Rare Things for a Rare Life

The Knights of Joshua

by Tiana Dokerty © 1984-2021

Home | Chapter 5 | Chapter 7

Chapter 6: New Beginnings – 144 AK, Early Autumn

Psalm 51:10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

 

High Castle

Blackhawk approached High Castle with awe… and relief.

He felt bewildered. He had never acted so foolishly before. He could not explain the effect Little Soldier had on him. The days since they parted ways had provided no clarity. Annoyed, he pushed the matter from his mind.

As he crested the hill, the asymmetric, rose granite towers came into view, each exhibiting a rippling blue banner. The king's sigil, three silver lightning strikes, were visible from a mile away without a glass. It was set on the highest hill in Freislicht. So high, the Sea of Glass could be seen from its battlements. So tall, any approaching enemy would be visible for many, many miles in every direction.

High Castle was before him once more. He’d not been here since he was Geleib’s page..

When he finally entered the gate, the city was buzzing with activity, everyone prosperous and content. A stark contrast to Lorness, which was devoid of happiness.

He strolled about, admiring the wares in many shops. Their variety amazed him. In Lorness, variety didn’t exist – unless you were its Lord, who could afford anything he wanted. Almost anything. More accurately, anything that Gregory Locke, Duke of Alexandria, did not covet. That Southern Lord was much, much richer. Nor was it wise to ever mention his name within Geleib’s hearing… which brought back memories of the day he’d been made a page.

Five master tailors were escorted in one at a time. Each declared their expertise and accomplishments. The last mentioned working for Gregory of Alexandria. Geleib’s eyes turned dark and he scowled at the hapless clothier. With a wave of his hand, the guards dragged him away, bewildered and screaming,

“What have I done, my lord, to anger you so?” The man begged. He spent the next two weeks paying for his blunder in the dungeons.

Geleib was capricious.

Eventually, the selected tailor summoned an army of subordinates carrying bolts of fabric in every hue.

“When at my side,” Geleib had said, “you must be appropriately attired.”

Long hours of standing at attention had followed.

I had wished he’d beaten me instead.

Geleib had commented on this or that, ending with, “You will be a jewel on my hand.”

Words that, in many ways, summed up their relationship. Blackhawk had begun to doubt that Geleib had ever seen him as a person. Instead, the Lord of Lorness treated him as a treasured possession, a bauble to be worn, a toy to be taken out and played with, or something bright and shiny to demonstrate its owner’s wealth and status.

Yet, Blackhawk had prospered due to Melazera’s patronage. It had allowed him to eat, sleep safely, and survive harsh winters that could – no, would – have ended his life. That he’d paid for it with obedience and… other things… was merely the way it was.

Was…

The city surrounding him held so much promise. Its very existence was a counterpoint to the drabness and misery of Lorness. This was a new beginning.

A beginning that needed to be marked, remembered. Blackhawk noticed a shop selling gold and silver jewelry.

He perused every beautiful item the jeweler had, but almost everything cost a fortune. He had only twenty-one baden left. Then a fine silver chain caught his eye. He paid the jeweler ten baden and put the package in his pocket.

Next, he’d sought out the herald, seeking news and asking where he could find the town’s senior officer.

He’s a cheerful fellow, Blackhawk noted upon receiving directions.

It was a different kind of cheerfulness, not like Geleib’s or Cailleagh’s. Theirs always had a trick behind it. Any advantage would always be to them. If Cailleagh was cheerful, you might be tied up or worse. This was different. It felt good.

The barracks were noisy. All the men were busy, but its atmosphere was light, without the gloom and drudgery common at Lorness or North Fort.

He was amazed a place could feel so different.

Is it the people? They looked like people anywhere. Is it something in the wind? Perhaps a plant that grows here makes everyone happy, like some of Cailleagh’s potions.

He pondered while he walked.

Entering the commander’s office, he stood at attention, stating, “Lieutenant Steven Blackhawk reporting.”

A bored corporal looked up from his papers, then snapped to attention. “Yes, sir, lieutenant. Please have a seat, sir. I’ll let Commander Taylor know you’re here.” Yet, before he had taken a step, another voice bellowed.

“Send him in, corporal.”

The commander’s man waved Blackhawk through.

Sitting behind the desk was an officer of middle years, who was still fit and strong. There were only the first touches of grey in his raven-dark hair. Rising to his feet, he scrutinized his guest. “You are the youngest lieutenant I’ve ever met. How did you manage that?”

“Manage what, sir?” Blackhawk responded, trying to take the other man’s measure.

“Attain rank so quickly. You didn’t start in napkins, did you?” He asked with a laugh.

