Rare Things for a Rare Life

The Knights of J'shua

by Tiana Dokerty © 2022

Home | Chapter 17 | Chapter 19

Chapter 18: The Lady 153 AK, Late Autumn

Proverbs 31:10 Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies.

Updated 9/19/22

 

Mestelina – The Border Inn

No one was about. Dinner was over and the drinking hadn’t started yet. The Inn’s proprietor, Terrance, was wiping the last table when a sobbing distraught Cynthia rushed in, wild-eyed and frantic. The dress she wore was gaudy and provocative, unlike anything he’d expect of her.

“Cynthia?! How’d —”

Upon spotting him, she darted into his arms, clasping him tightly.

He doubted he could pry her off without hurting her. Not that he wanted to try.

Words poured out of her, impossible to follow, little more than sobs and mumbles. “They tricked… I tried… Then he… cut my… the dark…”

The two men who entered the bar drew Terrance’s immediate dislike. Gently, he separated himself from Cynthia, preparing to defend her. Only to be caught off guard when she turned, saw them, and a momentary brightness appeared on her face.

“This… Baldwin… half-brother, Cain,” she said almost clearly. The not-quite-smile on her face was painful to witness. “…wouldn’t… escaped… without.” Every shuddering breath drowned by tears and sniffles. “Would you… find Dav’d?

Still distrustful, but concealing his doubts for Cynthia’s benefit, he addressed them. “Thank you, sirs.” Then he shook both men’s hands. “I’d give you the best room in the inn, but I’ve only one available–”

“We understand,” Baldwin cut in. “It must go to the lady. We insist.”

Terrance nodded, then smiled at the panic-stricken woman. “I’m sorry, gentlemen, that only leaves fresh straw in the barn.”

“Fine for us,” Baldwin replied too readily.

Cain nodded, adding his acceptance.

They don’t look anything alike.

Their response didn’t sit with Terrance. There was no explanation of how they’d helped her, no questions about what should happen next. It was as if they were hiding something. Yet, they weren’t his immediate concern. He beckoned Donna over. “Cynthia, I don’t know if you recall my youngest daughter.”

“Y-yes, of course. You’ve… grown.”

Witnessing Cynthia struggle with such common civilities sent flashes of anger and compassion through him. “Donna, take our guest up to Room 5. See she’s settled and address all her immediate needs. All of them. Once she’s comfortable, fetch your mother. Cynthia will need someone familiar nearby.”

“Yes, Father.” The girl curtsied, took Cynthia’s forearm, and led her up the stairs.

The brothers frowned, their gazes trailing after the woman they’d rescued.

“Everything’ll be fine,” Terrance soothed. “Have you eaten? Would you have something to drink? It’s on the house.”

“We could eat and drink,” Baldwin acknowledged.

Terrance poured each an ale, then went into the kitchen, encountering one of his sons. “D’ren, fetch a watchman to ride for Mestelina, find Sir Dav’d, and deliver this note.” He scrawled an encoded message.

Returning with bowls of hot soup, he set them before the two men. “This should warm you. Tell me what happened…”

Cynthia had stayed composed by sheer anger. It was the only thing keeping her going. Seeing Terrance undid her. Emotions flooded through her, threatening to swamp her.

I want to kill the soldiers… slowly.

I want the lord that watched to suffer everything I did… and more.

I want the beast that befouled me… to… to… I want him to die, but it must take forever so he endures a hundredfold what I did. No, a thousand.

Shaking with rage, Cynthia ripped off the dress, gleefully tearing seams and shredding cloth. It was a reminder of…

“Shall I wash and mend your clothes?” Donna asked, bringing hot water for a bath.

“Burn it!” Cynthia snarled.

The serving girl backed away, eyes wide. “I… have I offended, lady?”

“Wait! I’m sorry. I can’t – won’t – explain. Destroy that so nothing remains. Not a single thread.”

“As you wish, ma’am.” Donna scooped up the offending pile and ran out, returning with clean clothes, including a muslin shift. “Call me if you need anything.”

Cynthia lay in the tub a long time, scrubbing her skin hard, trying to remove the touch of the monster that had…

As she washed, she thanked God he’d not entered her. It was the only indignity she’d been spared. At least, she’d no fear of a child from the ordeal.

