Rare Things for a Rare Life

The Knights of J'shua

by Tiana Dokerty © 1984-2021

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Chapter 6: Corrections – 144 AK, Late Autumn

Romans 8:28 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.

Updated 8/14/22

Lorness

Jon’than finished the petition. All the fathers signed it, asking for reaffirmation of the king’s Contract Law and that their families be released.

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, Jon expected the trip from Lorness to High Castle to take three days, longer if the weather was rough. There was a road of sorts. It wasn’t paved. None of the roads in Freislicht were. But it was better marked and more easily traversable than the tracks and trails that dominated the country’s east. Indeed, it was the only permanent road in that part of the country. A path the locals had dubbed ‘Lord Melazera's Highway’. That the roadway was maintained even to the slightest extent, everyone would say, was to ease the passage of their Lord to High Castle… and ensure the Melazeras retained their political power in the capitol. That it enlivened trade between the two cities, and probably Esthlanis, was merely incidental.

Arriving at dusk, High Castle was illuminated with torches. Vendors were still about hawking their wares. Jon’than heard the clangs of a blacksmith in the distance. He’d forgotten how lively the capitol was. He searched for an inn he could afford, thinking happily of the days he’d studied alongside the prince.

His first attempt to see Sagen resulted in a very 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, Jon’than suspected Gaelib was intercepting his messages. So, he thought about places Sagen used to escape from the tedium of royal life – and, perhaps, Gaelib – settling on the East Gardens as the most likely. Although the prince was a man now and might not go there anymore, Jon’than was sure he could get there unseen. He and Sagen had found every nook and cranny, every hiding spot, as they played in the castle.

When a considerable load of sacked potatoes arrived at its kitchens, Jon’than slipped in behind the last man and grabbed a bag. He followed, flopping his sack down, then backing into the shadows. Once alone, he followed the servants’ corridor around the castle’s east side, hoping to avoid the chamberlain or any under-stewards.

When 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.

When Jon’than saw the gardens, they looked much the same. Their central feature was an intricate maze formed by manicured hedges.

I spent many a day in its center with Sagen, reading and discussing our lessons. Those were good days.

When the three boys were in their seventh year, they were inseparable except when Sagen and Jon’than 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 abandoned him there.

Jon’than 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.

Jon’than looked around. Seeing neither gardeners nor guards, he dashed into the maze. The trick to navigating it was always keeping your hand on the right wall. After many turns and loops, Jon found himself in the center with the same benches, and, low and behold, the prince. “Hallo.”

Sagen, startled by the welcome, turned abruptly. “Jon’than…?” His face looked much the same only... older. Clearly, his nanny no longer chose his attire, for he wore a long leather coat and riding pants. He looked quite pedestrian, not the colorful peacock of his 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….” Jon teased, bowing low, the smile contrasting with his serious brows, “…when we came here to study.”

“Why are you here, knight?” Sagen countered, grinning. “All you had to do was let me know you were here. I’d have sent a carriage for you." He embraced the knight. “It’s been too long.”

“I have been sending notes for the last two days.”

“I see…” Sagen sobered. “As the Royal Steward, Gaelib has been keeping me even busier than usual. This time with accounting. ‘You simply must understand these matters before becoming king.’” The impersonation of Gaelib’s voice and characteristic hand movements 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,” Jon’than 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….” Jon’than stopped, his eyes tearing up at the thought.

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.”

Jon’than 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….”

“What?”

“They took my daughter too. My wife is missing.”

What? Why didn’t you… you were always too selfless.” Sagen shook his head.” If I was incensed by this injustice before, I’m enraged now.”

Jon smiled, opened his mouth to speak but said nothing.

“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, but it seemed an unconscious response. Sagen didn’t let go of mysteries once his intellect was piqued. He would ponder it.

“It is his right to tax, but not to subvert contract law. He could have given them time to pay.” Jon’than’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. 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. I’ll talk to the king.” Sagen’s brows furrowed.

Jon remembered that expression. He could not have asked for more. It meant the prince would soon be deep in thought, contemplating the situation before him. The knight prayed the result would be favorable. Almost certain it would be, as his friend had a strong – if very quiet – moral core.

