Rare Things for a Rare Life

The Knights of Joshua

by Tiana Dokerty © 1984-2021

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Chapter 8: 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,


Farr Castle

Jonathan O’Toole felt his burdens ease due to the king’s proclamation. He was dispatched to the west, another rider eastward.

Yet, Rebekah was still missing. He hoped she had already rescued Sarah.

They will no longer be hunted.

It took Jonathan only half a day to reach Farr Castle.

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, wise-looking man with a long grey beard who could have been as old as the building itself.

He has been serving since King Edal’s father, perhaps longer.

Jonathan looked to the wall of announcements and warrants. He gasped when he saw his wife’s name, tearing her poster from the wall, barely masking his anger. 

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

“I am Jonathan O’Toole, Knight of Joshua. The king has given this proclamation into my hand to deliver.” He gave it to the herald and waited.

The old man read it and looked up, astonished. “Sir, this will 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 many more stops before I may rest. Do you acknowledge receipt of the king’s decree?”

“Yes, Sir. I will proclaim it immediately.”

“Then I leave you to your work. The God of Truth bless you in Joshua’s name.”

 

Lorness

Rebekah, as Tomas Beck, went to the last place she had seen George Rosewood, The Sapphire Inn. He seemed to be well known there, perhaps a frequent customer. So, she watched and waited.

She thought of the last time she laid eyes on Sarah. Her girl had looked well, with no fear or tears on her face, happily chatting away to a young boy.

Keep her safe, Lord.

A group of men poured out of the inn, speaking gruffly, slurring their words. One of them was a man with wavy-blond hair tied-neatly, who was clearly sober. He spoke to the driver of a wagon. The others climbed into its rear. Once he was seated upfront, it left.

It’s him.

Rebekah ambled to her horse, mounted it, then followed Rosewood, keeping a reasonable distance behind. She was not the only horseman about, so stayed on the road, sometimes dropping further back, sometimes getting closer. She would have liked to slip into the woods but was afraid it would seem suspicious or that she would lose sight of him.

There was also the problem of brigands. Even this close to Lorness, the roads were less safe than they once had been. She had no intention of allowing a group of horsemen to surround her or isolate her amongst the trees.

When Rosewood entered Lorness, she backed off again. Despite the busy streets, he was easy to spot. His clothes were cut from very good fabric, and he was too clean, his bobbing blond hair as good as a flag.

The wagon entered a small, shadowed gate at the rear of the castle. Her last sight of that weasel was of him ignoring his companions as he walked deeper inside.

Finding an inn with a view of the castle gate, she prayed for wisdom.

At the end of the first watch, he still hadn’t emerged, but three riders dressed in black cloaks had, their movement somehow furtive. Odder still, the horses were of good quality, not working nags like those that pulled the cart. Their saddles and bridles were things of beauty.

It’s late for starting a journey.

Rebekah left the inn, returning to her horse as she watched. When the three were almost out of view, she  decided to follow. Once beyond the town, she urged her beast into a gallop, matching the pace of those she pursued.

From what she knew of the area, the riders were headed for a place most thought cursed.

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

The riders slowed, and so did she. There was nothing ahead of them other than a cliff face surrounded by woods. She became worried that she was wasting her time. But those she’d followed were too wealthy to be bandits, robbers, or thieves. And, if they headed some criminal enterprise, why meet here? There was a warm room somewhere that was well supplied with wine and all the privacy they’d ever need.

She slipped further back, stopping as they approached what could be the entrance to a cave. Dismounting, she walked her horse off the trail they’d followed. After tying it securely, she crept closer.

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

Time passed. Minutes, then an hour, two, then more. Rebekah was drowsy. Finding and following the weasel had been taxing enough. Perhaps this had been a bad idea. She was practicing deep breathing, trying to wake up her mind, when people started to trickle out.

Not just three, or six, there were a dozen or so. Then there were more. Then many more. All had black cloaks. Worse, they walked off into the darkness in all directions, in large groups and small.

Rebekah inhaled sharply.

A score of them are walking right toward me.

She stilled her body and mind, asking the Lord for guidance. None came but, miraculously, all of them veered to her right or left.

There must be almost a hundred of them pouring out like ants from a trampled hill.

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

You weasel. What is this secret guild?

More appeared, clearly subordinates by the way he ordered them about, carrying a roll of cloth between them on a pole. Three others brought wood to a shallow pit and started a fire, into which the pole and cloth went.

What are they burning?

The wind changed. She could smell it was an animal.

