Chapter 21: Consequences
Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
Rebekah – 153 AK, Late Autumn
Just north of Caswell, Rebekah breathed in the crisp air as her horse’s hooves crunched through the rainbow of fallen leaves. She would miss this. It had been almost ten years since she’d begun playing Tomas Bekh. She’d enjoyed traveling the countryside and selling plows, while gathering and disseminating information. Others could – and would – do that from now on.
The fretful Bywold Parsons had proven his ability to ferret useful information from mountains of gossip. Having found one such person, Licht Gegen looked for more. So far, they had only found two: a gossipy widow with a nose for nastiness; and a former Black Robe who was willing to work for anyone who would pay him, while keeping him safe from retaliation.
With those three sifting through things, Licht Gegen gained a far more complete view of Gaelib Melazera’s operations. It also required someone trusted enough by all of the independent regional groups to manage their organization. That someone turned out to be Rebekah, which left her ever less time to be Tomas Bekh.
This would be her last circuit for many, many moons, so she tried to enjoy it and let her replacement do the work. The rest of their group consisted of two apprentices, four trusted mercenaries for their protection, and a few extra horses carrying provisions.
As they rode, they came across deep wagon tracks. Winters were rainy and the weather was getting colder. Such transports were likely to get bogged, risking the lives of the horses and merchants. Something so heavily laden was asking for trouble.
“We’ll follow the tracks for a bit,” Tomas commanded. “Wayde, scout ahead to see what’s going on. Don’t be seen. We wouldn’t want to alarm them unnecessarily.”
“Yes, sir!” The lad spurred his horse into a gentle gallop and was quickly lost to view. He returned twenty minutes later. “I got flagged down by one of James of the Wood’s boys. Says he’s got something for us, if we’d be so kind as to play highwaymen and run off the wagon drivers.”
Rebekah shook her head. James’ people had good instincts. But robbing someone on a hunch? “I’ve got a better idea. We’re going to go ‘help’ those poor wagon drivers, whether they want us to or not.” She kicked her horse into a gallop. The rest fell in behind her.
In the silent, near-frozen landscape, the merchant made an almighty racket. Less than a quarter of an hour later, they caught up with two heavily laden wagons being drawn by oxen. Both of which were slogging forward at a steady pace.
Rebekah slowed her horse so she rode beside the leading wagon master. “Late in the year to be hauling something so heavy. Need a hand… or an escort?”
“Nah, we’ll be a’right,” the wagon driver responded, without looking.
Insist, a still, small voice instructed.
Rebekah pointed to the horizon. “The sun’s almost gone. Why don’t we all stop for the night and share a camp? It’d be good to hear someone else’s stories for a change. I think I know all of my people’s tales by heart.”
“Nah, nah… we’ll just plod on–”
“And get maybe another mile today? Not worth it. Hell, my people will even cook for you. I insist.”
With a loud crack, the rear axle on the second wagon gave way, followed by splintering sounds. Uneven pressure on the two back wheels caused their spokes to disintegrate. The rear of the wagon’s tray dropped to the ground. Several barrels of wine came loose, rolling clear and spooking a mercenary’s horse.
“It’s a good thing we were here,” Rebekah commented.
The driver of the second wagon looked back at the wreckage behind him, while the driver of the first tried to get his oxen to run, only to be caught easily. He begged, “Please, they forced me. They threatened my family. I told them it was too late, but–”
“Bekh,” Wayde yelled, “there’s something wrong with this barrel.” He and two others were trying to stand it up, but it kept toppling over.
“Break it open!”
“No!” the second wagon driver begged, then shut up.
With a crack, the cask’s side split, followed not by a gush of wine but a trickle. Inside was a second wooden shell. Without having to be asked, they broke that open…
…and hundreds of baden tinkled into the waning afternoon light.
Drake – 153 AK, Late Autumn
It had taken Drake two weeks to return to Caswell.
At Dunis Glen, he’d returned to the three hidden horses, but neither David nor Jonathan were there. He couldn’t risk waiting for them, but left one horse behind. Mounting another and leading the third, he’d set out for Caswell.
Once home, he immediately burned all clothes and every artifact that would prove he’d been a knight. He also instructed those knights living within the borders of Caswell to do the same, or leave immediately and never return.
He blamed himself for not seeing through the spy. Jonathan would have perceived it.
I was too much a fair-weather knight.
David – 153 AK, Late Autumn
David had been one of the last knights to escape. He’d been in the tree line when the flames became visible outside. Then he sought out the horses Drake had hidden, but only one remained. Cautiously, staying off roads, he crossed the East River, then turned southwest.
