Chapter 29: Discoveries – 159 AK, Summer
Psalm 40:3 And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD.
Jonathan stayed off roads, traveling through secluded areas, leaving too much time to think. Despite having left the Overhills and the southern knights in high spirits, his worries resurfaced. Thoughts of loss nagged at him. Except for seeing Rebekah in that cage cart, it had been fifteen years since he’d laid eyes on her. And he could not imagine the young woman his daughter had, hopefully, grown into. She may be gone forever. Despite his brief meeting and reconciliation with his son, the knights considered David a traitor, one of the architects of the Dunis Glenn Massacre. That too would have to be rectified and the knights reformed before taking on Melazera.
With each step, the future seemed bleaker and threatened to overcome him. He prayed.
A dozen armed horsemen approached. Not soldiers, but ready for combat.
Jonathan spurred his horse to evade, veering toward the mountain.
They split, flanking him.
He spurred his horse, then reined her in hard, trying to dart behind them when the still, small voice said, Go with them.
Gregory Locke, Duke of Alexandria, stood in the center of the room gazing out a window when Jonathan was ushered in. He turned to face his ‘guest’. “Welcome, Sir Otual.”
Servants followed carrying platters of fruit and flagons of wine, which they set on a table surrounded by chairs.
The knight bowed. “How can I be of service, lord?”
He is confident. Good. Gregory sat. “I have questions. I have had them for quite some time. When I heard the leader of the ‘rebel knights’ was within my domain, I sent men to fetch you. I hope you were not too disconcerted, but I couldn’t let you disappear.”
Jon frowned. “They certainly surprised me, and impressed me with their quick reactions.” He bowed again. “I am happy to answer your questions, but I am no rebel and no leader either.”
A touch of flattery and humility is wise. Gregory smiled.
“Sit,” he waved the knight toward the table, “I’ve been told so many fantastical stories of you. I am excited to finally meet you. I’ve also heard you play chess. Is that so?
Jonathan nodded. “Yes, lord, I enjoy the game.”
“Wonderful!” The duke said with a laugh. “Please have something to eat and revitalize yourself. Then, I plan to test your mettle… on the board.” He gestured, then servants brought an ornate chess table to the center of the room, placed two comfortable chairs next to it, and began arranging gold and silver pieces.
Jon’s smile was everything Gregory hoped for.
High Castle – The Queen’s Drawing Room
Melyssa tried to still her nerves but couldn’t. This was almost worse than meeting Sagen for the first time. She’d been extensively prepared for that.
How do I…? I’d thought him a childish fantasy. Yes, I kept the buttons, but… but… I never thought I’d…
Lady Ush-Wha smiled wickedly at her, “You have the most delicious taste in men, Your Majesty. While I still want your brother as my husband, I could enjoy frolicking with this beautiful man you’ve found. After all,” she leered, “you can’t take advantage of him.”
“I’d tell you that’s inappropriate north of the Shining Mountains,” Melyssa teased back, grateful for the distraction, “but I’m told it’s inappropriate south of them too.”
“Hmmm, that just means I’ll have to drag him into those mountains.”
“Colonel Steven Blackhawk,” a herald announced, cutting off their conversation.
The officer was resplendent in his uniform. So much so that Melyssa heard at least one of her ladies-in-waiting sigh.
What do I say?
A name floated into her consciousness, from childish dreams, “Did I call you Sir Hawk?”
Another lady-in-waiting sighed.
“Your Majesty,” he paused, perhaps gathering courage, “is it wise to speak of such things in front of…?”
“Have no fear,” Melyssa felt her playful persona return, “my Sir Hawk. These ladies will protect this secret, and any others that I choose to share with them, unto death. They are more,” she covered her mouth and coughed, “capable than you might suspect.”
“I meant no disrespect, Your Majesty.”
“And none was taken. However, if you would be willing to risk your dignity one day, in private of course, I’d be fascinated to see you spar… with Lady Ush-Wha.”
“Perhaps, Your Majesty, although I’d be concerned about hurting her.”
“Be worried about getting hurt, pretty boy,” Ush-Wha purred.
“Not now,” Melyssa glared at the dark-skinned lady-in-waiting, then refocused on her guest. “My apologies, Sir Hawk. My companion is known to be somewhat… uh… predatory, in all aspects of her personality. She is also, although you may not believe this, trying to be supportive of me. I have… questions. Please, take a seat.” She pointed to a waiting chair.
“Sit,” she repeated when he hesitated.
Is he as nervous as I am?
“Thank you, Your Majesty.”
Ush-Wha leaned forward, eyeing Blackhawk hungrily.
Melyssa raised a finger before the other woman could speak, “Don’t.”
