Without a Light I See

Chapter Nine

Vulge smiled at me, but I did not smile back.  I did not feel proper, but coming without anything I felt would be even worse.  Seeing fairies did not bother me a lot, although knowing my mother was also watching did trouble me.  I tried to put a smile on my face as I advanced to a balcony, but I felt certain it would quickly be removed.

Not seeing anyone, I called out, “Honored Duchess Jelnaya, I was told you would be present.”

She bounded to the railing on the balcony.  The smile on her face helped me keep the one on mine.  The joy she expressed in having me call her out to the balcony had me want to please her, although I had to admit I did not have much to entertain her with.

“And what are you going to do?” she asked.

“I… well, I – it’s all I really have.  My mother provided some poetry.  It’s in the fairy tongue, but I am told that you understand all languages.”

“I might miss things if it rhymes.”

I had to look the poem over to admit, “Uh, no.  It’s in free verse.  I didn’t come here to court you, Honored Duchess.”

“Just Jelnaya while courting.  Relax Potorly.”

“Well, I’m really not a poetry person, Jelnaya.  Could I read you a section from a romance novel?”

Mother told me to put the book back with my belongings, but I had not and was glad when Jelnaya replied, “This is supposed to be a period where you do something to help me like you.  I however did not know fairies wrote romance novels.”

“They don’t.  I don’t live anywhere fancy, Jelnaya.  A simple shack.  Don’t really demand much from life.  I do help people however, and some want to do things for me in return.  It gets boring, and cold, and someone, Princess Delomaine I believe, dropped off some books.  I then began trading them and actually bought a few.  This is one of those I bought.”

“If you marry me, you’ll have to live here.”

Not really certain where the conversation was going, I replied, “I’ll give you credit for appearing to like it here.  I favor Samayer, so I guess living here will be all right.”

“Really?  You favor Samayer?  I see Remidda.”

“Yes.  Well, that is because I am presently in the business of helping people.”  I opened up the top of my vest to show the icon over my heart, then said, “Samayer is my preferred goddess.  Fergush is all right, as I do end up fighting at times.  Really don’t respect Cloript.  Debogda, no, but I believe it is just my fairy blood that does not want me assigned to anything.  Onathia, well, if this thing proceeds with you I guess I will seek her out.”

“What if I told you that Onathia was already involved?”

“Then I hope she stays involved.  I believe love should be in a marriage, Jelnaya.”

“Well said.  You want to read the passage?”

I looked at the book, but a feeling that I was wasting my time had me say, “No.  I’m sorry, Jelnaya.  I’m just a simple man.  Yes, I’m a prince, but I left that.  I was happy, but –“

My mistake was in looking up.  She was lovely.  There was light where I was at, enough to allow me to read.  There was also light in the room behind the balcony bright enough that I assumed she read things while waiting for suitors to arrive.  The radiance behind her seemed to play in the strands from her head with red and yellow giving her a really wonderful appearance.  Looking up at her, I could not help but want her for my own.

I had to ask, “What do I need to do?  You have had to call off the romance with a multitude of other men.”

She replied, “Most just want a wife and mother.  I will be that, but that is not who I am.  If you really want me, you have to show that you want me.  My life is not in this castle.”

“I really don’t have a home, Jelnaya.  The shack is not really mine.  Wherever you go is fine.”  I then felt a sense of hope, and eagerly said, “I’ll go with you.  I got Lerdiyo here.  I have no problem of going where we need to in order to resolve his problem.”

“It won’t be just one mission, Potorly.  I move about a lot.”

“I really don’t have a home, Jelnaya.  Let’s go.  Show me worlds.”  I saw her about to say something, but I felt the need to make my point.  “Onathia be damned, Jelnaya!  I’m not going to make it hard on the goddess.  I’ll do it!  Whatever I need to do, I’ll do it.”

“Show up on the sparring field in the morning.  Let me check you out.”

“And then?”

“There is no, ‘and then.’  I don’t stop, Potorly.  I am a champion of Fergush.  I am the noble in charge of this realm.  You show up in the morning, and go about during the day, and just keep at it.  I won’t be stopping, Potorly.  If you cannot handle it, you are not the man for me.”

Unsure what else to say, I simply asked, “Really?”

“Let’s see if you are able to find out the truth.”

Not wanting the period to end, I asked, “What would you like for me do out here?”

“What you did.  Make the time productive.  The poetry, the music, all that is nice, but I could hire minstrels if I wanted such.”

“Oh.  So what’s next?”

“I told you, Potorly.  There is no, ‘what’s next.’  See you in the morning.”

As she moved from the balcony, Vulge stepped up to say, “I’m impressed.  Keep standing up to her.  She is really a sweet lady, but she can give a man Hell.  The practice field is not really the best time to deal with her, but it is where she tends to spend time.  If you just let her know you are out there, that is really all that is necessary.”

Feeling a desire to impress the lady, I replied, “But she is a Champion of Fergush.  That is her life out there.”

