Chapter 10: Revenge
Second Runic Precept of the Alte Regieren: Let Thy Revenge Be Strategic.
Commandant Virgil Greysun – 144 AK, Winter
It had been many moons, yet Greysun kept reliving Otual’s actions. He seethed while thinking of the more than one hundred thousand baden he’d lost. On top of which, he’d personally had to cover the costs of returning every conscript to their home.
Lord Melazera would be displeased that he'd not stopped the knight. A dissatisfaction that could be lethal.
Greysun’s rage boiled over because the knight was still out of reach. He thought of all the ways he’d make Otual pay, dwelling on them, sweating out new ideas until…
I’ll not be revenged on merely one knight. I’ll make them all suffer.
Yet, for his plan to be successful, he required his lord’s permission and so traveled north to Farr Castle.
Entering the Reception Hall, Gaelib Melazera, Lord of Lorness, reclined on a couch eating grapes. “Commandant Greysun, welcome.”
Whistles and twittering erupted as the commandant approached, staring wrathfully at one birdcage after another. Exotic, beady eyes gazed back.
The Lord of Lorness enquired in a lazy, apathetic tone as he threw a grape to a flamboyant red parrot, “How are my army assets in Fairness Crossing?”
Greysun watched the bird crush the morsel in his sharp beak. “My Lord, the trainees I have left will be ready when you call.”
“That you have left?” His lord’s icy tone chilled Greysun.
“The king’s proclamation recently delivered by Jonathan Otual–”
“I am aware of it. Yet, the more pertinent question is: why didn’t you prevent its delivery? You… waylaid… the other courier.”
“I was going to arrest him–”
“After he’d delivered it in Fairness Crossing!” Gaelib surged to his feet, advancing on Greysun. “What use was that? And how’re you going to make up for not stopping him from reaching River Town, Lorness, and Dunis Glen? Do you have any idea what your failure to stop one man cost me? I needed time to dispose of those I’d not yet sold.”
The commandant backed away, tripping. He looked up at the Lord of Lorness toying with a knife. “I’ve placed a large bounty on the knight’s head. If he’s within Freislicht, he’ll be in your hands soon.”
“That’s… something. Too little, but something. It doesn’t relieve you of responsibility for your failings.”
“We can get revenge, Lord!”
“The Knights of J’shua are zealots.” Greysun rose. “They interfere with your noble designs. Let me chastise them. What if, by some happy accident, their only school burned down? Due to their own negligence, of course.”
His lord smiled. His eyes glowed. His thumb stroked the dagger’s hilt as he pressed his chin the against its handle. “Very good, Virgil. As the Second Runic Precept of the Alte Regieren teaches: Let Thy Revenge Be Strategic.” Gaelib, slid the blade back into the ornate sheath. “We didn’t have this conversation. However, if such a misfortune occurred, I’d wish to hear of it promptly. We wouldn’t want unfounded rumors to spread.”
Jonathan – 144 AK, Winter
Jonathan parried, twisting to his left, as his opponent crashed into him sending them both sprawling. What had been a swordfight devolved into fists, knees, elbows, and counterpunches until he broke free.
Regaining his feet, he backed away, studying the lithe young man he’d underestimated.
The Esthlani dropped into a crouch. A smile played across his freckled features as his foot lashed out.
Jon withdrew half a step, caught the extended leg with his right hand and pulled. His other fist slammed into his opponent’s temple, dropping the younger man unconscious to the ground.
Taking a step clear, Jonathan shook his head. “This’s nothing like the way we train on the mountain. If he was not wearing a padded helmet, my last blow could have been fatal.”
“It’s why we practice this way.” Sir Fingal Tolmach tapped the wooden practice sword. “We don’t pull our blows. We train as we fight, at full force.”
“People must get hurt.”
“They do. But, as I’ve told you often, sometimes that's the way J’shua teaches us to be quicker,” the Esthlani instructor chuckled as he threw cold water over Jon’s unconscious sparring partner.
Jonathan shook his head. He’d been guided by J’shua to remain here until the end of the season. Then he hoped to meet Rebekah at the Knights’ School.
Despite being in a foreign land, there were similarities between the Esthlani training and that used on the Mountain. There were also differences, such as the bout he’d just fought. It was not the first. Still, he had trouble striking as boldly and forcefully as his Esthlani hosts did, causing him to lose more often when fighting on their practice mats. It was also good that they fought on flat ground.
While not the way he’d trained in Freislicht, it was probably safer for beginners, and for those who got hit. However, he still felt the agility he’d gained from working on mountainous terrain was irreplaceable.
