Chapter 8: Missions
Bloody Rocks, Lorness
Caileagh arrived at the cave to prepare for the evening’s sacrifices. She took the torch from her escort. As she stepped into the silent cave, her gut knotted. Fear seized her. Her head throbbed. The pain in her chest was so sharp, she looked for blood.
Dropping the torch, she prostrated herself. “Master, Ruler of the Earth, what’ve I done wrong? Tell me how to serve you.”
The screeches of many lesser spirits filled her mind.
A follower of J’shua has polluted this sanctuary. We cannot remain. Find the perpetrator. Reconsecrate this place with their blood.
“Master, how can I find him?” She pleaded. There was no answer. “How can I do as you ask?” Still no reply.
She fled the cave, panic in her eyes. The silence of her guiding spirits was a painful void. Never before had she been without their guidance. Never before had she been alone. It was as if the sun had been extinguished, leaving her cold to the bone.
Ignoring her escorts, Caileagh mounted and galloped away.
Gaelib looked up as the doors to his chamber burst open. He sat up straight in bed, taking in his frenzied wife. “Why’re you back so soon?”
“Get out! Out, all of you!” Her eyes blazed.
Five terrified little girls popped up from under the bed covers and grabbed their clothes, sprinting for the door.
Gaelib sighed loudly. “Was that necessary? It’s taken so long to get them to this point.”
“I don’t care! They’ve left me. I’m naked.”
“Who’s left you?” Gaelib brightened, moving toward her. “You’re not naked… yet.”
“My spirit guides.” She glared.
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.”
Trying to sound conciliatory, he asked, “How’ll I learn without asking questions?”
“Yes, my love.” He encircled her with his arms. “If they’re gone, they’ll return.”
“I don’t… know.”
“How’d you get them in the beginning?”
“Can you go to a grave to get them back?”
“No, mine are lesser spirits. They’re not like the Warrior who guides you.”
She rubbed her temples. “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 fell to her knees. “I was a child.” Grabbing her hair, she rocked forward and back, babbling, “He raped me… my mother held me down. She smiled… as she watched.”
“You were always good to your spirits,” he crooned, lifting her. “You observed every ceremony, nurtured them, celebrated them. 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 clear, she was terrified.
“Years of careful preparations consecrated that sanctuary,” she moaned. “I’ve failed them, let their sacred place be… be… tainted, contaminated.” She clutched at him as if she was drowning. “I can’t be without them! I can’t!”
“We must return to Farr Castle. There, I can search the scrolls and tablets I’ve collected. Perhaps they hold the answer.”
“Very well.” Gaelib nodded. “We’ll return to Farr. Now, let me help you relax.” His hands traversed her body.
The following morning, Gaelib sent out four black-robes, each with two soldiers.
Outside River Town
The rain poured down hard and cold.
Jonathan and his horse were long since soaked to the bone. He’d kept moving since departing from River Town and his encounter with George Rosewud. Uncertainty gnawed at his gut. He meditated on the Writings to still his fears, thanking the Lord for leading him.
In the distance, two grey figures on horseback appeared, nearing at a walk.
Jonathan loosed his sword in its scabbard and checked his dagger.
The two men separated to pass on either side.
He let them come close. Then turned his stallion to the left, blocking the larger man. Jon’s horse snorted and tensed.
“What’cha think you’re doin’, old man?” Its rider snapped. “If ya can’t control ya horse, ya should’na be ridin’.”
“I am in control.” Jonathan kept his hand on the sword hidden beneath his cloak. “That is why I did not let you pass me. Perhaps that is also why I am still alive.”
“If ya wanna stay that way, get off’a ya horse. We’ll tell Rosie y’ar dead. He don’t need know… if ya give us ya baden too.” The brute chuckled.
His young partner smiled menacingly, a narrow-bladed dagger in hand.
The knight spurred his horse into the leader’s. Startled when his squealing mount reared, the rider was defenseless.
It only took one slash. The highwayman fell from his horse, blood running down his arm as Jonathan galloped away.
