Chapter 13: Travelers
Rebekah – Autumn, 150 AK – Frei Forest
Rebekah had written to Magistrate Gorum regularly, but she hadn’t seen him since before David was born. He’d replied recently that Jonathan would not be able to come until Winter, so she’d collect her son before the waning moon of the Judge.
Now, she would meet Daikon Crispus again. David was in his thirteenth year and it was time for him to start at the School.
For the first time in years, using clothes she’d stored at the former Frei colony, she dressed as a woman. Fussing with hair that had been woefully ignored, she wished for a mirror. Then, giving up, she packed her things and the sword David would need.
Having crossed the river into Esthlanis, she donned the sword, wearing it in the same fashion as Esthlani women did, dangling from a sash worn over their long wool tunics, tight and low across the hips. She rented a horse at the Tarin Bend Trading Post, where the river turned sharply north, arriving at the magistrate’s estate four days later.
David was with Gorum’s sons when they met her at the gate. “Mother, you’re here,” he yelled, galloping ahead of the others with a sweeping wave.
She spurred her horse, smiling broadly.
He’s filled out, almost a man.
Without dismounting, they hugged as her heart swelled, and tears stung her eyes.
The four brothers led the way to the house, mother and son following behind, talking quietly to each other.
“You look well. Is your apprenticeship finished? Are you a skilled horse trainer now?”
“It ended several moons ago.” David beamed with pride. “But they asked me to stay a while longer. I earned this horse, and its saddle and tack too. I was also presented with this short sword and the Complete Book of Writings, just as Esthlani boys are. Our circle gave me this copy of the Writings so I might have something light for traveling as a knight. It’s like Da’s.” He lifted the flap and patted the book.
She passed her hand over the embossed leather holster he wore. “It’s beautiful. Has your father written you?”
“Da writes weekly but his letters arrive in bundles almost every moon. He’s been in Tarinland but said he must go to Mestelina. He is looking for you and Sarah everywhere. Are you…?”
Rebekah sighed. “The Lord has missions for us both that, so far, have kept us apart. His still, small voice tells me your sister’s alive and well. Yet, despite help from many, I haven’t heard a whisper of her. Has anything reached you…?”
“No…” David shook his head. “Very little news of Freislicht reaches here. Less reaches my ears. They think they’re being kind, but… Thank you for writing me, Ma, I was so worried for you. I still grieve Sarah’s loss.”
“I appreciate Master Gorum’s attempt to spare your feelings, even if it's in vain. We must trust J’shua,” she encouraged.
Dismounting at the house, David hugged his mother again, “I’ve missed you so.”
Last time he hugged me it was around my middle. He’s as tall as his father now.
Magistrate Gorum waited for them on the porch. “Welcome, Lady Otual. Have tea with me.”
A servant brought out a tray with fruit and cakes. Another followed with tea.
“Master Gorum,” Rebekah objected, “you are treating me like royalty. And here I am taking away your help.” She sighed, looking down at her hands.
“That was the agreement from the beginning. Your son’s prepared to teach all he knows of horses. Having the knights become horsemen, as well as swordsmen, will be good for all. It’s been a prosperous five years, with David’s help. He has a talent with animals. In thanks, to you and Jonathan, and to J’shua, I am giving the knights twenty-five horses. Please tell them to pick them up whenever they can.”
Rebekah sat back, astonished by the magistrate’s generosity. It was a truly princely gift. “I’ll recommend the knights come individually, spread out over a few moons, collecting one horse at a time.”
“There’s another matter,” Gorum continued. “I promised Jon, and myself, that I’d keep you safe.”
She snorted, leaning forward.
“We also agreed that I was unlikely to be able to force such ‘safety’ upon you. That doesn’t mean I won’t try. Therefore, will you permit me to provide you with horses, provisions, weapons, and an escort?”
“Beyond your borders, being accompanied by Esthlani warriors would draw unwanted attention, but I’d appreciate an escort until we approach the Tarin River Trading Post.”
