Rare Things for a Rare Life

The Knights of Joshua

by Tiana Dokerty © 1984-2021

Home | Chapter 32 | Chapter 34 

Chapter 33: Assembling the Pieces 160 AK, Early Spring

I Corinthians 1:9 God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

Dunis Glen

David tried to breathe calmly but could not. The Lord’s still small voice spoke to him only rarely. That he heard it at all, he counted as a blessing.

He’d dressed as a common man, and wore a cloak to hide the sword at his hip.

He was not afraid to put his life in the hands of the God of Truth. He could do that willingly, accepting that he had been a fool, that he had sinned, and that elevating his fears and giving his emotions reign had led to the Dunis Glen Massacre.

He was afraid because he was about to put his life into the hands of other men, of knights whom he had sinned against, of knights whose reputations had been smeared and destroyed because of him, of knights who had lost everything due to his… stupidity.

He was afraid because Geleib, Duke of Lorness, controlled the area surrounding Dunis Glen. Was this truly a sensible place to gather? Or, was it hubris to think an outlawed fellowship of knights could slip unnoticed beneath Melazera’s gaze?

He was afraid because he was being tracked. He did not think they were soldiers. From the only two glimpses he’d achieved, they looked more like bandits, or boys living wild in the woods. He’d heard stories of such. That things had become so bad in parts of the kingdom that it was safer for young lads to live off the land rather than risk being forcibly conscripted into the army.

Has it truly come to this? Am I responsible for all of this?

And he was afraid because, one day earlier, he’d distantly spied a darkly-haired intimidating officer with trunk-like arms sitting tall on his mount. It could all too accurately describe that accursed rapist, Blackhawk.

The rage that had arisen within David still threatened to overwhelm reason and sanity. He wanted to ride the man down, crush the molester’s bones, and witness the ravager’s slow, painful death. But, even if it had been Blackhawk, the commander had led a troop of over a hundred. Attacking would have been suicide.

Yet, a dark angry place within David’s soul yearned for revenge above all else. Above his need for redemption. Above his loyalty to the king. Above even his duty to the Lord of Truth.

He knew he was being tempted.

He knew how easy it would be to give in.

He knew he was all too capable of sinning, of betrayal.

All of which forced him onward to Dunis Glen. He had failed once. He had put his feelings, his fear and his needs above what he had sworn his life to.

He would not do so again. He prayed in the spirit.

David had hoped to encounter his father along the way. That had not occurred. So, he had traveled alone, avoiding other knights, avoiding the bandits tracking him, and avoiding the all too frequent military patrols.

He had chosen to approach from the north because that path was the most heavily wooded. It also kept him as far away from Lorness as possible. Perhaps that too was cowardice. He could no longer discern his intentions, no longer evaluate his own actions. He slipped from his horse and crouched, then eased up to the ridgeline and looked down on Dunis Glen.

A branch snapped.

David leapt to his feet, ready to draw, only to find himself surrounded by soldiers.

“Don’t!” A gruff voice commanded. Its owner, the commander he had spotted, stepped into view. “Knight of Joshua, you are not here to fight us. We serve King Sagen. You will find your brethren there, the farm beyond that lone oak.” He pointed.

“Why should I believe you?” David growled. Every fiber of his being wanted him to draw his sword and attack. The dozen armed men protecting their officer were no impediment to those tempting emotions. Yet, his trained eyes took in their manner, their well-used weapons, and the readiness of their stances. He’d never get close.

“Why?” The officer laughed. “Because I haven’t killed you.”

“I…” Any further words caught in David’s throat. If he’d arranged this ambush, there’d be additional soldiers hidden amidst the trees.

“I’ve heard of you. From your build, and the description,” the commander continued, “you’re David, son of Jonathan O’Toole. King Sagen, your father’s boyhood friend, sends his greetings and safe passage. There will be no repeat of the Massacre. I will not permit it. Go.”

A gap opened in the formation. A corridor down which David could walk. A gauntlet that would bring him within their striking range. He hesitated.

“Take your horse with you,” the commander scolded. “I’ll not be called a thief.”

The soldiers retreated further, then receded into the woods. The commander had disappeared with them.

Shaken, David mounted his horse and rode cautiously to the farm.

