Rare Things for a Rare Life

The Knights of J'shua Book 1

by Tiana Dokerty © 1984-2021

Home | Chapter 19 | Chapter 21

Chapter 20: Plans

Updated 2/3/23

 

Sagen – Early Summer, 154 AK – Farr Castle

More cases were brought before King Sagen. To each, he responded, “I will consider this. Return tomorrow.” Rubbing his forehead and running a hand through his hair, he commanded, “You may all retire. I wish to be alone.”

“The Royal Court is dismissed.” His chamberlain’s voice echoed through the hall.

Sagen instructed the herald, “Bring me Jonathan Otual’s record.”

When the man returned, he accepted the parchment, then dismissed that servant as well. He read his friend’s words. They warmed his heart.

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

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

Gaelib tried to turn me against Jonathan with false witnesses. But if I’d fought too hard for Jon… no, it is too soon.

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 determining loyalties and building alliances. 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 in place.

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 surrender 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, your death, and resurrection, for my people’s sake.

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

“Yes, Your Majesty.” A short, dark-haired man, wearing a blue beret and a beige silk shirt stepped into the hall. Strumming pleasant chords on his lute, his tooled knee-high boots tapped a pleasant beat.

“Thank you for alerting me when Jonathan arrived.”

“I am sorry he eluded me at the Herald’s Station. Although,” Dwain winked, “I did not let on when he followed me back to the castle.”

Sagen shook his head. “There are moments when I worry about you being too clever. Someday, it will get us both in trouble.”

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

“Play me something uplifting.”

 

Jonathan – Early Summer, 154 AK – Farr Castle

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

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

Captain Greysun took the horse’s reins.

“Whetcom, 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.

Jonathan prayed for escape.

Clearly, Greysun planned to kill him.

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

 

Owakar – Early Summer, 154 AK – Above Lorness

Owakar hesitated. He wanted to stay and help Alocrin. Cynthia was traumatized and inconsolable. So much evil thrived within Farr Castle. But Lorness was an even deeper pit of darkness and despair.

“Remember, we will win in the end.” Owakar hugged his brother.

“We shall persevere,” Alocrin replied, squeezing his shoulders.

 

Cynthia Otual – Early Summer, 154 AK – Interrogation Chamber

Cynthia fell to the floor, tearing the poorly-fitting iridescent green dress. Just days ago, 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, unable to pray.

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

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

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

“Can you walk?” the other asked.

She nodded, clutching her hands to her chest. Cynthia stifled a sob as the dim surroundings of the dank room became visible. Willing her legs to move, she stood shakily. Dazed, she let them guide her to a wagon.

They threw back a burlap cover, then moved the potatoes behind the seat farther back to create a space. The tall one pointed. “Hide here, lady.” He covered her with the cloth. The short one peaked in. “Be still until we’re safely away.”

She nodded.

Hours later, the dark creaky bumping wagon pulled off the road and stopped. The cover came away. She gasped. Her heart raced. Blinking, shielding her eyes against the light, she held her breath.

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

He offered his hand and helped her down.

“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 assured her. “The kitchen staff likes to play stones. We won a lot recently.” He looked at his brother and grinned.

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, while she slept in the wagon behind the potatoes. Or tried to. Each time she dozed off a 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. She promised her husband would help get them settle somewhere.

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

 

Caileagh – Early Summer, 154 AK – Farr Castle

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 Sagen spoiled my plan. It seemed prudent to throw Greysun a bone. His was a magnificent performance yesterday. You’d have enjoyed it greatly.” 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 very 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, looking into his eyes again. “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 recapture.” He slowly massaged her shoulders. “You know I would prefer that we use him also.”

She pursed her lips. “Then, I shall forgive you, eventually. But you must take more care. Others are watching. They see you act ever more boldly, without the approval of the king, or even consultation with him. Worse, our ‘private’ gatherings are now so blatant, so excessive that all-too-accurate rumors are circulating about them. So many that my little birds cannot suppress them.”

“You are exaggerating,” he contradicted, his eyes hardening.

