Chapter 39: Reversals – 160 AK, Early Spring
Ephesians 4:22-24 You are to have put off, concerning the former way of life, the old man, which is being corrupted according to its desires of deceit, And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
Lorness Castle, Secret Passages
David and the twenty-eight knights accompanying him were guided by the still small voice along corridors, passageways and tunnels that led deeper and deeper into the earth. At times, they were directed to ornaments – hooks, torch holders and so on – that hid controls permitting access to well-hidden doors, hatches and stairs that, otherwise, would have left them at a dead end. On other occasions, the sounds of many people moving above, below or ahead of them led them onwards.
It had to be nearing midnight when a loud voice carried to them, “…don’t care how many of the hundn die. It’s how much chaos they cause, how many innocents they slaughter. The more, the better. I don’t know you…” There were the sounds of a fist striking home, a grunt of pain, and…
David signaled for those following him to stop and remain silent as he emerged onto a balcony that overlooked a large wine cellar. The space below was filled by fifty men, all in hooded black robes. Yet, their words had not resumed as there was a knife fight going on… although, it was like none he was familiar with.
Blades appeared, then penetrated flesh. The victim trembled. Many collapsed glacially to the floor as if they were a puppet whose strings had been cut. Others spun frantically seeking an attacker. Some stabbed the nearest person. Most slashed out wildly at anyone who was within arm’s reach.
Yet, the strangest thing about what David witnessed was that it occurred in near silence. When the few survivors had fled, he and his knights ventured downwards to investigate.
The smell hit him first. Not of spilled blood, refuse, or whatever had been left to rot but of poison. With great care, he kept his distance to ensure he did not cut himself… or permit a still-dying enemy from striking at him.
That one, the guiding voice indicated a slim young man in a black cloak trying to crawl away into the darkness.
His foot came down on the Black Robe’s knife hand. His sword’s tip drawing a trickle of blood from their throat as it flicked the hood away from their face.
“P-p-plea-s-s-s-e,” the Alexandrian woman’s complexion and accent were almost as shocking as the face David had uncovered.
He knew her.
He’d known her for most of his life.
He’d first met her when she’d visited Magistrate Gorum’s to buy horses, years ago, when he’d been apprenticed.
She was a Locke.
High Castle – Cailleagh’s Cell
Cailleagh knew her eyes were open but could not focus. It was as if she was looking at everything through a thin layer of gauze.
Her hearing was similarly affected. Everything was dull and muffled.
Her mouth was parched. Even the water she’d begged for, and been given, had no taste.
But the worst, most terrifying, most alien thing was the… silence.
There were no voices within her mind, urging her to do this or that, arguing with each other, exhorting her to do one thing with all their strength then the next moment do its polar opposite.
“…an… y… earm…” the voice made no sense.
“…an… yo… ear.. m…” it came again, closer but still indistinct.
The sharp pain of being slapped across the face brought things almost into focus as the unidentified voice snarled, “…ave to do…Mywayush! …agreed to do thin… of clan Ush…”
Cailleagh sat bolt upright, terror driving her movements. Ush!
She reached for her demons but they were not there.
She reached for anything.
“Once you accept the ransom of Joshua Ha Mashiach you are wholly owned by him and rest in his love no matter what happens…” She heard the knight’s words.
An elderly woman appeared before her, dressed in a midwife’s apron whose pockets were overflowing. Open arms comforted her.
Cailleagh sank into their embrace… “Please… please… please… anything, I’ll do anything but save me from Clan Ush! They’ll—”
“It’s well,” the midwife consoled. “You are safe. No one here will harm you.”
“It’s safe, Cailleagh,” Melyssa echoed, having paused from reciting the Writings.
A dark shadow slipped around a corner and was gone.
“You are safe within the protection of Joshua Ha Mashiach. My name is Kennah. Are you hungry? Do you need water?”
Cailleagh opened her mouth to speak but there were no words. The sight of Melyssa sitting in a corner was even more heartening than the arms around her.
“Can you talk about what you’ve experienced?” Kennah continued. “About what you’ve done? It may help you to speak of it, to make it separate from you, to put those deeds in the past.”
