Rare Things for a Rare Life

The Knights of J'shua

by Tiana Dokerty © 1984-2021

Home | Chapter 3 | Chapter 5

Chapter 4: Humanity – 144 AK, Early Autumn

First Runic Precept of the Alte Regieren: Please thyself.

Updated 9/30/22

 

River Town

Blackhawk turned his shirt inside out and hid his coat in the burlap sack. “Here goes. Remember to call me ‘da’.”

Little Soldier nodded, smiling brightly.

Each breath in River Town smelled of fresh-cut wood from the mill. Men directed wagons to shops, frantically loading bags and bundles. Others darted back and forth, shouting demands and pleading like angry hornets.

They must be fleeing debt collections. Perhaps one of them would take the girl. How do I tell who’d be good to her?

He slid out of the saddle and placed Sar’h on the ground. “Wait here.”

“Hallo.” He waved to get the shopkeep’s attention. “What’s going on?”

“Haven’t you heard? The king has taxed the nobles. They’re calling in their loans. Any who can’t pay has their wife and children taken. Everyone’s fleeing west.”

Blackhawk’s chest constricted. The man’s frantic eyes were all too familiar. Yet, they awoke a primal fear in him. He didn’t understand why. It had never happened before. His only clue was a vague memory that would not take shape. Forcing himself to respond lightly, he replied, “I never thought I’d be fortunate to have no land. Do you know these people?”

The shopkeeper nodded, passing bags to grasping hands. “Yes, we’re a close community.”

Blackhawk glanced back. Little Soldier wasn’t where he’d left her. His stomach clenched. Climbing the stairs, he searched the crowd.

Where’s she gone? What do I do now? I can’t just leave… can I?

Then he spied her. He was relieved and angry.

She was standing in a wagon, patting the head of an infant in its mother’s arms, chattering away, making the baby laugh. Little Soldier turned, pointing unerringly at Blackhawk. He might have lost her, but she’d never lost him.

She is something.

He walked over. “There you are. I told you to stay.”

She glowered, wrinkling her nose.

“These people are leaving.” Blackhawk held out his hand to Little Soldier.

“Not yet,” the woman sighed. “Shaun still has a dozen things to load. I’m Kennah Beecher. We’re heading south, where the weather is… milder. Where’re you headed?”

“Actually…” he began, then swallowed. “I saved her from a debt collection earlier this week. Her family’s gone.”

The woman adjusted the babe in her arms; her peaceful gaze quieted his doubts.

She’s so calm.

“I have to go to High Castle. It won’t be good for her there. I…” “I’m looking for a family to keep her safe.” He held his breath.

If this doesn’t go well, we’ll jump on Whitefoot and ride as fast as possible.

“I see.” Kennah gazed down at the small girl, examining her closely. “Do you want to go with us? I see you’re a good girl. You’d be welcome.”

Little Soldier paused, then nodded, “Yes, ma’am.” Turning, she jumped into Blackhawk’s arms and hugged him. Then she placed another button in his hand. “You're my valiant knight. I love you, Sir Hawk.” She hugged him again.

“Thank you, Your Highness.” He gently lowered her onto the wagon, blinking away tears. He cleared his throat and focused on Kennah. “Thank you, ma’am. Could you make her a new dress?” He scrounged a handful of baden from his purse. “Something nice. The buttons are falling off this one. It’s all tattered now.”

“Of course,” the woman replied, laying a hand on his arm.

Blackhawk stood stunned, unmoving. Her simple touch engendered a peace he’d no experience of.

“It’s a good thing you’ve done, saving a stranger,” Kennah continued. “I’ll get fabric from the cloth merchant. Blessings of J’shua be upon you, sir.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” he mumbled. He walked to the horse. Little Soldier was watching him. Her face brightened as she lifted her hand from the wagon side to give the slightest wave. He mounted Whitefoot, nodded, and rode away.

 

Lorness Castle

Gaelib woke when the door opened. It was Caileagh. Her captivating fragrance wafted over him, filling the room.

“Gaelib, are you awake, my love?”

He rolled onto an elbow, his eyes hungrily taking in her curves. He knew not to wait up when she was on the Order’s business.

