Chapter 6: Corrections.
Jonathan – 144 AK, Early Autumn
Jonathan finished writing the petition. It asked for reaffirmation of the king’s Contract Law and that their families be released. All the fathers signed it.
The mood in the tavern was light as they talked of their hopes and desires. Each thanked the knight profusely for taking it to Prince Sagen and then, hopefully, King Edal.
Riding alone on Melazera’s Highway, Jon expected the trip from Lorness to High Castle to take three days if the weather held. The dirt road was marked with posts every ten miles and more easily traversable than the trails that dominated the country’s eastern region. That the roadway was maintained even to the slightest extent was to ease the passage of Lord Melazera to High Castle and ensure that family retained its political power in the capitol.
As he arrived at dusk, the walls and walkways of High Castle glowed with torches. Vendors were still hawking their wares. The clangs of a blacksmith sounded in the distance. He’d forgotten how lively the capitol was. While searching for an affordable inn, happy days alongside the prince came to mind.
His first attempt to see Sagen resulted in an eventual message informing Jon that his highness was unavailable. After six wasted hours, the knight left looking to work for coin or food.
By the third morning, Jonathan suspected Gaelib had intercepted his messages. So, he thought about places Prince Sagen would visit to escape from the tedium of royal life – and, perhaps, Gaelib – settling on the castle’s east gardens as the most likely. Although the prince was a man now and might not go there anymore, Jonathan was sure he could get there unseen. He and Sagen had found every nook and cranny, every hiding spot, as they’d played throughout the castle.
When a wagon load of sacked potatoes arrived at its kitchens, Jonathan slipped in behind the last man and grabbed a bag. He followed, flopping his sack down, and backing into the shadows. Once alone, he used the servants’ corridor around the castle’s east side, hoping to avoid the chamberlain or any under-stewards.
As Jonathan reached the gardens, they looked much the same. Their central feature was an intricate maze formed by manicured hedges. He and the prince had whiled away many a day there.
Whenever King Edal convened his nobles, there were packs of boys at the castle. The older ones served as pages or squires to their fathers. The younger sons ran wild. He’d thought it very exciting. Of course, he’d been glued to Sagen’s side as ordered, but watching them run and play was glorious.
The three boys, all in their seventh year, were inseparable except when Sagen and Jonathan studied in the King’s Library or the maze. Gaelib was forbidden to join them in the library and wouldn’t enter the maze after some boys had abandoned him there.
Jonathan had overheard the lads laughing about their prank, boasting about leaving the noble scion weeping. Dismayed by their cruelty, Jon had rescued the cold and crying boy, even showing him how to find his way out. Yet Gaelib never entered it again.
Jonathan glanced around. Seeing neither gardeners nor guards, he dashed into the thick yaupon maze, abounding with the season’s bright red berries. The trick to navigating it was always following the right wall. He smiled as his hand touched the prickly branches. After many turns and loops, Jon found himself in the center with the prince. “Hallo.”
Sagen, startled by the welcome, turned abruptly. “Jonathan…?”
His face was much the same only older. Clearly, his nanny no longer chose his attire. He wore a long leather surcoat and riding breeches. This was not the colorful peacock he knew as a youth, except for his golden hair. It had darkened, but was still bright. He brushed a strand behind his ear, as he always had.
“I remembered how we enjoyed this spot, Prince Sagen,” Jonathan teased. Bowing low, his smile contrasted with his serious brows, “when we came here to study.”
“Why did you sneak in, knight?” Sagen countered, grinning. “All you had to do was let me know you were here. I’d have sent a carriage for you." The Prince locked arms with his friend. “It’s been too long.”
“I have been sending notes for the last two days.”
“I see.” Sagen sobered. “As royal steward, Gaelib’s been keeping me even busier than usual. This time with accounting.” The prince exaggerated his hand movements to imitate the steward. “Sagen, you simply must understand these matters before becoming king.” He pounded one fist into the other. “Yes, yes, you absolutely must.”
The impersonation of Gaelib’s voice and exaggerated gestures had both men laughing.
“Father is hale and vigorous. It’ll be many years before I ascend the throne.”