After a few miles with no sign of pursuit, the knight breathed a sigh as he reined in the horse.
Quorin watched the knight race away. “Rosey didn’a tell me ‘e was armed.” Quorin raised a hand, dropping the accent. “Don’t follow him.”
“But it’s a lot of money,” Rhaylth, a fuzzy bearded youth, protested.
“Living is more important. Especially since I’ve been reduced to… this.” He grabbed a thong and began tying it above the gash on his arm. “Well, don’t just gawp, Rhay-Rhay. Help me. I’d rather not lose any more blood.”
Nodding, Rhaylth dismounted and helped his cousin down. “It really is a lot of money. Couldn’t we—”
“No. That was a Knight of J’shua. Had I known that beforehand, I’d have charged triple. As it is, Rosewud thinks he hired a fool named Caydin.” He grinned, “A bit uv a no-hop’r, ya know?”
“That’s why I spoke to Rosewud without you when I saw him sitting on the back of his wagon.” The man often had work for mercenaries. “You’ve no talent with doing voices. It’s also why,’ he slapped a saddlebag that jingled pleasantly, “I insisted on half up front. Now, you and I’ll disappear, create new identities, and meet up with the rest of the family. Hopefully, they’ve been doing better than we have.”
“Stop saying that and bandage my arm. I can’t keep this tourniquet tight for long.”
The beating rain became a drizzle.
Outside Fairness Crossing
Rebekah headed straight toward Shining Mountain. Despite the urgency, she wouldn’t risk someone following her. As she rode, an idea formed, a way to root out this corruption.
Once sure she wasn’t pursued, she disappeared into Frei Forest. Thick underbrush slapped against her as she continued toward the colony. A branch snapped. Someone moved parallel to her. She urged Justice behind taller cover and readied her short bow, placing three arrows in her bow hand. Pinpointing the next sound, she drew.
A young buck bounded across her path. It sported bulbous buttons where his antlers would soon sprout. Pausing for the slightest moment, it rushed away.
With a sigh she relaxed, then continued on.
When she entered the small clearing, children bounded toward her as she dismounted.
“Mother Otual,” Phebe exclaimed, reaching out small hands, palms upward. “Did you bring us a sweet?”
“How’d you know?” She smiled broadly and pulled a bag of oranges from her horse. “Remember to share,” she yelled as the girl ran off.
“Rebekah, did you find him?” Vincent asked.
She nodded. “And much more. I’ll explain later.”
A chorus of “hallos” followed as others surrounded her.
She smiled again, giving each a hug.
“You’re back. We’ve been praying for your safe return.” Sheila squeezed her tighter.
Rebekah gazed at the group surrounding her and announced, “The king has proclaimed the debt collections unlawful. You can go home!”
Shouts and laughter erupted. Tears of joy ran down cheeks as one hugged another.
“Praise the Lord!”
Later, as all sat around a small crackling fire, Rebekah shared details of the king’s proclamation and Jonathan’s delivery of it. Next, she told of the cave, the child’s hand she’d found there, and of the Lord’s inspiration about opposing such evil.
Tears streamed down many faces. Anger showed on others’. “We must do something,” one declared, followed by sounds of agreement.
Rebekah stood. Her hood dropped, revealing her hair tied plainly in a man’s fashion. Her manly clothing reminded her she must spy. “We no longer need to hide here. You can go home, reclaim your lives. But… if we’re to combat this pestilence, every town in Freislicht must be covered in prayer, every suspicious place anointed for the Lord. We all must pray in the spirit without ceasing, to protect one another and receive direction.”
She told them her five-fold plan: training, spying, praying, anointing, and adopting.
“We lost our freedom because we felt no need to defend ourselves. We were too safe, too happy. This has been growing for generations.”
A pinecone in the fire popped sending sparks into the air.
Mister Frink brushed a stringy lock of hair behind his ear. “We’ve no knight’s training. It’s too dangerous.”
Others nodded, worry plain on their faces.
