Rare Things for a Rare Life

The Knights of J'shua

by Tiana Dokerty © 1984-2021

Home | Chapter 16 | Chapter 18

Chapter 17: Plans 153 AK, Autumn

Hebrews 10:24 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:

Updated 9/30/22

 

Farr Castle – Main Hall

More cases were brought before King Sagen, but he was distracted. “I will consider this. Return tomorrow,” was all he proclaimed to each petitioner brought before him. “You may all retire. I wish to be alone.”

“The Court will retire,” echoed through the hall.

Sagen called the herald to him. “Bring me Jon’than Otual’s record.” When the man returned, he accepted the parchment, then dismissed that servant as well.

As he read, inspiration struck.

The Lord wants to heal the Land. He’s heard my prayers. I’ve many times used the exact words Jon’than said. He knows what burdens my soul. Jon is with me in this, praying for angels, open ears, and eyes. He’s telling me the time is near. No longer to pray for safety but for strength and wisdom.

Sagen rolled up the parchment, tapped it on his open palm.

Gaelib tried to turn me against Jon’than with false witnesses, but if I fought too hard for him…

Placing the scroll on the table, he walked to the window.

Since the death of his father had been confirmed as murder, Sagen had moved cautiously, quietly building alliances and determining loyalties. He was convinced that Gaelib wasn’t yet ready to move against him openly. However, that conclusion was based upon Sagan playing the role of ‘easily guided king’. If he did something too out of character – such as pardoning Jon – it might scare Melazera into doing something… rash.

I must play this game out until my pieces are arranged.

He looked down on the inner courtyard, all the colorful nobles, and their flamboyant wives, were milling about, each plotting and maneuvering to gain advantage.

You are my pawns. I’ll employ each of you to free the land.

Pawns are as important as every other piece. Even though their movement is limited, they can block and capture. A wily pawn might become a queen. No chess-master thinks poorly of his pawns. He may sacrifice any piece in order to win.

I will sing in the spirit a war song and a love song. There is nothing more potent than the Love of God. I repent, Lord. I will trust in your sacrifice for my people’s sake.

The king raised his voice. “Dwain, are you there?”

“Yes, Your Majesty.” A short, dark-haired man dressed in an embroidered silk tunic and finely tooled boots stepped into the hall carrying a dulcimer, strumming pleasant chords.

“Thank you for alerting me when Jon’than arrived.”

The minstrel strummed another chord. “I am always ready to serve you, Sire.”

“Play me something uplifting.”

 

Farr Castle – Stables

Jon couldn’t lift his foot into the stirrup, so the groom knelt and motioned for him to step on his thigh. “Thank you,” Jon’than responded. It was awkward and painful, but he mounted.

Two militet bound his hands to the saddle and his feet to the stirrups.

Captain Greysun took the horse’s reins.

“Wh’tcom, you’re coming with me,” Greysun bellowed.

The young Militet winced, stepped forward and mounted.

They've packed no provisions. We aren’t going far.

Jon’than prayed for escape.

Clearly, Greysun planned to kill him.

I have until we enter the woods, perhaps a little longer.

His head was clearing, and his strength returning. His hands were numb. He studied the rope for weakness. Finding none, he braced one hand on the saddle horn and pulled with the other hoping to stretch and loosen it. As he switched hands, he noticed threads missing below the pommel. A shaft of steel protruded. He eased it out... a short blade.

Thank you, Sagen.

Jon waited for an opening, slowly cutting through the rope.

As they entered the forest, he kneed the horse. It reared. “Snake! There’s a snake.”

Captain Greysun distanced his mount, jumped down, then checked Jon’s horse. “You hundn, there’s no serpent!” Greysun grabbed Jon’than’s shirt, pulling his face downward. “I’ll make this slow.” He brandished his dagger.

Jon’than slashed.

Greysun went down. Clutching his neck, as blood poured through his fingers.

“I told you in Fairness Crossing, no law protects you when you break it yourself.”

The militet froze.

Urging his horse away from the dying Captain, Jon’than leaned forward and slit the ropes tethering his right ankle to the stirrup, his eyes never leaving the soldier. “I have no quarrel with you. You may leave. Or fight. Or join me. Which do you choose?”