“I suspect,” Jon hesitated, “Gaelib is still jealous.”
“I suppose so, but don’t see why. His place is secure within the Court. Father likes him. He gets to spend far too much time with me. But… look at you. You’re ruddy and strong. The Fellowship of Knights has been good for you. I think father should have sent me there.” He laughed. “Will you be at High Castle for a while? Where are you staying?”
“Oh, it is not an inn you would know.” Jonathan chuckled. “I have to stay. I have urgent business with your father.”
They sat, and Jon told Sagen what had happened in Lorness and the surrounding areas. “I have a request from some of the fathers there. Many have signed it. They want the law of contracts reaffirmed, so their children and wives will be returned. Many of the girls were sent to brothels. The boys are probably in the mines or the army, but the girls….” Jonathan eyes teared up.
Sagen’s face hardened. He turned and swore viciously at the nearest hedge. Then he calmed, looking at the knight again. “I am sure Gaelib will prevent you from seeing the king. As you say, he is… jealous.” Again, he paused. “Let me take the petition. I’ll see my father at dinner tonight. Meet me back here tomorrow at this time.”
Jonathan handed Sagen the parchment. “There is one more thing. I did not mention it as I do not want to make this matter about me….”
“They took my daughter too. And my wife is missing.”
“What?” Sagen grabbed his shoulder. “Why didn’t you… you were always too selfless.” Sagen shook his head.
Jon sighed, opening his mouth to speak. He hesitated.
“What, old friend?”
“It is… possible… Gaelib caused this. Not directly, perhaps even inadvertently, but he did suddenly tax the nobles in his jurisdiction.”
“No one has done more to keep the kingdom solvent,” Sagen replied in a tone Jon knew all too well. It was a rote response that would give his friend time to think before committing to anything. The prince’s brows came together as he tilted his head forward, putting his eyes in shadow, showing the royal’s intellect was piqued. Sagen did not let go of such mysteries. Instead, he turned them over until he saw every facet.
“It is his right to tax, but not to subvert contract law. He could have given them time to pay.” Jonathan’s fist tightened. “Worse, there is no need for an army. There is no war.”
Sagen’s eyebrow rose. “How could you know that?”
“I have been in Mestelina three times in recent years, traveling all over their countryside. They do not want a war with us. They may be primitive but are God-fearing people. Someone is stirring up the border… well, our side of it. Someday, I will seek answers. First, I must find my family.”
“As you should.” Sagen rubbed his chin with his index finger as his eyes bore into the knight. “I’ll talk to the king.”
Jon remembered that expression. He could not have asked for more. It meant the prince would soon act. The knight prayed the result would be favorable. Almost certain it would be.
They shared warm memories and talked of hopes, dreams, and plans for the future as the sun drifted west and shadows reemerged from under the benches.
Sagen drew Jon into another hug. “If we don’t want Gaelib to know you’re here, you should leave. The garden staff will be coming soon. I’ll see you tomorrow. Be careful.”
“I will. Tomorrow then.” Jonathan gripped Sagen’s shoulder, beaming. “Thank you, old friend.”
Owakar – 144 AK, Early Autumn
Adding his notes to the Book of Life, Owakar read the passage that presented itself in response, And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
Rebekah – 144 AK, Late Autumn
Rebekah rode into Fairness Crossing dressed in plain breeches and a rough woolen tunic. It had taken more than a moon, and a deepened voice, to make her believable enough to talk to a stranger face-to-face without giving any hint of her gender. Vincent Donitoro had given her clothes and cut her hair to shoulder length. With a piece of lace she’d made from thread, they’d fashioned a beard from her cut hair and fastened it in place with glue, hiding her feminine jawline.
She’d taken the name Tomas Bekh for her new persona. Posing as a down-on-his-luck farmer, he scrounged a living however he could by selling candles, leather, and whatever else he could lay his hands on. This provided the Frei colony with supplies and, more importantly, information every two or three weeks. It also allowed her to inquire about the loathsome Rosewud.
Frustratingly, it had supplied no news about Sarah.
