Rare Things for a Rare Life

The Knights of J'shua

by Tiana Dokerty © 1984-2021

Home | Chapter 6 | Chapter 8

Chapter 7: The Proclamation – 144 AK, Late Autumn

Hebrews 12:1 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,

Updated 8/14/22

Farr Castle

Jon’than’s burdens felt lighter due to the king’s proclamation. He’d been dispatched to the west, another rider east.

Yet, R’bekah was still missing. Had she rescued Sar’h? He had no way to know. It gnawed at him.

At least, they will no longer be hunted.

It took Jon’than only half a day to reach Farr Castle. As he rode through the town, he scanned for blonde heads, hoping to see R’bekah or Sar’h.

The Herald Station existed to communicate the Royal Will. Its stables were full of fresh horses. Its riders ready to spread announcements to the surrounding villages. Behind the counter was an ancient man with a long grey beard and wise eyes. It was oft said he was as old as the building itself.

Jon’than looked to the wall of announcements and warrants. He tore down his wife’s poster, barely masking his anger.

The herald lifted a hand, opening his mouth to protest.

“I am Jon’than Otual, Knight of J’shua. The king sent me with this proclamation.” He passed it to the herald.

The old man read it, eyebrows rising steadily, then exclaimed, “Sir, this’ll cause an uproar. You should leave before I announce it. Many of the wealthy hereabouts have bought these conscriptions.”

“I go only because I have more stops. Do you acknowledge receipt of the decree?”

“Yes, Sir. I’ll proclaim it immediately.”

“The God of Truth bless you in J’shua’s name.”

 

Lorness

Owakar closed his journal and watched as R'bekah rode into Lorness, praying in the spirit. He clapped his hands with glee when he saw she was following Ge’rge Rosewud. Then glanced around for any signs of the Warrior or his henchmen.

She's a good listener. Let's see what we can do today.

He whispered words of peace to her.

R’bekah, as T’mas Bekh, went to the last place she’d seen Ge’rge Rosewud. The Sapphire Inn was sought out for its opulent rooms and elegant cuisine. He seemed well known there, perhaps even a frequent customer. So, she watched and waited.

It was also where she’d last laid eyes on Sar’h. Her sweet girl had looked well. No fear in her eyes, nor tears on her face, chattering to a small boy.

Keep her safe, Lord.

A man with wavy-blond, neatly tied hair came out of the inn, then mounted the horse four riders held for him.

It’s him.

R’bekah's hand fell to her dagger. Restraining the urge to carve out his eyes, she forced herself to amble to her horse, mount it, then keep a reasonable distance behind the five riders.

When Rosewud entered Lorness, she backed off.

Despite the busy streets, he was easy to spot. His bright clothes and colorful scarf were expensive. The local peasants and merchants looked disheveled in comparison to the fastidious undersecretary. His bobbing blond hair was as good as a flag.

The five riders entered a small, shadowed gate at the rear of the castle and disappeared inside.

Finding an inn to watch from, she prayed for wisdom. And waited.

Hours passed.

It was long after dark. She’d heard the herald cry, “The First Watch has ended.”

Her quarry still hadn’t emerged, when three dressed in black cloaks did. They pulled their horses slowly by the reins, only mounting once hidden in shadows far from castle torches. Odder still, the horses were of good quality, not working nags. Their saddles and bridles were things of beauty.

It’s far too late to start a journey.

R’bekah left the inn, returning to her horse. When the three were almost out of view, she pursued . Once beyond the town, she urged her beast into a gallop, matching their pace.

The riders were headed toward the Bloody Rocks.

Why come here after dark? Why come here at all?

She became worried when the riders slowed. There was nothing ahead of them other than a cliff face surrounded by woods.

Those she’d chased were too wealthy to be bandits, robbers, or thieves. If they headed some criminal enterprise, why meet here? Surely, there was a warm room somewhere, well supplied with wine and all the privacy they’d ever need?

She slipped further back, stopping as they approached the entrance to a cave. Dismounting, she walked her horse off the trail. After tying it securely, she crept closer, hiding in the brush.

The three had dismounted. Two strode into the cave, leaving the last to tie the horses to a nearby tree, then he too entered.

Time passed. Minutes, then an hour, two, then more. R’bekah was drowsy. Finding and following the weasel had been taxing enough. Perhaps this had been a bad idea. Breathing deeply to wake up her mind, movement alerted her as people trickled out. All wore black.

Not just three, or six… a dozen or so. Then more. Then so many more it was like ants pouring forth from a trampled hill. Worse, they walked off in all directions, in large groups and small.

