Rare Things for a Rare Life

The Knights of J'shua

by Tiana Dokerty © 1984-2021

Home | Chapter 30 | Chapter 32

Chapter 31: Abased 159 AK, Early Winter

Psalm 73:26 My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.

Updated 9/30/22

 

Above Lorness 

Owakar stilled his fears for the knight as he avoided his gloating fallen brother.

That the Warrior would seek him out to boast of the God of this Age’s imminent victory, given Otual’s capture, was inevitable.

That the situation was dire was true.

That the situation’s conclusion was predictable was hubris. Owakar left commission of that sin to the Warrior.

There were still things to be done and undone, Children of Men to be swayed, and scenes to play out. Due to the knight’s actions, those who prayed to J’shua within Lorness’ boundaries continued to swell in numbers. Even if the knight met his end, his influence would continue to spread.

With prayers to answer, Owakar set to work.

 

Lorness Castle – Caileagh’s Workshop

Jon’than’s eyes half-opened but would not focus.

Where? How long?

He was pinned, unable to move. A horrid taste befouled his tongue. His muscles screamed. A ragged breath sent spikes of pain through his body.

Panic swept over him.

Cramping muscles barely registered against the litany of sensations that drove out thought.

Time passed, or didn’t.

There was only an eternal now filled with torment.

Somehow, somewhen, he regained control of his breathing. Slowly out. Slowly in. It did not eradicate the pain. It did not even reduce it. But that simple change calmed his soul a little. Enough to form a thought. Each was a struggle as he proceeded from one to the next.

A vile scent assaulted him, clashing with something sweet. The tang of perfumed candles merged with smoke from a wood fire. Damp mold and mildew drifted from every corner.  

Something was placed on a table. Words were mumbled. Footsteps darted. Liquid poured.

A shape appeared. Dark, perhaps black, hair? A woman’s curves? A black robe and hood?

“Your Grace, he’s awake,” a muffled feminine voice advised.

“Bring more of the Aconite and Angel's Trumpets, Skullcap also,” a second voice commanded.

Footsteps neared. A bewitching fragrance wafted over him. Distinctive and familiar. Even through the pain.

Caileagh.

He was no longer hanging where Gaelib had left him. A lone soldier had fed him water from a skin once a day, perhaps. He thought he’d die. Sometimes hoped he would.

Blurrily, he recalled her shaving every hair from his body. The sensation might have been pleasant, had anyone else done it.

Now, he lay on a tilted bench, almost upright. His arms tied above his head. His underarms exposed.

“Finally, my knight, we can begin,” Caileagh crooned. Her tone might have belonged to a mother trying to calm her child.

It terrified him. He struggled, but his hands were bound too tightly in place. Nor could the rest of his body move. Not because of ropes or chains. It refused to obey. He was paralyzed.

She smiled down at him. “It’s so difficult to calibrate the dosage for someone as muscular as you.” Caileagh pouted. “You must be incapacitated, yet fully conscious. It may take me a few tries to get it just right.

He watched as Lady Melazera dipped a quill into a shallow glass bowl containing brown liquid. “I hope you’ll treasure our explorations as divinely as I do.”

The slightest touch of the writing instrument’s nib to his flesh caused searing pain and the stench of burning skin.

Tears leaked from his eyes. He tried to thrash, to withdraw, to put even the slightest distance between that accursed quill and his body. Yet, each stroke, each line she drew robbed him of even that minimal defiance as his muscles constricted, holding him tighter and tighter in place.

Caileagh’s crooning words shifted to song. Her sweet voice uttering sordid obscenities, proclaiming the joys of rape and defilement, lustfully indulging in the terror and helplessness of her previous victims.

In time with the melody, the quill crept painfully across his skin as she carefully created a complex design.

When the glass bowl was empty, she leaned in close, explaining, “The God Tammuz demands his chosen sacrifice be consecrated in pain, which will begin shortly. Did you think this… this… was pain? No, no, no! That begins with…”

A black-robed woman handed Caileagh a bowl filled with a foul-looking greenish mixture. It reeked like a festering wound.