On her third trip to town, she encountered Simon Hunt. Dressed in his red coat of office, the local herald was known to all and rarely introduced himself.
“Tomas,” Simon beckoned Sarah over as she walked down the street, “I’ve been told you’re looking for work. There’s a stable in need of an extra hand for a few days. It includes a dry place to sleep.”
Looking down at herself, Sarah noted how disheveled she was, worrying that she might have overdone the down-on-his-luck aspect of her disguise. “Yeah… that would be good.”
“Why so glum? Surely a few baden landing in your pockets is a good thing?”
“Yeah… yeah… it’s just,” she hesitated. “I got word that my daughter was taken in a collection. She was supposed to be safe with my sister and her husband, but…”
“Blast. Them too?” The herald shook his head. “This is happening too often. And to people I know had contracts. Documents that have been misplaced or lost. Or, just ignored. Not that I can prove the last. When was your girl…?”
“A moon ago, but I only learned of it this week.”
“That’s rough. Look, I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but… there have been sightings of wagons of children being taken to Commandant Greysun’s camp. The boys… uh, join… his trainees.” Simon looked down at his feet. “There’s no word about the girls.”
Rebecca’s insides knotted. “Oh…”
“Look, go to the stables, tell them I sent you. Smile at the widow who owns it. She likes to take in strays, for a bit. It might get you a hot meal. Maybe more than one.”
“Thanks… thanks, I’ll do that,” she replied then departed.
She’d barely left the Herald Station when words sounded unbidden in her mind.
Follow the weasel.
Her thoughts returned to George Rosewud.
Prince Sagen – 144 AK, Late Autumn
Sagen sighed when he entered the king’s private dining hall to find Gaelib Melazera, the Lord of Lorness, already seated.
His father sat at the head of the table, picking at a bowl of nuts. “Ah, Sagen, my son. Come sit, enjoy this delicious fruit.” He waved his hand toward the perfectly ripened peaches, mangoes, figs, and grapes. “Melazera brought them from his own orchards.”
“An awe-inspiring display, Gaelib,” Sagen commented as he sat. Leaning back in the chair, he placed his leather boot across his other knee. “But… what brings you here? Are the kingdom’s finances in jeopardy?”
“No… no…” the Royal Steward all but cooed. “Our coffers are full, our creditors satisfied, and the nobles happy.” His hands alternated between raised and extended as emphasized each point. “Plus, there’s money enough for the army to control the frontier with an overwhelming show of force.”
Sagen watched Gaelib. The small talk alternated between the king and his steward through the first course, leek-and-potato soup. Sagen nodded and smiled while praying for Gaelib to leave.
During the second course, a porter entered with a message for the Lord of Lorness, causing him to make his excuses and depart.
Once Gaelib had left, Sagen sought a way to start. He knew his father hated the misuse of Freislicht’s laws. Yet he also acknowledged temporary servitude had always been a way for the poor to enhance their position or pay their debts. But what Jon had told him about was akin to slavery. He expected his father to reject that. However, even indirectly accusing someone as powerful as Melazera of being involved in such deeds… “Some things have,” he gulped, “been brought to my attention, Father.”
“What’s bothering you?.”
“I saw an old friend today, Jonathan Otual. Do you remember him?”
“Yes,” the king replied, his eyes narrowing. “Became a knight, if I remember correctly.”
“He did. He told me of problems with tax collections… in Lorness,” Sagen paused.
King Edal’s wispy graying brows drew together. “Continue.”
“Gaelib has heavily taxed his nobles, which is his right. But…”
“But…?” The king’s growing annoyance was unmistakable.
Sagen hesitated. “According to Jonathan, Gaelib’s nobles are breaking your contract laws by calling in loans illegally. They’re taking wives and children to cover the debts and—”
“And… what?” The last word was as sharp as a lash.
“He said many of the girls were sold to brothels. The boys—”
“Is there evidence?” King Edal demanded. His head tilted forward, shading his eyes, and hiding whatever emotion lurked there.
The prince nodded. “Jonathan brought a petition asking for relief.”
