Rare Things for a Rare Life

The Knights of J'shua

by Tiana Dokerty © 1984-2021

Home | Chapter 14 | Chapter 16

Chapter 15: Captured – 153 AK, Autumn

Third Runic Precept of the Alte Regieren: There are no failed schemes, every tactic moves you closer to success.

Updated 9/30/22

 

Farr Castle, the Surrounding Town

As the sun approached its zenith, beads of sweat formed on Jon’than’s brow. He wore his cloak brown-side out and hid the Writings in his pack. Following J’shua was banned at Farr Castle.

The outer courtyard was filled with the noise of hawkers singing their offers. Occasionally, a pair of soldiers walked briskly past. Merchants’ boys waved flags with pictures of their master’s wares, enticing questions, and giving directions to stalls deep in the market.

A short, dark-haired man was trailing about five yards behind Jon, dressed in silk and wearing expensive boots.

Is he following me? He’s not a commoner, not dressed like that.

When did he begin? Before or after I entered the Main Gate?

Jon’than changed direction, heading for the Herald Station.

The man followed, pausing with a farmer hawking potatoes.

Who could he be?

Entering the station, Jon’than commiserated with the herald for a few minutes while monitoring his shadow. When the man turned his head, the knight slipped out the side door and concealed himself in an alleyway.

What will you do if you don’t find me?

The fellow looked around, searching. Once convinced he’d lost his target, the man swore, turned on his heel, and strode briskly back toward the inner castle. He was not difficult to follow. Nor did he, even once, check to see if anyone was tracking him. When he reached the gatehouse, he walked right in without being stopped or questioned.

Jon had trailed behind cautiously, slipping into an alcove as the man disappeared into the castle’s depths.

He must be known in the inner court. Who is he? What is his interest in me?

After pondering the situation for some time, without arriving at any useful answers, Jon’than headed back to the hawkers. There he conversed with vendors and people he met.

People do love to talk, and such talk contains threads of truth.

He walked deeper into the market. There, he saw a sign shaped like a broad-bladed dagger, its letters carved and blackened: Rohn Custom Blades. After entering, Jon’than tested the weight and sharpness of a few. “Did you forge these?”

The craftsman remained focused on his whittling. “No, sir, my father does. I craft the handles. If I shape one for you, it will fit in your hand like a young maid’s breas…” he glanced up, his expression changing upon seeing Jon’s face, “…er… hand.”

Jon’than chuckled. “Glad to hear Master Rohn is still producing treasures. This is one he made for me.” Jon slapped a hand on his hilt. “Are you Jasp’r, the lad that used to follow the prince and I around the castle years ago?”  

“Master Jon? Master Jon!” The young man stood and shook the knight’s offered hand.

“I have just returned from afar. What do you think of our new king?”

“Time will tell. It’s been almost a year. The king hasn’t really done much, good or bad. That’s all we can hope for. But the Lord of Lorness took up residence here after the coronation. He’s a different matter.”

“Oh?”

The young man lowered his voice. “Lorness has instituted many pagan ceremonies.” He looked from side to side. “There are rumors of… people disappearing.” He dropped to a whisper. “And… human sacrifices.”

Jon’than gasped. “Really?”

“No one goes out at night anymore, but,” the craftsman hesitated, “the folk I know travel from town to town. Mother Garvey was telling some women about losing her granddaughter. The girl went to the tailor for needles. Never came back.”

“I would speak with her.”

“She has a stall three rows south. Let her bring it up. No one wants the Lord’s ire.”

The knight meandered through the busy market. Several stalls were baking bread and meat pies. The pleasant, sweet smells carried his thoughts home until he saw the sign: Apparel and Repairs. He found Mother Garvey busily hanging out shirts and cloaks on her stall. In pride of place, a manikin wore an olive-green smock and corset embroidered with red and yellow flowers.

“Hallo, do you do repairs? I have a pair of trousers needing a seam mended.”

