Rare Things for a Rare Life

The Knights of J'shua Book 1

by Tiana Dokerty © 1984-2021

Home | Chapter 21 | Chapter 23

Chapter 22: Betrayals

Updated 1/26/23

 

Caileagh–  Early Summer, 154 AK – Farr Castle

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 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. Because it was 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 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 Lawrence 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.

 

Gaelib – Early Summer, 154 AK – Farr Castle

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.

Finally, a bride. 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…Have I overlooked anything?

The Locke girls he’d seen on his last visit to Lexandria 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 she could have ten girls before she had a son.

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

 

David – Early Summer, 154 AK – The Road To Caswell Castle

David worried as he, Baldwin, and Cain followed the path to the Freish River.

I hope Drake is home. He could be in service at the capitol. What will I do then?

Cain, the dark-haired, short one, continually lagged behind, slowing them, stoking David’s frustration and anger. At the river, he balked, followed by a hissed argument between the half-brothers. Then, Cain mumbled some apologies, saying he’d wait for Baldwin at the Inn.

 They pressed on southward, reaching their destination in eight days.

Earl Drake of Caswell was in the courtyard, waiting to meet them with a warm smile. They’d been spotted riding in.

David was relieved. It had been almost a year since the wedding, and he was terrible at writing, rarely responding to letters, even his father’s.

 “My boy, what a surprise.” Drake approached briskly. “How have you come to be here?”

“Can we talk privately? All three of us.” David glanced at Baldwin and back to Drake.

“Follow me,” Drake responded, then instructed a servant. “Jonas, see to their horses.” He took them to a drawing room filled with ornately carved chairs around a plain trestle table. Its walls were lined with oak cabinets filled with many books, carvings, and family heirlooms.

As they were ushered into chairs, a girl brought in a tray with colorful fruits and fragrant cheeses, followed by a boy with a pitcher of wine and three cups.

Drake poured for his guests. “Tell me what’s happened.”

David took a long drink, emptying his cup. “Cynthia was abducted, assaulted and violated by–”

What?” Drake blurted, rising from his chair and pacing back and forth.

“…by a Major Blackhawk,” David continued. “It gets worse. This was apparently done at the orders of the Lord of Lorness, who personally witnessed my wife’s… degradation.” He lurched to his feet, unable to sit any longer. “I want to meet with the elders at Dunis Glen. There’s some nonsense about rebel knights and a plot against the king but, the more I think about it, the more ridiculous it seems. If there’s any truth to it, surely the elders will know.”

“I see,” Drake acknowledged slowly, rooted to the spot. “I won’t ask how Cynthia is. She must be devastated.”

David didn’t respond.

“Who’s your traveling companion, David?”

“This is Baldwin. He and his half-brother saved my wife. They believe in J’shua, heard of her dire situation, and took great risks to get her out.”

The former-kitchenhand nodded from his seat.

“Then both David and I are greatly indebted to you,” Drake noted smoothly. “Who is reporting these attacks? Subjects or soldiers?”

“Both, sir.” Baldwin scrambled to his feet, bowing awkwardly. “According to the rumors, that is. I’ve even heard the knights are now banned and circles forbidden.”

“There was such a proclamation.” Drake waved a hand dismissively. “It’s being appealed. Yet, until that edict is overturned, many have stopped attending the circle. I doubt Melazera would send anyone to Caswell to enforce it.”

David frowned. He’d heard nothing of this, having been in Mestelina for many moons.

“I need to think,” Drake resumed. “Baldwin, I need to speak to David further. By now, my servants will have a room, a bath, and a meal ready for you. You have my thanks, and will be well rewarded.” He waited until the man departed and a servant had closed the door, then focused on David. “Do you trust him?”

David blinked. He’d not stopped to ask himself that question. He’d barely stopped at all since finding out about… “Yes, yes… he saved Cynthia.”

“I see. Was it these men who implicated the Lord of Lorness?”

“Yes.”

“Then we’ve only their word for his involvement. The Earl is a powerful man. We must be careful with any such suggestion. If not true, it could ensnare us.” Drake paused again. “Regardless, there are things your companion doesn’t need to know. For example, what are your plans for your wife? She can’t travel with you. If Melazera is involved, few places will be safe for her.”

“I’d thought Daikon Terrance could–”

“No,” Drake corrected. “She will be safer here. No one would attack my congregation. Even diminished, it is too large, too visible. I’ll send my wife and several women from the circle, plus a suitable escort, to fetch her. Write something for me, so Cynthia knows it’s safe to come here.”

As David wrote, some of his fears lifted.

“We’ll meet the elders in Dunis Glen on the full moon. We leave tomorrow,” Drake said.

By early morning, Drake’s staff had their horses, provisions, and gear ready. He’d intended to take a coach. However, David had convinced him that they needed to travel as fast as possible.

