Blackhawk - High Keep
Steven Blackhawk dropped two daggers on his table and took off his belt with a huff. He sighed with relief again as he tore off his tunic and tossed it on the new chair he’d acquired in town. The first piece of furniture he’d ever owned.
A smile sprouted as he ran his fingers over the intricately carved leaves and berries on the spindles and legs. He also bought a trunk to hold several changes of clean clothes. He had something clean to wear each morning. This small shanty had been home for three moons. He’d saved every baden of his pay to improve his lot.
The one thing he had missed most about his life at Lorness Castle, clean clothes. Another was the marvelous food. He didn’t even remember all the different dishes that were served. But now he had enough food and clothing, although plain. But he felt freer than he had ever been. He hoped he never went back to Lorness. If there was any way to free himself from Melazera, he would find it. There had to be a way.
Every new moon new assignments were posted. Most of the lieutenants were sent out on patrols following the roads from High Keep. If he were sent on a mission anywhere near Lorness, Melazera would expect him to attend him. His chest trembled. He asked Little Soldier’s God to keep him from Lorness.
Each moon he wondered if it was an answer to that prayer that Commander Taelor ordered him to continue training soldiers in his fighting techniques. Blackhawk glowed with pride each time the commander mentioned his work. The soldiers made good progress and more joined his sessions every week.
He scrubbed his sweaty face and hair with his shirt as he removed it. His muscles were warm and relaxed after the three sessions this morning. He stared at his cot. It would be wonderful to lay down and enjoy how good he felt. But he tipped his nose to his armpit. He stank.
He poured water into the wash basin. As he removed his necklace, reaching toward the table, the silver chain fell to the ground.
One of Little Soldier’s buttons skittered away. Running, he pushed his cot out of the way just in time to see the button drop into a crack between the floorboards. His heart sank as he peered into the dark crevice.
He ran back to the table and grabbed a dagger. He squatted down and probed the crack, testing the depth of it. It went in up to the hilt. In frustration he wiggled it around.
He lit a candle and moved it about on his hands and knees trying to see into the crack.
He blew out a breath.
“Blast! Blast! Blast!” He stabbed the floor with his dagger again and again. When he pulled to stab once more, the board moved. He gasped. He worked the board loose and pried it up.
The button sat on top of a brown leather-bound book. Their was a fish tooled into the cover. Lifting it carefully, he opened it to the first page. The Writings concerning J’shua Ha Mashiach.
He turned the page.
In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.
He felt a buzz in his flesh. It was a sign. Her button led him to this book. It was a new connection with Little Soldier.
He had never read a book before.
The Melazera’s had a library, a large room with shelves of books. Gaelib had taught him to read and write scrolls and coded messages. Caileagh had taught him all the rituals he must perform from her parchments. But he had never held a book.
He had long ago decided that his training from Geleib might be wrong. But he had to follow his lord. There was too much uncertainty. To disobey would earn him a beating. And if he lost Gaelib Melazera’s favor, he might be given to Caileagh. He shivered at the thought.
He turned the page. His mind seized upon every word like a lifeline. He’d been floating in oblivion, mindlessly obedient to his training until he met Little Soldier. Her light sparked an ember that became his guide, a beacon pointing to choices, permitting him to make his own decisions. Now, he could see he was lost, and the light was calling to him.
It was almost dawn when he finally closed the book. He went out and stared at the fading stars. He wished to know all their stories.
With the shout of first hour from the watchmen, he ran inside and dressed. He hid the book under the floor.
As he walked to the breakfast line, Blackhawk thanked the God of Truth for Little Soldier. And he hoped she was safe.
Was the woman kind to her? Did she have friends? Whenever he ate, he wondered if she had enough to eat. And when he went outside the walls to ride, he imagined her telling him about the gossiping crickets and the water that sounded like a battle.
He sometimes pictured her singing the little brave soldier song that had first caught his attention.
Now he had a book from the God of Truth. There was a way out of darkness.
