Rare Things for a Rare Life

The Knights of J'shua

by Tiana Dokerty © 1984-2021

Home | Chapter 19 | Chapter 21

Chapter 20: Assassination’s Aftermath – 153 AK, Winter

Fourth Runic Precept of the Alte Regieren: Act decisively, remaining unseen.

Updated 9/27/22

 

South of Caswell

R’bekah, as T’mas Bekh, rode out ahead of her six wagons, their drivers, and three outriders.

As usual, she was trying to spot James and his boys – well, more than boys now – before they spotted her. And as usual, she failed. Although, having James ride up beside her was a first.

“Welcome back, Mr. Bekh.” He grinned.

“James, the horse is new. I didn’t know you could ride.”

“Several of us can. We’ve been teaching others. What’s hidden amongst those wagonloads for us?”

R’bekah beamed. “Hidden? Nothing… it’s all for you. Plus, I finally have news about more than a handful of names. Some of you can safely go home.”

James halted his horse. “The content of all six wagons is… for us?”

“Yes, the lot.” She stopped her horse beside his. “Everything from new clothes to cooking utensils, to tools, to weapons. There are even some prototype swords from a craftsman in Esthlanis. Let me know what you need. I’ll get it for you in only a handful of weeks.”

He hesitated, “There is something.”

“What?”

“Several of us want to train as Knights of J’shua. We may be a bit older than traditional candidates but, with the Fellowship branded illegal, if there’s somewhere we could train, we’d like to.”

T’mas paused. “There may be a way…”

 

Farr Castle – Steward’s Hall

Gaelib was working on the kingdom’s finances. Papers were scattered before him, cluttering his desk. Scribes were taking notes. Servants poured more wine, refilled ink troughs, and other things he took no notice of. He’d just dismissed a Black Robe, sending the fellow to High Castle with today’s letters, when King Sagen strode into the Steward’s Hall.

His Majesty’s eyes were narrowed. His fists clenched. His stare was icy. “Find out who was behind this!”

The Lord of Lorness didn’t have to be told what the king was referring to. It could only be the queen’s snake bite. “Behind it?

“There’ve never been snakes in the garden before. Three have been found, plus a bag containing snake scat in the rose bed. This was attempted murder.”

“I’ll use every resource to–”

“Don’t give me words!” The king swept the papers from the steward’s desk. Ink bottles, a goblet of wine and several writing instruments went with them. “Get me results. If you can’t, I’ll find a steward who can.”

“She was a delightful girl–” Melazera demurred.

“She’s not dead yet,” Sagen snarled, “despite rumors otherwise. If she dies and you haven’t delivered the culprit, I’ll have your head on a pike as an example for the next person who thinks of failing me!”

“I—”

“I wasn’t finished. You are to find her killer. I’ve sent for Commander Ta’ler. Provide all evidence to him. Nod if you understand me.”

Melazera did so.

The king stormed away, his intensity that of a living thunderclap.

Gaelib was stunned. This could ruin everything. If it had been an assassination attempt, and it must have been, Caileagh was behind it.

Her superstitious vision about a sword and a golden queen. Sheisse! Worse still, the king’s accusation was heard by servants. Rumors of my potential demise will flood the castle.

He gestured for mess to be cleaned up as drew his dagger and toyed with it.

This is worse than meeting his fiancé in front of the dowagers. The king is even more enraged. He could something… unpredictable. Sheisse!

He wanted to think through the problem, but there was no time. If the queen died, so would he. If he didn’t resolve this fast, he’d appear weak. All his supporters could desert him. And, no matter how quickly he cleared his name, it would cost him allies.

This was a disaster.

Surging to his feet, he roared, “Send for my wife! At once! I don’t care what she’s doing. I want her brought to my apartments, now! If necessary, have guards drag her there.”

Gaelib gestured for another Black Robe to approach. “Send a messenger to Ge’rge Rosewud at Lorness, I require his presence forthwith.”

 

Farr Castle – Gaelib’s Chambers

Caileagh took her time responding to her husband’s summons. The guards who’d found her had gone pale when they saw what she was doing. Their reactions made her laugh. Their blustering demands ad made her dawdle. She wasn’t some servant to be ordered around.

When she finally arrived in his apartment, Gaelib was patrolling the room looking for something more to break. There wasn’t much left. “Where’ve you been?”

“I was in my lower chamber making your favorite drink, love.” Caileagh offered him the cup, which he slapped from her hand. “What’s the matter?”

His eyes narrowed.

“The queen’s dying, could do so at any moment. If she dies, I die. I know you ordered her death. Give me the perpetrator, or I’ll let you incur the king’s wrath.”

“But Gaelib,” she pressed her body against his.