Reluctantly, Drake had agreed, even though it had been several years since he’d spent that long in the saddle. It wasn’t going to be the comfortable trip he’d planned, nor would there be time to stop at inns along the way. The meeting of elders was scheduled to last over a week. Before David’s urgent arrival, he’d intended to arrive late to the conference, not on its first day.

Baldwin would accompany them as a witness to what had happened.

 

Sagen – Early Summer, 154 AK – Farr Castle

When Sagen entered the King’s Drawing Room, the sight of Melyssa took his breath away. The azure sky through the window framed her golden curls. A ruby-red gown accentuated her youthful curves. She controlled her countenance well but he suspected she wouldn’t have chosen so provocative a color nor such a low-cut neckline.

I should’ve thought of this. The Chamberlain of the Women’s Hall is clearly a talented man, but I won’t grant him such control over my fiancé. In future, he’ll let her make her own choices. With suitable guidance, if needed, which I doubt.

He took a deep breath to quiet himself, his expression still neutral.

The maiden is beautiful. If I was a rake... but that’s why we have four chaperones.

The dowagers sat in the back of the room. Far enough away not to overhear the couple’s conversation but close enough to stop any untoward behavior. It was a custom instituted by Sagen’s great-great-grandfather after a lady claimed he’d seduced her. Since then, no king had ever been alone with a woman before marrying her. Well, no woman of good breeding.

After crossing the room, he took her hand and kissed it again. “Shall we sit?” He motioned toward the couch at the room’s center.

They talked about many things.

Eventually, after they were both comfortable, he explained his plan and precautions. “There’ll only be three times a day when we can be our true selves. We shall have to make the best of it.”

Melyssa nodded.

 “We’ll come up with code words if either of us needs to talk to the other immediately.”

She smiled slowly, a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. “That will be exciting.”

Sagen furrowed his brows.

“We’ll never be able to be a happy couple in public. You must act timid and worried, even depressed once in a while. Act like a child, be petulant. I will act callous and overbearing at times. Please, forgive me in advance, but we must do this. If Gaelib ever discovers we’re plotting to heal the land, he’ll kill you.”

The door opened.

 

Gaelib – Early Summer, 154 AK – Farr Castle

Flushed with victory and excited about his plan to eradicate the troublesome knights, Gaelib strutted into the King’s Drawing Room. Everything had fallen into place. It was time to glory in what his schemes had wrought. The power of the Warrior was his. Nothing could stop him.

He bowed. “Good evening Your Majesty, My Lady…” His proper and perfumed words caught in his throat. The woman seated with the king wasn’t Melyssa Locke. “Forgive me, Your Majesty, but I’m confused. Who’s this?”

Sagen rose easily to his feet, confidence pouring from him. “This is Lady Melyssa Locke. I believe you met her on your last visit to Lexandria. Is something wrong?”

“She’s…” Gaelib said, only to be interrupted by Evelyne, Dowager Duchess of Lexandria.

“She’s what, young Melazera? Like your father, have you finally lost your wits? This is my granddaughter, Melyssa.”

“B-bu-but… she’s…” Wide-eyed, the Lord of Lorness stuttered, embarrassing himself. He was sure this wasn’t the girl who’d been vetted. She was close in appearance. He recalled her hair being darker, not quite blonde.

The other three dowagers were rising to their feet, their attentions focused on him. Crossing one of them would be bad. Crossing all four was suicide. They’d compete to see who disemboweled him first, the spiteful old harridans.

“I think,” the king retook control of the conversation, his eyes narrowing, “you’ve overstepped, Gaelib. How dare you question my betrothed?” Sagen’s face was set like stone. “Perhaps you’d like a few days in the dungeon to reconsider your actions?”

Gaelib looked around. There were only the dowagers, the king, his future bride, and servants. No one he could call on. Even trying to explain could spell his doom. There were enough courtiers, servants, and flunkies outside that the guards wouldn’t obey his commands, not over the king’s.

And if, may the God of this Age prevent it, the king carried out his threat, Gaelib’s plans would all be undone. His allies would see him as weak. They’d desert him, possibly even pledging themselves to Sagen.

The Lord of Lorness bowed low, buying a moment to gather his racing thoughts. “My most humble apologies, Your Majesty, Lady Melyssa. I’d not appreciated your bride-to-be was such a magnificent beauty, Sire. I’ve only met her previously under more informal circumstances.”

“If your faculties are that diminished,” Evelyne of Lexandria patted the braided white hair that wrapped precisely around her head like a crown, “perhaps I should have a word with Gregory about your loans, personal and for Lorness. It wouldn’t be good business to risk such large sums on someone who can’t recognize a Locke when one is standing before them.”

