Chapter 27: Reconnecting - 159 AK, Summer
Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
Gaelib was at High Castle, reporting to the king, when Blackhawk returned. Although he had received a brief report about the incident on the lower slopes of Shining Mountain, he wanted details.
The initial note that had reached him made his spirits soar. It was perfect, even poetic. The knight was going to be captured or killed above the ruins of the long burned-out Knights’ School. What could be more fitting?
Otual couldn’t defeat ninety men led by the recently promoted Colonel Blackhawk.
It was no contest.
The later messages had made grim reading. But, weeks later, this was the first time it was impossible to meet Stev’n face-to-face. There were, inevitably, details that his ‘son’ wouldn’t have entrusted to any communication that could be intercepted.
However, a private meeting in Gaelib’s quarters, no matter how desirable, would draw too many prying eyes, so he ‘accidentally’ encountered Blackhawk on duty in the Royal Gardens.
After Gaelib strolled past him and paused to smell a rose, Stev’n with his back to him, confessed, “Your Grace, I have failed you,” He began in a conversational tone so light that no one overhearing it would pay it any attention. “Please end my life.”
“No, no, no, that won’t be necessary,” Gaelib soothed as he noticed was limping. His son’s wounds must have been more severe than had been reported. Someone would pay dearly for not having brought that to his attention. If the limp was permanent, their recompense would be epic in proportion. “I still want a report. How could that knight evade you, and kill or incapacitate so many men?”
“I can’t explain it.” Blackhawk turned, pointing to an especially abundant blossom. “With any other man…” He hissed in pain, pausing to rub his leg. “This knight is–”
“How bad is your wound?” Gaelib kept his voice light, despite wanting to rage. Jon had harmed his son.
Stev’n straightened and pointed to another exotic plant. “It will heal. The army physicians did a good job… but they delayed my return to High Castle for over two moons. While in their care, I couldn’t send–”
“You have no need to apologize. Not about that. As to the knight?”
“He is … different,” he emphasized. “He knew what I was thinking, where I would be, and what I would do. He even ambushed me. Me! I hate him. I will kill him. I have to kill him!”
“I believe you, Stev’n,” Gaelib comforted, nodding appreciatively at a winter-blooming flower. “But don’t end him. I must have him alive. I promised Caileagh that she could use him, for her purposes. She was so… angry… when he escaped. She was ill-humored for weeks.” Then he smiled. “We had him once. We can have him again.”
“I will capture him.”
“I know you will.” Gaelib smiled. “If it wouldn’t diminish your value to me, I’d have you come to my chamber for dinner tonight. However, that can’t be. Not here at High Castle. It was a pleasure bumping into you. Who knows, perhaps when you are at Lorness Castle next time, we could have that dinner?”
“It would be a pleasure, your Grace.”
After Blackhawk left to make his rounds, Gaelib mused, I love Stev’n.
High Castle – Colonel Blackhawk’s Room
Blackhawk strode into his quarters, sat, and shook. He was alive. He’d expected not to be. The quiet tone of Gaelib’s recent notes had sent terrified shivers through him.
After ‘accidentally meeting’ his father, he’d expected to be executed by the end of his shift or, at least, punished for his failure to capture Jon’than Otual at Shining Mountain. Both possibilities had caused him to detour to the stables, where he’d spent time grooming Ransom. It soothed his soul. As did the memory of his steed returning and nuzzling him back to consciousness while strapped to another mount.
He had long ago decided that much of his training from Gaelib was wrong. He attempted to live an upright life, which he had been able to do these last fifteen years, except for lapses caused by his ‘father’. But he had been reading the Writings of J’shua since he discovered them hidden in his shanty at High Castle.
He’d found the book by accident. The rank of captain, which he’d attained in 149, came with a room in the inner castle. When packing to move, one of the buttons from Little Soldier had rolled under the cot and lodged between two floorboards. While prying it out, one of the boards came free revealing a leather book. He knew it was a sign, a new connection with Little Soldier, and began reading every night after his military duties were finished.
His mind seized upon every thought related to Little Soldier like a lifeline. He’d been floating in oblivion, mindlessly obedient to his training until he met her. Her light sparked an ember that became his guide, a beacon permitting him to make his own decisions, to work his way out of this darkness. He could see he was lost. The light called to him.
