Rare Things for a Rare Life

The Knights of J'shua Book 1

by Tiana Dokerty © 1984-2021

Home | Chapter 19 | Chapter 21

Chapter 20: Plans

Updated 3/30/23


Early Summer

Farr Castle

King Sagen sat upon his throne in the Great Hall. He glanced toward the scribe who stood, quill in hand, beside an oak writing desk covered with parchments and ink bottles. The din of courtiers, petitioners, and clerks milling about the large room, ached in his head. He sighed, rubbing his forehead, then ran a hand through his hair.

The two merchants, both the plaintiff and defendant, cast sneers at each other.

Sagen wondered how many more cases there were left. “I will consider this. Return tomorrow,” the king stated flatly for the fourth time today.

The Royal Chamberlain approached again. “That was the last case, Sire,” he whispered to the king.

“You may all retire. I wish to be alone.”

“The Royal Court is dismissed.” His chamberlain’s voice echoed through the hall.

 “Bring me Jonathan Otual’s record,”

When the man returned, Sagen accepted the parchment, then dismissed him as well. He read his friend’s words. They warmed his heart.

The Lord J’shua has heard my prayers. I’ve many times used Jonathan’s exact words. Jon is with me in this, praying for angels, open ears, and eyes. J’shua knows what burdens my soul. He’s telling me the time is near. No longer to pray for safety, but for strength and wisdom.

Sagen rolled up the parchment, tapping it on his open palm.

Gaelib tried to turn me against Jonathan with false witnesses. But if I’d fought too hard for Jon… no, it is too soon.

Placing the scroll on the table, he walked to the window.

Since the death of his father had been confirmed as murder, Sagen had moved cautiously, quietly determining loyalties and building alliances. He was convinced that Gaelib wasn’t yet ready to move against him openly. However, that conclusion was based upon Sagan playing the role of ‘easily guided king’. If he did something too out of character – such as pardoning Jon – it might scare Melazera into doing something rash.

I must play this game out until my pieces are all in place.

He looked down on the inner courtyard, all the colorful nobles, and their flamboyant wives, were milling about, each plotting and maneuvering to gain advantage.

You are my pawns. I’ll employ each of you to free the land.

No chess-master thinks poorly of his pawns. He may surrender any piece in order to win. Pawns are as important as every other piece. Even though their movement is limited, they can block and capture. A wily pawn might become a queen.

I will sing in the spirit a war song and a love song. There is nothing more potent than the Love of God. I repent, Lord. I will trust in your sacrifice, your death, and resurrection, for my people’s sake.

The king raised his voice. “Dwain, are you there?”

“Yes, Your Majesty.” A short, dark-haired man, wearing a blue cap and a beige silk shirt stepped into the hall. Strumming pleasant chords on his lute, his tooled knee-high boots tapped a pleasant beat.

“Thank you for alerting me when Jonathan arrived.”

“I am sorry he eluded me at the Herald’s Station. He is quite good. I had hoped to catch him in the shadows to warn him away. For the same reason, I did not let on when he followed me back to the castle. I thought discovering that someone followed him would dissuade from coming to speak with you.”

Sagen shook his head. “You are too clever and Jonathan too determined.”

The minstrel strummed another chord. “Will he survive?”

“I believe he will.” Sagen smiled. “Play me something uplifting.”


Later in his bedchamber, Sagen silently prayed for Jonathan, who more than anyone he knew exemplified the exhortation:

            [And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works.]

Please Lord, protect my friend. Give him strength and let him understand that I aided him as much as I could. I know I still assist your adversary, but please hear my prayer. Save Jon. And help me, if you can.

Sagen cried bitterly. It had become ever clearer as his spy had investigated that the extent of Melazera’s corruption was even greater than he’d imagined. Worse, it was spreading.

I raised Gaelib up. Twenty years ago, I advocated for him to be Rothbard’s apprentice. It’s my fault that father and Old Rothbard are dead. His power has grown to the point where he can do almost anything… in secret. Once I have an heir, he’ll kill me.

Sagen pulled the dark blue brocade curtains partially around his bed and slipped a small leatherbound book from its hiding place.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.

He prayed and read until it was time for his supper. Before the attendants arrived, he returned the Book of J’shua to its hiding place.

After supper, he dressed for the Procession of Eligible Ladies. These had traveled great distances. He’d rejected the first twenty.

Another notice seeking young women of marriageable age had been sent to all the noble houses. The new applicants had been screened by a council of noble dowagers. Each of these ladies genuinely wanted to find him a wholesome bride. Yet, who they were given to test was heavily influenced by Melazera and his staff.

