Rare Things for a Rare Life

The Knights of Joshua

by Tiana Dokerty © 1984-2021

Home | Chapter 22 | Chapter 24

Chapter 23: Meetings 159 AK, Late Spring

Acts 17:27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:

 

Lorness Castle - Geleib's Rooms

Geleib fumed.

Five years. Five years!

It had been that long since he’d been elevated to the rank of duke. In the moment it had occurred, he was sure it was a sign that the Warrior was with him, that everything was about to fall into place.

It turned out that life had other ideas.

Ending a non-existent rebellion had seemed like a gift from the king. A gift that would allow Geleib to do as he pleased. Yet, it had not turned out so.

For one thing, that blasted knight had proven impossible to capture. Time and time again, he had eluded arrest. Without the instigator in custody – in his custody – he could not ‘end’ the rebellion… after a long interlude to play with him, of course. Then he’d send the king his head. Until then, Geleib was stuck in Lorness.

For another, the loss of the Black Robes had been far more devastating than he’d initially imagined. Yes, it had provided enormous opportunities for debt collections as, due to their incarceration or disappearance, loan agreements had been invalidated, were in dispute or simply could not be found. But it had also suddenly denied Geleib vast amounts of ongoing intelligence about who was in debt, who could be pressured, and who was vulnerable. Restoring that flow of information had proven all but impossible. Even five years later, barely one tenth of what he had previously known about Freislicht’s economy and its crux points was clear to him.

Lastly, his isolation in Lorness continually made every step toward completing his plans glacially, frustratingly, painfully slow. Indeed, in his more analytical moments, Geleib wondered if he’d even recovered what his elevation to being the Duke of Lorness had cost him. Was he even one step closer to ousting the king? Or, was that goal further from his reach than it had been five years earlier? Surely, with the Warrior’s active assistance, that was impossible.

He had only visited Farr Castle twice in each of the previous years, and even those stays had been fleeting. He only traveled to High Castle to report to the king.

It had been with great sorrow, King Sagen had announced before the assembled Royal Court on a visit there four years earlier, that it was necessary to appoint a new Royal Steward. So be it, Geleib had thought. Having one of his deputies fill the role would not be as good as doing so himself, but it would make no real difference.

However, that was not what the king announced.

Danyth Locke, eldest son of the Duke of Alexandria, had been appointed. Then he had uncovered, reversed and recovered many of the funds diverted for Geleib’s use. Fortunately, George Rosewood’s name was all over those accounts and Georgie was proving delightfully hard for the young Locke to track down… still.

Nor was Locke’s son the only problem.

Queen Melyssa had proven fruitful, but born two daughters.

Then there was the problem of Geleib’s own heir. He did not have one. He was forty-two years old. Cailleagh was older, too old to bear a child. There were increasing pressures from kinsman to either remarry or appoint an heir. Neither of which he was willing to do… yet. In part, because he still cared for her. In part, because she dealt with all the religious ceremonies, sacrifices and other folderol required to sustain the Warrior’s gifts.

But he needed an heir, a legitimate heir.

His situation was not like the king’s. The queen was barely twenty, had proven herself fertile and had years before anyone would seek to have her replaced…

…anyone other than Cailleagh, who still harbored ill feelings, insisting that Mellissa spelt her doom.

Even odder, his wife had formed a strange ‘friendship’ with the queen, or so his spies told him. Perhaps it was just a matter of getting close to one’s enemy. Perhaps it was something else. Regardless, Cailleagh’s behavior had become increasingly worrying and dangerous to him.

It was just as well that she spent more and more time apart from him at High Castle.

 

The Lion & Tiger Inn

Jonathan had ridden through the woods as much as possible, but was now in a part of the country that offered no cover. Ruby had approached as soon as he’d descended to Easy Mountain, nuzzling the pocket that often held an apple.

Word will spread. Knowing I am wounded will bring many more wolves to hunt me.

He had wrapped his shirt around his torso and tied it tight to constrain the gash. It helped at first. But days of riding had him hunched over and barely awake. It was raining hard.

Lord, I am getting too old for this, he groaned as he spurred the horse into a canter again.

Several miles down the trail, Jonathan breathed a sigh of relief. He saw the inn, The Lion & Tiger, a fine place for a wanted man to hide. He left the horse in the expert care of Joseph, the stable boy, and started to carry his gear inside.

I am safe, was his last thought before collapsing.

