Rare Things for a Rare Life

The Knights of J'shua Book 1

by Tiana Dokerty ©2023

Home | Chapters 1-5 | Chapters 11-15

Updated 3/15/24

To the Frei



Blackhawk woke with a scream caught in his throat. Haunted by the recurring nightmare, all he could remember was a single leaf gracefully descending from above, as the sparkling sky filtered through a dense forest canopy.

He hastily pulled on his boots, folded the blanket, and threw open the tent flap. The lingering echoes of the dream colored the mundane routine of camp life. Approaching the kettle of porridge, his stomach growled and an acrid odor struck him. “Burned, again.”

His eyes shifted to the cage and his brow furrowed as a peculiar mixture of relief and surprise washed over him at the sight of the girl peacefully sleeping. He quickly dismissed the unfamiliar emotions that tugged his heart. Blackhawk efficiently packed his gear and saddled his horse, ready to face the tasks of the day.

With no sign of the mother, the caravan set in motion. The long rainy season had left deep cuts in the road, slowing the progress of wagons and confiscated animals.

Blackhawk rode alongside the cage cart, his eyes occasionally drifting to the small figure within—Little Soldier, as he had named her. She stood in the cage, small hands clutching the bars, an image of disciplined resilience.

Blackhawk couldn't fathom why she intrigued him, devoid of paternal instinct or the crude interest the other soldiers often teased about. She seemed to exist outside any known world, her curious gaze meeting his whenever he stole glances in her direction.

A whimpering boy of about four, resembling a younger version of himself with scrawny limbs and unruly black curls, drew his attention. With a surprising tenderness, Little Soldier, comforted the child, speaking of a figure named J’shua who promised safety. Blackhawk observed the interaction, a mixture of confusion and contemplation shadowing his features.

Little Soldier said, “It’ll be well. J’shua is with me, and he can be with you too. Do you know him?”

The little boy shook his head.

“Want me to tell you about him?”

The lad smiled weakly and scraped his face with his sleeve.

The girl squatted beside him, her big brown boots poking out from under her filthy dress. “Well, my da says the Serpent tricked the First Man to disobey the God of Truth. This is how the Serpent owns the world and all the people, but the God of Truth loved everyone, so he sent his son, J’shua, to pay a ransom for us. Do you know what a ransom is?”

The boy shook his head again.

“I’m not sure either…but…it means you don’t have to pay to be saved. J’shua promised to be with us…always. I know he’s here.” Sarah placed her hands over her heart.

The boy wrinkled his forehead, looking left and right. “I don’t see him anywhere. There are many soldiers.”

Little Soldier hugged the boy again. “I know. You can’t see J’shua, but with practice, you can hear him. I do. It’s a whisper, but he says I am safe.”

The little boy smiled.

She drew him onto her lap.

Blackhawk’s contemplation was interrupted as Little Soldier, in her tattered dress and big brown boots, continued to share her beliefs with the young boy. The sincerity in her voice and the genuine smile on her face captivated both the child and Blackhawk himself. Her care for the little boy had pricked at the edges of a memory barely out of reach. His face tightened as he rubbed the back of his neck.

Shaking off the unsettling thoughts, Blackhawk tugged at his armor and spurred his horse forward, the rhythmic clatter of hooves accompanied the caravan's slow progression. Little Soldier's words lingered in his mind, challenging the structured beliefs instilled in him. The idea of a ransom was so counter to the teachings of Lord and Lady Melazera.

It can’t be that simple. Gods must be appeased. And J’shua wasn’t one of theirs.

He trotted up the line and, when he reached the undersecretary’s cart, matched its pace.

Rosewud frowned, his typical greeting. “What is it, Lieutenant?”

“We’re nearly to River Town, sir. Do you need any help with delivery?”

“They’re children. Shouldn’t be any trouble.” Rosewud waved a hand dismissively.

“Of course, but the mother could be following.”

Rosewud rubbed his chin. “Yes, you might capture her if she shows herself. I wouldn’t object to having you along. I won’t pay much.”

“Shall I follow you or scout ahead?”

“Scout,” he said pointing up the road. “I’ll break my fast at the Sapphire before heading out. Find me there.”

“Yes, sir.” Blackhawk rode into River Town.

Half an hour later, Lieutenant Blackhawk stood by his horse, perusing River Town’s busy main street. Eventually, Rosewud drove up in the cart and entered the Sapphire Inn. Blackhawk headed to Sweet Maids, the brothel across the street, where he soothed his ill humor with a whore.

Outside the brothel, someone bumped him and he realized he’d been standing there quite a while, grinning from the warmth of a woman’s company. However, Little Soldier's scowling face entered his thoughts. She and her unconventional beliefs were a mystery.

He kicked a stone, glowering as he crossed the street. She had ruined his mood—again.

