Without a Light I See

Chapter Twenty-Three
(Jelnaya)

We came into the world of Gaeskow with a number of us commenting on the colorful architecture.  I had heard stories of this world from a number of people, but I was glad to see things for myself.  There were a number of people working on the buildings along with a good amount of military watching over things.  What I did not see were people moving about being friendly with each other. There were polite nods, occasionally a bow, but never a friendly wave or the chatter I expected from regular life.  While the world of Gaeskow looked pretty, as I had been told life here did not appear to exist in an environment where people truly enjoyed being present.

As if bored, a squad of soldiers mounted and rode out to us with Lerdiyo answering the question, “We are headed to the Shenorby District.  Should reach Harlington Pass this evening where we can find lodging for the night.”

The officer replied, “That was what I thought.  We are having trouble in that direction.  Will need for you to find lodging here until we can clear the route east.”

I looked to my Great-uncle Ferrigote and seeing him shake his head I had Rubber advance to put me in a position of authority before saying, “We have pressing business in Pepulsta.  How would you suggest that we alter which road or roads to take?”

“Pepulsta is actually where the trouble is centered, Miss…”

Knowing to establish my presence, I put a haughty tone to my voice as I said, “Jelnaya, Duchess of Phanigist.”

“Never heard of Phanigist.  Must be a long way from home.”

“So you should not take lightly the seriousness of my business.  Now, Captain, about supplying information in how I can get to my destination.”

“Can’t do that, Duchess.  However, I can bring you to the person who can.”

Since the only other option was to start killing people, I allowed, “Then you do that.”

As I hoped, the man did not lead us into the city.  While I actually would like to brag about how intimate my experiences on this world was, I really did not want a tale of things going bad.  We rode to a military post on the outskirts of the city.  As we dismounted, the officer told us to wait.  Watching the man stride to a building, I moved to my great-uncle hoping he would provide advice.

It was Lerdiyo who came up to say, “You’re doing well, Honored Duchess.  Keep the pressure on.”

Now my great-uncle spoke, “They probably would not let us go if you don’t.”

I nodded as I turned scanning my surroundings.  The men active about the grounds had stopped to look at us, probably me and Great-aunt Dirchein.  I saw that they had been working at cleaning the sides of the buildings, maintaining beds for flowing plants, and assuring no weeds grew up along the cement paths.  For a group of military people, I saw no indications, besides the uniforms, that they were involved in matters of law enforcement and security.  My great-uncle grunted to let me know that an officer had just come from a building, and I nodded to let him know that I was ready to continue playing my part.

The man, I felt he was only a colonel and not a general, came up to ask, “How can I help you people?”  Before I could reply, he added, “Let me say that I see the symbols of the emperor on some of you, but that is becoming ancient history.”

What he meant about the symbol of the emperor were the icons of Fergush.  My great-uncle had conquered this world as an act of proving his real worth to the deity.  While Fergush was not a god of this world, and really no warrior or fighting spirit was, my great-uncle had the symbol of his god proclaimed as part of the process of unifying the world through combat.  While there would be no churches to Fergush on this world, I knew those that came with Great-uncle Ferrigote had no reluctance to worship the deity whose symbol they identified with.

I said, “What isn’t ancient history is my need to get to Pepulsta.  If you can direct us, we will no longer trouble you.”

The man stayed silent as he looked us over, then said, “It requires a squad of at least six soldiers to perform the escort.”

“Have the paperwork ready.”

As I strode off, the man stopped me by asking, “Ma’am –“

“Duchess,” I sternly replied.  “Duchess Jelnaya of Phanigist.”

“Duchess, do you know where you are going?”

“I told you where I am going, so you should expect some knowledge of where it is.  I do not need your men for guides.  I will expect them to keep watch, so I want some well-rested men.”

He actually insulted my intelligent by insinuating that I could not tell which of the buildings were barracks.  A couple of other details let me know which one was not active, so I felt would have people sleeping within.  Coming into the dark structure, I saw a number of men suddenly rise seeing a woman.  Keeping myself from smiling at being able to tell which building to enter, I decided that everyone needed to wake up.

“I am in need of six men to escort me and my party to Pepulsta.  Options concerning who and how I gain my volunteers are now being considered.”

One actually drew a sword while starting some sarcastic statement.  I darted, dropped low, reached to his weapon hand, pulled, and when he let go I rose to slam the pommel of his own weapon into his jaw.  As he fell back I yelled, “One!”  Another had drawn his blade.  I rolled to gain a position where I could send a foot up into his sword hand.  He held onto his weapon, which I felt was to his credit.  I still spun to have a leg take out his lower appendages.  When he dropped I yelled out, “Two!”  Another nearby sheathed his sword when I turned upon him, so I rose to politely let him know he was number three.

“My party is mounted, so you men will need horses.  Go have them prepared.”

Another soldier asked, “Lady, who are you?”

“Duchess Jelnaya of Phanigist.”

“I see the symbol of the emperor on you.”