Forcing her mind away from those memories, she wondered about the perverted man who’d directed things. It was in Farr Castle. It wasn’t the king. A noble? That putrid depraved creature had called her rapist ‘Blackhawk’.

Lord, grant me vengeance. I know who I want dead first, but he won’t be the last.

She thought back to how she’d been duped.

Cynthia was on her way home, laden with purchases and provisions, when she heard the voice of a young child.

“Please!” A girl begged. “Someone, anyone, help me. My brother fell. He’s hurt.”

It was late in the day. There was no one else about. As a woman of faith, there was no choice but to respond. She left the trail and strode into the brush.

With the girl’s pitiful cries getting ever louder, Cynthia stepped into a small clearing to see, not a child, but a young woman making those pleas.

She gasped as a dirty sour rag covered her nose and mouth.

She bent her knees and submerged herself entirely in the warm water, pushing away the memory that came next: waking, bound and shivering on the cold stone floor of a dungeon.

The water’s pleasant, soothing quiet almost drowned out the frivolity from the tavern below. It also drowned her screams…

…and…

She shot upright, desperate to breathe, inhaling deeply. Realizing she’d almost let her grief end her life, she exclaimed, “In the name of J’shua Ha Mashiach, demons leave!”

She forced herself to remember the Lord and her rage.

I will be avenged.

She stepped out of the tub.

 

Farr Castle – Main Hall

The king watched his five potential wives approach, sitting still as a statue on the ancient throne. One by one, each curtsied, said their name and a sentence or two about their family, and then complimented the king, his clothes, hair, jewelry, and so on. It was painful, both to watch and, Sagen suspected, to be presented so.

If I don’t find someone tonight, I’ll declare a series of balls and outings, like my father had. I’ll praise Gaelib, saying that I’d thought over his private suggestion and consider it a masterful return to tradition. Then I’ll have him spend several fortunes on it, diverting funds from the army. What’s more, I might meet someone naturally so, perhaps, mutual admiration could grow as it had with father and mother.

He listened intently to each of the girls – for they were girls – most of them petrified to approach. Even more terrified as all came from families who understood the true nature of power and the conflict brewing between the king and his steward. A conflict many expected the king to lose. Being queen was one thing. Being queen to a dead king, if she survived, was quite another.

The last girl was different. She was relaxed, displayed no fear, and had a quiet boldness. “Your Majesty, the academy you established to educate the people is a most wondrous thing. It is a true boon to the kingdom. I hope to see it one day.”

Sagen leaned forward and smiled. It was the first movement he’d made. “Thank you, Miss Locke. Regardless of tonight’s outcome, I shall ensure you do.”

“You are too kind, Your Majesty. I was very sorry to hear of the late king’s passing. It grieved me very much. It must have been excruciating for you. Please forgive my impudence, but you’ve been in my prayers.”

He suppressed a gasp before his courtiers could see his reaction, while feeling a flicker of hope.

After thanking all five ladies for presenting themselves, the girls were escorted to an antechamber to wait for their chaperones, or the dread of his company. When only Miss Locke remained, he entered.

The young woman’s chaperone was waylaid, providing precious moments of privacy.

Her name was Melyssa. She had golden hair and blue eyes. She was composed and even though she smiled only slightly, a dimple graced her left cheek. She curtseyed.

“My dear,” Sagen began, “we don’t have much time. Are you willing to be my wife?”

She lowered her eyes and bit her upper lip.

He raised his hand, forestalling her response. “Life as my queen will be distressing, even hazardous. Politics within the Royal Court are even more vile than your kinsmen will have warned you. Intrigue and danger will surround us. Nor can I promise you a child, as that could be fatal for us both.”

“Your Majesty, I am a Locke… and, I hope… you are the Key the Lord has guided me to.” Her lips curled up whimsically, as her eyelashes lowered. “I apologize, Your Majesty. It’s an old jest amongst my family. I shouldn’t have burdened you with such a pitiful attempt at humor.”

Despite the seriousness of the moment, Sagen laughed. Her authentic, humble, and almost-funny words were the final signs he’d needed.

She knows J’shua.

“It isn’t fitting that you should remain bowed before me. Rise,” he commanded and she did so. “Apart from which,” he went down on one knee, took her hand in his, and kissed it, “how can I propose when you’re bent over so? Be my wife.”