He awoke on a cot in the back of the kitchen, his eyes blurry, a man tending his wounds. “Ow! Careful there.”

“Shh. I have a full house tonight, including a Commander of the Royal Guard.” The burly black man laughed. “Jon, you look like a giant drowned rat, cold and soaked to the skin. Where’d you get the new scars and scrapes? You’re not even trying any more. Let me guess, you decided to make new friends?”

Missy and Charmaine were looking down at him.

“We need more bandages and dry clothes,” Will instructed.

Missy, the young red-haired girl who was as cute as a pixie, left with Jon’s weapons. She was an orphan Will had adopted almost ten years ago. She’d be attracting beaus soon.

Jonathan winced, as he sat up pulling at his soaked clothing. He gasped as he tried to remove his shirt, reopening the wound on his chest. Then gave up and let Will do it. His friend peeled it off, then boots and wet trousers.

Jon blew on the steaming drink Will handed to him. Wrapping a blanket around his chest, he tucked the corners in securely.

Will threw another log on the fire and his face turned serious. “What happened?”

Jonathan thought back. “I met some trouble on my way here from Tarinland. That’s why I am late. Debt collectors were harassing a family near the border, just below the Mountain. Three soldiers were threatening to take their children.

“I knew being recognized would bring trouble, which it did.

“I encountered a company of soldiers escorting Militet somewhere. I scattered the conscripts, forcing many of the soldiers to track them down. For a moment, I feared they would ignore me so I taunted the remaining horsemen into chasing me. I needed to give the family time to get away.”

"Always the hero, Jon,” Miles teased. “Will you never learn?”

Jon shrugged, wincing as he did so. “Once I had their commander’s attention, I led them up the Mountain. It reminded me of the drills Daikon Baxter made us do whenever we displeased him.”

They both chuckled.

“I kept the soldiers busy for a day, but they were led by Colonel Blackhawk. He seems determined to capture me. I do not know what’s driving him. He is the one who violated David’s wife, Cynthia… giving me every reason to hunt him. Not the other way around.

“I ambushed him. If you like my injuries, you would be in love with his. He will not walk or sit a horse for weeks. If he lived.”

Will grinned.

Missy set dry clothes beside Jonathan on the cot, then ran off with his wet things. As she left, he recalled when he’d found her, nine years earlier…

On the first bitterly cold day each fall, the Militet rounded up the orphans in every town and village.

Because of the cold, the children were less cautious, easier to spot.

No one missed them. Indeed, many were happy to be rid of them. Their consciences soothed by imagining the children fed, warm, and happy. That was not reality. The Militet got a bonus for each one they brought in, for they would be sold to brothels or mines.

Jonathan had found the girl in River Town. She was only four and had bumped into him. He picked her up and said with conviction, “Why Missy, what are you doing here? Your mother has been beside herself with worry.”

The Militet who had been pursuing her stopped, growled something to himself, and stalked off.

Jon took her to the Lion & Tiger Inn.

Daryl Andrews, alias for William Miles, looked at his friend in wonder. “Why bring her to me?”

“You have often said you wished you had more help.”

With a sigh, Daryl squatted down and looked into the little girl’s blue eyes. “What do you think about washing dishes?”

She blinked back at him, obviously malnourished and hesitant to speak.

Turning toward the kitchen, he yelled, “Charmaine, come here. Bring stew and bread. You have a little sister.”

 

Alexandria

I have to tell Uncle first. He is the wisest of the Knights. He will know what to do.

Lucas was almost home. It was just beyond his Uncle’s.

As he neared Uncle Richard’s house, he remembered playing with his cousins just days before his abduction. That day Uncle Richard was wrestling with the boys. All were competing to fell him.

He’d push or trip us as we tried to knock him down. If he got one of us, he’d toss his captive high in the air.

Lucas smiled at the thought. Uncle was strong. None ever got him on the ground.

I was innocent back then, happily playing with friends. In my twelfth year, I wanted so badly to be grown up. Now I wish I was a child again. It was only four years ago.

Lucas ran into the house. “Uncle, are you home?”

Richard dropped the dagger he was sharpening and turned. “Lucas? Thank God!”

The boy bounded toward him, arms outstretched.

“Where’ve you been?” the older man asked, encircling his nephew in a bear hug.

Lucas inhaled the old and familiar stink of his Uncle. The faint hint of pine spoke of Richard having risen early and cut wood for the day. His musky sweat told of lengthy sword practice.