Sir Fingal Tolmach slapped Jon on the back, squeezing his shoulder. “What’s got you pensive? Home? That wife of yours? Or is it your daughter this time? From what you’ve told me of Rebekah, she’s as devout as you. The only thing that could stop her moving heaven and earth to find you is J’shua guiding her elsewhere… just as you were sent here.”
“In the four moons you’ve been here, you’ve taught us fighting techniques, tactics, and strategies we knew nothing of… and learned a thing or two, I pray. You have also piqued our curiosity. Your take on the Writings is thought-provoking. It’s renewed our vigor to discover all the mysteries they contain.”
“As you’ve made me look at passages in a new light,” Jonathan responded.
If anything, that was an understatement. The Esthlani perspective had re-opened his eyes to the infinite wisdom contained within the Writings. Especially, that the God of Truth made each and every one of us sovereign agents with freewill, something worth defending. That his small contributions had made a difference was gratifying.
“I know that expression, Freislander. Your modesty is too great,” Fingal teased. “The Premier’s Council has sent agents down here more than once to see what impact you’ve had on our Knights’ School. According to the most recent visitor, they’ve praised your so-called ‘modest’ effects on us. And those agents have urged the Premier to consider closer ties between the Fellowships of Esthlanis and Freislicht. There’s even been talk of the Premier’s office aiding your cause. But, if that happens, it will take many moons, if not years.”
Jonathan looked off into the distance. Assistance from the rulers of Esthlanis was too much to hope for. Even the suggestion was, or should be, beyond consideration. Yet, it warmed him.
“As for that wife of yours,” Fingal pressed on, “unless J’shua guides you back together, how do you expect to find her? There are those who seek your life in your home country.”
“Rebekah can hardly put out notices in every Herald Station asking to meet you at some time and place. Men would be waiting… and probably capture her too. Nor can you blunder about asking for her without promptly landing in some dungeon.”
“That may be the case.” Jonathan sighed. It was a conundrum. He wanted to know where his wife and daughter were. He wanted to interrogate someone, beat them until he knew how to proceed, who to chase. But he was sure the spirit was telling him to wait.
“And, if your daughter is everything you say of her, I have no doubt that someday she’ll pop up in front of you. In fact,” Fingal grinned, “if you don’t get back to work, your reunion could be delayed for years. She might even show up with a husband and children. Who knows, she might have the excellent taste to marry one of your friends... or their sons, like me.”
Jonathan snorted then picked up the practice sword, tapping the dull wooden blade in his opposite hand. If teaching and learning might speed up the reunion with his wife and daughter, it was time to get back to it.
It would take nine days to travel to the Knights’ School. Jonathan went south from Esthlanis through Tarinland, and into Freislicht.
Even in Tarinland, most wore a blade. The Kingdom of Freislicht was surrounded by countries whose people openly carried swords, the Republic of Esthlanis and Tarinland to the east and Mestelina on the west.
How could our people have lost this wisdom?
Upon entering the School, memories flooded back. His eyes roamed up the wide oak staircase, imagining he and his friends rushing down it and out into the fresh air. The quiet reminded Jon that the boys would be on the mountain.
It was a demanding five-year training program, but he’d thrived in it. Every day had begun with prayer and study of the Writings, followed by communication classes where the boys taught what they’d learned to other students. In the afternoons, the boys ran to the kitchen, picked up food sacks, and headed for the mountain. No matter the weather, they lived up there for some part of every day and, occasionally, many days straight.
Being on the road by yourself was different, but a still, small voice reminded him, you are never alone.
It was a simple matter to leave a letter for Rebekah, which unencrypted read:
Know that my love for you and Sarah is never-ending and that nothing except J’shua’s guidance could keep me from searching for you, finding you, and bringing you both to safety. Yet, his voice urges me to continue my mission.
If the Lord permits, I will be at the School on the first day of each season. If not, I shall do my best to leave letters here for you.
If you cannot be here on those days, leave a letter for me so I know you are safe and what has befallen you since our parting.
David is happy in his studies. You and Sarah are always in our thoughts and prayers,
Rebekah – 144 AK, Winter
Rebekah was back at High Castle, her third stop on her circuit as a plow merchant. It was different this time. She knew where she’d be staying, had an arrangement with a local stable, and knew which taverns to frequent and which to avoid.
Or she hoped she did.
To her amazement, she’d already made a small profit. The original plan was to use her disguise as Tomas Bekh to learn and pass on information but, as things turned out, people were far more talkative than she’d expected. What’s more, listening to those people gossip was a great way to sell.
The manager of the Poplar Inn greeted her with more than the usual pleasantries. Smartly dressed and clearly hoping to attract higher-class residents, he presented Tomas Bekh with eleven messages.