The queen turned back to Blackhawk, who was returning Ush-Wha’s blatant stare. “Please don’t do that. She’ll think you’re courting her. I’ve promised her and the others to find them suitable husbands at the appropriate time and, during the two days’ delay before being able to continue our conversation, you have been a topic of… great interest.”
Blackhawk immediately averted his eyes and swallowed.
“I really shouldn’t tease you,” Melyssa continued, “but I have to stay in practice. My flippant, frivolous ways are one of my best defenses. Now, my questions. Can you tell me anything of the family I was from? The stories I’ve heard are somewhat… fanciful.”
Blackhawk looked down at the carpeted stone floor. Then he took a long slow breath. “Your grandparents are dead. Despite what I told the woman who… agreed to take care of you… at least one of your parents isn’t. Or, wasn’t on the day you were… taken.”
“How do you know that?”
“I said your parents were dead because I was afraid. You were caught up in a debt collection. I feared your new mother wouldn’t take you if she thought you had family looking for you. Your real mother escaped. She was never caught. Later, that transaction was proclaimed illegal by King Edal. As to your father, I don’t know his fate. I never even knew his name.”
Melyssa forced herself to breathe calmly.
My mother might be alive.
“Sir Hawk, before we continue, there is something you must irrevocably accept. As far as everyone is concerned, I was Melyssa Locke before I married. That must never be questioned. So, although I thank you from the bottom of my soul for what you’ve just conveyed – and saving me – you must never breathe of this to anyone. Ever. Not even to His Majesty.”
“Are you saying the king—” his words were cut off by the thud of a crossbow bolt impacting beside his ear.
All conversation ceased for a few seconds.
After looking closely at the quarrel that had missed his head by an inch, Blackhawk returned his gaze to the queen. “Forgive me, Your Majesty. It seems I may be less than well. I know we were speaking about something, yet it’s completely slipped my mind. Where were we?”
“I was about to tell you a fantastic daydream I had as a child. I imagined I had another name and another life. Can you believe that? I fancied my name was Sarah Otual. Isn’t that extraordinary? Is it a common name? Can you think of how I might have come across it? Could you find some Otuals?”
“Your Majesty, until the day I die, I shall be your trusted knight,” he promised. “If you wish me to investigate Otuals, Danfords or Thwykes, I’ll do so. I have no idea what we might find. But, if it amuses Your Majesty, it will be my pleasure to assist you.”
Melyssa breathed a sigh of relief, that was echoed by three more lustful ones, as the colonel left. For one horrific moment, she’d thought he’d complete that sentence – does the king know the truth? – and Ush-Wha would have shot him dead.
City of Alexandria – Bekh’s Bold Businesses
Major Pabrik Gonnels dismounted and handed his horse’s reins to the waiting servant. Making an appointment to see T’mas Bekh felt odd. But his ‘old family friend’ had become ever more elusive as his fortune had grown. Disappearing here. Reappearing there. Somehow without ever having left one place or visibly traveled to the other.
It was mysterious. It was also a blasted good trick. One that he had orders to get to the bottom of. Mr. Bekh had come to the attention of the King’s Information Gatherer. Who that was, Pabrik didn’t want to know.
It was safer not to.
Yet if you worked closely with His Majesty, you’d heard tales about some mastermind who knew every secret, could see behind every door, and knew who was up to no good. Or so the rumors went. There was even a game amongst some senior officers to identify that genius.
A game only fools played.
Pabrik took a deep breath as he looked up. The sign read: Bekh’s Bold Businesses. The image below it was a stylized depiction of T’mas’ face.
As he approached the large double doors, a too-well-dressed dandy in a long leather duster, wearing a silken cravat and a pair of well-used daggers strode past him surrounded by a security force all dressed in black leather. The description fit an obnoxious fellow that Pabrik had also been instructed to investigate, Tyrone Beecham, arms trader and all-round ne’er-do-well.
Pabrik followed them in.
‘Where’s the son of a hundn gone?” The dandy demanded. “Bekh promised me wagons, horses, and guards. All ready to go at sun-up. Wh’ad-I-get? Dreck all. Wagons that’d break under half the load I specified, horses too old to pull, and guards as lively as rotting corpses! Out of my way! I know the way up!”
Clerks scattered as the vile, cursing man stormed through them. His tirade grew fainter as he and his entourage disappeared into the building’s interior.
Pabrik put on his best officer-in-charge expression, then strolled inside. “I have a meeting with T’mas Bekh. Would someone show me the way?”
A clerk stepped forward. “This way, Major. Please wait here.” The man pointed to a sitting area. “For unless you’re of a mind to fight the… uh, perhaps you could sit a few minutes. Happily, he tends to be merely loud and colorful. Interrupting that… well… I shouldn’t speak ill of a client. Sadly, much angst appears whenever he does. Someone will escort you shortly.”
