Chapter 12: Not Again
Daikon Silvanus Baxter – Early Spring, 145 AK – The Knights’ School
In the days that had followed the burning of the School, the lowest peak of the Shining Mountains, Little Sister, became home and every sign of their presence was eradicated. From the newest student to the most experienced daikon, all came to learn, live, and move without leaving a trace of their passing. They became one with nature, as well camouflaged as a mountain lion waiting to strike.
None had chosen to leave.
Daikon Baxter wondered if their new undetectable existence was needed to overcome the taint permeating the land.
As the season turned, fresh recruits arrived, accompanied by either a veteran knight or led there by the spirit. The new arrivals were less in number but, as always, all they needed was a sword, a dagger, and a sharp mind.
The structure of each day did not alter. Each morning, an hour of teaching was followed by an hour of discussion on what they’d learned. Challenging physical conditioning, practice with the blade, and tactics followed. But now meals were eaten atop Little Sister.
Daikon Baxter talked with Daikon Crispus often, each acted as confidant for the other. Between them, they came to realize that their war with corruption had changed. The burning of the School was a mistake.
A mistake made by the Serpent.
A mistake that had brought this covert war into the light.
Commander Peter Taelor – Spring, 146 AK – High Castle
Reports from Taelor’s spies began arriving as the weather warmed. They spoke of actions and plots by those who were using Freislicht’s army for its own ends. As yet, they could not identify the mastermind behind the Order of the Black Robes.
But there were clues.
In one such operation, a Black Robe led a unit of soldiers disguised as Mestels. They attacked settlers sporadically, screaming, “Hail Otual.” They burned crops and sometimes homes. They terrorized the people. That frightened the nobles, making them willingly pay for an ever-larger army.
Such actions also would make it easier to isolate and capture Jonathan Otual.
The Commander pondered the knight’s role. He’d heard the Fellowship had disbanded after their School burned down. What if that wasn’t the case? If not, their intentions needed to be ascertained. At best, they could become allies. At worst, Otual was a distraction for Melazera.
Only last week, Lorness had sent a squad to arrest the knight. They’d failed.
He smiled at that thought.
Perhaps Mister Bekh knows how to reach them.
Jonathan – Late Summer, 146 AK – Tarinland
Jonathan was back in Tarinland. He strode down the well-trodden path, weaving through the colorful river of chittering travelers and wailing beasts pulling heavy carts. Most were heading to the city of Hampi. He'd come from that direction, but had skirted around it, remaining in the farmlands, as its squalor and crime were well known. But he’d seen the strange and wonderful spires of Bendi Palace and imagined ornate visions inside.
He could smell spices on the passing travelers. It made him crave ‘ladahl’, the bean dish he’d tried last time he came to Tarinland.
He’d been welcomed in poor villages, but the opportunities to spread the Writings were few. In the last town, he had shared many passages that burned in his heart, amongst them:
‘Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; I will rest in hope, because you will not abandon me. God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able.’
He had been spreading the Writings for a moon, staying in homes when invited and under the stars when not.
The people of Tarinland were not as free as those of Esthlanis as they had a strict caste system. No law prevented anyone from accepting the Words of J’shua. However, circles could not include people from different castes. Thus, to spread the Writings to the upper ranks of Tarin society, he would have to meet individuals of higher status.
Jon entered the dining hall of a modest inn, greeted by the proprietor’s wife. She was draped in bright saffron-colored silk that wound loosely about her. After handing her a gold damar, she handed him a glazed ceramic bowl and pointed to the buffet.
The hall was crowded and smelled of roasted spicy meats and sour ales. Every table had a dozen diners already. He smiled at the laughing and hooting men to his right, and the old man that announced his daughter’s engagement on the left.
Jonathan chose a savory stew, found a seat, and struck up a conversation.
Ital Zariwala was a Tarin silver merchant who traveled throughout Tarinland, Esthlanis and even the wildlands south of the Shining Mountains. His wiry frame and limbs moved with every word like a marionette as he explained all he knew of this region.