“Yes, it’s dangerous,” Rebekah countered. “Think of the victim, terrified. No one prevented the child’s abuse, torture, and death. Sacrificed to a demon, leaving only a hand to mark the babe’s passing. You’re afraid. I am too. But I’m sure this is a divine assignment. The God of Truth will be with us, just as he was with me in the cave.”
She looked into each face.
Frink glared back. “That’s fine for you. You’ve a knight for a husband. He’ll have taught you skills to survive. We’ve no such guidance.”
“J’shua will guide us. Anything we need, we can learn. If the skills are not amongst us, we can seek them out. Would you rather stand by and do nothing?”
“I’d rather not end up in Melazera’s dungeons.” Frink crossed his arms.
Rebekah nodded. “There’ll be no condemnation if you return to your old life—”
“Count me out!” Frink stalked off.
Rebekah waited until he was out of sight. “You all have children to consider. This is a grave commitment not all can accept. Yet, I ask you to pray. Give me your answers tomorrow. Do you wish to return to your old lives and forget all this, anoint evil places, or become a spy?”
Everyone was quiet. She watched them leave, one by one, as the sparks from the fire rose up into the night sky with her prayers.
Waning Crescent Moon
Waking with the dawn, Rebekah felt torn. The cluster of tiny huts made by tying saplings together weren’t much of a settlement. Yet, the Frei had been home for three moons, ever since she’d lost Sarah, and her parents.
Today, the community would be departing for separate locations. They worked together to survive, each offering a shoulder for the other to cry on. Rebekah heard as many tears as laughter as they packed their things into bundles.
No one had much to give, but found tokens to exchange. Sheila and Eugene presented each family with wreaths of pinecones. Charles Dugan read a poem he’d written.
“In the crisp and quiet rangings of the heart upon the wood,
The singing of the sparrow to the mouse amidst the leaves,
Tend thou in the spirit so the weary traveler could,
Find rest in strong arms bending, and happy graceful eaves.”
Rebekah smiled at Charles and thanked him for his heartwarming words. Then She bowed her head and all became quiet. “Father, give us wisdom, grant us insight and peace as we oppose evil in the name of J’shua Ha Mashiach.”
“So it shall be,” the others replied.
Rebekah nodded. “To combat this evil, we have all agreed on our strategy. We will train with weapons in secret,” she stated as her eyes landed on each of them. “We must be as crafty as these perpetrators, uncover their dark secrets and identify those serving the Serpent. Evil people seek dominion through violence, perversion, lies, and slander.”
She sat leaning in. “We all sin, but those serving darkness become masters of these.”
She looked up. “We’ve been protected by these tall trees, just as we will be by J’shua’s angels. We shall pray in the spirit for both the good and the evil. The good shall be bolstered in their faith, strengthened in times of trial, and aided by angels in their most desperate hours. Our prayers for the evil may cause them to displease their masters and allow J’shua to undermine their foul practices. And, if they hear J’shua, he will lead them to the God of Truth. But, before we can cleanse those places used by the Serpent, we must find them.” She unrolled a map of Freislicht.
Eugene pointed. “We’ve no one here. My family will move to Dunis Glen.”
Rebekah nodded. “Now we have at least one family in each major town. Rescuing children,” she continued, “will slow the spread of corruption. The orphans must be saved. But we few won’t be enough. We’re a beginning. We must rebuild the circles. We must reopen the people’s eyes to the God of Truth, increasing our numbers to match the tasks ahead. They’ll teach their neighbors, so J’shua may work on their behalf.”
“My daughters and I will spy,” Vincent Donitoro proclaimed.
Rebekah nodded. “As will I.”
Teresa Donitoro stood, tucking a wild curl back under her green scarf. She’d proven to be a skillful mediator and leader. “I’ll visit each family, posing as a kinswoman, keeping us linked together.”
“We’ll continue to pray for all,” Rebekah added, “and to learn our enemies’ weaknesses. Speaking in tongues will strengthen us. We fight a mighty spiritual foe. We must keep our fellowship free.”
“Agreed,” they all responded.
