Rare Things for a Rare Life

The Knights of J'shua Book 1

by Tiana Dokerty © 1984-2021

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Chapter 2: Anger & Artifice

Updated 3/28/23


Chapter 2: Anger & Artifice

Lorness Castle

Caileagh, the elegant wife of Gaelib Melazera, ninth Earl of Lorness, sashayed toward the Grand Hall in her emerald silk gown. A jeweled coronet adorned the auburn hair that framed her dark amber eyes and perfect heart-shaped face.

She smirked.

Fear grows, fueled by my rumors. With a word here and whisper there, my birds change everything. Now, nobles are calling in loans to pay Gaelib’s taxes. I hadn’t foreseen the abductions of women and children. Such a delightful surprise.

Around her, the exquisite furnishings of Castle Lorness reinforced her power, prestige, and status as the most powerful woman in the land. Tapestries tracing the Melazera family’s history adorned the walls. Paintings of its rulers, including her, were on prominent display. And dozens of liveried servants, bearing the family’s green dragon, reminded everyone whose guests they were.

She enjoyed working each social event in the castle’s public rooms and its more sumptuous private ones below.

The Lady of Lorness smiled and nodded to the many pretty and important guests. “Lord Macom, it is a pleasure to see you. I adore your new jacket. It makes your eyes absolutely radiant.”

“Thank you, my lady.” Macom took her offered hand and bowed as he kissed it. “You’re most kind. You are as a second sun, granting us the gifts of warmth and light.”

She feigned shyness, then took his arm. “I believe Gaelib has something to show you. I think you’ll be enchanted. Let me tell him you’re here. Please wait in the lower solar.”

Smiling as she watched him go, she exulted in her control. For the merest ‘treat’, he’d do whatever she suggested.

Continuing through the room, she was amused by the snippets of conversation she overheard, including snatches of gossip. Better yet were those ardently persuading others that the king must expand the army, just in case.

Delightful. The rumors I spread flourish, reinforced and amplified by these fools.

She hoped Gaelib appreciated that her spies had helped him expand his economic control.

Caileagh had developed four independent organizations. No group was aware of the others. The lower levels knew nothing of the mysteries of the higher. Sparrows surveilled the commoners, Ravens the nobles, Hawks the army, and Eagles the castles. They were helpful and trusted. Their eyes and ears sought advantages and weaknesses. When they spoke, gossipers listened. And each was obedient to the Order. Her ‘birds’ were everywhere.

It’s pleasing to see people accept the world I’ve ever so gradually painted for them. Unwittingly, they perpetuate it. It doesn’t matter what they request: recommendations, coveted placements, power, fame, or wealth. All advance the Order of the Black Robe.

When most of the nobles and dignitaries had left, she sought out Gaelib, fawning over him and those in conversation with him. Even though ten years married, she loved to pretend to be the doting, obedient wife, as her mother had taught her. 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.”


Robbet Fredruck, the Duke of Wooster wrinkled his nose as he strode purposefully through the overdressed, all too often drunk guests of his host, Gaelib Melazera. He had no desire to be in Lorness, even less to be inside Lorness Castle during one of its lord’s debaucheries. However, he had to at least try to resolve the situation with his neighbor.

The four castles of Freislicht stood tall, overseeing it. 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 vile scheming.

Too many said the current earl was more powerful than His Majesty, King Edal.

While the king ruled Freislicht, historically his dukes, earls and other nobles had independent control of their domains. Royal law was the basis of all legal practice, but each noble managed its application. It was said in the southern region ruled by the Lockes, the only virtue was wealth. Within Lorness, it was raw power.

Too many prominent people filled the castle’s halls, waiting to meet with its lord, maneuvering for advantage, or fighting petty skirmishes. Throughout the day and night, agreements were made — and broken.

Too many important decisions were made here. Not in the capitol, High Castle.

But not today. Certainly not after the behavior I have been exposed to. It makes my flesh crawl to see otherwise intelligent people debase themselves so.

“My dear duke, I am so sorry for the long wait,” Gaelib crooned as he entered the private audience chamber Fredruck had been escorted to. “As the King’s Steward, I’ve so many duties. Lesser nobles seek me out incessantly. Come, sit. Let’s clear up the trouble on our boundary.”

Duke Fredruck glowered. “Yes, Earl of Lorness, I am sure we can come to a resolution. Forbid your soldiers from trespassing onto my lands. Then they’ll not encounter my people, nor try to arrest any… nor be arrested.”

“Please, I must entertain you before we discuss arrangements.” Gaelib raised a hand and twelve maidens entered, surrounding the duke. The first offered him wine, the next a plate of sliced fruit.

“That is quite unnecessary,” Fredruck demurred, his tone icy as he motioned the women away.