The questions were clear but to Cailleagh’s exhausted soul, came too quickly. She could not grasp them. She recognized her thoughts. But she could talk… and the talking eased things. As did the sweet-but-watered-down wine her savior provided…
“…for there is freedom only in his love.”
Lorness Castle – The Western Barbican
Blackhawk’s horse was lathered in sweat. The animals of the seven other riders with him were equally exhausted. Yet they managed to keep a small lead over the navy-cloaked Knights of Joshua pursuing them.
Or, that was the impression he wanted anyone watching to have.
Through twists and turns, they opened their lead slightly until they were momentarily out of sight. Darting into an alleyway, the riders stopped, and Steven checked their prisoner. O’Toole was alive, if bruised and bloody.
The knights rode past.
Using hand signals, he instructed his men to follow. What had looked like a dead end, contained a walled enclosure halfway down it. Dismounting, Steven opened the doors, looked inside, and then smiled. Leading his horse within, he followed the left wall, which turned twice, making it far longer than it appeared from the outside. At its end, was a gateway just tall enough for a riderless horse to pass through. Beyond that, was a courtyard just large enough for them all to remount their horses.
O’Toole, of course, had remained strapped across the group’s ninth mount.
Pushing the gate aside, Blackhawk kneed his stallion into action. It galloped across the short but open space, then skidded to a halt before the castle’s western barbican. “Open!” he commanded, yanking back his cloak’s hood to expose his face. “Open or I’ll ensure Duke Geleib has every man that was slow be skinned alive!”
A grizzled sergeant’s eyes went wide, then was in action. The barbican’s outer portcullis rose as he ordered his men to move faster. In the distance, the sound of galloping horses could be heard approaching. “Quickly, quickly! Commander Blackhawk’s men must be safely inside before we’ve more unwanted visitors.”
Steven dismounted, clapping the sergeant on the shoulder. “How did someone of your experience get this godawful posting? Where’s your officer?”
“All ordered inside for some… scheme… of his Grace’s.” The sergeant wrinkled his nose, stating everything necessary about such orders. “Things haven’t been good lately. What with knights openly patrolling the streets and rumors that King Sagen has—”
“It’ll be fine. One of my people,” Blackhawk pointed to a giant in a black cloak, “will remain with you as your new officer. You may have heard of Captain Lendyld? Obey his commands as you would my own.”
“Yes, Commander, sir!” The sergeant’s relief obvious.
The rest of Blackhawk’s team was escorted inside.
The gate fell back into place moments before mounted Knights of Joshua appeared. Yet, even they were not foolish enough to try breaching the castle’s defenses. All they could do was ineffectively taunt and yell insults.
When the inner portcullis was raised, Captain Lendyld took command of the barbican, repositioning its small force for maximum effect, and calming the sergeant even further.
Servants emerged to take the horses.
One of Blackhawk’s men, a hunched-over figure with dried blood marring his boots, shifted O’Toole onto his shoulder. All the while, he grumbled about the knight needing to fast, then laughed that beheading would remove enough weight to make the fugitive traitor as light as a feather.
Blackhawk paid the man no attention. He did ensure everyone present got a look at Jonathan, and promised each of them a – small – part of the reward for their assistance. He even took their names.
Thus, no one noticed that his force, which had consisted of eight men and their prisoner, had been reduced to six as they ventured into the castle.
Lorness Castle – The Western Barbican
Captain Edryk Lendyld the Third watched Blackhawk go. “Sergeant, when were your men last fed?”
“Somewhere early in the afternoon, Captain.”
“It’s nearly midnight. I’ll stay here. On my authority, go to the kitchens and have them prepare warm food for…how many men do you have?”
“Twelve, sir. Thirteen including me.”
“Have them prepare hot food for twenty. Plus, twenty mugs of ale. One each for your men. The others we’ll save for later. I also want cold rations for forty packed as if that number were going on a three-day march. Commandeer as many servants as you need to get it back here promptly. If there is any difficulty, mention my name. If that does not do the trick, mention Commander Blackhawk… and record the name of the buffoon. The commander or I will want to thank them personally later.”
“Yes, Captain, sir!”
“Go. It’s been some time since I ate too.”