R’bekah inhaled sharply.

A score of them are heading right toward me. Hide me, Lord.

She didn’t realize she’d held her breath until she exhaled, after they’d veered around her.

Eventually, the three she’d followed emerged, mounted their horses, and rode away, back toward Lorness. They were not the last. Another appeared, lowered his hood, and stared up at the moon, his face on show – Rosewud.

What’s your secret, weasel?

More appeared. Subordinates by the way he ordered them about, carrying a roll of cloth on a pole. Others brought wood and started a fire in a shallow pit. The pole and cloth were cast into it.

What are they burning?

The wind changed, carrying the scent of a burning animal to her.

They added more wood, chanting foreign words in low mournful tones.

R’bekah prayed in the spirit throughout, afraid to move.

When the fire died down, they covered the glowing embers with dirt, and departed.

Daylight wasn’t far off. She returned to her horse, moved it further away from the cave, laid her blanket on the ground and slept.

Thank you, Lord, for keeping me hidden.

When she woke, the sun was high in the sky.

R’bekah approached the cave cautiously.

She stayed near the wall of the cave. It was enormous, bigger than the great hall at High Castle. Within was a noise like breathing. There was just enough light from the entrance to see a large, raised stone table at the cavern’s center. It was dark, discolored. Flies swarmed noisily around it.

As she approached, a knot formed in her stomach as an unspeakable thought slipped into her mind. The scent of spilled blood washed over her. Turning away, she retched when she saw a tiny severed hand.

Child sacrifice.

Overcome with disgust, she wiped her mouth with her sleeve.

Lord, what can I do?

A memory of a Great Battle stirred within. Her furrowed brow relaxed. She’d do as they’d done to win that conflict. Seven times she marched the perimeter singing spiritual songs of praise, claiming it for the God of Truth, purifying it of evil, banishing demons in the name of J’shua Ha Mashiach.

Infused with his spirit, she sang with all her might.

The still small voice whispered to her the passage, The joy of the Lord is your strength.

R’bekah lifted her hands to God. “Father, lead me to the root of this unholy trouble.” Then she left, taking the small hand with her for burial.

@@Despite the ghastly discovery, Owakar smiled. R’bekah masquerading as a man was a humorous sight to an angel who saw both surface images and the truths beneath them.

Even more amusing was that the consequences of Rosewud’s actions were starting to work against him, and against the God of this Age. Would they bring about their own downfall?

It was too soon to tell.

 

North Fort

There was a path from Farr Castle to North Fort. Jon’than wouldn’t describe it as a road. That would be overly generous, no matter how maps recorded it.

Ancient trees towered above him. Brush scraped his legs.

He observed hastily built tents and shanties. It was hard living on the frontier. Jon marveled that any would choose this.

But… this was far away from Lorness, Farr Castle, and any place where nobles might be tempted to enslave people. The king’s proclamation would free many, but it was better never to be put at risk. That thought was reinforced when he passed several children in the distance, weeding a garden. They waved. He waved back.

Freedom is everything.

At North Fort, South Fort, and Alexandria, each herald thanked the knight for its delivery and read the Proclamation.

Finished with his route, Jon rode back to his friends in Lorness, it had only taken two days to travel from Alexandria to Fairness Crossing, A fact that astonished him. He’d never ridden a road so well maintained. A road that was heavy with traffic.

As farms appeared outside Fairness Crossing, he felt a warning within. Jon’than let the horse graze, ate some dried meat, and prayed. Yet he did not understand this dread. Surely, the other rider carrying the proclamation had reached the town before him? It would have taken far less time to travel due south rather than his circuitous route.

He dismissed those worries as foolish, continuing on to the Herald Station, which was next to the Commandant’s Office. Entering, he presented the proclamation and his pass from the king. The herald’s expression caught Jon by surprise.

“This is wonderful news,” the herald exulted.

“Have you not already received a copy of this?” Jon’than asked, perplexed. “The king dispatched me three weeks ago. Another should have delivered this already.”

“It didn’t arrive. I shall announce this immediately.” The herald turned away, searching for his official coat.

Jon walked back down the stairs to his waiting steed.

“Stop that man!” A voice roared.

Jon’than mounted.

A dozen soldiers in burgundy leather charged from every direction, scattering chickens and peasants, their swords pointed at him.

“You! Get down!” The voice belonged to an old adversary.

The knight ignored the order, replying, “Commandant, if you wish to converse, I am happy to oblige. Or, are you interested in another sermon?”

Greysun approached briskly. “You son of a hundn, I’ll give you a sermon.” He brandished his blade, trying to close.