Two militet stood by the cart. Little more than untrained recruits, they were misfits who refused to learn. Perhaps unjust, Blackhawk mused, after all, he’d avoided the militet, only because of his lord. However, it was the way officers regarded them. Especially since all it took to attain rank and rise from the militet was to distinguish themselves in some way. Taking down a wolf single-handedly, saving a sergeant’s life, or some other noticeable act would do it. Until they did that, they were only conscripts, receiving only room in a tent and a meager ration of food.

He continued across the street. The merry sounds pouring from the inn only darkened his humor further. When the undersecretary emerged from the inn, Blackhawk instinctively altered his expression, making it open and friendly.

“Right on time, Blackhawk,” Rosewud called out, pointing his shillelagh, an intricately carved club, at the young lieutenant.

Dismissing the two bored militet that leaned against the iron cage, Rosewud scolded, “You two must exert more effort if you wish to earn rank.” He strutted to the front of the cart and thrust a cup and skin into Blackhawk’s hands.

“Give the imps water. We’re headed to Commandant Greysun in Fairness Crossing. He pays a bonus to make him my first stop when I’ve got a batch of children.”

Rosewud climbed onto the cage cart, setting his shillelagh on the seat.

Blackhawk poured water into a cup and handed it to a waif.

The children pushed to be next to get a drink. Only Little Soldier waited patiently, holding the small boy’s hand. When all-but-last, Blackhawk handed her the cup, she gave it to the boy and waited as he drank. She handed it back.

“You are something,” he muttered as he gave her the cup again. He smiled as she drank it.

The chore completed, he stowed the water and cup and took his seat as Rosewud snapped the reins.

Blackhawk glanced back at the iron cage. Little Soldier stared at him. She smirked slightly and lifted her fingers in the tiniest wave. He felt a barely perceptible smile rise on his face. He nodded back to her.

Turning to Rosewud, he said, “What’s Commandant Greysun looking for today?”

“Boys, I think. He has a training camp. Likes to start them young.”

Blackhawk scratched the meager black hairs on his chin. “Hmm.”

“If you haven’t seen his operation, you’re in for a treat. It’s impressive. The regimen and discipline are beautiful to behold. He’s been the commandant for eight years.” Rosewud turned to Blackhawk. “I’ll introduce you. There are glorious rewards for a properly motivated soldier like yourself. And with you so young,” the undersecretary looked him over, “fourteen or fifteen?”

“Fifteen,” Blackhawk responded.

“There’s no limit. You should request Fairness Crossing for your next assignment.” Rosewud smiled.

The undersecretary continued without encouragement, Blackhawk nodding now and then.

Some people had to talk. George Rosewud was one of those people. Couldn’t stop him without offending him, so he let him continue.

Rosewud rambled on, “…Order of the Black Robe uses…”

At the mention of the Order, Blackhawk’s interest was piqued.

Four years ago, Gaelib Melazera’s spy had taken him to North Fort posing as Blackhawk’s father. Dressed like a lesser nobleman, the spy paid fifty thousand baden to start him as a corporal, rather than militet. The man was not a typical black-robe. He had better skills.

Just before they left for the outpost, Melazera had taken Blackhawk in a private room and warned, “Be careful; someday, an operative will try to recruit you into the Order. That is not what I want for you. When they do, don’t let them reveal too much, because they’ll kill you to protect their secrets if you don’t join. My wife would waste you on eavesdropping. I have groomed you for greater things. I plan to keep you for myself.”

“…the Order keeps…”

“What’s that?”

“What…? Oh. The simplest explanation is they’re highly trained scribes, counting men, and court officers. The Order finds people without a trade or worthy parentage and prepares them to support the kingdom’s infrastructure. It is difficult to manage a kingdom without loyal aides. It also educates soldiers looking for advancement.”

Blackhawk’s understanding of it was incomplete, but he sensed it was more than that.

He was a four-year-old orphan on the streets of Farr when Melazera took him in. He’d only been allowed out of Melazera’s sight when sent to deliver messages. Even then he’d felt the guards’ eyes on him. They knew he belonged to the earl. After a few years, Blackhawk had learned to anticipate his lord’s every whim and respond to Melazera’s expressions and gestures. So much so, that Blackhawk could wander around the room and neither Melazera nor Caileagh, his wife, took any notice of him. Most of the time, they forgot he was there at all.

Neither was aware of his knowledge of their secret sparrows, ravens, and hawks. They never mentioned the Order of the Black Robe, but they often mentioned bits about what their birds were doing.

Rosewud continued, “Once trained by the order, you could be sent on important missions for the royal steward or the king.”

Blackhawk wanted to know everything. He had so many questions.


Chapter 7


Rebekah’s heart pounded as she approached the bustling River Town market. The permanent structures of established merchants loomed, wooden enclosures with shuttered windows thrown open, adorned with shelves abounding in wares. Within the square, canvas stalls of peddlers and commoners buzzed with activity, as people huddled in groups or carried baskets and burlap bags. A farm boy loped past, leading a dappled mare, interrupting the chaotic scene as he pushed ahead.

