Chapter 9: Relief
Waxing Gibbous Moon
After days of traveling and sleeping under the heavens, Jonathan passed through Dunis Glen’s gate. The sun barely peeked over the red clay rooftops, making them glow like fire.
The local herald stood as the knight entered. The old man’s eyes twinkled while he read the parchment, his eyebrows rising ever higher. “Astonishing news. I’ll proclaim it immediately. What’s your name, sir?”
“Jonathan Otual. I took a petition about these vile acts to the king.”
“Thank you for delivering this.” The herald donned his blue tabard bearing the king’s sigil. Outside, he rang a large bell. People poured out of shops and taverns like wine from a press. “Hear ye, hear ye,” he began. “A Proclamation by King Edal, the Ruler of Freislicht….”
As happened everywhere he took the decree, people cried, laughed, and hugged each other.
Their joy overcame Jonathan. His heart soared like a hawk gliding on the wind. The feeling grew stronger as the proclamation was read out twice more at the insistence of those present.
The herald pointed toward Jonathan. “This Knight of J’shua appealed to King Edal for our relief. His Majesty responded. Thank the God of Truth for his faithfulness. He hasn’t left us powerless. Sir Jonathan, please give a word to the people.”
Jon stepped forward and trusted J’shua’s spirit to guide his words. “People of Dunis Glen, we owe thanks to King Edal for his mercy in granting us relief from the excessive acts of some of his nobles. We praise the God of Truth and our king for their blessings.
“Keep the fellowship of your circles. Not because it is required, but so you have strength in numbers and spread comfort from the spirit of J’shua. We must all stand against the darkness. Together, we will be victorious.”
The crowd cheered.
Jonathan bowed, as courtesy demanded, then departed.
He was in no hurry. There was nowhere to go. He no longer had a home. Nor was there news of his missing wife or daughter. He prayed until he was empty of words. Then he headed toward Lorness through a copse of Linden trees. The king's task was finished, but the road ahead was shrouded in uncertainty. “Father, where would you have me go? Will you show me where to find Rebekah and Sarah? I miss them so.”
Jon thought of his son, David, at the horse farm in the Republic of Esthlanis and longed to see him.
Magistrate Gorum might know something. Perhaps Rebekah and Sarah have gone there.
Rebekah, as Mister Bekh, entered River Town and headed to The Sapphire. Not only was the food better there than at her lodging, the weasel visited it regularly.
After eating, she stepped into the sunlight and noticed a plain well-groomed man watching her.
Is he another like Rosewud? Have I been discovered?
She entered a variety of shops, curious as to what he’d do. In each, she bought supplies she’d need for the next journey. Yet, when she left the fifth establishment, the man hadn’t moved.
Is there a new price on my head… or that of Tomas Bekh?
The man still leaned against the hitching post outside the fletcher’s. She considered avoiding him. Yet, if he’d been watching her, he’d have identified her horse. Instead, she approached him. “Have you bought arrows from this fletcher?”
“No, no, I haven’t.” He blinked. “This may sound strange. A still, small voice told me to stand there,” he pointed at the hitching post, “and wait. I felt utterly foolish. But I am ‘a fool for the Lord’ as the Writings say. Do you know J’shua?”
“I… do.” Relief flooded through her. “Do you belong to a circle here?”
“My family leads one. I’m Patrik Gonnels.” He offered his hand. “Would you like to join us?”
A surge of hope filled her as she took his hand. "Have you seen a little girl?" she blurted out. "Her name is Sarah. She's six years old and about this high.” She balanced her packages on one knee in order to gesture. Her hand trembled. "She... she's my daughter…blonde hair and a dimple on her left cheek. She was stolen three moons ago."
Sadness filled Patrik's eyes. "No, but I think you'd best come to the farm, so you can tell your story. Our circle meets tonight. They can help. I could take you there once you’re done.”
