Rare Things for a Rare Life

The Knights of Joshua

by Tiana Dokerty © 1984-2021

Home | Chapter 37 | Chapter 39 

Chapter 38: Interceptions 160 AK, Early Spring

Ezekiel 36:25 Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.

Lorness Castle, Geleib’s Private Rooms

Drake was still trying to reconcile the manic, unhinged Geleib he had witnessed the day before with the man he’d admired for years.

Melazera had always had a certain excess energy, a flair for the dramatic, and been something of a peacock. But he had also always been intent on the good of the kingdom. That the Duke of Lorness would profit from such endeavors was only fitting. Power, wealth and prestige went to those who could claim them, master them, and wield them for the betterment of all.

What’s more, it had become increasingly clear that King Sagen did not know how to rule. If even one in ten of the rumors he’d heard in the last day were true, the king was in desperate need of guidance.

The Mestels were rising again on the Western Border.

Tarin and Esthlani criminals were smuggling weapons to ever larger bands of insurgents within Freislicht.

The king’s tax collectors were being intercepted, robbed and killed. The baden that they’d collected going to criminals, and other nefarious groups.

Even though outlawed, the Knights of Joshua were rousing the people against the king’s lawful rule. There were even, one report stated, two new Knights’ Schools, in Esthlanis of all places.

Then, if Drake wanted to consider truly outrageous claims: a roving Knights’ School had been established in Freislicht; a radical group calling itself Licht Gegen was spreading disinformation and undermining Geleib’s agents; and Jonathan O’Toole had been pardoned by King Sagen.

Nonsense!

Obvious, utter nonsense.

Drake admitted that he’d spent most of his recent years in Caswell but Geleib’s spies had kept him informed. Everything had begun to go wrong when the king had charged Melazera with ending Jonathan’s Rebellion. It had seemed like such a simple decision at the time.

Jon was a dreamer. A fool whose simplistic ideas could only lead to ruin. In contrast, Geleib was practical. Any clash between them could have only one outcome.

Trying to end the rebellion had also deprived the king of Geleib’s irreplaceable advice and permitted the duplicitous, money-grubbing Lockes to steal away key posts surrounding Sagen.

Look at how things were.

King Sagen needed the guidance that only Geleib could provide.

Who else could the king turn to? Jonathan? For all the fond memories Drake had of him, when it came to practical matters, Jon knew nothing of politics, and even less of the realities of running a kingdom.

Compromises had to be made. There was no alternative. Rigidly following Joshua or any other form of belief was no more than a childish fantasy. It did not work in the real world.

Yet the still small voice whispered to him yet again, the way is clear when it is needed.

He did not understand.

Why had he been led to Geleib?

Why, immediately upon his deliverance from the vengeful wrath of the knights, had he been confronted with…

What did I witness?

 

High Castle Outside Cailleagh’s cell

Kennah leaned against what was quickly becoming her favorite wall in High Castle, just outside Cailleagh’s cell. That Melyssa had found it first, only endeared it to the midwife more. The session with Cailleagh had been emotionally taxing. It had been difficult to watch a soul in such torment.

It seemed to have weighed even more heavily on Ush-Wha, who could no longer respond to Cailleagh’s utterances using her own methods. She leant against the opposite wall, sighing heavily. “We’re… making… progress.”

“We are, woman of clan Ush,” Kennah teased, still refusing to use her name when they were alone.

“The ex-Lady could almost speak coherently… other than her threats, of course.”

Despite the other woman’s odd beliefs, the midwife was coming to like and appreciate her. Especially for her dogged support of the queen. “Don’t expect Cailleagh to become more civil. You had her bound and restrained for weeks before I arrived. That alone is enough to drive anyone’s anger, to fuel their ire. Add the voices tormenting her and the fact that she, occasionally, says something calmly rational is a milestone.”

“If you say so,” Ush-Wha grinned impishly, “I’ll even concede your methods are more effective than mine… but mine are more fun.”

Kennah shook her head, knowing that being teased thus was a sign of friendship. “We will reach a point where Cailleagh can break free. When she does, she must have no doubts. Should she relapse in that moment, there may never be another chance to free her.”

 

On the outskirts of Lorness Castle

David looked around at his fellow knights, sure they too had heard the tiny whisper within their minds, the way is clear when it is needed.

It had been two slow, frustrating days since they had dashed south from Dunis Glen.

Worse, five of his riders were severely ill due to food poisoning. A description accepted by almost no one. Instead, there were suspicions about the oh-so-welcoming townsfolk they’d encountered upon arriving at Lorness. Suspicions that were only exacerbated by the locals’ increasingly hostile attitudes toward the knights, toward the king’s men, and most visibly toward the Alexandrians.

David strode toward his horse, then stopped. A shaded doorway to his left beckoned.

A scruffily-dressed young man of barely twenty strode up to the door. His foot lashed out, smashing it open. Then he darted backward into the light. Three men rushed out, two carrying clubs, one a knife. All of them were cut down by crossbow bolts.