Steven Blackhawk watched the man go. No, he watched David O’Toole go. The husband of the woman that he’d…

That man has every reason to seek my death. Do I have it within me to grant him his just and righteous retribution?

His answering harsh laugh disturbed some of the men. “If all Knights of Joshua are as unaware of their surroundings as that boy, I am not sure why King Sagen places so much faith in them.”

His soldiers chuckled condescendingly, just as he’d intended them to.

Do I have it within me? No. I do not.

Drake vomited. Again. He was bound and laid across a horse’s saddle. His hands were tied tight to one stirrup, his feet to the other.

Something hard slapped into his rear causing sharp pain.

“Wake up, traitor,” an angry male voice snarled. “You’re nearly back to the sight of your infamy, to the glorious location where you – oh so bravely, as the stories tell it – faced down your fellow knights in an effort to stop them killing the weak, helpless and unarmed. Where you rallied a mere handful of local troops and drove us back, killing many, wounding most of the rest, and putting us to flight.”

Drake heard the words but nausea, aches and pains made them hard to follow. Not that he needed to. The speaker meant him harm.

How do I get out of this?

Jonathan’s body was mending, healing from the physical and spiritual ordeals that he had been through. Even with Rebekah’s and Sylvanus’ help, it was too slow for Jon’s liking.

Rebekah and others she’d vouched for rode beside him. Yet, he knew he was slowing them down. If it came to a fight, he knew he could rouse himself… briefly. But if the battle dragged on…

Lord, I willingly place myself in your hands. Grant me the strength to do your bidding.

He saw the signs before the soldiers appeared. They were good, very good. Whoever their officer was, he’d trained them well.

Jonathan doubted that many others would have had any warning. Yet, he laughed inwardly, ten years of mostly avoiding Geleib Melazera, followed by five years of being an outlaw, had taught him many things. “Gallop! Left!” He roared.

Those with him obeyed without question. Even Rebekah, he was proud to see. Their horses’ bodies brushing the soldiers aside before there were enough in place to complete the cordon.

Jonathan’s only concern was that the soldiers might have cavalry backing them up.

Yet only three horsemen appeared, nor did they close. Instead, they rode parallel to Jon’s little troupe. Their leader’s voice roared out. “I was sent by King Sagen. Neither he nor I mean you any harm.”

Jonathan slowed his horse to a canter. He was not sure if he was more astounded by encountering Blackhawk, or by the matched pair of Alexandrian brutes accompanying him. They made the imposing commander look slightly boyish in comparison. “Advance, alone, Commander Blackhawk. I see you were not demoted after our clash on Shining Mountain… and you are back on a horse. How’s the leg?”

Steven slid down from his horse and stood beside it. His stance not as limber as it had been. “It nearly cost me my life. Melazera considered that I’d failed him. Little did the Duke of Lorness know how true that was. I have been spying upon him for King Sagen for many years. The king sends his apologies for having… inconvenienced… you recently. He also sent this.” He reached into his saddlebags and drew out a thick rolled parchment. “May I approach?”

He speaks the truth, the still small voice sounded within Jonathan’s mind. It warred with his rising anger. Yet he controlled himself.

Jon dismounted. On his best day, he might be a match for the commander. This was not one of his better days. It was barely good. Yet, he walked out to meet the officer halfway. “Come closer.”

Blackhawk advanced. Despite a slight limp, his movements were still relaxed, smooth and powerful.

“Jon!” Rebekah called out.

Jonathan felt the Lord’s peace settle upon him. “What do you have for me?” he asked once they were within striking distance of each other.

“Three documents, knight. The first is a royal pardon. It is being distributed throughout Freislicht but not yet Lorness, as I stand before you.” Steven handed over the first scroll. It read:

A Proclamation by King Sagen, Ruler of the Kingdom of Freislicht.

Whereas, We have taken into Our Royal Consideration the purported actions, crimes and accusations aimed at Jonathan O’Toole, Knight of Joshua, and the evidence that has been presented for and against,

Whereas, We have evaluated that evidence, the methods used in obtaining it, and its veracity,

Whereas, in any kingdom ruled by laws, those laws must be upheld, else there be chaos and every evil work,

Be it known that:

First, it has become clear to Us that Jonathan O’Toole has been repeatedly, severally, and inaccurately accused of vandalism, insurrection, and treason over many years in regard to fomenting a war between the Mestels and Freislicht. Accordingly, all related charges, warrants and convictions recorded against his name are expunged.