“Sir, if I return without Captain Greysun, I’m dead. If I fight, I’m also dead. If you’ll have me, I am your servant.” The youth bowed.

“What is your name, boy?”

“Alb’rt Wh’tcom, Sir.”

Jon sliced through the ropes trapping his left ankle. “We wait here until dark. I must return to Farr for my gear and the Writings. Alb’rt, would you help me down?”

 

Farr Castle – Interrogation Chamber

Cynthia fell to the floor, tearing the poorly-fitting iridescent green dress. Under different circumstances, she would have thought it beautiful.

The soldiers laughed as they left. “Blackhawk gets all the entertainin’ jobs.” The dim torchlight vanished as they shut the door.

Her breaths came in short gasps as she felt her way around the chamber, seeking a way out. It was as black as night on a new moon. When she found the first cell, she was hopeful but discovered it was one of three small rooms.

There was only one way out. She tugged and kicked the door. Then she sat on the floor in a corner, numbly awaiting her fate, barely able to pray.

The door creaked open, light from a lantern illuminating two men. Their footsteps echoed against the cold stone.

She swallowed a scream. “Please, don’t hurt me.”

The figures were dressed in plain clothes, not uniforms. “We won’t, miss,” the taller one soothed. “We’re followers of J’shua that work in the kitchen and saw you brought here. We want to help.”

The short one asked, “Can you walk?”

She nodded, letting them guide her to a wagon, hide her behind a load of potatoes, and throw a burlap cover over the load.

The short one peaked in. “Be still until we tell you we’re safely away.”

She nodded.

Hours later, the wagon pulled off the road and stopped. The cover was pulled back. She gasped. She didn’t realize she’d been holding her breath.

They helped Cynthia down.

“I’m Baldwin,” the short one said. “That’s Cain, my half-brother.”

“Got anywhere to go?” Cain asked.

“To my husband in Mestelina?” She wondered aloud. “I can’t go to my parents. It’s the first place they’ll look for me. It’s better they know nothing.”

“Where do we find him?”

“Don’t know where, but how,” she answered. “Across the West River, there’s an inn. If we stay there, a knight will find us.” She covered her face with her hands, shaking and crying. When she could talk again, she continued. “I’ve no money to repay you. My husband will once he comes.”

“Don’t worry about that, ma’am,” Baldwin reassured her. “The kitchen staff likes to play stones. We won a lot recently.” He looked at his brother and smiled.

They made camp after passing Fort Road, hiding the wagon as far into the woods as they could. They had food and bedrolls for each of them.

The two men slept on the ground.

She slept in the wagon behind the potatoes. Or tried to. Each time she dozed off any noise woke her. Her heart raced. Eventually, exhaustion overcame her.

In the morning, she rode up front with them, happy to see the scenery and the sky.

They talked about where the brothers were from and what they might do in Mestelina. They’d be wanted men for helping her escape. They kept her occupied.

She assured them her husband would help get them settled somewhere.

 

Farr Castle – Gaelib’s Chambers

Lady Melazera barged into her husband’s bedchamber. “Gaelib!” But he wasn’t there. Exasperated, she paced back and forth across the thick sanguine carpet, shrieking out his name repeatedly.

When he finally entered, she turned on him like a snake ready to strike. Her eyes narrowed. “Banished?” She snarled. “I’ve plans for the knight. You know that.”

Ignoring her, the Lord of Lorness, closed the door. “I hadn’t expected you back so soon.” His arms encircled her as he kissed her neck. “Caileagh dear, the knight is dead. It was rash, but I had to throw Greysun a bone. His was a magnificent performance yesterday.” He kissed her again.

She broke free of his embrace. “I need him dead by my hand, my hand!” Then her demeanor softened, and she whispered in conciliatory tones, “My dear, we could have shared him. His blood and suffering would have been a laudable sacrifice, worthy of the Warrior.”

He nodded, conceding the point. “Perhaps, but Otual ’s influence threatened me. It had to be burned away, his memory tarnished. While he lived, he inspired the king to independent thought. Worse, they’d have been stronger together. I need Sagen weak and pliable, swayed by my ideas. Mine alone. Jon had to die… and is now dead.”

