Rare Things for a Rare Life

The Knights of J'shua Book 1

by Tiana Dokerty © 1984-2021

Home | Chapter 1 | Chapter 3

Chapter 2: Anger & Artifice

Updated 12/2/22

 

Rebekah – 144 AK, Early Autumn

Rebekah's heart pounded as she approached the River Town market. It swarmed with people coming and going. Some walked horses, some carried parcels, still more huddled in conversation. Averting her eyes, she worried someone might recognize the stolen horse or notice her trembling hands. Being arrested as a horse thief would end her rescue of Sarah before it began.

I need supplies. Jonathan should be on his way back.

She frowned. Her dagger wasn’t enough, so Rebekah found a merchant selling weapons. “How much for the short bow and full quiver? And an extra string?”

If my bow hadn’t broken last week, I would’ve killed that soldier before he found Sarah.

The man tidying his wares into neat rows turned to her. “Fifty-two baden for all.”

Rebekah examined the bow, counted thirty arrows, and tested the draw. Setting her brow, she haggled the price down to forty-one.

Next, she bought a wide brimmed hat that could be worn by either a man or woman. Placing it on her head, she continued through stalls that teemed with buyers, head down as she sought items needed in the wilderness.

Yard-long leather thongs caught her eye. After buying several, she continued her circuit of the market. She returned to the horse with provisions, breeches, and a tunic.

A uniformed soldier galloped into the marketplace, scattering people before him.

He’s looking right at me.

Rebekah slid behind her horse, forcing herself to continue tying her purchases in place and preparing to mount. Her heart hammered in her chest, her fingers fumbling with the thong.

The soldier dismounted, striding toward Rebekah. She froze. But he grabbed and whirled a girl standing behind her. “Take me to your father. I got the commission. I’m going to ask for your hand.”

The maiden squealed in joy and escorted him away.

Rebekah leaned against the horse, unable to mount, her knees barely supporting her.

Seeking refuge, she kept her head down, walking the horse past an inn, a tavern and many shops. The streets in this area were quiet, the taverns and brothels closed until the more lucrative night. A well-hidden alleyway caught her eye She ducked behind some barrels to change her clothes.

They’ll be looking for a woman in a bedraggled dress, not a man.

Cutting a piece off her skirt, she tied her hair back. She used another to bind her breasts. Once dressed in her new gray tunic and breeches, she hid the torn clothing. Then she rubbed her hands in the dirt and soiled her face, hoping to look less womanly. Mimicking some lads across the street, she slouched and walked stiffly. Rebekah patted the horse. Grabbing an apple from her purchases, she took a few bites, and gave the rest to the mare, whose soft lips tickled her palm.

Without Sarah, the world lacked all joy.

Most of the people she saw walked briskly, paying no attention to her. Still, she couldn’t relax. After a while, she spied a caravan of wagons coming down the main road, including the cage cart. Her breath caught. She sought a glimpse of Sarah or that weasel, Rosewud.

Cautiously, she walked the horse toward them.

Spying Sarah, her stomach knotted. Her baby was in a cage. She fought the urge to leap on her daughter's captors, to save her from those drecksas.

If Jon can fight, doing right by J’shua, so can I. Grant me courage, Lord.

No, she couldn't reveal herself yet. Rebekah continued past the wagons and cart, careful not to look at them directly. She needed to know more. She needed them to split up. She needed to follow Sarah until she had an advantage. Then she’d strike these vermin down one by one.

Her anger was a whetstone, sharpening her senses. She watched as the wagons and the animals led behind them departed. The cart alone remained, unattended, as the weasel went into The Sapphire.

Rebekah walked forward to free Sarah, but two soldiers ambled toward the cart. She inhaled sharply. They too bore the green dragon sigil of the Lord of Lorness.

Continuing past, she tied her horse and followed Rosewud inside. She bought a mug of ale. She calmed, recalling from the Writings, Be still and know that I am God.

When her enemy finished his meal and left, she waited for five breaths, then followed. Passing Rosewud, she saw the young soldier and overheard, “…Greysun in Fairness Crossing. He’s paid a bonus to make him my first stop….”

Greysun, you evil drecksa! It fits you’d purchase children.