Weaving through the crowd, Rebekah kept her eyes averted, the fear of being arrested as a horse thief weighing heavily on her. Her mind raced; her daughter's rescue depended on remaining inconspicuous.

Her frown deepened as she realized her dagger wouldn't be enough. Rebekah spotted a merchant arranging swords and axes neatly. Approaching him, she examined a bow and tested its draw. "How much for this short bow, a full quiver, and an extra string?"

The merchant eyed her, measuring her intent. “Fifty-two baden for all.”

Undeterred, Rebekah counted arrows, haggling over every flaw until the man sighed, relenting. "Forty-one then."

Moving to the next stall, she purchased a wide-brimmed hat, affording her some anonymity. Her shoulders relaxed as she sought other items she'd need, contemplating the uncertain journey that lay ahead.

How long would they have to hide in the wilderness? How long would it take to get to the Esthlanis border?

Yard-long leather thongs caught her eye. After buying several, she returned to the horse with provisions, homespun breeches, and a plain tunic.

Suddenly, the marketplace shifted into chaos as a uniformed soldier galloped in. How had a soldier found her so quickly? Panic set in; Rebekah felt his gaze on her. Her thoughts raced as she slid behind her horse, tying her purchases in place.

To get through the press of people, she’d have to leave the horse, but then she’d never stop the men who had Sarah.

She stole a glance. Her heart hammered as the soldier dismounted and approached, intensity written on his face.

She froze, inhaling sharply as he reached out with his hand.

To her surprise, a woman's voice rang out, "Hadran!" A smile bloomed on both their faces as he embraced and twirled the woman around. The maiden squealed with joy.

Rebekah leaned against the horse. Her knees wobbled, as she glanced side to side. Her heart still pounded in her ears.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Rebekah discreetly led her horse past peasants entering a tent flying a black banner—the Order of the Black Robe was recruiting. An inn exploded with laughter. As she approached taverns and brothels shuttered until a more lucrative hour, the streets became quiet. A dark alleyway caught her eye. She ducked behind some barrels.

She cut and tore her sleeve, tying her hair back. She used a wider swath from the hem to bind her breasts, disguising herself to avoid detection. Once dressed in a gray tunic and breeches, she hid the torn clothing. Still bent down, breathing rapidly, she sawed at handfuls of hair until it was shoulder length. Then she rubbed her hands in the dirt and soiled the cloth and her face, hoping to look more rugged.

Slouching against a wall, she mimicked some lads, hoping to blend in. As she headed toward the busier part of town, she kept a wary eye out for any sign of her daughter or Jonathan. Rebekah patted the horse and whispered a prayer.

Grabbing an apple from her purchases, she took a few bites hoping to settle her stomach. It didn’t help much. Giving the rest to the mare, its soft lips tickled her palm. Her mouth almost turned up into a smile. Yet, without Sarah, the world lacked all joy.

Heading toward the busier part of town, she moved into the crowd that briskly passed around her. Each glance in Rebekah’s direction made her hands tremble.

Her breath caught as a caravan of wagons came down the main road. She leaned forward, straining to catch sight of Sarah or Rosewud, the weasel who had her daughter.

Jonathan should be on his way back from Mestelina. Jon fought, doing right. Could she?

Grant me courage, J’shua.

Cautiously, she walked the horse forward. She squeezed her hands tight to still them. Her fingernails dug into her palms. Within a cage packed with bone-weary children, she eyed one with blonde hair. It was Sarah—her little knight.

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

Rebekah walked the horse toward Sarah. She was about to reach for the cage door when two soldiers ambled toward the cart bearing the green dragon crest on their tabards. Each carried a club. The poorly trained militet were as captive as the children in the cart. Rosewud must have rented them.

She inhaled sharply as she continued past, careful not to look at them directly.

Rebekah couldn’t reveal herself, but she needed to know more. Then she could follow Sarah until she had an advantage. She’d strike these vermin down, one by one.

Tying her horse to a hitching post, Rebekah followed Rosewud. Her face a stern mask, she stepped inside the Sapphire Inn. She recalled a passage from the Writings to calm herself.

[Be still and know that I am the God of Truth.]

The inn was a tidy place. As she passed through an inner door leading to the dimly lit tavern, pipe smoke and the stench of henbane assaulted her. A nasty habit of people escaping the oppression spreading across the land. She continued across the floor littered with straw already damp with sour spills.

She bought a mug of ale. Taking in carved tables, a variety of clientele, and the kitchen staff carving a roasted goat, she relaxed. Sitting within arm's reach of Rosewud, she observed the crowd, waiting for him to finish his meal. The place was full of chatter.

The bang of a door caused her to look to an ornate balustrade above, where three Black Robe acolytes scrutinized the crowd.

Rosewud finished his meal and left. She waited for five breaths, then followed.