“Do you have it?” His father’s mood eased as he read the document. Then reread it. While reading it a third time, he grunted several times. Then he looked deep into Sagen’s eyes. “Jonathan should be in my court. His understanding of our laws is profound. As is his courage in bringing this to light. Bring me writing materials and wax for my seal.”
“With pleasure.” After obtaining what his father needed, Sagen returned to the table, a serious look on his face. He bit his lip.
King Edal looked up from the parchment. “There’s more. What have you left out?”
“Jonathan’s daughter was taken. He hopes to save her.”
King Edal focused on his son, accepting the quill, ink, and enough paper for a dozen proclamations. “Excellent. I’m impressed. You could have used Jonathan’s lost family to hook me emotionally. That you didn’t, shows me you’re thinking as a king should, of the wider populace, of the welfare of our country. Yes, excellent indeed.” He began writing. “A speedy delivery is of the utmost importance, but….” He grinned. “I shall not inform Lord Melazera of this for at least a week, perhaps longer. He thinks me forgetful, so I won’t disappoint him. His reactions will tell us a great deal about his part in this. Watch him closely, my son.”
“Father, you are wise.” Sagen smiled.
“Hmmm…” Edal’s brows closed together as he silently mused. “I want to see your friend. I need to hear of this firsthand. Where will you meet him?”
“In the morning, at the center of the maze.”
“Excellent. I’ll join you.”
King Edal thought back. Was it really twenty years ago? No, it was twenty-three.
He stood in the turret of High Castle’s tallest tower, taking in the world below as the wind whipped around him. He’d loved it then, and still did. The flags had flapped as he watched a tiny five-year-old Sagen playing with two other boys. Then Lewis Rothbard had approached, the distinctive tapping of his ironwood cane announcing him. Without taking his eyes from his son, he’d addressed his Royal Steward, “You need not have come all the way up here. I wasn’t planning on hiding for long. But, since you’re here, I need some advice.”
“I live to serve, Your Majesty.” The old man bowed, wrapping his cloak tighter.
“We’ve a rigorous education planned for Sagen. He must be better prepared than I was.”
“Yes, Sire. It is wondrously well-rounded.”
“Yet… at my son’s age, being forced to learn was… difficult. Worse, it was boring, drudgery… make-work! Or, so I thought at the time. I saw no point in learning endless facts, consequences, and related philosophies. I resented my teachers and my mother, whom I blamed for the tedious hours spent sitting at a desk. Especially when my father encouraged me to spend as much time learning sword and shield, short bow and arrow, and how to twist just so, causing an enemy’s blade to glance off my armor. That was glorious… and did serve me well… before I became king.”
“I think I see the problem, Sire. Have you thought of a solution, or…?”
“What if we found Sagen a companion? Someone who would learn alongside him. Someone who could… share… my son’s ‘suffering’. Perhaps even someone who could make it a game. Is it possible to make such learning as we have planned enjoyable?”
Rothbard had paused. Then his eyes lit up. “It’s possible J’shua has provided.” He’d smiled. “I was speaking with Daikon Paul earlier this week. He sounded me out about a strong, quick-witted boy for whom he’s seeking an apprenticeship. As I have two students already, I told him I couldn’t help, but would pray about it. This lad might serve well as a companion for your son.”
“There’s always the consideration that anyone introduced into such close proximity with your royal family might, for good or ill, become too great an influence, Sire.”
“We’ve discussed this often. I know your suspicions about the Melazeras and Lockes. I share them. Both have influence that needs to be guided. I take it this lad is connected to neither.”
“He isn’t, Sire. In fact, the boy will go to the Knights’ School in his thirteenth year.”
“Excellent. I wish to meet him and his parents. If all three are of good character, the boy could establish a childhood friendship with my son – encourage his studies – then depart, as we see fit. Do I need to bother asking if you’re confident of the daikon’s assessment of this child?”
“No, Sire. I wouldn’t have made the suggestion had I the slightest doubt. The family aren’t of the nobility, but are sound, loyal, and pious.”
King Edal had smiled back at his steward. “Excellent! That’s even better. I don’t want my son to grow up solely surrounded by nobles. It would limit Sagen’s view of how most of my people live. Such a small perspective would be dangerous. Find others outside the nobility, children of suitable character in case this knight-to-be doesn’t serve well.”