I trust in Little Soldier’s innocent view of you.
Sarah wiggled in the saddle. Her bottom ached. They’d been riding for days and days. It seemed that long. She’d tried to use her legs, but they got tired.
The duchess summoned Ma to Lexandria. At first it seemed magical. To be summoned. The old midwife for the duke was ill. She’d told the duchess about her ma, who was the midwife’s apprentice long ago.
She’d already pretended to be the princess traveling to marry a prince in a distant land. And several times her troop of knights tracked the bandits that had burned down a village. And they’d crossed the wilderness into a strange land. But now, she was simply miserable Sarah Otual.
“Ma, are we almost there yet?”
“Sarah, you’ve asked that ten times since the sun rose.”
She sighed. “Ma, can we stop, my bottom hurts.”
“Yes, we can eat. But we can’t make a fire or we won’t get to the castle until after dark. Showing up anywhere at night is burdensome. No one is ready to receive you, even when you’re expected.”
When Ma dismounted, Sarah dangled her feet on one side of her horse and let herself down, slowly, as far as she could before she dropped to the ground. She was seven now. She still couldn’t mount a horse without help, but she could get off.
“Let me help, Ma.”
Ma handed her the rough brown blanket. “Thank you.”
Sarah found the flattest spot and spread it on the rocky ground. Many plants she recognized grew along the trail. Ma was teaching her their medicinal uses. Misty green mugwort sprouted between the rocks and she gathered some to use for fevers.
They sat cross-legged and Ma set out a few crackers and sliced off a chunk of cheese. “We are almost there. The next time we stop it will be inside Locke Castle. I think you’ll like it. It is a friendly place. I attended several births with Matylda.”
Rolling to her side, Sarah nibbled the cheese. It tasted sharp and creamy. “How long will we stay there?”
“I do not know. The message was brief. The duchess asks that I care for her daughter who is nearing her time. But I will not abandon the women of our village. So whether we stay more than a day will depend on what allowances they are offering.”
Soon the forest gave way to a patchwork of fields—each a different shade of green. Villages interrupted the narrow road along their way, erupting into shops and markets bustling with brightly dressed people and vendors hawking their wares. They kept riding.
The welcoming gate of the city loomed overhead. Sarah craned her neck to study the plants and animals carved into the pink stone.
Lexandria was known for its stonework. Every slab quarried from the Shining Mountains had a distinct hue. Any color sought could be found there. The stone and the gold mines were the source of the Locke family wealth. They controlled the only gold mine.
Sarah had quite forgotten her sore bottom, there was so much to see.
“We’re here.” Ma said.
Sarah turned to face her, blinking. “”This is the castle?”
“This is the north entrance. It is much more restricted. We would not want to cause a stir and moons of gossip by announcing a new midwife had arrived. The Lockes are very private people. This entrance is where special visitors and servants may enter.”
Ma knocked on the door and a small panel slid open behind a barred opening.
“State your name and your purpose.” The eyes and nose of a dour face tipped up and down at them.
A rolled parchment slid from Ma’s cloak. She pushed it through the grate. “I am Kennah Decker.”
“Wait a moment,” the dour face said.
The door opened and the aroma that struck Sarah could only mean there was a full kitchen inside. Her stomach growled and her mouth began to water.
“Oh, my. There is a feast going on. Can we eat?”
Ma smiled. “I am sure they’ll offer after we present ourselves.”
Sarah envisioned a great feast. First she smelled the roasted onions. Next she picked out chicken and boar and crispy browning potatoes.
All the mouth-watering scents faded away as they followed the page through building after building. Each had carvings around every doorway.
Finally they came to a circular foyer of white stone. In the center was a pillar with a candle clock. Each hour was marked with a dark line. It had burned down to the third hour of the day. Sun lit the room from openings in the roof. Small doors punctuated the walls all around. Except one grand doorway, much higher and wider than the others, was open.
Sarah grabbed Ma’s hand as they proceeded toward the open door.
