Rare Things for a Rare Life

The Knights of Joshua

by Tiana Dokerty © 1984-2021

Home | Chapter 40 | Chapter 42

Geleib & Cailleagh Exherpts 1 - GandC2

 

Lorness Estate

Many miles away, the four castles of the Kingdom of Freislicht stood high, overseeing its greatness. The most prominent of these was Lorness – not by size, for no citadel came close to matching High Castle’s vastness – but due to its power, influence, and the Melazera family’s political scheming.

The halls of Lorness Castle were filled with people maneuvering for advantage and fighting petty skirmishes. Throughout the day and night, deals were done, agreements were made, and alliances forged. They were also broken, as the power, prestige and status of those involved soared to new heights or plummeted into the depths. Always in flux, almost every important decision was made there… not in the capital, High Castle.

The Lords of Lorness maintained their pre-eminence due to their skills in political maneuvering, the blackmail materials they had on others, and the unique ‘delights’ that were available nowhere else. Indeed, Lorness Castle, for those in the know, was a feast for the senses and every appetite. A banquet that could be indulged in without fear of it becoming known to others. That the price for such indulgences was fealty to Lorness was paid willingly, as their patronage was a path to wealth, fame and fortune.

Cailleagh was the shapely wife of Geleib Melazera, the ninth Earl of Lorness. Her auburn hair was bright against her porcelain complexion. Her dark amber eyes stood out in a perfect heart-shaped face.

She equally enjoyed working social events in the castle’s extravagant upper public rooms and its exclusive luxuriously decorated lower private ones. Always on the hunt for someone new to develop, tonight she was distracted. She would accept her latest cohort of acolytes in only a few hours.

The Lady of Lorness smiled and nodded to the many pretty and important guests. She was delighted by the snippets of conversation she overheard. She reveled in the snatches of gossip she’d started. Better yet, were those ardently persuading others that the king must expand the army. Just in case.

Excellent. The rumors I spread flourish, reinforced and amplified by these fools. The bigger the army, the bigger the debt.

She hoped Geleib appreciated how her ‘birds’ had helped expand his economic control. Her spies were everywhere.

Cailleagh had developed four independent organizations, each with its own hierarchy. No group was aware of the others. The lower levels knew nothing of the mysteries of the higher. There were circles within circles.

Sparrows surveilled the commoners.  Ravens surveilled the nobles.  Hawks surveilled the military commands Eagles surveilled the castles. They were helpful and trusted. Their eyes and ears sought advantages, weaknesses, and information. When they spoke, gossipers listened. And each was totally obedient to the Order.

It’s delightful to see people accept the world we have ever so gradually painted for them. Unwittingly they perpetuate it. It does not matter whether they request our recommendations, some coveted placement, or seek power, fame, or wealth. All advance the Guild of the Black Robes. And so, it grows.

When most of the nobles and dignitaries had left, she sought out Geleib, fawning over him and those in conversation with him. Even though ten years married, she loved to pretend to be the doting, obedient wife. It was one of her favorite roles.

She kissed him on the cheek and departed. Once out of earshot, she commanded her escorts, “Ready my horse. We ride for the sanctuary.”

Fear grows in the kingdom, fueled by rumor and gossip that I control. With a word here and another there, my birds change everything. I am a genius. Now that Geleib is demanding more taxes from the highborn to build an army, the nobles are calling in loans, causing delightful consequences. I had not foreseen the abductions of women and children. It was a convenient surprise.

 

Sanctuary of the Alte Regieren

The rocks jutted up out of the flat ground at all angles, some thirty yards into the air. Many of them were streaked with iron that, from a distance, looked like blood. It was said that the Rocks of Lorness were cursed, for there were many stories of people lost thereabouts and never seen again. The rumors, spread by Cailleagh’s birds, were working. She rarely encountered anyone on her rides there. And, if she did, they did not live to talk, becoming part of her expanding mythology.

Leaving her escort and horse behind, Cailleagh entered the cave. The acolytes all bowed, forming a corridor to the high stone in the center. She felt energized by this ancient place, felt her guiding spirits fill her with authority, inspiration flooding her mind and body with every step.

Her followers fell silent, and she began to speak the ancient words that translated as, “All glory be to our Master, who brings Order out of Chaos.” Her voice reverberated in the cavern-like distant thunder.

“His order will be complete and everlasting,” the initiates responded.

The vibration of their voices thrummed through Cailleagh. “Welcome to your initiation, your practicum.”

One by one, each approached the stone table, spoke their oath, drew a knife across their left wrist, and let the blood drip into the vessel as an offering.

When the last had returned to their original position, she offered the vessel to the Gods. Then drank it. “From this moment onwards, you are members of our order, the Black Robes.” Then she was overcome by a vision from her spirits.

Beware the piercing blade wielded by a veiled maiden in shining gold.

Cailleagh gasped as it penetrated her chest, the shining sword cutting through her, the pain both exquisite and horrible. Then it was over. The vision had only lasted a second, yet the visceral nature of its message could not be ignored.

She knew what it meant immediately but could not let herself be distracted. Not while surrounded by initiates, so she forced herself to continue. “You must memorize the words of the first rune, for they may never be written down and never spoken to anyone outside the Order. Any breach is punishable by death.”

“If we break this covenant, let us be burnt by the Gods,” they responded in unison.

Cailleagh nodded. “You will be assigned to an office in the structure of the kingdom as we have opportunity and need. You will perform every task required of you fervently, without question, without deviation. The reputation of the Black Robes is one of excellence. Any complaints about you shall be investigated most… intensively.

 “At this early phase, you will love your masters, seduce them to gain their confidence. Go very slowly. There is no need to rush. In this way, we will saturate the kingdom, creating the new order.

“Our next high day is at the dawn of the Goat. Your docent will teach you the preparations. You may go.”

 

Lorness Castle

Geleib had been asleep, for it was the third watch. He knew to not wait up for Cailleagh when she was on the Order’s business.

“Geleib, where are you, my love?” She called out, waking him.

He rolled up on one elbow.

She spun around the apartment, the light from the fireplace casting large twisting shadows that cavorted with a life of their own. Whenever she returned from the Sanctuary, she was intoxicated with power.