He considered heading back to the Border Inn, but reassured himself Drake’s people would have Cynthia. Whether she’d already reached Caswell or not, they’d keep her safe.
He was thankful he’d learned to survive in the wilderness because he was afraid to approach anyone. The horse had sickened and died after being bitten by a snake, leaving him on foot. After twenty-three days, he finally reached Caswell. Cynthia was already there, as were rumors proclaiming him and Drake heroes. David couldn’t take it in.
All that I’ve lived for is gone, and I’m branded a Judas.
The story had spread everywhere of how David and Drake had heroically led soldiers that had put down Jonathan Otual’s rebellion. How the knights had savagely slaughtered unarmed men and women in what was already becoming known as the Dunis Glen Massacre.
Yet, that notoriety frightened Drake. He spoke with his wife, Tarynna, then consulted with a few others. Their consensus was that, if whoever was behind the massacre decided to remove certain loose ends – such as David and himself – both would have to die. Therefore, David had to be hidden. If both inconvenient individuals couldn’t be found, removing only one served no purpose.
Cynthia had arrived at Caswell before Drake. She wasn’t well, her soul tormented by the indignities she’d endured. Yet, Tarynna cared for her as a daughter.
When David eventually appeared on foot, everything had been arranged. A remote disused fishing lodge had been selected, servants dispatched to make it habitable, and provisions packed into wagons to make it self-sufficient for many moons to come.
Tarynna had handpicked the servants, all of whom were loyal to her. They would ensure the young couple’s comfort and that no problems arose for her or Drake.
The following year David and Cynthia remained in hiding. At that time, Cynthia became pregnant with their first child.
Now secure in his new position, supported by Melazera, and confident he’d proven his worth to all those that truly mattered, he brought David and his family out of hiding. Drake took in David as his ward, sponsored him into the army as a lieutenant, and provided another lavish house and many servants for Cynthia in Caswell.
A short time later Drake became a magistrate and also the Earl of Caswell after the tragic deaths of his father and his last surviving brother. He was well aware of his rise in social status and the benefits, perks, and wealth that came with it. Yet he rationalized them as merely keeping his family safe.
Sagen – 153 AK, Late Autumn
The king chafed at having to return to High Castle by carriage. It was too slow. He would rather have ridden, not that any member of his escort would have permitted him to do so. Their job was to keep him safe, and the protection of a carriage wasn’t something they were going to concede merely because he wanted to feel the wind in his hair.
Yet, with eight horses pulling, the carriage was almost as fast as horse and rider.
]Even with the comforting words of the daikon that Commander Taelor had concealed within his troupe of soldiers, Sagen had doubts. He wanted to believe. He did. But she was so precious, so special. She made him capable of… more.
How much time his latest gambits bought? Three years? Maybe. Six years? It was unlikely. Ten? That was wishful thinking.
Yet, even with the need to study and rearrange the pieces on the board, his mind kept returning to Melyssa. He not only respected her, he had feelings for her. He might even be falling in love with her. That was a luxury he’d never thought he’d have. His life was dedicated to Freislicht before all else, before love, before wife, before children.
When the carriage rolled to a stop within High Castle, he exited it with dignity, strode purposefully to the Royal Chambers, divested himself of his traveling clothes and, only once dressed perfectly, did he venture into the Queen’s Rooms.
When the door closed behind him, his knees wobbled.
Melyssa sat in a chair with an impish smile. “You took your time.”
“H-h-how?” he spluttered.
“You really must have more faith,” she teased.
“That isn’t an answer.”
“Perhaps I should expand upon it? I hadn’t realized you were so slow.”
The twinkle in her eyes and the pert set of her lips made Sagen want to kiss her, so he did. “Slow? Is that the best insult you can come up with? Gaelib would be disappointed. Although, he’d give you points for petulance.”
“Do you want to spend more time kissing me or do you want answers? What’s happened that you’re being so careless?”
Sagen laughed. “We have a great deal to talk about, but… you first. You’ve had me scared out of my wits for the best part of a week.”
She blinked. “Was it that long? I hadn’t realized. I’m sorry.”
“You’re… sorry…? The rumors about your deaths – the Royal Court decided you’d passed no less than six times in the first two days alone – have had people, including me, frantic. On the other hand, they…” He grinned at her.
“They allowed me to bring forward some of my countermoves against Gaelib. We’ll have a little time to ourselves, hours maybe days, before we have to commence being careful again. So, your story…?”
“When I was bitten, I was reminded by the spirit about Paul. He was bitten by a viper when feeding a fire. Yet, he was unharmed. My experience was… not dissimilar.”
Sagen sat beside her and pulled her close. “Details.”