“Yes, sir, I do repairs on the full moon and have them back first of the following week.” The old woman turned to him. Her sad wrinkles pulled up into a smile hiding her grief. “But, if it’s an easy repair, I can do it while you wait.”

“Thank you, ma’am. I think it easy.” He drew a set of trousers out of his pack, pointing out the damaged seam.

“The cloth is sound. I can finish this in a blink.” She turned to her sewing box.

“Thank you, ma’am. Have you had this stall for long?”

She tested the material, drew out a needle and thread and sat on her stool. “Not too long. My husband passed last fall. I needed to make coin, so I rented it from the Lord of Lorness.”

“Is he fair?”

The seamstress paused and looked up. “I don’t have much to compare him to, but ‘fair’ doesn’t come to mind.”

“Oh?”

“I perceive in the spirit you’re a Knight of J’shua. Lord Melazera has the evil eye,” she whispered. “They say he worships the ancient gods… they demand sacrifices.”

Jon’than’s eyebrows rose.

“There’re rumors,” she sighed. “My grandmother knew the old ways. She taught me about them.” She paused as a few people passed by. “They say Die Abwanderung was performed for King Edal. A gruesome thing. Runes were drawn on his dead body, then there were incantations, cuttings, and the body burned. It placates their gods. Only after that did the king’s son, Sagen, take the throne.”

The woman's furtive glances caused Jon’than to look around.

“The annual hunt has been the high point of the year for generations,” she continued. “The king somehow was separated from everyone when a boar attacked and gored him fatally. There was no investigation,” she scoffed, showing him the mended seam.

“That is well done. How much do I owe you?”

She pulled down the tarp to guard from the sun and prying eyes.

The woman clasped his hand. “Not a thing, sir. All I hope to receive in return is prayer and vigilance. Only the knights can overcome the evil blowing across the land.”

He prayed with her, holding her hand as she wept and whispered of her granddaughter and all her woes.

Continuing through the market, he stopped at a tavern, where others told of the trouble at the border, of conscripted boys, and debt collections.

Why would someone follow me?

He found a less-than-reputable place, the Farr Away Inn, still within sight of the gate while seeking more people who’d enjoy gossiping.

Hopefully, Daikon Paul will come out at dusk. I have not received a letter from him in several moons. What if he no longer has the patronage of the king?

Inside were the blacksmiths, coopers, and stablemen who lived near their sheds as they might be called upon at any hour.

Jon’than took a chair at the back, near an open window. From there, he could watch the castle’s gate, the path and the door, or jump through if necessary.

Someone was laughing and talking boisterously about a noble who’d fallen from his horse. The storyteller was hefty with huge arms, waving them about imitating the fall.

A blacksmith?

“Lord Melazera was dressing down a terrified page for bringing the wrong documents for his meeting with the Magistrate,” the man regaled his fellows and aped each character. “The Lord was stepping away from the boy, toward his coach, as a man fell from a horse… placing the noble perfectly for the splash. There he stood covered head to toe in mud!”

The whole room laughed. Their enjoyment was contagious.

Jon’than chuckled too. “That was a great story. You made my day. Can I buy you a drink as a reward?” The knight nodded to the innkeeper. “Bring us two of whatever he is drinking.”

“My name is Rafferty, Lawrence Rafferty. My friends call me ‘Lafferty’. Get it?” He winked. “Always happy to meet someone that appreciates my stories. What brings you to Farr Castle? Do you have a story for me?”

“I am Jon, and just returned from Mestelina.”

“Did you have any trouble? Those Mestel dogs have been attacking farms on the edge of the frontier and burning crops.”

“Why are they doing so?” Jon asked.

“Don’t know, but I’m sure it’s why there aren’t many boys around. Those that want riches, enlisted in the army. Some country lads joined to protect their families. Regardless, whenever I see soldiers, they’re boasting about something or other. They come to my smithy when they need help with a tool or a blade.”

“Who is this Melazera person? I may have known him as a youth.” 