Inside it was not a throne room, but a parlor with many seating areas of chairs and couches around low tables. Many well-dressed people lounged about in conversation. Some were playing cards or chess.
The chess board with its powerful pieces made her heart ache. She missed her real da.
Finally, A woman approached smiling broadly holding the hand of a girl Sarah’s age. The girl was giggling.
Ma curtsied and Sarah followed.
“Welcome to Locke Castle, Mother Decker.” The older woman said. “I am Ellyth Locke. This is my youngest daughter, Melyssa.” The girl gave a small curtsy. “I am so happy you are here. And this is?” Ellyth nodded at Sarah.
“This is my daughter, Sarah. She is my apprentice.”
“Come, take refreshment. Was your journey difficult?” Lady Locke took Ma’s elbow and lead her to a table with every possible food on it.
Sarah’s mouth gaped as Melyssa handed her a plate. “You must try these. They are my favorite. Dates stuffed with cheese.” She placed three of them on Sarah’s plate. “Mother says, if I eat too many, I will become as fat as Baron Nester over there.” She pointed at a big man whose coat was drawn tight across his chest.
Sarah and Melyssa laughed.
“Mother, may I take Sarah with me to play cards?”
“Yes, but stay in this room. They may want to retire because of their long journey.”
Sarah tossed a glance at Ma who gave her a nod. The girls ran off across the room.
Melyssa taught Sarah how to play several card games. With each turn Sarah looked to see Ma and the lady speaking. Ma looked happy so what she was hearing must be good.
Several hours later, stifling yawns, they were directed to quarters where they could sleep. When Ma tucked her into the sumptuous bed, she said, “How would you like to live here and learn to be a lady?”
Sarah’s shocked face made Ma laugh. She would live in a castle.
Jonathan prayed and prayed but only felt called deeper into Esthlanis. The spirit had always urged him home when the time was right. Except, this last time had been wrong. He was too late. He must have heard wrong. How could he know what to do now that everything was wrong.
But he had no idea how to find them. Surely, she would go to Gorum or the Knights’ School.
When he prayed in the spirit he received peace and a sure sense in his soul that they were well. So he would continue in Esthlanis until J’shua changed the mission.
J’shua led him to a camp in the wilderness. Many tents surrounded a large rectangular building, recently erected. The walls were freshly cut. The whole place smelled of pine. Several Esthlani approached briskly, dressed in green woolen cloaks, each wearing the customary short sword.
Jonathan bowed. “Greetings, friends. I come bearing the peace of J’shua. I am Jonathan Otual.”
The oldest of the three, a man about thirty, like Jonathan, returned his bow and said, “Please follow me, sir.”
They led him into the new building. The fragrance inside was even stronger. There were windows high along the southern wall for light. Only one other door on the far side. “Wait here, sir.” He pointed to a bench.
He was not unfamiliar with icy receptions. And he did not feel threatened. But he longed to be welcomed warmly again. It seemed the whole world had grown cold.
About an hour later the door swung open and a dozen men marched in, followed by several boys carrying food and wine skins.
An aged man with a long gray beard spread his arms wide as he came closer. “Welcome Sir Otual. Please forgive for the poor greeting you’ve received. My students have not been taught proper protocol yet.”
Jonathan stood. The man was familiar. “Have we met, sir?”
The man laughed. “No I am sure we haven’t. But I look very much like my brother, Mathu Duine. I believe you know him.”
“Yes. I see the resemblance,” he said as he thrust out his hand.
As the old man took it, he said, “I am Unther. Mathu told me I might encounter you. I am not a knight, but I am a soldier. Mathu may have told you of our plan to train Knights of J’shua in Esthlanis. As you can see, we need help.”
Jonathan parried, twisting to his left, as his attacker crashed into him and sent them both sprawling. What had been a sword fight devolved into fists, knees, and elbows until he broke free.
Regaining his feet, he backed away, studying the lithe young man he’d underestimated.
The Esthlani dropped into a crouch. A smile played across his freckled face as his foot lashed out.
