Rare Things for a Rare Life

The Knights of J'shua Book 1

by Tiana Dokerty ©2023

Home | Chapter 15 | Chapter 17

Chapter 16: Savage Beasts

Updated 11/24/23

The King's Mount


Full Moon, Autumn

High Keep

Friends of every rank surrounded Major Steven Blackhawk. The dingy little tavern was just on the other side of the stables. It stank and was probably only swept once a week. But after a few rounds, no one noticed. The drinks were cheap, so he could afford to be generous.

“…Did you hear what happened to that drecksa, Karl Fortuch?” Lieutenant Samuel Benutt asked with a sly grin, drawing everyone’s attention. “Some lieutenant lost Karl’s boots and got a major dressing down for it.”

“A major dressing down from a major? Your jokes are getting worse. Maybe it’s the ale,” Blackhawk teased, taking a bite of mutton.

Samuel grinned. “Fortuch’s voice could be heard for miles. If you were in camp, you couldn’t have missed it.”

“Sounds like the dolt,” Donert Maitlan chimed in.

“It gets better,” Sam continued, grinning. “He made the lieutenant strip and run exercises buck naked.”

“Blast, I missed it,” Brean Mitchett chortled, slapping the rough-hewn oak table.

“And…?” Blackhawk pointed the clean bone at Sam. “There’s always more to your stories.”

Sam’s grin exploded with his laugh. “Turns out the lieutenant’s uncle is Commander Taelor.”

“What a prat!” Donert shook his head.

Blackhawk’s eyes widened. “Fortuch has only had that rank for a week.” It was ten years ago that Fortuch had tried to frame him.

“You haven’t heard the best bit. The lieutenant had nothing to do with the missing boots. It was the whore Karl bedded the night before who stole them…” Benutt could barely get the words out, “as a tax for being lousy in bed.”

They roared with laughter.

“So…he’s a captain…again.”

“Here’s to Captain Karl Fortuch!”



Major Blackhawk had continued to gain friends and influence, having attained his new rank in less than ten years. He’d decided to do good. He was happy.

Tonight, he left them long before closing, kicking up dust as he ambled back to his room in the castle. He had duty early in the morning. Warmed by drink but still able to walk straight, he was in a pensive mood.

He often pondered on Little Soldier. Ten years ago he left her in River Town. Was she alive? Where was she living? Was she happy? She’d be of marriageable age now. He chuckled when the image of her angry scowl flitted through his thoughts. He said a prayer for her would-be-husband. And he prayed that she wasn’t forced to marry some old pock-marked merchant or, worse, a noble. Most of all, he pictured her big smile and her faith. “The way is clear when it is needed.”

Although Blackhawk saw no open worship of J’shua at High Keep, those he’d met here carried the same spirit as Little Soldier—many of them, most of the time. He wondered if their parents had taught them about J’shua. Could that be the difference? Following J’shua was banned at Farr Castle and Lorness, but not here. Or could it simply be that these people’s parents had trained them to behave better?

I’m not convinced it has anything to do with this J’shua person.



Even though he’d little warning of the summons, his jangled nerves had already left him exhausted. His mind teetered between feeling unworthy of the king’s attention to wondering if he’d violated some regulation or custom. He felt as if he’d been in a battle, fought a hundred men, and somehow survived.

Having the king assign him to the King’s Guard was beyond surprising. Being commanded to remain behind and speak privately with the king, he had no words for that. It was beyond any honor he could have expected. Certainly, beyond any he deserved. All he’d done was serve loyally.

He no longer believed Gaelib Melazera was all-powerful. He had as a boy. However, he’d been right to fear the nobleman. The Earl of Lorness was malevolent, violent, and fickle. Blackhawk had seen him turn on too many of his friends without warning. Things that he’d only realized looking back on old memories.

His conversation with King Edal, if it could be called that, provided Blackhawk insights he was still coming to grips with.

He’d always thought in terms of Melazera as the sole power behind the scenes. It hadn’t occurred to him there were more: the Lockes in the South, diplomats from foreign countries, the guilds, the Merchants’ Alliance, and so on.

