Chapter 8: Missions – 144 AK, Late Autumn
I Corinthians 15:58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.
Lorness – Sanctuary of the Alte Regieren
Caileagh arrived at the cave to prepare her full moon oblations. She took the torch from her escort. As she stepped into the silent cave, her head throbbed. She felt a pain in her chest so sharp she looked for blood. Her stomach knotted as fear seized her.
Dropping the torch on the ground, she prostrated herself thinking she was being punished. “Master, Ruler of the Earth, what’ve I done? Tell me how I can serve you.”
The screeching of many lesser spirits filled her mind.
A follower of J’shua has polluted this sanctuary. We cannot remain. Find the perpetrator. Reconsecrate this place with their blood.
“Master, how can I do that?” Caileagh stood, yelling. “How can I do as you ask?”
There was no answer.
She fled the cave, mounted, and galloped away.
Owakar’s chuckles became roars of laughter. "Farewell, fellow spirits. Enjoy your journey back into the darkness from whence you came.”
Their screams of defiance dwindled as they lost their hold on Caileagh. Without the sanctuary she’d kept for them, their pitiful weakness was exposed. She was their anchor, without which they were blown helplessly to and fro.
That such a minor defeat could impact the plans of the God of this Age was a revelation.
Joyously, he picked up his quill and added this incident to his ledger.
Gaelib looked up as the doors to his apartment burst open. He sat up straight in bed, taking in his frenzied wife. “Why’re you back so soon?”
“Get out! Out, all of you!” Her eyes were ablaze.
Five terrified little girls popped up from under the bed covers, grabbed their clothes, eyeing Caileagh as they sprinted out the door.
Gaelib sighed. “Was that necessary? It’s taken so long to get them to this point. You have undone much.”
“I don’t care! They’ve left me. I’m naked.”
“Who’s left you?” Gaelib gentled, moving toward her. “You’re not naked… yet.”
“My spirit guides.” She glared.
His eyebrows came together, almost touching. “Is that possible? Has it happened before? How does it–”
“Don’t treat me like one of your experiments.”
Trying to sound conciliatory, he asked, “How’ll I learn without asking questions?”
“Yes, my love,” he soothed, encircling her with his arms. “If they’re gone, they can come back, surely?”
“I don’t… know.”
“How’d you get them in the beginning?”
“Can you go to a grave to get them back?”
“No, mine are lesser spirits. They’re not like the Warrior who guides you.”
A vague memory surfaced on the edge of her thoughts. “My mother took me… somewhere. There was a big man. He painted symbols on my body.” She pulled up her dress to look at the barely visible scars on her torso. They were indecipherable, having been overwritten many times.
“I think it was a rite of Tammuz,” she murmured, then fell to her knees. “I was a child.” Grabbing her hair, she rocked forward and back babbling, “He raped me… my mother smiled… as she watched… she helped hold me down…”
“Come here,” he crooned, lifting her. “You were always good to your spirits. You observed every ceremony. They will return. Tell me what happened.”
He stroked her hair and held her close as she babbled. Facts, impressions, and sheer nonsense spouted forth from her.
One thing was abundantly clear, she was terrified.
“Years of careful preparations consecrated that sanctuary,” she bemoaned. “I’ve failed them, let their sacred place be… be… tainted, contaminated. I can’t be without them. We must return to Farr Castle. There I can search the scrolls and tablets I’ve collected. Perhaps they hold the answer.”
“Very well.” Gaelib sighed again. “We’ll return to Farr. Now, let me help you relax.” His hands traversed her body, replacing tension with lust.
In the morning, Gaelib sent out four Black Robes, each with two soldiers.
Their first target was Caileagh’s mother, the dowager countess, who was thrown into the dungeon at Farr. After three days of starvation, she told them where to find the old wizard.
The hunt for the man who’d raped Caileagh was quick, efficient, and brutal. They found him praying over a bloody altar in a shanty filled with hanging herbs and dead lizards, rats, and birds.
To avoid being bewitched, the soldiers beat him unconscious immediately.
Extreme precautions were taken to ensure the man’s wizardry was neutralized. Special locks were made to prevent the prisoners from manipulating any guard while they were guests. Only Caileagh had the key.