The Road to Farr Castle
On the carriage ride to Farr, Caileagh was lost in thought as memories washed over her.
Unwanted hands touching my childish body.
Watching unspeakable acts.
A wizard performing bizarre ceremonies.
My mother, Farina, bewitching me to forget.
Countless memories resurfaced, brought back by Gaelib lazily stroking her head, humming a melody that Farina had sung while brushing her daughter’s hair.
Anguish flooded through Caileagh in visceral waves. She buried her face into Gaelib's chest as whispers from the past materialized.
Caileagh was in her seventeenth year. Obeying her mother, she’d drunk a potion and climbed upon the stone altar.
“My guiding spirit has led us to a boy,” Farina explained. “You’ll teach him the ways of the Warrior and marry him. Together, you will rule all for the God of this Age.”
The wizard approached and her mother again sacrificed Caileagh’s innocence.
How could I have forgotten such things?
Her mind recoiled. It fled into the deepest recesses of her earliest childhood, seeking safety in a time when she’d not been abused.
Gaelib held Caileagh in the rocking coach. That she was so undone worried him. She’d been the inspiration for his dream. She’d shown him his destiny. Could she recover her spirit guides?
Can she help me if she isn’t restored?
His ambitions were more important than anything or anyone. If she could no longer aid him, or became a hindrance, it could rip asunder delicate strands of the web he’d woven. It could even delay future operations.
Worse, finding a suitable new wife could take moons, during which he’d be distracted by the tedious process of wooing some noble wench and obtaining the king’s approval for the marriage. The latter was little more than a formality, but all of it would be time-consuming.
Plus, Cailleagh would have to be removed so that he, Gaelib, was the innocent victim of whatever outrage took her life.
Still, a new wife would also mean a new dowry, potentially a sizeable one. It could also cement alliances that, to date, were not as strong as he’d like them to be.
Most important of all, it could provide him with a legitimate heir. Caileagh was barren. It did not matter why - her age, some womanly complaint, or the potions she used – but she’d never give him the son he required.
Throughout the five-day journey, Cailleagh vacillated between convulsive sobbing and catatonic stupor. He stroked her hair absentmindedly, eventually deciding it would be better if she recovered.
At least, in the short term.
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 she’d sleep.
She meekly lay down without any protest.
Her whole demeanor has changed. Who is she?
Gaelib left her and went to the little secluded graveyard on the outskirts of the castle, where he and Caileagh had spent much time when they first met. He hoped that the Warrior would show him how to get her spirits back.
As he crossed below the stone arch, he remembered how she had taken his hand and led him here. The now barely discernable inscription over the entrance read, “Banish the souls that do unspeakable deeds.” All the graves were unmarked. It was a place no one else in the world had a reason to go. There, they had done anything they wanted.
It was Geleib’s fourteenth nameday.
Caileagh was now his stepsister. Again, she reminded him he would one day become the most powerful man in the world.
A smile grew upon his lips as he stroked the jeweled dagger, the gift from his father that proved he was now a man. He knew it would be so.
Then she said, "To achieve your destiny, you must acquire the strength of a great man." She had pointed to a grave. "Lie face down there so you may receive his power."
All the graves were weighted down with smooth rocks to keep their spirits in the ground, each painted white so no one would accidentally walk over it.
He gave her a sideways glance, but decided to humor her. She was, after all, his best friend in the whole world. He lay down on the grave.
"Stretch out your arms and say, ‘I receive you, Master of the World.'"
He sighed, thinking it a silly game, for he was a man.
"I have a present for you afterward,” she coaxed. “It is your nameday, after all."
And so, he said the words. He didn’t feel like he had received anything.
But then Cailleach had turned him over and laid upon him. She was warm and smelled like lemon cakes. She kissed him. She touched him.
He knew he should stop her, but something made him stay under her love.
“Warrior, tell me how to help Caileagh, whom you’ve given to me.” Melazera waited. His mood was dark.
His Lord whispered, “Sacrifices will bring new spirits. Her mother and the wizard will show the way.”
