Without a Light I See

Chapter Thirteen
(Jelnaya)

Oprillot tried to challenge me on the sparring field.  Usually when going against a man I had a definite disadvantage with my size.  I was not a small woman, but most men were taller than me and just about all had more upper strength.  Beating them was purely a lesson in skill being able to overcome any adversary.  Against Oprillot I however had the size advantage as well.

Picking himself up from the ground, he said, “I will not deny your talents, Jelnaya, but I honestly am used to winning.”

I had to reply, “I am honestly glad that you are not.”

“And why is that?”

“My military has to go against me.  I don’t want them to hear of me being beaten by a punk and neither do I want to hear of that about them.”

“I however came to you for advice on how to improve.”

I could not help but chuckle.  Oprillot did not get angry, but simply genuflected.  I pointed for him to move to the edge of the sparring field.  As he did I called over Vulge.  Some of my soldiers were watching with some of them chuckling when I explained something.

“I have bigger men than Vulge, but he is a large man and my official chaperone.  He also spars against me, so should be sufficient.”

After putting down Vulge a couple of times, a couple of my even larger soldiers stepped into the sparring circle.  They all knew I had taken down armies.  I worked to teach them some of the tactics I had learned from my Grandfather Terish.  He had been sold to the Dozzrine family when only about seven, given to the Prophetess Desiree for training, and sent from his world where he teamed up with Great-uncle Ferrigote just a year later.  Being nothing than a boy, Grandfather Terish was deadly.  With me only a girl, I sought him for instructing me.  With Oprillot, Vulge, and a number of my soldiers paying attention, I taught a lesson on taking out opponents who had a clear advantage.

It actually spoke well of the lad when he said, “But, Jelnaya, the lessons clearly speak of you using deadly force.”

I replied, “Not using deadly force is a graciousness of situation.  I want these men around me to come home alive.  Yes, they will explain themselves, but I would rather them explain, and face punishment, than not come home.”

“What about your citizens?”

“I do not hide the training we are doing here, and they know the stories of me.  If one of my citizens goes ahead and forces a situation, I do not consider me or my soldiers to be the one that made the decision to use deadly force.”  Again for instructional purposes, I added, “And there is a soldier on my western border who can tell you that I do not have to kill.  I was killing.  Fergush told me to kill.  That soldier begged me not to.  He explained himself and did all he could to let me know that he was not at fault.  Fergush is not He-Who-Slaughters.  I did not kill him.”

“So, you train for deadly force, use deadly force, but don’t always apply deadly force.”

“If you don’t go into combat thinking then you really aren’t going into combat.  You are merely performing an execution.  I do not have an army of executioners.  Like I said, I expect my men to explain themselves, so they better go into a situation with their senses and brains operating.”

“Thank you for the lesson.”

I let Oprillot know that breakfast would be served once we made it to the dining room.  Actually, there was no dining room.  My castle only had one grand room.  It served as a welcoming chamber, a throne room, a ball room, and as a place to eat.  There were parlors, but none large enough to host a gathering of over fifty.  The military had their own mess, which also had a common pot for those too poor to afford a meal.  I would eat with the soldiers and check on those claiming to be down on their luck, but if I had guests I would make myself available in my front room.

Coming into my apartment, I asked my maid, “When should my great-uncle and great-aunt be coming?”

Merilay answered, “Not until tomorrow, according to what you said.”

“Then one of my usual outfits.”

She chuckled, then as I noticed on my bed a yellow dress with sections of hard material beneath the cloth.  It was a type of clothing developed by my Grandmother Straekin and her daughters who were my aunts.  While none of us would deny being seen as lovely, we also would not condemn ourselves to only being something to look at.  A type of clothing that would allow us to be noticed even in perilous situations helped us be the complete ladies we sought to become.

Merilay asked, “Do you really plan on wearing one of your really regal garments tomorrow?”

“Great-aunt Dirchein would be so entertained to see me wearing it, and I would be so entertained spoiling it by going out to fight in the thing.  I do believe that another is being finished.”

“You wear out these fast enough that the tailors and seamstresses stay busy enough.  I am considering seeing if it is possible for you to get another suit of crystal armor.  At least it has held up.”

Merilay would make that comment pretty regularly.  At least I did find it entertaining.  She was an immortal from my Grandmother Straekin’s world, and like most of them would spout off adages that had become stale within my lifetime.  I did not tell her that I had actually commissioned another suit of crystal armor from certain artisans to wear in regular actions with my military, because I knew the information would not stop Merilay from making the comment.

Coming down to eat, I was not surprised to have Vulge inform me that Oprillot and Potorly had requested time with me both in the morning and afternoon, and of course expected to finish the day beneath the balcony from my family parlor.  I however had to admit they had not become boring.  The lad was working hard to learn about me, my world, along with finding interesting topics to converse between showing off his talents.  Potorly was more relaxed, although I found myself puzzled by his behavior.  While he was from this world, so knew a lot that Oprillot did not, I knew that Potorly had his own lessons that filled his day.

Not really wanting my period of courtship to become boring, I looked up from my plate seeing my steward approach with a royal message of which he had obviously broken the seal, so I waited for what he might say.  “Honored Duchess, our king seems to have gained a letter from the King of Tinoyork along with one from the Viscount of Tafferdeyn in Tinoyork.  They both spoke of the matter that Potorly brought to you.  King Relecky wants you to know that he understands your involvement in this matter, and will grant you any request you might require.  Just a note, but it was also signed by Prince Latromnor.”