Ital drew a circle in the air with his fork. “It would be too difficult for a Priest to accept J’shua. They are raised to teach the unknowable things to us. The man’s family would murder him.” Ital’s dark, bushy eyebrows rose. “Reaching the warrior and ruling castes might be possible. But still, there would be great pressure on the family to kill them. The elite castes do not trust foreigners.” He shook his head and took another forkful of his pigeon.
“Tell me more.” Jonathan nodded, scooping up another spoonful.
“My caste is that of skilled traders, merchants, and bureaucrats. We’re the most open. We deal with foreigners and their strange ideas. We must, to expand our routes and bring in goods from afar. This makes us question.
“I acquired a Book of J’shua with silver fasteners in Esthlanis. I’ve shown it to customers in higher castes as merely another product. I’ve not had an offer for it yet. What can I tell them about the book that might entice them? Perhaps an exotic story from it?”
“Of course,” Jonathan replied. “Once, long ago, Daniel was captured by his enemies. A godly man, he did not despair, but prayed. Even as he was lowered into a pit, he prayed. The—”
“This story will not sell well.”
“A little patience. The pit was occupied by starving lions whose shoulders were taller than a man’s hips.”
“As Daniel’s feet came to rest upon the dusty floor, he looked around at the circling beasts, growling and baring their teeth.”
“This could have promise,” Ital noted.
“But… instead of attacking, the creatures sank to the floor and fell asleep, soothed by the God of Truth.”
“I did not see that coming. Yes, that might have merit. Are there other such stories of your god’s power?”
Jonathan spent the next two hours sharing more stories about J’shua Ha Mashiach, and his father, the God of Truth.
The silver merchant emptied his mug of chai. “Thank you, Jonathan. I have enjoyed this immensely.”
“I have likewise, Ital. I am glad to have met you. Can you tell me of other merchants that might wish to learn of J’shua?”
Zariwala smiled. “In the city of Hampi, three days east, there’s a bookseller that might be a good prospect. He’ll be interested in speaking with you and, perhaps, acquiring copies of the Book of J’shua. His family name, Padhyay, is above the shop’s entrance on the main road.”
“Thank you, sir. I will visit hm.” Jonathan clasped his hand. “The Lord J’shua be with you. I will look for you, this time next year.”
Owakar – Summer, 146 AK – Above Lorness
Owakar wrote frantically. The many tasks he was assigned indicated that the Lord J’shua was moving in the Fellowship. Visitations must take place in exact order. The Book of Life accentuated the importance of messages whispered into their ears.
So, teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.
Jonathan – Early Autumn, 146 AK – Tarinland
Jonathan found Omari Padhyay, exactly as Mister Zariwala had instructed. After an afternoon exchanging stories and perusing the variety of his well-stocked bookshop, Jonathan told him how to order the Writings from the Esthlani bookseller he knew.
Then he headed to the School. He had been in Tarinland for almost a year, far longer than he’d intended. Yet, his travels and spreading of the Word had been eventful. He had achieved a greater understanding of that land’s people and stratified culture. He had also learned much, and had his eyes opened to new perspectives.
By nightfall tomorrow, I will be there. I pray there is a letter from Rebekah.
The weather was kind and traveling easy. The next day as the sun sank to the horizon, he spurred his horse and broke out of the woods… and stopped.
All that was left of the School was its chimney and a few teetering upright timbers.
His head swam. The sight before him paralyzed his entire being. The horror of losing his family surged forth in his mind. If there was any sound left in the world, he could not hear it.
He dismounted and fell to his knees. Pressing his face into his fists, he sought to comprehend the dreadful scene before him.
He hung his head and prayed until a blue jay screeched. Looking up, he heard, Little Sister.
Despite the failing light, he rode at a gallop toward the mountain, his brows furrowed, worried for his friends. He clenched the reigns as he thought of the burnt School and his own destroyed home.