“I’m here, wife. Did you wake me to take advantage of me, or is there news?”

She giggled. “Which would you like first?”

“Does it matter? I’m receiving both, correct?”

She dropped onto the bed after littering the chamber with her clothes. “You’re right, of course. I’ll tell you my vision first. It lasted but a second, yet I’m terrified by it still.” She placed his hand upon her breast. “Can you not feel the rapid beat of my heart?”

“I can… and wonder how I may help,” he purred, his eyes roaming over her greedily.

“I felt danger.” She leaned in just a little further. “I saw a woman dressed all in gold. A veil hid her face, like a bride’s. She carried a sword, its tip pointed to the heavens. Then she thrust, piercing my heart. I’m afraid. I am afraid that I know what it means.”

“What?”

“That you must not let the prince marry. Promise me he won’t,” she cooed.

Geleib leaned back to look at her. “I cannot promise that, my sweet. My plan requires the prince to have a legitimate heir. Thus, he must have a wife.”

She cried on his shoulder.

Or, she pretended to… an act Geleib knew all too well. He delighted in it every time she resorted to that strategy, for it meant she would be particularly eager to pleasure him lavishly.

He rolled his eyes, pulling her atop him. “Do not worry,” he soothed, “these visions are often uncomfortable at first. Over time, they become clearer. This may be only part of the revelation.” He bit her neck, and they began to play.

When he woke in the morning, Geleib reminisced…

It was his thirteenth year and he was still in mourning after his mother’s death. Sitting in the grass, he was pulling the ripe heads off the purple clover. One by one, he pelted the pregnant kitchen cat, who sunned herself royally nearby, ignoring his attacks completely.

Seeing Cailleagh always brightened his days, but this was the first time she took notice of him. She’d asked what he was doing, exclaimed, “What fun!” after being told, and then joined in. Together, they repelled the cat.

After that, Cailleagh played with him every day, any game he wanted.

She became his best friend.

Cailleagh was a woman, shapely and easy to look upon. Many nights he lay awake thinking of her. Her long auburn hair caught the sun. Her skin was pale and smooth like porcelain. Her brown eyes were dark amber stones set in her perfect heart-shaped face.

Then his vision flowed to a different day when she pretended that she was a witch. A spirit spoke through her, saying. “You will become the most powerful man in the world.”

He’d replied. “It’s right that this should be so.”

He loved her because she loved him.

She’d taken his hand and led him to an old, untended graveyard on the outskirts of the castle. The inscription on an arch over its entrance read, ‘Banish souls that do unspeakable deeds’. It was a place no one else in the world had a reason to go. They could do anything they wanted there.

Again, on Geleib’s fourteenth nameday, she’d reminded him he would become the most powerful man in the world, which pleased him as he knew it would be so.

“To become the most powerful man,” she’d explained, “you must acquire the spirit of a great man.  Lie face down on that grave so you may receive his power, for this man was a great warrior.”

He gave her a sideways glance but humored her. As of that day, he was a man, and manly things – such as women – were available to him, for he would be the next Earl of Lorness.

“Stretch out your arms,” she continued, “and repeat, ‘I receive you, Master of the World’, so that you may receive the first of his gifts.”

He hesitated, thinking it a silly game.

“I’ve another present for you afterward.” Her doe eyes fluttered as she looked away, her skin flushing.

His breath caught. Smitten, he said the words. They were meaningless. He did not receive anything… until Cailleagh turned him over, and lay atop him.

Warm and smelling of lemon cake, she kissed him and touched him.

He knew he should stop her but stayed under her warmth, under her love.

A knock at the door jarred him back to reality. “Who is it?” He spat.

“Forgive me, my Lord,” a terrified page bowed low then delivered a military packet, departing before Melazera could read it.

It was news. “Malcontents have injured over forty of my soldiers,” Geleib grumbled as he read. “Worse, they’ve been allowed to escape and… and… they’ve killed an officer!” He paced back and forth, then slammed the table with both fists. “They must be captured.  I have plans for them… after which, Cailleagh can have what’s left.”

Geleib’s mood was dark. He tried to return to the earlier memory of her delights but failed. Instead…

They’d met at the graveyard often, to be alone, as free as birds.

Yet when in the castle or the gardens, Cailleagh insisted they pretend to be enemies. “It’ll be a great game,” she’d promised. So, whenever they met in company, he’d make rude gestures, and she’d pretend to be offended. Later they’d laugh about the scolding he received from his father or her mother. Day by day, he grew more immune to their chastisements.

Several weeks later, she’d said. “The spirit of the powerful Warrior that you received demands a life for his gift.” Then she pulled a kitten out of her pocket. “You must kill this cat.”

He was stunned, his eyes wide.

“Do it. You owe him. Do it… or I’ll tell your father what we did on the Warrior’s grave.”

Geleib was horrified. His father had filled their dungeons with people who’d broken even the slightest of their customs. Lying with a woman outside of marriage was grounds for being stoned to death and having your remains added to a rotting pile on permanent public display. 

He had not known then what ‘laying with a woman’ meant, but in his naiveté, Geleib thought he’d done so.

He took out the jewel-handled knife, the birthday present from his father, and slit the kitten’s throat. He hated this memory. He was ashamed that he’d cried.

Yet Cailleagh had eased his suffering, touching him in the most wondrous ways, and he soon only cared about her love.

 

In the morning, Geleib awoke thinking of Steven Blackhawk. He often did so. Especially as Cailleagh always went to her chamber to sleep, leaving him alone.

That had not always been true. There had been others to take her place. There still were. But it was Steven that Geleib yearned for. Steven with his big, beautiful smile. Steven, who had been gone for five long years.

He sighed, shut his eyes, and recalled twelve years ago when he first found Steven.

It was moons after they began using the interrogation chamber when Cailleagh started a new tradition.

On this day, Geleib had gotten there first and started a fire.

She came in, followed by four little children dressed in rags, all about four years old. Cailleagh told him that she had been working with them for weeks. Whenever she saw a young child unattended, she talked to them kindly, asking where their parents were. If the child pointed to a mother or father, she let them be. If they said they had no one, she tested them, asking where they slept and ate and about other family members.