He shoved her away. “Don’t ‘but’ me! If the queen dies, I die!”

“You’re frightening me,” She fluttered her lashes.

Gaelib glared. “The choice is simple. Hand me the perpetrator or take his place.”

“I… that is… he’s already been killed.”

“Explain.” He fingered the dagger at his belt.

“I used Kiepert to arrange things and do the deed,” she confessed as she knelt before him, her hands together in supplication. “His docent killed him and ensured Kiepert would be implicated. But if the docent’s taken alive–”

Gaelib towered over her. “If he dies by anyone but the king’s hand, my head will adorn a pike beside his. As will yours. If you’re implicated, I’ll not raise a finger to protect you. You’ve threatened my position. You’ll see how inaccurate your visions are. No golden queen will doom you. I will.”

Caileagh blanched. Her mind raced. Physical seduction wasn’t working, perhaps… “I did it protect you. The queen and those around her are too nosy. They could discover your plans, undermining you. I couldn’t let that continue.”

“Not a bad effort.” Gaelib sneered. “You did this for yourself. Your visions come true only half the time, if that. You’ll not take action on them again, ever, without my permission. Even if I survive, this has weakened me. Do you understand?”

She nodded. “It won’t happen again, my lord. What if… if I could produce another who’d killed the perpetrator? Then Kiepert could still be blamed.”

“And how will this ‘witness’ stand up under torture? I won’t control his questioning. Are you trying to put both of our heads on a block?”

“Oh…”

“Bring me the docent! Immediately!”

 

Traveling South

Jon’than had slipped away from Dunis Glen with six young knights, leading them first into Esthlanis. They’d traveled to the Shining Mountains, following the Tarin River. There, he’d left them with the daikons of the School.

He traveled to wherever he was guided.

In Esthlanis, he briefed their Premier and Mathu, who was still his Steward, about what had occurred and how it was being portrayed in Freislicht. It was essential the trust he’d established with them be maintained. Mathu gifted him a stunning bay mare.

Two later, Jon’than was north of Alexandria. He pulled his cloak tighter against an icy wind. His new mount, Ruby, blew softly and he scratched her neck. Tears welled up when he tried to picture his daughter in her sixteenth year. She’d be thinking about boys now. And they would be thinking about her.

I know I will find them when I least expect, Lord.

No matter where he was directed him to go, he sought R’bekah and Sar’h.

When he saw the glade where he’d first met James of the Wood and his brothers, he felt moved to find them. He made no attempt to be discreet. He knew they were good at hiding and wondered if they might appear.

Perhaps they have gone home.

A twig snapped.

James hoped the knight would be proud of the progress they’d made. Their camps blended into the deepest woods all around Freislicht. In fact, they had camps within five miles of every major town in the country. This one was closest to Caswell. It was three years since the knight had trained them to survive.

He’d sent several boys to follow Sir Otual. His only instruction was, “Don’t get caught.”

They were only gone a few hours when the knight walked in leading his horse.

“Sir Otual, welcome!”

“Hallo, James.” Jon’than embraced the young man. “You look fit.”

“I’d hoped we’d be harder to find.”

“When you have been out in the wilderness as long as I, it is easy to see the tiniest sign. Yet, I never saw any boys shadowing me. They did well. I suspected they were watching, but never spotted them.” He waved at the other lads in the camp, who’d stopped doing things to greet him.

“Come. Have some rabbit.” James motioned for the knight to enter a structure built within a cluster of trees. It was warm within. “A number have been able to return home. We’ve another helper, a traveler who brings us news from time to time.’

“That is wonderful. I am glad some families have been reunited.”

“This friend had a very good year. He recently brought us all sorts of provisions: clothing, tools, pots, pans and even some swords. They had these handles on them which didn’t work for us.” James drew a bell-shaped object out of a sack and handed it to the knight.

Jon’than examined it, turning it this way and that. Then he noticed a spot of firelight was reflected onto the enclosure’s walls. “That is odd,” he mused. “I have never seen anything focus light like that.”

James laughed, “How interesting.

Jon tossed it to James. who dropped it in the bag.

“Have you ever encountered T’mas Bekh? He helped locate some of our parents. He seems to know you.”

“I do not recognize the name.”

“He’s a plow salesman.”

 

Farr Castle – Outside the Queen’s Chambers

It had been two days since the queen had been bitten. There’d been no change in her condition. Her breathing was shallow as if asleep, but she wouldn’t wake. The physicians had no explanation, other than to shake their heads, offer commiserations, and make dire predictions.

King Sagen was considering stringing up Gaelib by his big toes, preferably naked, covered in honey to dangle above an anthill. At which point, he’d have the entire Court watch his steward’s glacially slow demise.