Lady Melazera smiled, dipping the quill in the new bowl. The last traces of brown on its nib mixed with the new liquid, making a swirl the color of soured blood. Then she continued her infernal design.

Each stroke of the quill was like a knife, but the pain did not stop as a cut would. It was like lemon had been poured onto it, prolonging the agony.

Jon’than cried out.

Lady Melazera leaned in close and stroked his cheek. Then, she continued drawing. “Your bruises are healing well. They’ll not interfere with the symbols. Your skin is a perfect canvas. You’ll be my masterpiece.”

He prayed for unconsciousness.

He cried out to God, voiceless, hoping J’shua would hear his thoughts.

There was only agony, helplessness, and despair.

Eventually, his prayers were answered. He passed out.

When he came to, Jon’than was alone. His face was wet with tears. The burning pain emanating from the design was so intense he could imagine its shape.

Feminine footsteps approached.

Caileagh’s face loomed into view. “Did you think we were done?”

Her tinkling laughter made him shudder.

A third bowl containing what could have been water was handed to her. “This will make the runes the brightest of reds, so they can be seen by all.”

He lost consciousness long before she finished.

 

Forests of Lorness

The lieutenant had been separated from the wagon he’d been assigned to guard by an old woman and her very beautiful daughter. The wheel had fallen off their wagon, so he’d gallantly come to their aid. After all, who was going to steal the shipment of wine he was accompanying?

Yet, as soon as he dismounted, the maiden and her mother produced tiny crossbows from nowhere. They, and others who’d been hiding, fired. More than half his men went down. He ran for cover…

…only to see two horsemen riding down the wine merchant…

…angering him. A whistle brought his horse. He mounted and pursued.

The bandits saw him coming. They hunched low over their horses’ necks, trying to outride him. On little mountain ponies. He’d urged his stallion to full gallop, then…

Had the rope been even a fraction higher, it would have decapitated him. Instead, it threw the lieutenant from his horse.

When he awoke, a girl stood over him, her sword pricking his throat. “How much?’ She demanded of another.

“It’s a poor haul, only 70,000 baden or so,” came the reply.

"You,” she looked down at him, “have a choice. Return to the ever-so-forgiving Duke of Lorness and explain how you lost so much of his money because you wanted to sate your lusts, or…”

“Or what?”

“Leave his employ. Go somewhere, anywhere, else.”

“B-b-but,” the lieutenant stammered, “d-deserters are hunted down and killed.”

“Only if caught. Ask J’shua to show you the way.” She smiled, slipping away in the underbrush before he could regain his feet.

They hadn’t even left him his horse.

 

Lorness Castle – Caileagh’s Workshop

Jon’than lost track of the hours and days that passed. Each was like its predecessor, full of pain. Each robbing him of self and the will to live.

No terms were offered.

There was no suggestion that submission would end his suffering.

There was only a bewildering variety of agonies. Each different. Each new.

Gaelib occasionally came to watch his wife work, but quickly became bored and departed.

 

Above Lorness

Owakar received instructions and passed them on to his new assistants: Agarat, Tobian, and Verizal. Each bowed and left to begin the day’s activities. J’shua said, “Stay with Jon,” so Owakar placed a hand on him and whispered quietly, responding to the knight’s every thought, even as his strength faded.

 

Lorness Castle – Caileagh’s Workshop

Caileagh admired the beauty and intricacy of her nearly finished design. Her eyes roamed over Jon’than’s naked body, reading the multicolored runes. She was pleased.

But she was displeased that the knight hadn’t broken. Every other body she’d used as a canvas had been weeping, begging to do anything, absolutely anything, long before this. Pleading for the pain to stop.

Her spirit guides were angry and anxious, as was she.

The sacrifice to Tammuz had to be a success. Without that, she couldn’t regain what she’d lost. Without that, her usefulness to Gaelib would end. Without that, she was irrelevant, just another failure to be cast aside as her mother had been.

