Rare Things for a Rare Life

The Knights of J'shua Book 1

by Tiana Dokerty ©2023

Home | Chapter 14 | Chapter 16

Chapter 15: The Tryst

Updated 12/17/23

Joy of Birth


Caileagh - Farr Castle

Caileagh had petitioned her spirit guides every night to grant her power over Gaelib again. She begged them with blood sacrifices.

It frightened her when she saw that the Warrior’s will growing in Gaelib. Sometimes she knew it was the Warrior speaking to her, not her lover, not Gaelib. The Warrior disdained her. To the Warrior women were merely toys to toss about.

Finally, she found a passage in an ancient scroll. This told of mastering a lover. She hadn’t noticed it before. She’d never needed such before.

It was a ritual and a charm that would make Gaelib love her as his own flesh.

[If you fear your beloved leaving, find the one most abhorred by him. Draw the likeness of his face. The more exact the likeness, the stronger the charm will be. Have your beloved burn the image after every full moon sacrifice until the solstice. For the solstice sacrifice, the hated one must be broken and then offered as a blood and body sacrifice. He must be marked with the runes and sigils. Weave a collar of his hair. When you wear the collar, your beloved will feel one with you and unable to displease or harm you.]

She knew who the hated one was. Gaelib abhorred Jonathan Otual.


Shadaya - Caswell Castle

Shadaya absentmindedly pushed her hair behind her ear as she often had when it was still long. She made her way quickly through the crowd, seeking her grandmother. Grandmother had once been the Earl’s nanny, and he still doted on her. This irked his wife, Parynna, who made the aging servant’s life difficult, as revenge.

Slipping through a corridor near the kitchens, Shadaya found her grandmother shelling peas. With an imperious look, she announced to her so the kitchen help would hear, “My lady has need of you.” Then she drew the old woman to her feet and out of sight. “We have a chance! Lady Parynna has taken great affront to some dowager. If I can dig up something, anything sufficient to blacken the dowager’s name, we can be free of this place.”

“Shadaya, you cannot trust her. Whatever she’s promised, she’ll twist. Let one of the others ‘win’ this competition.”

“One of…how did you know that Lady Parynna gave the task to three of us?”

“It’s her way to pit you against each other. To get you to act without thinking. What has she promised?”

“A husband, money, and choice of assignment—”

“Within Caswell, no doubt. The winner won’t escape Lady Parynna’s clutches. She never lets go. Once she has you in her claws, the only release is death.”

“She also promised freedom and one thousand baden. Enough we could—”

“You mean enough to pay the assassin she’d send after us.”


“Besides she will never let me go. Shadaya, how can you still be so naïve? You’re a good girl but far too gullible. Still, perhaps there is a way out. Who is the countess’ latest prey?”

“Lady Shussel. She’s a distant relative who arrived only hours ago. No one seems to know much about her. Apparently, a Caswell married into their line a generation or two back.”

“Do as I say, and things will be alright.”

“Yes, Grandma.” Shadaya wondered what she knew.

“The first thing you need to do is…”


Rebekah -

Being seated at one of the high tables was something Rebekah had not expected. She had intended to slip away before the feast began. However, Drake sought her out and escorted her to a far too prominent—and visible—location, sitting only one tier below the bride, groom, and their hosts.

To her left was one of the gossipy dowagers she’d sat with during the wedding. While on her right was the disguised James of the Wood. Rather than his usual rough leathers and visible weapons, he was adorned with a silk scarf, satin tunic, and an embroidered jacket with pearl buttons. Most interesting was the smooth hair and shaved face. He had been trying to grow a beard. She smiled at him.

What are you doing here? Blast, I don’t even know what name you’re using. My maid was driven off before she could learn even that.

“Lady Shussel,” James rose to his feet and bowed, “it was not my intention to impose on you this momentous day. The earl’s servant thought it fitting. Therefore, please accept the apologies of a mere merchant. I, Albertus Bekh, do humbly beg your pardon.” He ended with another bow.