“Don’t be too hard on my steward,” Sagen responded. “He’s clearly overworked, aren’t you, Gaelib?”

“Yes, yes, Your Majesty,” Melazera nodded, as sweat dripped into his eyes. “Thank you for your understanding.”

“Not at all. Indeed, it was so unlike you not to be present during the discussions held in the hall that I’m concerned for your health. You even look a little flushed. Our wedding,” Sagen smiled at Melyssa and took her hand, “will be held thirty-nine days hence. You must be here for that. Until then, let your deputies take over. They’re well-trained by your own hand. Go home to Lorness and rest. I command it.”

Gaelib bowed. “As you wish, Your Majesty. Thank you.”

“In fact,” the king continued, “let’s make it official. Step outside with me, Gaelib. We’ll announce your sabbatical to the Court right now. I’ll be back in just a minute, Lady Melyssa.”

Melazera loathed the confident expression that had appeared on the king’s face.

 

Daikon Terrance – Summer, 154 AK – The Border Inn, Mestelina

Daikon Terrance was outside, seeing off a guest, when he noted Cain’s return. The man sat much more easily in the saddle than he had when departing the Border Inn two days earlier. Indeed, he rode as if he’d done so for many years.

That was unlikely for someone who’d claimed to be a mere kitchen hand.

His suspicions were confirmed when both were such good riders. It didn’t matter who Baldwin and Cain served. They were a threat to Cynthia, and probably to David. Not that there was anything Terrance could do about the young knight’s safety.

However, he could deal with this threat, but wouldn’t do so hastily. Putting a smile on his face, he greeted Cain. “You’re back. Is something wrong?”

“Sir, David said he didn’t need us both. I slowed them down. So, I decided to wait here until my brother’s return.”

“Come inside. Donna,” Terrance called to his youngest daughter, “see to this man’s horse. Take special care of the animal.” His emphasis on that word warned her to stay clear of Cain. “This is one of the men who saved Lady Cynthia.”

The girl nodded, her eyes wide, then took the horse and disappeared into the stables.

“Are you hungry?” Terrance guided him inside, making sure his mug of ale never dried, and his plate was never empty.

It took two days to be sure. Cain and a drunkard who always had too many baden in his pockets – the same drunk Cain had winked at – fell to drinking together. Licht Gegen had warned Terrance about the drunk. He informed them to watch Cain.

That evening, the two heavily inebriated men departed from the Border Inn. As far as Terrance’s books told, Cain had paid for his room and left. Wherever they were going, they most likely wouldn’t get there. Licht Gegen was thorough.

 

Sagen – Early Summer, 154 AK – Farr Castle

When Sagen returned, he sat beside his fiancé and spoke softly to her. “I’m so sorry, Lady Melyssa. I may have pushed things too far. You embolden me. However, that man will never again disrespect you in public. In private? I’m afraid he may be very unpleasant from time to time. Were you very frightened?”

Melyssa nodded meekly, but her eyes darted towards the chaperones, who were hissing at each other. Then the smallest of smiles appeared on her lips. “Not at all,” she whispered. “With everything you, the steward, and my grandmother said, I thought I should act scared. Or, should I have been petulant? Perhaps have asked him if he’d like my father to send him a protocol tutor to improve his manners?”

Sagen chuckled. “You’re brilliant. We’ll do well.”

They talked for another hour before the chaperones walked Lady Melyssa to her chambers.

 

Gaelib – Early Summer, 154 AK – Farr Castle

Gaelib retreated to his offices and slammed the door behind him.

He’d been caught off-guard by the unexpected blonde girl. As well as the emboldened response from Sagen.

Where’d she come from?

Had the king followed through… but Sagen was weak, unready, and unwilling to finish off a foe. That was why Gaelib would win.

I miscalculated what the presence of a lady would do to his resolve. This is going to be harder to manage than I expected. Still, the girl looked appropriately terrified the whole time.

That satisfied him, even if things hadn’t gone as he wished, even though he’d have to depart for Lorness in the morning.

Caileagh won’t be pleased. Should I tell her? No, let’s enjoy the peace and quiet as long as possible.

Thirty-nine days.

He’d planned for a shorter period, wanting to snub the Lockes or force them to travel at an uncivilized pace to attend the wedding. Either would have pleased him. Yet, it had been necessary to miss the procession to attend to the Warrior’s new tactic.

Still, the day wasn’t a total loss. He had requested Steven Blackhawk’s presence. With the king here at Farr Castle, this was the perfect opportunity.

Gaelib was worried Blackhawk may have been turned while at High Castle. He hoped not. He loved Steven more than he loved anything else he possessed. It would be painful to kill one he cared for so much.