“It however does not need to be your life.  Your desire, assuming you really want her, is to let her know that you are going to be a part of her life.”

“Well, I can fight.”

He chuckled, then said, “Historic romances.  She reads historic works.  No poetry, unless she needs to.  She likes history, you like romances, so historic romances.  There is a book store in town, maybe they have something.”

“Oh, yes – thanks.”

“I’m not the problem.  Jelnaya is the problem.  Remember that.  Don’t worry about me.  Don’t worry about her great-uncle or any other family member.  Keep your focus on her.”

“Well, yes – thanks.”  I stuck out a hand while asking, “Will I see you at the practice field?”

He shook my hand while saying, “If you’re there, yes.  I’m her chaperone.  Since you are passing the test on being her suitor, I have a need to be there.”

Mother just stood there looking at me.  Not knowing what to say, I simply handed her book back to her then went back to walking.  I was almost at the door to return inside the castle when I heard my mother speak from behind.

“Clothes, Potorly.  You need some good clothes.”

I replied, “That and a good stiff drink.”

“You swear off the stuff, Potorly.  If you are going to stay in her life, you need to be ever alert.”

I just glared at my mother.  Almost left to stride back to the balcony and ask Jelnaya about her attitude on drinking.  Her words of staying busy at something however settled my mind.  She would not be against the alcohol, but against my desire to escape from the world.  Jelnaya would probably drink whatever was served, but would have the poison burnt off instead of succumbing to it.  I looked at my mother, and decided how to respond to her.

“I don’t need clothes for around a castle.”

My attention was diverted by sounds of soldiers moving.  Actually making out a scream from Lerdiyo.  I checked to assure I was armed.  With Jelnaya being the Champion of He-Who-Fights, I had put on my weapons.  My next problem was how to leave the castle grounds.  For once I was actually glad to have a fairy gain my attention.

The directions to head up a flight of stairs to gain the top of the wall then drop down I actually agreed was the best.  The stone fortifications were rather tall, but soldiers only laughed at me when I climbed between merlons.  I heard one yell out my name.  For some reason I reacted to the sound, and saw him bringing a grapnel along with some rope.

He set the metal piece then worked to toss down the rope while saying, “It will make the trip down a little easier, Sir.”

Thinking about what was really inspiring my foolishness, I asked, “You really want your duchess married?”

“That’s not our fear, Sir.  If she wants to be married, she will get mad at us if we work against it.  In any event you are going to the battle to fight on her side, and I would be wrong to stop you.”

“She’s pretty.”

Another soldier said, “Let her get into combat, and you can see her hair shine.  Some fall in love with her at that time, and others realize she is not the one for him.”

“I’ve already seen her in combat, and here I am.”

“I wish you well, Sir.”

With the rope knotted, I found myself able to quickly descend.  If a hand slipped, it did not go far enough for me to gain any momentum.  I dropped the final feet only to splash into some water.  There would be a pond along this section of the wall.  The castle did not have a moat, but the pond acted as a protection against siege engines at this point as well as probably gave evidence of a supply of water inside the fortress.  Finding myself able to make it to shore, I took off to where Lerdiyo had been placed.

I had fought the creatures that plagued the man enough to know what to look for.  The soldiers seemed to just have the attitude to keep swinging.  Actually, it was not a bad tactic, although certain strategies did provide one with a sense of doing more than surviving.  As I set myself to fighting the creatures, a blaze of red and yellow let me know that someone special had joined the combat.

She first moved about checking on those already in combat.  I heard the words pass between the honored duchess and others appreciating the positive nature of the exchanges.  The men spoke their pleasure in having her presence, and she cheerfully made replies I felt to assure herself of remembering who fought.  That opinion was reinforced when she moved through the combat to come to my side.

“Strange to see you again so soon, Potorly.”

“Not strange at all,” I replied.  “We both knew the threat was potentially out here, and we both have a place to fight it.  Actually, more me than you.”

“No, as you have not come up with any idea in how to actually deal with the threat.  I feel certain about something.  Let me test a dagger I generally do not use in combat.  Grandfather Terish gave it to me early in my training to help him know where I was at, but in growing up I found men to track me easily enough.”

While her hair glittered as if reusing the radiation from the lanterns brought by the soldiers, I saw the strands shine upon her drawing a small blade with a definite glow.  She launched herself and I felt made a good strike, but Lerdiyo spoke of it having no affect and for her to return to using the one she had been.  I almost laughed, and some soldiers did, when she replied that she was learning.

She then said, “Potorly, do not attack.  ABREYON!”

I heard a man I had thought to be an officer step up, but his demeanor said that he had a more personal relationship with the lady, to say, “Of course I am here, Honored Duchess.”

“I am going to wound that thing.  You first allow me to attack with a dagger I know will hurt it, then you attack with your sword.  You need to strike within the wound I cause.”

“And what is so special about my sword?”

“I am going to bless it.”

I had to say, “Jelnaya, your divine weapon did not hurt it.”