As long as they were useful, she’d let them live.
The Road from River Town
The rain poured down hard and cold.
Jon’than and his horse were long since soaked to the bone. He’d kept moving since departing from River Town… and his encounter with Ge’rge Rosewud.
Uncertainty gnawed at his stomach. He meditated on the Writings to still his fears, thanking the Lord for keeping him on track.
In the distance, two gray figures on horseback appeared, nearing at a walk.
Jon’than loosed his sword in its scabbard and checked his dagger.
The two men separated to pass on either side. An ambush.
He let them close, then turned his stallion to the left, blocking the larger man. Jon’s horse snorted and tensed.
“What’cha think you’re doin’, old man?” Its rider snapped. “If ya can’t control ya horse, ya should’na be ridin’.”
“I am in control,” Jon’than replied, hand on the sword hidden beneath his cloak. “That is why I did not let you pass me as planned. Perhaps that is also why I am still alive.”
“If ya wanna stay that way, get off’a ya horse. We’ll tell Rosie y’ar dead. He don’t need know… if ya give us ya baden too.” The brute chuckled.
His partner smiled menacingly, a narrow-bladed dagger in hand.
The knight spurred his horse into the leader’s.
Startled when his squealing mount reared, the rider was defenseless.
It only took one slash. The highwayman fell from his horse, blood running down his arm from the gash. Then Jon’than was galloping away.
After a few miles with no sign of pursuit, the knight breathed a sigh of relief as he reined in the horse.
Rosie? Rosewud? Did he delay me to allow this attack? Who does he work for?
R’bekah rode straight toward Shining Mountain. As she walked, an idea formed, a way to root out this corruption. Despite the urgency, she wouldn’t risk someone following her. Once sure she wasn’t being pursued, she disappeared into Frei Forest.
Slipping far enough into it to be hidden, the thick underbrush slapped against her. She stopped, thinking she heard someone moving parallel to her.
A young buck, sporting bulbous buttons where his antlers would soon sprout, bounded across her path, paused for the slightest moment, then rushed away. When she entered the clearing, children bounded toward her.
“Mother Tual,” Phebe exclaimed, reaching out small hands, palms upward. “Did you bring us a sweet?”
“How’d you know?” She smiled broadly and pulled a bag of oranges from her horse. “Remember to share,” she yelled as the girl ran off.
“R’bekah, did you find him?” V’ncent asked.
She nodded, her face sober.
A chorus of “hallos” followed as others surrounded her.
She smiled again, giving each a hug.
“You’re back. We’ve been praying for your safe return.” Sheila squeezed her tighter.
“I’ve missed you all. I’ve much to tell. You can go home! The king has proclaimed these debt collections unlawful.”
Shouts and laughter erupted. Tears of joy ran down cheeks as one hugged another.
“Praise the Lord!”
Later, as all sat around a small crackling fire, R’bekah shared details of the king’s proclamation and Jon’than’s delivery of it. Next she told of the cave, the child’s hand she’d found there, and of the Lord’s inspiration about opposing such evil.
Their eyes were sad, moved by this vile thing. “We must do something,” one appealed, followed by many sounds of agreement.
R’bekah stood, her manly clothing reminding her she was a spy. Her hood dropped, revealing her hair tied plainly in a man’s fashion. “We no longer need to hide. We can go home, reclaim our lives.
“But… if we’re to combat this pestilence, every town in Freislicht must be covered in prayer, every suspicious place anointed for the Lord. We all must pray in the spirit without ceasing, to protect one another and receive direction.”
She told them her five-fold plan: training, spying, praying, anointing, and adopting.
“We lost our freedom because we felt no need to defend ourselves. We were too safe, too happy. This has been growing for generations.”
Mister Frink yelled out, “We’ve no knight’s training for such a task. It’s too dangerous.”
A few others nodded, worry plain on their faces.
“Yes, it’s dangerous,” R’bekah countered. “Think of the victim. That child was terrified. No one prevented their abuse, torture, and death. They were sacrificed to a demon, leaving only a hand to mark their passing. You’re afraid. I am, too. But I’m sure this is a divine appointment. The God of Truth will be with us as he was with me in the cave.”