Rebekah wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. "I’m done and mighty grateful to you." Patrik might not know Sarah's whereabouts, but J’shua had brought them together. She needed information and, it seemed, the Lord was providing.
They retrieved their horses and headed down the empty dirt road.
“It is good to know there is an active circle in River Town. I wanted to find one.”
“I’m home visiting family before starting my new post at High Castle. I’m excited to be stationed in the capitol.”
As they rode, they talked of the Lord’s marvelous works, of divine appointments, and needs met miraculously. After an hour, Patrik pointed toward a thatched roof and lazy smoke rising from a chimney.
The farm was a goodly spread with many burgeoning green fields. In the yard was a middle-aged man sharpening an axe and a woman plucking clothes off the line.
The rich aroma of a meaty stew made Rebekah’s belly growl.
“Welcome, visitor.” The woman wore a blue dress and plain muslin apron.
“Mother, this is Tomas Bekh,” Patrik announced, “a follower of J’shua from the south. Mr. Bekh, these are my mother, Clarin, and my father, Wenston.”
The elder Gonnels laid aside his axe. “I am pleased to meet you. Come inside.”
They spoke about the Writings and general topics until she heard, tell them your mission.
Rebekah recounted the debt collection, the murder of her parents, her daughter’s kidnapping, the moons spent hiding in Frei Forest, the human sacrifice she’d discovered and her pretense as a man. “My son, David, is safe in Esthlanis. But I have no idea where to begin seeking Sarah or Jonathan.” Her eyes welled up with tears.
Patrik’s mother embraced her.
“We feel your burden. We’ll help any way we can,” Wenston added.
As she told them of her plans, a vision formed within her mind of all the circles united and, somehow, the Gonnels playing a central role in what was to come.
Thus, with fellowship and food, a movement began. They called it Licht Gegen, or ‘light against’.
Jonathan crossed the Tarin River at dawn after two days of riding. Esthlanis was a country to the east of Freislicht. Its wide-open plains rolled out like a golden blanket dappled with horses. A welcoming blue sky bolstered the impression of freedom. Reining in his steed, he watched a bronze stallion with a black mane followed by dozens of mares. Their speed and grace took his breath away, as they swept past him like a river of rippling muscle.
As he traveled east, there were pastures everywhere filled with mares nursing foals and proud stallions stomping the ground.
At the gates of Magistrate Gorum’s estate, four red-headed riders intercepted him, each coming from a different direction. The tactic impressed him. They all wore short swords in simple scabbards. Their green woolen tunics made their hair stand out like fire. Intimidating. “Can we help you?” one asked.
“This is Jonathan Otual.” Jathan, the eldest, recognized him. “His son, David, is apprenticed here. I’ll take you to father.” He turned to his siblings. “Continue inspecting the fences. I’ll find you later.”
The knight followed, admiring the gait of Jathan's horse and the comfortable way the young man rode.
“David’s a fine boy, Sir Jonathan. He learns fast.”
Jathan led him to the house. It had been expanded yet again, another wing jutting off to the east. His father sat on the enlarged porch, not a grey hair on his head, only streaks of gold here and there.
“Jon!” Agon Gorum bellowed. “Come, have some tea. You’re not taking my favorite student away, are you? It’s only been four moons.”
“No, he is in good hands here. I hope he appreciates the opportunity you are giving him.” Jonathan dismounted. “There is…” his voice caught, “…bad news. My wife, her parents, and my daughter were set upon by debt collectors. The house and barn were burnt down. There is… no sign of them. I fear my mother- and father-in-law are dead.”
“Those drecksa!” Gorum snarled, striding forward to clasp Jonathan’s shoulder. “What can I do? If you know who’s behind this, my sons, my men, and I will ride with you. I don’t care how far. I don’t care who we must face down.”
“I do not know who.” Jon shook his head, looking into Gorum’s eyes. “I am honored by the offer, Agon, but…”
“I, and others, appealed to the king, who interceded, declaring such takings unlawful.”