When sure they were truly orphaned, she gave them a sweet and watched them gobble it up gleefully. She’d ask if they wanted another. Of course, the child nodded. So, she slipped them into the castle through a back passageway to this cozy chamber. Then she gave them another candy, telling them they could come any morning for another… but only if no one saw them. In this manner, she taught them to be invisible.

On this occasion, there were four little children.

Cailleagh stoked the fire. When all of them started to sweat, she began removing her clothes very slowly, one piece at a time, her eyes on him.

He did the same, his eyes on her.

It was a cold spring. They all wore many layers. It was so warm and sweaty, so natural. Primitives living on tropical islands wore no clothes at all. If warm enough and safe enough, they did not need any.

There had been a tub of warm water in one corner.

Cailleagh entered the bath, encouraging each child to join her. She told them they would receive new clothes after she bathed them.

Geleib enjoyed watching. It reminded him of the times he, Sagen, and the other boys played in the royal baths.

Afterward, they played ‘pinch or kiss’, Cailleagh chasing them around, pinching their cheek or kissing it. Everyone was giggling and laughing. They began rolling over one another to pinch or kiss each other.

When they let the fire abate, and the chamber grew cold, Geleib and Cailleagh dressed the children in new shirts and shifts, but nothing that would draw attention. They hugged each child, telling them that there would always be a safe place here, then sent them out one by one, asking them to come again soon.

Cailleagh gave the children diluted wine with a potion to make them happy and compliant if they became resistant to the training. These games were repeated for many weeks, with many new variations, until they had been groomed to do anything.

Each time Geleib heard the Warrior encourage him, Please yourself. You need not serve anyone.

Whenever Cailleagh or Geleib used the back stairway, they were likely to find one or more of them, always giving them food and a sweet.

They hired an old blind woman to watch over the orphans, especially after leaving for Lorness in the full moon of the Virgin. She made sure they had a little food every day and a place to sleep. She knew all the safe spots at nighttime. And each new moon of the Ram, they would watch for the Lord and Lady Melazera to return to Farr Castle.

As time went on, they thought of other uses for the orphans. They’d taught them to recruit new ones to play with and teach the love of the God of this Age.

Steven Blackhawk had been one of those first four children. Whenever a child could not tell them their surname, they would let them pick one. He had piped right up with, “Blackhawk.” He was a bold lad and would do anything they asked without hesitation. They gave him many tests. He failed none of them. So, when he was seven, Geleib made him his page and took him with him to each castle as they moved through the seasons.

Geleib taught Blackhawk how to ride and use a sword, a dagger, a staff, and many unconventional weapons. There were lessons on warfare and tactics. Every day Blackhawk was told what a great warrior he would be if he obeyed and protected his lord. Every night, they played.

Blackhawk was Geleib’s closest companion, especially when Cailleagh was away.

At eleven, Geleib sent Blackhawk to train in the army. The youngster quickly bested his peers, graduating as a lieutenant in the King’s Guard in his sixteenth year. That achievement gave Geleib a loyal ally near the king, permitting the Lord of Lorness to remain where he preferred to be, Farr Castle.

Just as he preferred being known as the Lord of Lorness. He liked the alliteration. Apart from this, using ‘Lord’ did not remind him of an unpleasant fact. Gregory, leader of the Melazeras’ only rivals – those money-grubbing Alexandrian upstarts, the Lockes – was a duke. A man who, on the rare occasions they met, he had to bow and scrape to… because Geleib was merely an earl.

 

Lorness Castle

Geleib had been asleep, for it was the third watch. He knew to not wait up for Cailleagh when she was on the Order’s business.

“Geleib, where are you, my love?” She called out, waking him.

He rolled up on one elbow.

She spun around the apartment, the light from the fireplace casting large twisting shadows that cavorted with a life of their own. Whenever she returned from the Sanctuary, she was intoxicated with power.

“I’m here, wife. Did you wake me to take advantage of me, or is there news?”

She giggled. “Which would you like first?”

“Does it matter? I’m receiving both, correct?”

She dropped onto the bed after littering the chamber with her clothes. “You’re right, of course. I’ll tell you my vision first. It lasted but a second, yet I’m terrified by it still.” She placed his hand upon her breast. “Can you not feel the rapid beat of my heart?”

“I can… and wonder how I may help,” he purred, his eyes roaming over her greedily.

“I felt danger.” She leaned in just a little further. “I saw a woman dressed all in gold. A veil hid her face, like a bride’s. She carried a sword, its tip pointed to the heavens. Then she thrust, piercing my heart. I’m afraid. I am afraid that I know what it means.”

“What?”

“That you must not let the prince marry. Promise me he won’t,” she cooed.

Geleib leaned back to look at her. “I cannot promise that, my sweet. My plan requires the prince to have a legitimate heir. Thus, he must have a wife.”

She cried on his shoulder.

Or, she pretended to… an act Geleib knew all too well. He delighted in it every time she resorted to that strategy, for it meant she would be particularly eager to pleasure him lavishly.

He rolled his eyes, pulling her atop him. “Do not worry,” he soothed, “these visions are often uncomfortable at first. Over time, they become clearer. This may be only part of the revelation.” He bit her neck, and they began to play.

When he woke in the morning, Geleib reminisced…

It was his thirteenth year and he was still in mourning after his mother’s death. Sitting in the grass, he was pulling the ripe heads off the purple clover. One by one, he pelted the pregnant kitchen cat, who sunned herself royally nearby, ignoring his attacks completely.

Seeing Cailleagh always brightened his days, but this was the first time she took notice of him. She’d asked what he was doing, exclaimed, “What fun!” after being told, and then joined in. Together, they repelled the cat.

After that, Cailleagh played with him every day, any game he wanted.

She became his best friend.

Cailleagh was a woman, shapely and easy to look upon. Many nights he lay awake thinking of her. Her long auburn hair caught the sun. Her skin was pale and smooth like porcelain. Her brown eyes were dark amber stones set in her perfect heart-shaped face.

Then his vision flowed to a different day when she pretended that she was a witch. A spirit spoke through her, saying. “You will become the most powerful man in the world.”