Four came closer and curtseyed low. When the women tried to stroke his hair, metallic scraping caused them to freeze as the duke’s three armored escorts drew their swords.

The other women had been removing their outer layers.

“Earl Gaelib,” Fredruck growled, “this is beyond inappropriate. I shall take my complaint directly to the king. I’ll also require my commoners to bear arms and aid my troops in order to dissuade your soldiers from foolishness. Any of yours that set foot on my land illegally, shall be arrested and suffer the full penalties of the law… in my domain. Good day.”

As he left, he prayed and a passage in the Writings of J’shua came to mind.

[But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.]

Yes, Lord, I will be patient.


Near Frei Forest

Jonathan Otual crossed the East River at a low point he knew well. He tied back his pale blond hair with a thong and wrung out the edges of his navy knight’s cloak. He’d been a Knight of J’shua since 136 AK and completed thirty missions into Mestelina, Esthlanis and Tarinland. After each, he’d come home to his in-laws’ farm to spend several weeks working the fields and enjoying the company of his wife and children.

Just north of Frei Forest, warm earthy scents rose with every step. The sweetness of pine and sassafras, nurtured by centuries of composted leaves carpeting the floor of that ancient timberland, reminded him of home. He’d be there before nightfall.

His mouth watered at the thought of a home-cooked meal. He couldn't contain his excitement, anticipating a game of chess with Sarah. He’d already planned his opening. The little stinker wouldn't see it coming. Most of all, his heart longed for Rebekah. His pace quickened as he approached their valley.

But, upon cresting the last hill, his gut tightened at an acrid smell.

Readjusting his bow, he sprinted.

Wispy tendrils of smoke rose into the sky from the charred remains of his home. Only the chimney stood standing amongst blackened posts.

Oh, please, Father, let them be well!

He ran through the fields, yelling their names, praying they were safe, hoping they were nearby. There was no answer, only the lonely whining of a breeze through still-smoldering ruins. If this were an accident, they should be here making a temporary shelter… but the barn had burned also.

This was deliberate.

Jonathan’s gut wrenched. He dropped his gear and fell to his hands and knees.

Father, I have served you faithfully. How could this happen?

Staring at the sky, numb, he prayed in the spirit. A hawk swooped into view. It banked on the wind, diving to the ground, talons outstretched. When it soared aloft, a rat twisted in its grip.

The still, small voice of J’shua Ha Mashiach said, Get up.

He rose.

Outrage filled the void, energizing him. “I will have answers,” he roared, drawing his blade. He practiced the familiar drills to settle his soul. The sword moved to trace the ancient forms, gliding through every technique. Moving from his loins, low to high, in leaps and arcs, the blade flashed upward. Lunging low, he ran through his imagined foes.

With his mind now clear, Jonathan sheathed his sword then prayed. “Send me to fight this evil, Father. I beg this boon. For this end, I offer myself and my service until the end of my days.”

Walking towards the remains, he scanned the yard more closely. The ground was darker in one spot near the door. Bending a knee, he rubbed the soil between his fingers. It was wet.

Why? A spill would dry quickly. Was this drenched to expunge blood?

There were no bodies, no bones. He thanked the Lord for that.

They must be alive.

The dirt path from the door had been swept. Inside the house’s shell, the ash was ruffled as if sifted with a branch.

Someone returned after the fire cooled. To conceal evidence? What did they remove? A body… two… more?

He stepped over the threshold. Mounds of ash traced the outline of the table and the big rocking chair. There were no footprints. Carefully, he placed his hand over a scorched oak post. It radiated heat. He sighed, rubbing his hand across his face.

If only I’d been here.

Looking for clues, he continued his inspection. The barn gave no information, except both the horse and ox were missing.

Jonathan gathered his pack and sought out his neighbors. All were gone, their homes empty, but not burnt.

Did my family anger those who did this?

He could divine no other reason for such destruction, such waste, as he headed to the next farm. In the distance, he saw their wagon drive off, loaded with family.


River Town

Rebekah's heart pounded as she approached the River Town market, which swarmed with people. A fresh-faced farm boy walked his dappled mare. Huddled together, a group gossiped near the meeting house. Others carried baskets and burlap bags from the market. Averting her eyes, she worried someone might recognize the stolen horse or notice her trembling hands. Being arrested as a horse thief would end her rescue of Sarah.

I need supplies. If my bow hadn’t broken last week, I’d have killed that brigand before he found Sarah.

She frowned. Her dagger wasn’t enough, so Rebekah found a merchant selling weapons. “How much for the short bow, a full quiver, and an extra string?”

The man tidying his swords, sheaths, and axes into neat rows turned to her. “Fifty-two baden for all.”

Rebekah examined the bow and tested the draw. Satisfied, she counted thirty-two arrows, placing them in the quiver. Setting her brow, she haggled the price down. She nodded when the man sighed his agreement, “forty-one.”