“Done. And the other things?”
“Let’s discuss them.”
David bowed to the magistrate and his mother, then left for his room in the stable.
They talked well into the night.
“Be proud of him, Lady,” Gorum noted. “He’s my best apprentice in thirty-five years. Had he no parents, I’d adopt him.”
“I pray that you never have to be holden to that.” Rebekah chuckled, slumping back in the chair, smiling at the thought of traveling with her boy during the week-long trip.
“Before I forget,” the magistrate reached into his pouch and brought out an elegant dagger in an embossed leather sheath, “Jonathan sent this. Said David needed a dagger, and it was customary for the father to provide it. He also wrote that he’s well, is in the Lord’s hand, and knows you are also. I’ve several letters for you, from him.”
“I have one for him also, should you see him again or hear of a place to send it.” Rebekah sighed. “We’ve missed each other over the past five years. It’s enough to know he’s well and doing the Lord’s work.”
Gorum nodded, his face solemn.
“Thank you for delivering the dagger. It’s beautiful. David will be pleased.”
They conversed a while longer. Gorum gave her Jon’s letters and they exchanged their goodnights. A maid showed Rebekah to a room. She read Jon’s first letter while the girl poured her a bath.
My beautiful wife,
I so admire your devotion to J’shua and the God of Truth.
I look for you everywhere. I pray for you always and for the swift return of our daughter.
The Lord protects me as I know he does you. The writings and the spirit of J’shua will comfort you. I extinguish my fears in them continuously through meditation. Otherwise, being separated would be unbearable.
After she finished reading, she slept soundly knowing Jonathan was well.
She and David left in the morning.
Jonathan – Autumn, 150 AK – West of Fairness Crossing
As Jonathan walked through another small village eighteen miles west of Fairness Crossing, his eyes scanned the crowd. It was market day. Farmers and those living on the community’s outskirts had come to buy, sell, or both. Tinkers, clothiers, saddle-makers, and others had their stalls open, attracting business with shouts and songs. Food and drink were on sale. The smell of fresh cooked bread, lamb, and other delicacies laced the air.
It all made him homesick.
A blonde girl ran past. Her similarly colored mother gave chase, calling her name, and threatening a paddling if the child didn’t behave.
The youngster was the same age as Sarah would be, about eleven.
It had been years since he’d lost his daughter. No, since she’d been taken. She’d have grown up without him, without her mother. Would he even recognize her?
He’d know her eyes, her smile, and her laugh. But…
He looked around. Here in the south, not far from Lexandria to the west, there were many blondes. He counted six on the street, another two hanging out of windows yelling down to friends. A carriage drawn by four horses approached surrounded by well-armed men. Jonathan backed into a shaded alley. As it past, he recognized the Locke’s crest on its side, a white wolf on a purple field. Three travelers looked out the windows, blonde girls of marriageable age.
“Make way!” the carriage’s driver yelled, clearly angry at being delayed. “Make way for the Duchess of Lexandria and the midwife who delivered another Locke boy!”
He strained to get a better look. Something smashed into the back of Jon’s knee, dropping him to the ground as he reached for his sword. But another drew it as hands dragged him deeper into the alley. He thrashed to free himself, pulling a hidden dagger, then… “Jathan…? You couldn’t just tap me on the shoulder?”
Jathan shrugged. The men accompanying Magistrate Gorum’s son released the knight, but stood ready.
“Apologies, Sir Otual. They were worried you might react rashly.” Jathan grinned sheepishly, nodding toward his men. “Your legend is well-known in Esthlanis.” Jathan offered his hand.
Jonathan took it, replying, “There are safer ways to get my attention.”
“A suspicious man came to the estate seeking you. He’s not the first, but this one… In any case, I was sent to find you.”
“Why is that?”
“The man had been loitering about town for some moons. An untrustworthy type who knew too much about too many, had too many baden, and spent too many hours watching people he shouldn’t know. Some of the other estate owners wanted to move him on. Father insisted he be watched. A good thing, too.”