Caileagh pressed her body against Gaelib’s. “But dear, I’ve had a vision. He survived.” She circled him slowly, her fingers tracing across his collar. “You should’ve let me keep him.” She brushed her hair away from her face. “He’ll be your undoing.”

“Ha!” Gaelib stepped away, his mood cool and distant. He embraced her again. “If he survives, Otual’s devotions and petty godling are no match for the God of this Age. The reputation we’ve constructed for him and the reward we’re offering will lead to his capture.” He slowly massaged her shoulders. “You know I would prefer that we use him also.”

She pursed her lips, purring, “Then, I shall forgive you, eventually. Your recklessness is creating enemies. Worse, they’re organizing. I’ve just had the most exhausting experience ripping secrets from some fool named Frink. He should have been named Fink, babbled endlessly of some hidden cabal of farmwives, tinkers, and candlemakers. He even tried to tell me the group was led by Otual’s wife.”

“That’s absurd. She’s nothing.”

“I agree. Sadly, the babbling fool was willing to spout any nonsense at the end. Anything to prolong his wretched life. I indulged him as his screams were beautiful. But I tired of them, so handed him to my torturers to practice upon. They said he lasted an entire day.”

“Did he provide any more intelligence?”

“Nothing worthwhile. Yet somehow, he knew of the defilement of my Sanctuary in the Bloody Rocks. Again, he tried to blame Mistress Otual. I doubt it’s true. Even so, it will add spice to the knight’s end. I think you’ll enjoy what I have planned for him.”

Gaelib smiled, grabbing her tightly. “Soon, the king will have an heir, and we’ll finish him also.” He threw her on the chaise, and they played.

 

Farr Castle – The King’s Private Chambers

On the other side of the castle, the king silently prayed for Jon’than. “Please Lord, protect my friend. Give him strength and let him understand that I aided him as much as I could. I know I still assist your adversary, but please hear my prayer. Save Jon. And… help me if you can.”

Sagen cried bitterly. It had become ever clearer as his spy had investigated that the extent of Melazera’s corruption was even greater than he’d imagined. Worse, it was still spreading.

I raised him up. Twenty years ago, I advocated for him to be Rothbard’s apprentice. It’s my fault that my father and Old Rothbard are dead.

Day and night, he strategized, seeking a way out.

His power has grown to the point where he can do almost anything… in secret. Once I have an heir, he’ll kill me.

Sagen pulled the curtains around his bed and slipped a small leatherbound book from its hiding place. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God….”

He prayed and read, and prayed and read until it was time for his supper. When the attendants arrived, he returned the Book of J’shua to its hiding place.

After supper, he dressed for the Procession of Eligible Ladies. These had traveled great distances. He’d rejected the first twenty.

Another notice seeking young women of marriageable age had been sent to all the noble houses. The new applicants had been screened by a council of noble dowagers. He knew each of these noble ladies genuinely wanted to find him a wholesome bride. Yet, who they were given to test was heavily influenced by Melazera and his staff.

Each procession contained five ladies. The king could pick one, dismissing the others. Then he would court the young lady, with chaperones in attendance. If he proposed, she would remain in the castle in a private chamber. Attendants trained in proper royal decorum would then instruct her.

Melazera won’t be patient much longer. If I don’t choose soon, he’ll pick someone for me. Then I’ll be doubly ensnared.

 

Farr Castle – Steward’s Hall

Gaelib’s smile broadened as Stev’n entered, exactly on time. “Before dinner and other pleasures, there’s a matter to dispose of. You must recapture Jon’than Otual. He’s escaped. Caileagh,” he sighed, “won’t be happy until she has him.”

“Yes, my Lord. Is there intelligence on him?”

“Here’re the sightings for the last year.” Gaelib handed over a rolled parchment.

“He’ll not get away.”

“Alive. Wound him if needs must, but he must be alive. There’ll also be a reward: 2,000 alive or 500 dead.”

“Dead?” Blackhawk’s eyebrow rose quizzically, as it had done when he was a boy.

Gaelib smiled at the pleasant endearing sight.

“I must offer both, it’s the law. Plus, the cowards that’ll settle for 500… Let’s just say their failures are another way to track him. Jon’s been studying the sword since he was a boy. Read the reports. Don’t underestimate him. Bring him to me in secret and I’ll triple the reward, just for you. No one must know he’s here. I’ll not have Caileagh disappointed again. That means I don’t want the king or others interfering.”