“That’s something… but your wife and daughter are still missing.” Gorum pointed to chairs on the porch. “Sit. Please. Maria, bring drinks. Strong ones!”
Jonathan dropped into the offered chair and told his tale. His voice broke. He rubbed his face.
“Keep your faith strong. You’ll have what’s needed, when it’s needed.”
Jon looked into the distance. “I know but… being powerless to find them is…” He blinked.
“What can I do for you?”
Jonathan exhaled slowly. This was the first time he’d spoken to an old friend about the situation. Somehow, that made everything more painful. “Rebekah knows where David is. She may end up here at some point, with or without Sarah.”
“My sons and I will protect them with our lives.”
“If you see them, tell Rebekah I will go to the Knights’ School every first day of the Ram, the Crab, the Judge, and the Goat. Have them meet me there—”
“No.” The word was abrupt. “Old friend, if they reach here, I’ll keep them safe. Here. Then send word to your School. With all that’s befallen you, I’ll not risk anyone snatching them away again.”
Jonathan snorted. “I have no doubt of your good intentions, but do you really think my Rebekah can be ‘kept safe’ anywhere?”
Gorum thought for a moment and shook his head. “Perhaps you’re right. I could no more contain her than cage a southerly wind. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t provide her with whatever she might need.”
“For which, I am grateful. Now, where can I find my son? I won’t keep him long. Then I will be on my way.”
“Nonsense, rest here for a few days,” Gorum commanded.
“I will stay until I receive J’shua's guidance.”
“Your boy’s in the north barn. Jathan’ll take you there.” Gorum signaled his son.
David squatted beside the gently snorting mare, watching a wet foal wrangle its skinny legs and stand shakily. His face lit up as his father entered the barn. He leaped to his feet and bounded toward him. Although his blond hair was tied back, stray curls framed his face. “Da, you’ve returned! Did you see? The foal was birthed only moments ago.”
“No, I missed it.” His father knelt, embracing him tightly. Then he held him by the shoulders. “Are you well, son?”
“Yes, Da.” He smiled, looking into his father’s eyes.
Jonathan stood. “That’s good.”
“Master Gorum says, ‘You must know horses to be a good horseman.’ So, he started me here. It’s my job to care for the mares and foals.” David looked up at his father. “Why’d you come back? Are you taking me with you?” David bit his lip, raising his eyebrows.
“I cannot. The Lord wants you here. Can we go talk outside?”
David sighed, then looked to Jathan and the breeder, seeking permission. When both nodded, he followed his father out.
They walked a short distance beyond a corral of wild horses. His Da saying nothing. David’s insides knotted as his father’s face clouded. An expression he’d only seen when there was dark news.
“I do not want you to worry,” Da said, “but need you to pray.”
David gulped. Something’s terribly wrong.
“When I arrived home,” Da cleared his throat and rubbed his eyes, “our house and barn had been burned down. There was no trace of Oma and Opa, your mother, or sister.”
Turning away, grabbing the nearest fence post, David gazed into the distance. He could not bear to see the look on his father’s face. “W-w-what?” he forced the word out, trying to reject what had been said. “W-why?”
There was no answer.
“We must find them!” David demanded, turning back to his father.
Da nodded, slowly. “There is more. I fear your grandparents are dead. Your mother and sister……”
The single moment’s pause terrified David.
Had they all died?
“…are missing. I trust in J’shua that they are alive. I will continue searching.”
David did not register the last few words. He was hugging his father tight, clenching the back of his father’s shirt in his fists.
How could this have come to pass? How can there be such evil? How can I right it?
Keeping a firm hand on David’s shoulder, Da stepped back and looked into his eyes. “Pray for each of us, so each has the strength and wisdom to do the Lord’s will. He will bring us all back together. Especially pray in the spirit as much as you can.”
“I will, Da, but… shouldn’t I go with you? You’ll need help to find them.”