Sadly, there was no such anthill and, as yet, Melazera hadn’t – quite – given the king sufficient reason for such extreme action. Still, it was one of only two distractions that offset anxiety for Melyssa. The other was watching Gaelib’s fear grow hour by hour.

 “Your Majesty,” a bedraggled but alert Major Blackhawk greeted the king outside the Queen’s Chambers. The man hadn’t left his station even once. “Commander Ta’ler has arrived and is within. He reports that he’s done as you commanded. High Castle is secure. He will make whatever apologies are necessary – if they ever become so – whenever you require. He’s also brought the items you requested. What are your commands, Sire?”

“Find my steward, have him attend me in the Main Hall, immediately. Wait with him. Don’t tidy your uniform, nor comb your hair. I want you to appear as you are now. Impose upon the Lord of Lorness the urgency of this summons.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

“Send pages to gather the Royal Court in one hour. Advise them I’ve something grave to announce. Use those exact words. No more. No less.”

Blackhawk’s eyebrow rose.

“You have a question, Major?” The king allowed a smile to play across his lips.

“Yes, Sire. You want your steward in the Main Hall immediately, but the Court won’t convene for an hour?”

“Correct. I want Melazera standing alone, beside you, when every courtier arrives. I want him to sweat. More, I want him isolated from his spies and informers so he has no idea what’s coming. ”

Blackhawk frowned. “He’ll be extremely unhappy about my actions—”

“You’re doing as your king commands, as he’ll learn to do. I can’t unravel his schemes in a single afternoon, but can derail many of them,” Sagen concluded, praying that he hadn’t misjudged the major. If he had, that too would soon be evident.

 

Farr Castle – Steward’s Hall

Gaelib felt wrung out. Despite his demands and threats, Caileagh had yet to provide a viable assassin. She had provided Kiepert’s docent. However, even the most minor questioning had demonstrated he’d break under torture. Blast him, he’d broken under the threat of torture. No, not even that. He’d broken at its mere mention.

The knock at the door announcing Blackhawk was a welcome respite, or should have been. Stev’n looked gaunt, exhausted… and worried.

Has the queen died?

“My Lord.” Stev’n bowed. He was so tired the movement lacked its usual grace. “I am commanded by King Sagen to escort you to the Main Hall immediately. If I may be so bold…?”

“Go ahead, Stev’n,” Gaelib urged, his heart in his throat.

“The king is in an… odd… mood. He was smiling. It wasn’t a pleasant expression.”

Melazera considered his options.

Refusing to go would doom him. Even if the king didn’t retaliate, many more of Lorness’ allies would desert him as a coward.

Then again, fleeing to his estates might prolong his life… for a time. He had the Black Robes. It would cost him many allies, but there were others who couldn’t abandon him, not and expect to retain their reputations given their exotic tastes and illegal activities.

“Give me a moment to change, Stev’n. I am not presentable.” Gaelib gestured at the outfit he wore, which was finer than anything in the king’s possession.

“I apologize most humbly, my Lord, but I was followed by several pages who saw me enter your chamber. I strongly suspect one or more of them will be reporting the fact to His Majesty as we speak. Given his… mood… delaying might not be the most auspicious choice at your disposal.”

Gaelib paused. Perhaps this wasn’t the moment to provoke His Majesty. “Lead on, Stev’n. Given the king’s urgency, I’m sure he’ll forgive my lack of sartorial elegance, just this once.”

Stev’n’s stride was martial and all too swift for Melazera’s liking. However, given the glances, stares and other looks cast their way, perhaps it was for the best.

 

Farr Castle – Main Hall

Caileagh arrived just too late. Gaelib and Stev’n were walking briskly away. She wondered where they were going, the Court wouldn’t assemble for another hour.

Not that she was particularly interested in chasing after them.

Gaelib was becoming increasingly unmanageable, unruly and independent. His threats over the queen’s fate were nonsense. Worse, they were rude and ignored all she’d done for him. It was her visions that had guided him this far. Just as she’d seen many, many of his successes, which continued to stretch off into the future. He wouldn’t die at the king’s hands. Certainly not in the next few days.

Although, she did wonder at the rumors flooding the Court. So many of them were not of her making, nor even under her control.

As for Stev’n, she hadn’t seen that trapped-between-two-devils expression since he was very, very small. She wondered who the other devil was. One of them obviously being Gaelib. A funny thought struck her.

Could it be the king?

That was so outlandish, so extraordinary, she laughed out loud. The young monarch might act out periodically, but was nothing more than a pawn of the God of this Age.