She spun around the apartment, the light from the fireplace casting large twisting shadows that cavorted with a life of their own, causing him to smile. Whenever she returned from the Sanctuary, she was like this, intoxicated with power.

“I’m here, wife. Did you wake me to take advantage of me, or is there news?”

She giggled. “Which would you like first?”

“How about both at once?”

She littered the chamber with clothes as she strutted to the bed. “Of course.” She reclined across him, looking up. “It lasted but a second. I’m terrified by it still.” She placed his hand upon her breast. “Can’t you feel the rapid beat of my heart?”

“I can. How may I help?” He purred, his eyes roaming over her more greedily.

“I felt danger,” she whispered. “I saw a woman dressed in gold. A bride’s veil hid her face. She carried a sword, its tip pointed to the heavens. Then she thrust, piercing my heart. I’m afraid… I am afraid that… I know what it means.”

“What?”

“That Prince Sagen mustn’t marry. Promise he won’t,” she begged, clinging to him.

Gaelib leaned back slightly. “I can’t do that, my sweet. My plan requires the prince has a legitimate heir. Thus, he must have a wife.”

She clutched him tighter, sobbing. her tears drenching the sheets.

Or she pretended to. An act Gaelib knew all too well. He delighted every time she resorted to that strategy. It meant she’d be particularly eager to pleasure him.

He rolled his eyes, pulling her atop him. “Don’t worry,” he soothed, “these visions are often uncomfortable at first. Over time, they become clearer. This may be only part of the revelation.” He bit her neck, and they began to play.

Gaelib woke in the morning, alone. He often felt forsaken without her, ever since…

It was his thirteenth year. He was still in mourning after his mother’s death. Sitting in the grass, he was pulling the ripe heads off purple clover. One by one, he pelted the pregnant kitchen cat, who sunned herself royally nearby, ignoring his attacks completely.

Seeing Caileagh always brightened his day. She was seventeen, a woman, shapely and easy to look upon. Many nights he lay awake thinking of her. Long auburn hair that caught the sun and eyes that shone like dark amber stones. Her skin was smooth and creamy white. She was old enough to marry. Father had wondered aloud why she hadn’t.

This was the first time she’d ever taken notice of him.

“What’re you doing?” Her brow furrowed. Her hips swayed back and forth, satin dress rustling.

Gaelib pointed at the cat. “This monster has ravished the town. I must repel it to save the people.”

“What fun!” She dropped down beside him, part of her skirts covering his lap. She smelled like lemon cake. Her face was so close. She smiled at him and picked up a stick, tossing it at the beast. Then a bigger stick, followed by a rock.

Gaelib gawped, looking at his handful of clover.

She smiled at him, erasing his doubts.

He picked up a stone, garnering another grin from her. Together, they repelled the shrieking cat. After that, Caileagh played with him every day, any game he wanted.

She became his best friend.

 

Caswell, Drakes Circle

Drake called all his circle’s children to the front of the Great Hall. He sat on the steps with them. Smiling over their heads, he nodded to their parents and the rest of the congregation, then refocused on the youngsters as his puppeteers unveiled their stage.

“Long ago, a stranger washed up on the shores of the Sea of Glass,” he began as the marionette of a bedraggled knight tottered into view and collapsed. “A child found him. Others came running.” Three more puppets appeared on stage.

“The young woman felt for his breath. ‘He’s alive! Carry him to the inn.’ Another countered, ‘He was spat out by the Sea of Glass. Are the gods testing him?’” The figure raised its upturned hands to the heavens. “Yet another opined, ‘See his wrecked ship? The Sea’s calm. He’s angered the gods.’” It pointed toward an imaginary sea.

“The woman stared back at them, pointing at the near-dead man, and retorted, ‘He’s a gift from the gods. It’s we who are being tested.’”

The curtain closed briefly, reopening to show a room.

“After he recovered,” Drake continued, “he shared a strange doctrine. The old gods were only children of the God of Truth. Their Father had charged each of them with governing a nation, but was displeased. Those states fought over trivial differences. Thus, the God of Truth sent forth a man to raise up a godly nation, to show all the way.