Shaking his head, Pabrik smiled congenially. Once he was done with T’mas, it should be no trouble at all to follow someone who left such disgust in his wake. This was shaping up to be a good day.
Soon, another clerk announced. “Mr. Bekh is ready for you.”
Pabrik followed where the clerk led. The office was three times the size of Commander Taelor’s in High Castle. It was also far more expensively furnished.
T’mas was standing just inside the doorway, his hand extended in greeting. “It’s been too long. Come in. Come in.” His attention turned to the clerk. “No distractions until I’m done. Not even the all-too-exciting Mr. Beecham.”
“Yes, sir,” Bywold Parsons nodded with a smile.
“Have a seat, Pabrik. I trust my manager looked after you. Excellent fellow. Couldn’t manage without him.”
Major Gonnels laughed.
T’mas grabbed a bottle and two glasses and poured a brandy, handing it over. “So, what brings you into the south? And why make an appointment? You know you’re always welcome.”
“Actually,” Pabrik took a sip, enjoying the fine liquor. “I’ve tried. You’re surprisingly hard to catch up with. A fact that has brought you to the attention of some people who…”
“T’mas, the King’s Information Gatherer wants to know about Licht Gegen.”
“I’ve heard of them. You hear all sorts of things in business.”
Pabrik sighed. “I know you are a part of Licht Gegen. We were both there the night it was founded. I have been commanded by King Sagen to find its leader. Every clue I turn up points to you.”
“Oh…” T’mas blinked, then placed his glass on the table.
“Oh, well… if I was its leader, I’d hardly admit it. Not even to an old friend like you, who comes in the king’s name.”
“What I can do,” Rebekah grinned, “is act as a conduit to their leader. I do much business with many people, some of them less than… law abiding. What message do you want me to pass on?”
“I want to meet their leader.”
“Then, Pabrik, I strongly expect you’re going to be disappointed. It’s not that I won’t arrange it, I can’t. The leadership went deep underground years ago. I wouldn’t know where to begin. And, for my own health’s sake, I shan’t do so. But I can relay messages.”
Pabrik consumed the rest of his drink, barely tasting it. This was not the answer he’d been seeking. Still, it was progress… of a sort.
“I’ll give you a unique order code. Place an order, with special instructions, through any Bekh’s Bold Businesses office and it’ll get to me. I can’t guarantee how fast. I travel a lot.”
“I suppose it’s better than nothing. One more question: what can you tell me about Tyrone Beecham?”
High Castle – Outside the Queen’s Drawing Room
Blackhawk strode steadily away. He had no idea how it had come to pass.
Little Soldier is the queen.
He’d thought it possible two days earlier in the gardens. It had now been confirmed. Not that he was ever going to investigate how it came about, nor mention it to anyone. The lady-in-waiting’s warning had been as clear as it was swift. He had no doubt that, had she intended to kill him, he’d be dead.
It was a sobering thought. Of all the times that he had feared for his life with Gaelib, even more so with Caileagh, he’d never come as close to death as he’d just been.
Surely, it can’t be.
Is that blasted knight Little Soldier’s father?
City of Alexandria
Jonathan had remained as the duke’s guest for several weeks.
Gregory of Alexandria was a conundrum. He was an excellent host, an intelligent man, a loving husband, and a proud father. He was also a devout non-believer. In anything. Well, anything that the knight recognized as religion or philosophy.
Perhaps more puzzlingly, the Duke of Alexandria had been willing to exchange information. He recognized that the Duke of Lorness posed both direct and indirect threats to the kingdom. That simply killing Gaelib or, may the God of Truth forbid it, beginning a civil war would only wreak havoc. Thus, Gregory explored other methods to resolve the problem.
He was also willing to form alliances. An opportunity that could not be ignored. Yet, not one that the knight felt ready or able to take advantage of.
Jon only left Alexandria when he heard the spirit, Gather the knights. His first stop was Will’am Miles.
The Lion & Tiger Inn
Jonathan and Will sat before the fire alone. The last of the patrons had left for the night or were asleep in their rooms. “We need to assemble the knights. We’ll meet at Dunis Glen the evening of the crescent moon of the Fishes.”
Will’s countenance sank as he stared at the table. “Is that wise, Jon? What about David? Will his actions taint your reputation? Perhaps…”
“I’ve already seen David. He is willing to stand before the knights, explain his actions, and accept their judgement.”
The silence stretched out.
“But… to bring your son before the knights at the site of his betrayal?”