He’d replied. “It’s right that this should be so.”

He loved her because she loved him.

She’d taken his hand and led him to an old, untended graveyard on the outskirts of the castle. The inscription on an arch over its entrance read, ‘Banish souls that do unspeakable deeds’. It was a place no one else in the world had a reason to go. They could do anything they wanted there.

Again, on Geleib’s fourteenth nameday, she’d reminded him he would become the most powerful man in the world, which pleased him as he knew it would be so.

“To become the most powerful man,” she’d explained, “you must acquire the spirit of a great man.  Lie face down on that grave so you may receive his power, for this man was a great warrior.”

He gave her a sideways glance but humored her. As of that day, he was a man, and manly things – such as women – were available to him, for he would be the next Earl of Lorness.

“Stretch out your arms,” she continued, “and repeat, ‘I receive you, Master of the World’, so that you may receive the first of his gifts.”

He hesitated, thinking it a silly game.

“I’ve another present for you afterward.” Her doe eyes fluttered as she looked away, her skin flushing.

His breath caught. Smitten, he said the words. They were meaningless. He did not receive anything… until Cailleagh turned him over, and lay atop him.

Warm and smelling of lemon cake, she kissed him and touched him.

He knew he should stop her but stayed under her warmth, under her love.

A knock at the door jarred him back to reality. “Who is it?” He spat.

“Forgive me, my Lord,” a terrified page bowed low then delivered a military packet, departing before Melazera could read it.

It was news. “Malcontents have injured over forty of my soldiers,” Geleib grumbled as he read. “Worse, they’ve been allowed to escape and… and… they’ve killed an officer!” He paced back and forth, then slammed the table with both fists. “They must be captured.  I have plans for them… after which, Cailleagh can have what’s left.”

Geleib’s mood was dark. He tried to return to the earlier memory of her delights but failed. Instead…

They’d met at the graveyard often, to be alone, as free as birds.

Yet when in the castle or the gardens, Cailleagh insisted they pretend to be enemies. “It’ll be a great game,” she’d promised. So, whenever they met in company, he’d make rude gestures, and she’d pretend to be offended. Later they’d laugh about the scolding he received from his father or her mother. Day by day, he grew more immune to their chastisements.

Several weeks later, she’d said. “The spirit of the powerful Warrior that you received demands a life for his gift.” Then she pulled a kitten out of her pocket. “You must kill this cat.”

He was stunned, his eyes wide.

“Do it. You owe him. Do it… or I’ll tell your father what we did on the Warrior’s grave.”

Geleib was horrified. His father had filled their dungeons with people who’d broken even the slightest of their customs. Lying with a woman outside of marriage was grounds for being stoned to death and having your remains added to a rotting pile on permanent public display. 

He had not known then what ‘laying with a woman’ meant, but in his naiveté, Geleib thought he’d done so.

He took out the jewel-handled knife, the birthday present from his father, and slit the kitten’s throat. He hated this memory. He was ashamed that he’d cried.

Yet Cailleagh had eased his suffering, touching him in the most wondrous ways, and he soon only cared about her love.

 

In the morning, Geleib awoke thinking of Steven Blackhawk. He often did so. Especially as Cailleagh always went to her chamber to sleep, leaving him alone.

That had not always been true. There had been others to take her place. There still were. But it was Steven that Geleib yearned for. Steven with his big, beautiful smile. Steven, who had been gone for five long years.

He sighed, shut his eyes, and recalled twelve years ago when he first found Steven.

It was moons after they began using the interrogation chamber when Cailleagh started a new tradition.

On this day, Geleib had gotten there first and started a fire.

She came in, followed by four little children dressed in rags, all about four years old. Cailleagh told him that she had been working with them for weeks. Whenever she saw a young child unattended, she talked to them kindly, asking where their parents were. If the child pointed to a mother or father, she let them be. If they said they had no one, she tested them, asking where they slept and ate and about other family members.

When sure they were truly orphaned, she gave them a sweet and watched them gobble it up gleefully. She’d ask if they wanted another. Of course, the child nodded. So, she slipped them into the castle through a back passageway to this cozy chamber. Then she gave them another candy, telling them they could come any morning for another… but only if no one saw them. In this manner, she taught them to be invisible.

On this occasion, there were four little children.

Cailleagh stoked the fire. When all of them started to sweat, she began removing her clothes very slowly, one piece at a time, her eyes on him.

He did the same, his eyes on her.

It was a cold spring. They all wore many layers. It was so warm and sweaty, so natural. Primitives living on tropical islands wore no clothes at all. If warm enough and safe enough, they did not need any.

There had been a tub of warm water in one corner.

Cailleagh entered the bath, encouraging each child to join her. She told them they would receive new clothes after she bathed them.

Geleib enjoyed watching. It reminded him of the times he, Sagen, and the other boys played in the royal baths.

Afterward, they played ‘pinch or kiss’, Cailleagh chasing them around, pinching their cheek or kissing it. Everyone was giggling and laughing. They began rolling over one another to pinch or kiss each other.

When they let the fire abate, and the chamber grew cold, Geleib and Cailleagh dressed the children in new shirts and shifts, but nothing that would draw attention. They hugged each child, telling them that there would always be a safe place here, then sent them out one by one, asking them to come again soon.

Cailleagh gave the children diluted wine with a potion to make them happy and compliant if they became resistant to the training. These games were repeated for many weeks, with many new variations, until they had been groomed to do anything.

Each time Geleib heard the Warrior encourage him, Please yourself. You need not serve anyone.

Whenever Cailleagh or Geleib used the back stairway, they were likely to find one or more of them, always giving them food and a sweet.

They hired an old blind woman to watch over the orphans, especially after leaving for Lorness in the full moon of the Virgin. She made sure they had a little food every day and a place to sleep. She knew all the safe spots at nighttime. And each new moon of the Ram, they would watch for the Lord and Lady Melazera to return to Farr Castle.

As time went on, they thought of other uses for the orphans. They’d taught them to recruit new ones to play with and teach the love of the God of this Age.