Having time to waste, she refreshed herself, ate something light, and walked serenely toward the Main Hall so she’d arrive there with a few minutes to spare.

The queen will soon be dead, if she isn’t already, nullifying the prophecy.

Caileagh entered the Main Hall to find it already packed. Oddly, Gaelib and Stev’n were standing alone. Far enough away from everyone else that it’d be impossible to speak to them without raising one’s voice.

What’s going on?

A herald preceded Sagen, bringing the Royal Court to order.

As he took his place on the throne, the king’s expression darkened. “My lords, ladies and gentlemen, I have dire news for you all.”

Caileagh’s heart leapt for joy.

“This morning, Commander Ta’ler arrived from High Castle. Some of you may have noted the speed with which he approached and the size of the escort he brought with him.”

What? No, the queen’s dead, must be.

“The attempted rebellion, which we had all thought put down at Dunis Glenn in late summer, is not over.”

No, no, this is wrong.

“Prompted by the attempted murder of the queen, who lingers this side of death, I...”

No!

“…had my senior military commanders undertake certain urgent investigations. The results were even more shocking than I could’ve imagined. The Black Robes, those trusted bureaucrats who have been a boon to our country over the last twenty years, have been infiltrated by schemers, rebels, and revolutionaries.”

Mutters, hisses, and rumbling arose from the court as nobles looked askance at their servants, seeking someone to blame.

Despite knowing the innocent and guilty, Cailleagh delighted in the confusion thus caused. It was glorious.

How best to turn this to my advantage? Who might now be vulnerable?

The Royal Herald slammed the butt of his staff into the stone floor, commanding silence.

“As I was saying,” the king continued, “the Black Robes have been infiltrated by a very small number of such traitors. Commander Ta’ler is confident he’s identified and isolated all of them at High Castle. However, as a precaution and with my royal blessings, he’s detaining every Black Robe—”

Again, the king’s voice was interrupted.

Again, the Royal Herald hammered down his staff.

“And will keep them detained only until cleared of wrongdoing. As I speak, Commander Ta’ler has sealed this castle. If, as happened at High Castle, you encounter a Black Robe who’s discarded their identifying garb, it’s your duty as good subjects of this kingdom to report them. I won’t ask any of you to risk your persons by trying to detain them, but such behavior screams their guilt…”

No-o-o-o-o-o!

“…and must be dealt with in the harshest possible terms. At High Castle plans were uncovered to kill several of my nobles or their heirs, just as there was an attempt on the queen’s life here…” King Sagen’s voice trailed off and his gaze shifted to Gaelib.

“My loyal Lord of Lorness,” the monarch continued, “I have done you a disservice. Worse, I have done the kingdom a disservice. Eager to have you ever at my side, I’ve kept you from your domain. Had I not, I’m sure your keen intellect and insight into such matters would have discovered that the Dunis Glenn Massacre wasn’t the end of the plots against us. That the knights’ cowardly slaughter of hundreds of my citizens was merely a foretaste of what’s to come.

“Therefore, first, I publicly thank you for your unfailing devotion to me and to my father before me. I couldn’t have asked more of a Royal Steward.

“Second, I apologize to you for the brusque impolite ways that I’ve addressed you over these last few days. Fear of losing my queen drove me to say things I shall regret for many years to come.

“Third, as acknowledgment of the wrongs I have done you and of the unparalleled service you have given to my kingdom, I wish to demonstrate my faith in you. Step forward, Gaelib, Earl of Lorness. Kneel before me.”

Caileagh wasn’t sure if she wanted to scream or jump for joy.

Could this be happening?

Melazera did as instructed.

A gasp went through the court, as the Royal Sword of State was handed to the king.

Sagen took the bejeweled two-handed sword and raised its point to the heavens. Then, in a smooth downward motion, lowered its tip so that it touched Gaelib’s left shoulder and then his right. “Arise, Gaelib, Duke of Lorness. By my authority as King of Freislicht, I extend the lands under your domain, for you and for the generations that follow you. All hail the Duke of Lorness!”

Caileagh felt her knees give way as she fainted.

Just before the castle’s gates closed, three final wagons were permitted to exit. Drawn by oxen, they were nothing special. The drivers were old, tired, and smelled enough that even the guards stayed upwind.

Within the center wagon, its load covered by a makeshift tarpaulin, lay the queen on a bed of straw. A physician and two ladies-in-waiting huddled beside her.

On rooftops along their route out of Farr, archers sought out any targets that might pose a threat. Their orders were to shoot to disable, if possible. To shoot to kill, if necessary. But no one was to get within a horse-length of any of the wagons.

Just beyond Farr, the second contingent brought by Commander Ta’ler took up escort positions after transferring the queen into a Royal Coach.

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