She took a last look at Sarah, biting her lip to stifle a sob. Then Rebekah grabbed the pommel and mounted her horse. Turning away from her quarry, she followed the river at a gallop to gain enough distance to find a suitable ambush site.

Now I know where you’re going, weasel. I’ll be waiting for you.

 

Jonathan Otual – 144 AK, Early Autumn

Jonathan, wearing a knight’s characteristic navy cloak, crossed the East River at a low point he knew well. Just north of the Frei Forest, warm earthy scents exuded with every breeze. The sweetness of pine and sassafras, nurtured by centuries of composted leaves that carpeted the floor of that ancient timberland, reminded him of home. He’d be there before nightfall.

He already had the opening moves of his first game of chess with Sarah. His mouth watered at the thought of a home-cooked meal. Most of all, his heart longed for Rebekah. His pace quickened as he approached their valley. But, upon cresting the last hill his stomach tightened at the acrid smell.

Readjusting his bow, he sprinted.

Wispy tendrils of smoke rose into the sky from the charred remains of his home. All that was left were the chimney and a few blackened posts.

Oh, please, Father, let them be well!

He ran, yelling their names, praying they were safe, hoping they were nearby. There was no answer, only the lonely whining of a breeze through still-smoldering ruins. They should be here making a temporary shelter, or… but the barn had burned. It was no accident.

Jonathan fell to his hands and knees, his heart heavy.

How could this happen? Father, I have served you faithfully.

He dropped his gear, staring up at the sky, numb, when a hawk swooped into view. It banked on the wind, diving to the ground, talons outstretched. Then it soared aloft, a rat twisting in its grip.

The still, small voice of J’shua Ha Mashiach said, Get up.

He rose.

Outrage filled the void, energizing him. “I will have answers. I will find out who did this. I will hunt them down. And I will gut them,” he roared, drawing his blade.

He practiced the familiar drills to settle his soul. The sword moved, tracing the ancient forms he’d learned, gliding through every technique. Moving from his loins, low to high, in leaps and arcs, the blade flashed upward. Lunging low, he ran through his imagined foes.

He was present again, his mind clear. Sheathing his sword, he bowed his head and prayed. “Send me to fight this evil, Father. I beg this boon. I offer myself and my service until the end of my days.”

He scanned the yard again. The ground was darker in one spot near the door. Rubbing the soil between his fingers, he discovered it was wet.

Why? A spill would dry quickly. Was this drenched to expunge blood?

A path had been swept to the door. Inside the house’s shell, the ash was ruffled as if sifted with a branch.

To conceal evidence? Did someone return after the fire cooled? What did they remove? A body… two… more?

He stepped over the threshold. Thick piles of ash outlined the table and the big rocking chair. Carefully, he placed his hand over a scorched oak post. It radiated heat. He sighed, rubbing his hand across his face.

If only I’d been here.

Continuing his inspection, he looked for clues, but found none.

The barn gave no information. Both the horse and ox were missing.

There were no bodies, no bones. He thanked the Lord for that.

They must be alive. I must find them.

Jonathan gathered his pack and sought out his neighbors. All were gone, their homes empty but not burnt.

Did my family anger those who did this?

He pictured his wife bravely fighting the attackers, defending her parents and Sarah. He could divine no other reason for such destruction, such waste as he headed to the next neighbor. In the distance, he saw the neighbor’s wagon drive off loaded with family.

 

Owakar – 144 AK, Early Autumn

The angel, Owakar, sighed. He could not act without a request to do so, only watch and chronicle what he saw. Yet the words he read in the Book of Life sprang illuminated on the page. But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. Yes, Lord, he would be patient.

As the God of Truth’s guardian for Lorness, he rarely heard prayers in the spirit, which would call him into action. That region had fallen to the god of this age. A contagion that spread across the land.

The four castles of Freislicht stood tall, overseeing it. Most prominent of these was Lorness. Not by size, for no citadel came close to matching High Castle’s vastness. But due to its power, influence, and – Owakar lamented – the Melazera family’s vile scheming. Many said the current earl was even more powerful than the king.

Prominent people filled the halls of Lorness Castle. They waited long hours to meet with its lord. Even the good had to make the choice: attain his approval or face his ire. Nobles maneuvered for advantage, fighting petty skirmishes. Throughout the day and night, agreements were made and broken. Power and prestige soared to new heights or plummeted into the depths. Every important decision was made there, not in the capitol, High Castle.

