Without a Light I See

Chapter Eleven
(Jelnaya)

I found Fergush to sound pleased as I admitted having a fairy side to my family did not seem too bad.  After the social with Queen Nichanay I found the fey in my castle to be a little friendlier to me.  Not that they had been mean, but they had been staying out of my way.  I found them to start speaking greetings and make themselves evident as I went about.

A number of those who came to me for reasons of business took moments to speak to me about Potorly.  They told me about him helping various people about my town and farms.  It did help my attitude of the man to hear the tales, although seeing him in action helped me to judge what the comments had been speaking about.

I arrived at a commotion in my town to have to force my way through a crowd.  Finding Potorly fighting a number of men had me quickly assess the situation.  He was not using lethal attacks, but mostly being defensive.  What actual strikes I saw were with his fists or feet and not the edge of a blade or the head of a mace.  The blunt weapon was actually being used as a shield while the sword was used to counter attacks in a manner of making openings for him to punch or kick.  Having one man fall to the ground, he quickly looked through the crowd to point at one of my soldiers.

“Take that guy out.  Will have the others in a moment.”

I signaled for the guard to do the action before asking, “Potorly, what is the cause of this?”

“I stepped up to prevent a crime, Honored Duchess.”

“You have been around, although not stepping into the sparring field.  I guess this is a way to enable me to see just how you manage against a real challenge.”  I looked at the age of the men, then made an assumption.  “Were these men threatening a merchant?”

“No, Jelnaya, but trying to market stolen cows.  I can make my case, although your butcher probably can tell you more than I can.”

From somewhere in the crowd I heard a man yell, “I was about to call the guards, Honored Duchess!  You had warned me, so I was a little defensive when they approached.  They drew their weapons on me, and Lord Potorly stepped in!”

“IF THAT IS THE CASE!”

It was a small form that suddenly rushed into combat.  My first impression was that it was one of my urchins.  In any growing community there were children who were a result of parents who fell on hard times or did not want them.  I had enacted certain policies to ease the lives of the innocent, provide some basic education and stability, while doing what I could to assure that certain morals stayed promoted.  There were however youths who had no family to look to for guidance, and I did what I could to assure them some safety and stability.  While they did have duties, it was common for me to find them being children.  While I would interact with the youngsters about my town, I knew of no lad who could fight like this boy.  My second impression was that one of the fey watching over Potorly had entered combat, although I decided to simply watch the activity and save any conclusions for later.

I saw blood spurt from one man, only to have Potorly move to kick him out of the battle then say, “This is a realm to Samayer, so you should assume these men will live.  I however feel that I should be the one receiving the grace of the goddess.  That is why I am not actually attacking with the weapons.”

“I understand,” a very youthful voice replied.  “Sorry for making a lethal attack, Honored Duchess!”

Hearing the lad speak of knowing me caused me to want to learn who he was, so I took charge of the situation.  “ALL RIGHT!  Fight’s over!  If weapons don’t go down, I step up!”

Potorly kicked one man to send him toward one of my guards who subdued him.  The lad did some moves that sent two more from the fight.  The last one opposing Potorly tried to put on a show with me being amused seeing him and the lad simply step back to watch the quick movements.  Having the man actually drop his weapon in the middle of his elaborate performance had a number in the crowd laugh.  Guards stepped up to subdue the man, and I commanded for the ruffians to be taken to cells while I called out the one that spoke to present his evidence.

The cows were stolen.  The butcher had already been alerted of some men taking cattle from Minerosh, which was a barony over my eastern border.  The rustlers probably hoped we would not know, or that we would not care, but I had worked to promote an active and positive relationship with my neighbors.  When a messenger arrived speaking of the theft, I simply commented that the sight of a number of cows should have been noticed by those moving across the land, although I did pass the word to be wary with my butcher.

With that handled, I saw a couple of men in unfamiliar uniforms step up, although it was the lad that spoke.  “Honored Duchess, if I may have a moment of your time.”

I simply turned to nod, at which point one of the men said, “Honored Duchess Jelnaya Minella Dozzrine, I want to introduce to you Prince Oprillot of Pocremire.  He is not of low birth, but has a history of distinction.  He comes by his own merit, but understanding the importance of you felt the need to assure a proper introduction.”

As if feeling the man had done enough, the lad said, “With a proper introduction, Your Grace –“

“Honored Grace,” I interjected.  “Neglecting my place to Fergush will quickly have me neglect you.”

“My intention is to drop all formality between us.  I present myself as a suitor for your hand.”

