Chapter 32: Realization – 159 AK, Early Winter
Jeremiah 17:14 Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; Save me, and I shall be saved, For You are my praise.
The guard looked out from the battlements of Lorness Castle. He was bored. Being posted to the castle was supposedly a privilege, an honor, an indication of future promotion. Poppycock! If the hundn that had told him so was within reach, the soldier would have strangled him. Slowly.
As it was, the only excitement during the afternoon had been the arrival of a traveling show, complete with scantily-dressed pretty girls, exotic animals from faraway places, and a pair of blond strongmen.
The two huge chaps had put on a brief display to attract customers, drawing an initial crowd of admiring women that ranged from farmers’ wives to the daughters of lesser noblemen. But the sight that remained with the guardsman – and drew a much larger crowd of men – were the three girls that danced along the tops of the caravan’s wagons. Gyrating, leaping, and spinning, the three drew every eye. Not only were their movements provocative enough to inspire a man, their flimsy apparel left all but nothing to the imagination.
He was disappointed to learn the traveling show’s first performance wouldn’t be until the following night.
It had taken too many days for Blackhawk to confirm that the knight was Gaelib’s prisoner. Then more days had passed before locating the chamber where Jon’than was being held. He simply didn’t know Lorness Castle, its layouts, and its secrets. His childhood had been in Farr. Once Gaelib took him in, he was never left alone.
He’d been astonished to find there was a short, secluded passageway spiraling downward from Caileagh’s private chambers to a cell. If that was the correct description. Workshop might be more accurate. Although, given her proclivities, he didn’t want to consider what she did there.
Blackhawk had assumed Jon’than would be in the dungeons. He wasn’t.
The workshop was halfway up a tower, which was a major issue. Its only exit was through its base, a location that – by Stev’n’s orders – was heavily guarded. Even with the men he’d brought with him, there hadn’t been enough to replace more than a small percentage of the soldiers stationed throughout the castle. Using only his warriors to protect the tower could – would – draw unwanted attention.
Time was running out. If his informant was correct, the knight would be sacrificed in days. However, there were also rumors Gaelib was defiling his captive nightly.
That created a weakness. Moving a prisoner always did. Moving one frequently led to complacency and mistakes.
How do I arrange Jon’than’s rescue? I can’t wait for the king. There’s no time. I need a distraction.
Lorness Castle – Gaelib’s Private Audience Hall
Gaelib preened, delighting in the small joys his lofty station provided him. Things such as keeping someone waiting, especially a docent who’d been petitioning for a private audience for days as they had ‘crucial information’. The last time he’d heard those words, he’d flayed the fool to death. It had been a diverting evening.
Crucial information, indeed. Still, the idiot might have some small useful tidbit.
With a wave of his hand, Gaelib bid his page allow the docent to enter.
Perhaps I should keep Caileagh around to deal with such rabble. No. No, I require an heir. Her spirits, potions, and age have all rendered her infertile.
I must have an heir before I become the rightful king of this land. Only then will my triumph be complete. Only then can I consider spreading the rule of the God of this Age into the heathen countries on my kingdom’s borders.
“Your Grace,” Docent Labret abased himself and waited.
At least he has manners and knows his place.
“What…?” Gaelib ensured his superiority laced the small word, while sitting on his throne and looking down upon the supplicant.
Remaining bowed, the docent spoke without looking up at the duke. “It is said you seek a way to distract Captain Lendyld. He has a weakness.”
“I have heard several such tales. Yours had better be accurate, for your sake.”
Labret’s head bobbed up and down, nodding frantically. “He likes young widows.”
“So, why should I care about that? How can I use that to bend him to my will?”
“Widows, your Grace. Widows. Plural. At the same time. I persona–”
“The ‘paragon’ that protects Colonel Blackhawk is courting, seducing and, I assume,” Gaelib gloated, “bedding several widows at once? You have proof?”
“I have witnesses.”
“Of them doing what?”
“Of adultery. Of him proposing to and being accepted by no less than three women. Of his renting separate properties and setting each up as his wife. Of–”
“That’s enough.” Gaelib rose and walked forward. “You’ve done well.”
Outside Lorness Castle
Docent Labret gulped. He hadn’t intended to be part of the operation that would neutralize Lendyld by abducting the captain’s three paramours. Still, he had to give the officer credit for audacity. He’d set up the three households only a handful of streets apart from each other.
Using the spyglass he’d been supplied, Labret checked yet again. The yellow scrap of cloth still hung where it had half an hour before. Lendyld was still in the castle.
There would be no last-minute rescue. Oh no. All three women would be taken before he knew anything.
Nodding to the soldiers, who broke into a trot at his command, Labret walked calmly behind the dozen men – four for each woman – who’d do the heavy work. He reconsidered, deciding he could like such operations, especially their aftermath. The Duke of Lorness’ instructions were that the women were to be captured, subdued, and brought to him alive. The docent was looking forward to ‘subduing’ all three, preferably multiple times.