Uncle was in his fifties, still strong as ever. There was much grey in his thick, brown hair, which was pulled back and tied as usual with a leather thong. When he let it free, it surrounded him like a lion’s mane, making him wild and scary. He was wearing his favorite blue-grey shirt, the last of his knight’s garb. It was well-worn with some torn seams. Perhaps it reminded him of his glory days when his life had purpose.

His Uncle held him, repeating, “Thank you, Lord.”. Finally, he released him.

“Where’s Aunt Elizabeth, Luca, and Susan?” Lucas asked.

“They went into town to buy provisions. They won’t be back for a few hours. Let me look at you.” Richard studied him up and down, his eyes stopping on the spattering of blood on Lucas’ tunic. He turned Lucas around. “You've got color in your cheeks, I see, and bulk in your muscles."

Lucas felt like a rag doll as his Uncle pushed and prodded him, looking for injuries.

“Are you well?" His Uncle's eyes bore through him.

“Yes, sir. I am well… and more. Though, I'm tired from walking.”

“Your mother,” Richard took a step back, “does she know you've returned?”

Lucas shook his head. “Not yet. I had to see you first.”

Uncle tousled his hair. “What’s this fuzz on your lip and chin?”

Lucas blushed. It reminded him of the many changes that had happened to his body while he was away.

“It’s nothing. I’m still just a boy.” He looked down. “Will I ever be as strong as you, Uncle?” He asked, looking up at him.

“You’re well on your way, Lucas.” Richard squeezed Lucas' muscular shoulder. “You may not ever have my build, but you will be formidable, and soon.” He started laughing. “I am so happy to have you back.” His eyes widened. “You must be exhausted. Sit. Are you hungry?”

Lucas pulled out one of the chairs and sat. “Yes, sir, a little. I've been walking for days, mostly through the forest on Shining Mountain to avoid soldiers.”

“Let me get you some stew and bread.” Richard went to the pantry, tore off a chunk of bread, and ladled leftover stew into a bowl. “You were on the mountain?” He asked as he set the food on the table.

“Yes, sir.” Lucas picked up the spoon.

“Sorry it's not hot, but the bread’s fresh.” Uncle poured two mugs of ale, gave one to his nephew, and sat. “Now, tell me what happened?”

Lucas paused, quickly eating several spoons of stew and a bite of bread. “I was walking down Fort-Fairness Road, headed home from Jaxen's when ten soldiers on horseback raced toward me. I had no idea that I should be alarmed. I just stood there watching, expecting them to pass by."

Richard's eyes were fixed.

Lucas shifted, knowing his Uncle was already praying for discernment.

That’s why I came here first.

He took another bite of the bread. “Four of them jumped down and surrounded me. One stated the Lord of Lorness had conscripted me. They made me mount one of their horses. Its rider got on behind me.”

“The soldier told you it was by order of the Lord of Lorness?” His Uncle interrupted.

“Yes, sir. A major. I’m sure of it. I’m sorry. I have no names. The stew is good." He shoveled in six more spoonfuls. “They warned me to give them no trouble. I didn't until I saw they were racing toward another boy. I yelled for him to run. The soldier hit me hard and knocked me out. I woke up draped over the back of a horse as we approached the Fairness Crossing garrison.” He took two bites of the bread. “They had four other boys.”

“It was good of you to try to warn the other," Richard praised.

“It was no help, though.” Lucas frowned. “I couldn't escape. They watched us all day and locked us in the barracks at night. I decided to submit and desert once they trusted me. But they never did.” He ate the last of the stew and wiped the bowl with his bread.

Richard dropped his head into his hands. He ran his fingers through his hair. He looked up at Lucas with tears in his eyes. “I am so relieved you survived.”

Lucas' eyes teared up. He blinked them away and looked at the window. A bird perched on the sill, pecking.

It was easier to tell the bird.

“We trained all day, every day with knives, axes, and swords. From sunrise until dark, they marched us around the garrison and exercised us with weapon forms, eventually integrating each of us into a different group. They brought me to a line of soldiers and told them all that if I ever escaped, one of them would lose their head. Then I knew I'd never find a way out, so I accepted my lot. I even made corporal.”

The bird flew away.

Lucas looked at his Uncle's sad face. “I'm thankful for the training. I believe it will help me in the future, and we were well fed,” he added with a slight smile.

“Praise the Lord for that,” Richard said with a sniffle and quick laugh.