Rebekah forced herself not to react at James of the Wood using the name Bekh. “Given that the situation was not of your making, I accept your offered apology. This time. There is a matter I wish to discuss with you later. In private. Regarding dealings that I’ve had with your father, Tomas.”


Spy -

The spy ambled awkwardly down a passage used only by servants. There were many extra servants for this occasion.

During the wedding ceremony, he’d posed as an ancient, bent-over dodderer who’d leaned against a wall, guarding an open doorway. It had allowed him to surveil all those present and mark some people for closer inspection.

He had not come alone. This assignment was far too important. He’d drawn in all his own people and every independent he could safely hire to act as additional eyes and ears. Paying his people extra, plus a bonus for every viable lead, would motivate them. As for the outside hires, he’d never pay them the baden he’d promised. The dead have no need for money.

His biggest problem was not finding suspects, but the sheer number of them, starting with Lady Parynna. He’d been watching her for some time. She was a woman who’d benefit from experiencing a little terror.

Then again, whatever game their hostess, the Countess of Caswell, was playing, it might aid him. Perhaps she would flush out his prey.

Slipping into a darker passage, he shed his servant disguise and emerged as a man of quality, a baron from the farthest edge of the Sea of Glass.


James -

James of the Wood paused, trying to work out how this woman knew Tomas Bekh. “My father, has arrangements with a great many people, Lady Shussel. I regret I’m not aware of your recent transactions.”

“That’s not a problem. This will be a new, urgent commission. I will pay handsomely, within reason, to have your sole attention for a time. You can make commitments on his behalf, can’t you?”

“Within certain limits, I am completely at your disposal. If your generosity equals what it has in the past, there is no limit as to what we can do for you.”

“That’s exactly what I wanted to hear,” Lady Shussel said.

James wished he understood what he’d just committed to. Her wry smile made him nervous. However, he had to go along while playing this ridiculous role.

I thought it a great idea to pose as Tomas Bekh’s son because Drake doesn’t know him. I didn’t think about his guests.


Shadaya -

Shadaya, the bold servant girl, huffed, wondering now why she’d done as her grandmother had bid her. She’d asked Rhini, another of the short-haired maids, to work with her. That way, they could  each get close, in turn, and one of them would always be within earshot. Rhini had agreed.

Shadaya had taken the first pass and overheard what sounded like Lady Shussel arranging for the services of a paramour. But when Shadaya informed Rhini of what she’d heard, Rhini pushed her into the cellar and locked her in.

Grandma arrived only moments later, but Shadaya stamped her foot and sputtered, “Why did you have me do that? Now, Rhini will claim the prize.”

“Good, child. This is better than I’d hoped. Brush out your skirts. Now, tell me what you heard.”


Jonathan -

Jonathan found himself—still hooded—walking amongst the servants of the visitors. Watching them posture and compete, depending upon who their masters and mistresses were, would have been humorous if he was not afraid of being discovered.

There had been no time to discuss the matter. When the maid limited James to one bodyguard, he had ordered Jonathan to the back of the hall so Jonathan could slip away as if carrying out a task for his employer.

As a mere mercenary, every retainer thought themselves better than him. That suited Jonathan. He had almost worked his way to an exit when an old woman beckoned to him from a dark passageway.

“I must talk to you,” the woman whispered. “Your master is in danger.”

Jonathan turned away from her but eased closer.

Then the woman continued, “Lady Parynna believes he’s a provider of carnal pleasure. She intends to ruin him, blackmail him, or worse. If you have any loyalty to your employer, you must warn him. And leave immediately.”

Jonathan almost laughed. Considering all the things  James could be accused of, peddling flesh was beyond ridiculous. There must be a mistake. Yet that would not stop the young man from being harmed. “What do you seek in return for this warning?”

“I…we, my granddaughter and I, would leave Caswell but cannot without Lady Parynna’s blessing. Get us out. That’s all we ask.”

“I cannot make promises on my employer’s behalf. But I will do what I can. Do you wish to accompany me or—”

“We cannot. If seen with you, it will bring down the lady’s wrath. Is there somewhere we can meet you?”