She must break the knight.

He must be a mere shell of whom he’d been. Otherwise, Tammuz might… might… seize upon her.

Jon’than could almost breathe without pain. His arms and trunk were on fire. Yet his thoughts were less sluggish. His ears and nose took in his surroundings. His eyes focused.

It was the best he’d felt since… before. He didn’t know how long ago that was.

There was silence, but no serenity. This place, whatever it was, stank of horror and despair. It had been consecrated to evil.

Then he heard it. The still, small voice. I will never leave you. Stay in my peace.

Jon’than felt it. He closed his eyes and silently prayed, “Forgive me, Lord. I should have obeyed. Do what you must. My life and my soul are yours, forever.”

His moment of respite was broken by the sound of an infant crying.

Caileagh strode into view, carrying a squalling baby girl by its feet.

The euphoric expression on her face was beyond his comprehension. He wanted to vomit, but could not.

“I wonder,” she held the child closer, “would you denounce your god if it meant I’d spare this one?”

“No.” His voice was weak and irresolute.

Caileagh shrugged, a moue of disappointment on her face. Then it brightened as she gazed at the infant. “Eventually, it stops struggling, exhausted. It’s important to wait, so the blood isn’t wasted. That way, it can all be caught in the vessel. Next, I slit the neck like so.”

Her deftness was horrific.

“Small ones like this,” she continued, “have less blood, but the quality’s better.”

If he could have turned his head away, he would.

In minutes, the baby’s color paled, becoming ashen.

When finished, Caileagh handed the tiny body to an assistant.

“This is her mother's milk,” she continued, holding up a different vessel. “Fear not, she has no care for the child. She was acquired from a brothel when she became pregnant and is now in my harem. Such women are used as rewards until they produce an infant. After they recover, they’re offered again.

“It’s so easy to distract profane and vulgar men from a higher purpose.” She stroked his inner thigh, appreciating the reaction. “But I perceive you aren’t a common man. That’s why the Warrior has chosen you for this high sacrifice.”

Her smile broadened.

“I next mix equal parts of blood and milk, then sweeten with honey. Would you like a taste?” She poured a third of the pink liquid into a chalice and brought it to his lips. The smell was not unpleasant, yet he gagged.

Withdrawing it, she purred, “I won’t waste it on you.” She motioned to someone, “Take this to His Grace.”

Caileagh poured the rest into another cup.

Before drinking it, she disrobed to stand naked in front of him. Although her face showed few signs of her almost fifty years of age, her body was as he’d expect. Her skin was loose, breasts drooping. Her shape no longer that of a young woman.

Stepping closer, she whispered, “Gaelib thinks he gets an equal share of these potions. Even now, he’s no more than the boy I seduced. Soon, once you’ve been sacrificed, he’ll be under my control again.”

She drank.

The few lines on her face were erased. Her breasts firmed. Her waist thinned. Sagging skin tightened.

She could have been in her twenties.

Jon’than gasped, to Caileagh’s evident delight.

“I merely harvest that which I need to stay young… and please myself.” Caileagh ran her fingers over his newest burns.

Jon’than winced.

I will never leave you, the Lord whispered to him again.

 

Above Lorness

The Warrior frowned. The knight had been captured but, no matter where he’d looked, he could not find the cowardly Owakar. The cur was hiding. Hiding from reality.

And that was such a pity.

The end was so close now that the Warrior wanted to savor every moment of that fool’s inevitable defeat.

 

Lorness Castle – Caileagh’s Workshop

Jon’than woke to someone dripping water into his mouth. It was cool, sweet, and the most marvelous thing he’d experienced for some time. Every liquid previously had tasted foul.

He was surprised to be clear-headed.

His arms were by his sides, no longer tied, but he was too weak to rise.

He could see the chamber. It was dimly lit by a narrow shaft of light from above. Swirling dust danced before his eyes as he tried to make out the far side. All he could discern was a black-robed woman standing at attention. Elsewhere, three more busied themselves doing he-could-not-tell-what.