“When your wife came to take David for training as a knight, the man attempted to follow them. He was intercepted. Rather forcefully, I’m told. Sadly, I did not participate. But, before being allowed to – eventually – go on his way, he became most forthcoming. There’s a private bounty on your head. Not merely the false charges that have been laid against you in Freislicht. This is prize money for any who can capture you, dead or alive.”
“That is disturbing. Did the man say who was behind it?”
“Not that I’ve been informed. He did say his contact was a man named Rosewud.”
“I’ve met him.”
“You must take the most extreme care. Father offers you sanctuary should you ever need it. However, for everyone’s sake, I was sent to tell you not to come directly to the estate. Instead, go to the abandoned mine-works southeast of town.”
Jon frowned. He knew the place. It was many miles from the Gorum Estate, but close to the Freislicht border. “How would you know I was there? I do not understand.”
“Father said you’d say that, and that I was to reply ‘the way is clear when it is needed’. The mine is being put to… new uses. Storing weapons and materials for when the Esthlani come to your country’s aid. I’ve heard rumors there are other such places… and something called Licht Gegen, although Father refuses to discuss it with me.”
“All are interesting developments, yet I do not understand how you found me. If you can do so, what does your father suggest?”
“Father sent me because, of all his sons, I hear J’shua’s voice most clearly. The path to finding you has taken more than a moon. He also sent you provisions, some baden as he was sure you’d lack for funds, and two horses.”
“That is far too generous—”
“He’ll be insulted if you refuse these minor gifts. He’s giving twenty-five horses to your Fellowship. David brought us good luck. And great prosperity. This is the merest token of the blessings that have been granted us since your son’s arrival. And…”
“And what, Jathan?” Jon sensed something troubled the young man.
“I am, lastly, to tell you that I’ve been forbidden to ride with you. I’ve asked it of father many times. I do not have the calling to be a knight, but as your son supported my father, so I should support you.”
“That is unnecessary.”
“My father says so too. Therefore, as I cannot be with you, I can provide support. This,” he offered a rolled parchment, “is the name of a business you can safely send messages to us – to me – through. They sell plows and other things. Use the name and special-order code therein.”
Jon took the missive, overwhelmed by the risks his friend and his friend’s son were willing to take for him. “Thank your father. And thank you too.”
Rebekah – Autumn, 150 AK – Frei Forest
In Frei Forest, Rebekah changed back into Tomas Bekh, beard and all.
David gasped as he watched her walk past, his mouth agape.
“How do I look?” She asked, using her feminine voice.
“Mother, you look like… a man.”
“Thank you. That is my intention”
“How…? Why…?” David’s eyes were as wide as saucers.
She deepened her voice, taking on that which she used as Tomas. “It’s the easiest way to hide in plain sight.”
“The act must be complete. Your father is being hunted. Those pursuing him would, should they find me, use me against him. So, I disguise myself. I became so good at playing a man that I kept at it. But,” she hesitated, “there are some things you need to know before committing yourself to the Knights. It is not the only possible path that lies before you.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m not merely hiding. There is a group, Licht Gegen, that I work with. Over the last five years, they’ve cautiously built up a network. None knows how large it is, nor the names of everyone involved.”
“What do these people want?”
“To be able to live freely without being persecuted by nobles such as the Lord of Lorness. At his orders, our land was seized, our farm burned, and your grandparents killed. They would have sold Sarah and me into slavery while illegally demanding payment. We had a contract. What they did was wrong.”
“You’re scaring me. It’s one thing to hide, but to work against…” He frowned, his eyes scrunching almost closed as they had whenever he worked through something.
