Chapter 15: Captured – 153 AK, Autumn
Matthew 10:19, 20 But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.
Farr Castle, the Surrounding Town
As the sun approached its zenith, beads of sweat formed on Jonathan’s brow.
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.
Is he following me? He’s not a commoner, not dressed like that.
A short, dark-haired man was trailing about five yards behind Jon, dressed in silk and wearing expensive boots.
When did he begin? Before or after I entered the Main Gate?
Jonathan changed direction, heading for the Herald Station.
The man followed, pausing with a farmer hawking potatoes.
He’s still watching me. Who could he be?
Entering the station, Jonathan 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 following 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? Who is interested in me?
After pondering the situation for some time, without arriving at any useful answers, Jonathan 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: Custom Blades and Handles. After entering, Jonathan tested the weight and sharpness of a few. “Did you forge these blades yourself?”
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 and saw the holy book adorning the man’s chest, “…er… hand.”
Jonathan smiled, pulling a short blade no longer than the width of his hand from a pouch. “I am interested in throwing blades. I came across this in Mestelina. It has no handle, yet is balanced perfectly so as to land true. If I bring one, do you think your father could copy it? I would like at least a dozen.”
“My father would relish an opportunity to make something new. He was a bladesmith for King Edal but retired after Melazera forced him out… that is, after King Sagen was crowned. Now he crafts only what he enjoys. Then I travel the circuit to sell them and repair damaged blades.”
“I have just returned. What do you know of this new king? Has he been good so far?”
“Time will tell. It has been almost a year. The king has not really done much, good or bad. It is all we can hope for. But the Lord of Lorness took up residence in the castle here, after the coronation. He is a different matter.”
“Oh?” Jonathan nodded.
The young man lowered his voice. “The Lord of 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.”
Jonathan gasped. “Is there proof?”
“No one goes out at night anymore.”
“Who might know more?”
The craftsman hesitated. “The folk I know travel from town to town. But… 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.”
Jonathan thanked him, making arrangements to deliver a throwing knife when they would both be at Dunis Glen.
The knight meandered through the busy market. Several stalls were baking bread and meat pies. The pleasant, sweet smell carried his thoughts home until he saw the sign, Apparel and Repairs. He found Mother Garvey busily hanging out shirts and cloaks on her seamstress’ 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 is an easy repair, I can do it while you wait.
“Thank you, ma’am. I think it should be 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, and I needed to make coin, so I rented it from the Lord of Lorness.”
“Is he a fair man?”
The seamstress paused and looked up. “I do not have much to compare him to but ‘fair’ does not come to mind.”
“He has the evil eye,” she whispered. “They say he worships the ancient gods… and they demand sacrifices.”
Jonathan’s eyebrows rose.
“There are many 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, and cuttings, and the body burned. Supposedly, it placates the gods and frees the soul to leave this world. Only after that did the king’s son, Sagen, take the throne.”
The woman's furtive glances caused Jonathan to look around also.
“The annual hunt had 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?”
The woman clasped his hand. “Not a thing, sir, I know you are a Knight of Joshua. 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 told him 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 decided to watch the castle’s gate from a distance.
He found a less-than-reputable inn, still within sight of the gate, seeking more people who would enjoy gossiping. Four blocks distant, in an impoverished area of the castle grounds, it was called the Farr Away Inn.
Hopefully, Daikon Paul will come out at dusk. What if he no longer has the patronage of the king? I have not received a letter from him in several moons.
Inside were the blacksmiths, coopers, and stablemen who lived near their sheds as they might be called upon at any hour.
Jonathan took a chair at the back, near an open window. From there, he could watch the path and the door, or jump through the window if necessary.
Someone was laughing and talking boisterously about a noble who’d fallen from his horse. The man was hefty with huge arms, waving them about imitating the fall.
Perhaps 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 the man fell from the horse… placing himself perfectly for the splash. There he stood covered head to toe in mud!”
The whole room joined him in laughter. Their enjoyment was contagious.
Jonathan chuckled, too. Poor Geleib.
“That is 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, stranger? Do you have a story for me?”
“I am Jonathan O’Toole. Call me Jon. I have been in Mestelina and just returned.”
“Did you have any trouble? Those Mestel dogs have been attacking farms on the edge of the frontier and burning crops.”
“I had not heard that,” Jon responded. “Why are they doing so?”
“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 are boasting about something or other. They come to my smithy when they need help with a tool or a blade. There’s a lot of building going on at the front.”
“I will keep my eyes open,” Jonathan responded. “Who is this Melazera person you mentioned? I may have known him as a youth.”
“I cannot picture him as a boy. He’s very stern, not a happy person. We’ve had many executions since he came to rule at Farr,” he explained. “Old Steward Rothbard was a fair man. He would work with people and broker compromises between lenders and debtors. Melazera is ruthless. Before, if you owed another man, you worked it out with him. The Steward just facilitated it.”