She looked into each face.
Frink glared back. “That’s fine for you. You’ve a knight for a husband. He’ll have taught you to survive. We’ve no such guidance.”
“J’shua will guide us. Anything we need, we can learn. If the skills are not amongst us, we can seek them out. Would you rather stand by and do nothing, letting evil grow?”
“I’d rather not end up in the Melazera’s dungeons.”
R’bekah nodded. “There’ll be no condemnation if you return to your old life—”
“Then count me out!” Frink walked away.
Waiting until he was out of earshot, R’bekah resumed, “You all have children to consider. This is a grave commitment not all can accept. Yet, I ask you to pray. Give me your answers tomorrow. Do you wish to return to your old lives and forget all this, anoint evil places, or become a spy?”
In the morning, they’d be departing for separate locations. They’d been together for many moons and grown close. There were as many tears as laughter.
No one had much to give, but found tokens to exchange. Sheila and Eugene presented each family with wreaths of pinecones. Charles Dugan read a poem he’d written.
“In the crisp and quiet rangings of the heart upon the wood,
The singing of the sparrow to the mouse amidst the leaves,
Tend thou in the spirit so the weary traveler could,
Find rest in strong arms bending, and happy graceful eaves.”
“Father, give us wisdom, grant us insight and peace as we oppose evil in the name of J’shua Ha Mashiach.” R’bekah began.
“So it shall be,” the others replied.
“To combat this evil, we have all agreed on our strategy.
“We will train with weapons in secret to protect our liberty.
“We must be as crafty as these perpetrators, uncovering their dark secrets, identifying those serving the Serpent. Evil people seek dominion through violence, perversion, lies, and slander. We all sin, but those serving darkness are masters of these behaviors.
“We shall pray in the spirit for both the good and the evil. The good shall be bolstered in their faith, strengthened in their times of trial, and aided in their most desperate hours. Our prayers for the evil will cause them to displease their masters, undermine their foul practices, and if they hear J’shua, turn them to the God of Truth.
“Before we can cleanse those places used by the Serpent, we must find them.” She unrolled a map of Freislicht.
Eugene pointed. “We’ve no one here. My family will move to Dunis Glen.”
“Rescuing children,” R’bekah continued, “will slow the spread of corruption. The orphans must be saved from evil, despair, and enslavement.
“But we few won’t be enough. We’re a beginning. We must rebuild the circles. We must reopen the people’s eyes to the God of Truth, increasing our numbers to match the tasks ahead. They’ll teach their neighbors so J’shua may work on their behalf.”
“My daughters and I will spy,” V’ncent Donofrio proclaimed.
R’bekah nodded. “As will I.”
Helen Donofrio stood, tucking a wild curl back under her scarf. She’d proven to be a skillful mediator and leader. “I’ll visit each family, posing as a kinswoman, keeping us linked together.”
“We’ll continue to pray for all,” R’bekah added, “and each bit of information, to learn our enemies’ weaknesses. Speaking in tongues will strengthen us. We fight a mighty spiritual foe. We must keep our fellowship free.”
“Agreed,” they all responded.
The Road to Farr Castle
Gaelib held Caileagh in the rocking coach. That she was so undone worried him. She’d been the inspiration for his dream. She’d shown him his destiny. Could she recover her spirit guides?
Can she help me if she doesn’t?
Throughout the five-day journey, she vacillated between convulsive sobbing and catatonic stupor.
How will this setback my plans?
Fretting, he stroked her hair absentmindedly.
While in the carriage, Caileagh was lost in thought as memories washed over her.
Unwanted hands touching her childish body.
Being held down.
Being forced to watch unspeakable acts.
Being told she’d willingly do those things.
A wizard performing bizarre ceremonies.
Her mother, Farina, bewitching her to forget.
All resurfaced, brought back by Gaelib lazily stroking her head, crooning a melody Farina had hummed while brushing her daughter’s hair.
Anguish flooded through Caileagh in visceral waves. She buried her face into Gaelib's chest as whispers from the past materialized.