“A trunk washed ashore and was brought to the stranger.” Two puppets delivered it to the bedraggled man, who opened it. Out came clothes and a book.

Again, the curtain closed and reopened. The once-disheveled knight wore a navy-blue cloak and steel-gray trousers. A bandolier stretched diagonally across his chest, from which poked a rolled sheaf of papers.

“By these, you shall know a Knight of J’shua,” the puppet knight proclaimed.

Another marionette appeared on stage. “You’re no knight. They’re clad in chainmail and steel plate.”

“A Knight of J’shua serves the God of Truth, not some liege lord or king. We require no armor — gambeson, brigandine, or plate — only our faith, which we proclaim with these outward signs.” The puppet gestured toward itself.

“Many balked at the knight’s words,” Drake resumed. “He was taken to Olde King Weisheit, who was moved by the beautiful words of the God of Truth.

“So great did that monarch’s faith become, he changed the numbering of the years so when the knight washed ashore became the beginning of time. He also prophesied: when darkness comes and the people falter, they shall be renewed in the Word of J’shua by a knight.”

The curtain closed for the last time.

The children smiled. They knew the story well, but enjoyed hearing it. At a nod from Daikon Drake, they ran back to their parents.

He extended a hand to his wife, Taryssa, indicating she should join him on the dais. He’d miss her once she left that afternoon. “As many of you know, three ladies from our newly formed Orphans-and-Widows Charity are going to Farr Castle. There, they’ll study with Lady Melazera, bringing back skills to aid the least fortunate members of this circle.”

Taryssa and her protégés, followed by carts brimming with servants, provisions, and luggage, enjoyed the vibrant countryside on the road to Farr. Along the way, she pointed out the peasants happily harvesting. At one point, all tittered with excitement as they watched a party of hunters run down a wounded deer. She’d planned three stops so they could take rest and refreshment. She hoped the young orphan boy, who was riding above with the coachman, wouldn’t disrupt her schedule.

She bragged to her traveling companions, “The Lady of Lorness will place this orphan with a good family. Today, we take a single boy. He’ll be a token of our resolve to follow in her footsteps and extend her virtuous efforts. I hope, in future, we’ll place more unwanted children. She’ll see that they find apprenticeships and have godly, productive lives. We have a duty to them.”

 

Lorness Castle

Gaelib smiled at his sleeping wife. Their exertions and her fears over her latest so-called vision had exhausted her, leaving him time to think.

The problem was, after so many years together, he knew how rarely those ‘insights’ bore even the vaguest relationship to reality, now or in the future. Never… or close to it. But whenever such a daydream occurred, Caileagh was distracted for weeks or even moons afterward. This ‘golden sword’ might be nothing more than envy of some brooch she’d seen or a sunbeam that’d caught her imagination. Regardless, it would turn out to be just another irksome irrelevance.

Yet, he needed her.

She knew how to appease her petty demons… and his greater one, the Warrior. At least, he did until that spirit’s power was completely his.

He needed her to orchestrate the Black Robes, to be their apparent leader, while he created an organization within it. The spies, information gatherers, and rumormongers that she’d set in place were a fine start, but they were only a start. Being able to blackmail people was nice.

Truly owning them was better.

Gaelib was not content with nudging people this way and that. He craved control. That meant being able to assassinate at will, without warning, without trace. It meant kidnapping and torturing the loved ones of those who showed the slightest independence. It meant creating a cadre of people to do whatever he commanded, whenever he spoke. The Black Robes were the perfect recruiting ground, just as the expansion of the Royal Army had allowed him to suborn upcoming officers and enlisted men.

Commandant Greysun was the perfect example. He’d risen in the ranks as Gaelib’s tool.

With a relatively tiny number, Melazera could control what happened, what reports were circulated, and what ‘truths’ were made known to the king and his nobles.

Ah, yes, his nobles… my nobles. Or, enough that should the king try to oppose me directly, the country would swiftly descend into civil war… and, oh, the glorious possibilities that offers.