“Go to the stables on the south road.”

As he strode away, the old woman whispered again, “Thank you, sir. Thank you.”


James -

The table conversation fulfilled all that James dreaded. Although he had little experience with gossip, careful slights, and small talk, those annoyed him. Yet, almost worse, was the growing feeling that he recognized Lady Shussel’s voice. He forced a smile as she and the other ladies prattled about daily life. It was maddening.

Then his eyes widened as he gasped.

For the third time, she mentioned his “father,” Tomas Bekh. It was the way she emphasized the name.

James snatched up a napkin and used it to wipe his mouth clean of the juices that threatened to stain his tunic. Or so he hoped anyone watching would interpret his actions. He did so to hide his grin.

She’s Tomas Bekh!

A revelation that raised more questions than it answered. He … or she…could impersonate an influential merchant and a dowager with equal believability. And he wasn’t going to get any answers while at table.

The dowager, Bekh, leaned close to James to whisper, “While I’m thinking of it, you must not mention the commission or who it came from. Not to anyone. Ever. It would cause all sorts of problems. Worse, it would spoil a very special surprise for Melazera, who tends to react ever so poorly when disappointed.”

James was even more confused, but he nodded in agreement.

“Is anything wrong?” she asked with a too-knowing smile.

She’s enjoying this.


Rebekah -

Rebekah had wondered how many clues she’d have to drop when the light of understanding finally flashed in James’ eyes. She hoped no one else had witnessed it. Or, worse, misinterpreted it. Otherwise, one might think she’d indecently propositioned him, as the dowager seated on her other side had hinted at doing.

“I…no, just eating too fast,” he said as a servant delivered a small, rolled parchment. “However,” he flashed a dazzling smile, “I’ve just been informed of a matter that I must attend to. After which, I must depart immediately. Therefore, would you walk me out?”

He stood and helped her from her chair.

Drake cast an annoyed glance at them.

“I’ll be right back, my Lord,” she said with a curtsey. Drake gave a nod and turned away.

The bodyguard followed.

Once they were beyond the feasting commoners, and walking toward the stables, the second bodyguard took his place behind them.

Rebekah whispered, “What’s going on?”

James leaned close and winced. “I have somehow offended our hostess, Lady Parynna.” They continued to stroll, the two bodyguards following close behind. “She intends to frame me for unseemly behavior and then blackmail or defame me. As I’ll never again pretend to be Albertus Bekh, it’ll cause me no trouble. If I leave immediately. The same may not be true, however, for Tomas Bekh, my ‘father.’” He grinned.

“How do you know of this scheme?”

“A servant told my bodyguard that Lady Parynna thinks me a flesh peddler. And that you are my latest customer. Thus ensnaring you as well. We must both flee.”

“Thank you for the warning. If there’s anything I can do…”


Jonathan -

Her voice cut through Jonathan. “…anything I can do…” His breath caught. They were the first words the dowager uttered clearly, and they could only belong to Rebekah.

He stared, marveling at her disguise. Although it had been many years since he had seen her up close. This old woman bore no resemblance to his wife. Except her eyes.

Jonathan shook himself back to the current predicament. He evaluated each person they passed. They must keep a leisurely pace toward the stables and the gate.

He followed them closely.

James spoke quietly to Rebekah, “I must help the servant and her granddaughter get out of Caswell Castle. Lady Parynna is forcing them to stay. Without her warning we would have been easily surrounded. I’ve only horses for my bodyguards and myself. Riding double would slow us down, not to mention draw attention.”

“Leave them to me,” Rebekah said. “I have resources nearby.”

Jonathan smiled. You are amazing, dear wife.

Then James strolled on with Rebekah on his arm.

Jonathan noted a commotion back at the feast. A man pointed at them.

He whispered to James, “We’ve been noticed.”

Jonathan continued to scan the area. A group of armed men formed up and marched quickly into the street.

Jonathan whispered, they’re coming fast.”