“It wasn't as good as this,” Lucas noted, raising the last bite of bread toward his Uncle, smiling broadly, and devouring it.

Richard smiled back. “How did you escape?”

“They sent me to the Tarinland border, to join Colonel Blackhawk’s company. To many, he’s a legend. He's not even thirty years old.”

“I've heard of Blackhawk.” Uncle nodded.

“We were all on horseback, escorting Militet on foot. We encountered soldiers on a wagon, who were screaming about being attacked by Jonathan O'Toole.”

“Jonathan?” Richard sat bolt upright.

“I remembered the name from your stories. Blackhawk ordered us to capture the knight. I was left behind to safeguard the Militet… and keep them from deserting. But O’Toole attacked us. He came out of nowhere, straight at the conscripts, scattering them and wounding many.

“My lieutenant ordered us to give chase. The knight rose in the saddle, twisted, then fired five arrows. My officer fell dead from his horse. I’ve never seen such a shot. I’d never thought it possible.”

“It’s not,” Richard stated, dumbfounded.

“Yet, it happened. Without a leader, we broke off our chase and returned to Colonel Blackhawk for new orders. It was chaos. The Militet were everywhere. Many of them were claiming to be wounded. Too many for what I saw happen. I shut up and said nothing.

“The colonel was furious. Once we were back in formation, the Militet were left behind with a minimal guard. I’d hoped to be assigned that duty. I wasn’t that lucky.”

Richard took a long swig of ale. “I take it the Militet all wanted to desert?”

“To a man. I’d have done so too. But, after having my officer killed…”

“You were on Blackhawk’s shit list.”

Lucas tried the ale. It was weaker than he remembered. “Then the colonel took the rest of us hunting the knight. Two others and I, plus another lieutenant, were tasked with looking after the horses. It saved my life. There was an avalanche. It missed us… just. The men further up the mountain weren’t as lucky.

“But before we could go to their rescue, Jonathan appeared on foot. He clubbed the first guard, cut down the second. Then our lieutenant engaged him. The fight was fierce but brief ending in the officer’s death. Then…”

“Then… what…?” Richard prompted.

“The knight’s sword was swinging towards my face. It stopped just before he’d have killed me. He asked my name and…”

And…?

“And he let me go. More than that. He told me how to make it seem as if I was dead. No one will come looking for me. I’m… free.”

“Jonathan O'Toole. Praise the Lord for his providence and protection.” He shook his head in amazement. “Lucas, the God of Truth has a plan for you.”

"Yes, sir, I know it.” Lucas stood. “I saw my death. I can still feel my acceptance of it. Yet now I'm free and alive.”

"Let's take you home. Your mother has been worried sick. "

Lucas cocked his head at his Uncle and sighed. "Mother will never let me out of her sight again."

"Not for many a moon," Richard responded with a laugh.

 

The Road South

At King Sagen’s order, Commander Taylor and every other senior military officer was required to, at least twice a year, patrol one of Freislicht’s major roads. On this occasion, Taylor would be riding all the way to Alexandria and back via Fairness Crossing.

Meeting Gregory Locke had been a surprising pleasure, given the man’s reputation as a ruthless banker, an anti-religious bigot, and an inveterate producer of daughters. The last of those three accusations being the only one to have proven true.

Locke neither cared for nor opposed religion, an odd position from Taylor’s perspective as a follower of Joshua. Yet Locke was not the fanatical atheist he was reputed to be.

As for his business dealings, Peter Taylor would not like to sit at a negotiating table opposite the Duke of Alexandria. Unfortunately, that was exactly what King Sagen had sent him to do. A time was fast approaching, a scant few years hence, when things would have to be resolved once and for all. It was not possible for the king to visit Alexandria, and Gregory Locke’s duties prevented him from attending the king in High Castle more than once or twice each year.

The meetings had been… eventful.

Taylor forced himself back to the present and the chess board in front of him. After years of tentative negotiations, he was finally going to meet with a member of the Knights of Joshua.

Daryl Andrews, the proprietor of the Lion & Tiger Inn, had been very accommodating. Travelers usually only remained for a single night, two at most. Yet, he’d willingly put up the commander and his entire escort.

A brightly dressed woman, whom Taylor had noticed yesterday, came down the stairs, pushing a wild lock of hair back under her colorful scarf. She then went to the front desk, accepted a receipt from Daryl, blew him a kiss, and departed her curly brown hair bouncing.

