Chapter 44: Recompense – 160 AK, Early Spring to Spring
II Corinthians 4:1 Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not; But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.
High Castle – The Queen’s Drawing Room
Sagen sat opposite Melyssa. They had withdrawn inside as she had suggested.
“So,” she resumed, pouting and stamping her foot impetuously, “do you still think your fickle flibbertigibbet of a wife has no head for politics?”
“I think,” he mused aloud, looking deep into her eyes, “that I am faced with a far more dangerous foe in this instant than I ever was with Melazera.”
“Good!” She stamped her foot again, “As long as you understand the direness of your circumstances. Should I find you guilty I will… tickle you… then banish you from every room in this castle but my bed and ravish you mercilessly. Again. And again. And again.” Her eyes twinkled as she struggled not to smile.
“Are you sure you’re hoping I’m innocent?” He grinned.
Melyssa leaned back, then looked him up and down critically. “My lord and husband! How could you say such a thing? Of all the ways I might describe you, ‘innocent’ has never been one of them.” She grinned back at him, easing his fears. “Tell me what you have done and why it is so terrible.”
“I have been planning this day on-and-off since before my father’s murder. I knew my boyhood friend Geleib was ambitious. I knew he was a Melazera and so was trained to exert influence covertly.
“I did not take into account the effect that an even more devious wife might have on him. Just as he did not understand the strength you being at my side gave me.”
Melyssa’s dazzling smile warmed his heart.
“I didn’t put any stock into the rumors of old religions being revived,” he continued, “nor consider their potential to corrupt, entrap and spread.
“I was young and wanted to believe well of people. Growing up in my father’s court, I was aware of the games, ploys and devious interactions. I wanted to believe that I could do better than my father. That I could establish a more peaceful cooperative Freislicht. I was arrogant.”
“You were young,” she consoled.
“My sin, the one that I find it hard to forgive myself for, was that I saw everything around me, was aware of those interactions, could even predict how one noble would attempt to influence another… and did not act on it. I did not even report many of my suspicions to my father.”
Melyssa laid a hand along his cheek. “You were young,” she repeated.
“I was self-indulgent. I thought my father would live many years longer than he did. I ignored signs that could, perhaps, have prevented his murder. And, when he was assassinated, I went into shock. I could barely answer a simple question for weeks… weeks that allowed Geleib to increase his hold on power…”
“Shhh… here’s the bit you’re going to hate. Yes, I reacted strongly to my father’s death… because he was my father. But that shock awoke another part of me. Awoke it from the very moment that I received the news.
“That my father was dead was a personal tragedy.
“That King Edal was dead was a blow to the country and, in the instant that I understood that, I knew I had a choice: I could be a crusading king who would seek out the perpetrators and bring them to justice; or, I could be a timid, somewhat overwhelmed king that could be used as a puppet. The survival prospects for the former choice were dim to non-existent, for the latter option they were far greater… in the short term.”
Melyssa took his face in both hands. “What awful choices to be faced with.”
“It gets worse. To have even the slightest chance of winning, I required time, so I put on a show. Within and without, I played a part. One that had to be believable. One that had to be seamless. One without the slightest chink in its perfection.
“And then I met you. Together, there were moments that allowed me to be myself. Together, we bought enough time to put the pieces into place so that we could take control of and clean out High Castle and Farr Castle.
“I had the slimmest of hopes that, if faced with the loss of his control over those two places, and the disbanding of the Black Robes, Geleib would relent… perhaps even repent. It was not to be and, in failing at that juncture, the only path forwards always ended in blood.
“I'd intended to besiege Lorness Castle. It would have kept most of the bloodshed from the masses, not that stories about it wouldn’t circulate. They would. Indeed, they had to. This…” he waved his hand toward the battlefield “…is simply more visible.”
“I’m not sure I understand. Why did this have to happen?”
“To defeat Geleib and the forces of darkness he championed, they had to be brought into the light. Melazera and all his forebears were creatures of duplicity. To defeat a pestilence of rumors, blackmail, backstabbing and human sacrifice, it had to be dragged into the open and cleansed with fire. Is that not what the Writings tell us?”
“But…” she struggled with the thought “…this?”
“How else could we find them, gather them and defeat them? Can you forgive me for orchestrating this monstros—”
Melyssa batted him lightly on the jaw. “There is nothing to forgive. I just wish you had shared this with me so that I could have supported you better.”“My love,” Sagen stared deeply into her eyes then kissed her, “that is something you never have to worry about. Your support has always been unfailing, unflagging and perfect.”