“As you wish.”

 

Woods – Outside Farr Castle

Alb’rt admired the knight, but knew very little of the way of J’shua. Yet he prayed for a quick recovery.

He’d enlisted to reduce the burden on his parents, who had trouble feeding his six siblings. At ten, he’d made his older brother, Benjamin, take him to the Fairness Crossing garrison. There, Ben had accepted the enlistment bounty so the family could buy seed. Many of the crops had failed that year.

He was in his sixteenth year now.

I suppose it’s a poor man’s apprenticeship.

The knight slept uneasily, moaning with every movement.

Stories of Otual were rampant among the militet. Here was a man unlike Greysun in every way. He was honorable, courageous, and brave. Even in the most infamous tales told of him, he bested his foes, risked his own skin, and stood for a consistent – if outlawed – set of values.

In contrast, Greysun was capricious, self-serving, and mean. He blamed his failures on others, kept all glory for himself, and delighted in inflicting pain.

Alb’rt kept watch throughout the day. The knight had asked to be woken at the darkest stage of twilight. “Sir Otual, it’s time.”

“Thank you,” Jon’than acknowledged, rolling onto his back, brushing the leaves from his chest. “I feel… better.” Yet, he panted as he rose to his feet.

“I wish you’d ride a horse, sir. It’s a long way to town.”

“I can make it. It would be hard to miss a military horse ridden by a commoner. I can be inconspicuous at this hour as a stumbling drunk.”

Alb’rt frowned in worry, but said nothing. Words wouldn’t dissuade a man with such conviction. Nor someone who could best the venomous Greysun while still tied to a horse.

“I will return well before dawn. If I do not, leave while it is still gray. Go to the Lion & Tiger Inn, midway on the High-Fairness Road. Repeat it.”

“The Lion & Tiger Inn, midway on the High-Fairness Road. Yes, sir.”

“Tell the owner what happened.”

Alb’rt handed the knight his waterskin, who took a long drink and handed it back. “You should take it.”

Otual shook his head. “No, you keep it. It is a cool night. I will be fine.”

“I insist.” Alb’rt looped the water over the knight’s shoulder. “Safe travels, sir.”

The knight nodded and hobbled toward town.

Jon’than slowly climbed the stairs to the daikon’s room and knocked. No one answered. He could not wait, so he entered and gathered his things.

One of Lafferty’s shirts was hung out to dry. Feeling guilty for doing so, Jon took it, scribbled a brief apology, and left six baden in its place. He wished he had more to give.

“Be well, Lafferty, Daikon Paul. Father, watch over them.”

He shuffled his way back to the woods, finding Alb’rt easily. “We need to hide your uniform, so I brought this.” He held out the oversized shirt he’d borrowed.

“Wear that? I’ll swim in it.”

“Belt it around you, as if it were a hand-me-down. What could be less like a soldier than clothes that don’t fit?”

Alb’rt’s mouth opened, but no sounds emerged. Then he nodded and donned the garment, making him look even younger than the boy-man he was.

“I need to rest and recover, but that will have to wait until we reach my friend’s inn.”

It would take two weeks to ride to the Lion & Tiger, even with the extra horse. They traveled through the wilderness, avoiding the roads and others, but encountered James of the Wood who insisted on feeding them, then convinced Jon’than to remain until truly well enough to travel.

It was a tonic to Jon’s soul to see how well the boys were thriving. It also pleased him that they welcomed Alb’rt. The stress and worry that had marked the lad’s face fell away as the days passed.

When fit enough to win the argument with James about traveling, Jon’than and Alb’rt continued on to the Lion & Tiger.

There, Jon’than introduced Alb’rt to Daryl Andrews, the proprietor, and his daughters, Charmaine and Missy. Daryl was an alias. His friend, Will’am Miles, had taken the name of his dead brother-in-law when he was led by the spirit to remain home after their last mission together. Will’am too was hunted by the soldiers of the Lord of Lorness.

While Jon’than slept and healed, Daryl showed Alb’rt how to alter the royal brands on their horses and change their tack, so it no longer looked military.

It was four moons before they left for the elders’ meeting at Dunis Glen in Spring.

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