“I care for you, my love.” She leant against him, letting him feel the warmth of her body. “Yet, 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 babbled endlessly of some hidden cabal of farmers, tinkers, and candlemakers. He even tried to tell me the group was led by Otual’s wife.”

“His wife? That’s absurd. She’s nothing.”

“I agree. The babbling fool spouted nonsense at the end. Anything to prolong his wretched life. I indulged him as his screams were beautiful. But I tired of it, so left him to others 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, I’ll send a few black robes to the camp he mentioned in the Frei Forest. If Otual’s wife is involved, we will find her. 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.

 

Sagen – Early Summer, 154 AK – Farr Castle

On the other side of the castle, the king silently prayed for Jonathan, who more than anyone he knew exemplified the exhortation:

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

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 spreading.

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

Melazera won’t be patient much longer. If I don’t choose soon, he’ll pick someone for me. Or his wife will. Then I’ll be doubly snared.

 

Jonathan – Early Summer, 154 AK – The Road Out of Farr Castle

Jonathan’s head cleared, 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 tiny 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 drecksa, there’s no serpent!” Greysun grabbed Jonathan’s shirt, pulling his face downward. “I’ll make this slow.” He brandished his dagger.

Jonathan slashed.

Greysun crumpled to his knees, clutching his throat. Blood poured through his fingers. His head smacked the ground with a hollow thud.

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 militet. “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?”

“Albirt Whetcom, 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. Albirt, would you help me down?”

 

Caileagh – Early Summer, 154 AK – Farr Castle

The three docents knelt in supplication before Lady Melazera, who strode back and forth before them as if they defined the bars of a cage within which she was trapped. “Nothing?” she repeated yet again. “Otual has had a price on his head for years and none of you had thought to entrap him using his wife?”

“It has been considered, but she’s surely dead,” the boldest of them answered. “The last confirmed sighting of her was by some boy lieutenant assisting Secretary Rosewud. The woman slipped through their fingers. And…” his voice trailed away.

Savoring the coward’s terror, Caileagh let the painful silence drag out.

“It’s said—’ another began.

“Shut up,” the first docent hissed.

“What tasty tidbit are you withholding?” She knelt to examine them. They were unimpressive specimens. Two were overweight. The third… she shuddered at the thought of him touching any woman. His balding pate and scrawny body lacked all virility.

“I am waiting.” She walked behind Baldy and used her foot to push his face into the stone floor. The sounds of nasal cartilage and cheek bones breaking as she ground harder were as sweet as the coppery scent of blood accompanying them. “What is said?”

“That,” the second docent began, only to hesitate, “Lord Melazera recently had Otual’s daughter-in-law in his clutches… but lost her. Just as years ago, Rosewud and some no-name junior officer lost the knight’s wife… and daughter.”

“Daughter? I know of a son. You three have provided regular reports on him and his associates. He’s not even a pale shadow of his father. Why is this the first time I am hearing of a daughter?”

“She… she was… sold to some brothel.”

“Really? Why have none of you brought her to me?” Her foot twisted, slipping lower onto the back of Baldy’s neck, slowly suffocating him.

“Rswd-lidn-hsrpts…”

“You finally have something to say?” Caileagh eased off just enough to permit the choking man what may be his last words.

“Rosewud lied in his reports. He lied. The girl escaped him too. The reports said Otual’s daughter was sold to Madam Bonaforte’s. But when the collections were deemed unlawful, Otual’s wife went there, demanding—”

“Traitor!” The first docent hissed. “You never told—”

“Boys,” Caileagh kicked the interrupter in the face, “one at a time. Go on, Baldy.”

“She went to get her daughter back. Caused a scene there. With Greysun too.”

“And…?”

“And neither mother nor daughter have been seen since.”

Taking a few steps away to examine the three men, she decided none deserved to continue serving her. Yet killing all three would be wasteful. “You,” she kicked the second, “remind me of your name.”

“Streib, my Lady.”

“Take your companions away and kill them. Slowly. Do it in front of all your acolytes to remind them of the cost of failure. You won’t fail me again, will you, Streib?”

If he answered, she did not hear it. Rosewud and Greysun owed her answers.