Lorness Castle – The Armory
Captain Edryk Lendyld the Second – more accurately, the second of the three brothers who publicly shared that name – moved further into Lorness Castle.
He was concerned by how few people he was encountering. Even this late at night, there should be servants fetching, carrying, cooking, cleaning and doing the myriad tasks necessary to keep a castle running. Tasks that the ‘gentles’ and ‘noble-born’ did not want to witness, like the removal, replacement, and cleaning of chamber pots.
Finding an abandoned black robe to disguise himself had been only marginally more complicated than he’d anticipated.
The first was ruined by its former owner’s blood.
The second had too many slashes in it from a sword.
The third was… serviceable.
Why are these dead? Who have they been fighting?
He rounded a corner to find two Black Robes having a hissed argument.
“It’s madness, I tell you. The duke has finally lost it.”
“Keep your voice down,” the other scolded. “Do you want to be rounded up too? It was supposed to be just the dregs from the dungeons but anyone found not doing the bidding of a senior officer or one of Melazera’s inner circle is being driven into the castle’s depths. I told them I had explicit instructions from Rosewood.”
“They say he’s absconded too. A day, maybe three ago. Last seen headed into the wilderness. Who…?”
Edryk had heard enough. He stepped close to them, reached out and slammed their heads together. They did not get up. Yet, he had no intention of giving away his presence. Grabbing an ankle in each hand, he dragged them out onto the battlements, then tipped them over.
A few minutes later he found what he’d been seeking… sort of.
The castle’s armory was unguarded but, inexplicably, it was bare. There was not a single knife, sword, spear, or crossbow quarrel to be found. The only things remaining were arrowheads, shafts and fletchings. There was not even a piece of armor, a gauntlet or a helmet.
What is going on?
Lorness Castle – Jonathan’s Encampment
Daikon Sylvanus Baxter and Daikon Norin looked at each other. Then they looked at Sir James of the Wood… no, Daikon James… whose eyes were sparkling, whose skin was flushed, and who was holding his temper, despite being asked to tell them his concerns for the fourth time.
“Would you repeat that, again, please? I’m missing something,” Daikon Sylvanus asked, mulling over the young daikon’s request… no, demand… as he tried to work out why he felt guided to approve the request.
“Our… reflectors,” James held one up, “are a wondrous help during daylight but useless at night. Yet, I’ve had runners, horsemen and messengers from High Castle and its surrounds coming in since just after sundown. They’re warning me that something is… wrong. Not at High Castle but near it. I need your support. My knights aren’t mounted. We walk, run, raft and whatever else is needed to get where we’re needed. But we can’t move quickly or en masse. I can’t find either Jonathan or Blackhawk. And no one else, except perhaps the two of you, is likely to listen to me.”
“Melazera,” Norin added, “is trapped within Lorness Castle.”
“Except…” Sylvanus finally heard the still small voice whose guidance he had been seeking. “…he… isn’t. Trapped, that is. Long ago, in my grandfather’s time, there were mines along Lord Melazera’s Highway. None were ever as spectacularly profitable as the Duke of Alexandria’s are reputed to be. Still, for several generations, many valuable minerals were dug up there. It was why Lorness initially became wealthy, prestigious and influential. And why its power expanded so greatly during the reign of Geleib’s grandfather, Traneib.”
“And…?” James was clearly getting to the point where he’d lose his temper.
“And, I have just received guidance that those mines are far more interconnected than anyone other than a Melazera ever suspected. They even pass under the East River. The very first mines were within sight of High Castle.”
“And...?” James prompted again.
“Norin, will you retain command here? I’ll speak to Blackhawk’s deputy and convince him to send a sizeable force toward High Castle at first light. We’re setting out now.”
“What of Licht Gegen and their commanders?” James asked.
“They provide information,” Sylvanus countered. “They’re not a fighting force.”
James laughed. “I think you may have that wrong.”
Vincent Donofrio entered the tent, “Just the people I was looking for. Rebekah is rallying our people from here to High Castle. She asks you to send whatever forces you can spare from blockading Lorness Castle to reinforce the king.”