Rebekah -

Arm-in-arm with James, whose pace now quickened some, Rebekah walked to the stables south of the castle. As the first bodyguard opened the stable door for them, the other murmured from behind…

“Grio, kvenna astri. Sok met fjellet.”

It was perfect Mestelin for “Peace, beautiful wife. Seek me in the mountain.”

She stifled a gasp, overcome and blinking away tears. Her heart clenched. She yearned to turn around, to hold him. Yet couldn’t. They were being pursued. She couldn’t let anyone know she was his wife, not even James. There was too much at stake.

The people stopped and stared at the armed men poking and prodding them out of the way.

She must not be seen addressing Albertus Bekh’s bodyguard. She could, however, speak to James. “I am so happy to have seen you, to know you are well. We will meet again.”

“Hurry,” James said, scanning the street as many armed men spread out, searching every doorway and merchant stall.

Two women cowered in the shadows of the stable.

Jonathan stepped forward. “This is my employer,” he said pointing at James.

James nodded toward Rebekah. “This is the lady who will get you safely out of Caswell. Do exactly as she says.”

They looked uncertain for a moment.

Rebekah asked the stable boy to ready her coach. As soon as he left, she motioned the serving women toward the stable’s rear door. “Come with me.”

Jon, James, and the other bodyguard donned hooded cloaks bearing the green dragon sigil and mounted. Then they rode casualy into the street. Her breath caught as she stifled a sob.

Jon, that scraggly beard. You are well and as strong as ever. Oh, how I miss you.

A rendezvous location used by Licht Gegen was only a block away. There, a quick change into common everyday shifts and cloaks, a little flour make-up, and spilled wine permitted a gaggle of old farmers’ wives to make their drunken way out of the city in the midst of other peasants leaving the castle.


Jonathan -

Jonathan rode in silence, pleased to know that Rebekah was still alive. But what was she doing impersonating a dowager noblewoman? Drake must have helped her. He glanced at the lad riding beside him.

Once they were well away from Caswell Castle, he could wait no longer. “James, do you know that woman?”

“Which one?”

“The old one you sat at table with.”

“Oh, I just met her. She knows Tomas Bekh, the other friend to us that I mentioned before.” He chuckled. “I guess I shouldn’t have used the name Albertus Bekh.”

Jonathan hid his disappointment behind a laugh and they rode on without another word. He pondered the strange circumstance, praying to see her again. Entering the woods, he removed the Lorness cloak and gave it to James, who stuffed both in a leather pouch. When they came to a fork in the road, he canted his head to James. “Thank you for allowing me to see my son’s wedding. I think it best we separate now. Godspeed to you.”

As soon as James returned the nod, Jonathan galloped off on the westward trail toward Mestelina.


Owakar - Lorness

Owakar stirred through the updating facts, marveling at Jonathan and Rebekah Otual. Each continued to pray as the Writings had shown them. And who is this Albertus Bekh boy? He poked a link. So many trails to follow.

[Lead me, O LORD, in thy righteousness because of mine enemies; make thy way straight before my face.]


Spy - Outside Caswell Castle

The girl, Rhin-something, was pretty and had carried a purse full of baden and a sealed letter from Parynna Caswell. The spy easily extracted information from her. He took pride in his work, delighting in the suffering of another as he encouraged them to speak. Thus, for it to end so soon was a disappointment.

He knew all of Earl Gaelib Melazera’s allies. And Parynna Caswell wasn’t one of them. That the letter was for Caileagh, the earl’s wife, was of no consequence. He served the earl alone.

But the letter contained an intriguing idea: Follow and, at an opportune moment, kidnap the knight’s daughter-in-law. That would off-balance the boy and, with luck, lead to the father.

Even if none of that happened, the spy knew that merely possessing someone close to Otual would bring his patron exquisite pleasure.

He smiled.

And perhaps generosity toward me.


Parynna - New Moon, Summer, Caswell Castle  

Parynna was still angry weeks later. She stormed through Caswell Castle, fuming, seeking anyone on which to take out her ill temper, scattering servants before her.