At the next stall, she bought a wide-brimmed hat that either a man or woman could wear. Placing it on her head, she pulled its brim down, shielding her eyes and hiding her face. Then she sought other items she’d need in the wilderness.

Yard-long leather thongs caught her eye. After buying several, she continued her circuit of the market. She returned to the horse with provisions, breeches, and a tunic.

A uniformed soldier galloped into the marketplace. People scattered out of the way.

He’s looking at me!

Rebekah slid behind her horse, forcing herself to tie her purchases in place. Her fingers fumbled with the thong. Her heart hammered as the soldier dismounted and strode toward her. She froze, inhaling sharply as he reached out.

Behind her a woman exclaimed, “Hadran!”

He grabbed and twirled the girl standing right behind her. “Take me to your father! I got the commission. I’m going to ask for your hand.”

The maiden squealed in joy.

Rebekah leaned against the horse, unable to mount. Her knees wobbled and her eyes darted side to side.

Seeking refuge, head down, she walked the horse past an inn exploding with laughter and shops buzzing with patrons. The streets became quieter as she approached taverns and brothels closed until a more lucrative hour. A well-hidden alleyway caught her eye. She ducked behind some barrels to change her clothes.

They’ll be looking for a woman in a soiled dress, not a man.

Cutting a piece off her skirt, she tied her hair back. She used another to bind her breasts. Once dressed in the grey tunic and breeches, she hid the torn clothing. Then she rubbed her hands in the dirt and soiled her face, hoping to look less womanly. Mimicking some lads she saw, she slouched. Rebekah patted the horse. Grabbing an apple from her purchases, she took a few bites, giving the rest to the mare, whose soft lips tickled her palm.

Her lips almost turned up into a smile. Yet, without Sarah, the world lacked all joy. And how would she find her husband?

Jonathan should be on his way back from Mestelina.

Moving back into the busier part of town, crowds passed briskly around her. A farmhand bumped into her without so much as a sorry. His destination more important than some bedraggled lad walking his horse.

Still, each glance in Rebekah's direction made her finger's tremble.

Her breath caught when she spied a caravan of wagons coming down the main road. She watched for children and any glimpse of her daughter or that weasel, Rosewud.

Cautiously, she walked the horse toward them.

Spying Sarah, her insides knotted. Her baby was in a cage. She fought the urge to leap on her daughter's captors, to save her from those drecksas. She squeezed her hands tight to still them. Her fingernails dug into her palms.

If Jon can fight, doing right by J’shua, so can I. Grant me courage, Lord.

Her anger was a whetstone, sharpening her senses. She watched as the wagons departed, confiscated livestock trailing behind. The cart alone remained, unattended, as the weasel went into The Sapphire.

Rebekah walked forward to free Sarah, but two soldiers ambled toward the cart. She inhaled sharply at the green dragon sigil that the soldiers bore on their tunics.

She continued past the wagons and cart, careful not to look at them directly. She couldn't reveal herself. She needed to know more. She needed them to split up. She needed to follow Sarah until she had an advantage. Then, she’d strike these vermin down, one by one.

Tying her horse to a hitching post, Rebekah followed Rosewud inside. She calmed herself, recalling from the Writings:

Be still and know that I am God.

She bought a mug of ale and took in the brightly painted tables and cabinets. The place was full of chattering diners. Slamming doors caused her to look to the narrow staircase and the ornate balustrade above, where three soldiers watched the crowd.

When her enemy finished his meal and left, she waited for eight breaths, then followed. Passing Rosewud, she saw the young soldier who’d captured Sarah and looked down at the ground as she overheard, “…Greysun in Fairness Crossing. He pays a bonus to make him my first stop….”

Greysun, you evil drecksa! It fits that you’d purchase children.

She took a last look at Sarah, biting her lip to stifle a sob. Her daughter’s face held the serene look of her own mother, who was a Locke. They were known by their fine boned frame, full lips, and high rosy cheek bones.

Then Rebekah grabbed the pommel and mounted her horse. Turning away from her quarry, she rode out of town then followed the river at a gallop to gain enough distance to find a suitable ambush site.

Now I know where you’re going, weasel. I’ll be waiting for you.


Rebekah was at least an hour or two ahead of the slow-moving cage cart.

As she rode through the grove to set up her ambush, men shouted. A woman screamed. Children cried out. Approaching cautiously, she wrapped her left forearm in a thong. The family’s wagon was blocked by an army cart.

Rebekah hesitated. She had to save Sarah. Yet, she spurred her horse into a gallop. Bursting from the tree line, she slammed her mount into a soldier, knocking him from his feet.

A second soldier had climbed aboard the wagon, striking the driver. The third had snatched an infant from its mother and was running toward the river. Dismounting, Rebekah loaded four arrows into her hand parallel with the short bow as Jon had taught her. Pinching and pulling, she fired.

