Rare Things for a Rare Life

The Knights of Joshua

by Tiana Dokerty © 1984-2021

Home | Chapter 45 | Chapter 47

Chapter 46: The Queen’s Gambit – 160 AK, Late Autumn

I Corinthians 1:27 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

High Castle – The King’s Drawing Room

Danyth glared at the chessboard. As usual, the king was using the white pieces and he the black. Given the board’s state, it was all too likely that he was about to lose, again. Not that there was any shame in that. Sagen had a brilliant strategic mind, as he’d demonstrated both on and off the chessboard. But Danyth did not like losing.

“You’re looking stymied,” the king noted with a friendly smile. “I’d say it’s checkmate in less than a dozen moves. Unless, of course, you can find a suitable way to break my concentration.”

“A suitable…” Danyth felt a grin spread across his face. There was something that he’d been asked to deal with that might be sufficiently distracting. “Your Majesty…?”

“Yes…?” Sagen’s face lit up, knowing that his brother-in-law had taken the challenge.

“There is a small but very private matter, that I’ve been asked to present to you. Would you mind having your guards step further away? This is quite… sensitive.”

“Certainly.” The king advanced his bishop, while instructing the guards to step back with a gesture. A knowing smile lingered on his face, anticipating Danyth’s on-board and off-board tactics.

“You probably weren’t aware but when my father received the letter in regard to presenting one of his daughters as your potential bride, he was very – I’d go as far as to say, extremely – unhappy. Indeed, if I recall correctly, his exact words were, ‘I’m not giving my daughter to the king to become a tool of Geleib Melazera.’ It was hard to miss. He has a very loud voice that, under the right circumstances, carries quite a long way.” He advanced a black pawn, threatening the recently-moved white bishop.

“I was expecting something a tad more shocking, on the board and off it.” Sagen withdrew his bishop one square.

“That was not meant to surprise you. I’d be very shocked if you’d not heard that story, or a version of it, over the last six years. No, the new king had commanded that the Lockes present a daughter, so we did. But…” Danyth moved his black knight.

“Yes…?” The king moved his bishop defensively.

“But… this is the bit that you may never, ever, repeat to anyone so long as you live. I require your word of honor on that, Sire, before I can proceed.” The Alexandrian advanced his queen.

Sagen sat back, his expression perplexed. “Now you have me intrigued. However, when you say ‘anyone’ are you including Melyssa? I have no secrets from her and refuse to start, not even for you.” He withdrew his queen. Then he looked at the board and frowned as if that was not the move he’d intended to make.

 “As this concerns Queen Melyssa, my beloved sister,” Danyth deliberately emphasized the word, “she is the one exception. As are those she gives you permission to discuss this matter with. No one else. Ever.” He advanced another black pawn.

Sagen shook his head, as if to expel an idea from it. “You can’t be suggesting that Melyssa is not a Locke.” He shifted his other bishop to defend, without his gaze ever leaving his brother-in-law’s.

Your Majesty!” Danyth laced as much emotion into the words as it was politic to do when criticizing one’s monarch. “I would never suggest such a thing. Indeed, no matter who made such a statement, they would immediately find themselves the target of every Alexandrian, Locke or no, within striking distance. Melyssa is beloved by all of us. We are proud of her. We will defend her honor, her reputation and her good name no matter the cost.” He boldly advanced his queen.

“You had me concerned for a moment,” Sagen leaned forwards, almost aggressively. There was a protective glint in the king’s eyes that confirmed his love for her. “The political implications alone, were such a thing true, would destabilize the kingdom, throw the succession into doubt, and cast me as the most bumbling and naïve of fools.” He moved a white pawn.

“You have never been that, Sire.” Danyth moved his last black rook one square. “But, perhaps, the God of Truth has hidden things from you on occasion.”

Sagen took the rook with his bishop. “Of course, we only know in part. God reveals only what we need in the moment… and, given what you have indicated, you have my word that I will speak of whatever this may be to Melyssa and none other.”

“Your friend and advisor, Sir Jonathan O’Toole, has spoken to me often of his beliefs. I am immensely impressed by his unshakeable faith. Did you know that he and his wife, Rebekah, were separated for fifteen years? That each believed so firmly in their mission that they put their need to find each other aside to do the God of Truth’s work?”

“Yes, he came to me when they were first separated. Has he shared his escapades with you? Perhaps he’s told you a story I haven’t heard yet.”

“Perhaps. He told me God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and the weak things of the world to confound the mighty.”