She’d been hoping for one or two. The missive from Major Patrik Gonnels read:
Looking forward to seeing the new models at midday on the quarter moon of the Goat at our location.
That meant the Commander’s office. The quarter moon was tomorrow.
The following morning, she walked down the bustling street. Her heart ached as she watched a young man twirl his lady, both happy as could be. She forced a smile.
Where are you, Jon?
She stopped at the butcher shop for some dried meat and the bakery for bread and a journey cake. As she nibbled on the treat, savoring its sweet corn, she studied the passersby, street vendors, shoppers, and soldiers.
Ahead, she saw Patrik Gonnels enter the Commander’s office. When Rebekah felt the peace of the holy spirit, she entered too.
“How may I help you?” the corporal behind the desk greeted her.
“I’m Tomas Bekh,” she responded, “a kinsman of Commander Taelor from the south. My mother asked me to pay her respects. Is the Commander available?”
“Let me see. Please have a seat, sir.” The corporal gestured toward a chair, left through a door, and returned a minute later. “He’ll see you now. This way, sir.”
Rebekah followed. There was a large map of the Kingdom of Freislicht on the wall beside a rack that held the commander’s sword, an axe, and a crossbow. As she entered, a hickory table to her right held a bowl and pitcher. Patrik stood from one of two chairs before the desk.
“Tomas, how good to see you.” The commander grinned. “Don’t get stuck on formalities. Call me Peter, as you did when we were young.”
The corporal left, shutting the door behind him.
“Thank you for meeting me, Peter.” Rebekah shook his hand and Major Gonn’l’s. “And also for your greeting.” She leaned in and whispered, “For a moment, I was sure we’d met before.”
“No matter how this goes,” Taelor motioned to the empty chair. “I have no intention of raising suspicions. The Major is willing to stand surety for you. That’s reason enough to meet.”
“Major Gonnels also assures me that you can be trusted,” she replied, “and that you serve the king, not Melazera. You must not discuss what I’m about to tell you with anyone, not even your wife.”
The commander’s eyebrow rose. He assented with a nod. He kept nodding while rubbing his chin, as she told him of Licht Gegen’s strategy, their observations, and conclusions.
“Will you help us?”
Commander Taelor paused. “Mister Bekh, I serve the God of Truth, J’shua, and the king… so, yes, I will help you. We will expel this evil, but it will take time to root out.”
Tomas handed him a parchment.
Taelor looked at the letter and back at Rebekah. It was nothing special, no more than someone addressing their grandfather, some pleasantries, and that they were studying Ephesians 4. At the bottom was some unintelligible text, and the writer asking if his grandfather could translate it.
“A code,” Taelor noted.
“A letter replacement cipher based on the passage quoted,” she confirmed. “If things become more dangerous, we’ll alter the order or use multiple verses. Patrik can teach you the substitutions. This…” She handed over a second parchment that could have been a shopping list. “…is an encoded list of nearby locations where Licht Gegen is active. It doesn’t extend beyond your area of authority.”
“I appreciate your prudence.” The Commander nodded. “Had you given me a list covering the entire country, I’d have had nothing to do with you, no matter how noble or righteous your cause. If you can’t maintain secrecy, you’ll fail.”
“I agree and, had you asked for the full list, I’d have thought you a deceiver,” Rebekah countered. “If you need our aid or to pass information, let Patrik know. I’ll leave now. It’s best if I’m not seen with people of influence… unless you want to buy a plow.” She grinned.
“No, no need for that.” Taelor chuckled.
There were still ten sales calls to make before moving on to Farr Castle. “If business keeps growing like this,” she muttered, “I’m going to need an assistant.”
Otherwise, my cover’s going to get in the way of my mission.
Jonathan – 144 AK, Winter
The cross-country portion of Jonathan’s journey had been uneventful, giving him time to pray and plan. Although he saw many farms along the way in the distance, he felt no call to go to any. Instead, he kept to himself and slept under the stars.
Having forded the Freish River, he was sopping wet and freezing. Spying a small glade, he made a fire, donned dry clothes, and let his horse graze. While spreading his wet things out over bushes, he spied some rabbits, retrieved his bow and shot his dinner. He gathered chickweed and lamb’s quarters, found wood sorrel to add a lemony accent to his salad and spit the rabbit and relaxed, waiting for it to roast.
The smell of sizzling meat attracted a group of boys. They weren’t stealthy. The boldest stepped into the clearing. The others flanked Jon, while still hiding in the trees.
Jonathan’s mount had signaled him with twitching ears. And he’d heard them long before seeing them. Jon gazed at the boy. “Hallo there. Would you like some rabbit?”