Her first arrow struck the fleeing soldier. The next toppled him, the babe still in his arms.

The soldier she’d knocked down, a burly lad, regained his feet and charged toward Rebekah, axe in hand. The last still bludgeoned the wagon driver.

She drew and released twice more. The big lad fell. Her other arrow missed.

The mother ran toward her howling baby. Rebekah drew more arrows and nocked another. The last soldier finally pummeled the driver to the ground, giving her a clear shot. She did not miss.

She twisted seeking other threats, but there had only been three soldiers. None were moving, nor ever would again.

Rebekah's hands shook. Sweat poured from her brow. Her hands were clammy.

What have I done?

Three men were dead by her hand. Yet, there’d been no other choice. They’d clearly had evil intent.

Tears ran down the mother’s face, cooing to her baby as she returned to the wagon. “Thank the merciful Father,” she cried out, “and thank you, sir.”

The eldest child comforted her siblings. Then she turned to her father, who rose unsteadily. “Da, are you well?”

The wagon driver, blood flowing down his face, regained his feet. “I am… well enough.” He grabbed the wagon’s side to prevent falling again.

“We’re all well,” the children’s mother reassured, a tremble in her voice. She held her son, who was shaking and mute. “The God of Truth kept us safe. What was our lesson this morning, Brin?”

The small boy peered up at her. Biting his lip, he stood and stammered, “He that dwelleth… in the secret place of the Most High… shall abide… under the shadow of the Almighty.”

“Very good,” his oldest sister praised.

Rebekah retrieved her horse and tethered it to the wagon.

The children’s father turned to Rebekah, “Thank you, sir… you have amazing skill wi–” He froze mid-word. “You’re a… woman?

“I hoped you couldn’t tell.” Rebekah frowned and hung her bow over her shoulder.

“Ah… that is… the dirt and the clothes say male. By your movements, I’d thought you a beardless boy. Up close, your face and mannerisms gave you away. I’ve never seen such…”

“My husband and I hunted often before the children came. He says the Lord blessed me with a propensity for the bow.”

“I… can see that. You saved us.” He touched his temple, his eyes narrowing in pain. “My name is Vincent…” he groaned, “…Donitoro. This,” he pointed to the short, thin woman with brown curls escaping a green scarf, “is my… wife, Teresa.”

“I am Rebekah Otual. Why were they attacking you?”

“Lord Macom…” Vincent lay his head against his arm, still holding tightly onto the wagon.

“He is – was – our lender,” Teresa took over. “He sent these soldiers demanding payment in full. Fortunately, we were in our wagon on the way into town. They saw us and gave chase.  A voice said, ‘Turn.’ So, I repeated it to Vince. There wasn’t even a road, but he curved toward the river, where they overtook us. Then you appeared. We can never repay you.”

“There’s no need. I too followed the Lord J’shua. What’ll you do?” Rebekah asked, recovering the last of her arrows from a body. He moaned. She drew her knife across his throat, feeling ill.

He was a predator.

“We must hide.” Teresa turned toward her husband. “Lord Macom’s men won’t stop. Laws have been perverted and are being used to steal our children, our livelihood, and our future.”

Rebekah heard the still, small voice, Help them. She bit her lip, fixing her eyes on the trees behind them.

But Father, I must save Sarah.

She turned to a ray of light breaking through the clouds above, seeking reassurance.

Sarah will be safe, the voice whispered.

Lord, I don’t see how that can be. Her shoulders relaxed. But I trust that you love my baby even more than I and will send angels to protect her.

Both comforted and afraid, Rebekah focused on the task at hand. “First, see what they’re carrying that we can use. Then help me drag them to the river. Drifting downstream will make it difficult to determine where they were killed. Then we must dilute this blood.”

From the soldiers they pilfered three canteens, two hatchets, a map, a spyglass, and an assortment of daggers and swords. They also took the food and provisions from the army cart.

While the family cleared away the signs of struggle, she rode the soldiers’ cart into the woods, hiding the bright green dragon engraved on each side. After unhitching the horse that pulled it, Rebekah rode back to where the wagon and cart left the road. Jonathan had taught her to track. The cart and wagon's wheels damaged a few bushy weeds near the road. She cut the bent stems far below the obvious breaks, and used them to brush out the wagon tracks.

Where should we go, Father?

The clouds rumbled, parting slightly, another shaft of light pointed toward Frei Forest. It was twenty miles from River Town, a woodland so thick no one could build there easily.

She returned, brushing soil from her hands. “We can make our way south to just this side of the river near Fairness Crossing. In the Frei, we can remain indefinitely as long as we stay out of sight.”

Mister Donitoro nodded. “Our faith is with you.”


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