Rare Things for a Rare Life

The Knights of J'shua

by Tiana Dokerty © 1984-2021

Home | Chapter 21 | Chapter 23

Chapter 22: Games People Play 154 AK, Spring

Ephesians 2:4-5 But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)

Updated 8/12/22

 

High Castle – King’s Drawing Room

Sagen 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. The banquet table in the middle of the room 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 wanted the players to be able 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. He hoped he would add the Duke of Wooster to the growing number ready to fight for him.

 

Woods Outside of Farr

Captain Fortsun was leaning against the rough boards of the tavern he’d just left, picking meat from his teeth when the pair of soldiers approached.

They bowed. “We’ve a report, sir. We’re with the western patrol. The sergeant here noticed a glint of light reflecting off metal as a bear cub ran by. We pursued until the cub dropped it. It was part of a silver armband.”

The finally re-promoted captain sighed. “Lieutenant.” He motioned for a young officer to approach. “Take four dozen Militet. These two will show you where to go. Search the area.

An hour later, the lieutenant rushed up. “We came across a torso scavenged by animals and crawling with insect larva.”

Fortsun arrived to see the last body part, perhaps a shin bone, arranged on an oiled tarpaulin. All that was missing was the right arm. He identified it as Commandant Greysun. He knew Melazera would be ecstatic when he received the report.

 

High Castle – The Great Hall

King Sagen kept a straight, impassive face. Within only weeks of becoming a duke, Gaelib had produced witnesses ‘proving’ that the knight, Jon’than Otual, was behind the ongoing rebellion. Sagen had thanked the newly minted duke for his tireless work.

This ‘rebellion’ was buying precious time for Sagen’s other preparations, although it hurt to hear his childhood friend slandered so often.

As for the ‘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.

 

Lorness Castle – The New Sanctuary

Caileagh arranged for Gaelib to meet her in the lower hall. It had been used in times past as a staging area for military operations, but was no longer required. She had begun consecrating it ten years ago, after the loss of the Sanctuary of the Alte Regieren, when her guiding spirits had deserted her.

Three long years had passed before she’d heard their voices again. Three years in which she’d had to guide Gaelib on her own using the runes, blood spatter, and tossing bones. Three years in which she’d learned the true depths that her mother had plumbed and what that woman had done to her.

But that was the past. As was her mother who, along with the old wizard, had given their lives so her guiding spirits would return.

Yet it had taken seven more years to dedicate this place so it was ready for Gaelib’s Emancipation Ritual, for his final release from the bonds of morality.

Five of her highest docents had prepared the ceremony.

Gaelib stood stoically composed, yet she saw his underlying nervousness, his need, and his willingness to do anything to gain the full power of the Warrior. He’d arrived on time, dressed in his ceremonial robes. He knew the nature of the ritual and his part in it.

But she still doubted he’d understood that this was a choice. That the Warrior wouldn’t take him. That Gaelib must freely offer himself, handing over control to receive the powers he sought.

Gaelib waited, impatient for what he was finally to receive.

I need that power and vision to become the sole Ruler of Freislicht. With the Warrior’s abilities, I’ll overcome all.

Accompanied by familiar chants and rituals, the docents entered the hall, bringing with them a struggling woman, a rope around her neck. Clutching an infant, she was pulled by a docent with two more in front and another two behind.

Given she was dressed as a peasant, Gaelib surmised she had no family of consequence to repay whatever he did to her.

Caileagh wouldn’t risk that.

His wife handed him the bowl filled with the dust of crushed bones and ashes, instructing him to draw the sublime circle on the floor.

He did so without thought, having done it countless times, while recalling the next step: coaxing the woman into the circle, then have her kneel without the threat of force.

Terrified, she yearned to believe his comforting words, clutching the child tighter.

The five docents spread out around the sacrificial circle.

Caileagh stepped forward to prompt him.