He was still not sure about J’shua, but the Writings satisfied his soul in a way he couldn’t explain. He could feel the ember growing.
I trust in Little Soldier’s innocent view of you.
Jon’than had evaded parties of soldiers while making his way through the forest to Mid Fort. When the trees thinned, he came upon a wide trail. Retreating back into thicker cover, he found a place where his horse, was unlikely to be stumbled upon.
He walked carefully alongside the path until he saw the stronghold. Taking cover, he watched and waited, learning the guards’ patterns. As he did so, his doubts about meeting his son returned.
Is this just my flesh craving resolution, or do you really want this, Lord? I am afraid to be captured again. If he rejects me, he may let me be caught. Has his anger abated or grown? His hurt? Uncertainty lies heavy on my heart. Yet I know you want the knights to protect the people again. Is it too late? Please, Lord, free me from this weight and let me be certain of your will.
A warbler sang. Jon’than did not look for it but enjoyed its song, first behind him, later far off to his right. He did not hear a female respond.
Have you lost your wife too? I hope you find her.
Small animals crisscrossed before him as the day passed. After the sun went down, bats chirped above. Frogs sang nearby.
The guards were replaced every eight hours. Every two hours, those on duty exchanged places. Four sat around a fire, talking and laughing. Two fully-armed men stood guard at the main gate. Two more equally well-equipped soldiers patrolled a circuit around the fort in opposite directions, saluting each other as they passed in the back, taking about 900 breaths to complete each circuit.
Occasionally, a Black Robe or a peasant worker would approach. One of the guards would ask for papers, or bow and give directions.
At the end of each two hours, two of those sitting by the fire replaced those on patrol who, in turn, replaced the two at the gate. The gatekeepers went to sit with their friends at the fire.
Dav’d is smart. He has eight men ready to defend or apprehend. He has four ever alert. And every eight hours, a new unit repeats the process. None of them are tired or bored and their commiserating keeps them awake. While they are farthest away, I’ll have maybe 150 breaths to enter from the back and so ensure they do not hear me.
He circled quietly around the fort, scouting a way in.
There was a narrow wooden door at its rear, unguarded.
Jon’than watched all night and into the early morning, seeing nothing. Yet there must be someone behind the gate. He continued to pray for wisdom.
At midmorning, washerwomen and peasants emerged from the gateway. They carried empty buckets and returned with them full, presumably hauling water.
Although he could see very little inside, the activity was not military. He guessed this is where the kitchen was, and probably the laundry too. Both needed much water. With a troop this size, it could go on the rest of the day and into the night.
When there was a pause in the flow of water carriers, he backed away. Wrapping his gear and the Writings in his cloak, he hid them and his sword and bow in a hollow fallen tree, then walked slowly in the light of the moon until he saw a lake. All the way around it, trees grew close to its edge.
He surveyed the shore, eventually spying what the Lord had provided: two buckets, worn but usable.
Thank you, Lord. I can enter tonight.
Returning to the hollow tree, he sat, the fatigue of his long vigil begun this time the day before taking its toll. He needed to be rested for his entrance. He lay in the crook between the trunk and a limb, covering himself with leaves to nap.
As he slept, he dreamt…
Dav’d stabbed the butt of the spear into the ground with each step. The trap and bucket hung awkwardly over Jon’s shoulder as Sar’h skipped ahead, the fishing pole dancing in front of her. R’bekah waved just as they lost sight of her, yelling, “Bring home something for dinner.”
“We will,” Sar’h called back as they all waved.
It was a good shady spot where the water eddied around a fallen tree covered in bright green moss and crinkly white lichens. The fish wriggled, biting at the bountiful insect larva. Jon’than showed his children how to make sure the joints of the trap were strong and how to repair them if they were not. Then he placed the trap and checked the quality of the string on Sar’h’s pole and the knot holding the hook. “Hooks must be made by a blacksmith, so you do not want to lose one.”
Sar’h listened intently, squatting on the trunk, while Dav’d dug for worms. She was a most attentive child.
Dav’d, he knew, was listening because the boy could always repeat anything he said.
After finding a good handful of wrigglers, he showed them to Sar’h, who studied them carefully. She pulled a fat one that poked out from between his fingers. With deeply furrowed brows and her tongue poking out of one side of her mouth, she threaded the hook through the worm’s body three times. Removing her boots, she placed them neatly beside the trunk. Hopping up, she padded out to the end of the tree and threw the hook and worm in the water. Then she sat down to wait while drawing patterns with her toes in the brook.
