Rare Things for a Rare Life

The Knights of Joshua

by Tiana Dokerty © 1984-2021

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

Proverbs 25:2 It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter.

 

South of Caswell

Tomas Beck 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 – before they spotted her. And as usual, she failed. Although, having James ride up beside her was a first.

“Welcome back, Mr. Beck.” He grinned.

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

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

Tomas 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 confirmed stopping her horse beside his. “Everything from new clothes to cooking utensils, to tools, to weapons. There are even some protype swords in there made by a craftsman who makes things for us in Esthlanis. Let me know what you need and 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 Joshua. We may be a bit older than traditional candidates but with the Fellowship branded illegal, if there’s somewhere that we could train, we’d like to.”

Tomas paused. “Maybe… there may be a way…”

 

Farr Castle – Steward’s Hall

Geleib was working on the kingdom’s finances. Papers were scattered before him, cluttering up his desk. Several scribes were taking down notes. Servants were pouring more wine, refilling ink troughs, and doing other things that he took no notice of. He had 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 did not have to be told what the king was referring to. It could only be the queen. “I’ll use every resource to—”

“Don’t give me words!” The king swept every paper from the steward’s desk. Ink bottles, a goblet of wine and several writing instruments went flying 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 what the rumors might’ve told you. 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. 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 an attempt to murder the queen. I’ve sent for Commander Taylor. You are to find her killer and provide all evidence to him. I will oversee the trial and execution. Nod if you understand me.”

Melazera nodded.

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

Melazera was stunned. This could ruin everything. If it had been an assassination attempt… and, he realized, it must have been… then Cailleagh was behind it.

Her superstitious vision about a sword and a golden queen. Sheisse!

Worse still, the king’s accusation was heard by the servants attending me. Rumors of my potential demise will flood the castle.

He wanted to think through the problem, but there was no time. If the queen died, so would he. If he did not resolve this fast then he’d appear weak, causing all his supporters to desert him. And, no matter how quickly he cleared his name, it would cost him some 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.”

Once servants had scuttled off as if he’d lit them on fire, Geleib sat. He gestured to another Black Robe, summoning him over. “Send a messenger to George Rosewood at Lorness, I require his presence forthwith.”

 

Farr Castle – Geleib’s Chambers

Cailleagh 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 had made her laugh. Their blustering demands had made her dawdle. She was not some servant to be ordered around.

As if!

When she finally arrived in his apartment, Geleib 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.” Cailleagh 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 Geleib,” she pressed her body against his.

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

“You’re frightening me,” she tried, but he saw through it.

“The choice is simple. Hand me the perpetrator or take their place.”

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

Given his expression, he almost believed her. Almost.

“Explain,” he demanded, fingering 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—”

Geleib 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. If you threaten my position, you’ll see how inaccurate your visions can be. No golden queen will doom you, I will.”

Cailleagh blanched and bowed her head lower, as her body curved sensuously, tempting him… but he refused to take the bait.

“Listen closely,” Geleib snarled. “Your visions come true only half the time. You’ll not take action on them again, ever, without my permission. Even if I survive, this has already weakened my position. It will cost us allies, money and support. Do you understand me? I’ll not tolerate it again.”

She nodded, shifting so her bosom was thrust forwards. “It will not 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 have control of his questioning. Are you trying to put both of our heads on a block?”

“Oh…”

“Bring me the docent! Immediately!”

 

Esthlanis

[Expand]

Jonathan had slipped away with six young knights, leading them first into Esthlanis. Then they traveled  to the Shining Mountains by following the Tarin River south. There, he sent them up to the top of Little Sister, to be with the daikons of the School.

Jonathan chose to be alone to mourn in his cave, praying and fasting for a moon. Then he began preparing for the resistance that must follow, spending a season practicing rigorously and making his weapons ready.

 

Between Caswell & Alexandria

Jonathan pulled the cloak tighter against the icy wind. No matter where the Lord directed him to go, he went in the hope of finding Rebekah or Sarah. Tears welled up when he tried to picture his daughter in her fourteenth 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.

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 he could find them.

Perhaps they have gone home.

Then 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 O’Toole and guide him to their camp. His only instruction had been, “Don’t get caught.”