For nearly half an hour, the king had spoken, and Blackhawk had responded with little more than, “Yes, Your Majesty.” Yet the king had encouraged him to ask questions…and had answered them—honestly. Neither Gaelib Melazera nor Caileagh had ever done that. They had never engendered a desire to serve them in return. Yet the king had, without ever asking for it.

All the king wanted was for Blackhawk to do his best and follow his conscience.

Not the king’s conscience. Blackhawk’s conscience.

It was freeing and unnerving.

He fiddled with the assignment letter as he returned to his station. He’d never felt more alive.



Later, Blackhawk sat in his room, reading an encoded letter from Melazera. It had been less than a week since his last report to the Earl of Lorness. That he’d received any reply at all was unusual. For Gaelib Melazera to be exhilarated by recent developments was unheard of. It alarmed him.

Despite being written in code, the tone of the missive was joyous, including the phrases “magnificent achievement,” “outstanding coup,” and “beyond all my high expectations.” Such was the praise for Blackhawk on his induction into the King’s Guard.

Then he read something that made his neck hairs stand up. Melazera was “ready for the next phase.” Blackhawk’s concern wasn’t solely for himself. Or, he didn’t think it was.

He had no idea what the next phase of the plan entailed. Something terrible was about to happen—to him, to someone else, or to both. He knew better than to ask questions. That could be fatal. Yet, Melazera didn’t offer details…

Blackhawk pulled the buttons from beneath his shirt, holding them tightly in his hands.

I can’t break away from Melazera. He would kill me. Nor can I oppose him. It would be suicide.

Yet King Edal is a good man. A man I’m honored to serve. A man who deserves my loyalty. But he isn’t, I fear, able to overcome Melazera. If I don’t learn his plans, I’ll be powerless to stop them. But if I appear more interested, he might make me do more.

Recent visits of Rosewud to High Keep suggested the Order of the Black Robe was growing here. With such a deep pool of acolytes present, Melazera could orchestrate anything.

His stomach clenched. He had no way to infiltrate them without becoming entangled in some trap. Or taking part in one of their deadly rituals. He surveilled the undersecretary of Gaelib Melazera as much as he could, but it was futile.

Blackhawk forced the impotent thoughts aside. Especially the momentary notion of thwarting Melazera’s plan. That was madness.


Fairness Crossing

It was two years since Rebekah last met Daikon Crispus. Finally, some orphans adopted by Licht Gegen reached twelve years old and wished to become knights.

Their adoptive parents brought five of them to the inn at Fairness Crossing to meet Tomas Bekh. He gave them a test. They would travel to the Kiss on Shining Mountain, relying on each other and J’shua.

Rebekah gave the boys instructions and bid them a good journey.

After they left, she followed at a distance to make sure they reached their destination unmolested. It was at least a three-day journey on foot. She was pleased to see them work together to gather herbs to eat, decide which way to go, and keep watch as they took turns sleeping. When the Kiss came into view above them, they began singing.

The God of Truth extends his mighty scepter.

You will rule in the midst of your enemies.

Your troops, J’shua, will be valiant on your day of battle.

Arrayed in holy majesty.

The God of Truth has sworn and will not change his mind:

You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.

Daikon Crispus met them with a big smile. He pointed to the Kiss, where another knight stepped into view. “Follow Daikon Angus.” He watched them bound away.

Bekh stepped from cover, grinning at the old knight.

Crispus embraced her. “Jonathan has been here.”

“Is he well?”

Crispus nodded. “I passed on your message. He understood and wished you well with your mission. As you requested, he’s heard nothing of Tomas Bekh from us. He left letters for you. I’ll fetch them.”

Rebekah smiled forlornly as she watched him walk away. She was eager to read anything Jonathan might write. Any word from him would be a welcome relief from the tedious missives she had recently passed on to Licht Gegen. Her daily meditation of late was her guidepost:

[Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.]