“No, sir. I was just determined to do my best. Still am.”

“Then, I’m glad to have you.” The commander offered his hand, Blackhawk matching his firm grip. “Let me know if you have any trouble about your rank. The corporal will show you to your quarters and give you the layout. Be back here tomorrow at first light for your first assignment, lieutenant. Dismissed.”

“Yes, Sir,” Blackhawk acknowledged, turned on his heel, and smartly exited, collecting the corporal as he went.

The hours that followed were as expected. He learned where to stable his mount and all the other mundanities that went with a military posting.

Blackhawk tied the horse outside the cabin assigned to him. It was a clean room. Its only furnishings were a cot, a table, and a piss pot. It took only minutes to change out of his clothes, heavy with trail dust, into a clean uniform bearing the single lightning strike proclaiming his rank.

I look rather smart.

Heading to the stables, he arranged with the sergeant running them to release the horse to George Rosewood, then asked, “Where can I find a meal?”

“The mess is over one block, sir. Would you like a map? I make them because we get a lot of visitors and new recruits. This place is pretty big.”

“That would be excellent. What do I owe you?”

“No charge, sir. Commander Taylor wants his men to learn their way around quickly.”

“Much obliged,” Blackhawk said with a nod. “What is your name, sergeant?”

“Brian Mitchell, sir.”

“Thank you, sergeant.”

Entering the mess, Blackhawk joined the inevitable line of men waiting to be served. It was the usual army pottage, but with a piece of fruit and bread. The quality of the ingredients was better too.

So far, High Castle is shaping up well.

Finding a table, he sat with his back to the wall where he could not be hemmed in. He’d barely started eating when he heard murmurs begin.

Troublemakers, four of them, glared at him. Their eyes flitted from their lieutenant to Blackhawk as they huddled over their bowls. They grumbled for a few minutes, becoming ever louder before the largest stood, then strode toward him. “Who’d you steal the rank bands from, boy?”

The speaker was nearly a decade older, making him around twenty-five. Well-muscled, his chest puffed out as he glanced from side to side at his comrades.

“Are you addressing me? Lieutenant Steven Blackhawk is my name.” He rose to his feet slowly, unthreateningly. “How about you?” He offered his hand, but the other didn’t take it.

“I’m Lieutenant Carl Fortson. How’d you get the lightning strike?”

“By hard work and obedience,” Blackhawk replied. His tone was light, despite observing Fortson’s three companions fanning out to surround him… and half the diners leaving.

It had to happen someday. Might as well be now.

He should have been worried, but wasn't. Geleib’s men periodically surrounded him, always without warning. If they beat him up, they’d be well rewarded. But he’d adapted quickly, learning to strike harder and faster, hitting points that would have been lethal if he’d been more than a child..

He stepped clear of the table, waiting for one of the four to make a move.

The soldiers who remained lined the walls whispering. They pointed from him to the other four, offering odds against him. He wished he’d had time to place a wager on himself. The odds would have been great.

One of Fortson’s boys lunged.

Blackhawk grabbed his wrist and twisted, locking the arm. “Couldn’t we talk about this?”

The man growled back.

Blackhawk increased pressure, dislocating the joint, then dropped him to the floor. “Stay down.” As the attacker began to rise, the young soldier's heel struck. The man’s collarbone cracked like a roasted chestnut. That left three.

The others rushed in.

Spinning left, Blackhawk threw a plate at the middle one’s face. It missed as that one ducked. Continuing left, he caught the next punch, pulling the militet off-balance. With multiple snaps, the wrist broke. The man shrieked and backed away, hugging his arm.

The leader’s punch skimmed Blackhawk’s midsection. It also left Fortson wide open.

Entwining his fingers in the other lieutenant’s hair, Blackhawk brought Fortson’s head down on his knee. Blood flowed freely. Using a chokehold, he squeezed.

Blackhawk dropped the unconscious lieutenant and faced his remaining opponent. “Wouldn’t you rather talk about this?”

“Yes… uh… sir,” the last man answered.

“Have a seat. What’s your name?”

“Robert Maitland, Sir.”

“Would you like some bread?”

Maitland nodded, glanced down at the bloody Lieutenant Fortson, then sat meekly.

Blackhawk tossed him a chunk.

As the man with the broken collar bone regained his feet, he too took the seat offered by Blackhawk, glowering at the defeated Fortson.

Still clutching his broken wrist, the third man cast a sullen glance at his former comrades, but could not meet Blackhawk’s gaze. The craven slunk out of the mess.

Fortson remained motionless on the floor.