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

“Sir O’Toole, welcome!”

“Hallo, James.” Jonathan 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 saw 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 has brought us news from time to time.’

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

“Our other advisor 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.

Jonathan 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, “What fun… but… I wonder, have you ever encountered a man named Tomas Beck? He’s the one who 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 had been no change in her condition. Her breathing was shallow as if asleep, but she would not wake. The physicians had no explanation, other than to shake their heads, offer commiserations, and make dire predictions.

King Sagen was considering stringing up Geleib by his big toes, preferably naked, covered in honey, and dangling above an anthill in the center of the gardens. 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 had not – quite – given the king sufficient reason for such extreme action. Still, it was one of only two distractions that offset his anxiety for his queen. The other was watching Geleib’s fear grow by the hour.

 “Your majesty,” a bedraggled but alert Major Blackhawk greeted the king outside the Queen’s Chambers. The man had not left his station even once. “Commander Taylor has arrived and is within. He reports that he has done as you commanded, that High Castle is secure, and that he will make whatever apologies are necessary – if they ever become so – whenever you require them. He has 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 there. Do not 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 that I have 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 will not 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 that he has no idea about what is coming. Therefore, I need you to insulate him from developments.”

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

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

 

Farr Castle – Steward’s Hall

Geleib felt wrung out. Despite his demands and threats, Cailleagh 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 under the mere mention of torture.

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

Has the queen died?

“My Lord.” Steven bowed. He was so tired that 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, Steven,” Geleib urged, his heart in his throat.

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

Melazera considered his options.

Refusing to go would doom him. Even if the king did not retaliate, many more of Lorness’ allies would desert him as a coward. He’d already lost some due to the king’s threat to behead him if the queen died before he produced the culprit.

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

“Give me a few moments to change, Steven. I am not presentable.” Geleib 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.”

Geleib paused. Perhaps this was not the moment to provoke his Majesty. “Lead on, Steven. Given the king’s urgency, I’m sure he will forgive my lack of sartorial elegance… just this once.”

Steven’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 – Steward’s Hall

Cailleagh arrived just too late. Geleib and Steven were walking briskly away. She wondered where they were going, the Court would not assemble for another hour.

Not that she was particularly interested in chasing after them.

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

Although, she did wonder at the rumors flooding through the Court. So many of them were not of her making or even under her control.

As for Steven, she had not 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 Geleib. A funny thought struck her.

Could it be the king?

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

As she had time, she refreshed herself, ate something light and walked serenely toward the Main Hall so that she would arrive there with a few minutes to spare.

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

Cailleagh entered the Main Hall to find it already packed. Oddly, Geleib and Steven were standing alone. Far enough away from everyone else that it would be impossible to speak to them without raising one’s voice.

What’s going on?

A herald preceded King 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.”

At last!

Cailleagh’s heart leapt for joy.

“This morning, Commander Taylor 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 is dead. She must be.

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

No, no, this is wrong.

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

No!

“…had my senior military commanders undertake certain urgent investigations. The results of which are even more shocking than I could have 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.”

The Court erupted into yells, roars, and screams, which lasted until 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 Taylor is confident that he has identified and isolated all of them at High Castle. However, as a precaution and with my royal blessings, he has detained every Black Robe there…”

Again, the king’s voice was drowned out.

Again, the Royal Herald commanded silence.

“And will keep them detained only so long as is necessary to clear them of any wrongdoing. As I speak, Commander Taylor has sealed this castle and is rounding up the Black Robes here. If, as happened at High Castle, you encounter a Black Robe who has discarded their identifying garb, it is your duty as good subjects of this kingdom to report them. I will not 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 Geleib.

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

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

“Second, I apologize to you for the brusque impolite ways that I have addressed you over these last few days. My fear of losing my queen and the impossible demands I placed on you 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 to you before all. Step forwards, Geleib, Earl of Lorness. Kneel before me.”

Cailleagh was not 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 downwards motion, lowered its tip so that it touched Geleib’s left shoulder and then his right. “Arise, Geleib, 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!”

Cailleagh 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 Taylor took up escort positions after transferring the queen into a Royal Coach.

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