He raised his hand, stopping her. This was his moment. He no longer required guidance. With feigned comfort, his sweet honeyed voice soothed the kneeling woman’s fears and quieted her sobs. Tears streaked her face as she looked at the robed figures and shadowed faces, seeking a way out that didn’t exist.

“All is out of our control,” he crooned. “The God of this Age is in charge, here in this circle that you entered freely, and everywhere else. There is no escape. There are no alternatives. But there is a higher purpose. You must act to preserve the kingdom. Within the dungeons, the child would surely die slowly, starving, and in pain. It is inevitable. No other outcome is possible. Complete the offering. Be highly favored. Receive my blessing. Act and all your cares will cease, as His beloved.”

He offered her the ceremonial dagger.

She surrendered her will to him, taking the blade.

He felt power surge into him as the child expired. It was heady, transcendent.

Caileagh gestured for the infant.

Despondent and sobbing, the woman relinquished the small lifeless body.

Lady Melazera drained its blood into an ornate bowl of wine.

As if at a great distance, he heard the Warrior intone, “Take her for your pleasure. Do with her as thou wilt.”

The ceremony could have no other end. Indeed, buoyed by the power flowing through him, it was easier than expected. He played, enjoying every suggestion from the Warrior. 

Yet more power entered Gaelib as he silenced his victim with the same dagger she’d used to end her own babe’s life.

More strength flooded into him when he drank the blood from the bowl.

The Warrior spoke to him with the energy of a cyclone and the clarity of a sunbeam, “We are free of all moral constructs.”

I’m free of guilt, shame, and hesitancy. I see clearly that my word is the Will of the Gods.

 

South of Lorness

R’bekah refused to have her new role as coordinator of intelligence and active operations for Licht Gegen, prevent her from participating in some of the ‘fun’. Not that she was willing to risk her life doing anything too foolish.

By her standards.

That explained why, dressed as a woman who’d been taken in a ‘lawful’ debt collection, she was ‘trapped’ in a cage cart. With her were three very pretty girls of marriageable age, a lad whose seemingly bloody leg was wrapped in bandages, and three children. That all of them were armed with weapons wasn’t obvious, even if looking into the cage.

All were trained, even the youngest, who had an affinity for throwing knives. All had been assembled by Licht Gegen, avoiding any use of real names, so none could identify the others.

The ‘guards’ escorting the cart were lads from James of the Wood, dressed in uniforms ‘recovered’ and repaired after their owners ceased needing them. They’d been traveling for several hours, stopping frequently, and had ‘added’ one or two people at each stop, until all eight had been ‘captured’.

At this stop, the guards had set the abandoned farm ablaze. Those in the cage cowered and wailed.

When another wagon approached, its driver roared, “What’re you doing, hundn? That farm belongs to…” His words were drowned out by a wall collapsing and the sound of a river of baden flowing into sight.

The well-dressed young man playing the part of Lord Melazera’s clerk opened his folder and checked something. “As the Lord of Lorness requires. It’s just been sold to someone who’ll build a mansion there. Who’re you? How dare you challenge me?”

As their argument escalated, R’bekah slumped dejectedly to the floor of the cage cart, gripping the stock of a hidden crossbow, preparing to raise and fire it. As she did, her eyes flicked to a horseman who stopped in the distance and patted his horse’s flank.

It couldn’t be, but it was…

…Jon’than!

Sheisse!

She couldn’t risk him interfering. James’ lads wouldn’t take instructions from her. They only knew her as T’mas Bekh. She looked nothing like him at that moment. Nor could she risk the others in the cage learning her identity. Apart from anything else, she’d never hear the end of it, never again be able to be Bekh, or play any other role.

Sheisse!

Raising her hands so they shaded her face in a particular way, she prayed Jon saw her signal and honored it, staying away.

Hell, he could decide to come to her aid and attack James’ boys!

Sheisse!

As she fretted, unable to do anything but pray, the two arguing men dismounted. Their confrontation lasted only long enough for a blade to slip between the wagon driver’s ribs. He collapsed into the clerk’s arms.