Several young women – dressed as merchants’ daughters, a farmer’s wife, and two noble ladies – stepped into view. Each carried a pair of hand-crossbows. Many were reloading. None paid David any mind. One of them blew a kiss to the lad who’d kicked open the door.

That young man looked at David and the knights clustered around him, asking, “Are you coming?” Drawing a sword, he stepped cautiously inside.

There was a brief clash of steel on steel.

David was the first knight through the door. A man dressed in a hooded black robe was stepping in for the killing blow. His bloodied victim, the door kicker, was trying to roll clear.

David slipped his Esthlani-forged throwing knife from its sheath and flung it. Almost in slow motion, he witnessed the would-be killer’s sword slash downwards while his blade rotated end-over-end. There was a meaty thud as the dagger buried itself into the swordsman’s shoulder, deflecting his downwards strike.

Still, sword met flesh. Blood flowed.

Yet David had not paused. He’d closed the distance, albeit slower than the knife he’d thrown. The Black Robe had not even raised his eyes to acknowledge David’s presence before the knight’s sword decapitated him.

Other knights were close behind David. They strode past, seeking additional targets. Scowling and cursing as they came up dozens of black robes on pegs that lined the corridor’s walls.

As David paused to check on the wounded lad, there was a woman’s scream from behind him, “Egalt!” Then there were several girls, all younger than David would have initially guessed, crowding around.

He began instructing the lasses on how to clean and pack the wound. Yet they acted faster than he could tell them what to do. He sat back on his haunches in shock. He’d never met another woman as capable as his mother. Yet here there were more than half a dozen.

“Well?” A petite girl with reddish hair, who might have been seventeen, demanded. “You are being called elsewhere. Unblock your ears. It’s not only boys who can hear Joshua’s voice. You have somewhere to be and someone to save.” She turned to one of her companions, “Debryn, you and Jeena, get Egalt out of here. His fighting is done for the day. I have to urge on…” her gaze returned to David.

 

Lorness Castle Geleib’s Rooms

Geleib fumed.

Things were more critical than he’d anticipated. The two dust clouds, one from the south and the other from the north, had resolved themselves into massive armies. Alexandrians and who-knew-where-they-came-from respectively.

Damn Gregory Locke!

Worse, the Warrior was demanding a time-consuming sacrifice when there was no time to spare, no time to prepare, and – with Cailleagh an almost unlamented loss – no one he could trust to do so properly.

And yet… am I not the Warrior’s equal? If a sacrifice is what he requires, then I shall give it to him… as I see fit.

Summoning his senior guardsman, he gave instructions that the dungeons, every single dungeon from within and around Lorness Castle, was to be emptied and the human refuse they contained was to be flushed, driven and expelled down a particular set of tunnels before midnight. In the hours following that, every man, woman and child who could hold a weapon was to be driven into the tunnels after them.

He then sent for Rosewood’s deputy – where was the man when he was needed? – and provided instructions for every remaining Black Robe.

When he was alone again, he looked down at his city. If he could not have it, it would burn. Just as he would destroy Freislicht if it refused to submit to his will.

 

Northwest of Caswell

The Mestel warrior, White Owl, listened to the wind, heard its sad song and turned his horse a little more southward. Giving thanks to the traditional gods of his people and to Joshua, he rode on.

For the last week, he had been on the trail of a foulness, an infestation, a wound upon the world. Something that stank of corruption, selfishness and… evil… as such was called by Nature and by Joshua.

The cave was well-hidden. No casual passerby would have spotted it. No one who did not take every precaution that his elders and the handful of young Knights of Joshua who accompanied him insisted upon, would have survived doing so. There were deadfalls, pit traps, poisonous vines, and all manner of other defense.

Once the hunting party was sure of what they had found, White Owl left them to do their jobs. It was his to find these places. He could not do that if he let his senses be clouded, overwhelmed or desensitized by entering any of them. This had been the eighth since the crossed the border into Freislicht four moons earlier.

With luck, they would return home in less than another four moons.

He did not feel lucky.

 

Outside Jonathan’s command tent

Blackhawk blinked. The thought had not been his own, yet it was not unknown to him.

The way is clear when it is needed.

Nor was it the voice of memory. If it had been, it would have sounded like Little Soldier. This had been crisp, clean and tranquil. It had a depth that was comforting, that calmed his inner fears, and soothed jagged nerves.

It was like nothing he had ever heard before.

It was simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying.

Is this…?

“You heard,” Jonathan noted with a delighted smile. “I have been wondering if Joshua spoke directly to you, or you perceived his guidance only through the Writings.”

“No…” Steven demurred, “no, that cannot be. I’m not worthy. I’m not…”

“Be at peace with the moment,” the knight’s voice was gentle, relaxing and supportive.

It was also… proud.

The knight was… proud… of him?

Am I dreaming? Have Cailleagh’s demons come to tempt me, to rob me of my sanity? Or, could this really be…?

“Your world just changed,” Jonathan affirmed softly. “You are not obliged to obey Joshua’s words. They are a guidance, even when they appear not to be. Nor are their urgings direct. They will take you where you need to be, not where you want to be, and not to where you think you should be.”