Jonathan dodged, caught the leg and pulled. His other fist slammed into his opponent’s temple, dropping the younger man unconscious to the ground.
Stepping clear, Jonathan shook his head. “This is not the way we train on the mountain. If he was not wearing a padded helmet, my last blow could have been fatal.”
“It’s why we practice this way.” Sir Fingal, the son of Blake Tolmach, tapped the wooden practice sword. “We don’t pull our blows. We train as we fight, at full force.”
“Cadets must get hurt,” Jonathan said.
“They do. But, as I’ve told you often, sometimes that’s the way J’shua teaches us to be quicker.” The Esthlani instructor chuckled as he threw cold water over Jonathan’s unconscious sparring partner.
Jonathan shook his head, sitting on a boulder. He’d been guided by J’shua to remain here to help the new Esthlani Knights’ School until the end of the season. Then he hoped to meet Rebekah at the School in Freislicht. Or perhaps find a letter.
Esthlani training was like Freislicht’s Fellowship of Knights. There were also differences. Still, he had trouble striking as boldly as his Esthlani hosts did, causing him to lose more often when fighting on their practice mats.
It was probably safer for beginners to fight with so much padding. He didn’t need it. The agility he’d gained from working on mountainous terrain was irreplaceable.
Sir Fingal slapped Jonathan on the back and squeezed his shoulder. “What’s got you pensive? Home? That wife of yours? Or is it your daughter this time?” Fingal sat beside Jonathan. “From what you’ve told me of Rebekah, she’s as faithful as you. The only thing that could stop her from moving heaven and earth to find you is J’shua guiding her elsewhere…just as he sent you here.”
“At least here, I know what to do.”
“In the four moons you’ve been here, you’ve taught us fighting techniques, tactics, and strategies we knew nothing of…and learned a thing or two, I pray. You have also piqued our curiosity. Your take on the Writings is thought-provoking. It’s renewed our vigor to discover all the secrets they contain.”
“As you, also, have made me look at passages in a new light,” Jonathan mused.
That was an understatement. The Esthlani perspective had quickened his desire to know the infinite wisdom of the Writings. Especially that the God of Truth made every one of us sovereign, with freewill, something worth defending. That his small contributions had made a difference was gratifying.
“I know that expression, Freislander. Your modesty is too great,” Fingal teased. “The Premier’s Council has sent agents down here more than once to see what impact you’ve had on our school. According to the most recent visitor, they’ve urged the Premier to encourage closer ties between the Fellowships of Esthlanis and Freislicht. There’s even been talk of the Premier aiding your cause. But, if that happens, it will take many moons, if not years.”
Jonathan looked off into the distance. Help from the rulers of Esthlanis was too much to hope for. Even the suggestion was, or should be, beyond consideration. Yet it warmed him.
“As for that wife of yours,” Fingal pressed on, “unless J’shua guides you back together, how do you expect to find her? There are those who seek your life in your home country.”
“Rebekah can hardly put out notices in every herald station asking to meet you. They would be waiting for you. Nor can you blunder about asking for her without promptly landing in some dungeon.”
“That may be the case.” Jonathan sighed. It was a conundrum. He wanted to know where his wife and daughter were. He wanted to interrogate someone, beat them until he knew how to proceed, who to chase. But he was sure the spirit was telling him to wait.
“In fact,” Fingal grinned, “if you don’t get back to work, your reunion could be delayed for years.”
Jonathan snorted, then picked up the practice sword, tapping the dull wooden blade in his opposite hand. Yet, if teaching and training might hasten the meeting with his wife and daughter, it was time to get back to it. Until he had information, he knew nothing better to do than serve J’shua.
After several more weeks, Jonathan returned to Kalmah and the Braying Donkey Inn. His eyes met Blake Tolmach’s immediately. He was a fixture at the inn, many Esthlani merchants made their arrangements at inns.