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,” Jon’than said, gripping Sagen’s shoulder, beaming. “Thank you, old friend.”

 

Fairness Crossing

R’bekah had begun going to Fairness Crossing, dressed as a man. She was much more convincing since V’cent Donofrio had given her lessons on being a brute.

In addition to those things that they couldn’t make for themselves, they needed information. So, every two or three weeks, she rode to the river, then went on foot into Fairness.

As Mister T’mas Bekh, she’d made friends with the herald, S’mon Hunt’r. Sharing a corn cake or other morsel whenever she came, S’mon gave her the current news – the corn crop was bad, making corn expensive, or lentils abundant, making them a good buy. He knew if the number of soldiers about increased, or they’d been sent away on missions.

She’d told him of her cabin on Shining Mountain. So, if anyone inquired, they’d search in the wrong place. As the moons had passed, she came to trust S’mon and so allowed her face to show the loss she felt.

“T’mas, what is wrong? I’ve never seen you sad before.”

“I don’t want to burden you with my troubles, but… perhaps you can help me.”

“Surely, you know I will.”

“I lost my daughter to a debt collection.” R’bekah was on the verge of tears. “I heard she was sold to someone in Fairness Crossing.”

“I’ll make discreet inquiries. If there’s anything to discover, I’ll tell you.”

She shook his hand profusely, “Thank you, S’mon.” Then she made her circuit of the market and returned to Frei.

On the next visit, S’mon reported there’d been five wagons of children brought in since the rising of the Scorpion. All the cage carts went to Commandant Greysun. All were empty when they left.

R’bekah frowned.

Father, what can we do?

 

High Castle - The King’s Dining Room

Sagen entered the king’s private dining hall to find Gaelib Melazera already seated.

His father sat at the head of the table, picking at a bowl of produce. “Ah, Sagen, my son. Come sit, enjoy this delicious fruit.” He waved his hand toward the perfectly ripened peaches, mangoes, figs, and grapes. “Melazera has brought them from his orchards as a gift.”

“An awe-inspiring display, Gaelib,” Sagen commented as he sat. Leaning back in the chair, he placed his leather boot across his other thigh. “But… what brings you here? Are the kingdom’s finances in jeopardy?”

“No… no…” the Steward all but cooed. “Our coffers are full, our creditors satisfied, and the nobles happy.” His hand 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 the latter to make his excuses and depart.

Sagen knew the topic of law and taxes wouldn’t be welcome at dinner, so decided to praise Gaelib’s financial magic and, at the same time, honor his father’s ways of dealing with debt before the Lord of Lorness took over.

His father seemed pleased, but commanded, “What’s bothering you? Out with it.”

“I saw an old friend today, Jon’than Otual. Do you remember him?”

“Yes,” the king replied, his eyes narrowing at the change of topic. “How is he? Became a knight, if I remember correctly.”

“He did… he came due to a problem with tax collections in his hometown… in Lorness,” Sagen paused.

King Edal’s brows drew closer together. “Continue.”

“Well… Gaelib heavily taxed his nobles… which is his right. But…”

“But… what…?” The king’s annoyance was unmistakable.

 Sagen gulped. “Jon’than informed me that Gaelib’s nobles have broken your contract laws. They’re calling in loans illegally, taking wives and children to cover the debts… and…”

“And what?

“Many of the girls were sold to brothels.”

“Is there evidence of this?” His words were like daggers. His father hated the misuse of their laws. Temporary servitude has always been a way for the poor to enhance their position or pay their debts. However, he despised slavery.

The prince nodded. “Jon’than brought a petition asking for relief.”

“Do you have it?” His father’s tone eased as he took the document and read it over carefully. Then he reread it. As he did so a third time, he grunted several times. When done, he looked deep into Sagen’s eyes. “Jon’than should be in my court. His understanding of our laws is profound. Bring me writing materials and wax for my seal.”

“With pleasure, father.” Sagen obtained those things. He bit his lip.