“Prayer is more important than anyone knows. It grants the Lord permission to work on our behalf. Because of the first man’s sin, the Serpent owns this world. But he doesn’t own us.”
“I know, Father.” David nodded, controlling himself. He wanted to rail against what would be required of him, but such behavior wouldn’t change his father’s mind.
“As man has free will, he must ask for aid,” Da continued, repeating a lesson David knew by heart. A lesson that only confirmed his father wouldn’t take him away from Master Gorum’s. “It isn’t magic. Everything takes time. We struggle and learn as we go.”
David paused, considering his father’s words, and – despite the futility – tried again. “I can pray and go with you. I–”
“We have an agreement with Magistrate Gorum. We cannot break our promises. Besides, as yet, I have no information on where to find Ma or Sarah.”
David sighed, looked at his feet, and nodded.
So be it. Father requires me to bide my time for now.
Da lifted David’s chin. “Your mother may come. I need you to be here. Tell her to leave a letter for me at the Knights’ School. I will do the same. I will write to you as much as I am able.”
David nodded. “I’ll stay and learn. When I am a knight, I’ll be ready.”
I’ll never be unready again. Never.
“That’s my boy.” Da smiled at him, tousling his hair. “Do you eat with the family?”
“Yes.” David felt the righteousness and certainty of his resolution. It comforted him, easing his fears for his mother and sister. As did J’shua’s peace that flowed into him, prompted by a still, small voice, The way is clear when it is needed.
“Then I will see you at dinner. It is time you get back to that foal and her mama.”
“Yes, Sir.” He hugged his father again. “I’ve missed you so.”
“I have missed you, too. Go now. Otuals are not idlers.”
Jon stayed at the estate for two more days, spending time with his boy in the evenings. J’shua’s spirit then led Jonathan, not back to Freislicht, but deeper into Esthlanis.
He knew Rebekah would not stop until she’d saved Sarah, but he had no way to find them. He trusted J’shua that he would be led to them in time.
The Esthlani circles had been planted many years before his birth. However, for all the accomplishments of the Fellowship, they kept few – if any – records. It was not their way. They went where they were guided, acting as inspired. Thus, he knew the Lord would direct his steps… and that the journey would wend its way to his destination. Straight lines were for others, those who only considered their travel’s end. For a knight, traveling was its own reward, an opportunity to commune with J’shua Ha Mashiach, and to be open to whatever the God of Truth placed in his path.
Yet, as he rode, his thoughts were of David.
I suppose it is different for him than for me. When I was sent to High Castle for my apprenticeship, my father was dead, so I did not miss him the same.
Heading into a small wood, bird calls announced him and fell silent as he passed. Only the rustling leaves and the breeze complemented his thoughts.
I don’t see any solution for it, though. Men must learn a trade or develop skills. The best time to start is at seven or eight when the mind is agile, and the body not yet ready for the rigors of physical training. I will write more often, relating everything I would say to him if he was with me. It will have to be enough.
As he rode out of the woods and into a town, homes and a dozen buildings were arranged in a square before him. The sign to his right read, Kalmah. He asked the first person he saw if they had a herald or a place to read messages.
“There’re postings on the outer wall of the Sheriff’s Office.” The man pointed.
Jonathan nodded. “You are very kind, sir.”
As he approached that building, a small group was gesturing and jabbering loudly. Their excited talk stopped as he dismounted near them.
“Where can a hungry man buy a good meal here?” Jonathan asked.
“I’d be happy to show you,” a tall, brown-haired man replied. “The name’s Blake Tolmach.” A wide-brimmed hat hung down his back. His spurs jingled as he walked.
Jonathan followed along, leading his horse, to The Braying Donkey Inn.
“Are you a Knight of J’shua?”
“Yes, I am.”
“It’s been seven years or more since we’ve seen your kind.”
“J’shua sent me.”
The inn provided a good meal. It was followed by a bitter drink, called cofaidh, that was mixed with honey and cream.