Outside, in the sun, she squinted. The young soldier who’d captured Sarah approached as she passed them and her little girl in the cage cart. She averted her eyes as she overheard, “…Greysun in Fairness Crossing. He pays a bonus to make him my first stop….”

Greysun, you evil drecksa! You would purchase kidnapped children.

She took a last look at Sarah, biting her lip to stifle a sob.

Rebekah grasped the pommel and mounted her horse. She rode out of town. Then she followed the river at a gallop to gain time and find a suitable site.

I’ll be waiting for you, weasel.


Chapter 8


After fording the Tarin River, Jonathan finally stood in his own country of Freislicht, sopping wet and cold. Away for three moons, he could delay no longer. He hoped the newest circles in the east relied on J’shua, not him. Readjusting his bulky pack and strapping on his sword, he noticed the spring breeze now felt warm after the frigid water.

During the first few years after his graduation from the Knights’ School, Jonathan had traveled to the border towns of Esthlanis with two other new knights and his beautiful wife. She was a strong woman and had refused to be parted from him, not that he had pushed very much for her to remain at home. He loved that she worked beside him. And the other two knights liked that she did the cooking.

They spent a moon or two with each of the circles established years before. From these, they ventured farther into Esthlanis teaching the Writings and seeding new circles. They had no desire to colonize so only a local follower could host a circle.

The later years, he journeyed with Rebekah into Mestelina as well. The Mestels lived on the other side of Freislicht along the West river during the growing season. In the winter moons, they migrated into the deep canyons of the Shining Mountain Range in the south. There the canyon walls protected them from icy winds while they waited out the cold season.

Even when the children arrived, she continued with him, until dangers on the journeys became more common, Then he left her on her parent’s farm.

Spying a small glade, he made a fire, donned dry clothes, and let his horse graze. While spreading his wet things out over bushes, he spied rabbits, a whole warren of them. Not as good with the bow as his wife, Rebekah, he shot one and retrieved all three arrows. As it roasted, he leaned back on a log and waited for his clothes to dry, turning the spit now and again.

His mount signaled him with twitching ears. All the small birds fell silent. Leaves rustled behind him. Twigs snapped.

Finally, Jonathan gazed at a scrawny boy who stood before him carrying a crude spear. His wild brown hair falling into his eyes.

“Hallo there. Would you like some rabbit? It’s almost done.” Jonathan pointed at the fire.

“Yes, but you don’t need it as much as we do.” The young voice quavered, his eyes were determined. The boy’s arm tensed, ready to jab. He was hungry, desperate.

“So, you plan to steal it rather than accept my hospitality?”

“I don’t see you’ve much to say about it. You’re surrounded.”

More twigs broke, and leaves crunched as others advanced. Scooping up his bow, he fixed an arrow, drew, and aimed at their leader.

“You have an advantage,” he said with a gentle smile, “but as I can teach you how to catch your own rabbits, which are plentiful here, why settle for one?”

The child took a step back, his weapon poised.

“Come out with your weapons undrawn, and I will not harm him,” Jonathan spoke loudly to the hidden horde.

One by one, five more boys walked into the clearing.

“Please don’t hurt our brother,” the first to appear pleaded. He looked a bit like David. “We’re so hungry.”

Jonathan chuckled. “Sit down; let me get more rabbits.” Ragged clothes hung off their skinny bones. He doubted they’d eaten much for weeks. It didn’t take long to return with six more.

They watched intently as he skinned, gutted, and spit the meat on greenwood stakes.

As it roasted, he drew out their story. Jonathan kept his face still as they told of the persecution of followers of J’shua within Melazera’s earldom. His anger seethed at this outrage.

The eldest lad looked about twelve, a year older than his son, David. The youngest, twins, in their seventh. Their parents, arrested at a circle gathering, were taken to Farr Castle six moons ago.

The boys had remained near their home for several weeks but, afraid of debt collectors, took to the woods. They didn’t catch much food. The bold one, James, had taken charge and led them to the river to fish. It was obvious from their gaunt, tattered looks that they were not catching enough.

Jonathan prayed again for guidance.

He could take them to the Knights’ School, but three were too young…or take them with him, but his journey led far south of their home. Or…

The last alternative was so obvious he did not even form the words. Nor did he require the still, small voice’s confirmation.

Looking deep into the fire, he listened to the boys as they ate, talking amongst themselves. They were good lads whose lives had intersected with his. He gazed at them and smiled. “I will teach you how to survive solely upon the God of Truth’s abundance if you will permit me.”

James’ eyes went wide. He stood and bowed. “Thank you…sir.”

Jonathan spent the next three weeks teaching the boys to live in the wilderness, what green plants to eat, and how to protect themselves. He trained them how to hide, how to be still, and how to move like shadows. Over time, they found flint, fashioned weapons, and made fires in the rain. He taught them to stalk small game and make snares and fish traps. And they communed with J’shua Ha Mashiach every day.