“See you next time, Helen!” Daryl called.

Such a delightful lady. Taylor smiled.

He planned to remain for a full week as, in addition to the other ‘side tasks’ added by the king, these trips were intended to see whether the roads were being adequately patrolled, what was happening to the locals, and what problems the people faced.

The Inn also provided a location where his private efforts to contact the outlawed knights might occur. His contact with them was not supposed to arrive until the final day. In the meantime, his escort were carrying out their duties, training, and flirting with the proprietor’s oldest daughter, Charmaine.

Commander Taylor, however, had nothing to do but wait. He exercised with the men, enjoyed the inn’s food, was surprised by its range of wines, and played a lot of chess with an elderly merchant who’d been stranded by a thieving partner.

The old man was a friendly sort, if perhaps too trusting. He’d sent a letter to relatives in Alexandria and was confident they would soon arrive to help him get back home. It had already been two weeks.

 

The Lion & Tiger Inn

Miles approached and bowed. “Sorry to interrupt, sir. The tea you requested will be brought to your room at first-watch, if that is satisfactory.”

“Yes, that would be very helpful,” the waggoneer responded, not looking up from the chessboard. “I have had such trouble sleeping lately. Your tea helps me.”

“Very good, sir.”

Theold man looked at his opponent. “Do you think we’ll finish this game by first watch, Commander?”

Taylor frowned as he looked over the board. “Perhaps. You are giving me quite a challenge this time.”

“This is life, young man, this is life. Infinite possibilities come from our limited choices.”

 

Lorness Castle – Geleib’s Rooms

Cailleagh watched from the bed as Geleib paced back and forth clutching the note that had just been delivered. His expression was one she knew all too well. He was trying to conceal something from her.

No, he was trying to conceal something important from her.

But what…?

Could it be…?

"My love, what irks you so? Has your favorite plaything been injured? Perhaps, killed?”

He whirled, glared at her, then strode to the window and looked out.

Ooh, this is going to be fun.

“It’s even worse, isn’t it?” She purred. “Let’s see if my spirit guides can inform me…” She broke off, consciously displaying a shocked expression. “O’Toole, it’s O’Toole!”

Geleib’s back tightened. His stance became more rigid.

She was on the right track.

Standing, she allowed the flimsy robe she was wearing to fall to the floor, advanced and wrapped her arms around him from behind.

“I…” He began, melting into her touch.

“Steven and O’Toole…” Cailleagh whispered, floating the idea that had come into her mind. The contraction of Geleib’s muscles confirmed the hunch. “You wouldn’t react this way if it wasn’t dire. The two have clashed. If O’Toole was a prisoner, you’d be elated… even if Steven was dead. You know how much that would please me. O’Toole’s capture, not your son’s demise.”

Not that I’d mourn his passing. He distracts you from more important things, like me.

Geleib turned. “There are moments when I’m reminded you too have spirits guiding you… and thus have value,” he ended coldly, broke free of her grasp and began to stalk off.

“My love, as always, you are correct. However…”

“However, what…?”

“To retain the full support of your guiding spirit, the Warrior, you must demonstrate your devotion. It is months since you have sacrificed to him. You have missed three of his sacred days. You—”

“I have more important things to do. Things that require my immediate attention.”

“That, again, is true.” She lowered her head and looked at him through half-closed eyelashes. “But your success began with the Warrior. You promised him, and me, O’Toole as a sacrifice.”

“I… perhaps, you are right. It would be foolish of me to break promises. Worse, it would set a bad precedent that could undermine all I have built. O’Toole will be yours. Do with him as you wish, as long as you prepare him for final sacrifice to the Warrior.”

“And Steven…?”

“Wounded… but he’ll live. And he remains a valuable asset.”

“Of course, my love.”

 

The Lion & Tiger Inn

Daryl Andrews watched the candle burn. It was lit at sunset and took three hours to burn down to the line scratched into the tallow. He prepared the tea and took it upstairs to the waggoner’s room. He knocked lightly three times.

The old man opened the door. “Come in. Thank you so much for bringing this.” Once the innkeeper was inside, he shut it behind the man.

“Sir, why have you been here all week? How can I help?” Daryl asked as he set down the tray.

 “I’ve avoided you for your protection… and that of your family. I do not know how closely Commander Taylor is watching. It’s him I’ve come to examine… and, perhaps, negotiate with. The king is ready to stand against the enemies of Freislicht. Be ready to act. The Lord is moving, Miles. Oh, I mean, Daryl. We’ll need everyone that can hold a sword.”