High Castle – The King’s War Room
Jonathan sat uncomfortably beside Blackhawk. He did not want to be here. He understood why he was but could not wait until he could renounce the title of Over-Commander. It was Spring and he felt he should be on a mission.
Around the table seated with them were leaders from Esthlanis, Licht Gegen, Mestelina, Tarinland, two dukes, several earls, and three branches of the Knights of Joshua – those from the Mountain, the Roving Knights, and those from Esthlanis.
At the head of the table, King Sagen continued, “While there is still work to be done in Freislicht to restore peace, the bulk of it has been completed. Accordingly, I wish to thank each of the groups represented.
“To our neighbors and allies, the Mestels, Esthlani and Tarins, I trust that Our openness in regard to the problems We faced, and the humility with which We accepted your aid and advice, has laid the foundation for better and more cordial ongoing relations. There will be a formal and public ceremony in a week where We will make Our gratitude public. However, if there is anything additional you would ask, this is the time to do it. Or, if your business is done, you may leave.”
The Tarins’ leader stood and performed a stiff bow. “We acted in our own interest, King Sagen. We did not want our culture polluted by the evil that had befouled yours. Be assured, we will not let it cross into our lands. And, should it be necessary to cleanse the remaining taint, we will be back.”
Jonathan remained still, trying to decide whether that was a promise or a threat. However, as the king did not seem concerned, it was not his place to intervene, especially as they were already walking away.
The three Mestel chieftains rose to their feet next. “We want nothing more than what was bargained and agreed. Although, many of our young men were impressed by your Roving Knights and the younglings inhabiting your forests. Should they wish to travel west and share the hunt with us, they will be welcome.”
"Sir James?” Sagen prompted.
“I’m sure some of my lads will be interested.”
“They are welcome at any time of the year,” Little Bear noted. “We will be interested to trade knowledge with them.” Then, without bowing or any other form of deference, they too left.
The Esthlanis’ leader merely raised an eyebrow. “If you think I’m leaving before the feasting, you’re addled.”
“In that case,” King Sagen resumed, “there are a few minor housekeeping matters that must be addressed.
“Sir Jonathan O’Toole, you have been maligned for many years, had tales of deeds you never performed become legendary, and… you have been put upon by an old friend to lead his armies… what, other than relieving you of being Over-Commander, can I do to repay you?”
Jon blushed, to the great amusement of all watching. “You owe me no reward. I did as I was guided to do.”
“Were this a discussion between old friends,” Sagen gently warned, “it is possible that I might – might – let you get away with that excessive humility. However, I am your king and this nation owes you a debt whether you are willing to acknowledge it or not. I have longer term plans for you, so do not think that I’ll let you go wandering again. That being said, I rescind your commission as the first amongst my Commanders.”
Jonathan nodded appreciatively, while gritting his teeth against what was coming.
“I also give you and your heirs in perpetuity, an estate on the Sea of Glass, plus the incomes inherent to it and its tenants, plus a manager – to be permanently paid for from the Royal Treasury – to run it efficiently for you. In addition, you shall also have not-too-modest dwellings in the cities of Farr Castle, High Castle, Lorness and Alexandria as – unless I nail your feet to the floor – I suspect you will be unable to remain in one place for very long.”
Jonathan cringed, trying to work out how – or if – he could refuse. He had no desire to be rich, own houses or property.
“Lastly,” Sagen beamed at Rebekah, “as I fear your wife’s ire far more than I do your embarrassment at being so honored, I grant you and your heirs in perpetuity the title, lands and incomes of the newly decreed Barony of Myhufri as something of a compromise. It is located north of High Castle but south of your seaside estate and is, at present, virgin untamed land. Of course, it already has quite a few residents who’ve settle there after escaping from Geleib’s tunnels.”
“Your Majesty…” Jonathan stood as he protested. Rebekah glared back at him from her seat amongst the Licht Gegen delegation. “…that is too much. It is excessive. What do I know of being a Baron or running a territory in your name?”
It was only then that Jon realized the table he was sitting at was another of the king’s chessboards, this one with Freislicht’s shape, and that he was one of the pieces on that board. He resumed his seat.
“In fact,” the king corrected him, “it is the very least I can do to honor both you and your wife. Both of whom have set a selfless example that will be sung of and recounted in tales for many years to come. Dwain even has written the first tune dedicated to the two of you. I’ve only heard it twice but it stays in my mind. Several of the nobles sitting at this very table,” he nodded to the Dukes of Wooster and Alexandria, “insisted that you should be made a Viscount or an Earl. One, whom I shall not embarrass at this moment, even suggested that I should give you Lorness.”