Steven Blackhawk had been one of those first four children. Whenever a child could not tell them their surname, they would let them pick one. He had piped right up with, “Blackhawk.” He was a bold lad and would do anything they asked without hesitation. They gave him many tests. He failed none of them. So, when he was seven, Geleib made him his page and took him with him to each castle as they moved through the seasons.

Geleib taught Blackhawk how to ride and use a sword, a dagger, a staff, and many unconventional weapons. There were lessons on warfare and tactics. Every day Blackhawk was told what a great warrior he would be if he obeyed and protected his lord. Every night, they played.

Blackhawk was Geleib’s closest companion, especially when Cailleagh was away.

At eleven, Geleib sent Blackhawk to train in the army. The youngster quickly bested his peers, graduating as a lieutenant in the King’s Guard in his sixteenth year. That achievement gave Geleib a loyal ally near the king, permitting the Lord of Lorness to remain where he preferred to be, Farr Castle.

Just as he preferred being known as the Lord of Lorness. He liked the alliteration. Apart from this, using ‘Lord’ did not remind him of an unpleasant fact. Gregory, leader of the Melazeras’ only rivals – those money-grubbing Alexandrian upstarts, the Lockes – was a duke. A man who, on the rare occasions they met, he had to bow and scrape to… because Geleib was merely an earl.

 

Lorness – Sanctuary of the Alte Regieren

“Stop your incessant nagging. I’m coming,” Geleib grumbled.

Cailleagh had cajoled him all week.

He knew she believed the rituals were necessary to acquire the crown. They meant less to him. Not nothing, merely less. They had their place, but they were only one part of the elaborate plan that would make his destiny a reality.

You will be the most powerful man in the world, he recalled Cailleagh telling him on many, many occasions. Only to complete that thought with, yes… I will… soon I will.

The Warrior gave him strength. It enhanced him, granting him insights unavailable to the fools who followed Joshua, and offered guidance that he did not always appreciate. Most recently, it had urged him to please his wife. You still need her… for now.

Rubbing at his neck like a noose, the ceremonial robes chafed. He refused to show his discomfort. Tonight’s ceremony would enhance his access to the Warrior’s power further. It was yet another step along the way to having all that spirit’s abilities at his command.

The vast cavern was lit by hundreds of candles. It was filled with chanting Black Robes whose melodic tones gave way to strange words.

He permitted Cailleagh to lead him to a gold-decorated chair to the right of the stone altar. As he sat, his heartbeat matched the rhythmic chanting pulsing through him. Breathing deeply and slowly, his muscles warmed with the hum of each syllable. He gave himself to the spreading pleasurable feelings, floating upon them, savoring them.

A naked woman was led toward the altar, guided by the leash about her throat. Her hands were tied. She did not struggle, nor was she outwardly afraid. The woman looked at him and smiled, then climbed the steps.

Cailleagh prompted him. “Go to her.”

The Warrior stirred within Geleib, who was enraptured, having given himself wholly over to sensation. Together, man and spirit stood then moved to the stone table where their victim had been tied in place. Together, they were overcome with desire, mounted her, and satisfied their lusts.

Geleib accepted the knife Cailleagh offered him. He felt its weight, enjoying the power flowing through him. His lust satiated, he sacrificed the life still beneath him to the Warrior.

Geleib did not remember walking to the coach. Exhilarated and euphoric, his memories were disjointed, as if his eyes had been closed part of the time.

Cailleagh was jabbering excitedly. “When I’m queen, no one will be able to hurt me. You’ll always protect me.”

“Did you drug me also?”

“No, silly. My spirit guides work with the Warrior to grow his power in you. Each step you take is of your own choosing. Now, the Warrior can open new doors for us. Soon, my love, you will be the most powerful man in the world. You will be king.”

Geleib tried to focus, but his eyes were blurred, overloaded, and rendered irrelevant by his elated bliss. He closed them. “That will be some time in the future, my dear.”

Idle thoughts flashed through his mind, but what kept returning was that only last week, the prince had spoken about Jonathan… again.

Sagen hasn’t seen Jon since boyhood and still brings him up all the time. He always preferred to spend time with that filthy commoner, sending me away so they could be alone. If I am to have Sagen to myself, I must deal with that knight.

 

Lorness – Sanctuary of the Alte Regieren

Cailleagh arrived to prepare her full moon oblations. Dismounting, she gave the horse’s reins to her escort.

As she stepped into the cave, her head throbbed. She felt a pain in her chest so sharp she looked for blood. Her stomach turned. Fear seized her, and her skin felt as if it was burning. She ran to the table in the cavern’s center. Dropping to the ground, she prostrated herself thinking the God of this Age was punishing her. “Master, Ruler of the Earth, what have I done? Tell me how I can serve you.”

The screaming of many voices sounded within her mind.

A follower of Joshua has polluted this sanctuary. We cannot remain. Find the perpetrator. Reconsecrate this place with their blood.

“Master, how can I do that?”

We do not know.

Cailleagh screamed. “If you don’t know, how can I do as you ask?”

There was no answer. The voices were silent. The screaming had stopped.

Fleeing the cave, she rode away as fast as she could.

Geleib looked up as the doors to his apartment burst open. He sat up straight in bed, taking in his frenzied wife. “Why are you back so soon?”

“Get out! Out, all of you!” She screamed; her eyes ablaze.

Five terrified little girls popped up from under the bed covers, grabbed their clothes, eyeing Cailleagh as they sprinted out the door.

Geleib sighed. “Was that necessary? It’s taken so long to get them to this point. You have undone much.”

“I don’t care! They’ve left me. I’m naked,” she wailed.

“Who has left you?” Geleib gentled, moving toward her. “You’re not naked yet,” he teased.

She glared. “My spirit guides.”

His eyebrows came together, almost touching. “Is that possible?  Has it happened before? How does it–”

“Don’t treat me like one of your experiments!”

Attempting to sound conciliatory, he asked, “How will I learn if I don’t ask questions?” 

HELP ME!

“Alright, my love,” he soothed, encircling her with his arms. “If they are gone, they can come back, right?

“I don’t… know.” 

“How did you get them in the beginning?”

She scowled.

“Can you go to a grave to get them back?”