They grew in wisdom and understanding. When he left, he told them, “No stealing, unless a life depends on it. No armed robbery; that will get you killed. Remember, you can always go to—”

“Shining Mountain to eat!” one of the young boys shouted.

“And don’t become over-confiscated,” the youngest said.

“Over-confident,” Jonathan corrected. “Stay hidden.”

He promised to return when he came this way again, but did not know when that would be.

“God speed, James of the Wood.”



Jonathan Otual waded through the icy East River at the low point he knew well. Shivering, he emerged onto the dry bank, his feet squishing in his boots. He ran a sleeve across his tanned face worn by weather and hardship, trying to dispel the chill that clung to his skin. His navy-blue knight's cloak, soaked through, would take hours to dry.

He tossed the pack on the ground. Sitting, he tied his pale blond hair into a tail. He sat barefoot, drawing in his knees, letting his boots drain. Time was slipping away; the sun's ascent meant darkness would soon engulf him if he didn't hurry. He re-strung his short bow, shouldering it, and fastened his sword before pressing forward.

A veteran Knight of J'shua, Jonathan had embarked on countless missions into the heartlands of Mestelina and Esthlanis. Each journey led him back to his in-laws' farm, where he found solace in their company. But this was to be his final mission; he longed to return home permanently and aid his wife's family with their farmstead.

Knights fought with weapons and words. Taught both, they learned to communicate with anyone, noble or lowborn. They could live off the land or dine with the king—all to further J’shua Ha Mashiach’s message.

He was not sure he would be any good as a daikon. People asking you your opinion on everything. Expecting you to be wise all the time.

He sighed. It was time to try.

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.

To sleep in his own bed from now on.

His mouth watered at the thought of a home-cooked meal. He couldn’t contain his excitement, anticipating a game of chess with Sarah, already planning his opening. The little stinker wouldn’t see it coming. It would be many moons before he’d be in Esthlanis again to play a game with David. It was a game that exercised the mind. So his children would learn to play well, even better than he. He’d learned chess from Prince Sagen. It was difficult for him to find regular opponents due to his travels.

Jonathan's son, David, would complete his apprenticeship with Master Gorum soon, leaving the Esthlani horse farm to attend the Knights’ School as Jonathan had. He imagined with pride, walking into the school to present his son, David, to Daikon Crispus.

Most of all, his heart longed for Rebekah, his beautiful wife. He could visualize her welcoming smile and bright blue eyes. He could feel her fine golden hair and silken skin against his face. He’d never leave her again. Jonathan quickened his pace as he approached their valley.

He smelled smoke. A warm fire awaited and perhaps a hot meal. He grinned. Readjusting his bow, he sprinted.

Upon cresting the last hill, his gut clenched. “No!”

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

He ran through the flowering sorghum, yelling their names, praying they were safe.

No one answered his calls, only the lonely whining of a breeze through the still-smoldering ruins. Their home was gone. Its walls had collapsed.

Oh, Father, let them be well!

If this were an accident, they should be here, making a shelter. They’d need protection from the elements. Even the weakest cry would have carried to him.

He could see through the remains. There were no bodies.

The barn had burned as well.

This was deliberate.

Jonathan groaned. He dropped his gear and fell to his hands and knees.

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

He’d come home to death twice before. First his father, then his mother, and now this.

When he was six, he would finish his chores and roam through the woods near their farm, climbing trees, observing the animals. He could sit, fascinated, watching a pika devour a grasshopper. He was so quiet, it ignored him. But that dreadful day, a wagonful of men from the village were leaving when he broke out of the trees.

Jonathan had flung himself through the door. “Mother?” She stooped over a pale, limp body that lay on the table, crying, slowly stroking a hand with a wet cloth. “Father.”

She embraced Jonathan so tightly he could hardly breathe. Time stood still as a strangeness washed over him, struck by the aroma of a bubbling stew and the whiteness of the dead body. Baskets of freshly picked lavender, rosemary, and rue cluttered the floor and the bread she had just baked sat on the window-ledge, cooling. He woke later in his bed unable to remember the day before.

After that he knew only hunger and cold. His mother died during that long winter. His stomach pinched so badly, he stole bread from surrounding farms. He hid if anyone came near. Finally, a neighbor, Mister Grate, lured him with a meat pie cooling on the windowsill. He locked him in a woodshed until Daikon Crispus, the traveling minister, took him to High Keep. Daikon Crispus became his guardian. He saved him that day.

Who will save me today?

There is no target to shoot. No direction to take.

Staring at the sky, numb, Jonathan prayed in the spirit. In his grief, he could form no words.

A hawk swooped into view. It banked on the wind, then dove to the ground, talons outstretched. When it soared aloft, a rat twisted helplessly in its grip.

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

He rose.

Outrage filled him. He drew his blade overhead and wailed, “I will have answers. God help me, I will find the cause of this. Whether highwaymen, soldiers or king, I will end you.”