He said nothing, instead praying in the spirit silently.

The still, small voice replied, I will never leave you.

Tears formed. He blinked them away. The numbness which had permitted his clarity of thought receded. Pain returned.

Horrified, he asked for the Father’s forgiveness. He’d vowed to follow and endure. He’d vowed to do whatever the God of Truth required of him. All his sins and shortcomings flooded forth, condemning him.

Who was he to ask for mercy when things became difficult? When the Lord required this of him? Who was he to renege on the promises he’d made?

The still, small voice whispered a familiar scripture, There is no condemnation to those who in J’shua Ha Mashiach walk, not after the flesh but according to the spirit.

The Lord had already told him he’d never be alone. What more did he need?

Caileagh’s tender ministrations threatened to undo him.

What is a test of faith if easy? As I have promised, so shall I endure.

His body shivered.

He prayed and time passed.

A black-robed woman rung water into his mouth from a cloth.

“More,” he pleaded.

She supplied it.

He hoped they would not drug him again. Thinking back to the capture exercises he’d learned as a boy at the School, he could almost hear Daikon Baxter’s words, “It matters not if they eventually break you. Hold fast to J’shua Ha Mashiach and the Father. If you survive, you’ll be whole again. If not, you’ll be whole when you wake to meet the Lord.”

 

Above Lorness

Owakar sent Verizal to cause a disturbance in the town, distracting the Warrior. He continued listening to the knight’s prayers and answered them with almost silent whispers. All the while evading the Warrior, when…

 

Lorness Castle – Caileagh’s Workshop

Jon’than awoke to a shout.

Caileagh seethed and snarled at the far end of the room. Whatever spirits she called upon were tormenting her. Her eyes were ablaze, searching for anyone, anything to vent her anguish on.

Lord, am I here to cast her demons out?

She grabbed a knife and pressed it against his neck. “I can kill you at any time.”.

“Then I win,” he croaked.

“What?” She looked confused. “You can’t win. You belong to me.”

“No. I do not,” he whispered. “Once you accept the ransom of J’shua Ha Mashiach...”

Her blade pressed harder. The warmth running down his neck could only be blood.

“...you are wholly owned by him… and rest in his love no matter what happens…”

Her face loomed over his. Her breath hot on his skin. She withdrew the knife. Her eyes stared into his, simultaneously demanding and pleading.

She is lost. How do I help her? Lord, guide me.

“…for there is freedom only in his love. Have you not read his story? Or, have you just accepted what your mother taught you?”

Her breath caught. Her eyes widened. Her lips began to form a word. Then she snapped backward, pulled away as if she was a puppet on strings. “I need no help. Certainly not from you! You have no identity. You are simply an object, my property.”

She twirled and was gone.

 

Above Lorness

Owakar clapped his hands. He almost let out a shout.

It is written: the way is clear when it is needed.

Yet he had not considered that the knight might serve the Lord while in the hands of his enemies.

 

Lorness Castle – Caileagh’s Workshop

Esther looked down at the prisoner and tried to judge exactly what her mercurial mistress had commanded of her. As usual, Caileagh’s words were open to interpretation. Misunderstanding them could lead to punishment or torture, if lucky.

The words that the Lady of Lorness had used were, “Let him eat and drink as much as he wants. He must be replenished, fit and whole, before His Grace plays.”

Along with the three other acolytes tasked with the knight’s care, she carried a poisoned dagger to prevent the prisoner’s escape. Yet using that weapon would mean her own death. As would not doing so, if Otual tried to break free.

She saw to the prisoner’s feeding, his ablutions, and washing. Yet she wasn’t prepared for his question.

“Are you allowed to talk to me?

Esther hesitated, looked to the three others, who gazed back at her, terrified. Caileagh had issued no instructions on the matter. Guess wrong, and you were dead.

I am curious.