“That should not be an issue with your service.”

“It still matters.”  He looked about, then said, “Ferchert, Alersh, come with me and let’s escort this lady.  Ready to get away from this place for a time anyway.”

“And you are?”

He performed what I considered a salute as he said, “Corporal Wommull, Duchess.”

“I am going to speak again with the one who claimed to be in charge.  Prepare what you need, then meet us at the gates to this post.”

I saw a couple more salute along with Corporal Wommull.  With a smile in return, I turned to exit the building.  I saw riders coming onto the grounds, and not wanting the one in charge of the post to become distracted I sped up to let him know the results of my activity.

His eyes darted to me when I told him I had my six men, but looked again to the ones arriving and yelled, “Isaprom, it seems that you have your escort!”

The one in the lead of those arriving however dismounted to race to another.  “Lerdiyo!  How fare you?”

I approached to hear the man reply, “Extremely well, Isaprom.  What you said was correct.  Please, how do you fare?”

“The trouble remains.  The fight remains.  We went for help, but they would not provide aid or allow us to return.”

Lerdiyo turned to me to say, “Isaprom, this is Honored Duchess Jelnaya of Phanigist.  She is not who I sought, but who I was told to seek.  I am glad that I listened.  Come.”  Lerdiyo turned to me to ask, “Honored Duchess Jelnaya, you did say that you gained the necessary escort?”

I replied, “Of course.  You should expect that I know how to handle a military.”

Oprillot piped up to say, “It was fun to watch her gain volunteers.”

The man who had spoken to Lerdiyo introduced himself.  “Squire Isaprom of Pepulsta.  I thought I had connections to gain some needed reinforcements, if not actual aid, but I was wrong.”  When I acknowledged him, he said, “My men and I will need to gain our items.  We can meet you at the Grochum Fork.  Lerdiyo, bring your people out to the lake.  We can meet you there.  We’ll bring food.”

I guess the colonel watched as those who were to be our escort prepared to leave, as while Squire Isaprom rode off the officer said, “I expect to have my men back in good condition.”

Knowing what he insinuated, I said, “I told you I expected those going with me to keep watch.  Two volunteered for the second shift.”  Not hearing a reply, I added, “Anything further is not my fault.  You know the danger, and you are requiring those men to go with us.”

My great-uncle said, “If she did not kill them, she has no intention of them dying.”

“You told me I needed six men.  I went to get six men.”

The officer turned to ask, “Lerdiyo, who were you sent to get?  I heard you say that others told you to get this lady, but who were you told to get?”

“I am not going to tell you, Colonel.”  I smiled having figured out the man’s rank.  “It would force me to explain things, and I am not going to spend the time.  Pepulsta is in serious danger.”

“Besides my six men, what more would you desire?”

I said, “Blind obedience.  I do not know what is in Pepulsta, but I know the trouble Lerdiyo faced in coming to me.  Those six men will hear things, and possibly see things, that they will want answers for.  It took time to get to me, then time for me to deal with situations, and some more time for me to get here.  I cannot say that I will have time to explain things or answer questions.  Those men just need to trust us that we will do our best to discuss whatever they desire when we can, or when it is all over.”

Lerdiyo spoke his agreement.  “I must support Duchess Jelnaya on that.  I know what I left, and I fear what has happened in the time since I was gone.”

“Do you have patches for my men?”

That question took me by surprise, so I was glad, although also amazed, when my Great-aunt Dirchein said, “Yes, Colonel, she does.”

I saw her pull from the saddlebag of her horse what appeared to be a mass of orange cloth bands with the flag of Phanigist sewn onto them.  She counted out six.  As the colonel moved to the men preparing to join us, I had to ask about the bands.

“Great-aunt Dirchein, where did you get those?”

“From your military.  You have them.”

“No, I don’t.  Those arm bands are orange, which means Remidda.”  Just to assure everyone understood I was not mad, I clarified.  “I don’t mind Remidda, or you, Great-aunt Dirchein.  I just wasn’t expecting them.”

“I got the orange cloth from a tailor in town.  The flags are from the tailors that work to make the uniforms for your soldiers.  Ferrigote told me you would need them.”

Yenorma said, “I helped her, Princess Jelnaya.  It really required very little skill at sewing.”

I asked, “How many?”

It was Great-uncle Ferrigote that replied, “Twenty.  The usual number for an escort of anyone of importance.  If I knew we were only going to need six, I would have made them myself.”

“Well, thank you.  That was not something I had thought to prepare for.”

“This is my world, Jelnaya.  I conquered it.  If there is anyone at fault for not being prepared, it is me.  I am glad that I could foresee this problem.  Will try and let you know about other details.”

“It seems I have the right people helping me.  Glad to have everyone.  Next step is to get to this lake.  Lerdiyo, I am trusting you to know the way.”

He replied, “I certainly can, Honored Duchess.”

Seeing the six soldiers coming all wearing the arm bands, I ordered, “All right, mount up.  We have not yet come to the end of this day.”

And the courtship continues.