“Can’t picture him as a boy. He’s very stern. There’ve been many executions since he came to rule Farr,” Lafferty explained. “Old Steward Rothbard was a fair man. He’d work with people, brokering compromises between lenders and debtors. Melazera’s ruthless. Before, if you owed another man, you worked it out with him. The Steward just facilitated it.”

Jon nodded.

“Go to Melazera’s court and he claims the debt for the crown, buys it for a fraction of its value, while forcing the debtor to pay in full. Even uses soldiers to collect. Pay up or your children go to work on the royal farms or into the mines. Sometimes, he’ll even take wives. We shudder to think what happens to them. They don’t oft return. If not indentured, I’d leave this place. It’s tough to keep a sense of humor.”

“How did you…?” Jon prompted.

“My father was a kind man, but not too bright. He liked to gamble, lost a wager, so owed 500 baden. My da offered a horse and a fine sword instead, but the winner sold the debt to Melazera who, in turn, sent me to the mines. Fortunately, I was more valuable as a blacksmith, so I’ve some freedom and can see my family. Both are great blessings.”

“When will your servitude end?”

“My father lost money several times after that, extending my sentence. Now he’s passed, Melazera said when the war ends, I’ll be freed. He only needs me to make weapons for the conflict with Mestelina,” Lafferty explained. “Every day, new soldiers come with requisitions for swords, daggers, and other gear. It keeps me busy.”

Jon noticed the light dimming, “I must find the daikon. Do you know him?”

“Know him?” Lafferty smiled. “Sure do. He shares a room with me in this inn. Neither can afford a room to ourselves.”

“What happened?”

“The way of J’shua’s been outlawed. His remaining circle’s tiny and must meet in secret. He’d prosper if he went back south, but refuses to leave. I’ll tell him you’re here.” Lafferty bounded up the stairs.

Jon’than silently praised the Lord for directing his footsteps. To find the daikon so quickly was amazing. While waiting, Jon’than gazed out the window, watching the people. No children ran about. People trudged by, looking at their feet. They were oppressed and had no joy. 

Lafferty reappeared. “He told me to bring you up.”

Jon’than ascended the stairs.

“Hallo, hallo, my dear boy! I am so happy to see you whole and hearty,” Daikon Paul exclaimed and encircled him in a warm hug.

Lafferty left with a smile and nod, shutting the door.

“I’m sorry I haven’t written these last few moons,” the daikon continued, “but after the proclamation declaring Circles of J’shua unlawful, I feared my letters would be intercepted and you’d be in danger.” 

“How did it come to this?”

The daikon offered Jon’than a chair, then paced with hands folded into his back, as he always did while sharing. “Sagen became… difficult… after you and Drake went to the School. Only weeks later, Gaelib was summoned home to be with his ailing mother. Left alone, Sagen’s studies suffered. His father demanded the prince stay at High Castle until his teachers gave him a good report. I prayed for him often.

“After Gaelib’s mother passed, his father brought him to Farr Castle. At the same time a lady appeared, proud and conniving, a widow of one of the king’s retainers in a distant land. As the Writings say, this woman was: wicked and winking, with defiance in the heart, glorying in devising mischief and sowing discord.”

Jon nodded.

The daikon clenched his fists. “She pursued Gaelib’s father. The king recommended they wed since both were recently bereaved.” He frowned. “Edal was very compassionate. There’ll never be a more benevolent king.

“Meanwhile, her daughter set her eyes upon young Gaelib, despite being four years older. It was a strange relationship, but I couldn’t get his father to see it.” Paul paused, shaking his head. “He kept saying ‘Gaelib can’t stand the girl’ and ‘she’s a woman, he but a boy’. Not that his father ever paid any attention to his son.”

Jon shifted in his seat.

“A scant few years later, the Lord of Lorness died after an upset stomach. I grew concerned, inquiring if there’d be an investigation but, according to his new wife, he’d suffered in silence for a long time. Gaelib was eighteen and ready to assume the role of Earl. Not long after, Gaelib married his stepmother’s daughter, Caileagh.”