“I… suppose so. We weren’t forbidden.”

“What is your name? Point that knife at me. I want you to feel safe,” he replied.

“You want… me… to feel safe.”

“Yes, I would hate to die because you got nervous.” The smallest of smiles played across his lips.

She found it most disconcerting.

“Can you imagine how embarrassed I would be to stand before the God of Truth and inform him that after fighting for fifteen years and being undefeated on the battlefield, I died because I made my nursemaid nervous?”

Small titters emanated from other parts of the room. At least two of her fellow acolytes had failed to suppress their laughter. She’d bitten the inside of her lip and made no sound at all. “I’m Esther.”

“That is a very noble name,” he responded. “A woman named Esther was chosen by God to save a whole nation.”

“Really? How did she do so?”

“She...” The knight’s eyelids drooped, then he was asleep.

 

Above Lorness

The Warrior heard a sound. Hands clapping? That couldn’t be right. It most certainly could not have come from the craven Owakar, who still hid from him.

It would be annoying not to enjoy watching that deluded angel’s hopes and dreams fade into dust. Still, imagining it was almost as good.

Almost.

And, once Freislicht had fallen, there would be an eternity in which to savor that coward’s despair.

 

Lorness Castle – Caileagh’s Workshop

Jon’than prayed, slept, and used the times that Caileagh left him alone with his four jailors. They were never relieved or replaced. They seemed as trapped in this place as he was.

Every day he spoke with them for a short time.

Every day he left the conversation incomplete.

Every day, while alone with them, he prayed aloud and recited stories from the Writings that might open their eyes, sway their hearts, and redeem their souls.

As he healed, they insisted he exercise. So, he performed slow movements, stretching his muscles, restoring his balance, regaining coordination. The steps appeared to be a form of dance. So slow they posed no threat. Familiar with his routine, the guards stopped watching closely.

Had they known what he performed was an open-hand form of wushu, a martial art Daikon Alexander brought back from a strange land, their responses would have been different. Just as, had they known it was much more demanding to perform the movements slowly, their admiration for his languid fluid motions would have turned to fear.

Gaelib strode into Caileagh’s Workshop ahead of her. He was tired of waiting, displeased by her lack of progress. He’d granted her some leniency as Stev’n had returned to them.

Her time was up.

Melazera wanted to punish Otual. Now that her preparations were finished, it was time for revenge.

Yet, he’d been willing to delay that long-awaited vengeance for a little while. Envisioning it was pleasant also.

Gaelib wanted to see his ‘son’ in action first. He’d heard so many things, read every report, and indulged in fantasies of Stev’n’s military prowess. But seeing him in action had been an exhilarating, erotic pleasure.

The Duke of Lorness’ roars of laughter had startled many of his servants when Stev’n explained that the king had ordered him to Lorness to ‘set things straight’. That the king ‘forbade’ Melazera from attending the tedious Annual Hunt at Farr. And that the king had given Blackhawk overall command of all the military forces in the entire Duchy of Lorness. Not merely Gaelib’s forces, but those of every lesser noble as well.

If that hadn’t been a tantalizing enough start, Stev’n cut swathes through the officer corps, identifying quislings, traitors, and sellouts. Then he’d replaced them with men he had complete faith in.

Of course, there was one drawback that came with Stev’n’s return, Captain Lendyld. A gargantuan blond-haired Alexandrian who followed Blackhawk everywhere, without exception.

When half a dozen of Gaelib’s men had attempted to waylay the captain, the result had been… spectacular. Without drawing a weapon, Lendyld had killed five and incapacitated one. When asked why he’d left the last alive, the response was matter-of-fact, “to prevent future incidents.”

Amusing as such pastimes had been, Gaelib had spent the delays anticipating what was to come. With glee, he watched as one of the acolytes blew narcotic smoke into the unsuspecting Jon’than’s face.

Guards moved the unresisting knight into a nearby furnished room, then left.

Gaelib and Caileagh played with their new toy leisurely through the night.

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