As Gaelib left the hidden graveyard, an acolyte approached.
“My lord, we have the dowager countess. She awaits her fate in the dungeon.”
“That is good to hear. Inform her that we seek Caileagh’s tormentor. Leave her in the dark and give her water only once a day until she talks. Then send for me.”
Many days later, Gaelib was in his hall, when the acolyte returned.
Bowing low, the disciple spoke. “My lord, the hunt for the wizard was quick. They found him praying over a bloody altar in a shanty filled with hanging herbs and dead animals. To avoid being bewitched, the soldiers instantly beat him unconscious. Extreme precautions have been taken. Special locks have been made to prevent either prisoner from manipulating any guard while they are your guests.” He handed Gaelib the only key.
“Keep them alive. For now.”
Rebekah dismounted from the wagon in front of the commandant’s office. She smoothed the flattering blue dress she’d donned and ran her fingers through her hair. She entered with her head high, her quiet rage dampening her fear.
“I am here to see Commandant Greysun.” She forced herself to speak quietly and politely to the militet on duty.
“He is out, ma’am.”
“When will —”
“Bring the lady back, Brett,” a gruff voice from the room behind announced.
As she entered his office, Greysun stood with a lecherous smile and bowed. He was tall. His royal red brigandine buckled, but missing pauldrons and bracers. “How can I help you, ma’am?” His too-confident tone was as unpleasant as his expression. He caressed his brown beard as he looked her up and down.
“I’m Rebekah Otual, here to retrieve my daughter, sold to you three moons ago.”
“Otual…?” The commandant stiffened. “Many… children passed through here. We only kept boys.”
“The herald assured me all the cage carts that came to your garrison left empty. She is six and has very blonde hair.”
His frown deepened. “I sold the girls to Madam Bonaforte’s brothel. She may know what became of her.” The officer pointed west. “Go to the one with the green door on the main street. It’s on the right.” Then he looked to his papers.
Rebekah smacked the desk. “It is my understanding, sir, that you are to actively assist in the return of all children illegally seized. Have someone escort me.”
Greysun scowled and motioned for a militet to attend her.
She left as boldly as she’d arrived.
Rebekah entered the brothel, the militet trailing behind. She looked with compassion at the children, perhaps as young as thirteen, being exploited, their feather-framed faces and scantily clad bodies marking them as fallen.
She glanced back at the wide-eyed militet, also perhaps thirteen, whose mouth was agape. “Close it, son.”
The decorated ladies looked back with calculating eyes. Some snickered, only to be silenced as their matron stepped forward.
Rebekah’s hard gaze locked onto the madame. “According to Commandant Greysun,” she growled, “three moons ago, my daughter was brought to you with other girls.”
The old woman stiffened and sputtered. “Why don’t you look around for her?” Her eyes narrowed as she smiled.
Terror and hope stole through Rebekah at the same time. She went through every room, the wide-eyed boy following. Thankfully, it was midday and most were empty. She didn’t find Sarah.
Lord, where is she?
She wanted to cry, but wouldn’t.
“Are you satisfied?” The madame’s words were cold, flat.
“No… nor is your obligation to assist me complete. Either Greysun or you are lying. Which is it?”
The madame glared back. “You’ve looked for yourself. But… there were discrepancies. That drecksa Greysun demanded payment for a girl I didn’t receive.”
“What happened to her?”
“How should I know?”
Rebekah knew she’d get no more from the old hag. She turned and left, the boy reluctantly following her out.
Where are you, Sarah?
Jonathan rode hard. In part to share the king’s joyous proclamation with his friends, in part to assuage fears he could not shake.
Could those brigands have killed the other courier?
He entered Lorness at a gallop, the horse lathered in sweat. His passage drawing a crowd.
Please, Lord J’shua, protect me from evil men.
Somehow, word of mouth was even faster than his steed. People filled the streets as he reached the Herald Station, slid from his horse, and marched inside.
The herald, smiling broadly, held out a hand to take the offered parchment. “You were successful?”