Caileagh was in her seventeenth year. Obeying her mother, she’d drunk a potion and climbed upon the stone altar.
“My guiding spirit has led us to a boy,” Farina explained. “You’ll teach him the ways of the Warrior, then marry him. Together, you will rule all for the God of this Age.”
Her mother then sacrificed the last of Caileagh’s innocence.
How could I have forgotten such things?
Her mind recoiled. It fled into the deepest recesses of her earliest childhood, seeking safety in a time when she’d not been used.
Once through Farr Castle’s private gates, the Lord of Lorness helped his wife from the coach. He instructed the servants to take her bags to his bedchamber, where he drugged her so that she’d sleep.
She meekly lay down without any protest.
Her whole demeanor’s changed. Who’s she become?
R’bekah dismounted from the wagon in front of the commandant’s office. She smoothed the flattering blue dress she’d donned and ran her fingers through her hair. She entered boldly, her head high, her quiet rage dampening her fear.
“I am here to see Commandant Greysun.” She forced herself to speak quietly and politely to the Militet at the counter.
“He is out, ma’am.”
Then a gruff voice from the room behind announced, “Bring the lady back, Brett.”
Greysun stood with a bow and a lecherous smile as she entered his office. He was tall and in his haste had misaligned the buttons of his royal red coat. “How can I help you, ma’am?” His too-confident tone was as unpleasant as his expression. He caressed his brown beard as he looked her up and down.
“I’m R’bekah Otual, here to retrieve my daughter, sold to you three moons ago.”
“Otual…?” The commandant stiffened as he gasped. “Many… children passed through here then. We only kept boys.”
“The herald assured me that all the cage carts that came to your garrison left empty. She is six and has very blonde hair.”
His frown deepened. “Uh… there was a batch I sold to Madam Bonaforte’s brothel. She may know what became of her.” The officer pointed west. “Go to the one with the green door on the main street. It’s on the right.”
“It is my understanding, sir, that you are to actively assist in the return of all children illegally seized. Have someone escort me.”
Greysun scowled and motioned for a Militet to attend her.
She left as forcefully as she’d entered.
R’bekah entered the brothel, the militet trailing behind. She looked with compassion at the mere children being exploited as whores, their feather-framed faces and scantily clad bodies marking them as fallen.
She glanced back at the wide-eyed Militet, perhaps thirteen, whose mouth was agape. “Close it, son.”
The decorated ladies looked back with calculating eyes. Some snickered, only to be silenced as their matron stepped forward.
R’bekah’s hard gaze locked onto the madame. “According to Commandant Greysun,” she growled, “three moons ago, my daughter was brought to you with other girls.”
The old woman stiffened, then sputtered. “All we received have been returned.” Her eyes narrowed as she smiled. “Why don’t you look around for her?”
R’bekah was hopeful and terrified at the same time.
She went through every room, the wide-eyed boy following. Thankfully, it was midday and most were empty. She didn’t find Sar’h.
Lord, where is she?
R’bekah wanted to cry, but wouldn’t.
“Are you satisfied?” The words were cold, flat.
“No… nor is your obligation to assist me complete. Either Greysun or you are lying. Which is it?”
The madame glared back. “I told the truth. All I received were returned. But… there were discrepancies. At least one girl did not reach me. I know because that drecksa demanded payment for girls I didn’t receive.”
“What happened to them?”
“How should I know?”
R’bekah knew she’d get no more from the old hag. She turned and left, the boy following her out.
Where are you, Sar’h?
Jon’than rode hard. In part to share the king’s joyous proclamation with his friends, in part to assuage fears he could not shake.
Could those brigands have killed the other courier?
He entered Lorness still at a gallop, the horse lathered in sweat. His mere passage drew a crowd.
Please, Lord J’shua, protect me from evil men.
Somehow, word of mouth was even faster than his steed. The streets were full of people as he reached the Herald Station, slid from his horse, and marched inside.
The herald, smiling broadly, held out a hand to take the offered parchment. “You were successful?”
The knight smiled back.