“My dear duke, I am so sorry for the long wait,” Gaelib crooned as he entered the private audience chamber. “As the King’s Steward, I’ve so many duties. Lesser nobles seek me incessantly. Come, sit. Let’s clear up the trouble on our boundary.

Owakar watched expectantly. How would the good duke navigate the steward’s traps?

Duke Fredruck glowered. “Yes, Earl of Lorness, I am sure we can come to a resolution. Forbid your soldiers from trespassing onto my lands. Then they’ll not encounter my people, nor try to arrest any.”

“Please, I must entertain you before we talk business.” Gaelib raised a hand and twelve maidens entered, surrounding the duke. The first offered him wine, the next a plate of sliced fruit.

“Don’t drink it,” the angel whispered, unheard by any but the duke.

“Quite unnecessary,” Fredruck demurred, his tone becoming icy as he motioned the women away.

Four came closer and curtseyed low. When the women tried to stroke his hair, metallic scraping caused them to freeze as the duke’s escorts drew their swords.

The other women had been removing their outer layers.

“Lord Melazera,” the duke growled, “this is inappropriate. I shall take my complaint to the King. I’ll also require my commoners to bear arms and aid my troops in order to dissuade your soldiers from foolishness. Good day.”

Gaelib sighed, waving the girls out, as the duke left. Except for the one who carried the goblet. ”You, bring the wine, come here.” He pulled her close and forced her to drink. Soon, she was overcome and compliant.

The angel silently applauded Duke Fredruck, regretting only that such successes were so rare in Lorness.

 

Caileagh Melazera – 144 AK, Early Autumn

Caileagh the Elegant, wife of Gaelib Melazera, ninth Earl of Lorness, sashayed toward the hall in her burgundy silk gown. A jeweled coronet adorned the auburn hair that framed her dark amber eyes and perfect heart-shaped face.

She enjoyed working each social event in the castle’s public rooms and its more sumptuous private ones below.

The Lady of Lorness smiled and nodded to the many pretty and important guests. “Lord Macom, it is a pleasure to see you. I love your new jacket. It makes your eyes absolutely radiant.”

“Thank you, My Lady.” Macom took her offered hand and bowed as he kissed it. “You’re most kind. You are as a second sun, granting us the gifts of warmth and light.”

She feigned shyness, grabbing his arm. “I believe Gaelib has something to show you. I think you’ll be enchanted. Let me tell him you’re here. Please wait in the lower solar.”

Smiling as she watched him go, she exulted in her control. For the merest ‘treat,’ he’d do whatever she suggested.

Continuing through the room, she was amused by the snippets of conversation she overheard, including snatches of gossip she’d started. Better yet were those ardently persuading others that the king must expand the army, just in case.

Delightful. The rumors I spread flourish, reinforced and amplified by these fools.

She hoped Gaelib appreciated that her spies had helped expand his economic control.

Caileagh had developed four independent organizations. No group was aware of the others. The lower levels knew nothing of the mysteries of the higher. There were circles within circles.

Sparrows surveilled the commoners, Ravens the nobles, Hawks the army, and Eagles the castles. They were helpful and trusted. Their eyes and ears sought advantages and weaknesses. When they spoke, gossipers listened. And each was obedient to the Order. Her ‘birds’ were everywhere.

It’s pleasing to see people accept the world I’ve ever so gradually painted for them. Unwittingly, they perpetuate it. It doesn’t matter what they request, recommendations, coveted placements, power, fame, or wealth. All advance the Guild of the Black Robe.

When most of the nobles and dignitaries had left, she sought out Gaelib, fawning over him and those in conversation with him. Even though ten years married, she loved to pretend to be the doting, obedient wife, as her mother had taught her. It was one of her favorite roles.

She kissed him on the cheek and departed. Once out of earshot, she commanded her escorts, “Ready my horse. We ride for the sanctuary.”

She smirked.

Fear grows, fueled by my rumors. With a word here and whisper there, my birds change everything. Now the nobles are calling in loans to pay Gaelib’s taxes. I hadn’t foreseen the abductions of women and children. Such a delightful surprise.