The king shook his head, laughing at the memory of his younger self. “In case this knight-to-be doesn’t serve well,” he repeated. Jonathan had definitely ‘served well’. Indeed, he often saw them running about, all the while reciting some text they were studying. It was more than he’d hoped for.
He looked forward to seeing the man Jon had become.
Jonathan – 144 AK, Late Autumn
Jonathan slipped into the East Garden. With midday approaching, the gardeners would be away. Jon had no trouble getting in again. It was easy to blend in amongst the workers with constant deliveries to feed those working and living inside High Castle.
Thank you, Lord J’shua.
He was anxious to know if Sagen had been successful. Jonathan made his way to the center of the maze. As he was early, he lay on the sweet alyssum covering the ground, bathing in the honey-like fragrance of those childhood years. Closing his eyes, he prayed. When he heard a voice, it was not Sagen’s but that of an older man. He slipped into a hiding place before the words became distinct.
“…when managing people, judge them not by their words, but by their actions.”
“I’ll remember,” Sagen replied as they arrived at the center. “It appears Jonathan isn’t here yet. He’s sure Gaelib is preventing him from seeing me.”
“Be very wary of men that love riches.”
Realizing the voice belonged to King Edal, Jonathan stepped into view and knelt on one knee. “Your Majesty, I am honored by your presence.”
“Jon, you made it!” Sagen’s face lit up.
The king’s eyes widened as he smiled. “Most cunning, Sir Jonathan. Arise, Knight of J’shua, please, sit with us. I’m delighted you interceded for my people. I always knew you were of good character. Tell me more.”
‘I do not know what to say, Your Majesty. Loans are foreclosed by demanding payment in full, rather than according to each contract. Those who did not comply… some have disappeared, others had their farms burned… or worse.”
“You have proof of this?”
“My farm was burned, my wife and daughter are missing, and I am sure her parents are dead. Nor is this the only case I have encountered and investigated.” He reached within his tunic and produced a sheaf of papers. “Each of these is signed by those affected.”
King Edal frowned as he read. “Hmmm… these are disturbing. They confirm my decision.” He gestured to his son who produced twelve scrolls. “I need these proclamations posted with the heralds in each district. Will you do this for me?”
Sagen handed one to Jon.
Jonathan’s eyes teared up as he read. “I will be honored to distribute them, Your Majesty.”
“Excellent. Go westward. I shall send another rider east.”
“May I speak plainly, Sire?”
“Yes, right now, you’re my most faithful subject.”
“Sire, I have been in Mestelina recently. The Mestels are no threat. They love J’shua and are peaceful. So, why are we building an army?”
The king put his hand on Jonathan’s shoulder. “The Lord of Lorness has his own intentions for the army, but I will use it for good. He doesn’t understand that a godly man acting out of love is more powerful than anything. If I put those pious men into my army, they’ll overcome anything to do right.”
Jonathan bowed. “Thank you, Sire, for reassuring me. I had no right to doubt you.”
King Edal laughed. “I oft doubt myself. God helps us to walk in the light, yes?”
“Yes, Sire, he does.”
“Is there anything you need from us to help with your task?”
“Perhaps a pass? In case I have a disagreement with any soldiers.”
“An excellent idea. Word will spread once the first proclamation is posted. Some will be displeased. Be careful, Jonathan. I want you in my court someday. You’ll have the pass within the hour. Wait here.” King Edal turned to his son. “Come, Jonathan must away quickly.”
“I’ll return with your pass,” Sagen added while presenting the other copies. Then he followed his father out of the maze.
Jonathan happily read the proclamation again.
This will help so many. Although, it may not help me find Rebekah and Sarah, it will free people that may know of them.
When Sagen returned, he handed Jon a pass permitting the knight to go anywhere in the kingdom unmolested. Then he pulled Jon into a strong bear hug. “Remember, I shall do all in my power to help you. I hope I can call on you when I’m king.”
“I will always be your ally, Your Highness. Never hesitate to call me to your side.” Jon bowed and left.