Chapter 46: 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Sagen sat opposite Melyssa, where they’d withdrawn inside, as she’d suggested.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, “I’m faced with a far more dangerous foe than I 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, then 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?”
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, easing his fears. “Tell me what you’ve done that’s so terrible.”
“I knew my boyhood friend was ambitious. I knew he was a Melazera and so trained to exert influence covertly. I didn’t take into account the effect that an even more devious wife might have on him. Just as he didn’t understand the strength you 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 father’s court, I was aware of its games, ploys, and devious interactions. Yet I believed I could do better. That I could establish a more peaceful cooperative Freislicht. I was arrogant.”
“You were young,” she consoled.
“My sin, the one I find it hard to forgive myself for, was that I saw everything around me. I was aware of those interactions, could predict how one noble would attempt to influence another, but didn’t act on it. I didn’t even report my suspicions to father.”
Melyssa laid a hand along his cheek. “You were young.”
“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, during which Gaelib increased his hold on power.”
“Shhh. Here’s the bit you’re going to hate. Yes, I reacted strongly to father’s death. Because he was my father. But that shock awoke another part of me. Awoke it from the very moment 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 that instant, 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, overwhelmed king that could be used as a puppet. The survival prospects for the former were dim to non-existent, for the latter, they were 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.
“Then I met you. Together, there were moments I could be myself. Together, we bought enough time to put the pieces in place.
“Eventually, I took control of and cleaned out High Castle and Farr Castle.
“I had the slimmest of hopes that, if faced with the loss of control over those two places and the disbanding of his Black Robes, Gaelib would relent. Perhaps, even repent.
“It wasn’t to be. That left only a path ending in blood.
“I’d intended to besiege Lorness Castle, thus keeping most of the bloodshed from the masses. Not that stories wouldn’t circulate. They would. Indeed, they had to. This,” he waved his hand at the battlefield outside, “is simply more visible.”
“I don’t understand. Why did this have to happen?”
“To defeat Gaelib 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, 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 clearly 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’d 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 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, and couldn’t wait to 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 daikons of the Knights of J’shua from the Mountain, the Roving Knights, and Esthlanis.
At the head of the table, King Sagen continued, “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 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 speak. Or, if your business is done, you may leave.”
The Tarins’ leader stood, bowing stiffly. “We acted in our own interest, King Sagen. We didn’t want our culture polluted by the evil that befouled yours. Be assured, we won’t let it cross into our lands. And, should it be necessary to cleanse any remaining taint, we will return.”
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 form of deference, they too left.
The Esthlanis’ leader 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 Otual, you have been much maligned for many years, had malevolent tales of deeds you never executed become infamous, 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.”
“Were this a discussion between old friends,” Sagen gently warned, “it’s possible 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 don’t think that I’ll let you go wandering too far. 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. 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’ll 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 settled there after escaping from Lorness.”
“Your Majesty…” Jonathan stood as he protested.
Rebekah glared 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. “I beg you, Your Majesty, I am not worthy.” He bowed and resumed his seat.
“In fact,” the king corrected him, “it is the very least I can do to honor you and your wife. Both of whom have set selfless examples that will be sung of and recounted in tales for years and years to come. Dwain has even 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, Landryn and Alexandria, “insisted that you should be made a Viscount or an Earl. One, whom I shall not embarrass at this moment, even suggested I should give you Lorness.”
“However, I could not see that as 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, still trying to grasp the magnitude of what had just happened.
Rebekah smiled at him like a cat given cream.
“The formal announcement won’t be until next Monday. My tailors will be available to you to see that you’re both 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 turned, 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? Otual 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 wasn’t sure how he felt. The king’s minor housekeeping matters had been nothing of the sort.
Blackhawk had been offered the role of Over-Commander, turned it down, then resigned his commission. He was done with soldiering. He wasn’t sure what he’d do next, but… at least the king’s generosity toward him hadn’t been as excessive as to Otual.
Not that there was time to consider that. Steven was still being descended upon by well-wishers.
“Congratulations!” Former Commander Peter Taelor held out his hand. “Now you’re a man of property and wealth, what’s next? Marriage? Children? There’ll be women lining up to snag you.”
“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 my suggestion,” Taelor 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,” Pabrik Gonnels intruded, “can a simple soldier buy both of you wealthy landowners a drink?”
“Simple…?” Taelor guffawed. “As the new Over-Commander, I think you’re more than just a soldier.”
“Perhaps,” Gonnels demurred, “but I’m dealing with the new Lord of Lorness and–”
“Don’t call me that,” Taelor corrected. “I’ll use the rightful title of Earl.”
“As I was saying, most noble Earl of Lorness and,” Gonnels faced Blackhawk, “perhaps the wealthiest man in the Northwest, given King Sagen gifted you every possession the unlamented Gaelib owned in an around Farr Castle, let’s get drunk!”
The Otual Residence in High Castle’s City
Rebekah was giddy. There were so many things there hadn’t been time to discuss with Jonathan in recent moons. Not even during his recovery in that tiny lodge with a view of the Sea of Glass.
She’d already been down to their new ‘not-too-modest’ lodgings in the city outside High Castle. She loved it.
Jon will hate it.
His Majesty hadn’t bothered to mention that it came with royally vetted, approved, and paid-for servants. A charmingly devout, young couple who’d 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, marriage, and a good man? Was she even alive? Once they were officially Baron and Baroness, their carriage – yet another detail Sagen hadn’t mentioned – would carry them south to begin the search properly.
But, before 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 profitable. Very profitable. Although she’d maintained her cover as a plow merchant, 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 still tried to work out how to tell Jon that she could have bought their seaside estate many times over.