brother while announcing, “EVERYONE! This is Balerk, the heir to the family. I’m the oldest child, but he had the honor of being male.”
He spoke loudly as he said, “I believe everyone here is glad you weren’t, Jelnaya.” I saw his eyes look about the grand room as he said, “It seems that you have done quite well for yourself.”
Of course his wife was present, but she held something I knew to be extremely precious. They would get their time, although Balerk needed to know that he had honor. It was not that we had things between us, but our father had made certain decisions about how the family would continue. My older brother and I needed to demonstrate our affection for each other, and I made certain that I played my part. However, the oldest of two very young girls let her presence be known by asking a basic question.
“Aunt Jelnaya, you live here?”
I moved from my brother to put one arm around the girl while pointing with the other. “Adria, you see that large flag with red in two opposing corners, violet in the other corners, but a big yellow diamond in the middle?” When she admitted she did, I explained, “That is the flag of Phanigist, and I rule the land. Over it is the flag of Grenare, which is that of my king. Those other flags are of Astoch, Chetorly, Lecholt, and Vytech, which are domains that I rule as well.”
“Wow. Daddy said that you were probably making your own weapons.”
“Why? I will own the majority of the stock, so if my taking of inventory drops the value of the company I am the one who suffers. I will promise you that he will keep his job.” While I acted like I was whispering, I spoke so everyone could hear, “Your daddy is just mad because I did dance in front of his latest armed sentry.”
Balerk said, “I knew that fault was there, but I did not expect it to be that big of a factor. I expected the speed to make it of negligible importance.”
“Glad that I could clear up that misconception.” Just so we did not get stalled on matters of the family business, I rose to look at the one being held. “Is this Ferrish?”
“That’s him. He’s to be the next one to live under the threat of continuing the family or having you in control of Kallotech.”
“And he’s third instead of second.”
Balerk’s wife, Punollin, said, “May the gods help us if we have two like you, Jelnaya.”
A number laughed at that, and I turned to make introductions. I had seen those associated with the king and my various domains bow, curtsey, or make certain motions when I mentioned the names of their homes speaking to Adria. They now got the proper recognition when they again made the actions. A number laughed when my brother pointed to a statue, as all in the room had heard my own words about it.
“So, you finally know what Fergush looks like.”
I proudly replied, “I actually had Fergush come before me to compare him to that statue.”
From my first association with the god I now served, I would feel his hand, his breath, from my back. His voice became very familiar with me. I however had not seen him. This had simply been a realm to his wife, but in my taking over the duchy I demanded a statue of him as well. While I knew the goddesses would reveal themselves in different manners to people, the gods were spoken of in much more consistent terms. I thus requested that Fergush finally come before me so I could compare his statue to his real form. He laughed while complying with my desire, and I would think on his smiling face even as I saw the much more serious representation of the god known as He-Who-Fights.
After hearing the story, my brother said, “I know we gave no advance warning, Jelnaya.”
I replied, “You know it would not have helped. If I have something to do, I go do it. If I just feel like traveling, I do it. However, I do have a status that requires my presence before the people. It helps that I have things to do requiring me to be a public figure. Honestly, it would not hurt to take you on a tour.”
“We want to see all we can, Jelnaya. Still, the fact we saw you at all is wonderful.”
“You’re my brother, my family, Balerk. Ferrish is going to one day bring his first son to me. Let’s set a good tradition. Come on, let me show you my home.”
It was Punollin who asked, “How about you one day having a family, Jelnaya?”
“I demanded it all,” I admitted. “Still, it would take a really special man to claim me. However, look at this castle. This is supposed to be a place for She-Who-Survives, but its open nature fits me well. Your children should not feel threatened here at all. Let them roam and play. I definitely do not stay cooped up in a room, but am usually out here or even outside.”
It filled me with joy to give Balerk and his family a much better visit than I managed for my father and mother. The weather stayed pleasant, and the only problems were those who felt the desire to challenge a champion of He-Who-Fights. It was fun when Balerk stepped into the sparring field after I had basically kicked one young man from it, as my brother had loaded himself down with some Kallotech weapons determined to see if any of the recent improvements could overcome me.