“What does Jon have to do with Melyssa?”

“Nothing.” Danyth move his black queen sideways. “As I have confirmed to you, my sister Melyssa is a Locke. Your queen is a Locke.”

Sagen’s eyes narrowed and his arms folded across his chest. “That's an odd way to phrase it. Why say the same thing twice?” He moved a white pawn.

“Did I, Sire? Say the same thing twice?” He moved his queen again.

Sagen pursed his lips. “Perhaps not. Would you like to expand upon that?” He moved a white piece without looking at the board.

“My sister, Melyssa, is a Locke. There is no deception in that statement. However, that Melyssa wanted no part of Geleib’s plans. She was even more adamant than our father who would not permit Melazera to use her. So…”

“So… what?” Sagen shifted another white pawn.

“So, she traveled south of the Shining Mountains. Do you know of those lands? Few northerners do. They are lush, permanently verdant and teeming with the most astounding—”

“What is your point?”

“In those exotic lands, where forests are so dense that they generate humidity that’s impossible to imagine north of the Shining Mountains, the Melyssa that was born my sister found an exemplary man from Ush clan… and married him. It’s why Lady Ush-Wha serves your Melyssa. It’s also why she has designs on marrying me. They admire such social balance.” Danyth moved a piece. “By the way, I have you in check.”

Sagen looked at the board, shook his head, then asked, “Then who…?”

“Your Melyssa is also my sister. I will kill anyone, anywhere, at any time who says otherwise. Even you, your Majesty.” Danyth had not meant to be so confrontational but he would not ever permit that suggestion to go unanswered.

“I do not doubt that.” Sagen moved another white pawn, getting his king out of check.

“That she is a Locke by adoption rather than birth, does not diminish her being part of my family. I grew up with her. I broke the noses of lads who got fresh with her… well, those she hadn’t dealt with herself first. When a Locke daughter was demanded, I’m told some daikon got involved but in truth he played only a small part in what happened. My two sisters presented our father with a plan. They were alike enough to pass for each other, with one exception. My born sister’s hair is darker, just enough so that some would not call it blond. And…”

“And…?” Sagen leaned further forwards.

“And the Melyssa who was born my sister, already had her eyes on Ush-Kel’shan. He is a fine man, if a little lacking in manners.”

“And…?” Sagen insisted.

“And the Melyssa who became my sister had faith that Joshua was leading her. As she tells it, she had heard his still small voice say she would become the queen. She went to you willingly, supported by our family. Precautions were taken to ensure none would out her as a fraud, for she was not. She chose to become a Locke. Just as we chose her to become one of us.” Danyth moved a piece on the board.

“Where did she…? Perhaps, I shouldn’t ask.” Sagen hesitated. “No, I have never been one to hide from the truth. Tell me.”

“Sadly, I don’t know the full details. I believe Melyssa has most of them. She was taken in a debt collection but freed by a noble and valiant knight – not one of Joshua’s – who then found her a new family and, in time, became part of mine.” Danyth advanced his black queen. “Check.”

“I…” Sagen looked at the board. The expression on his face said he was wondering how he’d allowed such a situation to develop. He sacrificed his knight, placing it unprotected into Danyth’s queen’s path. “Continue.”

“As I understand, her mother was also supposed to be taken in the same collection but escaped. I’ve yet to hear her full story but the bits I’ve been told are extraordinary.” Danyth advanced his queen, taking Sagen’s knight. “Check.”

The king eased back in his chair. “I have a feeling that I may know where this is going.” He moved his king into cover.

“I don’t know much about her father.” Danyth moved his black queen forwards, taking a pawn and pinning the white king in place. “Check mate.”

Sagen looked at the board. “Yes, so it is. Earlier this year, your father taught me a lesson that proved invaluable, sometimes you need to appear to lose to win.” A smile of pure joy spread across his face.

“That is fascinating, Sire.” Danyth kept his face neutral, trying to hide his pleasure at both wins. He also knew his father and mother would receive the news with delight. He only wished he could be there when Sagen discussed these developments with Melyssa.

“I concede the game to you. Well played. I also acknowledge the power of your off-board ploy. It was beyond excellent. Then again, I sometimes forget who taught you how to play. That was foolish of me,” Sagen stated as he rose from the table.

Reaching into the drawer, the king pulled out the last of his Coronation Daggers, and handed it to Danyth. “You deserve this. Now, if you will excuse me, it seems I need to have a long overdue chat with your sister, and have her introduce me to some of our extended family’s less well-known members.”