Daikon Paul buried his face in his palms. “This made me painfully aware that my suspicions had been correct. I knew things would get worse.

“Gaelib styled himself the Lord of Lorness, eschewing his formal title. In charge of his father’s fortune and enthralled by his new wife, they began having parties, where lewd things occurred. It’s rumored he used these events to gain leverage over those who could be compromised and thereby ensnared. Soldiers of rank, nobles, and people of influence attended. You had to be invited or pay for the privilege. Unseemly transactions happened, as did corrupt business dealings,” the old man paused, looking tired, his sad eyes tearing up.

Jon’than felt his profound sadness. “Sit, sir.”

Daikon Paul did so. “About that time, Sagen was allowed to go to Farr Castle again, and was reacquainted with his old friend. It was the happiest I’d seen him. But I knew renewed friendship with Gaelib would be corrupting.”

“Poor Sagen,” Jon’than remarked.

“Then the king made Gaelib apprentice to the Royal Steward, Rothbard, so the young Lord of Lorness traveled with them.

“Gaelib continued to have his private revelries wherever he and Caileagh went, spreading depravity and his influence throughout the kingdom. Once he knew where all the king’s accounts were, the old Steward died in his sleep.” Daikon Paul sighed heavily. “I tried to reveal what I understood to King Edal one last time, but was sent away, never to be called back.”

I had no idea Daikon Paul carried such a burden. Jon’than squeezed his shoulder.

“Then I began hearing of their religion, Alte Regieren, which translates as ‘Ancient Ones Rule’. This is what you feel here, the oppression of the old hedonistic ways and its superstitions. They call evil good, and good evil. Pray for us, Jon.”

He did so immediately. “Holy Father, lead us unto the right path, help us know what to do, and how to help our neighbors in this dark time. Shower us with your peace. Show us the way, in J’shua’s name.” Jon’than hugged the daikon, then stood. “I have a plan, but must talk to Sagen. Perhaps he will listen to me.”

“I think that unwise,” Daikon Paul remonstrated. “Things have changed. There’s evil growing. You can’t expect King Sagen to listen to you because of childhood friendship.”

“I must try,” Jon’than countered.

The daikon nodded. “I’ll pray for you.”

Leaving his sword, gear, and the Writings behind, Jon’than headed down the stairs.

 

Alexandria – The Locke Estate

Gregory paced, holding the invitation. “I don’t care what the letter says. I’m not giving my daughter to the king to become a tool of Melazera. When the so-called Lord of Lorness visited, I had no idea he was scouting for a royal bride or I’d have sent the girls away. No. No, I simply refuse.”

“Dear, we’ll find a way to prevent this. The local Daikon says there’s a suitable girl who’d go in Melyssa’s place.”

Gregory rounded on her. His fists clenched. “Did you seek the daikon’s help?”

“No,” she placed her hand on his chest, soothing him. “He sought me out, saying the Lord had heard our prayers and provided a substitute. He’s bringing her today.”

“How’s that going to help? The girl would need to know our family’s history, our ways, and all the little things that make a Locke a Locke.”

“She’s my midwife’s daughter, knows our family, and has been in and out of our houses all her life. She even has the right complexion.”

“It sounds far-fetched,” he grumbled.

 

Inner Castle

Jon’than prayed in the spirit silently as he approached the castle’s keep.

Guards stood rigidly in full military dress on both sides of the gate. A soldier demanded, “What’s your business?”

“I am Jon’than Otual, a friend of King Sagen from childhood. I would present myself to the king.”

The soldier signaled to a militet, who had written down Jon’than’s words, to take the message to the King’s Secretary. The response came quicker than expected.

Maybe there is some efficiency in this Militet concept.

The soldier read the reply, then issued orders for Mister Otual to be escorted to the South Reception Hall.

The militet set off at a brisk pace but kept careful watch ensuring the knight didn’t fall behind. When Jon’than slowed to take in a beautiful caged bird, the soldier slowed to match him, always keeping him within two yards.

Impressive.