Jon backed his horse away, keeping the distance open, saying nothing.

“I’ll give you the thrashing of your life, knight.”

Jon left his blade sheathed.

The soldiers formed a loose cordon around him, looking nervously at each other and lastly the commandant.

“Pull him down! Bind him!” Greysun commanded.

Facing a man on horseback was difficult. Facing a Knight of J’shua was more than daunting. The knights were well-known to be masters of the sword. None of the men were eager to come within his reach.

“Commandant Greysun!” Another voice intervened. The herald stood on the porch, buttoning his royal jacket. “This man has a pass from the king. You may not interfere with his duty. Do so, and I’ll see you arrested for treason.”

The soldiers withdrew, sheathing their swords, muttering softly about J’shua’s intervention. Their lieutenant tried to cover his smirk.

As the herald read the proclamation aloud, the crowd grew and grew. Shouts of support for and thanks to the king burst forth several times.

Jon’than waited, remaining mounted. The people’s response and joy lifted his spirits. With a bow to the commandant, he rode off as a furious Greysun retreated into his office. Jon smiled when he heard the door slam.

As Jon rode to River Town, he remembered meeting Greyson the first time…

Jon’than and two other new knights, Jean LaVoie and Harold Grammott, had walked into town on a summery day. The dust of the road had dried their throats.

“They’ll have everything we need.” Jean pointed to an old shop with broken shutters and a pile of old crates blocking the doorway.

Harold frowned. “No, there. Look at the colorful cloaks and swords.” He pointed to the other side of the street. A shop beside a brothel.

Jon smiled, elbowing, Harold. “Why don’t we ask the man with the wagonful of supplies where he shopped?” As he pointed his eyes fell upon the most beautiful maiden he’d ever seen. Younger than he, she had long honey-gold hair, eyes blue like the sky.

She was arguing with broad gestures with a merchant. She slapped the counter. “Do you have another buyer for it? Otherwise, we’ll buy one in Alexandria or River Town.”

The owner hung his head, then nodded, accepting coins from her.

As she turned, hands on her hips, she saw Jon staring.

Her smile struck him as sure as an arrow, stopping him in his tracks.

Jean and Harold both nudged him, noticing the object of his attention.

“Well now, not two days out of training, and already your head is turned. Tsk, tsk, Johnny-boy,” Jean teased.

“I suppose you’ll be too busy to teach,” chimed Harold,” or perhaps this will lead to some private instruction, eh?”

“Shut it, both of you. You make much of a glance,” returned Jon’than. “There is nothing wrong with admiring the flowers of the garden.”

In unison, they mimicked Jon’than and finished his oft-repeated adage, “Only do not pluck them if the garden is not yours.” Both burst out laughing.

“It is too bad you did not apply yourselves so well to your studies,” Jon’than noted. His eyes sparkled, and a sly grin spread across his face.

“Always the fast one. There’s no keeping up with you,” Harold quipped.

As the three friends laughed, Jon’than thought to approach the young beauty, but a disturbance on the far side of the market square caught their attention.

Six soldiers, clad in the vermillion of the king, were guffawing loudly. At their feet, a farmer sprawled in a pile of tomatoes. His face was red. His clothes splattered by ruined produce.

Surging to his feet, the man glared at his tormentors. “My daughter won’t be the butt of jokes, nor lewd comments by the likes of you. That’ll be five baden for the tomatoes, and an apology to my Marsha.” He nodded toward the maid. “Do that and I’ll not report you to the commandant.”

The soldiers laughed.

“Why not?” Their leader, a bearded giant, sneered. “I’ll save you the trouble. I’m the new commandant.”

The farmer’s eyes widened.

The giant grabbed the man’s throat, raising him to eye level. Then, with a vicious smile, dumped him back into the tomatoes.

The maiden ran to help her father.

The commandant grabbed her. “Let’s see if you’re as tender as you look.”

She struggled, only to have her face smothered by his large beard. Kicking and scratching, she pushed him away. “You pig!”

“Fire! That’s what we like in a woman,” the commandant blustered, holding her at arm’s length. “Don’t we, men?”

They all laughed again.

The farmer staggered back to his feet, breathing hard. He stepped forward unsteadily, tottered, almost collapsing again, only to kick the officer’s side.

The commandant gasped, doubled over, and released the maid.

She sprinted away.

The farmer stood his ground.

The soldiers drew their swords.

The giant straightened, snarling, “Fool! You’ve forfeited your life!” Then struck the farmer, sending him reeling.

Jon’than frowned. His muscles tensed. His companions dropped their packs and loosened their swords.