He huffed, stomping back and forth, clutching the hilt of his blade.

Jonathan thrust, throwing himself into a practice drill to quiet his seething rage toward God, who had not warned him, and most of all himself for being away when they needed him.

His sword glided through each movement, tracing the ancient forms. Like a dance, moving high and low, in leaps and arcs, the blade flashed. Lunging low, he ran through his imagined foes. He roared with each thrust.

Finally, exhaling slowly, Jonathan sheathed his sword and walked toward the remains. He scanned the yard closely. The ground was darker in one spot. Bending a knee, he rubbed the soil between his fingers. It was wet.

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

There were no bodies, no bones. He thanked Lord J’shua for that.

They must be alive.

He examined the dirt path. Someone had swept it, obscuring their tracks. Inside the door, they had ruffled the ash with a branch.

They returned after the fire died. What had they removed? A body…two?

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.

Rubbing his hand across his face, he sighed. If only he had been here. If he had not lingered.

Had his family angered those who did this?

He could divine no other reason for such destruction, such waste.

Surveying the haunting remains, he continued his inspection. The barn was empty, both the horse and ox missing.

Hearing a faint rattle, he spun. In the distance, his neighbor’s wagon drove off, loaded with family. The wind prevented his cries from reaching them.

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

J’shua, what has happened?


Chapter 9


Rebekah rode on, putting at least an hour of distance between her and the sluggish cage cart. As she moved through the grove, evaluating potential ambush spots, the air erupted with shouts, a woman’s scream, and the high-pitched cries of children.

Approaching cautiously, Rebekah wrapped her left forearm in a thong, eyes keen on the unfolding scene. An army cart blocked a wagon, a soldier pulling a child to the ground. Rebekah’s heart pounded. With a low growl, she spurred her horse into a gallop, bursting from the tree line to collide with a soldier, knocking him off his feet.

A second soldier, having climbed onto the wagon, struck the driver, while the third snatched an infant and bolted toward the river. Acting swiftly, Rebekah loaded arrows parallel to the bow, firing with precision as Jonathan had taught her.

These wore gambeson, made only of wool or hemp cloth. Her first arrow struck the fleeing soldier in the back. The next toppled him, the babe still in his arms.

The soldier she’d rammed, a burly lad, regained his feet and charged toward Rebekah with an axe. Another jumped on the family’s wagon and bludgeoned the driver.

She drew and released twice more. Though one arrow missed, the big lad fell with the second.

The mother ran toward her howling baby.

Rebekah drew three more arrows. 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. None were moving, nor ever would again.

As the dust settled, Rebekah's hands trembled, her brow drenched in sweat. She had never taken a man's life before, but the circumstances left her no choice. Memories of Jonathan's guidance during a raid played in her mind.

Two highwaymen had attacked their family years ago when David was young. Jonathan heard them sneaking up. He instructed David with a glance to blend into the weedy scrub of the plains. Rebekah had hidden in the bushes, nursing their infant daughter, Sarah. Jonathan kept them safe.

She felt cold to the bone then, even colder now.

What had she done? Three men were dead by her hand. Yet, she’d seen no other choice. They’d clearly had evil intent.

The world had gone mad.

Tears streamed down the mother's face as she cooed to her baby. Nearing Rebekah, she cried out, “Thank the merciful Father and thank you, sir.”

The eldest daughter comforted her siblings. She turned to her father when he rose unsteadily. “Da, are you well?”

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

“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 his mother. Chewing his lip, he stood up and stammered, “He that dwells…in the secret place of the Most High…shall abide…under the shadow of the Almighty.”

“Very good,” his oldest sister praised.

Rebekah dismounted and tethered her horse 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.

Rebekah frowned. “I hoped no one could tell.” She hung her bow over her shoulder.

“I’ve never seen such skill.”

“My husband and I hunted often before the children came. He said the God of Truth blessed me with a propensity for the bow.”

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

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

“Lord Macom…” Vincent lay his head down against his arm, still clinging to the wagon.

“He is—was—our lender,” Teress took over. “He sent a man demanding payment in full. Fortunately, we were in our wagon on the way into town. He sent these soldiers to catch us.” She paused. “A voice said, ‘Turn,’ so I told Vince. Without even a road, he curved toward the river, where they overtook us, and you appeared. We can never repay you.”

“There’s no need. I, too, follow J’shua. What’ll you do?” Rebekah grimaced as she yanked the last of her arrows from a body. The soldier moaned.

Her breath caught. She forced down the nausea as she realized what she must do. The man could not live.

She knelt beside him, her knife at his throat. He had to die. There could be no witnesses. She looked away as she cut deep and bolted several steps toward the trees, sick.

“Please, J’shua, forgive me and forgive them. No one is certain what to do in this world.”

He was a predator. Like a wolf.

“We must hide.” Teress turned toward her husband. “Lord Macom won’t stop. He’s twisted the king’s laws and used them to steal our children.”