 

Albirt – Early Summer, 154 AK – The Woods Of Farr

Albirt admired the knight, but knew very little of the way of J’shua. Yet he prayed for a quick recovery. He was in his sixteenth year now.

The knight slept uneasily, moaning with each movement.

Stories of Otual were rampant among the militet. Here was a man unlike Greysun in every way. He was honorable, persistent, 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.

Albirt 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,” Jonathan rolled 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 an army horse ridden by a commoner. I can be inconspicuous at this hour as a stumbling drunk.”

Albirt frowned in worry, but said nothing. Words wouldn’t dissuade him. The knight had bested the venomous Greysun while still tied to a horse.

“I will return well before dawn. If I do not, leave before daylight. 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.”

Albirt handed the knight his waterskin. He 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.” Albirt looped the waterskin over the knight’s shoulder. “Pretend it’s wine. Safe travels, sir.”

The knight nodded and hobbled toward town.

 

Rosewud – Early Summer, 154 AK – Farr Castle

Undersecretary George Rosewud plastered a smile on his face as the two muscular Black Robes escorted him briskly into a dark, unused servant’s passage deep within Farr Castle. He’d come to witness Gaelib’s triumph over Otual but, yesterday in the Main Hall, King Sagen had exiled the knight. So, George had made himself scarce, but hadn’t done so quickly enough.

The Lord of Lorness had to be furious. Therefore, this was most definitely not the moment to be brought before him.

The dimly-lit corridor reminded George of the ways to some of Gaelib’s playrooms. In particular, there was a…

As the door to the small torture chamber opened, Rosewud’s bowels almost let go.

Not like this!

Yet, it was Caileagh, not her husband, waiting there. As she approached, George’s escorts seized him. Then she produced a small vial of blue liquid, forcing its contents down his throat. Dropping the empty container, a needle appeared in her hand. She opened a glass vial containing a bilious green liquid, dipped its tip inside, then scratched his cheek with it.

“You may wait outside,” she instructed the Black Robes. “Re-enter only if you hear me call for you. Otherwise, ignore the sounds you hear. As I recall, Undersecretary Rosewud is an expert in inflicting pain. I am interested in his ability to endure it.”

George’s knees gave way. His body was too heavy. His legs could not hold him upright. “What…?”

“Just a little incentive towards honesty,” Caileagh crooned leaning in close. “You’ve been a naughty boy, Georgie. You were the one who foreclosed on Otual’s farm.”

“I…” The word was hard to form. His throat felt tight. His vision began to fade. He was becoming lightheaded.

Caileagh produced a vial of brilliant scarlet liquid, dipped the same needle into it causing a swirl of brown, then scratched his other cheek.

His mind cleared, a little.

“That’s better. Can’t let you have respite too soon,” she continued. “It wasn’t obvious as no one had thought about Otual’s long dead in-laws. Yet, when I checked, there it was. Your mark and the date on which that loan was finalized. What happened?”

“What do you mean, Lady Melaz—”

Her slap set his poisoned cheek on fire.

He could not muster the strength to even raise his hands. He’d sunk down on his haunches and his frozen muscles locked him in place. Only his eyes and his mouth operated as they should.

With a wicked smile, she sauntered over to the only chair in the chamber and positioned it before him. Then she sat down, leaning forward so that her ample endowments were on show.

“Things can become unpleasant if you don’t tell me the whole truth, Georgie. While killing you would, I suspect, put Gaelib out of sorts under normal conditions, today you’ll be a treat he’ll want to share.”

“I…” He took a slow breath to clear his head. Could he mention Blackhawk? Should he? No, he’d hold that in reserve. “I was there. When we arrived, the knight was away, as expected. There was only his wife, his daughter, and his wife’s parents.”

“That’s a good boy.”

“The knight’s boy had already been apprenticed to some horse-trainer in Esthlanis. We couldn’t snatch him legally, or without creating an incident.”

“Go on.”

“I demanded payment. They couldn’t, so I ordered the soldiers to seize the girl and her mother. But—”

“Soldiers?” Caileagh demanded. “The official report lists only a sergeant whose been dead now for over a year. Who was the other?”