“There’s something more. What have you left out?”

“Jon’than’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. “I’m impressed. You could have used Jon’than’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, I am pleased 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. He thinks I’m 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.

“I want to see your friend. Where will you meet him?”

“In the morning, at the center of the maze.”

“Excellent. I’ll join you.”

 

Frei Forest

R’bekah checked the many telltales put in place to alert them of encroachment. So far, there was no sign anyone had observed them. Delicate plants or muddy ground revealed if anyone passed by. The young ones caught globe spiders, just as R’bekah had as a child. Then their eight-legged guardians were transplanted to spin webs across pathways.

She took her morning walk, surveilling the various paths to their camp. She’d taught them how to move through the forest and not create tracks, but some were inevitable with so many people. The undergrowth was still lush. There were no obvious trails yet.

She felt the weight of it, the ever-growing worry that they’d be discovered.

Will there ever be a remedy for our condition?

She checked the hazards and the alerts as she made her circuit of the colony.

Yes, it is a colony now.

Follow the weasel.

The words sounded unbidden in her mind, waking R’bekah before dawn, turning her thoughts to Ge’rge Rosewud.

She had taught her people almost everything Jon’than had taught her. They could handle things if she left for a time.

They selected V’ncent as their leader for as long as she was gone.

"Don't do anything impulsive. Just watch. You have us to help when the time comes for action,” V’ncent reminded as everyone surrounded her, adding things to her bags and checking Justice’s tack.

She nodded and hugged them. R’bekah waved as she walked her horse into the forest.

Following Rosewud, that weasel, will reveal something.

 

High Castle

King Edal thought back. Was it really twenty years ago? No, it was twenty-three.

He’d been standing on High Castle’s highest 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 Steward Rothbard had approached, the distinctive tapping of his ironwood cane announcing him. Without taking his eyes from his son, he’d said to his steward, “You need not have come all the way up here, Lawrence. I wasn’t planning on hiding for long. But, since you’re here, I need some advice.”

“I live to serve, Sire.” 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, who 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, 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 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.”

“Might…?”

“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, temporarily or permanently severing their bond 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 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 work out….”

The king shook his head, laughing at the memory of his younger self. “In case this knight-to-be doesn’t work out,” he repeated. Jon’than had definitely ‘worked out’. 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.

 

The East Gardens

Jon’than slipped into the garden carefully.

With midday approaching, the gardeners would be inside. They avoided cultivating or pruning at the height of the day.

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.

Jon’than 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 simple 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.

“… but when managing people, you can’t expect perfection. All men may be tempted. You must not judge them by their words, only their actions. As long as an evil man does good, there’s hope for him.”

“I understand. I’ll remember,” Sagen replied as they arrived at the center. “It appears Jon’than isn’t here yet. He’s sure Gaelib is preventing him from seeing me.”

“Be wary of men that love riches.”

Realizing the voice belonged to King Edal, Jon’than stepped into view and knelt on one knee. “Your Majesty, I am honored by your presence.”

The king’s eyes widened as he smiled. “Most cunning, Sir Jon’than. 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. I need these proclamations posted with the heralds in each district. Will you do this for me?” He handed one to Jon.

Jon’than’s eyes teared up as he read. “I will be honored to distribute them, Your Majesty. This will help so many. Thank you.”

“Excellent. Go westward. I shall send another rider east.”

“May I speak plainly, Sire?”

“Yes, right now, you’re my most faithful subject.”

“Sire, the Mestels are no threat. I have been in Mestelina recently. They love J’shua and are peaceful. So, why are we building an army?”

The king put his hand on Jon’than’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.”

Jon’than 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, Jon’than. I want you in my court someday, once your mission for J’shua concludes. You’ll have the pass within the hour. Wait here.” To Sagen, King Edal said, “Come, we must not keep Jon’than longer than necessary.”

“I’ll return with your pass,” Sagen added while presenting the other copies. Then he followed his father out of the maze.

Jon’than happily reread the proclamation.

This will help so many. Although, it may not help me find R’bekah and Sar’h, 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.” Then Jon bowed and left.


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