But civil war would be costly. Worse, it would damage the power, prestige, and wealth of Freislicht. All of which would be his. So, why take the shine off his inevitable victory?

All he needed was a little more time and a tad more patience. And then…

King Gaelib the First has such a nice ring to it.

Smiling, idle thoughts skipped through his mind – delicious food, luscious scents, and lustful sounds. Then he recalled the prince speaking about Jon’than, again, souring his mood.

To regain it, he thought back to the happiest time in his life.

It was twenty-five years earlier during Gaelib’s seventh year. His father, the Earl of Lorness, was summoned by King Edal to discuss the state of the kingdom.

His father had declared it was time to be amongst men, not at home with women.

It was his first visit to High Castle. Gaelib was excited to be with his father and desperate not to disappoint. The earl often yelled at those who displeased him, especially his mother. He feared the man.

Upon arrival, they were ushered into the Great Hall where King Edal sat on the throne. The prince stood beside him, his small hand on his father’s knee. The young royal was beautiful. He wore a navy velvet long-coat. Beneath that were gray trousers and a light blue satin vest embroidered with silver leaves. His boots were dark brown embossed leather. His bright blue eyes and sweet smile beamed, framed by blond curls.

Later that day, Gaelib was in the garden watching his father talk with a group of old men. The Earl of Lorness had pointed and told him to stay, so he did.

“Hallo,” a cheerful small voice behind him piped up, “I’m Sagen. Who’re you?”

“Gaelib, my Lord,” he responded automatically, turning to face whomever had spoken. Then gasped, his heart abuzz with fear. “Y-y-your Highness, I’m sorry.” He bowed.

Sagen shrugged. “I don’t like titles. Rise. Follow me.”

Gaelib glanced toward his father, who smiled back, nodding. Warmth flooded through him as if the sun had risen, shining just on him. The Earl’s first ever public show of approval had him floating on clouds.

He happily attended Sagen for the rest of the day.

They stayed at High Castle for the next three moons.

“It is very important that you please the prince,” his father had instructed, “being his closest companion will give us great advantages.”

Gaelib had played with Prince Sagen every day. There were times when the prince’s nurse dragged him away for some royal requirement, but Sagen would find him as soon as it was finished.

One day, Gaelib had come to where they met each morning.  A newcomer, the same age as he and the prince, stood next to Sagen, wearing inappropriately plain clothes. The commoner was taller than both and blonder than the prince. Even servants dressed better.

“Who’re you?” Gaelib yelled, running up to them, scowling.

“This is Jon’than Otual,” Sagen responded with a big smile, “my new companion. Father said he’s to make sure I learn my lessons. We’re studying everything in the Royal Library with a master teacher.”

“Oh,” Gaelib responded, pausing to hide his anger. “Why’re you dressed like a peasant?” He forced a smile.

Sagen was wide-eyed. The prince’s reaction pained Gaelib.

Jon’than looked down at his feet, then spoke by rote. “My circle says we should be adorned inwardly, not outwardly. Others may. I may not.”

“At least you aren’t hedge-born.” Gaelib’s laugh was loud as he slapped Jon’than’s back hard, flashing his happiest grin at the prince.

Sagen smiled back.

Gaelib then cringed. After that day, the earl constantly reminded Gaelib that he wasn’t trying hard enough, that he’d been supplanted by a filthy commoner.

Yes, Jon’than Otual ruined everything.

 

Frei Forest

As they rode through the forest, R’bekah and the Donofrios marveled at the providence of the Lord, but still she complained, “Alas, I’ve no skill at posing as a man.” She’d need a better disguise when hunting for Sar’h.

“I could teach you to act more like a brute. Couldn’t I, Ma?” He winked at his wife.

“That he could.” His wife smiled back.

R’bekah’s eyebrows rose.

“Every movement should be abrupt, decisive,” V’ncent instructed. “When you laugh, it should be loud. Make grand sweeping gestures with your arms, not merely your hands. Act like you own everything you see. Then, no one will think of you as a woman.”

R’bekah frowned. “I’ll need practice.”

“As for your stride, it must be bold, commanding, purposeful… when you’re at ease. Teaching you how to be angry as a man, that’ll take longer.”