“Someone I picked up and paid a few coins to. I’ve done so many of these I’d have to check—”

“Perhaps later. It’s merely a detail.” She nodded leaning even closer, so her face was only inches from his. Her perfume wafted over him.

Rosewud’s head began to spin, ever so slowly. The two scratches on his cheeks began to heat up as if hot pokers were placed there. When she eased back in her chair, the pain diminished. A little.

“Don’t hold out on me. Do you have any idea how my lip powder would interact with those cuts? Of course, my fragrance should be having its own effects. None of which will inconvenience me as… but let’s leave such morbid details to later.”

“The sergeant had let Otual’s wife send her daughter into the cabin. The lazy bastard ordered Otual’s wife to fetch her, so both could come with us.”

“He…” Caileagh leaned in again, causing Rosewud’s cheeks to…

Her hand slapped him again, just as a flame licked up his face and…

George awoke in his own rooms. He did not know how much time had passed and couldn’t remember what, if anything, he’d said after blaming the sergeant for the mother and daughter’s escape.

Trembling, he raised his hands to his cheeks. There were no boils or scars. Nor any pain. Looking into his reflecting glass, there were not even marks.

What did she do to me?

 

Jonathan – Early Summer, 154 AK – The City of Farr  

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 tunics 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. Lord, watch over them.”

He shuffled back to the woods, finding Albirt easily. “We need to hide your uniform, so I brought this.” He held out the oversized grey tunic 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?”

Albirt’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.”

Jonathan forced himself to sit straight and keep a normal gate, but could only ride a mile. He led them deep in the woods and slept for hours.

When he finally woke, Albirt sat against a tree stripping seeds off grasses, watching him.

“Albirt, how did you become a militet?”

“My parents had trouble feeding my six siblings. I was ten when I asked my older brother, Benjamin, take me to the Fairness Crossing Garrison. There, Ben accepted the enlistment bounty so the family could buy seed. Many of the crops had failed that year.”

It would take two weeks to ride to the Lion & Tiger, even with the extra horse. As they rode, Jon learned more about his young accomplice. The pair avoided roads and other travelers, keeping to wild pathways, but encountered James of the Wood, who insisted on feeding them.

James frowned as his eyes wandered over Jonathan’s rough appearance, urging the knight 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 Albirt. 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, Jonathan and Albirt continued on to the Lion & Tiger.

There, Jonathan introduced Albirt to Daryl Andrews, the proprietor, and his daughters, Charmaine and Missy. Daryl was an alias. His friend, Willam 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. Willam too was hunted by the soldiers of the Lord of Lorness.

While Jonathan slept and healed, Daryl showed Albirt how to alter the royal brands on their horses and change their tack, so it no longer looked like a warhorse.

 

Gaelib – Early Summer, 154 AK – Farr Castle

Gaelib had used his influence and cleverness to extend his economic control over the kingdom. He’d allowed Caileagh to use his money to build the Order of the Black Robe. It had grown from a handful of silly girls and a few scribes into a behemoth. But despite her past and present need for his wealth, she belittled his economic machinations as unimportant.

Her fanciful visions make no sense. Yet she expects me to follow her wishes in matters of state. Her charms enthrall me, but…

Gaelib smiled, thinking of her, of the warmth of her body, and the ways she could make him feel.

But…

But those things were no longer enough. He was no longer a boy to be toyed with as a woman’s plaything. He was a man. He served the Warrior.

No. The Warrior served him.

No matter what Caileagh’s dreams, signs, and portents foretold, he was in control. Her refusal to understand that caused tensions between them.

Gaelib’s smile broadened as Steven entered, exactly on time. “Before dinner, and other pleasures, there’s a matter to dispose of. You must recapture Jonathan 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 before his capture.” Gaelib handed over a rolled parchment. “It will help you predict where he might go.”

“He’ll not get away.”

“Alive. Wound him if needs must, but I require him alive. There’ll also be a reward: five thousand alive, fifteen hundred dead.”

“Dead?” Blackhawk’s eyebrow rose quizzically, as he 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 fifteen  hundred… 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.” Steven bowed.

Gaelib led him by the hand to the table of decadent foods and wines. He had many entertainments planned.

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