“Sir, Jonathan O’Toole is here, recovering from a nasty wound. He’s been trapped in my upper room by the commander’s presence for the last week. Perhaps you could minister to him before you leave.”

“I’ll do so, once the military have left.”

Fairness Crossing

Rebekah-as-not-quite-herself strode back and forth, almost wearing a path in the carpet of the little farmhouse located two miles beyond Fairness Crossing. It had been set up to house and hide one of Licht Gegen’s analysts in plain sight.

Semagine Ecks - the gossipy widow with a nose for nastiness they’d found when looking for another Bywold Parsons – was relating her latest findings in regard to the Melazeras, “…and that must mean the Duke of Lorness’ people are preparing for something big. The baden shipments we’ve intercepted in recent moons have all been substantially larger than in previous years.”

“It could just be to offset those that we’ve…” Rebekah winked at the widow “…redirected. It has been enough shipments for him to have to compensate.”

“While that would be a lovely, if self-serving, conclusion,” Semagine disapproved, “it does not match the facts. The security around the shipments continues to get better. Except the poor dears driving and arranging them are too loose-lipped when enjoying the services of… whores. We of Licht Gegen…” the pride in her voice was unmissable, as was her distaste for having to associate – even indirectly – with women who lacked morals. “…are not tempted by the lures of the flesh. We are above such things.”

“I’m well aware of your opinions. Just… I know we need information, no matter where it comes from. So, I will not debate you on this topic again.”

“Hmph! I still say, the Serpent’s Servant is up to something. I can’t tell what… yet.”

“But…?” Rebekah prompted.

“But there are some rumors that need to be investigated further…”

“Coming from those women you’d prefer not to deal with… even indirectly.”

“I’d prefer not to deal with them at all, Lady Rebekah!”

“I’ve told you before not to address me so.”

“How can I not when… you know my circumstances when you found me. I shall always be in your debt. Another moon, another week, perhaps another day and I’d have had to… taint… myself by…”

“It did not come to that. Thank the Lord. Nor will it,” Rebekah soothed.

“Still, the thought of what I might have had to do…” Semagine shuddered.

“Perhaps you might consider this when you pray for those who have been brought low,” the lady chided.

The widow about to speak, paused with her mouth open, perhaps in reflection.

Rebekah smiled. “How can I help you get the information that you’re missing?”

“I’ve had a thought…”

Rebekah tuned out, knowing it would take some minutes before the widow’s plan would be put forth.

However, the way the widow’s eyes twinkled meant someone was about to have a very, very unpleasant comeuppance. That was typical of the vindictive woman’s schemes. It would also probably work. Semagine was not merely an excellent analyst. She had a flair for dirty tricks, the dirtier the better.

That was one of the main reasons Rebekah managed her personally. The thought of one of her people getting on Semagine’s bad side was one she did not want to contemplate.

 

The Lion & Tiger Inn

Days had passed since Taylor had arrived at the Lion & Tiger. He’d enjoyed the rest. Just as he’d been fascinated to see how the settlement around the Inn had changed.

In the last year alone, several more families had begun farming nearby, a blacksmith had set up shop, and a saddler had opened a store. There was even a grain and feed merchant, who also sold the occasional horse, although it was only open every other week as there wasn’t enough business to operate fulltime. Not yet.

Then there were the travelers. Most were happy to meet one of the king’s officers. They talked of their lives and, sometimes, their troubles. Sadly, those dwelling under Melazera’s rule were easy to spot. They were more guarded, more nervous. Although, when he could get them talking, some of the stories he heard were…

Taylor put that thought aside, refocusing on the chess board in front of him. Annoyingly, the waggoneer’s family still had not sent anyone for him. That chafed. It was inconsiderate. No, it was wrong. The old man was good company and deserved better.

Yet, no matter how much he’d learned, he needed to get back to his duties at High Castle.

The knight had not shown up. Taylor was disappointed, but not overly surprised. Having lost one final game with his chess partner, he got up to leave.

The old waggoneer stopped him, “I think we can work together.”

Taken aback by the out-of-place statement, Taylor said nothing.

“Perhaps,” the elderly merchant continued, “I should have introduced myself more formally, but I wanted to know who I’d be dealing with. My full name is Daikon Sylvanus Elfert Baxter of the Knights’ School.”

 

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