A large stone archway loomed. Stiff and stern doormen sprung to open doors as the militet approached. Jon’than followed.

“That will be all,” a voice commanded, and the militet left.

Jon felt a chill. I still recognize him. The quiet boy peering out of those hard eyes, although I have not seen him since our thirteenth year.

“Jon, I heard that you were here. It’s been too long,” Gaelib stated brightly, then turned away. “I miss those raucous days when we ran through fields and lazed about. What have you been up to?”

“Travel mostly. I didn’t expect to see you. You look well. Will the king be joining us?” Jon’than approached the well-groomed Steward, hoping he seemed relaxed.

Gaelib turned, flashing the tight smile Jon’than remembered. “He’s still deciding what to do with you, having heard much about you inciting the Mestels. They even yell your name when they burn crops and vandalize property. Surely you didn’t expect a warm welcome,” Melazera oozed as he poured a red liquid into a glass.

“You cannot possibly believe such lies.” Jon’than took a step closer. He noticed the soldiers tense.

Gaelib’s smile broadened as he offered Jon the cup. “Of course I do.”

“No, thank you.” Jon’than replied, taking in every detail of the chamber. It was small for a hall, only ten yards deep by eight wide. Birdcages, a different exotic species in each, were its only decoration. Each captive quietly warbled a distinctive song. The windows were high overhead. There was a soldier under each and at each door.

Melazera smiled. “Jon, I insist.”

“No. If the king is not coming, I shall leave.”

“I think not.” Gaelib nodded.

“You are behind these fictions! Why?”

Soldiers advanced, brought Jon to his knees, then smothered him until starving for breath. He felt the chamber spin and was about to pass out.

The hand over his mouth was removed.

Liquid was poured down his throat, then all faded into blackness.

 

Farr Castle, Steward’s Hall

Gaelib gloated. He had not one but two Otuals. Jon’than awaited below in an interrogation chamber that this castle’s foolish occupants had forgotten even existed. Otual’s daughter-in-Law, Cynthia, was in a dungeon.

Oh, the fun he’d have degrading one in front of the other. It was… delicious.

Even better, he had them all to himself. Caileagh was off doing whatever she did to control her spies, informers, and seductresses, plus those things necessary to placate her endless gods. All he cared about was the Warrior. Otual and Otual’s only son’s wife could, and would, amply satisfy that deity’s demands.

Picking up a length of silk, Gaelib ran it between his hands thinking about how it could be used. Oh yes, this was going to be glorious!

As he toyed with the material, he thought back to when he’d been introduced to the interrogation chamber by Caileagh.

During his fourteenth year, Gaelib had continued meeting Caileagh in the graveyard at Farr Castle until she found a secluded chamber. The room was small, located above the dungeons. Covered in many years of dust, it had three small cells at one end: each no more than a yard wide and twice as deep. The outer chamber had only one door and no windows. Long before King Edal, when they ruled with the rod, it had been used for intensive interviews before an inquisitor. 

Shackles and chains hung from the ceiling. Flickering torches created frightening shadows around the room. Unlike the dungeons below, there were a table and benches along one wall, so guests could attend, to witness methods of persuasion. Thus, encouraging them to behave.

The inquisitors of the old kings had liked this chamber because it had a fireplace so the overseer could be comfortable. It fell into disuse under King Edal, who held open court to teach the people the law and demonstrate what a fair and noble king he was.

So, the chamber lay empty, except when Caileagh and Gaelib went there to… play.

Gradually, she’d added cushions and blankets. Gaelib had brought wood for the fire. It was one floor below the kitchen and had access to a back stairway.

Caileagh was so excited when she first brought him to it. He partially dreaded their trysts because sometimes, what she did to him was painful or frightening. But the Warrior always reminded him that discomfort was temporary. Her rewards were so tantalizing that he always pushed the warning sensations out of his mind.

The first time she brought him there, she’d blindfolded him in the passageway, took his hand, then led him into the chamber.

“Stand still, don’t peek,” she commanded as she bound each hand with a scarf secured through a long chain.