“Da, I got one!” She took it off the hook, plunging it into the bucket of water.
Dav’d speared another.
Jon’than woke rested, the setting sunlight filtering through the leaves. Hearing and seeing no movement from the fort, he filled the buckets.
Thank you, Lord, for your providence.
He waited until the two patrolling guards passed, one walking a little brisker than the other. When they were out of sight, he heard the still small voice say, “Go.” He picked up a bucket in each hand. Waddling to the gate, he set one down and used his dagger to opened the latch.
Inside, a long table was covered with pots, bowls, and butcher knives.
There is no one here. Thank you again, Lord.
He latched the gate behind him, sounds of merrymaking far off to his right. To his left, he heard a young lady speaking sweetly to a soldier in the shadows.
Thank you, miss, for distracting the guard.
He slipped behind a mound of dirty laundry. It smelled rank like a day-old skunk. Patiently, he waited, surveying the fort’s interior.
An officer walked into view, his face turned away, heading toward a building with a smoking chimney. There were two windows on its side, high up for privacy.
Perhaps it is Dav’d’s office.
The man turned to speak to a few soldiers. “Yes, sir!” They acknowledged, bowing as they handed him papers then left. Then he met a lieutenant at the door of the structure.
It is Dav’d. Thank you, Lord. Thank you.
Praying in the spirit silently, Jon’than walked to the back of the building. There was good concealment and a window with a log below it.
More of your providence, Lord.
He removed his boots and opened the window. Carefully, he drew himself through it, having assessed the room inside. He squatted on the sill, then dropped silently to the floor, setting his boots down. Dav’d was still outside.
“Good night, Lieutenant,” Jon’than heard a voice say. His son’s voice.
Dav’d entered, shutting the door behind him. When he turned, he was reading a report, so didn’t look up.
He looks hale and hearty, a strong man of twenty-four.
Dav’d didn’t have a weapon in hand.
Jon’than cleared his throat. “Hallo,” he said quietly, still squatting barefoot on the floor.
His son, eyes wide with shock, froze in place.
He has his mother’s eyes.
“What in blazes are you doing here, father?” Came the whispered reply. “How did you get in here? You son of a hundn. If anyone could make my attempts at security look feeble, it would be you,” he smirked.
“I am impressed with your perimeter strategy. Only a fool, that would be me, would try breaking into a fort,” Jon chuckled, as did Dav’d. It reassured him all was not lost.
I have not spoken to him since his wedding five years ago.
“Why are you here? I can’t protect you if you’re found. I may run this place but the price on your head, dead or alive, is so high my own men would kill me to get it.”
“Fear not, son, the God of Truth got me in. He can get me out. First, show me where to hide if anyone comes in.”
Dav’d pointed to a cabinet to his right.
“Do you have a book so you can appear to be reading?”
Dav’d picked one up from his desk.
Jon’than checked the cabinet. It was large enough. “Just getting settled in this command, I see. Drake said I would be proud of you. I am, son, very proud.”
“New fort, new furniture,” Dav’d responded, his smirk undiminished.
“Please stop that. It reminds me of the last time we had an argument, when you were apprenticed to Magistrate Gorum in Esthlanis. Was it as bad as you feared? I know I abandoned you, should have taken you with me. I see that now. I did not see your need. I am sorry,” Jon’than spoke meekly. “I was mistaken to think my letters would be enough.”
Dav’d looked away, focusing his gaze out the window. “Father, those tears dried long ago. As I grew older, I saw your wisdom. Just as I always knew you loved me. I love you too, da. But you shouldn’t stay here. You can’t,” he cautioned. “In daylight, this is a bustling place.”
“I know,” the knight affirmed quietly. “I have come to ask: do you still hate the knights? Was it the knights’ failings that turned you… or I?”
“No,” Dav’d hissed. “I have never hated the knights, nor you. I was tricked and used by Melazera. His spies brought Cynthia home to me. She was in such a state. Not that she’s ever told me all that happened. I was so grateful just to have her back. I trusted them. They deceived me. Foolishly, I brought them to Drake. Together, we led them to Dunis Glen. I am miserable with guilt over what I caused. Still, I’m…” His voice broke. “…afraid to find a knight and confess it. Can you understand?”