We were now in Lecholt. I picked on those in this barony, as I mentioned it was their flagpole that broke in my fight to eradicate the evil that had taken over what was now my home. While they could see in my policies that I held nothing against them, I still would pick on those of Lecholt as being the ones that would let me down when things got tough.
I had taken a seat in the throne just because I could. We were just talking before the meal in the front of the main room, and I felt like sitting down when a trusted general called to the servants for some wine. I directed those around me to find a seat even as I sat in the throne.
Our conversation was interrupted by the steward announcing, “Your Grace, Honored Jelnaya, there is a gentleman caller.”
Actually having an official chaperone, I looked to one of the large men in the room and asked, “Vulge?”
Everyone was quiet as the Navy man from my paternal grandmother’s home world went to the doors to the room. Honestly, I did not have anyone seeking my hand in marriage. Nothing about my being immortal was claimed as the reason, but most simply did not see my active presence as what they wanted in a lady. I believe it was simply the novelty of someone coming to seek my hand that had them quietly wait for Vulge to return from checking out the man who had arrived.
Approaching the throne, he said, “Uh, Princess Jelnaya, the man claims to know you. He told me to say he was Makinor –“
“Champion of She-Who-Loves,” I interrupted to let Vulge know I did indeed know the man. “Let him come in, Vulge. He went on a mission with me just like you did, and for someone connected to a love goddess he managed exceptionally.”
I saw the polished metal armor just as I remembered it. Seeing him without his helmet kept me from getting mad at him. I however saw things about him I did not remember, so rose from the throne to go before him.
He bowed while saying, “No curtsey, Honored Jelnaya.”
“First, you’re a friend, Makinor,” I replied. “Second, you’re a divine champion as well, so my status as a divine champion only sets me as an equal. I am now a duchess, and you are not of that rank, but I consider our friendship important.” I had a hand go to his face as I said, “You appear to have grown even older, Makinor.”
“I request a private audience with you, Duchess Jelnaya.”
“You will receive it, Makinor.” I pointed while saying, “Vulge will also be in attendance, but he is a friend as well. I don’t mind telling you about him, but right now I will simply let you know that he has my complete confidence.”
Vulge stressed, “I am her chaperone. If a man is coming before Princess Jelnaya, I will attend as well.”
Makinor spoke to let me know he noticed a particular word, “Princess Jelnaya?”
I replied, “I don’t argue with Vulge, Makinor. If he says I’m a princess, I’m a princess.”
Most in the room laughed at that, as I had ruled long enough for them to know things about me. Vulge had definitely done enough to let my people know about him. The laughter did put Makinor in a slightly relaxed mood, which helped as I introduced him. He however seemed to tense back up when a couple of girls came into the room.
“Aunt Jelnaya,” the oldest of the two spoke boldly while the younger simply lifted her hands for me to pick her up, “we’re hungry.”
I replied, “Well, both of you should know that we don’t eat until the sun goes down. Still, we can go check on the food. What they are cooking might not be worth waiting for.”
The youngest said, “Aunt Jelnaya, there were a lot of pigs with long fluffy tails in the pond. We wanted to look at them, but soldiers told us to go inside.”
Members of the military moved as I asked my nieces about the animals they saw. My concern instantly was not on the girls, but on others who might be out near where the strange creatures might be. Weird in a world like Sennapre meant dangerous, as something not in the manner of what the gods created was usually malevolent. The fact that I did not hear screams I felt to be a good thing, but I moved to put my nieces in the hands of their parents as I prepared to go with some soldiers to check out what the girls had seen.
The sounds of men being harmed could be made out as we approached the pond, but I did not feel any concern. I easily recognized the noise of fools who thought they could earn points of honor. There were soldiers standing around, and while I did not doubt any of them doing what they could to contain the threat I felt I saw the recognition of them not wanting to face the monsters. There were a few men acting as if in the process of gaining the confidence to fight, but I felt some concern when Makinor prepared to put on his shiny helmet as he asked a question.
“Duchess, may I?”
I replied, “I will not stop you, but only because I am a Champion of Fergush. To have you take up a fight I consider a wondrous sight.”