Yet, he was still hopeful he might find Daikon Crispus.
Only when the trees were too thick to see the ground by moonlight did he stop. It was unsafe to proceed further. The terrain changed constantly during the rainy season from rockslides and newly uncovered crevasses.
After tending to his horse, he tried to eat but had no appetite. He attempted to sleep, but managed only snatches. His thoughts denied him rest. So, he prayed.
When there was enough light, he left his horse to graze and ran. Sprinting across Easy Mountain to God’s Thumb. He headed for the top of Little Sister. Still, he ran. Only the terrain growing steeper slowed his pace.
At midday, he crested the last ridge.
Daikon Crispus waited at the end of the path, as well as dozens of students. “Jonathan!”
Jon felt weak, relieved to see the daikon. He bowed, out of breath. “What happened? Was anyone harmed?”
The daikon’s brows furrowed as he told the story.
Am I the cause of this? Did humiliating Greysun bring what followed?
They talked until dinner, exchanging tales of woe and accounts of the growing movement of J’shua.
“I met your wife.”
Jon’s head jerked up in surprise.
“She looked well.”
“What of Sarah?” He took a step closer, leaning in.
“She’s not found Sarah, but learned your daughter had escaped her captors. Rebekah believes she’s safe. Until the Lord reveals it, trust she’s in his care.”
Jon nodded, groaning. “Where is Rebekah? I will go to her.”
Crispus gripped Jon’s shoulder, rummaging in his leather bag. “Her quest is no less important than yours. She left a message for you.”
The parchment read…
I miss you terribly. I look for you constantly. But the Lord keeps me engaged. My role is dangerous, so I cannot risk meeting you. Though I wish to with all my heart, I fear I would refuse to be parted again.
The way is clear when it is needed.
I know you are holding fast to the Faith and doing as the Lord directs. We will be together again. I look for that day to come soon.
Jon wiped his eyes. He placed the scroll in his sack.
On the following morning, he left. The still, small voice guided him westward into Mestelina. Yet his mood was uplifted. Yes, buildings had been destroyed and good men had died. But what had been a grave error for the Serpent, the God of Truth had turned into a beacon.
And, he had news of Rebekah.
Kennah Beecher – Summer, 147 AK – Outside Lexandria
“Don’t worry, Bradley.” Kennah Beecher sat tall in the saddle, eyeing the nervous uncle beside her. “We’ll make it. First babies always take longer and Lyrena’s a strong girl.”
“I know, Mother Beecher. But you know how Gregory gets with anything involving his daughters.”
“I’ve seen your brother fret,” she responded with a grin.
A blonde-haired girl ran to her horse, secured her mother’s herbal bag with the others, and mounted.
“Sarah, do we have skullcap and jasmine oil?”
“Yes, Mother. We have everything we need.” She smiled. At only nine she was already a competent assistant to Kennah.
It was a three-hour ride to a house that was modest by Lexandrian standards. Compared to anything in the midwife’s humble village, or almost anywhere else, it was a mansion. Then again, Gregory was the Duke of Lexandria and head of the Lockes, the wealthiest family in all Freislicht. This was his hunting lodge. His home was a castle.
As they approached, the duke was pacing on the porch.
“All’s well, Your Grace,” Kennah reassured. “We’re here.”
“Yes, yes, I know.” He waved the midwife and her daughter inside. “Don’t waste time soothing me.”
Sarah gave a bow and he chuckled.
Kennah heard the deep moans of advanced labor. Lyrena's time was close. When she and Sarah entered, she saw a familiar scene. A husband holding his wife. Lyrena still swayed from the power of the last surge.
Sarah closed the door quietly and gave one bag to Kennah, then set out the herbs and oils from the other.
Hours later, Lyrena’s bellowing stopped and the piercing cry of a newborn was heard. There was great rejoicing. It was a boy. Gregory’s other daughters had only borne girls.