“Easy, Jon. These are the king’s soldiers,” Jean warned.

“It could be the farmer’s fault,” Harold chimed in.

“I will not stand by and watch such evil,” Jon countered. “Do not be diminished by fear for this life.” He strode toward battle, roaring, “You! Coward!” Only to be ignored, so Jon swept the officer’s feet from under him.

The giant landed on his back with a crash.

Jon’than drew his sword and pricked the officer’s neck. A drop of blood traced its way down to the dirt. “Now, Commandant, why don’t we resolve this? Let’s all walk away as friends. What say you?”

Rage plain on his face, the commandant scowled but lay motionless.

Jon’than glanced at the soldiers, who kept their distance.

“Do you think your vows will save you, knight? You threaten a soldier of the king. Kill me or not,” he growled, “my men will deal with you.”

“He is not alone, foul dog,” came the voice of Harold, as he and Jean drew their swords behind the five soldiers.

“Your job,” Jon’than spoke quietly, “is to serve and protect our country. Not to act as you’ve just done. No law protects you when you break it yourself.”

“Enough preaching. Let me up. We’ll be gone.”

“Pay for the farmer’s goods.”

“Here’s five baden.” The officer grasped at his belt.

“Ten,” Jon’than demanded, pressing harder into the officer’s throat.

“Ten.” The giant tossed the coins onto the ground.

Jon withdrew, his sword still ready.

His friends stepped back, their swords out, remaining alert.

The commandant rolled over. Groaning as he straightened, he threw a spray of dirt at the young knight.

Jon’than billowed his cloak, spinning to block the better part of it, then rolled away. He came to his feet, out of the giant’s reach. Advancing, his sword sliced up, deflecting the commandant’s weapon. Their blades rang loudly, flashing in the sun.

Soldiers and knights sprang at one another.

Broad Harold sliced a soldier’s sword arm, forcing the weapon from a now-useless hand. His kick dropped the man to the dirt.

Jean held three at bay, laughing. He spun behind one, and cut through an achilles tendon. The militet fell like an axe.

Jean and Harold engaged the remaining three soldiers. Taunting them, the knights used the carts and bins to pin the Militet in place, then disarmed them.

Townspeople and vendors pelted the hapless soldiers with spoiled eggs and rotten squash and any disgusting object at hand.

The officer’s luck changed, permitting him to trap Jon’than against a wagon. As his blade crashed down to relieve the knight of his life, Jon dodged. The sword met only wood, wedging itself deep into the wagon. He pulled to no avail as Jon’than sliced his forearms to the bone. Falling to his knees, the giant screamed like a wounded boar.

As their eyes met, the knight’s sword was, again, pressed into his neck.

“Enough,” Jon’than urged. Sweat ran down his neck. His muscles trembled as he crushed the urge to finish the job. Killing this animal would only create more problems.

The commandant nodded, grudgingly.

The militet were coated with tomatoes, eggs, and other spatter.

Jon’than took a step back.

The giant took one step forward, gloating. “You’ll live to regret this, knight. I’m Commandant Greysun. None harms a soldier of the king without penalty.”

“I wish you were wrong, Commandant,” Jon’than replied. “These are dark days when the king’s soldiers fail to uphold his laws, and nobles fail to protect the people.”

 “Be careful, little one. Perhaps you can best me with a sword. The Lord of Lorness doesn’t take lightly those who speak unfavorably of him.”

Jon’than’s eyes flashed. “Perhaps, you would pass on my greetings?”

“Fool!” The giant shot back. “You’d do better to pick a fight with the Serpent himself, rather than provoke Lord Melazera. His dungeons are a sorry place for any mother to pick up the bones of her son.”

Jon’than’s friends had flanked him. He waved to the commandant. “May you heal quickly, in the name of J’shua Ha Mashiach, the son of the God of Truth.”

Collecting their weapons and wounded, the soldiers mounted and rode off.

The knights approached the farmer, who thanked them profusely.

People in the market cheered, clapped them on the back, and offered congratulations.

When the knights walked back to their packs, they were missing.

“If that doesn’t cast one down,” Harold bemoaned. “Help someone, and what happens? Our belongings stolen.”

“Calm, Harold. We will see soon enough what happened,” Jon’than glimpsed the same young woman he’d admired earlier.

Capturing his attention, she strode purposefully toward them with a big smile on her face and walked up to Jon’than. “That was some display of swordsmanship, valiant knights. I placed your bags on our wagon. You’ll be spending the night with my family. My father insists.” She glanced toward an older man on a wagon that was securing bags of grain.

He looked back, smiled, and waved.