“No, mine are lesser spirits. They’re not like the Warrior who guides you!” A vague memory surfaced on the edge of her thoughts. “My mother took me… somewhere. There was a big man. He painted symbols on my body.”

She pulled up her dress to look at the barely visible scars on her torso. They were indecipherable, having been overwritten many times.

“I think it was a rite of Tammuz,” she murmured, as she fell to her knees. “I was only a child.” Grabbing her hair, she rocked forward and back as more buried memories surfaced. “He raped me. My mother smiled as she helped them hold me down!”

“Come here,” he crooned, lifting her, whispering softly. “You were always good to your spirits. They will return. Tell me what happened.”

He stroked her hair and held her close as she babbled. Facts, impressions, and sheer nonsense spouted forth from her. One thing was abundantly clear, she was terrified.

“Years of careful preparations consecrated that sanctuary,” she bemoaned. “I’ve failed them, let their sacred place be… be… tainted, contaminated. I cannot be without them. We must return to Farr Castle, so I can search through the scrolls and tablets I’ve collected. Perhaps they hold the answer.”

Alright,” Geleib sighed again. “We’ll return to Farr. Now, let me help you relax.” His hands traversed her body, replacing tension with lust.

Cailleagh sent out four Black Robes, each paired with a soldier.

Their first target was her mother, who was thrown into the dungeon at Farr. After three days and three nights without food or water, she told them where to find the old Wizard.

The hunt for the man who had raped Cailleagh was quick, efficient. And brutal. Extreme precautions were taken to ensure the man’s wizardry was neutralized.

Cailleagh had special locks made to prevent her prisoners from manipulating any guard while they were Lady Melazera’s guests. Only she had the key. As long as they were useful, she would let them live.

 

The Road to Farr Castle

[Insert section that introduces Cailleagh and/or Geleib better.]

Geleib held Cailleagh in the rocking coach. It worried him that she was so undone. She’d been the inspiration for his dream. She was strong and brilliant. She’d shown him his destiny all those years ago. Would she be able to recover her spirit guides?

Can she help me if she doesn’t?

Throughout the five day journey, she vacillated between convulsive sobbing and catatonic stupor.

How will this setback my plans?

He stroked her hair absentmindedly and worried.

Once through Farr Castle’s private gates, the Lord of Lorness helped his wife from the coach. He instructed the servants to take her bags to his bedchamber, where he drugged her so that she’d sleep.

She meekly lay down without any protest.

Her whole demeaner’s changed. Who’s she become?

While in the carriage, Cailleagh had been lost in her thoughts. Memories kept washing over her.

How could I have forgotten such things? 

She recalled unwanted hands touching her childish body, being held down and forced to watch as her mother committed unspeakable acts. Of being told that she too would willingly do those things to prove her devotion to the God of this Age.

Her mind recoiled, as it had done so many years ago. It fled into the deepest recesses of her earliest childhood, seeking safety and a time when she had not been used.

 

High Castle

Geleib strutted around the castle. He’d dismissed the guards he did not own, then proceeded to please himself by sitting on the throne and dreaming of the day it would be his.

I want to celebrate but Cailleagh didn’t come with me. I no longer have any orphans here as she takes them all for her Order, so something else will have to suffice.

“Bring Macom’s woman up from the dungeons. The one he so inconveniently returned while we were on the road to… here.”

She’ll have to do.

The maiden had been taken in a debt collection, then bought by Lord Macom, who’d demanded a refund when she refused to submit to him. None of her family had survived, leaving her despondent.

I doubt she has much fire or resistance left in her. She’ll be such poor sport.

Washed and draped in finery, the woman was delivered in due course. She was bound and terrified.

Quite a beauty. Perhaps… this might be entertaining after all.

Geleib walked to her with a cup. “You can earn your release from the dungeon today,” he crooned. “Would you like that?”

She nodded meekly, eyes looking to the floor.

“You must be thirsty.” He put a cup to her lips and, after she drank, removed her bonds.

She stumbled.

He picked her up in his arms, then laid her on a table, pushing the parchments to the floor. He coached her to do what he liked. He enjoyed her, despite her inexperience.

Then he plied her with more drugged wine and sent her to the Red Madame, along with a note that read: “Train this one and keep her for me. I want to see what you can make of her. Do your best.”

 

Inner Castle

Jonathan prayed in the spirit silently as he approached the castle’s keep.

Guards stood rigidly in full military dress on both sides of the gate. A soldier demanded, “Who are you? What’s your business?”

“I am Jonathan O’Toole, a friend of King Sagen from childhood. I would present myself to the king, if I may.”

The soldier signaled to a militet, who had written down Jonathan’s words, to take the message to the King’s Secretary. The response came quicker than expected.

Maybe there is some efficiency in this Militet concept.

The soldier read the reply, then issued orders for Mister O’Toole to be escorted to the South Reception Hall.

The militet set off at a brisk pace but kept careful watch ensuring the knight did not fall behind. When Jonathan slowed to take in a beautiful caged bird, the soldier slowed to match him, always keeping him within two yards.

Impressive.

Their destination was a large archway with heavy doors. Doormen opened it, the militet entered, and Jonathan followed.

“That will be all,” a voice said, and the militet left.

I still recognize him. The quiet boy peering out of those hard eyes, although I have not seen him since our thirteenth year.

“Jon, I heard that you were here. It’s been too long,” Geleib stated brightly then turned away. “I miss those raucous days when we ran through fields and lazed about. What have you been up to?”

“Travel mostly. I didn’t expect to see you. You look well. Will the king be joining us soon?” Jonathan approached the well-groomed Steward, hoping he seemed relaxed.

Geleib turned, flashing the tight smile Jonathan remembered. “He is still deciding what to do with you. He has heard much about your exploits and inciting the Mestels. They even yell your name when they burn crops and vandalize property. Surely you did not expect a warm welcome,” Melazera oozed as he poured a red liquid into a glass.

“You cannot possibly believe such obvious lies.” Jonathan took a step closer. He noticed the soldiers tense.

Geleib’s smile broadened as he offered Jon the cup. “Of course I do.”