“Yes, but you don’t need it as much as we do.”
“So you plan to steal it, rather than accept my hospitality?”
“I don’t see as you’ve much to say about it. You’re surrounded.”
Jonathan heard twigs snap and leaves crunch as the other boys advanced. Scooping up his short bow, he fixed an arrow and aimed at their leader. “You have an advantage,” he acknowledged with a gentle smile, “but as I can teach you how to catch rabbits, which are plentiful here, why settle for one?”
The bold one took a step back, readying his crude spear.
Jon told the others, “Come out with your weapons undrawn, and I will not harm him.”
One by one, boys walked into the clearing. “Please don’t hurt our brother,” the first to appear pleaded. “We’re so hungry.”
Jon chuckled. “Sit down, let me get a few more rabbits,” He doubted they’d eaten much for weeks, ragged clothes hung off their skinny bodies. It didn’t take long to return with six more.
They intently watched as he skinned, gutted, and spit them on greenwood stakes.
As the meat roasted, he drew out their story. While Jonathan had been away, Melazera persecuted the followers of J’shua in Lorness.
The eldest lad was in his fifteenth year. The youngest, twins, in their seventh. Their parents had been arrested at a circle gathering and taken to Farr Castle six moons ago.
The boys had remained near their homes for several weeks but, afraid of debt collectors, took to the woods. Not knowing how to survive in the wilderness and with only makeshift weapons, they didn’t catch much food. The bold one, James, had taken charge and led them to the river to fish. Still, they were gaunt and their clothes in tatters.
Jonathan felt moved to help them. He prayed for guidance.
I could take them to the Knights’ School, but half are too young… or, take them with me, but they would be in danger if – when – I am chased again. Or…
The last alternative was so obvious, he did not even form the words in his mind. Nor did he require the still, small voice’s confirmation. He knew it was the right choice.
Looking deep into the fire, he listened to the boys as they ate and talked amongst themselves. They were good lads whose lives had intersected with his. Unconcerned as to J’shua’s plan for them, and him, he looked around and smiled. “I will teach you how to survive upon the Lord’s abundance, if you will permit me to.”
James’ eyes went wide. He stood and bowed. “Thank you… sir.”
Jonathan spent the next two moons teaching them to live well in the wilderness, how to stay healthy, and how to protect themselves with bow, knife, and spear. He trained them how to hide, how to be still, and how to move silently. He instructed them in finding flint for knives, fashioning weapons, and fire-making. He taught them to hunt and had them practice stalking small game. He showed them how to make snares and fish traps. And he brought them to fellowship with the Lord every day.
When he left, they’d grown in wisdom and understanding. He told them, “No stealing, unless a life depends on it. No armed robbery, that will get you killed. Remember, you can always go to Shining Mountain to hide.”
He promised to return when his mission allowed, but had no idea when that would be.
Greysun – 144 AK, Winter
It was shortly before sunset when Commandant Greysun had his soldiers surround the Knights’ School. “Come out, by order of the king!” His anticipation warmed him against the cold.
The knights trickled out. Some wore the familiar navy cloaks, others in plain clothes. The cook folded his apron, securing it in his belt. All were armed, but they were outnumbered four to one.
“Is this all of you?” Greysun scowled at the mere twelve knights.
“All that’re here,” Daikon Vale replied, signaling his knights to keep their swords sheathed. “Why’ve you come, Commandant?”
“You are training rebels against the crown,” Greysun accused. “Unfortunately, for you, a fire broke out while you were sleeping… and everyone died. It was a sign from your god that you’d failed him. Or that’s how the tale will be told.”
“You can’t –”
Greysun’s raised hand clenched into a fist. Bowmen concealed in the trees fired. He’d been expecting many more targets.
Each of the knights was struck numerous times. Even so, ignoring the arrows protruding from them, four had the strength of will to charge. Closing with the mounted soldiers, they made it impossible for his archers to fire upon them.
His horsemen should have ended things quickly. Yet horses and riders screamed as they fell. Again, and again, and again. What should have taken only moments, lasted minutes before the final knight died.
It should have been a one-sided slaughter, but eleven horsemen were dead, a dozen more severely wounded, and three horses would have to be put down.
Inwardly, Greysun quailed. If the story of his losses got out, it’d ruin everything. He scanned his handpicked men. No, he resolved, the knights’ actions had been impressive, but futile. “Lieutenant!” He smiled. “Have the men carry the bodies inside, recover the arrows, and spread the oil. They can keep anything they find. But be quick.”
The commandant scanned the mountain as the warmth of the burning building spread through him.
That night, Greysun sent a report to Melazera, detailing the tragedy.