Rebekah turned to the Donitoros, her brow furrowed. “See what they’re carrying that you can use.” Her voice caught as she stared at the three bodies, stricken with grief. “We’ll drag them to the river. Drifting downstream will make it difficult to determine where they died. We must dilute this blood or it will attract a swarm of flies.”

Rebekah stared up at the station of the sun. Her heart sank. Rebekah realized her chance for an ambush had slipped away.

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

But Father, I must save Sarah.

Sarah will be safe, the voice whispered as a ray of light broke through the clouds above.

How can that be?

Anguish tore her heart as she forced herself to move. They had to leave before any more soldiers came.

They gathered three canteens, two hatchets, a fine, oiled-linen map, a spyglass, and an assortment of daggers and swords. They also took the provisions from the army cart.

While the family cleared away the signs of struggle, she drove the soldiers’ cart into the woods, hiding the bright green dragons engraved on each side. After unhitching the horse that pulled it, Rebekah rode back to where the wagon and cart had left the road.

She knew what trackers would look for. The cart’s 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 stray wagon tracks.

Father, where should they go?

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

She returned to the Donitoros, brushing soil from her hands.

“You make your way south near Fairness Crossing. Stay this side of the river. In the Frei Forest, you can hide indefinitely, as long as you stay out of sight.”

Vincent and Teress exchanged worried looks.

Faint sounds of a cart grew from the parallel road beyond the trees. The bank of the river was clear as far as she could see ahead. “Move slowly, but go now. I must save my daughter. After that, we will catch up with you.”

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

As they drove away west toward the setting sun, Rebekah mounted her horse. She followed the cart, keeping out of sight.

She thought of her beloved husband, Jonathan, and how wrong their plans had gone. She was devout and had easily accepted his life as a Knight of J’shua. It meant ten years of difficult travels, but they were young. He showed her how to hunt and track and live in the wild. With a bow, she could hit a rabbit two hundred paces away.

Even when she carried their son in her womb, she’d remained with Jon, riding from town to town through Mestelina. He taught her their language, Mestelin, so she could minister to the people and understand his teaching. But as their next child grew in her belly, the reality of traveling while caring for a toddling boy weighed upon them. And after the encounter with the highwaymen, they decided she should return to her father’s farm.

Since then she had learned to be content at home, seeing him for only a few weeks every three or four moons.

When he was home, it was the happiest of reunions. And soon, he would be a daikon establishing a circle. They would be settled. But today, he was not here to protect us.

Would her parents still be alive if he had been? Or if she and Sarah had been traveling with him, would they have avoided this calamity?

She groaned. The last time they discussed it, Jonathan thought Sarah was old enough. They could travel together again. She had been the one who wanted to continue living with her parents to help them and keep their grandchildren close. And it got them killed.

Suddenly, other travelers appeared, and soldiers. There was a ford and a shelter built to shade people from the sun as they ferried things back and forth. Of course, Fairness Crossing was on the other side.

Blast. She’d never get to ambush them now.


Chapter 10


Upon crossing the threshold into the Density, Owakar found himself assailed by two demons. They trailed him as he approached his favored spot where he sought solace from his divine duties. “I am engaged in important work. Begone!” he declared. They moved away, out of sight. The luach reminded him again of their origin.

[The sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. When the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.]

These demons were nothing but remnants of the Nephilim, grotesque creations from an ancient era, born of the unholy union between angels and mortal women, another abhorrent experiment of the Serpent’s minions. Those disobedient angels were thrown in Tartarus, the prison in the Abyss. But this debris remained.

Since J’shua’s administration began, these spirit remnants were easily banished from a human host with the light from the Writings and the faith of a follower of J’shua. This banishment would leave the demons roaming the desolate, dry places of the atmosphere, seeking another vessel. Until then, they pestered a messenger, a watcher or a guardian or made obeisance to a corrupted one like the Warrior.

Corrupted angels used the demons to spy for them, probing for fertile ground for their wicked plots. Demons had no agenda, merely wanting to be comfortable, to feel whole in a moist body like they once had ages ago. Being fathered by rebellious angels though, they tended toward evil. Any host would be unaware of them unless trained to perceive them.

A trained person might call on them for messages or visions of the future from corrupted angels. They could also instill false memories of pain or bliss or strong sensations and emotions. Demons were unreliable witnesses, but the trained ones would make use of the information anyway. A rebellious angel had this ability as well, but they were rulers so they tended to delegate when they could, unless their interest was peaked.

An unwitting vessel might hold a thousand demons that could flit in and out and be transmitted by the trained one to oppress another person with merely a touch or a word. Anyone with more authority could cast them out with a command. Hence, a person with the spirit of J’shua Ha Mashiach could, and so could a person with a more powerful demon, or one who is in league with an angel in rebellion.