Even R’bekah had to admit it was beautifully done. From a distance – from Jon’s distance – it should have looked as if the driver fainted and the clerk caught him.

After the wagon driver was ‘helped’ onto the back of his wagon, R’bekah heard the telltale trickle of wine that lasted only seconds, followed by the tinkle of baden on wood.

Her information had been correct. They’d intercepted yet another of Lorness’ money deliveries. The baden found in the burning house was an added blessing.

 

South of Lorness

Jon was walking Ruby steadily. Only an hour earlier, he’d finally lost one of Lorness’ patrols. It had been a mistake to come this far north. He’d been guided to, yet all it had earned him was four all-too-close brushes with Gaelib’s men and a terrifying ordeal after almost galloping headlong into Blackhawk.

Both he and his horse were close to exhaustion. It was why he’d cut into the woods and was using lesser-known tracks to put distance between him and his pursuers. Both man and beast would have to rest or he, somehow, had to find a second mount. As yet, he wasn’t far enough south to encounter James or his lads.

The wagon ahead of him was nothing special. When it turned off the road toward a farm, he stopped and patted his horse’s flanks. Something was bothering it.

Smoke rose from a nearby farm. The setting sun was so low in the sky, it obscured the house. The buildings could be aflame, and he’d not be able to tell. Or, they could be feasting.

Then he saw the cage cart. Anger flared within his chest, but he lacked the energy to intervene. There were too many guards to take on alone. Certainly not astride a tired mare.

The light changed, giving him a glimpse into the cage. Amongst those trapped there was a woman that reminded him of R’bekah, but too many did these days.

Then she…

He gasped. He knew that signal.

It is R’bekah! But she commands me to stay away. What do I do, Lord?

He did not need an answer. He wanted to go to her aid. He desperately wanted it. Yet, he respected her judgment. Whether it was for his protection or hers, or if there was something occurring he could not perceive, as he loved her, his only choice was to respect her message.

Without taking his eyes from her, he moved his horse off the track and into the sparse trees that lined it. Losing sight of her as the sound of hoofbeats became audible in the distance.

Dismounting, he moved his horse further back, only to see Blackhawk and ninety men thunder into sight from the west, disappearing into the eastern distance. By God’s grace they were all unseen.

Thank you, Lord. She is still alive.

 

Lorness Castle – Gaelib’s Rooms

Undersecretary Rosewud arrived too many days after being summoned.

Upon being granted entry into Gaelib’s private apartment, he dropped to his knees and begged, “My Lord, please forgive my tardiness. I didn’t get your message until I returned to Farr Castle. I was away arranging debt collections and conscriptions. Despite being denounced, your Black Robes did a marvelous job of altering or losing contracts before going into hiding. It’s a pity they had to go underground. Still, so many records were lost when they did. It’s worked in our favor.”

Gaelib smiled, saying nothing.

Rosewud was terrified. The silence drew out. Desperate for something, anything to say, he blurted out, “The operation was very successful in raising the necessary money and men for the army. The Lightning Battalion will be loyal to only you, my Lord… I’m sorry, your Grace. My belated congratulations on your long-overdue elevation to duke.”

Gaelib rose from his throne-like chair and walked slowly toward the cowering undersecretary. He leaned down and took his hand, “Rise, Ge’rge, I forgive all.”

“You are most merciful, Your Grace.”

“I am pleased. No, I am… impressed. So much so that I have an important task for you.”

“Anything!”

“Exactly the response I wanted,” Gaelib smiled menacingly. “I intend to institute some security procedures for the money allotted to the Black Robes. Despite it being forced underground, its influence is still significant. But…”

“Yes…?” Rosewud knew he sounded like a puppy begging for the attention of its master, but it was the only safe response.

“But Caileagh has proven she lacks the command of details necessary given recent… setbacks. I need someone who understands money, how to use it, and how to hide it. You can do that for me, can’t you, Ge’rge?”

“Yes!”