“You’ve been busy,” Blake said, embracing the knight. “You’re making me famous, or maybe infamous, because of our friendship. Gossip says you met with Mathu Duine, the Steward to the Premier of Esthlanis. A man that many hold in high esteem.”
Jonathan put his hands on his hips. “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.” Jonathan turned to watch the moon rise. “I appreciate your people’s understanding of liberty. You have enlightened me, especially regarding Paul’s letter to the Galatians: Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Mashiach has made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”
Jonathan turned back to his friend. “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 an army of such men roamed the land. Not just you.”
“People exaggerate. 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 is expected to defend himself against any that would subjugate them, especially our rulers. Our wise men teach Freislicht fell into darkness because your people became complacent, relying on the swords of others.”
“There is more than a little truth to that,” Jonathan agreed. “But how do we reverse it?”
“More cofaidh?” Blake smirked.
“I am not sure this drink will catch on in Freislicht.” Jonathan shook his head, sipping the bitter brew. “The journey toward restoration must start with the Writings.”
“I am sure it will, according to 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 name day, 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.”
“Introduce me; I will help if I can.” Jonathan needed something to keep his mind off Rebekah and Sarah.
As soon as the weather broke, he would start riding for the Knights’ School.
The next morning, the sky was clear. Jonathan went south from Esthlanis through Tarinland and into Freislicht. It would take nine days to travel to the Knights’ School. He noticed that even in Tarinland, most wore a blade.
How could our people have lost this wisdom? Very few in Freislicht can wield a sword.
Jonathan rode through the polished oak gate that greeted him with the opening statement of the creed of the Knights of J’shua:
[Endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.]
Upon entering the front doors, memories flooded back. His eyes roamed up the wide oak staircase, imagining the stampede as he and his friends rushed down and out into the cold, fresh air. The quiet reminded Jonathan that the boys would be on the mountain.
It was a demanding five-year training course, but he’d thrived in it. Each day started with prayer and study of the Writings. Later, the boys taught other students what they had learned. In the afternoon, the boys ran to the kitchen, picked up food sacks, and headed for the mountain. No matter the weather, they lived up there for some part of every day and, occasionally, many days straight.
The apprentice knight on duty while everyone else was on the mountain, bowed. “Welcome Sir Otual. My name is Tedric. How can I serve you?”
“Thank you, Tedric. I was hoping that my wife had come here to find me or perhaps that she had left me a letter.”
“I am sorry, Sir Otual. There have been no visitors in recent moons, not since the new recruits came in the fall. But we will watch for her.”
“Thank you, son. I’ll give you a message for my wife if she comes.”
It was a simple matter to leave a letter for Rebekah, which unencrypted read:
Know that my love for you and Sarah is never-ending and that nothing except J’shua’s guidance could keep me from searching for you, finding you, and bringing you both to safety. Yet, his voice urges me to continue my mission. Even so, I look for you everywhere.
If J’shua makes a way, I will be at the school on the first day of each season. If not, I shall do my best to leave letters here for you.
Leave a letter if you cannot be here on those days. Then I will know you are safe and what has befallen you since our parting.
David is happy with his studies. You and Sarah are always in our thoughts and prayers,
He spoke with Daikon Baxter. Jonathan told him all his woes and how his missions had gone since last he had been there. Baxter became quite animated when he shared about the Knights’ School that had been founded in Esthlanis.
Jonathan accepted the daikon’s warm embrace and his promise to spread the word of his search and to pray. The gesture had brightened Jonathan’s soul.
As he rode away from the School to Mestelina, he mused that being on the road by himself was sometimes lonely, but a still, small voice reminded him, You are never alone.
It was the full moon of winter in the thirtieth year of King Edal.
Owakar waited for Alocrin outside the Lion and Tiger Inn. His mentor and friend had much more experience with the people of the density. Meeting here every moon, Owakar was happy to learn all that Alocrin could teach him about helping them.
They sat at their favorite small table in a corner.