Blake was a friendly soul. He talked in great detail about the circles in his village. “We have three that I know of. One is led by a near kinsman. Would you like me to introduce you?”
“That would be a blessing.”
After their meal, Blake offered hospitality for three days. His home was a modest cabin two miles outside of town. The knight shared fellowship with Blake’s family and met with each of the local circles.
For the most part, Steven Blackhawk was settling into High Castle well.
However, Lieutenant Fortuch had not forgotten their clash. While the other junior officer went out of his way to behave acceptably in public, his private revenges were ongoing. Little things kept happening. Laundry went missing. The door to his shanty would unlock itself. Things would be moved around.
Despite this harassment getting on Blackhawk’s nerves, he remained outwardly affable and unaffected by the increasing frequency of the intrusions.
However, when he found a silver goblet hidden amongst his clothes, he had to act. Stashing it in the only safe place he’d found in his quarters, a space under loose floorboards, he sat at his table and began reviewing maps.
Moments later, there was a knock at the door.
A captain wearing a pronounced scowl entered without waiting for Blackhawk to respond. “Lieutenant, there have been reports of pilferage. Your name, amongst others, has come up. Therefore, I need you to stand at attention over there,” he pointed to the farthest corner, “while I perform a search.”
“Yes, sir.” Blackhawk put on a perplexed but compliant expression and did as ordered. That the captain went almost immediately to where the goblet had been told Steven this officer was involved in Fortuch’s revenge.
It was clearly no longer enough for him to merely aggravate Steven. Fortuch wanted to have him thrown out of the army in disgrace.
The captain’s puzzled expression at not finding what he was searching for was almost comical. He looked over at Blackhawk and marched out.
Third Quarter, Late Summer
It took almost a week for Blackhawk to complete his arrangements. A week during which Fortuch stayed clear of him. As did the captain that had searched Steven’s room. Nor were there any more incidents.
Blackhawk had made sure there were plenty of witnesses to corroborate his alibi. He’d also ensured that he’d be very memorable on this particular evening, which explained the appalling string of ‘bad luck’ he was having at cards. “Another hand to you,” he lamented, taking a long pull of ale.
Brean Mitchett scooped the baden towards him with a grin. “I told you his luck couldn’t hold.” He grinned at Samuel and Robert.
“Seems everyone’s winning but you tonight, Steven,” Samuel Benutt crowed.
“Finally evening the score,” Robert Maitlan chuckled, looking down at the largest pile of baden he’d ever amassed at one of their games.
“Fire! Fire!” came a yell from outside.
The four lieutenants grabbed their gear, and their baden, then dashed outside to see what was going on, only to find flames engulfing the nearest row of junior officers’ shanties. Shouldering militet out of the way, they tried to get close, but the heat prevented them from doing so.
Karl Fortuch ran into view, then turned on Blackhawk. “You did this! I’ll get you for this! You’ll rue the day that—”
“He’ll rue the day he did what, Lieutenant?” Commander Taelor demanded, striding into view as he buttoned up his jacket. “I’m waiting, lieutenant! I won’t ask again.”
“He burned down my quarters!”
Taelor’s eyebrow rose as he turned to face Blackhawk. “Is this true… Lieutenant Maitlan? Did Blackhawk set the fire?”
“I don’t see how he could, sir. He’s been playing cards with us for the last two hours, maybe longer. He hasn’t even left to take a piss.”
Taelor fixed his gaze on Lieutenant Samuel Benutt. “Can you shed any light on this?”
“No, sir. Blackhawk’s had a lousy run of cards. But that’s the only thing he’s done since we came off duty.”
“I… see…” Taelor’s jaw worked back and forth as if chewing a particularly tough piece of meat. As he turned back toward Fortuch, there was a crash from within the burning officers’ quarters, a wall collapsed, and a silver goblet rolled into sight. “Does that belong to you, Lieutenant Fortuch?”
“No, sir. Never seen it before.”