No; I did not ask.  I could see in his eyes he expected me to.  Both of the men in the unfamiliar uniforms also showed some nervousness, but did not speak.  I however saw another figure attempting to gain the front of the crowd, and asked about him.

“Tormolle, what are you doing here?”

As the man moved to bow, I saw fine chains connecting the leather of his sleeves to that about his waist.  His legs also were limited in movement by metal lengths connecting them.  I looked to the lad and those with him wondering about them even as the one who had convinced me to fight the minotaurs answered my question.

“The prince wanted to meet you, Honored Duchess Jelnaya.”

I had to ask, “What about Berthior?”

“Ah, well, he proved to be a detriment.  With the military understanding to be wary of the snake, finding me was relatively easy.”

The lad said, “I bought him from my uncle.  Tormolle’s slavery is not permanent, but I did want him to serve a purpose.  His actual crime at the moment is that I feel he would escape.”

I had to admit, “Well, I have no issue with him.  He did provide a wonderful fight.  I however fully understand the crime, or involvement in a crime, he truly sought to perform.  His freedom, or lack thereof, will not be challenged by me.”

“It seems that you told my uncle it would be in his best interest to learn how to contact you.  You also told him that you might be interested in his younger boy.  Well, this criminal seemed to know how to contact you, and I am in the form of a young boy.”

I had done as the lad said, so asked, “You are not a young boy?”

“Boy?  I am sorry to say that I am.  Young?  I am fifty-seven.”

I looked to the one that had introduced the lad and informed him, “Take those of your party to my castle.  There you need to speak to one named Vulge –“

A fairy flew into my face to declare, “You cannot be serious!”

“Graciousness is a requirement of me, and all who seek my hand will gain that blessing.”

Potorly said, “The lad took to the combat without any fear and handled himself with distinction.  Considering I am courting a Champion of He-Who-Fights, I should have expected a challenge to the courtship.  Your Honored Grace, Jelnaya, I will comport myself with dignity,” he looked to the fairy to say, “as will all from the Nevaire.”

The lad bowed as he assured, “As will I.  Now, Your Honored Grace, you were saying?”

I replied, “My official chaperone is Vulge.  Speak to him, and you should find yourself directed to proper quarters.”

As the lad moved off with the two officials and the slave, Potorly asked, “Surprised at some of those who come to court you, Jelnaya?”

“We’re in public, so you use my title.”  As he bowed, I added, “Actually, Potorly, you are the surprise.  I believe Fergush warned me about him.  He told me after the fight with the minotaurs that I had been set up.”

“I worship Samayer, Honored Duchess.  There is no telling what that lad worships.”

“I come from a family that marries someone from somewhere else.  I will let Oprillot present himself to me just as I allowed you.  My history says that neither of you will win, so stay on your toes, Potorly.”

He bowed while saying, “I still find you to be an amazing and lovely lady.”

I moved through my town exchanging comments with a number of my citizens.  It seems that word of the lad had traveled.  I did not have the largest of towns, but the community was populous enough that it took a number of discussions to put rumors to rest or inform enough people of actual events in my life.  Hearing comments about the lad, I accepted that all sorts of stories might be told about my recent dating life.  I moved through town allowing all to give me advice on men and marriage even as I traded tales of previous experiences at courtship.

Coming back into my castle I was not surprised to be met by Queen Nichanay who declared, “After all that was said in favor of my son, you are allowing yourself to be courted by this – this boy?”

I replied, “And I would not – why?”

I heard from someone who had passed his mother on the way to my grand staircase, “Because you are prejudiced, biased, and a poor judge of the truth of people.”

The royal lady spun, but seeing her son she turned back to me to curtsey and say, “I was being rude in your very home.  I apologize.”

Potorly approached to put his hands on his mother’s shoulders while saying, “The boy could fight.  Samayer said that Fergush knew you would be approached by him, but would say no more.  She also admitted what you said, Jelnaya.  It seems that those of your family do marry people from elsewhere.  She however said that I would be her choice.”

I admitted, “And this is one of her realms, but I don’t know if having a husband that is a devotee of She-Who-Survives will be a good thing.  This realm was corrupted, and I believe forcing the populace to stand strong for the goddess, instead of looking to their leadership to do the religious heavy lifting, can be a good thing.  Sometimes Fergush agrees with me, and sometimes he doesn’t.”

Potorly bowed, then said, “Then I will take on the challenge not just to prove myself, but Samayer as well.  See you at the meal, then later in the afternoon.  Vulge is supposed to let you know the schedule, Honored Duchess.”

And Potorly has to stand up for himself.