Alocrin continued, “You must be careful not to reveal too much. They wish to have everything, immediately. To guide them, a word of wisdom or word of knowledge must be timely, and simply enough to get them moving in the right direction. When they know too much they get puffed up and strut around, crowing like roosters. Hopefully, they make better choices as they learn.”
Owakar promised to remember the lesson.
Rebekah was again at the capital, High Keep, her fourth stop on her circuit as a plow merchant. It was different this time. She knew where she’d be staying, had an arrangement with a local stable, and knew which taverns to frequent and which to avoid.
Or she hoped she did.
To her amazement, she continued making a significant profit. She thought her disguise as Tommas Bekh would help her get information, but people were even more friendly than expected. What’s more, listening to the gossip was a great way to meet new prospects.
The manager of the Poplar Inn greeted her with more than the usual pleasantries. Smartly dressed, he presented Tommas Bekh with eleven messages.
She’d been hoping for one or two. Eleven surprised her. “If sales keep growing like this,” she muttered, “I’m going to need an assistant.”
One, a missive from Major Patrik Gonnels read:
Looking forward to seeing the new models at midday on the first half-moon of the Goat at our location.
She refolded the paper. That meant the Commander’s office. The first half-moon was tomorrow.
Her heart fluttered. This could enhance the reach of Licht Gegen or—destroy it.
The following morning, Rebekah walked down the bustling street. Her heart ached as she watched a young man twirl his lady, both laughing.
Where are you, Jon?
She forced a smile as she stopped at the butcher shop for some dried meat and at the bakery for bread and a journey cake. As she nibbled on the treat, savoring the sweetness, she studied the street vendors, shoppers, and soldiers that passed by.
Ahead, Patrik Gonnels entered the commander’s office. She inhaled deeply and set her countenance. When Rebekah felt the peace of J’shua’s spirit, she followed.
“How may I help you?” the corporal behind the desk greeted her.
“I’m Tommas Bekh,” she said, “a kinsman of Commander Taelor from the south. My mother asked me to pay her respects. Is the commander available?”
“Let me see. Please have a seat, sir.” The corporal nodded toward a chair, left through a door, and returned a moment later. “He’ll see you now. This way, sir.”
Rebekah followed. A large wooden map of the Kingdom of Freislicht, marked with tacks, adorned the wall beside a rack that held the commander’s sword, an axe, and a crossbow. As she entered, a hickory table to her right held a bowl and pitcher. Patrik stood from one of the two chairs before the desk.
“Tommas, how good to see you!” the commander grinned. “Don’t get stuck on formalities. Call me Peter, as you did when we were young.”
She tried to relax. Still, her smile was too tight.
The corporal left, shutting the door behind him.
“Thank you for meeting me, Peter.” Rebekah shook his hand and Major Gonnels’. “And also for your greeting.” She leaned in and whispered, “For a moment, I was sure we’d met before.”
“No matter how this goes,” Taelor motioned to the empty chair, “I have no intention of raising suspicions. The major stands surety for you. That’s reason enough to meet.”
“Major Gonnels also assures me you can be trusted,” she said, “and that you serve the king, not Melazera. You must not discuss what I’m about to tell you with anyone, not even your wife.”
The commander’s eyebrow rose. He assented with a nod. He kept nodding while rubbing his chin as she told him of Licht Gegen’s strategy, their observations, and conclusions.
“Will you help us?”
Commander Taelor paused. “Mister Bekh, I serve the God of Truth, J’shua, and the king…so, yes, I will help you. We will expel this evil, but it will take time to root out.”
Rebekah handed him a folded paper.
Taelor looked at the letter and back at Rebekah. It was nothing special. Someone wrote to their grandfather some pleasantries and said that they were looking forward to a celebration. Their were many dates and other numbers mixed in the conversation.
“A code.” Taelor’s lips upturned.
“A letter replacement cipher based on a verse in the Writings,” she said. “If things become more dangerous, we’ll alter the key. Patrik can teach you our protocols.”
“Very clever. If I suspected this was a coded message, I would think the numbers were the key. But the numbers are the message and they key is already known.”