Jon nodded encouragingly.
“When you go to Melazera’s court for intercession, he claims the debt for the crown, then buys the debt for a fraction of its value but forces the debtor to pay in full. He uses his soldiers to collect. Pay up or he sends your children to work on the royal farms or into the mines. Sometimes, he’ll even take wives. We all shudder to think what happens to them, for they do not oft return. If not indentured myself, I’d leave this place. It’s tough to keep a sense of humor.”
“How did you…?” Jon prompted.
“Well, my father was a kind man but not too bright. He liked to gamble. One night he lost a wager, owed a soldier 500 baden. My da offered him a horse and a fine sword but the man wouldn’t take them, instead selling the debt to Melazera who, in turn, demanded I go to the mines. Fortunately, I was more valuable as a blacksmith, so I still have some freedom and can see my family. Both are a great blessing.”
“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 I do. He shares a room with me in this inn, since neither can afford a room to ourselves.”
“Why?” Jonathan gasped. “What happened?”
“The way of Joshua is unlawful at this castle. His circle is now tiny and must meet in secret. He’d prosper if he went back south, but refuses to leave us. Let me tell him you’re here.” Lafferty bounded up the stairs.
Jonathan silently praised the Lord for directing his footsteps. To find the daikon so quickly was amazing. While waiting for him to return, Jonathan gazed out the window, watching the people. No children ran about. People trudged by, looking down at their feet. They were oppressed and had no joy.
Lafferty reappeared. “He told me to bring you up.”
Jonathan 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 am sorry I have not written these last few moons,” the daikon continued, “but after the proclamation declaring Circles of Joshua unlawful, I feared my letters would be intercepted, and you would be in danger.”
“How did it come to this, Sir?”
The daikon offered Jonathan a chair. “Sagen became… difficult… after you and Drake went to the School. Only weeks later, Geleib 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 Geleib’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.”
The daikon clenched his fists. “She pursued Geleib’s father. The king recommended they wed since both were recently bereaved.” He frowned. “Edal was very compassionate. There will never be a more benevolent king.
“Meanwhile, her daughter set her eyes upon young Geleib Melazera, despite being four years older than him. He accepted her attention immediately. It was a strange relationship but I could not get his father to see it.” Daikon Paul paused, shaking his head. “He kept saying Geleib cannot stand the girl and ‘she is a woman, he but a boy.’ Not that his father ever paid any attention to his son. I attempted to engage Geleib in worthy pursuits, only to be politely ignored.”
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 would be an investigation. Yet, according to his new wife, her husband had suffered in silence for a long time. Geleib was eighteen and ready to assume the role of Lord. Not long after, Geleib married his stepmother’s daughter, Cailleagh.”
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.
“Geleib, the new Lord of Lorness and in charge of his father’s fortune, was enthralled by his wife. They began having parties, where lewd things were said to go on. It seems 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.
Jonathan 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 had seen him. But I knew friendship with Geleib would corrupt him.”
“Poor Sagen,” Jonathan remarked.
“Then the king made Geleib apprentice to the Royal Steward, Rothbard, and so the young Lord of Lorness traveled with them.
“Geleib continued to have his revelries wherever they went, spreading corruption 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. Jonathan 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 hedonism and its superstitions. They call evil good, and good evil. Pray for us, Jon.”
He did so immediately. “Holy Father, lead us onto 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 Joshua’s name.” Jonathan 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 is evil growing. You can’t expect King Sagen to listen to you because of childhood friendship.”
“I must try,” Jonathan countered.
The daikon nodded. “I will pray for you.”
Leaving his sword, gear, and the Writings behind, Jonathan headed down the stairs.
Alexandria – The Locke Estate
Gregory Locke 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 Geleib Melazera. My spies tell me she’s not even amongst the first to be summoned. A dozen or so have already been presented and rejected. No. No, I simply refuse.”
“Dear, we’ll find a way to prevent this. The local Daikon says there’s a suitable girl who could be sent 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 Bradley’s 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, “but it cannot hurt to meet the girl.”
Jonathan 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, “Who are you? What’s your business?”
“I am Jonathan O’Toole, a friend of King Sagen from childhood. I would present myself to the king, if I may.”
The soldier signaled to a militet, who had written down Jonathan’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 O’Toole to be escorted to the South Reception Hall.
The militet set off at a brisk pace but kept careful watch ensuring the knight did not fall behind. When Jonathan slowed to take in a beautiful caged bird, the soldier slowed to match him, always keeping him within two yards.
Their destination was a large archway with heavy doors. Doormen opened it, the militet entered, and Jonathan followed.
“That will be all,” a voice said, and the militet left.