Taelor walked forward, knelt and examined the piece. “It was stolen from me about a week ago. Which of these quarters,” he pointed to the burning rooms, “is yours?”
Fortuch smiled smugly, pointing to the one next to where the goblet had appeared from.
“And who owns that one?” Taelor pointed to the goblet’s former hiding place.
“It’s…” Fortuch’s face fell. “It’s empty.”
“How long has it been empty?”
“Days, lieutenant? Weeks?” Taelor demanded, his tone hardening.
“Really? How did that come about, lieutenant? Were any of the other quarters empty?”
“How many of them, Fortuch?”
“All of them, sir.”
“I think that you have a great deal of explaining to do, lieutenant. Starting off with why you would accuse a brother officer. Next, there is the matter of your… unique… living arrangements in a camp that has little or no space to waste. And, finally, how this goblet appeared in an empty set of quarters that just happen to be adjacent to your own.”
‘Sir, I…” Fortuch glared at Blackhawk with murder in his eyes.
“That is quite enough of that!” Taelor snapped. “If I could prove that you’d stolen this goblet, I’d see you got the maximum number of lashes and were thrown out in disgrace. As it is, I’ll just have to deal with the administrative issues. You won’t be a lieutenant much longer.”
Blackhawk remained with his friends, saying nothing. Paying for the planting of the goblet and the setting of the fire, via multiple cut-outs, had been worth every baden he’d spent on it. It was even worth all his losses. Plus, the worst quarters at High Castle were about to be rebuilt.
Although, he could not work out how the goblet had rolled into sight as if on cue. For a moment, he thought back to Little Soldier. “We need it when we need it.”
Perhaps, every once in a while, things just fall into place.
New Moon, Early Autumn
After several more weeks, Jonathan returned to the Braying Donkey Inn.
“You’ve been busy,” Blake noted, embracing the knight. ‘You’re also making me famous, or maybe infamous, due to our friendship. Gossip says you met with Mathu Duine, Steward to the Premier of Esthlanis. A man that many hold in high esteem.”
Jonathan nodded. “Is that all they have said of me? That I consort with politicians? Were my travels not mentioned? Was the reappearance of a knight not worthy of a few comments?”
“Fishing for compliments is not like you, knight.”
“Ha. I am astounded by your country.” Jon turned to watch the moon rise. “I have also come to appreciate your people’s understanding of liberty. It has profoundly affected me. You have enlightened me, especially regarding Paul’s letter to the Galatians. ‘Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Mashiach hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.’ I wonder if I have had any effect.”
“You have.” Blake folded his arms. “You’re the center of all the gossip. It’s said you’ve been all the way to our eastern border, to Petinbrok in the far north, and followed the Sea of Glass west before turning southward. And everywhere you’ve gone, tales of the return of the Knights of J’shua have sprung up as if there was an army of such men. Not just you.”
“People do enjoy exaggeration. However, it was as cold as everyone said it would be up north.” Jonathan winced and laughed.
“I speak only the truth. You are blind to your effect on others. As for my country,” Blake smiled, “every man in Esthlanis must wield the sword to defend against any that would subjugate them, especially our rulers. Our wise men teach that Freislicht fell into darkness because your people became complacent, relying on the swords of others.”
“There is more than a little truth to that,” Jon agreed. “But how do we reverse it?”
"More cofaidh?” Blake joked.
“I am not sure this drink will catch on in Freislicht.” Jonathan shook his head, sipping the bitter brew. “Perhaps, the journey toward redemption must start with the Writings.”
“I am sure it will, according to rumors of your teaching, ‘If any man be in Mashiach, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.’ Did I quote you correctly?”
Jonathan laughed. “So they are sharing what I’ve taught.”
"Most certainly. Every home in Esthlanis has the Complete Writings. On their twelfth nameday, every boy and girl receives the book and their first steel sword, to ensure they learn both. But our school is new, we lack enough knights to teach everyone.”