He put on the helmet, then readied his weapon as he said, “You are wearing a very lovely violet dress, Duchess. I would love to protect you from getting it dirty.”
I drew my sword while saying, “If any get past you and steps on dry ground, they’re mine.”
While I wanted to watch Makinor in action, my training had me focus on the monsters. I could see why the girls thought they were pigs. They did have their large heads almost directly on their shoulders, but what probably looked to them like tusks were really mandibles. The insect-like features on the head had me suspect a stinger in the tail, which was covered in a thick growth of hair like my nieces said. What I saw however were the rear appendages being used as hindrances to movement. Makinor found his attempts to gain positions to be limited due to thick, water-soaked lengths being in his way. I found myself worrying about him in his heavy armor moving in water with the difficulty of having limited choices for his attacks, but as I considered how I would fight the monsters I heard the sound of a large rifle being cocked as someone rushed to the other side.
I really did not show a pleased expression when my brother said, “You hold that side of the pond and I will hold this one.”
“Only those that come out, Balerk,” I replied. “If Makinor drops, I’m going in.” I then mumbled, “Laughing.”
The general that had been discussing things with me said, “That’s mean, Honored Duchess.”
“Hey, if I am expected to love, he can be expected to fight. Still, I am not going to claim to be best at love, and I will take pleasure in seeing him as not being the best at fighting.”
Vulge asked, “Does he have your honor, Princess Jelnaya?”
“He’s a fellow divine champion, Vulge. His honor comes from his goddess just as my honor comes from my god.” My focus on the battle had not ceased, and seeing Makinor make a misstep had me speak to another. “How many you want, Balerk?”
Hearing my brother say, “Two,” I felt gave me the challenge I needed.
Grandmother Straekin had left the comfort, she called it a rut, of ruling Davelda to travel with Grandfather Terish. He did not lead a simple life of maintaining his land, but traveled through worlds to discover secrets that had been lost to time. The gowns she had worn in her life were quickly found to be as limiting as her duties, so she had sought to find methods of still appearing in a graceful and dignified manner while acting in ways others thought improper for a lady. The lessons Grandmother Straekin had learned had been taught to her daughters, and they had passed down the secrets of how to alter garments to me along with tricks they had gained. I left the men standing around me to only have the comfort of allowing them to see a Champion of Fergush in action.
The monsters did appear as pigs, which meant they had large shoulders. I jumped, landed on the back of one, sent my sword through the spine, beneath my feet, and into the skull. As I jiggled the sword to assure it messed up the insides of the creature, I tossed a dagger then pointed for the one struck to go in a certain direction. It did, which actually surprised me, although hearing the whumps of a large, powerful weapon I set myself to move on another monster.
I really did not take over the fight. While my bright red and yellow hair might have sparkled to those watching, I really did not fight at the level that would cause it to shine. Makinor was allowed to continue to challenge those upon him. I simply made certain he was not overwhelmed to the point where a simple misstep would prove fatal. I also allowed Balerk to have his second monster. It helped that the pond was not deep, so I could step on a carcass without dropping into the liquid. I gained the impression that it was a place where some men had dug out the sides of a stream to make a wide area for animals to drink. I noticed things about the way Makinor fought, but really did nothing to take the battle from him.
As he panted after killing the last one, I asked, “You want to carry me away from this? So far I have only had the hem of my skirt get dirty.”
With a little stronger voice than I thought would be possible, he replied, “What if I said, ‘Yes?’”
“I would not think that was your problem. Your problem would be if I said, ‘Yes.’”
I really did not see him pause to think before he said, “Not just an audience, Jelnaya. I need to talk with you.”
“I presently have family along with certain duties, Makinor. What if I send Vulge to get you late tonight?”
“Honestly, my duties often keep me up late at night. It will not be a problem, Jelnaya.”
I held out a hand while saying, “You took to the challenge and held your own. I would only say that you should count the number of opponents before choosing a direct attack style.”
He took off his helmet, then held my hand gingerly as brought it to his lips while saying, “I became a better person when I spent time with you before. That drives me to want to spend more time with you, Jelnaya.”
“Well, I will wait to see exactly what you want to talk about.”
Even knowing who Makinor is, Jelnaya is not expecting what he presents to her.