He chose to follow the group going left.
The few people on the street got out of the soldiers’ way. Some shrieked. Some cried out. Some cowered in fear. All were daunted by the sight of armed soldiers in Lorness’ colors, their swords drawn, running purposefully by.
The warriors didn’t pause. Together, two of them slammed into their target’s door, smashing it from its hinges. They stepped aside as the two behind them darted past.
The feminine screams that followed were music to Docent Labret’s ears. If he was right, their target had company. How sad. That would increase the womanly flesh to be shared.
That those terrified voices didn’t persist confirmed his men’s victory. There were only weak whimpering sounds, sobs, and a breathless plea for mercy. All of which filled him with elation.
Yes, he definitely should command more such missions.
Yet, as he strolled in, the scene before him wasn’t what he expected. All four of his men were on the ground. Multiple short, thick arrow-things protruded from each of them. It was a man – one of his – pleading for his life. Otherwise, there was silence… which was broken by the twangs of heavy stringed instruments.
He felt pain from the three arrow-things suddenly poking out of his body. The doorframe scraped his back. Surely, he’d been standing a moment earlier? He couldn’t rise to his feet. Nor could he raise his hands as the pretty young woman with an ugly expression stalked up to him and stabbed him in the stomach.
She twisted her blade, then cut lower.
Blackness didn’t claim him quickly enough.
In the middle house, three young women waited. Crouched behind makeshift barriers, each had a quartet of hand-crossbows. All were ready to fire. There would be no time to reload.
Hidden out of sight behind them was the second of the massive blonde-haired Alexandrians who had watched King Sagen give orders to Colonel Blackhawk weeks earlier.
Captain Lendyld, the blond’s twin brother, was – or should be, if things were going according to plan – currently in the castle protecting that colonel and, hopefully, preventing that officer from doing something out of character. Such as trying to save Jon’than Otual.
Others were tasked with that rescue.
Others who’d also arrived with the traveling show, just as some of the women laying in ambush with him had.
Lorness’ soldiers were not subtle. They came running down the laneway, making lots of noise, and scaring the already-nervous locals out of their path.
The first two tried to slam into the door in unison, but got their timing wrong. One hit, only to bounce backward. The second hit the first. The two hit the door, which collapsed under them. The two men running behind tripped over those in front.
Firing simultaneously, the three women shot the four soldiers as they rose. And kept firing until they’d spent their quarrels.
One of the soldiers, trapped on the bottom was still alive and struggling to get up.
The blond strode out of hiding, raised his sword and skewered the lone survivor in place, through both men lying atop him. Then he knelt and slit the soldier’s throat.
Grabbing another sword, the giant blond Lendyld ducked out the rear entrance and into a tiny hidden laneway that connected all three of the ambush houses they’d set up. Looking to his left, he saw a repeated flash of light. They’d been hit and were well. There was no corresponding signal from the right, so he sprinted along the passageway into the third house.
The fighting was still going on. Two of the soldiers were dead or dying. The third was a walking – well, tottering – pincushion that was grappling with one of the girls. The fourth had killed another girl – his sword was still sticking out of her body – and was using his knife to cut away the clothes of the third.
Lendyld beheaded the would-be rapist from behind, then dragged the other girl clear of the pincushion. Handing his sword to the woman he’d just saved, he beckoned to the lone surviving assailant. “You like attacking girls?”
“Drop your weapon,” Lendyld commanded. When the man did so, the captain stepped close, grabbed one of the protruding quarrels, then slammed it deeper.
The invader’s eyes went wide. He breathed a last rasping breath, then was no more.
“Set this place on fire,” Lendyld instructed the two remaining women. “I’ll take Vanya’s body. Leave no trace. Are you still up for what we planned?”
Telya looked at her dead sister. “It’s going to be a pleasure. I only wish you’d let us kill them all rather than giving them the runs.”
“Some are conscripts,” Lendyld countered, “they’ve no choice about participating. Apart from which, sickness can be blamed on a bad shipment of beer. We don’t want them improving their security.”
“I’ll scupper their barrels,” Telya groused, “but any who try getting fresh with me tonight, I’ll invite into a back alley, and it’ll be my dagger sticking into them, not the other way around.”
“I’ll make sure she only kills one or two,” the other girl noted nastily.
Lendyld nodded, hoisted Vanya’s body over his shoulder then left.
God, or whoever’s up there, please let whoever crosses their path tonight deserve it.
Lorness Castle – Caileagh’s Workshop
Jon’than awoke mortified and hollow, his injuries throbbing.
Where torture, inscribing demonic runes upon his skin, and Caileagh’s ever more debauched demonstrations of her inhumanity had shaken his soul, being defiled threatened to undo him.
Rape was a vicious, heinous crime. There were men who could not control their desires, their bestial urges and…
But, to be its… its… its victim, was beyond comprehension.