Second, there has been a concerted and longstanding effort, beginning in the reign of King Edal, by forces inimical to the wellbeing of Freislicht to manipulate, distort and debase Our citizenry, who have been conscripted by force, by financial manipulation, and threats of blackmail or worse. Once those forces have been crushed, any and all serving in My military and the forces of My nobles will be free to choose whether they remain or return to their formal lives.

Third, although We have not yet identified every significant leader of those inimical forces, it is our sad duty to denounce Geleib, Duke of Lorness, as their ringleader. Warrants for his arrest, for the seizure of his personal property, and confiscation of all his personal monies accompany this proclamation.

Fourth, all properties, titles and deeds associated with the Duchy of Lorness will devolve upon the next duke, who will require Our evaluation and approval before being so instated.

Fifth, in the matter of Commandant Greyson’s murder, evidence has been obtained that the accused, Jonathan O’Toole, acted in self-defense. Multiple witnesses have come forth and testified that Greyson intended to murder O’Toole, while the knight was a prisoner in his custody. Evidence has also been obtained that Geleib, Duke of Lorness, did knowingly and with malice accuse O’Toole, falsify evidence, and present it before Us on multiple occasions. Accordingly, the charge of murder against Jonathan O’Toole is quashed and shall be stricken from all records.

Lastly, for the multiple crimes of treason, insurrection, falsification of evidence, and knowingly attempting to mislead the rightful ruler of Freislicht, Geleib Melazera is summarily sentenced to death. A sentence that may be carried out by any of My citizens.

We do hereby authorize, enjoin, and require the Nobles and Commanders of all our kingdom to act in accordance with Our wishes,

And we do further expressly conjoin and require all Officers, members of Our Military, and those Employed in the Management of Our Kingdom, be used to fulfill this proclamation.

Given at Our Court at High Castle, 3rd day of the Ram.

Blackhawk handed over the warrants.

Jonathan read them. They were blunter, more detailed, and far more brutal than the king’s relatively diplomatic language. Anyone found supporting Melazera was willfully placing their head on a chopping block.

“Your king,” Blackhawk hesitated, then handed over a third document, “requires the following of you… and sends his personal as well as royal apologies, in advance, for the burden this will place upon your shoulders. He hopes that you will someday forgive him.”

It will be well, the still small voice comforted.

Yet, Jonathan was slow to open the last scroll. He did not know if he had the strength to do what his friend, his king, asked of him. It read:

A Proclamation by King Sagen, Ruler of the Kingdom of Freislicht.

Whereas, We expunged all charges, accusations and convictions against Jonathan O’Toole, We now require him to demonstrate for all the love he has for Freislicht, his protection of its people, and his loyalty to the Crown.

Be it known that:

Jonathan O’Toole is hereby granted the rank of Over-Commander and given direct command of all of Our forces and those of our Nobles for so long as it shall take to bring to justice Geleib Melazera and those who have supported him, provided succor to him, and assisted him in his treasonous actions against Freislicht.

Commander Steven Blackhawk, who has for many years acted as Our Agent to undercover Geleib Melazera’s misdeeds is pardoned of all of those actions, many heinous, that he had to undertake in order to discover the truth and save Freislicht from the unlawful control of a would-be tyrant. As a public demonstration of Our faith in Commander Blackhawk, he is appointed as Jonathan O’Toole’s deputy until the last embers of Melazera’s Rebellion are extinguished.

The document ended as the first had, with exhortations for assistance from the military and so on. It was also dated the 3rd.

Jonathan looked at the man before him, a man who had hunted him, a man who had done unspeakable things to Cynthia. “It would seem, the king has work for us to do. I am on my way to Duni—”

“Dunis Glen,” Blackhawk cut in. “I’m aware and have already secured the area to ensure your deliberations with the other Knights of Joshua are uninterrupted. Other than escorting you there, is there anything I can do, sir?”

Jonathan wanted to hit Blackhawk, or stab him, or run him through. Or any of several dozen other grisly fates that came to mind, causing Jon to smile.

However, the king had pardoned this man, causing that smile to harden into a grimace.

He would endure, as he always had.

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