The fool! The absolute fool! If I’d known Rebekah Otual was in attendance as one of those doddering old harridans, I could have quietly scooped her up and shipped her off to Caileagh. When Drake finally told me, she had already fled.

She flopped onto a couch, her brows furrowed. “Blast.” Catching sight of a serving maid approaching with a pitcher, she scowled. “Be away with you!” Although she wanted to beat the life out of him, Drake wasn’t her only annoyance.

Lady Melazera has not responded to my missive. Surely, the serving girl was attractive enough. That stupid minx who won my contest couldn’t resist yet more baden to deliver a simple note. She’d never escape Caileagh.

Perhaps my suggestion that Drake start a Knights’ School was too presumptuous. Although, it would be a wonderful way to infiltrate that sect. Have I offended her? What can I do to atone?


Sarah - Locke Estate, Lexandria

Sarah leaped from the wagon and ran into her friend’s embrace. It seemed like she’d been away for moons. But it had only been one.

Melyssa pulled her into the shadow of the doorway and pointed toward a man as dark as ebony with long braids entering the gate. He was tall and had bright-colored feathers coming from the crown on his head.

“That’s the son of Clan Ush’s headman from south of the mountains. His name is Kel’shan.”

Sarah gasped. “Is he a prince?”

Melyssa smiled dreamily at him. “Yes. Of a sort. They call it something else.”

Looking from her friend to the handsome man who disappeared into the castle, Sarah bumped Melyssa’s shoulder. “Come, silly; you are truly smitten.”

Melyssa sighed, “He will be here for a week.”

Sarah rolled her eyes. “Everyone’s gone daft lately. Ned looks at me like that sometimes until I hit him with my practice sword.”

Finally, she was home. At least, it felt like home. Here, she was a midwife. Almost a midwife.

Ma still attended births in the village, so she often left Sarah here when any of the Locke wives were expecting. Sarah was her ma’s assistant, and she knew everything necessary.

Midwifery was all about waiting. Waiting for the mother to look pregnant. Waiting for the baby to kick. Waiting for the baby to come out. And then hoping the baby would cry.

Ellyth Locke, the Duchess of Lexandria, wanted Ma to stay in Lexandria. Someone was always pregnant. But Ma devoted herself to the women of the village as well, so she regularly traveled between the two locations. Sixty miles each way. As a compromise, she left her daughter to take care of the normal complaints of pregnancy and to attend to labor if Ma did not make it back in time.

If that happened, they sent for other local midwives when contractions began. They couldn’t trust a mere girl. And they shouldn’t.

I understand that. I don’t want to be in charge, either.

This time, no one came. Oh, the family was there, all the old aunts and the sisters, looking at Sarah. Melyssa watched, too, from her place beside them.

At first, they all chattered lightly to each other at the borders of the room. But as Aleyn groaned louder and louder, they moved closer. Finally, the water splashed out.

Now, they’re all around watching over my shoulder as I look beneath Aleyn’s skirt. The baby hasn’t come down.

After the water, the baby came, usually. She prayed in the spirit.

“Lady Aleyn, please rise up to a squat.” She helped her up and waited a bit longer. More loud wails. Still no baby.

Oh, J’shua, please tell me what to do.

My skin’s buzzing like bees. Where is that blasted midwife? I must do something. They’re all looking to me. I’ve seen Ma do it many times. She taught me exactly what to do, but… this is my first time.

Aleyn cried out.

Sarah felt for the head of the obstinate child, pushing it up, hard. She groaned, turning, turning. Her fingers hurt.

No. Push, then turn.

She felt it move. Oh! And drop.

The babe’s crowning.

With an almighty grunt, Aleyn delivered a squalling boy.

Praise J’shua!

After Sarah placed him in his mother’s arms, she wanted to collapse. But there was still work to do.

When both mother and babe were nursing well, she retreated and watched the family surrounding Aleyn.

Leaning against the wall, smiling, she sighed. My first birth, alone.


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