“No, thank you. I have had too much already today.” Jonathan replied, taking in every detail of the chamber. It was small for a hall, only ten yards deep and eight wide, and decorated with birdcages, a different exotic species in each. Each captive quietly warbling an instinctive song. The windows were high overhead. There was a soldier under each window and at each door.

Melazera smiled. “Jon, please, I insist.”

“No, I will not willingly drink that. If the king is not coming, I shall leave.”

“I think not.” Geleib nodded. His soldiers advanced brandishing their swords.

“You are behind these fictions! Why?” Jonathan was brought to his knees. Still, he refused to drink, so they held him, and one smothered him until starving for breath. Then they poured the liquid down his throat. He felt the chamber spin and fell to the floor.

 

Farr Castle, Steward’s Hall

Geleib gloated. He had not one but two O’Tooles. Jonathan awaited below in an interrogation chamber that this castle’s foolish occupants had forgotten even existed. O’Toole’s daughter-in-Law, Cynthia, was in a dungeon.

Oh, the fun he would have degrading one in front of the other. It was… delicious.

Even better, he had them all to himself. Cailleagh was off doing whatever she did to control her spies, informers, and seductresses, plus those things necessary to placate her endless gods. All he cared about was the Warrior. O’Toole and O’Toole’s only son’s wife could, and would, amply satisfy that deity’s demands.

Picking up a length of silk, Geleib ran it between his hands thinking about how it could be used. Oh yes, this was going to be glorious!

As he toyed with the material, he thought back to when he’d been introduced to the interrogation chamber by Cailleagh.

During his fourteenth year, Geleib had continued meeting Cailleagh in the graveyard at Farr Castle until they found a secluded chamber inside. The room was small, located above the dungeons. Covered in many years of dust, it had three small cells at one end: each no more than a yard wide and twice as deep. The outer chamber had only one door and no windows. Long before King Edal, when they ruled with the rod, it had been used for intensive interviews before an inquisitor. 

Shackles and chains hung from the ceiling. Flickering torches created frightening shadows around the room. Unlike the dungeons below, there were a table and benches along one wall, so guests could attend, to witness methods of persuasion and encourage them to behave.

The inquisitors of the old kings had liked this chamber because it had a fireplace so the overseer could be comfortable. It fell into disuse under King Edal, who held open court to teach the people the law and demonstrate what a fair and noble king he was.

So, the chamber lay empty, except when Cailleagh and Geleib went there to… play.

Gradually, she had added cushions and blankets, and Geleib brought wood for the fire. It was one floor below the kitchen and had access to a back stairway.

Cailleagh was so excited when she first brought him to it. He partially dreaded their trysts because sometimes, what she did to him was painful or frightening. But the Warrior always reminded him that discomfort was temporary. Her rewards were so tantalizing that he pushed the warning sensations out of his mind each time.

The first time she brought him there, she blindfolded him in the passageway, took his hand, and led him into the chamber.

“Stand still, don’t peek,” she commanded as she bound each hand with a scarf secured through a long chain.

He could hear them jingling above him. She had tied him up before, so he was not concerned. It excited him. The chains jingled louder, and he heard clanking as his hands were slowly pulled overhead.

“The Warrior will bring you from the visible darkness into light,” she instructed.

The next hour was exquisite. How her mind fascinated him!

Later at dinner, I kicked her chair as I walked by. Her mother scowled at me and whispered something to my father. They were so easily fooled.

 

Farr Castle – Interrogation Chamber

When Jonathan awoke, he was tied, hands overhead, to a post in a small, windowless chamber wearing only his trousers. Cold pavers sent a chill through his bare feet.

Where...?

Jonathan controlled his breathing, exhaling slowly to stay at peace.

The daikon warned me. I should have listened more closely.

He prayed as he waited.

How long, Lord? Have I misunderstood your guidance?

The door creaked open. Several soldiers entered as red blurs. He could smell the same spicy, sweet scent from earlier, the cologne his former friend had worn as a boy.

Geleib is here.

“Remember me, little knight,” a hoarse masculine voice growled close to his ear.

Jonathan cringed. “No... Who...?”

“Fairness Crossing?” The soldier hinted again, louder.

The drugs have not worn off yet. Everything echoes.

Jonathan prayed for healing and help to escape.

After you see the king, the still small voice soothed within his mind.

He relaxed and focused on staying in the peace of Joshua.

“Jon, this is Captain Greyson,” Geleib purred, coming closer, so he looked less fuzzy. “You met him when he was Commandant at Fairness Crossing some fifteen years ago. Don’t you remember? You and your friends interfered in his command, dishonoring him.”

“I remember... trying to... find a way to… end it differently… never did… told me I would regret it.” Jon kept his words slow, reserving his strength for later.

The spirit led me here.

He could see a little more clearly. The walls were limestone. There were crude wooden benches, chains hung from beams above, and a single chair. Before him, there was a hearth with a fire crackling. His cloak, shirt, and boots were on a table by the only exit.

“Later, you lost him a great sum,” Geleib continued, “well over one hundred thousand baden when you had King Edal reverse the debt collections ten years ago. He has asked me for the opportunity to repay you. I told him he mustn’t leave any marks, since the king will see you in the morning. Greyson wasn’t pleased, but promised he’d obey my orders… today.”

I will be allowed to see the king.

Melazera smiled as he lowered himself into the chair. “Get on with it, Captain. I’ll watch. I love to see a man who is proud of his work. Don’t let him die.” He leaned back, resting his cordovan boots on the warm hearth. Breaking apart an orange, he peeled away one slice with his teeth.

Greyson smiled. A militet handed him a burlap sack.

The first hit knocked the wind out of Jonathan.

After several impacts, the whole chamber smelled of citrus.

Geleib inhaled deeply. “I just love the smell of oranges. Don’t you Jon?” He laughed. “I am happy you’re enjoying the exercise, Virgil.”

Jon lost count of the strikes.

“My Lord, I learned this technique from the madame that runs my brothels. She would never want to do as much damage as I intend to one of her girls, for she needs them to keep working. But a mere half dozen blows will be felt for weeks with no sign of bruising.”

Greyson struck every inch that would be covered by clothes. When a sack became ineffective, the captain signaled for a new one.

 This is meant to hurt worse afterward.