That Gaelib could willingly… do that… to another man. The Writings forbad such things, branded them unholy and against nature.
He felt tainted, unworthy.
Anguish consumed him.
He tried to block it out, to cast away and shred the blurred memories from recent nights. Tried to renounce them so they had no power over him.
The still, small voice repeated, I will never leave you.
Yet, to Jon’than, it felt more and more distant as he felt less and less human.
He tried to stay in the moment.
Again, he did his morning routine. He ate, washed, and did his ablutions. He performed the slow stately dance his captors had come to expect. Its movements comforted him, pushing away recent memories.
I am with you, always.
Surrounded by evil, by those seduced and tricked into following its ways, and by those who had willingly given themselves to it, the still, small voice restored him. But only partially.
He was here because the God of Truth needed it. Everything else was irrelevant.
The moment of clarity faded. Jon’than could not sustain it.
Yet again, he sat by the fire and recited the Writings. He shared the way to grow into J’shua Ha Mashiach’s character and the joy of walking with him.
The acolytes kept their distance, but could hear.
As the light that illuminated the chamber from outside faded, they drugged him again.
Jon’than did not struggle, nor did he protest. He remained silent and tried to find the God of Truth’s peace within. The concoctions flowing through him made it impossible.
Again, he was transported to the room where…
Owakar allowed the Warrior to find him.
“Your so-called champion is done!” The fallen angel sneered. “He’s nothing more than a plaything for my master’s puppet. Savor your failure. Its taste will only worsen when the knight’s sacrificed.’
“We shall see,” Owakar responded weakly.
“We shall… and I shall enjoy watching you relive the moments when everything went wrong from now until eternity. When Freislicht falls, you fall with it. I look forward to debasing you in ways that will make my pawn’s efforts look like a child plucking petals from a flower.”
“We shall see,” Owakar repeated again, keeping his face downcast. The Warrior had not seen what else was occurring so perhaps, just perhaps, there was still hope.
Lorness Castle – Gaelib’s Playroom
Jon’than cringed as Gaelib and Caileagh arrived.
As usual, Gaelib straddled him, grabbed his neck, and told him everything he was going to do, over and over again, every day until he died.
Jon’than gasped. The drugs slowed everything. Yet, within the hazy horror that had become a nightly event, a sustaining thought occurred to him.
Even now, with me as his prisoner, Gaelib is afraid of me.
What followed was as ugly as ever. A gleeful, triumphant Melazera used him and vented his wrath upon him.
Jon’than was aware of everything. Aware of his nakedness, his weakness, his shame. He wailed his raw anguish, crying out to the Lord.
Gaelib lapped up the knight’s every sound, every shudder, every failed attempt to evade his predations. He drank them in as if they were the elixir of life itself, the sweetest wine, or the most delicious liqueur.
Yet, something within Jon’than had changed.
He’d seen Gaelib’s fear.
Yes, the knight’s body was suffering, being tainted, defiled, and despoiled. But he’d seen his tormentor clearly. Seen that man’s tiny soul. Seen the alarm and trepidation that ruled Gaelib’s every decision. Seen the lack of self-worth that drove the Duke of Lorness ever further into darkness. Seen that Gaelib’d sold his very soul to attain earthly power. And would continue to do so.
He is beyond saving.
The realization should not have changed things. Yet it did. The Duke of Lorness had condemned himself to darkness and destruction. He could not be saved because he did not want to be saved.
But the Duchess of Lorness…
“Remember, knight, you are my plaything,” Caileagh hissed as she kissed him, taking over from Gaelib. She lay with him again, the drugs making him respond to her every touch, do everything she commanded, be nothing more than a human stallion led out to cover a mare.
His self-loathing did not abate. He was still being used.
Yet, he saw her clearly too. She’d had no choice. She’d been placed on a path while a mere child and told there was no other. Yet, a war was being fought within her. A war that, for as long as he remained her captive, he could affect.
Gaelib smiled as he swaggered back and forth, exulting in Jon’than’s humiliation.
When Caileagh finally peaked, Melazera took the knight from behind, wounding him again and again, biting, drawing blood, and slowly tearing skin off his back.
They used him as if he was a thing, an object between them.
The torture went on into the wee hours.
Yet, within Jon’than’s mind, the words repeated, protecting him, cocooning him from the horrors being vented on him, I am with you, always.
Melazera put his hands on Jon’than's throat again and squeezed. “I’ll be back tomorrow night, the next night, and every night but, if you beg, I'll kill you and end it now.”
Jon’than paused before responding. Gaelib’s offer was a ruse. There would be no end until the Lord of Lorness’ vengeance was sated, which would never happen. It was so transparent a ploy, so weak a device tactically, that it was funny.
Melazera’s visage changed. A demonic rage overtook him.
The knight saw the fist, then nothing.