Calling his men in from the barn, the herald told them. “We have an important proclamation from the king. Look lively.” Then he ushered Jon’than outside to the waiting crowd. “Hear ye, hear ye, a Proclamation by King Edal, Ruler of the Kingdom of Freislicht. Whereas: We have taken into Our Royal Consideration recent grievances…”
Jon’than’s concerns lessened as the men who’d signed the petition slapped his back and thanked him. It was better than they’d hoped. Whoever had their loved ones must return them.
He was happy for them, but wondered who held his daughter. And where was R’bekah? The only reason his wife would have stolen a horse would be to give chase. Their joy was short-lived for him.
Who would be so bold as to intercept a courier from the king?
Jon’than pushed aside his suspicion of Gaelib. Many other nobles and rich men would be troubled by the proclamation. Any of them could have sent men to bribe or kill the courier. All that was important was that Jon deliver the proclamation to Dunis Glen.
Before he could say goodbye to his friends, the herald intercepted him with two fresh horses, each laden with provisions. “Go with J’shua’s blessings, knight. You do his bidding… and that of the king.”
Owakar rejoiced in Jon’than’s triumph. More so because, unlike the knight, he could see its effect throughout Lorness. Could see the joy it would bring, the suffering it would end, and the families it would reunite.
That it would also impact the wicked plans of the Warrior was an added blessing.
It might even cause others to pray in the spirit, permitting Owakar to act rather than merely watch and record.
R’bekah, as T’mas Bekh, decided to stalk Ge’rge Rosewud, for he might lead her to another significant find. However, she couldn’t do so as a farmer. Instead, she acquired the documents from Franklin and Sons needed to pose as a plow salesman.
Yet, even with her new guise, she could not pursue the weasel immediately. She had to establish her new cover, so began her first circuit.
As she passed through each town, she stayed at the inns used by traveling salesmen. Most were, at best, clean. Yet, they drew no attention, which was more important. She made friends of each establishment’s owners, promising them a small commission if they pointed toward farms that might be potential customers… and those farmers bought something, of course. She was shocked to make two sales on her first stop.
Her travels also permitted her to set up regular contact with the families that had left the Frei. She visited each in her guise as plow salesman, expecting nothing more than a brief few hours amongst friends. She told them of the inn she’d be using in the town nearest to them. They introduced her to their neighbors and, again, she was surprised to make more sales.
At the commencement of her second circuit, six letters were waiting for her at the inn, four potential sales and two sightings of the weasel. By her third, she was forced to open an account with the Lockes. Despite Melazera’s moneychangers being prominent at every Faire, she didn’t trust them.
R’bekah bought a mare with a burled coat the color of the old hickory table her ma had loved so much, naming her Marly. That was when she decided to return Justice.
She spoke to several stables to get a price for renting a horse for three moons. Then she doubled it. Filling a saddle bag with enough baden to buy Justice three times over, she tied the mare to the back of the wagon, then left for Wooster.
When she pulled up to the house, there was smoke rising lazily from the chimney. The open door of the barn behind it reminded her of the day she’d stolen the horse. She thought she’d be jittery, but only felt a buzz of excitement.
She hopped down and approached the door. “Hallo, is anyone home?”
A dark-haired woman appeared in the doorway, wiping her hands on her apron. “Hallo, can I help you, sir?” She craned her neck to look at the wagon.
“Yes, ma’am. My name is T’mas Bekh. I sell plows. But that’s not why I’m here. I recently acquired a horse that was said to belong to you.”
The farmer’s wife walked to the horse and threw her arms around the mare’s neck. “Driska!” Then looking back, “Where’d you find him?” She walked all around him, examining, and patting him lovingly. “He looks well cared for.”
“Well, ma’am, a woman gave him to me and asked me to return him to you. She’s was very sorry she stole him, and wanted to repay you. She filled the saddle bags with what she hopes is recompence enough for your loss.”
“We’ve heard what happened that day. We’re thankful to J’shua to be on the Duke of Wooster’s lands. Melazera is a…” She paused, regaining her composure. “I hope that poor woman found her daughter.”
R’bekah wasn’t expecting sympathy and feared she’d cry, so just nodded. Taking a deep breath, she asked, “Do you have a circle?”
That day she added another stop for Helen to visit on her rounds.