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,” Geleib 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 soon?” Jonathan approached the well-groomed Steward, hoping he seemed relaxed.
Geleib turned, flashing the tight smile Jonathan remembered. “He is still deciding what to do with you. He has heard much about your exploits and inciting the Mestels. They even yell your name when they burn crops and vandalize property. Surely you did not expect a warm welcome,” Melazera oozed as he poured a red liquid into a glass.
“You cannot possibly believe such obvious lies.” Jonathan took a step closer. He noticed the soldiers tense.
Geleib’s smile broadened as he offered Jon the cup. “Of course I do.”
“No, thank you. I have had too much already today.” Jonathan replied, taking in every detail of the chamber. It was small for a hall, only ten yards deep and eight wide, and decorated with birdcages, a different exotic species in each. Each captive quietly warbling an instinctive song. The windows were high overhead. There was a soldier under each window and at each door.
Melazera smiled. “Jon, please, I insist.”
“No, I will not willingly drink that. If the king is not coming, I shall leave.”
“I think not.” Geleib nodded. His soldiers advanced brandishing their swords.
“You are behind these fictions! Why?” Jonathan was brought to his knees. Still, he refused to drink, so they held him, and one smothered him until starving for breath. Then they poured the liquid down his throat. He felt the chamber spin and fell to the floor.
Farr Castle, Steward’s Hall
Geleib gloated. He had not one but two O’Tooles. Jonathan awaited below in an interrogation chamber that this castle’s foolish occupants had forgotten even existed. O’Toole’s daughter-in-Law, Cynthia, was in a dungeon.
Oh, the fun he would have degrading one in front of the other. It was… delicious.
Even better, he had them all to himself. Cailleagh 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. O’Toole and O’Toole’s only son’s wife could, and would, amply satisfy that deity’s demands.
Picking up a length of silk, Geleib 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 Cailleagh.
During his fourteenth year, Geleib had continued meeting Cailleagh in the graveyard at Farr Castle until they found a secluded chamber inside. 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 and encourage 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 Cailleagh and Geleib went there to… play.
Gradually, she had added cushions and blankets, and Geleib brought wood for the fire. It was one floor below the kitchen and had access to a back stairway.
Cailleagh 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 pushed the warning sensations out of his mind each time.
The first time she brought him there, she blindfolded him in the passageway, took his hand, and 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 had tied him up before, so he was not 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 the visible 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 something to my father. They were so easily fooled.
Farr Castle – Interrogation Chamber
When Jonathan 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.
Jonathan controlled his breathing, exhaling slowly to stay at peace.
The daikon warned me. I should have listened more closely.
He prayed as he waited.
How long, Lord? Have I misunderstood your guidance?
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.
Geleib is here.
“Remember me, little knight,” a hoarse masculine voice growled close to his ear.
Jonathan cringed. “No... Who...?”
“Fairness Crossing?” The soldier hinted again, louder.
The drugs have not worn off yet. Everything echoes.
Jonathan prayed for healing and help to escape.
After you see the king, the still small voice soothed within his mind.
He relaxed and focused on staying in the peace of Joshua.
“Jon, this is Captain Greyson,” Geleib purred, coming closer, so he looked less fuzzy. “You met him when he was Commandant at Fairness Crossing some fifteen years ago. Don’t you remember? You and your friends interfered in his command, dishonoring him.”
“I remember... trying to... find a way to… end it differently… never did… 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,” Geleib continued, “well over one hundred thousand baden when you had King Edal reverse the debt collections ten years ago. He has 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. Greyson 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. “Get on with it, Captain. I’ll watch. I love to see a man who is proud of his work. Don’t let him die.” He leaned back, resting his cordovan boots on the warm hearth. Breaking apart an orange, he peeled away one slice with his teeth.
Greyson smiled. A militet handed him a burlap sack.
The first hit knocked the wind out of Jonathan.
After several impacts, the whole chamber smelled of citrus.
Geleib inhaled deeply. “I just love the smell of oranges. Don’t you Jon?” He laughed. “I am happy you’re enjoying the exercise, Virgil.”
Jon lost count of the strikes.
“My Lord, I learned this technique from the madame that runs my brothels. She would never want to do as much damage as I intend to one of her girls, for she needs them to keep working. But a mere half dozen blows will be felt for weeks with no sign of bruising.”
Greyson 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.
“Greyson you are an artist. Your strikes are so precise. You deliver them with such verve and panache. I can barely recall seeing such a virtuoso at work.”
The captain paused to give Geleib a bow. “Thank you, my Lord.”
“Don’t you agree Jon?”
Nearly unconscious, Jonathan was startled awake by a cold splash.
“Resume,” Melazera purred. “We wouldn’t want you to miss out on even a moment of this evening’s entertainment, Jon. 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 Geleib’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 after all.”