“I… definitely… do not understand.”

“You don’t need to. Listen and judge for yourself.”

“I…” Blackhawk felt his words slip from him. He had not heard that still small voice speak to him again. He had seen.

“I…” Blackhawk went down on one knee. “I have done you, your family and others great wrongs. I have done evil. I have long feared that there would be a price to pay, yet hoped…”

“Yes…?”

“…that the Writings, and the peace I gained from them, might help me redress my dark deeds. I’d never thought I’d be worthy of…”

Jonathan shook his head gently. “You will never know all of another’s sins and good deeds. Nor is it our – yours or my – place to judge them. That is for Joshua. If you are hearing our Lord’s voice, it is because he has need of you. It is not a mark of your worthiness but of your usefulness.”

“Then, am I nothing more than a tool?” Blackhawk’s heart sank. The thought of being special…

“You are unique, in that you have received the gift of righteousness only Joshua could purchase for you. If you are humble and trusting enough of Joshua Ha Mashiach to follow where he leads, nothing is impossible,” the knight continued. “Not even saving Cailleagh Melazera. When there is time, I would like to hear about that. All Sagen would say to me was that while your intentions were good, your actions lacked… understanding.”

“I—”

“Don’t apologize. I have oft lacked understanding, as I do at this very moment. Joshua wants me here but it is not clear to me why. It was certainly not to lead the combined armies assembled in the God of Truth’s name. You are, by far, the more suitable candidate for that. You make my fulfilling the role forced upon me by King Sagen possible.”

Steven stopped breathing.

The admission was unlike anything he’d ever heard. Geleib could never have been so self-denigrating, nor could he have given credit to another so easily… or, at all.

For the first time, Blackhawk understood why men followed Jonathan.

If there had been time, he would have confessed all – Geleib, Cailleagh… even Little Soldier – yet the still small voice spoke within. Again. With an urgency that could not be denied.

I will go, Steven decided.

The image he had previously been shown, unfolded slowly again. It flooded his senses with details: the scent of perfumed candles, the sharp tang of freshly-spilt blood, the heat from the fireplace, the clash of steel swords, the sweat running down his back, the face of David O’Toole, the quality of a would-be attacker’s jacket, the biting sensation as that individual’s blade plunged into Steven… and twisted… then the horrific moment as he recognized another all-too-familiar face… and the room where all this occurred.

A room he’d all too often visited when working for Geleib.

“We need to be within Lorness Castle,” Blackhawk heard himself say. He did not disagree with the words. Would have chosen no others. Could not have. “Both of us, and a select few needed to gain access to the castle. But…”

Jonathan’s lips thinned. The color in his face lessened. “Yet, the only way to do that is to let Geleib think you’re still loyal to him… and that I am your prisoner.”

“Yes.”

“I take it we must make haste.”

“Yes.” Blackhawk could not form the words to mention David.

It will be well, the stillness of the words he heard calmed and confused him. Yet, if Jonathan was willing to trust them, perhaps Little Soldier’s view of Joshua had not been quite so fanciful after all.

“There are precautions we must take… as we go,” Jonathan turned and exited the tent.

That left Steven hurrying to catch up. By the time he had done so, the knight had issued orders via several runners and was signaling for his horse. All three Captains Lendyld, and half a dozen lads casting off ragged clothes and donning uniforms, were running toward them. How none of them tripped while doing so amazed Blackhawk.

 

High Castle, Cailleagh’s cell

Kennah felt the lessening of Cailleagh’s fears.

Ush-Wha nodded, confirming that she had felt a shift too.

Without pausing in her recitation of the Writings, Melyssa bowed her head in acknowledgement.

Kennah still had reservations about the queen’s presence but had been overridden by the royal prerogative. However, a ‘compromise’ had been reached so that Melyssa would always remain beyond arms’ reach of the former Lady Melazera.

With only the briefest of pauses for food and sleep – during which Cailleagh’s mind had been slowly strengthened by the Writings – it was the third day since Kennah and Ush-Wha had commenced trying to lead the former duchess to Joshua.

Several times Kennah had cast out the spirits. But each time, Cailleagh’s fears of the unknown - of losing the only constant she’d had in her life, her tormentors – had allowed their return.

Until such time as their host wanted them gone, no matter how strong Kennah’s faith, the spirits could not be kept out.

Yet, for the first time, Kennah felt the peace of Joshua upon Cailleagh. She wondered how Ush-Wha perceived it but, no matter how she did, the other woman nodded again, confirming that there was another shift within the host.

Melyssa kept reciting as her head bowed again.

“We claim this woman for the Son of the God of Truth. Be healed, in the name of Joshua Ha Mashiach,” Kennah commanded.

This time, Cailleagh did not writhe or scream. She did not spit obscenities. Her eyes were beseeching. Her voice struggled to form words…Her head jerked back and forth as if to shake the words free.

All Kennah understood of her muttering was “...you are wholly owned by him.”

“In the name of Joshua Ha Mashiach,” Kennah continued, “come out, spirits of iniquity. You are banished from this vessel. Be gone!”

Then there was silence… and a single sob.

 

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