 

Drake Caswell – 144 AK, Early Autumn

One-hundred-and-twenty miles away, Drake Caswell arrived in his meeting house, secure within the low outer walls of Caswell Castle. He was the youngest son of Mardom, the Sixth Earl of Caswell, the latest in an unbroken noble lineage that stretched all the way back to the reign of King Weisheit.

When his great-great-great-great-grandfather founded the town, he was not a nobleman, but a rich merchant. He was made an earl after aiding King Weisheit in battle. Caswell Castle was built by his son.

Mardom Caswell’s four older sons had joined the Royal Guard. Drake had sought the way of J’shua. As fifth in line of succession for the family title, the Earl had seen no reason to prohibit it. So, he became a knight at the same time as David’s father, Jonathan.

Now Drake admired the chamber, brightly lit with candles all around. The Weavers Guild had adorned it with the most expensive tapestries crafted from the brightest yarns, depicting the best-known stories from the Writings.

The largest, and his personal favorite, depicted J’shua sharing his final meal, tearing bread, and offering it to his disciples. The colors radiated with his love and grace.

On the dais was a simple table covered with a pressed, white linen cloth. On it, an intricately carved book stand made of mahogany held the Complete Writings of J’shua, open to the Psalms.

Two large chandeliers, donated by the local glassmakers’ guild, were lit and raised. The scent of lilacs and roses emanated from stands at the ends of the oak benches.

Drake closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, savoring the fragrance. He hoped it pleased the Lord as much as it pleased him.

It had been his calling to become a Knight of J’shua. Part scholar, part cleric, and – in his case – a very small part warrior. The last being a skill only required when the Faith was in peril. It wasn’t within his flock. His Circle of devout followers could never be compromised.

As people arrived for the service, he greeted each as they approached with a holy kiss and gave them a personal blessing.

He was elated that his wife, Tarynna, had begun to take an active interest in his Circle. She was so entertaining, helpful, and complimentary now. The congregation spoke well of her. She was the perfect exemplar of a good woman. In the early years of their marriage, she’d not been happy. Drake had thought it homesickness. But lately, she’d become more engaged, more alive, and more cheerful.

Perhaps our time at Farr Castle had been the turning point. She’s so much brighter since making friends with Gaelib’s wife.

Tarynna sat in the front row.

Drake could feel her love as she proudly beamed at him. He began the service with the prayer that Mashiach taught the disciples, enjoying the reverberation of their voices through the lofty hall as the people recited it with him. Then he read the passages he’d prepared.

“He is like a man that built a house, and dug deep laying the foundation on a rock. When the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, but could not shake it.”

Lord Caswell smiled upon his favorites in the front row, and they smiled back. Their love filled him. Then he gazed over the congregation. “But he that hears and does not act is like a man whose house was built without a foundation. When the stream did beat it vehemently, it fell into ruin.”

Drake knew the guilty. They shuffled in their seats and looked at their feet.

After his teaching, he asked for prayers and nodded to those he thought should speak. Three members would stand and pray as was expected.

My Circle is the perfect example of the Faith.

 

Rebekah – 144 AK, Early Autumn

Rebekah was at least an hour or two ahead of the slow-moving cage cart.

As she rode through the grove to set up her ambush, she heard men shouting. A woman screamed. Children cried out. Approaching cautiously, she wrapped her left forearm in a thong. She glimpsed a family in a wagon being attacked. A sturdy army cart pulled by a large black horse blocked their path.

The still, small voice spoke, Help them.

Inspired, trusting the God of Truth, Rebekah spurred her horse into a gallop. Bursting from the tree line, she slammed her mount into a soldier, knocking him from his feet.

A second soldier had climbed aboard the wagon, striking the driver. The third had snatched an infant from its mother and was running toward the river.

He’s going to drown it!

Dismounting, Rebekah loaded four arrows into her hand parallel with the short bow as Jon had taught her. Pinching and pulling, she fired.

Her first arrow struck its target’s calf, slowing the fleeing soldier. The next toppled him, the babe still in his arms.

The soldier she’d knocked down, a tall burly lad, regained his feet and charged toward Rebekah, axe in hand. The last still bludgeoned the wagon driver.

She drew and released twice more. The big lad fell. The other arrow missed.

The mother ran toward her howling baby. Rebekah drew more arrows and nocked another. The last soldier finally pummeled the driver to the ground, giving her a clear shot. She did not miss.