I replied, “We officially ignore that latter addition.  I will speak to the heir prince at the next gala, as he makes it a point to dance with me.”

“Of course, Your Honored Grace.”

“I also send King Relecky a regular report, so he should know things.”

“I know how his letters read, but not yours.  I also know that you do not come back from meeting with the king complaining.  I can only assume that your personal relationship is not revealed in the official documents.”

I did not look to my steward, but my suitors as I explained, “I know who the king has to deal with, and he knows the type of things I will deal with.  We both have the attitude of not involving others in our private dealings, and when we meet we thank each other for having such personal attitudes.”

Oprillot replied, “But you do still inform your superior.”

“He and I have the same problem.  If either of us fails in our personal matters, the other has to come in and clean it up.  It is best to have a heads-up.”

“You are not his only esteemed vassal.”

“I am his only duchess.”  Not having studied the government of Oprillot’s world, I tried to imply some of the facts of our system as I replied, “If the viscounts are not eager to step up then it is assumed to be my problem.”

“Has that happened?”

Questions like that actually had me appreciate Oprillot.  He wanted to know things.  While he had a device to translate speech, he had been actively learning the local language.  He spoke to the local people, priests, and even my military.  Having grown up wanting to know things myself, I found myself liking Oprillot and wishing his body would grow up.

I spoke on a few matters that had occurred with my fellow high nobles.  King Relecky had from the first understood to treat me with respect, as he knew the reasons and methods of my gaining this realm.  The issues that the other high nobles tried to use against me found them ignored or lectured with our superior doing his best not to get involved.  I focused on presenting one matter where the Viscount of Chamberg went a little extreme in trying to put me at fault.

I said, “He yelled out, ‘Your Majesty, Jelnaya is speaking treason!’  I swear King Relecky was trying not to laugh as he replied, ‘Has she killed you yet?’  ‘Has she killed me?’  ‘Jelnaya, thank you for not killing him.’  I sought to pour myself some wine as I replied, ‘No need to, as he is dead already.’”

Those words had me start grabbing items on the table and arranging them to explain the situation.  While it was political history, it was that of my land so I expected most around me to be interested.  As I finished, assuring everyone that the Viscount of Chamberg had avoided assignation by taking advantage of what I pointed out, Potorly said some words that I appreciated.

“I have found, Honored Duchess, that you do not just speak out.  If you enter into a verbal duel, you are just as skilled and decisive as on any other field of battle.”

I smiled before replying, “You are able to see a lighter side of me, Potorly.  You just do not trouble yourself to bring out the darker part of me, which is actually something I expected from one with a fey background.”

A youthful voice sounded, “I’m not a boy!”

I looked to Oprillot, and was pleased when he lifted his hands to show his palms indicating that he would not react further, so I put my focus back on Potorly.  “Dating should be fun.  We should be looking forward to a life together.  While there are duties a lady should perform for her husband, and a man for his wife, each should be glad that they have the spouse that they do.”

I found it cute when the suitor with the mature body yelled, “MOTHER!”

From the wall beneath my staircase came the fairy queen as she said, “I have not even considered that, Potorly.  Honestly, Jelnaya, not to mention all humanity, seems so serious to me.”

Oprillot admitted, “I am a boy, so I am often admonished for playing.”

I felt the need to say, “Potorly, I have enjoyed speaking with you.  I have also given you the grace of having brought a serious matter to me, so simply allowed myself to learn what I could of you until some relief of your concern of Lerdiyo is provided.  No, drinking will not be considered as a fun pastime for me, but I would suggest that you figure out how to lighten up.”

Queen Nichanay curtsied while Potorly bowed.  I nodded as an indication of appreciating the words thanking me more for the advice.  As the two left I hoped to consider some new lessons, I turned my attention to Oprillot.

“You are a boy in form, but you have been working to engage me at a more mature level.  See if you can figure out how to make my time with you enjoyable without making it feel childish.”

The lad replied, “I was actually waiting to see how you interacted with your great-uncle and great-aunt.  Surely they still consider you a child, at least in some fashion, and I was hoping for clues in what you did consider play.”

“I hate to say that I was a rather serious child.  That was part of the reason I got in trouble when on Davelda.  I however had fun not breaking any rules even as I did not follow them.  I have a devious side to me.  That is what you will see between me and my Great-aunt Dirchein.  We love each other deeply, but do not see eye-to-eye at all with me enjoying her dissatisfaction with me.  Honestly, the same can be true in my behavior with those of Davelda.”

Vulge said, “We love our princess deeply, and will support her, even when we do not see eye-to-eye with why she is doing some things.”

Oprillot turned to a man sitting near him and asked, “Kaprellon, have you been taking notes?”

The man replied, “I have certainly been listening, Prince Oprillot.”

“Excuse us, Honored Duchess, but I need to go see how I might alter my plans for our coming meeting.”

After exchanging a smile with Vulge, I looked at my steward while speaking with a voice that all could hear, “I believe something was accomplished this morning.  Hopefully the same can be said for the rest of the day.  Let’s get to work!”

Jelnaya's great-uncle and great-aunt finally arrive.