 

David – Summer, 154 AK – The Road To Dunis Glen

David looked around, taking in everything. He’d been growing more agitated ever since Drake’s suggestion that Cain and Baldwin might not be telling the whole truth. The long ride weighed on him. Cynthia was suffering. He wanted answers. He wanted justice. He wanted revenge.

Now, on foot, his turmoil grew.

“It’s strangely quiet,” David remarked, glancing from Drake to Baldwin and back.

Drake shrugged. “Don’t let your imagination run away. It’s understandable. You seek answers.”

David considered it, yet Drake had him hide their horses outside town.

David pushed aside his anxiety as Drake led them to the Common House.

Within a back hall were about eighty knights being addressed by Jonathan. He spoke of his capture, torture, and attempted murder by Melazera. “…stories of my leading Mestel raiders are lies. Every knight who knows me can attest to their falsehood. These are rumors spread by Melazera’s serpents to divide us.”

Roars of support affirmed Jon’s statements.

Knights stepped forward, extolling Otual’s character and confirming he couldn’t have done the things he was accused of. They’d encountered him elsewhere on one or more of the dates when the raids had occurred.

David had stepped forward to add his own testimony, when a whistle blew and every door into the room burst open, revealing black-robed men armed with swords and knives.

The snap of a staff breaking bone caused David to turn. Behind him, Baldwin was on the floor clutching his smashed wrist. Beside him a knife lay discarded on the floor.

Drake struck again. He broke Baldwin’s knee, preventing the would-be-assassin from rising or ever walking again. It would be the last sound David heard clearly for some time. Everything that followed was drowned by the din of men fighting.

The pommel of David’s sword smashed an attacker’s wrist as he drew the blade. He didn’t finish the man off as three others were closing in. Thrust. Slash. Parry. Slash again. They went down, but there were more behind them.

He fell back, as did the other knights.

Drake appeared beside him. His staff as deadly as any sword. Then he was gone, lost in the melee.

For what seemed like an eternity, but must have been a scant minute or two, David fought back-to-back with another knight whose face he never saw. Then, there was an opening and both darted for cover.

Bodies littered the floor, dressed in black robes. The attackers were untrained. It didn’t take an experienced eye to see they merely dabbled with sword, knife, or axe. More and more men poured into the room, clumsily rushing experienced fighters who wounded, incapacitated, or killed them by the score.

As the black tidal wave swept forward, knights began to fall.

David saw his father working his blade skillfully, driving forward into his opponents to rescue another knight who’d fallen. He saw Daikon Baxter, one of their oldest and wisest, be overwhelmed. He spotted Drake saving another knight.

Although many had minor injuries, less than a dozen knights had succumbed when another whistle blew. The surviving attackers retreated like water receding at ebb tide. Darkly clad wounded, dead and dying bodies carpeted the room. One hundred? Two hundred? More? It was impossible to say.

From outside came the distinctive sounds of officers giving orders to their soldiers. The Common House was being surrounded.

“To the roof,” David’s father commanded.

The knights did as ordered. They jumped, scrambled, and helped each other up.

Once above, David almost laughed. Whoever commanded the soldiers was incompetent, a fool… or, perhaps, sympathized with the knights. The building had doors on three of its four sides. Those sides were where the soldiers were still finalizing their formations. There were no soldiers on the fourth, the one without doors.

Taking advantage of that lapse of judgment, Jonathan and several other knights dropped to the ground from the unprotected edge. Each was equipped with a short bow and arrows. Once they’d reached the woods, they took up covering positions.

Precious minutes passed in which the officers continued their noisy preparations and sergeants roared at their men. It gave the knights enough time to sprinkle down off the building, then slip away. Each traveled alone to prevent all from being apprehended as a group.

Only a handful of knights remained on the roof when the soldiers advanced into the building. Not because there hadn’t been time enough to depart. There had. At David’s suggestion, they’d remained to delay any pursuit by giving the soldiers other things to worry about. Their preparations had been subtle.

When the soldiers rushed the room, they found no knights, only the dead and dying. Tables had been kicked over, broken, and smashed. There were no chairs left. Only bits of them, scattered about, busted up, and bloodied. The debris made it difficult to move about. Even the barrels of wine and spirits had been shattered. Their contents had leaked, making puddles, mixing with spilled blood.

Officers and sergeants began yelling, “Where have the outlaws gone?” Demanding answers from each other and the few survivors.

David smiled. It wasn’t the revenge he sought, but it would do for now. He nodded at his fellow knights. Each threw a burning torch into the room below them.

The whoosh of flame soothed his soul. Yet he didn’t remain to witness its effectiveness, hear the screams, or smell the burning flesh. He and the other knights darted from the roof, arrows fired from the woods protecting them as they ran.

Then David was alone, sprinting through the woods. Hoping that his father and Drake had survived. And that the three horses were still where he’d stashed them.

 

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