 

High Castle – The Locke’s Apartments

Gregory welcomed his guests into the apartments reserved for them in High Castle. As with everything to do with that overstuffed fortress, the rooms were cramped. That translated to 'tiny’ when compared with Alexandrian accommodations. Still, they were appropriately furnished, and being in the capital allowed him and his wife, Ellyth, to be close to their son, daughter and royal grandchildren. “Please, come in. It’s long overdue that you joined us for dinner.”

Jonathan shook Gregory’s hand, smiled, and gestured for his wife to enter before him.

“It’s good of you to invite us,” Rebekah acknowledged, then teased, “but are you sure that consorting with a mere baron and baroness won’t damage your reputations?”

“Damage? Mere?” Ellyth chuckled, then hugged the other woman. “Having two of the Heroes of Freislicht’s Liberation as our guests will raise it immensely. You seem to forget that we Alexandrians are not particularly well-liked here in the north. But speaking of titles,” she glanced at Gregory, “I was pushing for you to be a countess, or at the very least a viscountess. These fool men and their politics stuffed that up giving you a ‘mere’ barony.”

Gregory laughed at Jonathan’s shudder. He knew how uncomfortable being a baron made the knight. They’d played chess often enough that he was familiar with his guest’s reactions. “On a more serious note,” he guided his guests into the living area, “when are you two finally coming south? And what can we do to help you find your daughter? All of our resources are at your command…”

High Castle Outside the Queen’s Drawing Room

King Sagen was trying to remain calm. He rubbed his forehead, trying to reconcile his thoughts and feelings. He was shocked, overwhelmed and embarrassed, and he was angry that she had not told him.

Could my childhood friend, Jon, be Melissa’s ‘real’ father? What else don’t I know? Has she ever lied to me? Or, has she skillfully avoided speaking certain truths? If so, how? And where did she acquire such skills?

He was confounded by the prospect of having Jon as his father-in-law even, especially, if it could never be acknowledged publicly, and it never could. Danyth had been absolutely correct about that.

He was anxious about how to even broach the conversation…

Yet, his time had run out. He’d turned the last corner to find the doors to the Queen’s Drawing Room being held open for him, and the queen’s other attendants, except for her very closest lady-in-waiting – the inevitable Lady Ush-Wha – scurrying away.

Why had I never questioned Ush-Wha’s background? Was it because she provided Melyssa with comfort and protection when, as king and queen, we’d had to put on a show for Geleib? What else have I missed?

Without slackening his pace, Sagen strode through the open doors, which promptly closed behind him. “Lady Ush-Wha,” he began too formally, even to his own ears, “there is a matter that I need to discuss with the queen. Please leave us.”

“No…” Melyssa tilted her head innocently to the side, lowering her eyelashes ever so slightly in a manner that she knew affected him. “…not quite yet. The kingdom is at peace, your oldest friend stands steadfastly at your side, and you have an heir. What could possibly cause you to be so… energetic?”

“There is a matter—”

“Sagen,” the queen pouted, “are you trying to spoil my fun? Again?”

“I… that is…” He forced himself to stop speaking and take a long, slow breath.

“Is this about something Danyth told you?”

The king nodded, unwilling to say anything before a servant, not even Ush-Wha.

“You may leave us, Ush-Wha,” Melyssa instructed. “I acknowledge that you predicted how slow Danyth would be. You won our bet and, as promised, anything that’s mine to give is yours. But, no, you cannot have my brother as your husband. He isn’t mine to give. Why don’t you propose to him? That is the way of your people, isn’t it?”

Sagen had only opened his mouth to regain entry into this conversation and, hopefully, some control over it when Lady Ush-Wha was in motion… and then gone. “Wha…?”

Melyssa’s tinkling laughter brought him back to why he had come.

“Why didn’t you tell me he was your father?” Sagen demanded.

“Sit.” She patted the broad chair she’d just sat down on. “Beside me. Then tell me exactly what Danyth has finally said. I’ve been nagging him about it for—”

“How many others know?” He asked, then sank down next to her, wrapped his arms around her, and pulled her close.

She kissed him sweetly, then gave him a push. “Is that really what you want to ask me first?” She teased. “Apart from which, that’s a game we’ll be playing for many moons to come. I can’t permit you to become lazy just because the Melazeras are no longer a threat.”