Jon’than nodded, giving his son time to speak about what had clearly been bottled up inside for all these years.
“I have always requested postings to the frontier. Precisely so I wouldn’t run into you or another knight.” Dav’d looked down at his feet. “I became a soldier when I could no longer be a knight. I thought I might still do some good… or, perhaps, die. I repent to the God of Truth every night but no longer hear His still small voice. I fear I am unredeemable.” He looked up. His eyes were wet.
“Never. Anyone willing to repent can be saved,” Jon’than consoled. Crossing the room, he embraced his son. “Even amongst the servants of the God of this Age, only those who refuse to repent shall be destroyed. He stepped back to look into Dav’d’s eyes. “Will you join me, son?”
Dav’d nodded, his lips taut, his face wet with tears.
“Come to Dunis Glen on the evening of the crescent moon, when the Fishes are rising next year,” Jon’than instructed. “The knights are scattered. It will take that long to gather them. I have a plan, but you need to reconcile with them. All of which must be done before we can take back our land and save the king.”
“I will. Pray for me to find a way, a reason for me to be at Dunis Glen. I am ready to die at any knight’s hand… if that’s what it takes for reconciliation. God knows I have prayed for death many times.”
“That will not be necessary. When the Fellowship hears your confession, they will see the man you are and accept you again.”
There was a knock on the door. Dav’d nodded toward the cabinet. Jon’than climbed in and shut it silently. The knock came again. While Dav’d dried his eyes, he yelled, “What is it?” Opening the door, he feigned a headache and rubbed his forehead to hide his face.
“Oh, uh…” a corporal stammered.
“Well, what is it?” Dav’d demanded.
“I am sorry, sir. I found some buckets laying on the ground. Then I heard talking. So I thought I should check inside. Is anyone here, sir?”
“No, Corporal, I was reading aloud. The poor light has given me a headache. It is commendable of you to check, though. You may go now.”
The corporal beamed at the compliment, bowed, then returned to his post.
Dav’d shut the door and went to the cabinet. His father was gone. All he found was a heart carved into its bottom. And a dagger. The one his father had given to him when he began at the School.
Dav’d shook his head. “How does he disappear like that?” Then he walked to his desk and sat down. Turning the dagger over in his hands, he cried with relief and prayed for his father’s mission.
I could go home.
While thanking the Lord for forgiving him, he thought of a reason to go to Dunis Glen. It came to him as a still small voice.
Jon’than backed into a dark shadow, listening. A man spoke intimately. A young miss giggled. He could not see them but, when they were fully engaged, he silently made for the gate.
Reclaiming his hidden gear, he walked toward his horse. He was overjoyed to have seen Dav’d and been able to hug him. It had been so many years.
You have revived me, O Lord, according to Your loving kindness.
He froze. He heard the nickering horse and men whispering. He crept through the trees to see who was holding Ruby.
“Corporal said: make circuit ov outa p’rimeter, ’en do it agin hundrid paces in. Report iv we saw ’nyone.” A thin soldier was holding Ruby’s reins.
A squat fat one replied, “But he dint say wot to do iv we saws a horse.” Stroking his chin, he asked, “If we's bring’im in, ya think we’d get to keep’im?” He patted the beast’s neck.
“Ya’re kidding.” Skinny smirked. “This a good ’orse, prob’ly b’longs to a rich man.”
“Hmm, why woulda rich man come har?”
“T’buy soldiers, ov course.” Skinny explained.
The knight stepped out of the trees and brushed himself off.
“Greetings friends! I went to relieve myself and got turned around. It took me quite a bit of time to find my horse again. I am so happy you found her and were talking. I followed your voices.” Jon slapped Skinny on the back.
“I’ve just come from your commandant. Wonderful fellow. I’ve just hired a hundred soldiers to guard my estate. The king is going to visit and I want to be ready.”
Skinny smirked at his companion again. “See, wot’d I tell ya.”
“You two look quite competent. Are you interested in that duty? If so, I’ll let the commandant know and have him assign you.”
They both nodded eagerly.
“I’ll reward you appropriately when I see you at my estate in a moon.” Jon’than mounted. “Good day to you, sirs.” He trotted majestically away.