“I thought it best to feign weakness and pretend to be near death, for I perceived this was a deliberate attack. However, as I entered the castle, I actually began to feel weak, then very weak, and a still, small voice said, ‘sleep,’ so I did. I really don’t think I had any choice at that point.”
“I had dreams, of you, of us, of the spirit. I saw you make Gaelib a duke, saw him crow like a cockerel, and then walk into traps you’d set before him. I saw Major Blackhawk standing by your side, supporting you, admiring you. And I saw my family, but their features were blurred as if trying to look through tears. Then the same voice I’d heard before said, ‘wake,’ and I was here at High Castle.”
It wasn’t only the Black Robes who’d been detained at High Castle. Several high-ranking individuals had ‘included’ themselves by trying to protect those being rounded up.
Unlike the bureaucrats, the nobles were not taken to dungeons. They were housed within a secure wing of the castle, isolated, and monitored closely. Some were clearly Melazera’s creatures. Others were being blackmailed, bribed, or coerced.
They were questioned about how they’d been entrapped by Melazera, forced to reveal the secrets that had subjugated them, and forgiven. However, they were also required to prove their allegiance to the king by feigning submission to Melazera and acting as Sagen’s agents. Then they were released, returning home with several new aides, clerks, and administrators supplied by His Majesty. Of course, once home, they were required to round up any Black Robes there, then ship them to the king under heavy guard.
As for those nobles who wouldn’t go along with King Sagen’s strategy, or who demonstrated themselves untrustworthy, they too were released. A few fell prey to bandits on their way home. The rest met much more gruesome ends at Melazera’s hands, having been denounced by King Sagen’s double-agents.
Evaluation of the Black Robes was deliberately slow and time-consuming. A tribunal tasked Commander Taelor and Colonel Gonnels with finding the truth. All were startled to discover the cruel, callous methods used to recruit the Black Robes and then ensnare them as puppets under the control of Caileagh and Gaelib.
By spring, the word had reached every corner of Freislicht that the Black Robes couldn’t be trusted. Even though several proclamations emphasized that only a select few of that group’s number were traitors, no member of the nobility, no merchant, no trader, nor any banker was willing to take the risk.
The Guild of the Black Robe ceased to be, publicly.
King Sagen kept a straight, impassive face. Within only weeks of becoming a duke, Gaelib had produced witnesses supposedly proving the knight, Jonathan Otual, was behind the ongoing rebellion. Sagen had thanked the newly minted duke for his tireless work.
This so-called rebellion bought precious time for Sagen’s other preparations, although it hurt to hear his childhood friend slandered so often.
As for those witnesses Melazera had delivered, the king had little doubt they’d been coerced to provide the desired testimony. Sagen commanded every witness be transferred to the dungeons beneath High Castle to be re-interviewed. Then, with yet more boundless thanks, the king had sent Melazera back to Lorness to end the clearly ongoing rebellion.
The re-interviewing process was slow as witnesses usually first had to recover from their wounds. Then the witnesses had to be convinced that, no matter what they said, they’d be released once the king trusted their testimony hadn’t been forced. Many accepted the king’s offer of passage for them and their families to Esthlanis as they were afraid to remain in Freislicht.
King Sagen continued to strengthen and unify the good, while fragmenting and diminishing the evil. Step by step and inch by inch, he built his secret army of light.
Sagen hoped he would add the Duke of Wooster to the growing number ready to fight for him. He instructed his secretary to prepare the King’s Drawing Room. The chessboard was set near a window, below a chandelier of one hundred scented candles. A warm, gentle breeze caused the curtains to billow. In the middle of the room, a table laden with fruit and cheese and several wines would provide refreshment after each game. With the exception of a handful of guards and a single cupbearer, the room was as devoid of people as it was possible to be in the king’s presence.
No one had forgotten the assassination attempt on Queen Melyssa, nor the long moons it had taken her to fully recover. Yet, King Sagen needed information from his loyal nobles. The private chess matches allowed the players to talk to him freely.
The king had canceled the matches after the assassination attempt, and only recently reinstated them. Invitations had been sent out to all his nobles. Today’s opponent was Duke Fredruck of Wooster.
The reward for winning was a gold dagger, one of a set of twenty-four that had been custom-made to commemorate Sagen’s coronation. Each engraved with the king’s crest of three lightning bolts and his family’s motto ‘honor shines.’ If the king won two out of three games, he retained the coveted blade. If the duke won, he’d take the dagger home.
The first two matches had been with Duke Rothwyne of Landryn and Earl Talbot of Sandria, both of whom had proven faithful and were integral to his plans. Now the Duke of Wooster approached the table and bowed.