“However, I could not see that a reward. Apart from which, it requires a particular touch that, old friend, you simply don’t have.”
“Thank you… your Majesty,” Jon got out, while still trying to grasp the magnitude of what had just happened… and noting Rebekah was smiling back at him like a cat given cream.
“The formal announcement will not be until next Monday. My tailors will be available to you to see that you are outfitted accordingly,” Sagen added with a grin, then his eyes twinkled. “However, I note that you didn’t ask about your Barony’s name, Myhufri. It is hardly a traditional name. Don’t you want to know where it comes from?” The king’s head had turned so he was addressing Rebekah.
“Yes, your Majesty,” she smirked, causing Jon’s stomach to knot, “I do.”
“I needed something suitable,” Sagen’s grin got bigger, “something that would have a private meaning, something to properly commemorate Jon’s service. Then it struck me. Why not name it after him? O’Toole was too blatant. Using your family’s maiden name, Baroness Rebekah, was too obscure. What if I simply named it after…” he paused “my humble friend.”
High Castle – Outside the King’s War Room
Steven Blackhawk was not sure how he felt.
The king’s minor housekeeping matters had been nothing of the sort for those affected.
Blackhawk had been offered the role of Over-Commander… and turned it down… and then resigned his commission. He was done with soldiering. He was not sure what he’d do next, but… at least the king’s generosity toward him had not been as excessive as it had been for O’Toole.
Not that there was time to consider that. Steven had not walked far enough away and was being descended upon by well-wishers.
“Congratulations, Steven!” the former Commander Peter Taylor held out his hand. “Now that you’re a man of property and wealth, what’s next? Marriage? Children? There’ll be women lining up to be your wife.”
“I think you have that backward,” Blackhawk countered, “surely, I should be congratulating you as the new Earl of Lorness. Even if the king did downgrade it from a Duchy.”
“That was at my suggestion” Taylor chortled. “I’ll have my hands full with the Melazera’s traditional lands. I don’t need any more than I can chew at one bite. Apart from which, it drops the extra load back onto the Duke of Wooster, at least in the short term. And there are plenty who deserve to be rewarded with the lands that are no longer part of the Duchy of Lorness.”
“Gentlemen.” Patrick Gunnels intruded, “can a simple soldier buy both of you wealthy landowners a drink?”
“Simple…?” Taylor guffawed. “As my replacement and the new Over-Commander, I think you’re a little more than a simple soldier.”
“Perhaps,” Gunnels demurred, “but I’m dealing with the new Lord of Lorness and—”
“Don’t call me that,” Taylor corrected. “I’ll use the rightful title of Earl. But only when I have to.”
“As I was saying, most noble Earl of Lorness and,” Gunnels faced Blackhawk, “perhaps the wealthiest man in the Northwest, given King Sagen gifted you every possession the unlamented Geleib owned in an around Farr Castle. Let’s get drunk!”
The O’Toole Apartments in High Castle’s City
Rebekah was giddy. There were so many things that there hadn’t been time to discuss with Jonathan in recent moons. Not even during his recovery in that tiny lodge with a view out over the Sea of Glass.
She’d already been down to their new ‘not-too-modest’ lodgings in the city that surrounded High Castle two days earlier. She loved it. Jon was going to hate it.
His Majesty had not bothered to mention when gifting it to them, that it came with royally vetted, approved and paid for servants. A charmingly devout if youngish couple whom, she’d learned, had been interviewed by Queen Melyssa as the final step in their selection.
Rebekah had been overwhelmed.
The queen had made the final decision on who would be Rebekah’s servants.
So far, there hadn’t been an opportunity to speak to her Majesty except in politely formal hellos, goodbyes and the occasional piece of small talk. Yet, Rebekah was inordinately impressed. The king’s consort was the sort of girl every mother hoped to produce.
A thought that only made her yearn to find out more about Sarah’s adoption. Had her new family been good to her? Was she happy? Had she found love and married a good man? Was she even alive? Once they were officially Baron and Baroness, their carriage – yet another detail Sagen had not mentioned – would carry them south to begin the search properly.
But, before any of that occurred, she had to have a long talk with Jon about their finances. He was almost distraught at the king’s largesse.
Her financial dealings over the years had been very profitable. Although she’d maintained her cover as a plow salesman, even after diverting funds to Licht Gegen, her wealth had grown year after year. So, she had invested in things that would help their cause. Things that, it turned out, were even more profitable than selling plows.
She was still trying to work out how to tell Jon that she could have bought their seaside estate many times over.