Sylvanus looked from Vincent to Norin to James. “It would seem that I need my ears cleaned out. I should have heeded Joshua’s call more quickly. How well do you ride, James?
“Well enough not to fall off, in the daylight.”
“Then this should be instructional for both of us. As we go, I need to understand what those reflectors or yours can and cannot do.”
Lorness Castle – Secret Passages
The still small voice had instructed, that one. But that one was a woman that he knew, Fyrna Locke.
She was a scant few years older than he was.
He supported her head and gave her water. But he had nothing to negate the poison that had entered her body through several cuts, none of which should have been lethal.
“Can you talk?”
“As well as you break horses, David, son of Jonathan.” She forced a weak smile. “I’ve…” she stopped speaking as another spasm of pain lanced through her. “I’ve… Maybe, you should ask questions I can reply to.”
“Why are you… forget that. Are you a Black Robe?”
“No…” she grimaced. “And, yes. Work for… father… and Uncle Bradley. Need to know…”
“He needed to know what Melazera was doing? But why send you? Why a woman?”
Her brief chuckle ended with her clutching her sides and hissing in pain. “Forever blind,” she teased. “Even as a boy, you were forever blind when it came to girls. Except for Cynthia. She did well to snare you.”
David bristled, “I courted her.”
“Please… don’t make me laugh. It hurts too much. Next question.”
“What happened here?”
“I… uh… disrupted a group of Black Robes. They’re… distrustful at the best of times. Prick a few. Use a blade dipped in something slow acting… causes hallucination and… and you can wound enough so they’ll attack each other. But the poisons on their knives are deadly.”
“Why stick around?”
“Mistimed…” she coughed up blood. “Miss timed… it.”
David watched, helpless, as she died.
Up, into the castle, the still small voice nudged him into action.
He tried to focus but couldn’t. He allowed others to lead.
All he could see was Cynthia’s face overlaid on Fyrna’s dead body. The terrifying image shriveled-up his insides.
He had to act.
This had to end.
He had to get to Drake and find out why his ‘uncle’ had betrayed him, the Knights of Joshua, and everything David cared for.
Worse, had Cynthia been singled out because she was Jonathan’s daughter-in-law?
Worst of all, had Drake known, before it occurred, that Cynthia would be targeted, abused, befouled… raped?
If the answers weren’t good enough, David would deliver long-overdue justice on his wife’s behalf.
He needed justice, as did Cynthia, who had never fully recovered from her ordeal.
He needed someone to pay.
In his most extreme fantasies, David imagined that might be Geleib Melazera. In reality, he would never get close to the Duke of Lorness, and knew that.
He could not touch Blackhawk, despite wanting to do so with every fiber of his being.
Just as David had, the Commander had removed part of the little finger on his left hand. Yet, unlike David, Blackhawk had accepted the pain as righteous penance in silence, offering not a single word of explanation or regret.
That only left Drake…
Lorness Castle – Inner Castle
Jonathan tried to relax, to stay calm but being manhandled like a sack of wheat by the oversized Captain Lendyld – well, one of them – made remaining focused difficult.
The knots that supposedly held Jon captive were nothing of the sort. He did not need the four small blades hidden within his clothes, nor the fifth disguised as an ornament holding his long flowing hair back. He could slip free at any time.
Lendyld’s pace altered, he turned sharply into an empty room, turned to confirm no one else was there, then deposited Jonathan on his feet.
“Change of plans,” Blackhawk announced. “Melazera has gone into the castle’s depths. We can’t follow. It’s a maze and too easy to trap a small force like ours. We’ll have to wait for him to return. By preference, I’d set an ambush for him but, again, it’s too risky.”
Jonathan chuckled. It was a callous sound. One he was not proud of. “Coming in here was risky.” Yet squeamishness would not serve him or Freislicht. “We have to win, whatever the cost. Therefore,” he sighed, “if any of you has the opportunity… kill… Geleib.”
“While we wait…” Blackhawk pulled a crate into the room’s center and placed a leather chess board on it. “…I am told, Knight of Joshua, that you play.” Then he spilled out wooden pieces from a bag. “Would you indulge me? I suspect it will be daylight before the duke’s return… and that’s many hours away.”