“Then…” Gaelib picked up a drink and admired himself in a mirror, eventually turning back to face Rosewud. “You will deliver funds to the docents only after they swear allegiance to me. And only after I receive their reports each moon.”

“Yes, my Lord,” Rosewud complied. Then two thoughts struck him.

What did Caileagh do to lose Gaelib’s favor? How do I avoid the same fate?

“However, even before you deal with the docents, we have a small problem with pilferage.” Gaelib smiled beneficently.

Rosewud’s insides clenched tight.

“I’m not talking of Caileagh diverting funds, or even the docents retaining a few baden for their uses. The former has never happened and the latter is simply the cost of doing business. No, someone has been intercepting money shipments.” Melazera’s face darkened. “So much so it’s putting the slightest of crimps in my plans. Before it becomes a significant nuisance, stop the robberies. You can do that for me, can’t you, Ge’rge?”

“Yes!”

Where the hell do I start?

 

High Castle

Blackhawk sat down at his desk to write his report to Gaelib.

“I was only with the king three times this week due to other duties. The king met with Ambassadors Co’per and Math’es from Mestelina. I couldn’t overhear what was said. All seemed happy at the end of the meeting.”

He paused, considering how best to phrase the next statement.

“The king and queen aren’t getting along. They had an argument yesterday, leaving him annoyed for the rest of the day.”

He stopped writing and thought about that encounter. The king had told the queen that she couldn’t always have her way and should grow up. She’d crossed her arms, stomped her foot, and scowled at him as her nose wrinkled. Then she did an about-face and walked off haughtily.

It reminded him of Little Soldier. He touched the spot where her buttons still lay under his shirt, making him smile.

“It was otherwise uneventful when I was in the king’s presence.”

 

High Castle – Outside the Queen’s Drawing Room

Caileagh checked her dress yet again. This was wrong, all wrong, yet…

Yet, Gaelib had barely ventured forth from Lorness, except to attend meetings with the king here at High Castle. Meetings that increasingly left him angry, frustrated, and seeking someone to take his ire out on. It wasn’t that she didn’t enjoy it when they played rough, she did. But she liked being in charge and, it was increasingly evident, she wasn’t.

Ever since his Emancipation Ceremony, he’d needed her less and less. His latest petty revenge being to hand control of the funds for the Black Robes to Ge’rge Rosewud. It was insulting, demeaning. Worse, it was a warning.

The small spirits that guided her were no match for the Warrior. He was its servant now. He’d given himself freely. There could be no reversal of his fate. He was the Warrior’s.

What does that make me? Have I become irrelevant, like my mother?

No, there must still be purpose in her life. Yet, too many of her former friends and confidants looked at her differently. They whispered of how she hadn’t given Gaelib a son. She’d even heard some question what it would take to oust her from her husband’s bed.

Her husband, the duke.

There’d been women who had looked at her Gaelib when he was only – only – an Earl. But then she’d had power. Then he’d needed her. Then she’d had influence.

Even the Black Robes were being taken from her.

The guards standing stock still outside the Queen’s Drawing Room didn’t meet her eye. Not that they met anyone’s.

Yet she’d been standing here for too long.

Advance or retreat. That’s no choice, at all.

The door opened before she could request entry. Framed in it was a woman with remarkably dark skin, darker even than a Tarin, Lady Ush-Wha, one of the queen’s ladies-in-waiting.

“Your Grace…” Ush-Wha curtsied. “The queen sent me to find you. She was worried you’d been delayed.”

“I… no, it’s just that I’ve come–”

“Don’t chat out there by yourselves,” Melyssa’s voice sang out. “Come in, you’re causing a draft.”

Caileagh was taken aback. How could the queen speak to her so casually? Didn’t she know…? Didn’t she suspect…?

Ush-Wha took three long steps forward, slipped her arm through Caileagh’s and towed her into the room. The door closed promptly behind them.

“Your Majesty,” Caileagh began, trying to curtsy. The lady-in-waiting’s arm held her upright.