Each procession contained five ladies. The king could pick one, dismissing the others. Then he would court the young lady, with chaperones in attendance. If he proposed, she would remain in the castle in a private chamber.

Melazera won’t be patient much longer. If I don’t choose soon, he’ll pick someone for me. Or his wife will. Then I’ll be doubly ensnared.


Jonathan couldn’t lift his foot into the stirrup, so the groom knelt and motioned for him to step on his thigh. “Thank you,” It was painful and awkward, but he mounted.

Two militet bound his hands to the saddle and his feet to the stirrups.

Captain Greysun took the horse’s reins.

“Whetcom, you’re coming with me,” Greysun bellowed.

The young militet winced, stepped forward and mounted.

They've packed no provisions. We aren’t going far. Clearly, Greysun plans to kill me. I have until we enter the woods, perhaps a little longer.

Jonathan’s head began to clear, his strength returning. His hands were numb. He studied the knots for weakness. Finding none, he braced one hand on the saddle horn and pulled with the other hoping to stretch it. As he switched hands, he noticed threads missing below the pommel. A tiny shaft of steel protruded. He eased it out... a short blade.

Thank you, Sagen.

Jon waited for an opening, slowly cutting through the rope.

As they entered the forest, he sharply kneed the horse. It reared in surprise, as its burden had intentionally made no movements before this. “Snake! There’s a snake.”

Captain Greysun distanced his mount, jumped down, then checked Jon’s horse. “You drecksa, there’s no serpent!” Greysun grabbed Jonathan’s shirt, pulling his face downward. “I’ll make this slow.” He brandished his dagger.

Jonathan grimaced in pain. Then with an anguished roar, he slashed.

Greysun crumpled to his knees, clutching his throat. Blood poured through his fingers. His head smacked the ground with a hollow thud.

Meanwhile, Jon sliced through the ropes trapping his ankles. And jumped to retrieve Greysun’s sword, his eyes never leaving the militet. “I have no quarrel with you. You may leave. Or fight. Or join me. Which do you choose?”

“Sir, if I return without Captain Greysun, I’m dead. If I fight, I’m also dead. If you’ll have me, I am your servant.” The youth bowed.

“What is your name, boy?”

“Albirt Whetcom, sir.”

“We wait here until dark. I must return to Farr for my gear and the Writings.”


Cynthia fell to the floor, tearing the poorly-fitting iridescent green dress. Just days ago, she would have thought it beautiful.

The soldiers laughed as they left. “Blackhawk gets all the entertainin’ jobs.” The dim torchlight vanished as they shut the door.

Her breaths came in short gasps as she felt her way around the chamber, seeking a way out. It was as black as night on a new moon. When she found the first cell, she was hopeful but discovered it was one of three small, windowless rooms.

There was only one way out. She tugged and kicked the door. Then she sat on the floor in a corner, numbly awaiting the next horror. Before long scurrying rats came closer, strange sounds haunted her, and she imagined shapes in the darkness. She covered her ears and prayed for it to stop.

The door creaked open, light from a lantern illuminated two men. Their footsteps echoed on the cold stone.

She swallowed a scream, cowering. “Please, don’t hurt me.”

The figures were dressed in plain clothes, not uniforms. “We won’t, miss,” the taller one soothed, his voice low. “We’re followers of J’shua that work in the kitchen and saw you brought here. We want to help.”

“Can you stand?” the other asked.

She nodded, clutching her hands to her chest. Cynthia stifled a sob as the dim surroundings of the dank room became visible. Willing her legs to move, she stood shakily. Dazed, she let them guide her to a wagon.

They threw back a burlap cover, then moved the potatoes behind the seat farther back to create a space. The tall one pointed. “Hide here, lady.” He covered her with the cloth. The short one peeked in. “Be still until we’re safely away.”

She nodded.

Hours later, the dark, creaky, bumping wagon pulled off the road and stopped. The cover came away. She gasped. Her heart raced. Blinking, shielding her eyes against the light, she held her breath.

“I’m Baldwin,” the short one said. “That’s Cain, my half-brother.”

He offered his hand and helped her down.

“Got anywhere to go?” Cain asked.

“To my husband in Mestelina?” She wondered aloud. “I can’t go to my parents. It’s the first place they’ll look for me. It’s better they know nothing.”

“Where do we find him?”

“Don’t know where, but how,” she answered. “Across the West River, there’s an inn. If we stay there, a knight will find us.” She covered her face with her hands, shaking and crying. When she could talk again, she continued. “I’ve no money. My husband will reward you once he comes.”