Sweat poured from her brow. Her hands were clammy. She twisted seeking other threats, but there had only been three soldiers. None were moving, nor ever would again.

Rebekah's hands shook.

What have I done?

Three men were dead by her hand. Yet, there’d been no other choice. They clearly had evil intent.

Tears ran down the mother’s face, rocking her baby as she returned to the wagon. “Thank the merciful Father,” she cried out, “and thank you, sir.”

The eldest child comforted her siblings. Then she turned to her father, who rose unsteadily. “Da, are you well?”

The wagon driver, bleeding, regained his feet. “I am… well enough.” He grabbed the wagon’s side to prevent falling again.

“We’re all well,” the children’s mother reassured, a quiver in her voice. She held her son, who was shaking and mute. “The God of Truth kept us safe. What was our lesson this morning, Brin?”

The small boy peered up at her. Biting his lip, he stood and stammered, “He that dwelleth… in the secret place of the Most High… shall abide… under the shadow of the Almighty.”

“Very good, Psalm 91:1,” his oldest sister praised.

Rebekah retrieved her horse and tethered it to the wagon.

The children’s father turned to Rebekah, “Thank you, sir… you have amazing skill wi–” He froze mid-word. “You’re a… woman!

“I hoped you couldn’t tell.” Rebekah frowned.

“Ah… that is… the dirt and the clothes say male. By your movements, I’d thought you a beardless boy. Up close, your face and mannerisms gave you away. Yet, you struck all three in the neck… I’ve never seen such…”

“My husband and I hunted often before the children came. He says the Lord blessed me with a propensity for the bow.”

“I… can see that. You saved us.” He rubbed his temple, his eyes narrowed in pain. “My name is Vincent…” he groaned, “…Donitoro. This,” he pointed to the short, thin woman with brown curls escaping a green scarf, “is my… wife, Helen.”

“I am Rebekah Otual. Why were they attacking you?”

“Lord Macom…” Vincent said, laying his head against his arm, still holding tightly onto the wagon.

“He is – was – our lender,” Helen said. “He sent these soldiers to our farm demanding payment in full. Fortunately, we were in our wagon on the way into town. They saw us and gave chase. I heard a voice say, ‘Turn.’ So, I repeated it to Vince. There wasn’t even a road, but he curved toward the river, where they overtook us. Then you appeared. We can never repay you.”

“There’s no need. I too followed the Lord's guidance. What’ll you do?” Rebekah asked, recovering the last of her arrows from a body. He moaned. She drew her knife across his throat, feeling ill.

He was a predator. Still, even an animal shouldn’t suffer.

“We must hide.” Helen turned toward her husband. “Lord Macom’s men won’t stop. Laws have been perverted and are being used to steal our children, our livelihood, and our future.”

Rebekah heard the still, small voice again, Help them. She bit her lip, fixing her eyes on the trees behind them. But Father, I must save Sarah.

She turned to a ray of light breaking through the clouds above, seeking reassurance.

Sarah is safe, the voice whispered.

Lord, I don’t see how that can be. Her shoulders relaxed. But I trust that you love my baby even more than I and will send angels to protect her.

Both comforted and afraid, Rebekah focused on the task at hand. “First, see what they’re carrying that we can use. Then help me drag them to the river. Drifting downstream will make it difficult to determine where they were killed. Then we must dilute this blood.”

From the soldiers they pilfered three canteens, two hatchets, a map, a spyglass, and an assortment of daggers and swords. They also took the food and provisions from the army cart.

While the family cleared away the signs of struggle, she rode the soldiers’ cart into the woods, hiding the bright green dragon engraved on each side. Then Rebekah rode back to the point where the wagon had left the road. Jonathan had taught her to track. The cart and wagon's wheels damaged a few bushy weeds near the road. She cut the bent stems far below the obvious breaks, and used them to brush out the wagon tracks.

Where should we go, Father?

The clouds rumbled, parting slightly to allow a single shaft of light pointing south, over Frei Forest. It was about twenty miles from River Town, a forest so thick no one could easily build there.

She returned brushing soil from her hands. “We can make our way south to just this side of the river near Fairness Crossing. In the Frei, we can remain indefinitely as long as we stay out of sight.”

Mister Donitoro nodded. “Our faith is with you.”

 

Home | Chapter 1 | Chapter 3