Melyssa smiled. “It shall be as you wish, Your Majesty. I swear by J’shua Ha Mashiach that I’ll be faithful and do whatever’s needed to help you.” Then she curtseyed again.

 

Mestelina – The Border Inn

Shocked and horrified, Dav’d had ridden all day to reach the Border Inn. “Where is she?” he demanded.

Terrance stopped him, gripping Dav’d by the shoulders. “Calm down. My wife’s been with her half the night. Cynthia is,” he paused, “not fine, but whole. Physically, at least. Be strong and supportive for her. I don’t know what happened. She wouldn’t tell my wife much. It was bad.”

“Two men brought her,” Terrance began, “but there’s something off about them.”

Dav’d didn’t hear the words. His only focus was his wife. “I should’ve been there. I should’ve had her with me. I thought it safer–”

“This, whatever it is, was not of your doing. When you know, tell me how I can help. Anything I have, can supply, or arrange – lawful or not – is yours.” Moved by his friend’s offer, Dav’d took a step back and, outwardly, calmed himself. “Is she awake?”

“Karlene is with her.” Terrance looked up the stairs as his wife came out.

David bounded up the stairs.

Cynthia flew into his arms, sobbing, crying, and babbling unintelligibly.

Dav’d tried to console her, helpless, not knowing what to do. With each tear, he became angrier. He wanted to ask questions, but wouldn’t risk upsetting her more. His heart broke for her. Eventually, when she was silent and clinging to him, he asked, “How can I help? Where do I take you?”

“Not to my parents. They mustn’t know… and… the lord,” she spat the word, “might seek me there.”

“Who…?” His imagination filled in all too many vile possibilities. Whoever it was, regardless of rank or position, would die.

“I don’t know.” Her voice caught. “The only name I heard was ‘Blackhawk’.”

It meant nothing to Dav’d. “I fear, love, traveling with me would be equally as dangerous, especially if some nobleman is to blame. Worse–”

“I don’t care. I want to be with you.”

“I want that, too, but…” Dav’d forced himself to admit, “alone I can’t protect you.”

“Where then?” Cynthia sobbed.

“The safest thing will be to hide you. Just for the time being. Just until this matter’s settled. Then, we’ll be together.”

“I…” His wife’s mouth was moving, silently praying. She nodded.

“My love, stay here. Daikon Terrance’ll watch over you. And Karlene can help you. I’ll return soon.”

She hugged him tighter, burying her face in his chest.

“I must talk to the men that brought you.”

He forced himself not to ask more. He waited, stroking her cheek. “I’ll not leave without saying goodbye.”

She released him and nodded.

They hadn’t been married a year yet. To be apart had been hard, but this…? Dav’d would do something about this. With a last kiss, he stood, left the room, quietly closing the door behind him, then strode down the stairs. “Where…?”

“Still in the barn,” Terrance responded. “I don’t like them, Dav’d. Be careful.”

Dav’d hadn’t paused, his purposeful strides carried him to his wife’s rescuers.

Upon seeing him, they bowed.

“Sirs, it’s I who should bow to you,” he said, doing so.

“It was our duty, sir,” Baldwin responded.

“Tell me what happened.”

Baldwin didn’t meet Dav’d’s eyes, instead stared over the knight’s shoulder. “There were rumors that… the wife of a Knight of J’shua had been arrested and…” he gulped, “had spent time with Lord Melazera in his Judgment Hall.”

Another vile name, one all too well known.

“Major Blackhawk, uh… discharged the sentence. There were guards boasting about how he’d – I’m sorry, sir – about how he’d raped your wife. They said he requested to do it again later.”

Dav’d’s fists clenched.

“So, being believers, we decided to help her. We got lucky, stole a wagon, and used it to get her out.”

Cain added, “The rumors also say, forgive me sir, rebel knights are terrorizing the countryside. Knights that,” he looked at his feet, “want to overthrow the king.”

“Rubbish,” Dav’d snapped back.

“The, uh… defilement was, according to rumor, a message to those rebels—”

“I’m no rebel. Why attack Cynthia?” Dav’d took two strides toward them.