Farr Castle

The Royal Court was in residence at Farr Castle. Everyone was invited to the annual Great Hunt in the King’s Forest. Every noble that could attend did, no matter how far they had to travel. Merchants, traders, and street performers congregated too. Even commoners came to cheer on the hunters from afar.

King Edal, beloved by the people, waved to spectators as he rode out for the first hunt. Farrling Wood was full of riders.

With banging drums, beaters drove the swine toward him and the other hunters.  

“You lot are too noisy. No boar would come this way,” the king complained to the large entourage with him. “Remain here.” His attendant and cousin followed as he found the perfect spot, a clearing with a thick forest behind him providing a yard of shade. “It will probably be some time before we see any movement.”

“Shall I bring more wine, Sire?” his attendant asked.

King Edal raised a hand. “I’ve had enough.”

“Of this swill?” his cousin added. “I couldn’t agree more. It’s ghastly. How could your man serve this? I’ll be back shortly with something drinkable. You,” he snapped at his own servant, “come with me. I can hardly trust you to select a wine suitable for the king.”

“You’re going to ride off without my leave, cousin?” Edal teased.

“I apologize, Your Majesty. I forgot myself. I—”

“Go! You aren’t good company without a fine vintage within. It will be a pleasure to have a few moments of peace.”

Some time passed, ending with a telltale rustling in the bushes.

King Edal smiled. Luck was with him. He’d chosen his spot well. Perhaps the first kill of the day. Lowering his lance, he seated it betwixt elbow and hip.

The boar attacked.

He spurred his horse forward.

The lance struck true, mortally wounding the beast. Yet, it wasn’t done.

A fine specimen, it tore free and turned to face the horse now behind it.

Edal looked for his attendant, who should have been making his own pass at the boar. There was no sign of the man; blast him. Not that he needed him. The creature would bleed out in only moments.

Grinning, King Edal drew his two-handed sword and waited.

The bleeding boar charged.

The king had his horse dart backward out of the way as he brought the blade down. Its tip effortlessly cut through the animal’s spine, killing it instantly.

Edal circled slowly, inspecting his prize. It was indeed magnificent.

His only warnings were a soft footfall and a glint of light. Then only pain and darkness.



The assassin twisted his boar spear within the gap in the king’s brigandine to maximize the damage. Not that there was any need, but for the joy of it. Hunting animals was so much less gratifying than hunting men. And to hunt a king? It was a good day indeed.

Bracing himself, he withdrew his spear from its entry point. Blood gushed from the king’s armpit, soaking the horse and ground as the king’s lifeless body toppled from the saddle.

Snuffles from the bushes indicated more wild boar. Scooping up the king’s sword, he slid his spear deep into the underbrush. It was perfect against the monarch but was too unwieldy against multiple beasts. The long sword would serve better.

The killer-for-hire struck the king’s horse with the flat of the blade and it gallop off.

He ran to his mount, relishing the thought of what the wild animals would do to the king’s body. There’d be no signs the assassin had ever been there. It was a good day indeed.

He even had a trophy to remember it by, at least until he returned to Lorness, where Earl Melazera would claim it. He hooked the king’s long sword in his belt.



Screams drew Gaelib and many others. Those of man, horse, and boar. But he was not soon enough.

What confronted him was grisly indeed. Blood covered the ground.

The king had killed one boar, but it hadn’t been alone. Two sows had mauled him, one ripping at King Edal’s face, the second at an arm. All were dead now.

The ferocity of the scene mesmerized Gaelib.

No one will doubt what happened. The nobles will blame themselves for leaving the king alone, so they could be the first to kill a boar. People are so predictable.

He maintained his façade of grief as he slowly walked his mount away.



Anger filled Blackhawk as he surveyed the ruin of the king’s body.

Colonel Braxton commanded the nearly one hundred others at the scene to depart immediately. He left Blackhawk in charge of eleven members of the King’s Guard, with orders to keep watch over the king’s body. He also sent a rider in search of Colonel Lucius Lafarge, the officer who’d ordered the soldiers to surround the hunting area rather than be within it.