“My name is R’bekah.” She pulled her finger across Jon’than’s cheek, leaving a light streak on his skin. “It appears you gentlemen are dusty after all of this work. Perhaps you’d like a bath as well.”

Jon’than stood mute, stunned by her beauty and boldness, mouth agape.

She chuckled, turned, and strode back toward her father.

Jean gave Jon’than a push and whispered, “Friend, you are doomed.”

 

High Castle

Blackhawk was summoned, Commander Ta’ler  had heard of the fight in the mess hall.

“How’d you come to be so good in a brawl?”

“My master’s men oft surrounded me without warning. If they beat me up, they’d be well rewarded. He said it was to toughen me up. I adapted quickly.”

The Commander frowned. “Though I abhor such treatment, I value your skills. Would you train the men in those techniques?”

“Yes, sir,” Blackhawk replied, happy to be appreciated.

“As for brawling with other officers, don’t do it again. Although few are as dense as Fortsun, so the need should not arise. If it does, instruct your assailant that, by my command, such bouts will be conducted before the entire garrison. Everyone, including me, should get to enjoy the spectacle. It’d be good for morale.”

 

River Town

Worry nagged at Jon’than. If the king’s decree hadn’t reached Fairness Crossing, how likely was it to have reached River Town or Gaelib’s seat of power in Lorness?

His duty to the king and J’shua required him to make sure the proclamation was delivered, so he headed for River Town, arriving at dusk.

The herald was overjoyed by the proclamation. He was equally dismayed about the non-arrival of the other courier, asking the knight to remain until morning. Then, together with the local commandant, all three would send a message informing His Majesty of this outrage.

Jon wanted to press on immediately. Yet, he could not refuse the request, knowing the local commandant was a godly man. Sadly, that captain was pursuing a highwayman and would, hopefully, return on the morrow.

So, Jon’than slept at a small inn, The Sapphire.

Waking early, he ate a hearty breakfast. River Town was a busy place. People came from far and wide to trade here. Many goods followed the river, downstream from Fairness Crossing to Lorness and Dunis Glen.

Before leaving The Sapphire, a man approached Jon, dressed as a farmer but without calloused hands or a sun-worn face. “Sir knight, I’m Ge’rge Rosewud. Would you talk with me a while?”

“Greetings, sir?”

“I’m from Lorness.”

What does this imposter want?

“Do you have a farm there?” Jon responded.

“My family did long ago,” Ge’rge bluffed all too obviously. “Now we’ve a place in Alexandria, through my father’s second marriage. We lost the one in Lorness… to its lord.”

The pretender asked many questions about Jon’than, dragging the conversation out.

The knight responded vaguely, talking of his travels to Tarinland, Esthlanis, and Mestelina, while trying to discover the other’s purpose.

When trapped into answering a straight question, the pretender’s eyes veered toward the window. “I’m sorry, I see my father and must attend him.”

“The blessing of J’shua Ha Mashiach be upon you and your family,” Jon’than replied as Ge’rge hastily departed.

Slipping out the back, Jon took a circuitous route to the stables, mounted, and rode north. If he was being hunted, as he feared, he could not delay any further. The herald and commandant would have to write the message to the king without him.

 

Farr Castle

R’bekah, now Mister Bekh all the time, had gone north following rumors of the weasel. While brushing her horse and checking its legs and belly for ticks, she prayed for wisdom.

What am I to do about this evil group sacrificing children?

She walked the horse around the back of The Three Hammers, going inside to grab a bite. She couldn’t stay in the same place all day. People would question what she was doing.

Visiting the herald, seeking news, she saw the king’s proclamation. Her eyes grew large. She was no longer a fugitive. Her daughter could be returned. “When did this arrive?”

“A Knight of J’shua brought it yesterday.”

“Can you describe him?”

“Straight blond hair, about average height, I’d say.”

“Do you remember anything else?”

“Yes! He tore down a poster. Let’s see if I still have it.” He pulled one out of a stack, showing her the inscription, ‘R’bekah, daughter of Roger Dowling.’ Insisted it was released by the king’s proclamation, so I took down the rest.”

She thanked him and walked to the river.

Sitting under a tree, she cried. “Father, this is such a mean trick.” She let out a frustrated wail. “Jon, you were so close!”

She pictured him confronting the king. “You’re still my champion. I miss you so much. I know we’ll be together someday.”

Then she dried her tears.

I’m going to find that drecksa Greysun and get Sar’h! First, I must return to the Frei, change my appearance, and tell everyone the good news. They can go home.

 

Home | Chapter 6 | Chapter 8