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

Rebekah prayed in the spirit throughout, afraid to move.

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

Daylight was not far off. She returned to her horse, moved it further away from the cave, then laid her blanket on the ground and settled in for some sleep.

Thank you, Lord, for keeping me hidden from them.

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

Rebekah approached the cave cautiously.

There could be guards inside.

She moved carefully, staying near the wall of the cave. It was expansive, enormous, bigger than the great hall at High Castle. And, within was a noise like breathing.

There must be another opening for air to cause such a sound.

There was just enough light from the entrance to see a large, raised stone table situated at the cavern’s exact center. It was dark, discolored. Flies swarmed noisily around it.

Hesitantly, she approached, a knot forming in her stomach as an unspeakable thought slipped into her mind. Then, it was no longer only an idea as the scent of spilled blood washed over her. Turning away, she wanted to be sick…

…then was, her innards emptying themselves, as her eyes fell on a tiny severed hand.

Child sacrifice.

Overcome with disgust at the sight, she wiped her mouth with her sleeve.

Lord, what can I do?

A memory stirred of a Great Battle in the Writings. As they taught, so she acted. Seven times she walked the perimeter singing spiritual songs of praise, claiming it for the God of Truth, purifying it of evil, banishing all the demons in Joshua’s name.

When she was done, Rebekah prayed to God to lead her to the root of this unholy trouble. Then she left, taking the small hand with her for burial.

 

North Fort

There was a path. Describing it as a road would be overly generous, no matter how it was recorded on the kingdom’s maps. It linked Farr Castle and North Fort. However, it was late autumn, and the ‘road’ hadn’t been maintained since spring, so Jonathan deemed it easier, and safer, to cut through untamed land.

Ancient trees towered above him, and brush scraped his legs. There were signs of hastily-built settlements, tents, and shanties. It was hard living on the frontier, so Jon marveled that any would choose this.

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

Freedom is everything.

Jon traveled to North Fort, South Fort and Alexandria. Each of the heralds thanked the knight for its delivery and read the Proclamation.

It had only taken two days to travel from Alexandria to Fairness Crossing, A fact that had left Jon astonished. He’d never ridden a road so well maintained. A road that, even with winter approaching, was heavy with traffic. Much of it was headed for his destination, but myriad tracks led off southward into the Shining Mountain Range, to who knew where.

As farms appeared outside Fairness Crossing, he slowed to a walk, feeling a warning in his heart. Jonathan let the horse graze, ate some dried meat, and prayed for wisdom. Yet he could not understand why this feeling of dread had descended upon him. 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 the circuitous route he’d traveled.

He dismissed his worries as foolish.

When he came to the Herald Station, it was located 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 as he read.

“Have you not already received a copy of this?” Jonathan asked, perplexed. “The king dispatched me with this nearly three weeks ago. I was sure the other rider would have delivered this already.”

“If he was sent, he did not arrive. I shall announce this immediately.” The herald turned away, searching for his official coat.

Jon departed, walked back down the stairs to his waiting steed.

“Stop that man!” A voice roared.

While mounting his horse, Jonathan twisted to look for the fleeing individual, only to see twelve soldiers running toward him, their swords drawn.

The knight left his blade sheathed. “Commandant, if you wish to converse, I am happy to oblige. Or are you interested in another sermon?”

Greyson approached briskly, drawing his sword. “You son of a hundn, I’ll give you a sermon.” He tried to close to within his blade’s reach, but Jon gently backed his horse away, keeping the distance open. “I’ll give you the thrashing of your life, knight.”

The soldiers formed a loose cordon around Jonathan, looking nervously at each other and then the commandant, waiting for his next order.

“Bind him!” Greyson shouted.

Facing a man on horseback was difficult. Facing a Knight of Joshua was more than daunting. Worse, the knight exuded such confidence that he’d yet to touch a weapon. None of the soldiers wanted to be the first to come within his reach.

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

The soldiers stepped clear, sheathing their swords, muttering softly about narrow escapes and Joshua’s intervention. Their lieutenant looked down, trying 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.

Jonathan simply waited, remaining mounted. The people’s response and joy lifted his spirits. With a bow to the commandant, he turned to ride off as a furious Greyson retreated into his office. Jon smiled as he heard the door slam.

 

High Castle

Blackhawk’s first assignment was to patrol the road between High Castle and Fairness Crossing, the main route from the kingdom’s heart to its southernmost reaches. Even a lone man on a fast horse could not traverse that distance in less than four days in good weather. There were six other Lieutenants with a similar mission. Blackhawk became the seventh, replacing an officer promoted to captain and reassigned.