Gaelib – Spring, 148 AK – Farr Castle
Whenever the Lord of Lorness received a report from Commandant Greysun, or one of the others he’d sponsored in the army, Gaelib reminisced about Blackhawk.
His ‘son’ was so much more impressive.
He missed the boy. Especially when Caileagh went to her chamber to sleep, leaving him alone. That hadn’t always been true. There’d been others to warm and entertain him. There still were. But it was Steven that Gaelib yearned for. Steven with his big, beautiful smile. Steven who reverently sought to please him. Steven, who had been gone for seven long years.
How he missed him.
He sighed, shut his eyes, and recalled fourteen years earlier…
Moons after finding the interrogation chamber, Caileagh had added a new tradition. She’d waltzed in, followed by six little children dressed in rags, all about four years old.
Whenever she found a young waif, she talked to them kindly, testing them, asking where they slept and ate and about family. Once convinced they were orphaned, she gave them a sweet and watched them gobble it up gleefully. When she offered another, the child would follow her into the castle through a secret passageway to this cozy chamber. She told them they could come any morning for another… but only if no one saw them.
The six little children shuffled in.
Caileagh stoked the fire. Everyone started to sweat. She removed her clothes slowly, her eyes on Gaelib.
He did the same, his eyes on her.
It was a cold spring. They both wore many layers.
It was so warm and sweaty, so natural. Primitives living on tropical islands wore no clothes at all. If warm enough and safe enough, they did not need any.
There had been a tub of warm water in one corner.
Caileagh entered the bath, encouraging each child to join her. She told them they would receive new clothes after she bathed them.
Gaelib enjoyed watching as he tossed their pungent, discarded rags into the fire.
After they were all clean, they played ‘pinch or kiss,’ Caileagh chasing them around, pinching their cheek or kissing it. Everyone giggled and laughed.
It reminded him of the sweaty summer days he, Sagen, and the other boys had played in the royal baths. He lifted each child out of the water when she’d finished with them and handed them a piece of bread.
When they let the fire abate, and the chamber grew cold, Gaelib and Caileagh dressed the children in clean linen shirts, but nothing that would draw attention. They hugged each child, telling them that there would always be a safe place here, sending them out one by one.
Each time they appeared, Caileagh gave the children a sweetened potion to make them happy and compliant. These games were repeated for many weeks, with many variations, until they had been groomed to do anything.
Every day the Warrior encouraged him, saying, “Please yourself. You need not serve anyone.”
Steven Blackhawk had been one of those first six children. Whenever a child could not tell them their surname, they’d let them pick one. He’d piped up with, “Blackhawk.” He was a bold lad and would do anything without hesitation. They gave him many tests. He failed none. When he was seven, Gaelib made him a page.
Gaelib taught Blackhawk how to ride and use weapons. There were lessons on warfare and tactics. Every day, he assured Steven he’d be a great warrior if he obeyed and protected his lord. Every night, they played.
Drake – Autumn, 149 AK – Caswell
Drake called all his circle’s children to the front of the Great Hall. He sat on the steps with them. Smiling over their heads, he nodded to their parents and the rest of the congregation. Then he refocused on the youngsters as his puppeteers unveiled their stage.
“Long ago, a stranger washed up on the shores of the Sea of Glass,” he said as the marionette of a bedraggled knight tottered into view and collapsed. “A child found him. Others came running.” Three more puppets appeared on stage.
“The young woman felt for his breath. ‘He’s alive! Carry him to the inn.’ Another countered, ‘He was spat out by the Sea of Glass. Are the gods testing him?’” The figure raised its upturned hands to the heavens. “Yet another opined, ‘See his wrecked ship? The Sea’s calm. He’s angered the gods.’” It pointed toward an imaginary sea.
“The woman stared back at them, pointing at the near-dead man, and retorted, ‘He’s a gift from the gods. It’s we who are being tested.’”
The curtain closed briefly, reopening to show a room.