The knight smiled back.
Calling his men in from the barn, the herald told them. “We have an important proclamation from the king. Look lively.” He ushered Jonathan outside to the waiting crowd. “Hear ye, hear ye, a Proclamation by King Edal, Ruler of the Kingdom of Freislicht. Whereas: We have taken into Our Royal Consideration recent grievances…”
Jonathan’s heart lifted as he watched the people while the proclamation was read. Afterward, the men who’d signed the petition slapped his back and thanked him. It was better than they’d hoped. Whoever had their loved ones must return them.
He was happy for them, but wondered who held his daughter. And where was Rebekah? The only reason his wife would have stolen a horse would be to give chase. Their joy was short-lived for him.
Who would be so bold as to intercept a courier from the king?
Jonathan pushed aside his suspicion of Gaelib. Other nobles and rich men would also be troubled by the proclamation. Any of them could have sent men to bribe or kill the courier. All that was important now was that Jon deliver the proclamation to Dunis Glen.
Before he could say goodbye to his friends, the herald intercepted him with two fresh horses, each laden with provisions. “Go with J’shua’s blessings, knight. You do his bidding… and that of the king.”
The Circuit from River Town
Rebekah, as Tomas Bekh, decided to stalk George Rosewud, for he might lead her to another significant find. However, she couldn’t do so as a farmer. After receiving instruction from a merchant she’d met at The Sapphire, she acquired a charter to pose as a plow merchant for Franklin and Sons. They had created a wheeled plow.
Even with her new disguise, she could not pursue the weasel immediately. She had to establish her new cover and so began her first circuit.
As she passed through each town, she stayed at the inns used by traveling salesmen. Most were, at best, clean. Yet, they drew no attention, which was more important. She made friends of each establishment’s owners, promising them a small commission if they pointed toward farms that might be potential customers… and those farmers bought something, of course. She was shocked to make two sales in the first town.
Her travels also permitted regular contact with the families that had left the Frei. She visited each in her guise as a plow merchant, expecting nothing more than a brief few hours amongst friends. She told them of the inn she’d be using in the town nearest them. They introduced her to their neighbors and, again, she was surprised to make more sales.
First Quarter Moon, Summer
As Rebekah's second circuit began, four orders were waiting for her at the inn, plus two sightings of Rosewud.
With what seemed to her a vast number of baden, she opened an account with the Lockes. Despite Melazera’s moneychangers being prominent at every faire, she didn’t trust them. She also made her first major purchase, a mare with a burled coat. It was the color of the old hickory table her ma had loved so much. She named it Marly and planned to return Justice.
Filling a saddle bag with enough baden to rent the horse three times over for three moons, she tied the mare to Marly and left for Wooster.
When she rode up to the house, smoke rose lazily from the chimney. The open barn door reminded her of the day she’d stolen the horse. She thought she’d be jittery, but only felt a buzz of excitement.
She hopped down and approached the door. “Hallo, is anyone home?”
A dark-haired woman appeared in the doorway, wiping her hands on her apron. “Hallo, can I help you, sir?” She craned her neck looking at the two horses.
“Yes, ma’am. My name is Tomas Bekh. I sell plows. But that’s not why I’m here. I recently acquired a horse that was said to belong to you.”
The woman ran to Justice and threw her arms around the mare’s neck. “Friska!” Then looking back, she asked, “Where’d you find her?” She walked all around the horse, patting her lovingly. “She looks well cared for.”
“Well, ma’am, a woman gave her to me and asked me to return her to you. She’s . . . was very sorry she stole her, and wanted to repay you. She filled these saddle bags with what she hoped was recompence enough for your loss.”
“I heard what happened that day. We’re thankful to J’shua to be on the Duke of Wooster’s lands. Melazera is a . . .” She paused. “I hope that poor woman found her daughter.”
Rebekah wasn’t expecting sympathy and nodded, fearing she’d cry. Taking a deep breath, she asked, “Do you have a circle?”
That day she added another stop on her rounds, passing messages and interviewing new members.