“All Licht Gegen wants is to live without fear,” she whispered, not wanting to alarm him more. “But that requires organization, information, and money. As Tomas Bekh,” she gestured at herself, “I can drink with a man, befriend him, and fill in gaps in our knowledge of the enemy. We have learned much. We work with people from all walks of life who seek the same thing. Farmers, traders, soldiers, lesser nobles, thieves, and less savory folks. Many help us willingly. Some help us for coin. Some out of hatred. And, yes, there are some who would betray us.”
“Mother, you can’t risk yourself like this. What would Father say?”
She smiled. “That I’m heeding J’shua’s call and doing what I can. Not every person serves the God of Truth by wielding a sword or spreading his words. You can, if that is still your wish. Or, you could join Licht Gegen, like me. It has been slow going, for I could not pursue my goals boldly. It required caution, guile, and even some deception. The role of Tomas is not merely a cover. It has become real. As him, I own businesses that I run and must keep profitable. I employ more people than you’d believe.”
“You own businesses… plural?”
“It didn’t start out that way. And there are many things you could do for me, posing in roles from clerk to rich merchant.”
“I…” He shook his head. “Why not give it up? Have someone else run them. Find Sarah. She’s still missing, isn’t she?”
“The contacts I’ve built up give me a greater chance of finding your sister. I cannot let them go. I will find her, no matter the cost or how long it takes. If that means being Tomas, so be it. If it means working with Licht Gegen, so be it. Yet, seeking your sister is not all that I have done and am doing. It is complex beyond what you can imagine. But, to give you an idea, I know far more about what is happening in Lorness and High Castle than anyone but a Royal Minister. There are one or two of them working quietly with us. I’ve been shocked to speak to them and find myself the better informed.”
“It seems I have a gift for this. But, even with the networks that have been established, we are still piecing things together, still trying to identify the key culprits. I think Gaelib Melazera is one of them. But cannot prove it. Yet.”
“I… I’d never have… that is…” David looked down, shaking his head.
“What else would you have me do? What were my alternatives? Other’s may be called to wring their hands and pray, leaving everything in J’shua’s hands. But my hands are able, my mind is clear, and my need to act undeniable.”
“I…” David wrung his hands.
“Would you have been happier had I acted as a woman? Understanding that, had I done so, I’d have had to do things…”
David’s face shot up, a look of horror on his face. “You wouldn’t,” his voice collapsed into a whisper. “You couldn’t.”
“No, I couldn’t. However,” Rebekah smiled thinking of all the different people helping them, making a difference.
“As Tomas Bekh, I receive information from the unlikeliest of sources. The good, the vile, and the fallen. I have encountered women of the night seeking to redeem their souls, despite their misfortune.”
“That is extraordinary, Mother, I—”
“Don’t let your imagination run away with you, David. I’m guided by the Lord’s still, small voice. As you will be. Have faith. Now, we must resume our travels. To give you some perspective on what I do and have done, from this point on you’ll pose as my new apprentice, not my son. I’ll teach you as we go.”
They traveled five days to reach Easy Mountain. As they approached the Kiss, many student knights welcomed them, taking them to Daikon Crispus.
Sarah – Summer, 151 AK – New Village
Sarah emerged from the woods carrying a woven basket full of purple cone flowers, goldenseal roots, and skullcap greens. The wooden training sword her second da had made for her rocked back and forth on her hip. Her dagger nestled on the other. She kept it sharp so she could carefully harvest the medicinal herbs without damaging the rest of the plant.
In two moons she'd be twelve and her da would give her a metal sword. These thoughts made her stand taller. But the large basket made her wobble as she trudged up the hill toward the midwife's, her second ma's, workshop.
She barely remembered them, her first Ma and Da.
Her Da smelled wild, like a long hunt or a wrestling match. His massive sword hung high on a hook by the door. That meant he was home. His hair was as blond as a pale moon.
Her Ma was slim and graceful. She wore an apron, but the day she was taken always came to mind whenever she tried to picture her.
The tears in Ma’s eyes as she dropped me out the window. Running, running, running through the tall grass as it slapped my face. My heart pounding as I hid under leaves in the woods, just like Da showed me.