The Commander valued trained men. Of course, he’d heard about the incident in the mess hall. An astute man, he’d inquired how Blackhawk came to be so good in a brawl. Satisfied by the answer, the young lieutenant was charged with training the men in those techniques.

 Blackhawk left, happy to be appreciated and looking forward to the challenge.

Beginning at daybreak, they ran a two-mile circuit. He urged on the stragglers at the rear. The next day, it was four miles. Following each run, he dismissed anyone that wanted to quit. He was pleased that none left.

He began by demonstrating a hand-to-hand technique. Blackhawk paired them up and watched them practice for two hours. Then he picked soldiers to fight each other, one attacking with a wooden knife, the other defending with the technique they’d learned. Then he dismissed them for the day, returning them to their other duties. By the end of the moon, the first twenty men were reasonably competent.

The first trip down the road to Fairness Crossing pleased Blackhawk. The soldiers easily surpassed his expectations. He’d experienced baser, less-well-trained men at North Fort.

When the patrol stopped at the Lion & Tiger Inn, his stomach was growling. He ordered the men to stay mounted while he went inside. Approaching the tall black man behind the counter, he asked, “Is the proprietor about?” 

“That would be me, Sir. Name is Carter Andrews. How can I help you?”

“I’m Lieutenant Steven Blackhawk, leader of a patrol of His Majesty’s Royal Guard ensuring the safety of this road. We’ll be traversing it regularly. What would it cost to feed ten men a bowl of stew or porridge each? I’m not looking for a discount. I’ll take no bribes.”

“It’s an honor to serve an officer of such high moral character. If y’all eat the same thing, I can do a nice meal for five baden, total. Please make your men aware this is no brothel.”

“I’ll severely reprimand any man under my command that even hints at it. My orders are clear. We are not to alarm anyone… anyone honest.” Blackhawk grinned. “If there’s ever trouble, let me know. My job is to stop it. We’ll not be staying overnight. It’s not a good point on the road to make camp… and we would not want to alarm you or your patrons. As to the meal, the men are due a reward. Let’s do it.”

They did not stop there every trip but did so often. Carter had a good sense of humor. Once Blackhawk discovered that he played chess well, they became fast friends.

 

River Town

Worry nagged at Jonathan. If the king’s reaffirmation of the Contract Laws hadn’t reached Fairness Crossing, how likely was it to have reached River Town or Geleib’s seat of power in Lorness?

His duty to the king and Joshua required him to deliver the proclamation so he followed a trail northeast toward River Town. The herald there was as appreciative as the others.

Jonathan slept well at the small inn, The Sapphire. Waking early, he ate a hearty breakfast. He prayed for the other rider. Something must have befallen him.

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, Jon was approached by a man dressed as a farmer but without a farmer’s calloused hands or sun-worn face, George Rosewood.

“Sir knight, I am heavily burdened. Would you talk with me a while?”

“How so, sir?”

“I’m from Lorness.”

What does this imposter want with me?

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

“My family did long ago,” George bluffed all too obviously. “Now we have a farm in Alexandria through my father’s second marriage. We lost the one in Lorness to its Lord.” The pretender asked many questions about Jonathan’s travels.

The knight responded vaguely, talking of Tarinland, Esthlanis, and Mestelina. He praised the faithfulness of the Mestels, trying to force the pretender into a straightforward question or change of subject.

George’s eyes veered toward the window. “I’m sorry, I see my father and must attend him.”

“The blessing of Joshua Ha Mashiach be upon you and your family,” Jonathan replied. Noting him as a person to watch for in the future.

Why did he question me?

Jonathan slipped out the back and took a circuitous route to the stables, mounted, and rode north.

 

Farr Castle

Rebekah, now Mister Beck all the time, had gone north following rumors of the weasel. While brushing her horse and checking its feet and legs for ticks, she prayed for wisdom.

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

Next, Beck walked the horse around the back of The Three Hammers, going inside to grab a bite to eat. She could not 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. She was no longer a fugitive. Her daughter could be returned. “When did this arrive?”

“A Knight of Joshua 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, ‘Rebekah, daughter of Roger Dowling.’ Insisted it was released by the king’s proclamation, so I took down the rest.”

She thanked him and walked toward 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 sat there, picturing 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 Greyson and get Sarah! But first I must return to the Frei and tell everyone the good news. They can go home if they want.

 

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