It gave him time to think. Lucius was loyal to the Earl of Lorness. So too, were many in the Royal Guard at Farr Castle. He’d learned to identify Melazera’s pawns.

So, this was the next phase of Melazera’s plan.

The king was a good man who lacked all hubris.

Unlike Gaelib Melazera.

Eventually, a replacement detail arrived, and Blackhawk dismissed his men.

Had we been closer, we might have caught those responsible.

Blackhawk remained until Braxton was long out of earshot. He was curious. Had the assassin left clues behind? Could he find the king’s horse? It shouldn’t have gone far.

Analyzing the terrain and the deployment of the soldiers, Blackhawk deduced there were two likely escape routes for Melazera’s operative. One went uphill, due east toward the market faire. The other went downhill, southward. It led to the river. He chose the river. The man might need to wash before encountering travelers. Blackhawk followed it and soon found the tracks of a horse. The impressions were shallow, so it was probably riderless.

In the ninth hour of the day, he spied the king’s stallion eating tender shoots in a stream.

The horse is many miles from Farrling Wood. Why’d it run so far?

He dismounted. Walking a circuit around the royal beast, he slowly approached it, speaking soothing words.

The blood spray on the animal’s legs, belly, and neck was from the king’s encounter with the first boar. Its saddle and stirrups were intact, as were its reins. But the thick blood down the beast’s left side…

The boar’s blood couldn’t have drenched the horse this way.

The king’s two-handed sword was missing. That was beyond odd.

No boar killed King Edal. I must document this.

He rode hard for High Keep, leading the royal mount. Entering by the back gate with it covered by the blanket from the king’s pack, he sought Donert Maitlan, recently promoted. “Captain, I need a stall for this horse and a guard to post on it.”

“Yes, sir. Right this way.” Maitlan guided him to a secluded bay at the rear of the stables.

“The king’s been murdered,” Blackhawk whispered. “Colonel Lafarge has already declared it a hunting accident. I must have the evidence documented. Then I’ll return the horse to Farr Castle. Wake Commander Taelor and ask him to come to the stables.”

Maitlan strode away quickly and returned promptly with Commander Taelor and Lieutenant Mitchett following.

“What in the world…?” Taelor’s eyes grew large at the sight of the blood-soaked horse.

“King Edal’s been murdered,” Blackhawk said. “I found his horse far from the hunting grounds. If it bolted, it should’ve stopped quickly. I can’t explain it.”

Where was the king’s wound?” Taelor said.

“The left side of his torso…Boars got to his face and arm—”

“Arm?” Commander Taelor demanded. “The king’s armor would have protected his arm.”

“The base of his arm, near the shoulder—”

“Murder indeed. Melazera’s thugs were the first to discover the body?”

“Yes, Commander.”


“If you agree, sir,” Blackhawk said, “we need to write independently of what we see regarding the king’s horse. I’ll also write an account of my observations of the hunting grounds. Each of us should make four signed copies. I’ll keep one, the Commander will keep the second, Lieutenant Mitchett the third, and I’ll take the last copy to the prince. Be swift—”

“No, Major.” Commander Taelor put a hand on Blackhawk’s shoulder. “We will document as you recommend but don’t tell the prince. Not now. He’s untried as a ruler and influenced by Melazera. We must watch and wait until the prince carries that weight for a while. He might react rashly, getting us all killed. Worse, it would imperil the kingdom. Besides, we haven’t identified the perpetrator. And we don’t know all the players.”

“Yes, Commander,” Blackhawk said as the others nodded. It pleased him that Taelor was aware of Melazera’s involvement. “Please be quick. I must return the horse by morning. If I’m gone longer, I’ll be missed, and they’ll silence us all. I couldn’t withstand Melazera’s torture. I’ve seen his work.”

It was midnight before they’d finished. Blackhawk washed the horse and saddle. The Commander explained how to clean the pad and royal trappings in a trough with water, ash, and urine until the blood dissolved away. Then Blackhawk re-tacked the horse and headed back to Farr.