“I don’t know, sir,” Baldwin pleaded, backing away, his hands raised defensively. “All we hear in the kitchens is gossip.”

Dav’d turned, pacing away from them, then turned back. “I know of no such rebellious knights, but know who will. Thank you.” He turned to leave, stopped, and turned back. “I’m in your debt. How can I repay you?”

“We’ve nowhere to go and cannot go home,” Cain responded. “Can we help you?”

“Do you ride? There’ll be no time for wagons.” They both nodded in answer to his question. “Get ready to leave. I need a few moments with my wife.”

“Yes, sir.”

At the suggestion of Donna’s mother, Karlene, Cynthia destroyed the dress. This is better. Cynthia’s smile grew broader with every piece she fed to the blaze. Each colorful flare was a banner, her signal fire, and her call to arms.

It smelled like burnt hair. Within her fantasy, each flame burned a man in the hall. Mostly Blackhawk, but also his lord and the others who’d watched.

She forced herself to pray for their souls, for she knew J’shua died to rescue them also. She prayed for her own soul as well, fearing it would never be restored, fearing it would be blackened by her desire for revenge.

She recognized the sound of Dav’d’s boots and the rhythm of his gait. Still, she flinched at his gentle touch. Only sinking into his arms when she saw his face, his kind eyes, his compassion, and his none-too-well-hidden pain. Even so, she couldn’t muster a smile.

“May I help?” He pointed to the dress she’d dropped.

“Let me borrow your knife. It’s difficult to rip.”

He pulled a small blade from the top of his boot. It had been a gift from her. It was also better suited to her tiny hands than the dagger sheathed at his waist. “Keep it with you, always.”

She was touched. It was fitting that he returned it now. It was a comfort. A knife to be carried out of sight, with which she could surprise an enemy. A blade balanced for fighting and throwing, both of which he’d taught her how to do.

It was well sharpened, easily slicing the skirt into long ribbons, which she fed to the flames as he watched, supporting her by just being there.

Once finished, she faced to him. “When will you return?”

“I don’t know. I must report this to the elders and hear their remedy.”

Her lip trembled as her eyes filled with tears. His arms enveloping her were all she needed, and everything she’d all-too-soon be parted from. “You must go. They’ll do this to others if…” She couldn’t complete the sentence.

He stepped back, his hands still on her shoulders, looking into her eyes. “I… know.” It was as if he’d forced the words out.

Perhaps he had, Cynthia thought.

“I’ll be back in no longer than a moon.” His voice steadied. “Sooner, if I can.”

Karlene brought her a shawl and tied it snuggly.

Cynthia wiped her eyes and nodded. “Go.”

Leaving Cynthia was the hardest thing Dav’d had ever done, or could imagine doing. Just walking out of the Inn had required all his willpower. Yet, he couldn’t stay. Others were in danger. Others would be hurt. Others would be… And she had the comfort of women. Karlene could take care of her better than I.

On top of the rage surging through him, the idea of rebel knights appalled him, adding to his ire. He had to know more before reporting to the elders at Dunis Glenn. His only thought was Drake Caswell, a good friend of his father’s, who’d kept an eye on Dav’d since his commencement, and even hosted their wedding.

Drake was the youngest son of Mardom, Earl of Caswell, the latest in an unbroken noble lineage that stretched all the way back to the reign of King Weisheit. His four older sons had joined the Royal Guard. Drake had sought the way of J’shua. As fifth in line of succession for the family title, the Earl had seen no reason to prohibit it and, so, Drake became a knight at the same time as Dav’d’s father, Jon’than.

Drake always described himself as a fair-weather knight. He had no desire to run around fighting evil, instead wanting to grow a circle into a haven and provide an environment in which peace could grow. This he’d done in Caswell. Often over a thousand people traveled great distances to attend.

The Circle of Caswell was held up as the highest example of how such a society should run. Many emulated it, their words of peace drawing more and more people. And, like Drake, those daikons also grew wealthy.

Terrance had agreed to provide rations, horses, and tack for Baldwin and Cain, in exchange for the wagon and horses they’d stolen.

When Dav’d emerged from the Inn, Baldwin was already in the saddle. Cain was struggling to mount as he smiled at Terrance, nodded to his brother, and even winked at a drunk, probably to hide his embarrassment. It was a funny sight.