“One of my options was to use my drahaberd, but no reason not to allow you men to have some glory.”

Abreyon said, “I must thank you for the graciousness.”

I had to again say, “But your divine weapon did not work.”

Jelnaya replied, “If his blessed weapon doesn’t, you can make the strike, Potorly.”

“As you said, you are learning.  I guess we all might learn something as well.”

“That’s the right response.  I will assume you learned something.”

No sooner did she finish a prayer over Abreyon’s weapon than the lady turned, tensed her body, then dashed to leap and strike with the dagger she had used in the earlier battle.  I indeed now saw a gash in the distortion around and above us.  Jelnaya then rushed to jump and strike with her glowing dagger, but she landed disappointed with the creature showing no harm from her attack.  The man called Abreyon watched, then tensed his body before dashing to leap and make his strike.

Instead of simply cutting into the body of the monster, the man screamed as he seemed stuck to the creature.  I saw him holding onto the hilt of his sword even as he was tossed about.  Everything then became hard to see as some type of darkness filled the area.  I heard Abreyon scream again as we all were covered in globules of some noxious black substance.

As if unaffected by the mess, Jelnaya yelled out, “There were two of them!”

A number of soldiers replied that they detected no other threat, and when she yelled out the name of her knight he approached wiping the black substance from him while saying, “I believe us killing the one had the other flee.”

“You believe we killed it?”

“Yes, Honored Duchess, I am certain what we have soiling out bodies is the inner material of that monster.”

“Fergush says we killed it as well!”  Allowing the men around her to cheer, she then said, “There is at least one more!  Let me know when it comes back.  WELL DONE!”

As some promised Lerdiyo they would assure the quality of his residence, most of us began heading back to the castle.  While I had come to the battle by descending a rope, I could tell that it would be long trudge around the perimeter of the estate before being able to clean ourselves.  Not wanting to walk to the castle in silence, I looked for something to talk about.

“Jelnaya, you said that you were trying to learn something.  Did you learn something other than just how to kill those things?”

She replied, “That is a wonderful question, Potorly.  Tell me, other than how to kill it, what could we have learned?”

Normally, I would have bowed out of the conversation upon hearing a question like that, but I did want to speak with her.  “Well, uh, possibly if it was manufactured.  Something unnatural like that could be… well… not natural.  It had to be made.”

“Definitely things were learned about its composition.  Our problem now is that what works on our world might not work on another.  Still, we have a working tactic should that other monster attack here, and some substantial information to help us speak to others facing these creatures.”

I found the others speak of things.  Some were really dumb statements, but even though ridiculed I gained the impression the soldier smiled with the pleasure of simply being brave enough to say something.  Jelnaya was friendly.  While she did speak a little harshly about the idiocy of some statements, there was a smile on her face as if appreciating the interaction with the men around her.  I found a desire to claim this lady even as I felt out of place.

This had never happened before.  I had helped women, even some of noble blood.  A couple I did find attractive.  They had never done anything personal more than some simple thanks with the stares of accompanying military staying cold.

Approaching an opening in the wall where we could pass through to the castle grounds, I spun hearing Jelnaya command, “Potorly, escort me back.”

I was actually pondering whether to make the offer, so quickly advanced saying, “Certainly, sweet lady.  Wanted to make the offer, but just unsure without Vulge.”

“Abreyon is my knight.  We are chaperoned.  I understand that some things we are just going to have to learn about each other.  No need to make you ask me a thousand questions.”

“I understand you are being gracious, Jelnaya, but I am at the moment simply trying to find things to talk to you about.”

“Having me answer a thousand question is not us talking.”

While I accepted what she said, I still did not know what to talk about.  Having her at my side was a wonderful experience, but I knew the challenge to be gaining her constantly in my life.  Simply because it was something I was thinking about, I asked a question wondering if she would talk about the topic.

“Jelnaya, do you drink?  After a good battle, I usually get drunk.”

She replied, “I don’t enjoy sleep, and even enjoy it less if I wake up feeling groggy or with a hangover.”

“Yes.  That is what my mother said.  She said I would have to give it up.”

“I do drink, Potorly.  What I do for a living usually has me around men, and they drink.  I just do not drink much.”

“There is an enjoyment in you, Jelnaya.  I see that.  I’m not going to say that I haven’t enjoyed life, but I’ve just had no direction.  When things have gone well, my only option was to sit immersed in my memories, and that just had not brought me any joy.  Something in the drinking gave me some pleasure, some reward.”  I made certain she was looking at me before I said, “I believe having you to spend time with will be a reward for living, and I can see myself regretting any time spent unconscious instead of with you whether due to drink or simply my body needing the rest.”

“You’ll need to prove that to me.”

“No.  I will need to prove it to myself.  If I see it, and you don’t – no, I’m not going there.  I’m watching you, Jelnaya.  I can only hope that you will be watching me.”

“I believe I will, Potorly.”

Jelnaya spends time with Potorly's mother.