Rare Things for a Rare Life

The Knights of Joshua

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:

 

Farr Castle – Main Hall

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

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

Sagen called the herald to him. “Bring me Jonathan O’Toole’s record. I wish to read his statement.” When the man returned, he accepted the parchment, then dismissed that servant as well.

As he read it, inspiration struck.

The Lord wants to heal the Land. He’s heard my prayers. I’ve many times used the exact words that Jonathan 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. And to pray to walk in love.

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

Geleib tried to turn me against Jonathan with false witnesses, but I know Jonathan O’Toole. 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 Geleib was not yet ready to move against him openly. However, that conclusion was based upon the role of ‘easily guided king’ that he’d been playing. 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 trying to control the future.

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

I will sing in the spirit a war song and a love song. There is nothing more potent than the Love of God in Joshua Ha Mashiach. I repent, Lord. I will trust in your sacrifice, Joshua, 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 Jonathan arrived. It allowed me to prepare.”

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

“Play me something uplifting.”

 

Farr Castle – Stables

Jon could not lift his foot to the stirrup, so the groom knelt and motioned for him to step on his thigh. “Thank you,” Jonathan responded. It was awkward and painful, but he mounted.

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

Captain Greyson took the horse’s reins.

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

Jonathan prayed for escape. Clearly, Greyson planned to kill him.

I have until we are out of sight, perhaps until we enter the woods.

His head was clearing, and his strength returning. He smiled. It was not his day to die, for he found a short blade concealed in the saddle.

Thank you, Sagen.

Jon waited for an opening, while cutting through the rope binding his hands.

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

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

Jonathan slashed.

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

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

The militet froze.

Urging his horse away from the dying Captain, Jonathan 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 Greyson, I’m dead. If I fight, I’m also dead. If you will have me, I am your servant.” The youth bowed.

“What is your name, boy?”

“Albert Whitcomb, 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. Albert, would you help me down?”

 

Farr Castle – Interrogation Chamber

Cynthia fell to the floor, ripping the iridescent green silk dress she’d been clad in. Under different circumstances, she might 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, trying to be invisible. She numbly sat 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,” Cynthia begged.

The figures were dressed in plain clothes, not uniforms. “Miss, we won’t hurt you,” the taller one soothed. “We’re followers of Joshua 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 again.

Hours later, the wagon pulled off the road and stopped. The cover was pulled back, and they helped Cynthia out.

“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.”

“D’you know where to find him?”

“Not 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 now, 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.

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 would be wanted for helping her to escape.

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

 

Farr Castle – Geleib’s Chambers

Lady Melazera barged into her husband’s bedchamber. “Geleib!” But he was not 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. Her eyes narrowed like a snake ready to strike. “Banished?” She snarled. “I’ve plans for the knight. You know that.”

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

Cailleagh broke free of his embrace, shoving him away. “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 O’Toole’s existence threatened me. His influence had to be burned away, his very memory tarnished. While he lived, he inspired the king to independent thought. Worse, they would have been stronger together. I need Sagen weak and pliable, swayed by my ideas… and mine alone. So, Jon had to die… and is now dead.”

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

Geleib stepped away, his mood cool and distant. “O’Toole’s devotions and petty godling are no match for the God of this Age. If he survives, the reputation we’ve constructed for him and the reward we’re offering will lead to his capture. Speak no more about him. I’ll instruct Blackhawk to find him for you.”

“Then, I forgive you,” she purred. “I think you’ll enjoy what I have planned for the knight as much as I.”

Geleib smiled, grabbing her tightly. He considered telling her of the other O’Toole that he had in his hands, but decided not to. That was for his amusement alone. “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 Jonathan. “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 serve your adversary, but please hear my prayer. Save Jon. And… help me if you can.”

Sagen cried bitterly. It became ever clearer that Melazera was evil, and the extent of that corruption was greater than he could have 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 great, to the point where he can do almost anything… in secret. Once I have an heir… he will 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 Joshua 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

Geleib’s smile broadened as Steven entered, exactly on time. “Before dinner and other pleasures, there is matter must dispose of. You must recapture Jonathan O’Toole. He’s escaped. Cailleagh has plans for him,” he sighed. “She’ll not be happy until she has him.”

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

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

“Thank you, my Lord. He’ll not get away.”

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

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

“I must offer both, it’s the law. Plus, the cowards that’ll settle for 500… Let’s just say that their failures are another way to track him. Jon has been studying the sword since he was a boy. Read the reports and do not 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 Cailleagh disappointed a second time. That means, I do not want the king or others interfering in her plans.”

“As you wish, my Lord.”

“And now, it’s time for dinner.”

 

Woods – Outside Farr Castle

Albert admired the knight, but knew very little of the way of Joshua. He prayed anyway for the former prisoner’s 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 O’Toole were rampant among the militet. Here was a man, unlike Commandant Greyson in every way. He was honorable, courageous, and brave. Even in the 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, Greyson was capricious, self-serving and mean. He blamed his failures on others, kept all glory for himself, and delighted in inflicting pain.

Albert kept watch throughout the day. The knight had asked to be woken at the darkest stage of twilight. “Sir O’Toole, it is time.”

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

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

“I can make it.”

Albert frowned in worry, but said nothing. Words would not dissuade a man with such conviction. Nor someone who could best the venomous Greyson 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.”

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

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

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

The knight nodded and walked toward town.

Jonathan 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 Albert 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?”

Albert’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 took two weeks to get to the Lion & Tiger. They traveled through the wilderness, avoiding the roads and others, but encountered James of the Wood. He insisted on feeding them, then that Jonathan 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 Albert as one of them. 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 his fitness to travel, Jonathan and Albert continued on to the Lion & Tiger.

There, Jonathan introduced Albert to Daryl Andrews, the proprietor, and his daughters, Charmaine and Missy. While Jonathan slept and healed, Daryl showed Albert 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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