He could hear them jingling above him. She’d tied him up before, so he wasn’t concerned. It excited him. The chains jingled louder, and he heard clanking as his hands were slowly pulled overhead.

“The Warrior will bring you from darkness into light,” she instructed.

The next hour was exquisite. How her mind fascinated him!

Later at dinner, I kicked her chair as I walked by. Her mother scowled at me and whispered to my father. They were so easily fooled.

 

Farr Castle – Interrogation Chamber

When Jon’than awoke, he was tied, hands overhead, to a post in a small, windowless chamber wearing only his trousers. Cold pavers sent a chill through his bare feet.

Where...?

Jon’than controlled his breathing, exhaling slowly to stay at peace.

The daikon warned me. I should have listened.

He prayed as he waited.

Have I misunderstood your guidance, Lord?

The door creaked open. Several soldiers entered as red blurs. He could smell the same spicy, sweet scent from earlier, the cologne his former friend had worn as a boy.

Gaelib is here.

“Remember me, little knight,” a hoarse masculine voice growled close to his ear.

Jon’than cringed. “Who...?”

“Fairness Crossing?” The soldier hinted again, louder.

Everything echoes. The drugs have not worn off yet.

Jon’than prayed for help to escape.

After you see the king, the still, small voice soothed within his mind.

He focused on staying in the peace of J’shua.

“Jon, this is Captain Greysun,” Gaelib purred, coming closer, where he looked less fuzzy. “He was Commandant at Fairness Crossing fifteen years ago. Don’t you remember? You and your friends interfered in his command, dishonoring him.”

“…tried… end it differently… told me I would regret it.” Jon kept his words slow, reserving his strength for later.

The spirit led me here.

He could see a little more clearly. The walls were limestone. There were crude wooden benches, chains hung from beams above, and a single chair. Before him, there was a hearth with a fire crackling. His cloak, shirt, and boots were on a table by the only exit.

“Later, you lost him a great sum,” Gaelib continued, “well over one hundred thousand baden when you had King Edal reverse the debt collections ten years ago. He’s asked me for the opportunity to repay you. I told him he mustn’t leave any marks, since the king will see you in the morning. Greysun wasn’t pleased, but promised he’d obey my orders… today.”

I will be allowed to see the king.

Melazera smiled as he lowered himself into the chair. “Begin. I love to watch a man who’s proud of his work. Don’t let him die, Captain.” He leaned back, resting his cordovan boots on the warm hearth. Breaking apart an orange, he peeled away one slice with his teeth.

Greysun smiled. A militet handed him a burlap sack.

The first hit knocked the wind out of Jon’than.

After several impacts, the whole chamber smelled of citrus.

Jon lost track of time.

Gaelib inhaled deeply. “I just love the smell of oranges. Don’t you, Jon?” He laughed. “I’m so happy you’re enjoying the exercise, V’rgil.”

“My Lord, I learned this technique from the madame that runs my brothels. She’d never do as much damage as I intend to. She needs her girls to keep working. But a mere half dozen blows will be felt for weeks without sign of bruising.”

Greysun struck every inch that would be covered by clothes. When a sack became ineffective, the captain signaled for a new one.

 This is meant to hurt worse afterward.

“Greysun, you’re an artist. Your strikes so precise, delivered with such verve and panache. I can’t recall seeing such a virtuoso at work.”

The captain paused, bowed to Gaelib. “Thank you, my Lord.”

“Don’t you agree Jon?”

Nearly unconscious, Jon’than was startled awake by a cold splash.

“We wouldn’t want you to miss out on even a moment of this evening’s entertainment, Jon,” Melazera purred. “Be a good lad, stay with us.”

Time and time again, pain overwhelmed the knight and he slipped into a daze, only to be revived so the process could continue.

At some point, Jon distantly heard Gaelib’s bored voice. “That’s enough, Captain. Have your men rinse him off, then take him to a cell. Ensure his clothes are cleaned for his morning interview with His Majesty. He must make a good impression.”

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