They located a small clearing within the southernmost tip of Frei Forest. “This is perfect. We can hear the river, but are hidden from those traveling on it.” R’bekah pointed at several rabbits. “There’s much undergrowth sheltering small animals to snare, and over there, I see blackberries.”

Helen plucked a handful, sharing them.

R’bekah continued, “We’ll use very small fires, only at night, so smoke won’t be detected from the river. Our shelters will blend into the woods. During the day, when the river is full of boatmen, we’ll remain within the forest, foraging only at dusk or dawn. There can be no chaos. Even a child’s tantrum could bring about our end.”

“Yes.” V’ncent and Helen nodded.

As R’bekah lay on the bed of dried leaves looking up at the stars, a horse whinnied. I must give you a name… Justice. Justice is what I seek and what you’ll help me find. Finally, she fell asleep.

In the morning, they cut small saplings for a shelter. R’bekah instructed the older children how to make the components of a hazard. That night, she showed them how to fit the pieces together.

As everyone slept, she banked the fire, pushing the coals into a pile and covering them with ash to keep the heat in. She prayed for Sar’h and Jon’than and Dav’d and all those harmed by the evil ones.

Thank you, Father, for your provision.

 

Lorness

Jon’than traversed an ever-widening circuit from the ruins of his home. Most houses were empty. Few still had inhabitants, all of whom were too afraid to speak.

Since then, he had been spending most of his days in taprooms, hoping to hear information, and constantly surveying the streets for R’bekah and Sar’h. He looked ragged, drinking more than he should, eating less. He’d not learned anything new. He needed to act, but was unclear what to do.

Perhaps, I should go to High Castle and talk to Prince Sagen.

The prince might bring him to the king, who could declare those taken free from the terms of collection. Although, if the monarch believed it a lawful seizure, he wouldn’t do that.

Rulers can be well-intentioned yet hurt people with bad laws.

He dropped his head into his hands and whispered a prayer. “Father, please make plain to me where I should go next in my search.” He heard no response but was restless, so he paid and went out.

Heading toward the market, two men were fighting, farmers by their dress. It wasn’t serious. The bigger man shook the smaller. Still, a crowd was forming. A soldier ended his banter with a shopkeep and turned toward them.

Jon’than intervened, “Friends, could you stop a moment and help me?”

Both looked at him.

The bigger man dropped the other, saying, “How?”

Dusting himself off, the smaller chimed in, “What do you need?”

“Can we sit?” The knight asked, pointing to another drinking establishment. “I’ll buy you both an ale.”

The big one shrugged. The other raised his eyebrows and smiled.

As they walked, he introduced himself. “My name is Jon’than Otual.”

“Randall Stratton,” the smaller said, “this’s Woodrow Cayton. Pleased to meet you.”

Jon’than found an empty table, ordered, and told them of his loss. It was not the first time he’d done so. He didn’t expect it to be the last. Too many fathers had suffered as he had. Far too many. This was the first time he’d seen them come to blows.

“Well,” Randall began, “we know your pain. We lost our wives and young ‘uns too. We’re so frustrated we started bashing each other for the grief of it.”

“You might be on to something.” Jon smiled. “I have wished to die. A good thrashing might be a fitting compromise. Are there many who have lost their families this way?”

The two looked at each other.

“At least a dozen,” Randall replied.

“What if we wrote a petition to the king, and all signed it? I will deliver it to High Castle. What do you think?”

Randall’s mouth dropped open.

“That’d be very brave or very foolish,” Woodrow blurted.

“I am ready to die,” Jon noted. “If the king executes me, it will end this torture.”

“That be true,” Woodrow agreed, as Randall nodded.

“Would you ask the others? Then meet me here tomorrow night?” Jon’than smiled.

They agreed and slapped him on the back. It was the happiest any of them had been in weeks.

Owakar, newly promoted deputy angel first class, was pleased.

The knight had oft prayed in the spirit, enabling the angel to arrange this divine appointment. The result of these men meeting would ripple outward, like a stone cast into a still pond, touching many.

When will you return, Sir Jon’than? I would help you further.

 

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