The luach revealed to Owakar that Caileagh Melazera had hundreds of demons that inhabited her vessel. She received these from a wizard who instilled them through years of sinister rituals done to her since she was four years old. Gaelib Melazera on the other hand, had no resident demons of his own, but the demons in Caileagh were transmitted to him as needed by the Warrior, to keep him on the path. She led him along gradually so that when he became king of Freislicht, the Warrior would rule through Gaelib.

The ruling spirit commands the demons to be hospitable house guests, giving the vessel visions and an apparent visage of power. However, the power is really in the hands of the ruling spirit or prince over the region. These ancient spirits, rebellious princes, desired to debase the beings that the God of Truth created through the first man, Adam.

Owakar set the luach on his knee to ponder these things when he saw that the two demons had returned, evidently, commanded to complete their task by the Warrior. "Oh, glorious Owakar, we are eager to learn of your well-being since your recent setback. Look at them weep, confined to a cage," one demon expressed mock sympathy. "Their once-promising future now turned to torment. Our master surely has exquisite plans for their suffering."

The other demon insinuated itself closer, “You must be in need of rest after such a profound failure.” Owakar dismissed them with a wave. “You have no understanding. I have no use for you. Be gone!” he demanded, his shimmering blade humming as it emerged from under his robe. “You heard me. Leave, you gossiping flotsam!”

The demons vanished, elusive as fleeting shadows, though Owakar wished for their destruction. Their likely return nagged at him. The Warrior, a higher authority, seemed to send them solely to agitate him.

Meanwhile, two transparent guardians, appointed by Owakar, surrounded Sarah Otual’s cage. They whispered stories and comforting words to her, vigilant with their swords at the ready.

Owakar perused the latest Book entries as both holy ones and aberrants traversed the celestial sea. Distinguishing between good and malevolent entities proved challenging, for all possessed free will, introducing the element of chaos.

“Out of the way!” a messenger yelled, shoving his way through the crowd of attendants. “Make a proper queue!” he said as he forced his way through. As he flitted by, Owakar sighed in relief, realizing the summons was not for him. His apprehension of potential demotion lingered. Since the great flood, watchers were under constant scrutiny because of the rebellious angels.. All he could do was pray that he would not be deceived like they had been.

He recognized him. What was that messenger’s name? He’d stood in line with him many times. Baynard, Bensull, …Benordin. That was it. Benordin.

Owakar didn’t want to appear to brag about his new position so he let him go on by.

He slid the luach in his pocket, pondering the events of the day, the simple faith of the little girl, and the seemingly empty-headed soldier-boy. It made him laugh. Owakar could not sense any desire from the boy. He’d only touched the aura of the girl to attract the boy’s interest. She had done the rest.

The other soldiers oozed with body language and facial expressions of their desires for comfort and pleasure and pride. Not the boy-soldier. He seemed merely curious hiding his thoughts almost completely.

[But J’shua said, Allow the little children to come unto me and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.]

What miraculous surprises the free will of humanity bestows. Little choices could disrupt the elaborate plans of the Serpent.

As the God of Truth's watcher for the Province of Lorness, Owakar seldom received prayers that required direct action. This time, however, he could intervene as per the divine council's guidance. Settling on a bench, he observed the unfolding events.

“Ah, here they come.” With another family appearing on his celestial stage, Owakar adjusted the timeline and offered a word of wisdom. Triumphantly, he noted the divine appointment playing out as expected. Satisfaction and sorrow intertwined as the skirmish unfolded; some would sleep, opportunities passing, while others would continue their human journeys.

No mortal could know how long their time on earth would last. However, when they met the God of Truth, he would be just. That is when their real life will begin.

He pondered how the rules had changed in this age of grace. Owakar reminisced about the days when guardians fought alongside the Children of Israel, protecting the line of Mashiach. However, the mission shifted after J'shua's sacrifice to showcasing the law of love to all sons of God since J’shua paid the ransom. The mission now was helping humans bear witness of the glory of the God of Truth; that all the sons of God might see the law of love in practice.

[But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.]

“Time for a break,” Owakar declared, instantly appearing before his favorite baker. “One of your peach tarts, good sir.”

Someone tapped his shoulder as Owakar turned.

“You are hard to track down, Owakar.” Benordin, the messenger from earlier, eyed him up and down, handing him a folded piece of paper.

Owakar looked at the paper, raising an eyebrow, dropping his hand to his side, “What does this mean?” All it said was James of the Wood.

Benordin shrugged. “Seems Lorness needs more watching these days. This lad and a knight pray for help. When two or more agree in prayer.” The messenger winked. “Later.” The messenger disappeared into the crowd.

Owakar craned his neck to see him disappear into the air, but the luach erupted.

[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.]

He frowned and lapped up the sweet peach filling that oozed from the buttery crust. That message held so many applications. It applied to the deceased humans that will rise again. It gave hope to those still striving in the Density, learning to walk. And it applied to himself, moment by moment.

With each bite, he reflected on the passages from the Book of Life.


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