“Greyson you are an artist. Your strikes are so precise. You deliver them with such verve and panache. I can barely recall seeing such a virtuoso at work.”

The captain paused to give Geleib a bow. “Thank you, my Lord.”

“Don’t you agree Jon?”

Nearly unconscious, Jonathan was startled awake by a cold splash.

“Resume,” Melazera purred. “We wouldn’t want you to miss out on even a moment of this evening’s entertainment, Jon. Be a good lad, stay with us.”

Time and time again, pain overwhelmed the knight and he slipped into a daze, only to be revived so the process could continue.

At some point, Jon distantly heard Geleib’s bored voice. “That’s enough, Captain. Have your men rinse him off then take him to a cell. Ensure his clothes are cleaned for his morning interview with His Majesty. He must make a good impression after all.”

 

Farr Castle – Prison Cell

Jonathan was aware of scraping, shuffling, and voices outside in the corridor. Everything echoed within his head. He couldn’t make out the words, other than they were getting closer.

“I want to see him now!” A woman’s voice demanded.

“Yes, Lady Melazera,” a militet answered as the cell door creaked open.

The light from a torch flickered across the floor and walls. Her perfume drifted into the cell, powerful and exotic. Barely floral but spicy and musky, it was most pleasant.

Jonathan lay where he had been dropped the night before, his swollen muscles still unresponsive. “Good morning, my Lady… please excuse my rudeness… I have lost my clothes and cannot stand… the world spins when I open my eyes,” Jonathan croaked. “How may I be… of service?”

She said nothing but looked over every inch of him. She eventually scowled and left without saying a word, leaving her intoxicating fragrance behind.

Jonathan forced his body to straighten. He hurt everywhere. After a time, he dozed, ignoring the cold floor. His only hope was for some healing during sleep.

 

Farr Castle – Outside the Main Hall

Melazera stifled his reactions as he walked away. His face was fixed in artful cross between sorrow for the fate of his boyhood friend and the need to do what was right for the kingdom. Inside, he seethed so badly that he could not remain in the king’s presence without doing something very foolish.

People moved out of his way with even greater alacrity than usual. It was pleasing to see.

Sadly, that was the only good thing to have occurred in the Main Hall.

It had all been arranged!

It was perfect. Jon would have been returned to the dungeons to await his execution, only to take his own life with poison.  The guard who had ‘missed’ it would then have been slain, removing the only ‘witness’. The king would have been permitted to view his friend’s body. And, only then, would Cailleagh have administered the antidote and restored the knight to consciousness.

After which…

The delightful, deliciously wicked things that Geleib had planned could be enacted over however long a period Jon continued to amuse him. Add the bonus of being able to torture father-in-law and daughter-in-law together…

The frisson of pleasure almost offset his anger. But only almost. Curse Sagan!

Banishment!

Worse, banishment with the possibility of a reprieve!

It was ridiculous, soft, and utterly… ahhh!

Geleib slipped into a back passage and down into the interrogation chamber. Only there did he allow his mask to fall away, revealing his black mood.

His prize had been taken from him.

Then, there was Cailleagh. She had her own plans for the knight, plans that she had kept secret but whispered hints about. Hints that had tantalized him, aroused him, and had him salivating to see just how creative she could be.

She would be… displeased. No, she’d be far worse than that, only adding to his problems instead of being a respite from them.

Still, the daughter-in-law, Cynthia, would be some small consolation. Except, everything he did to her would pale against what would have been. Sagen had spoiled that pleasure for him too.

As he fumed, he felt the Warrior’s inspiration stir within. There were other ways he could use the girl, while still having a little fun with her. Enough so that…

“Yes. Yes. Yes! Oh, yes. Thank you, my Warrior,” Geleib roared out loud joyously. If she alone could not provide him the pleasure he was due…

Yes!

Having stirred the ember-covered logs in the fireplace to summon new flames, Geleib flopped into the only chair. He breathed in. The room still smelled of citrus and exertion. The memory soothed him. 

Greyson is a genius. With only a bag of oranges he beat the knight thoroughly and did not kill him… but Jon will be dead soon.

Stretching, he luxuriated in the fire’s warmth, thinking of what he’d already put into motion. Under the guise of meticulously taking notes while the king held court, a habit he was well known for, he’d sent off messages that…

…oh, the things those notes had made happen over the years.

He was the Steward to the king, although he preferred ‘Steward of the king’. He controlled the soldiers. He controlled the treasury. He controlled the lords in all their castles, either directly or indirectly through the Black Robes.

He was the true master of Freislicht. One day very soon, he would not have to rule this land – his land – from the shadows. He would sit on the throne.

Again, he breathed in the chamber’s aroma. It sent his mind back to when he’d learned the game of the world from Cailleagh. He continued sitting by the fire, his feet propped up on the table, and relived a memory.

Twelve years earlier, the moon had been high as Geleib and Cailleagh lay on a blanket. She was feeding him slices of orange as she told him of the different gods and their blessings. They were innumerable: the god of harvest, the god of the sea, the god of war, and the god of fertility. All needed to be pleased.

“Pay attention,” she coaxed, presenting another slice, “I’ve a new surprise for you”.

“Which god must I satisfy to have you completely?”

“I wish it were so simple.” She laughed and licked the juice off her fingers. “I long for you, but we must wait until we marry. Should your father discover I am not chaste, it would doom our plan.” She nuzzled his neck. “We must honor the gods we need. Each requires sacrifices on their special days.”

She smelled of citrus. He twirled her hair in his fingers, grabbed her and rolled on top. He didn’t want to listen anymore. He wanted her.

After a few minutes, she reminded him, “Don’t you want your present?”

He stopped kissing her. “I always want your gifts.”

She pushed him off, reaching for a wineskin and two glasses. Pouring a thick pink liquid into each, she offered one to him. “Drink it.”

Sweet and salty and rich like cream, it tasted amazing. Geleib felt energy warm him from his center outward. He savored it, growled, then leaped on her again. “Is there more?”

“There can be. It’s difficult to make, but if you want, I’ll make more.”

“When?”

“Soon,” she responded, touching him.

Geleib sighed. Time to implement and enjoy the Warrior’s plan.

 

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