“Yes. And this…” she handed over a second parchment, “…is a partial list of nearby locations where Licht Gegen is active.”
“I appreciate your prudence.” The Commander nodded. “Had you given me a complete list, I’d have had nothing to do with you, no matter how righteous your cause. If you can’t maintain secrecy, you’ll fail.”
“I agree, and had you asked for the full list, I’d have thought you a deceiver,” Rebekah said. “If you need our aid or to pass on information, let Patrik know. God speed. It’s best if I’m not seen with people of influence…unless you want to buy a plow.” She grinned.
“No, no need for that.” Taelor laughed.
There were still ten stops to make. Then she left for the Lion and Tiger Inn.
As she traveled she prayed in the spirit, still ever watchful since stories of bandits were common these days.
When she entered the inn, Teress ran to her and embraced her.
She whispered, “I’ve told the innkeeper, Darell, that you are my cousin.”
Rebekah, smiled broadly. “Have you eaten? Shall we try the savory food I smell?”
“Let’s,” Teress said, pulling her to a table and raising a hand toward the serving girl.
The talked for hours as they always could in the Frei Forest.
”I have to go. I’m taking a detour to the Knights’ School before returning to River Town. I’ll see if Jonathan has been there and leave him a letter.”
Rebekah looked at her trembling hands. “I miss him so, but J’shua has shown me that this is not about what I want.” She wiped away a tear with the back of her hand. “J’shua has perfect timing.”
Teress nodded. “Of course, that is a good way to connect with him. Will you tell him or the daikons what we are doing?”
Rebekah squeezed her hand. “I do not know. I will see what J’shua inspires when I get there. It is better to decide such things in the moment.
“I will pray for you and remind our brothers and sisters from the Frei to do the same.”
“Thank you sister. And I will pray for you also. May the God of Truth bless our work in the name of J’shua Ha Mashiach.”
Rebekah departed as Teress joined another table of revelers. She was good at spreading the message of J’shua and Licht Gegen.
It was the last half-moon of winter.
The Warrior admired the network that Caileagh had constructed. The infiltration of Freislicht proceeded smoothly due to the pervasive Order of the Black Robe. Perhaps Gaelib’s plan was acceptable. Almost no resistance could be found to his scheme. And this man was a devoted member.
The Warrior sat on the edge of the commandant’s desk, invisible, studying him as he stomped about his stark office. He noticed a shadow lurking behind the door frame.
“You, come here. Quit skulking just out of my sight.”
The misshapen demon ducked his head, approaching cautiously. He bowed low. “Yes, my lord. Does the soldier please you?”
“Yes, you have done well to bring him to my attention. Stay with him. Keep him focused on this knight named Otual. And make sure the space in his mind is ready when I need him.”
The Warrior's lips turned up. “I can use this one. Keep him talking.” The soldier’s hatred could become a permanent doorway.
The demon plucked at the sore in Greysun’s mind, reminding him of every facet of his grudge against this knight he went on about.
The Warrior had heard of the Knights’ of J’shua. But thought they were of no consequence. What could they do against his power and growing influence in this land?
“I will kill him. Otual has ruined my reputation with the Earl of Lorness. I need a plan to recover my status. Jonathan Otual, I will make you pay! The Knights of J’shua should be outlawed. Useless meddlers.” Commandant Virgil Greysun seethed.
The Warrior listened, making note of all this man said, his grievances and failures, his hopes and fears.
Greysun was bedeviled by Otual’s interference. He’d lost more than one hundred thousand baden. On top of that, were the costs of returning every one of his seventy-seven acquisitions to their homes.
The Warrior smiled, as the demon stoked the pacing commandant’s anger with a touch now and then. He didn’t need much encouragement.
Greysun grit his teeth. His rage boiled. “The blasted knight is out of reach. I have to face Earl Melazera with this failure soon. How can I placate the earl and walk out alive?”
The next morning, the Warrior whispered to Greysun’s open mind, “Do not take revenge on merely one knight. Make them all suffer. Burn down their school. Kill them all. And perhaps that will please Melazera.”