She'd never forget them. But she was.
Rebekah – Autumn, 152 AK – The Circuit To Lexandria
With David training on Little Sister, Rebekah had returned to the business of spying. She was on her circuit, traveling from Caswell to Lexandria.
Maddeningly, the business that was her cover for moving about collecting intelligence and passing on messages was so successful it could no longer be managed alone. Indeed, it hadn’t been possible since the first year. She was growing wealthy. Yet, she still needed to move about as inconspicuously as possible.
It had been decided early on, regarding saving orphans, that the families would do the best they could for them. This included teaching them all to read and, wherever possible, arranging apprenticeships for them. A large part of Bekh’s growing wealth was invested in such endeavors.
The brightest youngsters were also taught to write, a rare skill except amongst the nobility, some of the very rich, and the Order of the Black Robe. Raising children who could aspire to be professional scribes was yet another way to counter that organization’s influence. It also, inadvertently, provided Rebecca with potential assistants.
Each year, she’d take on one or two eleven-year-old boys who were intelligent, attentive, and desired to become a knight. They’d remain with her for two years, until she sent them to the Kiss
She and her two lads had ridden south from Caswell on a warm day, where they’d made a less than average number of sales. She’d picked a spot to rest and make a stew. There’d been no special excitement, nothing interesting to chase down, nor any special news. As with most days, it was endlessly collecting bits of information that she passed on, as boring as breathing but just as necessary.
Her two lads were collecting kindling when another voice said, “Sir?”
Rebekah looked up to see countless boys of all ages stepping out of the woods. Hers were not amongst them.
“Hallo.” She stood and smiled.
Their leader, a tall beardless lad, had addressed her. He was confident and kept his weight perfectly balanced ready for any potential action. “Hallo, I am James of the Wood. Don’t worry, we’ve done nothing to your young traveling companions. They’re very noisy, so we just skirted around them. They’ll return shortly.”
“Glad to hear it. My compliments, I didn’t hear your approach.”
“We’ve seen you pass through our woods many times. We seek information.”
“How can I help?” Rebekah asked. Despite their numbers, they were unthreatening. There was something familiar about them. Almost. Yet, it wouldn’t come to mind, nor was there time to ponder it. The situation could change without warning… and James was already responding.
“We seek news of our parents. Most were arrested from circles in Caswell, Lorness, and Fairness Crossing. We’re afraid to go asking officials. They’re conscripting too many our age into the army. But since you come through here every few weeks, we hoped you might have news, or could provide it next time.”
She nodded, moved by their situation. “Let’s do this properly. I was about to make stew. Join us for dinner.”
“It’ll be good to eat someone else’s cooking,” James joked. “Call your lads back, we’ve everything you need.”
“Douglas, Padraig! Come back, lads. I’ll need you to jot down some names.”
“They can both write?” one of the boys exclaimed, his eyes wide.
“It’s just a skill like any other. All it takes is time, nimble fingers… and much practice.” She chuckled. “Let’s eat and talk. Then tell me your families’ names. I’ll find out what I can.”
Her lads’ clomping back through the bush like clumsy giants caused them all to laugh.
A young boy of no more than eight carried a stout bow, taller than he was. In his makeshift quiver were several arrows. They too struck Rebekah as familiar. “Son, may I see one of those?” She pointed.
“Yes, sir.” He handed it over proudly.
She squatted beside the boy. “This is fine work. Did you fletch this?” A feather had a twist, like Jon’s arrows.
“Yes, sir.” He smiled. “Our helper taught us. Then we teach all the new boys.”
“You have a helper? Where is he?”
“He only stayed with us for two moons. He’s on a mission.”
Her heart fluttered.
Bekh glanced at James, smiling. “Could his name be Jonathan Otual?”
Eyes wide with surprise, the young man smiled. “Yes, you know of him?”
She smiled. “Everyone’s heard of Sir Jonathan Otual.”