He loved her but, just occasionally, her sense of humor irritated him… just as it had also saved him, amused him, enlightened him, confounded him, and even restored him in his darkest hours. “I… I don’t know whether to be angry with you for withholding such a secret from me, astounded by you that you could do so, or…?”

“Or…?”

“Or, do the only thing I can never do, acknowledge your parents and brother publicly. I want to. I ache to. But… I know that I can’t. Ever.”

Melyssa paused, as if contemplating something, then said, “My Sagen, my husband, and my king, I have a suggestion.”

“What is that?”

“That we tell them, in private, of course.”

Sagen blinked, sure he’d missed something. “Tell who, what?”

“Tell Jonathan and Rebekah who I am, of course. I’m reasonably sure she’s—”

They don’t know?” Sagen could not help himself. He’d not meant to shout, but…

Melyssa disengaged herself from his arms, moving slightly away from him. “Of course not! Did you think that I’d broach it with them before discussing it with you?”

“I… that is… I’ve only just had the conversation with Danyth… I came straight here…”

Melyssa frowned. “I shall have my own discussion with my brother dearest about handling things promptly. I’m sure he’ll continue to be a wonderful ally but, really, he has every Alexandrians’ preoccupation with money and business. It occurs to me that you could do me, and Freislicht, a great favor by appointing a certain close friend from your youth as your new Royal Steward, while making Danyth your Royal Treasurer.”

“I…” Sagen was having trouble keeping up. The details all made sense but the emotions that flooded along with them were dulling his mind.

“Call me selfish but I would like my father…” A glint appeared in her eyes. “…or, should I say fathers, around to be part of my family.”

“It is something we could discuss. Does Jonathan really not know?”

“Not yet. I suspect Rebekah has an inkling or, maybe, even knows.” She winked at him. “I've not informed her but given her work with Licht Gegen – or, should I say, having founded Licht Gegen according to your minstrel, Dwain – I am loathe to underestimate her. But…”

“But… what?”

“Well, Danyth took so long…”

“And…?” The king prompted.

“I have another brother, David, who—”

“Yes,” Sagen cut her off. “Jon has talked to me many times of both his children.

“Didn’t you think it odd that I insisted on David becoming our Royal Master of Horse? I wanted him, Cynthia and their children close. I see him almost every other day when I go riding. He’s been looking at me for over a moon with a quizzical expression, so I put him on the spot. ‘What are you staring at?’ I demanded.”

“And…?”

“After much dithering, he said I reminded him of how his younger sister sat a horse. I couldn’t help myself. I laughed, then insisted he ride with me. Ush-Wha and my other ladies-in-waiting stayed close enough for propriety but far enough away that we could talk in private.”

And…?

“And, eventually, I told him that he was no more observant than he’d been as a boy. It took several minutes but watching the thoughts flash transparently across his face was a delight. As was the realization that I was his sister. That was two days ago.” She grinned impishly. “Don’t worry, he’s sworn to secrecy, to not even tell his wife, until I give him permission to. Nor to tell our parents.  He’s promised to say nothing until we have had… a little chat.”

A little chat?” Sagen wrapped his arms around her and pulled her back close to him. “Your father has been tormented by your loss since he learned of it. We’ve spoken of it often. It haunts him. Hell, in the last week, I promised to do all in my power to find his lost daughter… to find… you.

“Then, isn’t it all the more fitting that you’ll finally be able to ease his pain?”

“He’s more likely to hit me than thank me. Perhaps I should have Commander Blackhawk attend? At a distance, of course.”

“That’s…” Melyssa scrunched up her face. “…probably not a good idea.”

The change in her tone and expression alarmed him. “What? Why?”

“That’s… complicated… and not entirely my story to tell. For my part…”

What…?” Sagen needed to know. He trusted the commander and had for many years.

“Did Danyth mention a knight that saved me as a child?”

“Yes…” It took only a moment for inspiration to strike. “Blackhawk?

“Yes… but his interactions with David and Jonathan were… darker. Having him there would make the situation… more difficult.”

“Then I need to know—”

“No,” Melyssa corrected him, “you don’t. David, Jonathan and Blackhawk will work the matter out between them in however long it takes. Elbowing your royal self into the middle will do nothing to resolve it. That said, I do have another suggestion.”

Sagen felt overjoyed and terrified simultaneously. Her most blinding smile reassured him of her love. Yet, the wickedest of twinkles shone forth from her eyes. “It turns out, that my fathers, Jonathan and Gregory, have become friends but my mothers have never met. Don’t you think it’s time that omission was addressed?”

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