Amidst the Atmosphere of Lorness

Owakar tapped through the account of King Edal’s death. Saddened, he continued reading from the Book.

Blackhawk found the king’s horse, but instead of returning him to the royal stable at Farr Castle as Alocrin expected, he rode hard to High Keep. Alocrin sent guardians to observe and report. It seems this one’s affection for King Edal is strong enough for him to risk his life to bring truth to light.

Owakar tingled, thinking of how J’shua must rejoice at his unexpected behavior. Would he ferret out the traitors? Or would they catch and torture him. Melazera would never forgive his betrayal.

[But these speak evil of those things which they know not: but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves.]

One day, Gaelib Melazera, the ninth Earl of Lorness, would be brought to justice by his victims.



Blackhawk circled around the castle at a distance, so it seemed as if he were coming from Farrling Forest.

As long as they’re unafraid of exposure, we’re safe.

He noted who was concerned and who avoided his eyes, adding them to his list of suspects.

Blackhawk found Colonel Lafarge at the stables and reported, “I found the king’s horse wading in a stream far to the south of the hunt area.”

Lafarge praised his initiative.


Locke Estate, Lexandria

Sarah smiled, dangling her feet in the garden pond, listening to Melyssa carry on about Kel’shan.

“When I woke up this morning, I remembered being surrounded with flowers and Kel’shan was there. I think it means something. What do you dream, Sarah?

“Well, it is silly. I dream the same dream, but lately I remember more of it. I am carrying a bright sword—”

“Of course, you’d be carrying a sword.” Melyssa giggled. “Everyone thinks it strange that you wear a sword.”

Sarah laughed. “I know. I don’t care. It’s part of me. But this is a different kind of sword, a magical sword. It gives off light. The people I stab with it are healed. Do you think such a sword exists? Perhaps I will go on a quest to find this sword. Oh, but I am not alone. I am a queen and my king is beside me. What do you think?”



Verner Thorgar, the leader of his chieftain’s best warriors, signaled his second to carry on without him. Then he left his hunters to follow the odd man. The clothing the outlander wore seemed familiar but ragged and worn. As were the tales the man told as he walked from village to village sharing the fire in each chieftain’s long house. Tales that Verner heard as a boy from a strange friend of his father’s.

Crispy, Crisp, Cris-something…

The name would not come. It could not be important. Yet, letting his chieftain know of this foreigner’s activities was vital. There were already problems with raiders coming from Freislicht in the east. This man might be gathering information for them, his storytelling merely a ploy.

A day later, Verner Thorgar approached Chief Draven Bjorn. “There’s a man—”

The chieftain cut him off. “Tall, pale hair, dressed in a navy cloak, with a sword on his hip, and a baldric across his chest?”

“That’s correct. How did news of him reach you so quickly?”

“I have a guest. A friend of your father’s, who is seeking that man.”

Verner Thorgar grunted.

“You may remember Daikon Crispus.” Draven Bjorn pointed to an old man dressed as the outlander, surrounded by children in the distance.

Verner Thorgar grunted again.

“Take him to meet this newcomer.” Bjorn put his hand on Thorgar’s shoulder, pointing to Crispus. “Make no bets with him. He’ll win your horse. I still owe him a mare, which you are to take to the newcomer. Her name in his language is Ruby.”



After his all-too-short encounter with Rebekah in the early summer, Jonathan had traveled westward into Mestelina to the tribes there. He shared the Writings and made friends, establishing the family of the God of Truth in the West.

He’d heard of the raids across the border—from Freislicht into Mestelina. The soldiers of his homeland were the aggressors, which saddened him. Either King Edal had not heard his words or was unable—or unwilling—to act upon them.

The Mestels wanted peace.

Freislicht was fomenting war. A war that more and more Mestel chieftains were likely to give them. His task was to prevent that or, at the very least, delay it.

Then the news came. King Edal was dead, and Jonathan knew it was time to return home.


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