“There will be a time,” Melyssa cut her off, “Caileagh – surely, I may call you by your name and not your title – when formality will be required, but it isn’t today. I’ve found you in my thoughts often. I suspect you’re as isolated from normal life as I am. Although, calling my life in Alexandria ‘normal’ is as accurate as suggesting stones float.”

“I… I’m not sure how to respond…”

“Melyssa,” the queen prompted with a twinkle in her eye. “You only have to say it once. I promise I won’t chop off your head or drive a sword through your chest, today.”

She can’t know about the prophecy. It’s not possible!

“Of course,” the queen continued, “I really can’t promise about tomorrow. Who knows, you might get some fool idea in your head and want to kill me.”

Caileagh froze.

“Sit down.” The monarch’s words were cold. Their banter had evaporated faster than morning dew. “Whether you know it or not, you’re important. You’re also misguided, have been used, have been abused and, if I’m not entirely mistaken, are increasingly likely to be killed by your husband.”

Glacially, Caileagh lowered herself into the seat that had been placed behind her. Only to register the pair of hand-crossbows pointed at her by Lady Ush-Wha.

“I don’t take unnecessary risks,” Melyssa continued, “and, if I could prove you were behind the attempt on my life, you’d never leave this room. Actually, you’d never have entered. There was one word in what I’ve just said that should give you hope. Did you catch it?”

“Uh…”

“Close. It was ‘unnecessary’. Speaking to you is necessary. Do you know why?”

‘No, your… Melyssa.”

“Well done. You’ve just demonstrated you can learn, that you can adapt. It’s an extremely important realization. One that, I suspect, was never taught to you.”

“I’ve survived—”

“Survival and adaptation aren’t the same thing. There is one more question I need to ask, then I’ll let you be on your way… to wherever. Your choices are rapidly diminishing.”

Caileagh tried to summon her courage, to reach for her guiding spirits, or just to bark back at this upstart queen who’d usurped her place at Farr Castle. She, Caileagh, had been the most powerful woman in the kingdom, but was no longer. “What…?” It came out as a squeak. She was mortified.

“Do you know the difference between your god and mine? Yes, I follow J’shua Ha Mashiach, the Son of the God of Truth. Please feel free to take advantage of that admission. It will get you nowhere.”

“What…?” The word had barely as much strength as its predecessor. Caileagh felt as if she was drowning. As if everything she believed in was being washed away by this queen who was less than half her age.

“Mine always forgives. Repent, accept your actions and the God of Truth will forgive… even you.”

Caileagh didn’t remember how she got back out into the corridor, only that she’d had to leave that room, that… that… queen. There was something in her words that…

No, no, no! I know better! She’s wrong!

Yet, even within her own mind, Caileagh felt the weakness of her protestation.

Worse, she knew a lifeline had been held out to her.

No! My guides haven’t deserted me, won’t desert me. How could I even consider this ridiculous offer by the follower of a weak and impotent god?

 

South of Lorness

Jon’than had cautiously traveled south, encountering James of the Wood a day later. "I have a question for you.”

James’ eyebrow rose. “Yes?”

“Some of your lads were escorting a cage cart. Why?”

“A small matter of redistribution. From Lorness to those he oppresses, less a tiny fee.”

“I need details.”

The grin upon James’ face broadened. “With Licht Gegen’s help, Lorness has been funding our operations. Quite unintentionally. We redirect his baden shipments now and again.”

“Oh…”

“Why do you ask?”

“Who was the woman in the cart? Not the girls, the only adult woman?”

James blinked. “I’ve no idea. Licht Gegen provides people to play those roles. We never know who they are. It’d be dangerous for all involved.”

“Her name is R’bekah… Otual.”

“She’s your wife?

“Yes.”

“I don’t know how to contact her. I could try…”

“Please do.”

“It’ll be nice to be helping you, rather than receiving your help.”

Jon’than bowed to the young man. “Thank you.”

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