Jonathan’s brows drew together. “It is a brash move. But, if the Fellowship is to live again, our reconciliation must be complete. I see no other way. We cannot afford lingering bitterness. Not if we are to free our land from Melazera’s grip.”
“I’m not sure you’re right, but I’ll go with you.
The two gazed at each other in stillness, the years chiseled into their faces.
Jonathan felt the affection and bond that shone from his friend’s eyes. There was a long pause before Will’am spoke again. “We’ve both given up so much, sacrificed, lost friends, and loved ones. I know you ache for them.”
Tears filled their eyes, for the simple truth had struck a common chord. Jonathan had a price on his head. Will’am had lost a son at Dunis Glen and was also a wanted man, living under the alias Daryl Andrews. The times had not allowed them to grow old, peacefully rocking grandchildren on their knees.
Jon nodded. “How is Elanor? Is she here?”
“No, she’s at her father’s. Her sister is expecting a babe any day,” Will’am replied as his daughter came in from the kitchen. “Here’s my girl with food.”
The tall young lady with long braids and delicate ebony features brought out a plate full of glistening morsels that smelled rich and spicy. As she gracefully placed the plate and utensils in front of the Knight, she said, “This should warm you up.”
“Charmaine, you’ve become quite a lady.” Jon smiled, remembering the tomboy he saw wielding a sword proficiently only a few years ago. She wore a figure flattering dress.
“Thank you, sir,” she acknowledged, then smiled and curtsied, before dashing off to the kitchen.
“She’s a woman now, Will. Any suitors?”
“She’s already married,” Will replied. “Found a knight in the wilds and brought him home.”
“That’s her story to tell. I’ve come to like him. Did you know knights are being trained in the forests?”
Jonathan blinked. “By any chance, is their leader James of the Wood?”
“I’ve heard the name,” Will grinned. “Every local girl has her eyes on him.”
Jon laughed, then dove into his food.
“Have you had any contact with Jean LaVoie or Harold Grammott?” Will’am asked.
“Not since our last mission together in 144, north of Dunis Glen. Someone there will know how to reach them and, perhaps, the other northern knights.”
“I think we should seek them first,” Will mused.
“A good plan.”
“I’ll ask Elanor’s brother to watch the Inn and the girls.”
In the morning, Jon and Will left for the Sea of Glass, then on to Dunis Glen. A fair wind blew through the leaves. The sun shone brightly upon the moist earth. Birds sang and flew about in merriment, unaware of a storm just beyond the horizon.
Wynifred’s, Alexandria’s Most Humble Inn
Rebekah-as-T’mas tossed her satchel on the bed and sighed, looking down at the thick handful of messages she’d collected from the smiling manager. As she thumbed through them, she noticed one from Rich’rd Overhill. Stuffing the rest into her satchel, she headed out to meet him.
It took only a few minutes to find the tavern he’d mentioned. He sat at a table in the rear. A lad brought him two ales, then sat with him.
“Mister Bekh!” Overhill called out when he saw her. “Sit, sit.”
“How are you, Rich’rd?” Rebekah shook his hand, then glanced at his companion, a younger version of the knight.
“I’m hale and hearty. You look so too.”
“How’s your wife, Elizabeth? And the children?”
“Well, very well.”
“Who’s the strapping likeness of yourself?”
“Luca, my nephew. He’s why I asked to meet.” He threw an arm around Rebekah’s shoulder and drew her closer. “He wants to become a knight, but his mother… and I… fear it too visible. The army thinks he’s dead. We need to keep it that way. Actually,” he paused, lowering his voice even more, “it’s due to an encounter with Jonathan Otual, whom you know of.”
“I see.” Rebekah nodded, sizing up the boy. “I have an opening. What are your qualifications, lad?”
Luca leaned forward. “I was conscripted into the army. I couldn’t escape, so made the best of my situation. I became a corporal. I’ve mastered all the skills required of that rank and would put them to better use. I’ll learn anything to serve J’shua.”
She looked to his uncle. “His mother approves?”
“Yes,” Rich’rd nodded. “She can’t tie him down forever. He’d best go with you.”
“She knows of me?”
“Licht Gegen is no longer a secret. Rumors are everywhere. Our messages are obvious to a woman like my sister. Lyndsey is very intuitive, and reserved. Your secret is safe.”
Turning to the lad, Rebekah asked. “Are you ready now, or shall I come back for you?”
Luca brightened. “Now, sir.”
She shook Rich’rd’s hand. “I can’t promise he’ll be safe.”
“No one can promise that. I feel it’s the Lord’s will.”
They drank and talked for a while, as Rebekah scanned the tavern for potential enemies.
When she and Luca left, she asked more about his experiences in the army. Ending with, “Tell me of this Jonathan Otual…”