Eventually the ‘experienced’ rider sat unsteadily in the saddle.

“Where to, Sir?” Baldwin enquired.

Without looking at the brothers, he spurred his horse into motion. They’d keep up or not. He had no time to worry about them.

Farr Castle – The King’s Drawing Room

Sagen paced back and forth in his chamber, wondering how Gaelib would react. Would his steward be pleased or displeased? More importantly, why?

Melazera hadn’t been in the hall to oversee the Procession or the Royal Court’s dismissal. Nor had he been in attendance when there’d been a lively argument amongst various courtiers and advisors as to how quickly the wedding should occur. Some had pushed for as little as five days. Others wanted the customary forty days. However, as the bride was a Locke and her family couldn’t reasonably be informed of the upcoming nuptials and arrive in less than twenty-five, a compromise had been agreed: thirty-nine days.

There’d been some murmurings and grumblings about the king’s choice of bride, mostly from families that had been unsuccessful. But none of the noble dowagers spoke out.

When the herald informed him that Lady Melyssa was awaiting him in the drawing-room, he had butterflies. Sagen walked briskly. He was excited. He hadn’t felt this way in years.

 

Farr Castle – Caileagh’s Chambers

Caileagh fumed. The king had found a bride. At least, Gaelib had promised, she wouldn’t be blonde so the vision that still haunted Lady Melazera couldn’t come to pass.

Shooing the servants from the room, she extracted herbs from a hidden chamber and added them to the wine she’d selected for tonight. A light mixture, it would only enhance his libido and senses, rendering him easier to manipulate.

She sighed.

This had become so complex.

It had been simple at the start when she’d drugged old Rothbard’s first apprentice. Of course, that had been a much heavier dosage. It had caused the poor boy to lust for anything beautiful he gazed upon. She laughed. The young man that the apprentice had attempted to rape had defended himself, most effectively. Then the whole matter had been hushed up, leaving an opening for Gaelib.

As for Rothbard, that old fool had eventually become too inquisitive and noticed  ‘coincidences’, requiring further action. A very-slow-acting poison, it had taken over a year for the old man to succumb. A year in which Gaelib had made himself invaluable, aiding his failing master in every aspect of the role of Royal Steward.

The memory brought a brief smile to her face. Gaelib had done exactly as she’d taught him. He’d been entertaining, helpful and complimentary. He’d even undertaken menial tasks that he’d never have performed otherwise. Yet, it had been that very willingness to do whatever was required that had endeared him to his boyhood friend, Sagen, who doted on old Rothbard.

Both Sagen’s recommendation and being noticed by King Edal had cemented Gaelib’s future. So much so, the king and the council hadn’t even considered an alternative to Gaelib becoming Rothbard’s successor.

If only things could go back to such simplicity.

Ah well, the queen only has to live long enough to produce an heir.

It was a comforting thought.

 

Farr Castle – Steward’s Hall

Melazera couldn’t believe his ears. He’d only just returned to his rooms to find a sweating, bowing messenger waiting for him. The news was…

He lashed out with a laugh, kicking over a small table holding a tray, splattering red wine over the cushions and rugs like blood, just for the sheer pleasure of it. “Tell me, I want to hear it again,” he commanded the frightened servant.

“The king chose the Locke girl, my Lord. They were briefly alone in private, minutes no longer, then King Sagen emerged and announced to all those waiting that he had found his bride.”

“Sensational!” Gaelib crowed, then registered the page was still present. “Out!”

The servant fled.

He pulled the jeweled dagger from its sheath at his side, pleased by the weight and feel of it. He turned it over and felt its sharp edge.

You’ve been with me since the start of this venture. As has the Warrior.

“Not only do the Lockes provide me with a sacrificial lamb, her dowery will dwarf any other suitable maiden’s. I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome. But…” he hesitated.

Have I overlooked anything?

The Locke girls he’d seen on his last visit to Alexandria were all healthy and wide-hipped for childbearing. That was a mystery, but he was told any girl with a shapely build could bear a child. A son. It had to be a son.

She has so many sisters.

He fretted over the possibility that she could have ten girls before she had a son.

Then the Warrior spoke to him, Girls are useful, also. Be patient.

 

Home | Chapter 17 | Chapter 19