Greysun smiled and the smile grew.
The Warrior gave the demon instructions before he left, “This soldier must journey to Farr Castle to request his lord’s permission of his plan. Bathed him in a luxurious feeling of satisfaction. Help him sleep well and give him dreams of revenge.”
The Warrior knew Greysun had carefully avoided Gaelib Melazera by sending subordinates with regular reports on the growing army with no mention of that knight of J’shua. They’d returned with sealed messages relating the earl’s displeasure that Greysun had not stopped Otual. A dissatisfaction that could still prove lethal.
When Greysun arrived in Farr Castle, the Warrior followed closely as he entered the South Reception Hall.
Earl Gaelib Melazera was reclining on a couch, cracking nuts. “Welcome.” The voice carried no emotion.
Greysun’s terror was palpable.
It thrilled the Warrior.
Whistles erupted, twittering, wings flapping. Empty, beady eyes stared as the commandant passed steel birdcages.
The earl threw a walnut in the air as he asked flatly, “How are my army assets in Fairness Crossing?”
Tied by a thong to his perch, a large red parrot with big black eyes caught the hard shell in its claw, crushed it easily with its sharp beak, and picked the meat from the bone-like shards.
“My lord, the trainees I have left will be ready when you call.”
“That you have left?” Melazera’s icy tone sent a shiver up his spine.
“The king’s proclamation delivered by Jonathan Otual—”
“I am aware of it. Yet, the more pertinent question is, why didn’t you prevent its delivery? You waylaid the other courier.”
“I was going to arrest him—”
“After he’d delivered it in Fairness Crossing!” The earl surged to his feet, advancing on Greysun. “What use was that? And how’re you going to make up for not stopping him from reaching River Town, Lorness, and Dunis Glen? Do you have any idea what your failure to stop one man has cost me? I needed time to dispose of those I’d acquired but not yet sold.”
The commandant backed away, stumbling. He gawked at the Earl of Lorness, who was toying with a knife. “I’ve placed a large bounty on the knight’s head. If he’s within Freislicht, he’ll be in your hands soon.”
“That’s…something. Too little, too late, but something. It doesn’t relieve you of responsibility for your failings.”
“We can get revenge, Your Lordship!”
“The Knights of J’shua are zealots. If allowed to continue, they’ll train an army to oppose you.” Greysun rose cautiously, His eyes fixed on his lord’s moving blade. “They interfere with your noble designs. Let me chastise them. What if, by some happy accident, their school burned down and they all perished? Because of their own negligence, of course.”
Melazera smiled, eyes glowing as he stroked the jeweled hilt of his dagger, admiring the sharp edge. Then he pressed it against Greysun’s throat. “Very good, Virgil. As the Second Runic Precept of the Alte Regieren teaches: Let thy revenge be strategic.”
He slid the blade back into its ornate sheath. “We didn’t have this conversation. However, if such a misfortune occurred, I’d wish to hear of it promptly. We wouldn’t want unfounded rumors to spread.”
Commandant Greysun backed away bowing several times. “Yes, my lord. It shall be done, my lord.
The Warrior was so proud of his earl. The earl pleased him more and more at each visitation. And his sacrifices were so delightful. The Warrior smiled.
But he didn’t stay to play with the earl. He followed Greysun to make sure the soldier didn’t mishandle this.
It was shortly before sunset when the Warrior spurred Commandant Greysun to action.
The commandant signaled his soldiers to surround the Knights’ School. Once the placements were correct, he bellowed, “Come out, by order of the king!” His anticipation warmed him against the cold.
Finally, the knights trickled out into the low-walled courtyard in front of their school. Some wore their familiar navy cloaks; others were in plain clothes. The cook folded his apron, tucking it in his belt. The soldiers outnumbered them four to one.
So few? This will be all too easy. What a pity; I’d been looking forward to making a show of this. Still, I’ll control the retelling, so…