With the fight over, the mess hall filled up again and someone removed Lieutenant Fortson.

Blackhawk charmed his listeners as he had been taught to. He was open about everything, totally transparent except for his relationship with Geleib, Cailleagh, and Little Soldier. Those three he would protect with his silence until the day he died.

When Blackhawk left the mess, he’d made quite a few friends, including two of his assailants and many of the onlookers. He was pleased with the way things had turned out, especially as it made it less likely that he’d be charged with brawling.

He walked to his shanty, looking forward to his cot.

Briefly, he reviewed the map, memorizing the layout of the military section.

Drawing out the silver chain, he took the buttons from his breast pocket, slid the chain through each, then fastened it behind his neck.

The way is clear when it is needed.

 

Lorness – Sanctuary of the Alte Regieren

“Stop your incessant nagging. I’m coming,” Geleib grumbled.

Cailleagh had cajoled him all week.

He knew she believed the rituals were necessary to acquire the crown. They meant less to him. Not nothing, merely less. They had their place, but they were only one part of the elaborate plan that would make his destiny a reality.

You will be the most powerful man in the world. He recalled Cailleagh telling him this on many, many occasions. Only to complete that thought with, Yes… I will… soon I will.

His guiding spirit, the Warrior, gave him strength… or so Cailleach insisted. It enhanced him, granting him insights unavailable to the fools who followed Joshua, and offered counsel that he did not always appreciate. Most recently, it had urged him to please his wife. You still need her… for now.

The ceremonial robes chafed, rubbing at his neck like a noose. He refused to show his discomfort. Tonight’s ceremony would enhance his access to the Warrior’s power further. Or so that spirit had implied. It was yet another step along the way to having all its abilities at his command.

The vast cavern was lit by hundreds of candles. It was filled with chanting Black Robes whose melodic tones gave way to strange words.

He permitted Cailleagh to lead him to a gold-decorated chair to the right of the stone altar. As he sat, his heartbeat matched the rhythmic chanting pulsing through him. Breathing deeply and slowly, his muscles warmed with the hum of each syllable. He gave himself to the spreading pleasurable feelings, floating upon them, savoring them.

A naked woman was led toward the altar, guided by the leash about her throat. Her hands were tied. She did not struggle, nor was she outwardly afraid. The woman looked at him and smiled, then climbed the steps.

Cailleagh prompted him. “Go to her.”

The Warrior stirred within Geleib, who was enraptured, having given himself wholly over to sensation. Together, man and spirit stood then moved to the stone table where their victim had been tied in place. Together, they were overcome with desire, mounted her, and satisfied their lusts.

Geleib accepted the knife Cailleagh offered him. He felt its weight, enjoying the power flowing through him. His lust satiated, he sacrificed the life still beneath him to the Warrior.

Geleib did not remember walking to the coach. Exhilarated and euphoric, his memories were disjointed, as if his eyes had been closed part of the time.

Cailleagh was jabbering excitedly. “When I’m queen, no one will be able to hurt me. You’ll always protect me.”

“Did you drug me also?”

“No, silly. My spirit guides work with the Warrior to grow his power in you. Each step you take is of your own choosing. Now, the Warrior can open new doors for us. Soon, my love, you will be the most powerful man in the world. You will be king.”

Geleib tried to focus, but his eyes were blurred, overloaded, and rendered irrelevant by his elated bliss. He closed them. “That will be some time in the future, my dear.”

Idle thoughts flashed through his mind, but what kept returning was that only last week, the prince had spoken about Jonathan… again.

Sagen hasn’t seen Jon since boyhood and still brings him up all the time. He always preferred to spend time with that filthy commoner, sending me away so they could be alone. If I am to have Sagen to myself, I must deal with that knight.

 

Frei Forest

The community Rebekah had unwittingly founded had grown to include seven families.

Father, you must be leading people to this place.

Their settlement was unlike others, for they lived in constant fear of discovery. They used only very small fires, and then only at night, so no smoke could be detected from the river or seen in the distance. Their shelters were simple and constructed to blend into the woods. They remained within the forest during the daytime when the river was full of boatmen. They foraged only at dusk or dawn. Guided by the Lord, the adults agreed everyone must obey the rules. There could be no chaos. Even a child’s tantrum could bring about their end.

By the end of Autumn, the hamlet had grown to twelve families and forty-two children.

“Sheisse! Blast your petty squabbles.” Rebekah stomped off after being approached about yet more complaints. Someone misplaced a tool. Another claimed to have more rights because they provided the anvil for the forge. A third decided those with more children shouldn’t have to work. Mediating their grievances was almost unbearable. She wanted to leave them all behind to find Sarah.