“After he recovered,” Drake continued, “he shared a strange doctrine. The old gods were only children of the God of Truth. Their Father had charged each of them with governing a nation, but was displeased. Those states fought over trivial differences. Thus, the God of Truth sent forth a man to raise up a godly nation, to show all the way.
“A trunk washed ashore and was brought to the stranger.” Two puppets delivered it to the rescued man, who opened it. Out came clothes and a book.
Again, the curtain closed and reopened. The once-disheveled knight wore a navy-blue cloak and steel-grey breeches. A baldric stretched diagonally across his chest, from which poked a rolled sheaf of papers.
“By these, you shall know a Knight of J’shua,” the puppet knight proclaimed.
Another marionette appeared on stage. “You’re no knight. They were clad in chainmail and steel plate. All the knightly orders were disbanded long ago.”
“A Knight of J’shua serves the God of Truth, not some liege lord or king. We require no armor — gambeson, brigandine, or plate — only our faith, which we proclaim with these outward signs.” The puppet gestured toward itself.
“Many balked at the knight’s words,” Drake resumed. “He was taken to Olde King Weisheit, who was moved by the beautiful words of the God of Truth.
“So great did that monarch’s faith become, he changed the calendar so the year the knight washed ashore became the beginning of time. He also prophesied: when darkness comes and the people falter, they shall be renewed in the Word of J’shua by a knight.”
The curtain closed for the last time.
The children smiled. They knew the story well, but enjoyed hearing it. At a nod from Daikon Drake, they ran back to their parents.
At the end of the service, he extended a hand to his wife, Tarynna, indicating she should join him on the dais. He’d miss her once she left that afternoon. “As many of you know, three ladies from our newly formed Orphans-and-Widows Charity are going to Farr Castle. There, they’ll study with Lady Melazera, bringing back skills to aid the least fortunate members of this circle.”
Tarynna Caswell – Autumn, 149 AK – Road To Farr Castle
Tarynna and her protégés, followed by carts brimming with servants, provisions, and luggage, enjoyed the vibrant countryside on the road to Farr. Along the way, she pointed out the peasants happily harvesting. At one point, all tittered with excitement as they watched a group of hunters run down a wounded stag. She’d planned stops so they could take rest and refreshment during the five-day journey. She hoped the young orphan boy, who rode above with the coachman, wouldn’t disrupt her schedule.
She bragged to her traveling companions, “The Lady of Lorness will place this orphan with a good family. Today, we take a single boy. He’ll be a token of our resolve to follow in her footsteps and extend her virtuous efforts. I hope, in future, we’ll place many more unwanted children. She’ll see that they find apprenticeships and have godly, productive lives. We have a duty to them.”
The Knight – Summer, 149 AK – The Woods Outside New Village
The knight scanned the horizon from the tower, seeking signs of the approaching horde.
“I’ll protect the treasure!” The knight yelled raising his sword to the heavens.
The door sprang open and three ugly hordes-men stormed in. Their toothless sneers stretched across pock-marked faces that were half hidden by stringy hair.
“Alas, evildoers. I shall cut you down. Prepare to sleep until you meet the God of Truth. You’ll not harm anyone here.”
The horde growled and lunged. The knight danced amongst them with precise strikes and parries. The horde retreated. She dealt them each a final thrust. They fell from the tower with blood curdling screams. Having vanquished them, the knight lifted the sword again. “Long live the king!”
A squeaky voice called to the knight from the castle garden below. “Sarah, you said I could be the knight this time. You should be the queen, because Benjamin wants to be the baby, not a horse.
“Not horse!” Benjamin declared, “I’m baby!”
“Aye, aye. I’m coming, Ned. Benj, I thought you wanted to be the horse.” Sarah deftly climbed down the tall oak, hopping from the lowest branch. Her belted tunic flapped as she landed in a squat. She picked up Benjamin and cradled him.
“Wah!” Benj smiled. “I wannna cake.”