In the several moons since she and the Donofrios had come here, Rebekah had become their chief. Not by choice. It had just happened. She did not consider herself a leader, nor did she know how to take care of all these people.

She continued praying in the spirit but heard no response.

A small child ran up to Rebekah, giggling, “Mother Toole, Mother Toole, We’re ready.”

The group needed supplies to survive but couldn’t farm. It would be too easy to discover them. Instead, they made what they could to sell in town.

Rebekah’s contribution was making candles. It was also a method for including the children, as each family had at least one boy or girl tall enough to do so safely.

The containers of rendered fat had been left to solidify, separating into layers overnight. Then the tallow layer was rendered again to prevent it from stinking as it aged and to produce the most lovely, creamy, white wax.

Many children had been looking forward to the candle-making. They had carefully cut their strings and tied them twelve to a stick.

“To be safe, you will all obey my instructions, yes?”

“Yes, Mother Toole.”

“Everyone put your hand on the shoulder of the one in front of you.”

Twelve hands shot out.

“Now, straighten your arm out.”

The line immediately lengthened.

“Very good. See how far you are apart? This is the distance you must stay apart while dipping the candles. Otherwise, you might drip wax on your friend or their clothes.”

One by one, she showed them how to lower the stick parallel to the ground to dip the wicks in the hot tallow. After one dipped, they went to the end of the line, waiting to return to its front and dip again.

 

New Village Near Mestelina & Shining Mountain

Sarah sat behind the seat holding the chubby baby for most of the journey. She loved playing with him. He was not crawling yet, so she had no trouble keeping him entertained whenever Ma handed him to her.

She said I must call her Ma so everyone thinks I’m her daughter. 

“It will keep us safe,” Mother Beecher had said.

Sarah replied resolutely, “Yes, Ma, I will. I will keep you safe.” That made Ma smile, and Sarah was glad of it.

They traveled day and night to put a great distance behind them, not knowing how motivated their pursuers might be.

Riding in the wagon was bumpy, and Sarah had trouble sleeping. It wasn’t rhythmic like Whitefoot had been.

As she lay in the wagon, she set her mind to pretending she was a princess being taken to safety by innocent thieves. Her knight left to save the king and queen, who were in danger from an evil wizard. She prayed for them often as her daydream hero proceeded through many challenges and quests.

When they passed Caswell, she could see the lonely castle in the distance. She imagined a great feast with dancing and singing in the great hall, but they dare not venture therein.

The food would be glorious. Never would the bread be stale.

Sarah was shocked awake by water splashing, seeping up through the wagon’s bottom. They were crossing a river. It was cold. Everything was wet. It was a sensation she never wanted to feel again.

Ma was holding Benjamin tightly, praying the water would not get deeper.

Sarah closed her eyes and forced her body to relax, like Da taught her. She counted to ten as she exhaled each breath and thanked the God of Truth for saving all of them from the river and the hunters.

Eventually, they reached the dry bank.

Sarah knew they were headed south when she saw mountains in the distance. Her Da had taught her that the Shining Mountains completely protected the southern border of Freislicht, and it was always a safe place to go when in danger. She was happy they were doing what her Da would want.

“Wake up,” Shaun encouraged with a light touch on her shoulder. “See our new village.”

Sarah rubbed her eyes and marveled at the activity. The noise was a cacophony of hammering, sawing, and the distant crack of axes. Not a single person was still. Men toted rocks and logs. Women carried food to a long table. As they passed, the smell of cooking made her mouth water. She licked her lips and prayed she could have some, then frowned as they continued onward.

She watched it disappear into the distance until the sound of halloos and children’s laughter brought her from her tasty thoughts.

“Sister Kennah,” an unknown voice announced, “we did not know you were coming.”

“I am sorry, Sister Brenda,” Ma replied to a woman nursing a babe, “We had to. Things are worsening in the northeast. I want you to meet Sarah. She is a sweet girl that has lost her parents, so we adopted her. She has been a great help to me with Benjamin.”

“Pleased to meet you, Mother Brenda,” Sarah said with a bow.

“Aren’t you a bold child?” The new woman lightly touched the girl’s chin. “I am sure the Lord has an amazing plan for you.”

“Thank you, ma’am. I hope so.”

Shaun and several men were unloading the wagon while talking about debt collections and rumors of war.

Sarah jumped down to the ground, then looked up at Kennah, Ma, who nodded toward the children playing on the other side of the yard.

“Go on.”

As Sarah ran off, Ma yelled, “Stay with them, Sarah. Don’t wander off.”


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