“Don’t worry about that, ma’am,” Baldwin assured her. “The kitchen staff likes to play stones. We won a lot recently.” He looked at his brother and grinned.

They made camp after passing Fort Road, hiding the wagon as far into the woods as they could. They had food and bedrolls for each of them.

The two men slept on the ground, while she slept in the wagon behind the potatoes. Or tried to. Each time she dozed off a noise woke her. Her thoughts raced. Eventually, exhaustion overcame her.

In the morning, she rode up front with them, happy to see the scenery and the sky. She promised them her husband would help get them settled somewhere.

They talked about where they were from and what they might do in Mestelina. They’d be wanted men for helping her escape.


Lady Melazera barged into her husband’s bedchamber. “Gaelib!” But he wasn’t there. Exasperated, she paced back and forth across the thick sanguine carpet, shrieking out his name repeatedly.

When he finally entered, she turned on him like a snake ready to strike. Her eyes narrowed. “Banished?” She snarled. “I’ve plans for the knight. You know that.”

Ignoring her, the Lord of Lorness, closed the door. “I hadn’t expected you back so soon.” His arms encircled her as he kissed her neck. “Caileagh dear, the knight is dead. It was rash, but Sagen spoiled my plan. It seemed prudent to throw Greysun a bone. His was a magnificent performance yesterday. You’d have enjoyed it greatly.” He kissed her again.

She broke free of his embrace. “I need him dead by my hand, my hand!” Then her demeanor softened, and she whispered in conciliatory tones, “My dear, we could have shared him. His blood and suffering would have been a laudable sacrifice, worthy of the Warrior.”

He nodded, conceding the point. “Perhaps, but Otual ’s influence threatened me. It had to be burned away, his very memory blackened. While he lived, he inspired the king to independent thought. Worse, they’d have been too strong together. I need Sagen weak and pliable, swayed by my ideas. Mine alone. Jon had to die… and is now dead.”

Caileagh pressed her body against Gaelib’s. “But dear, I’ve just had a vision. He survived.” She circled him slowly, her fingers tracing his collar. “You should’ve let me keep him.” She brushed her hair away, looking into his eyes again. “He’ll be your undoing.”

“Ha!” Gaelib stepped away, his mood cool and distant. Yet he embraced her again. “If he survives, Otual’s devotions and petty godling are no match for the God of this Age. The reputation we’ve constructed for him and the reward we’re offering will lead to his recapture.” He slowly massaged her shoulders. “You know I would prefer that we use him also.”

She pursed her lips. “Then, I shall forgive you, eventually. But you must take more care. Others are watching. They see you act ever more boldly, without the approval of the king, or even consultation with him. Worse, I’m hearing of all-too-accurate rumors circulating about our ‘private’ gatherings. So many that my birds cannot suppress them.”

“You are exaggerating,” he contradicted, his eyes hardening.

“I care for you, my love.” She leaned against him, letting him feel the warmth of her body. “Yet, your recklessness is creating enemies. Worse, they’re organizing. I’ve just had the most tedious experience ripping secrets from some fool named Frink. He babbled endlessly of some hidden cabal of farmers, tinkers, and candlemakers. He even tried to tell me the group was led by Otual’s wife.”

“His wife? That’s absurd. She’s nothing.”

“I agree. The babbling fool spouted nonsense at the end. Anything to prolong his wretched life. I indulged him as his screams were beautiful. But I tired of it, so left him to others to practice upon.”

“Did he provide any more intelligence?”

“Nothing worthwhile. Yet somehow, he knew of the defilement of my sanctuary in the Bloody Rocks. Again, he tried to blame Mistress Otual. I doubt it’s true. How could she possibly know how to do it? Even so, I’ll send black-robes to the camp he mentioned in Frei Forest. If Otual’s wife is involved, we will find her. It will add spice to the knight’s end. I think you’ll enjoy what I have planned for him.”

Gaelib smiled, grabbing her tightly. “Soon, the king will have an heir, and we’ll finish him also.” He threw her on the chaise, and they played.


The Woods of Farr

Surrounded by birch and red maples, Albirt sat leaning against a tall chestnut oak, watching as the knight slept uneasily, moaning with each movement. He admired the knight, but knew very little of the way of J’shua. Yet he prayed for Sir Otual's quick recovery.

Stories of Otual were rampant among the militet. Here was a man unlike Greysun in every way. He was honorable, persistent, and brave. Even in the most infamous tales told of him, he bested his foes, risked his own skin, and stood for a consistent – if outlawed – set of values.

In contrast, Greysun was capricious, self-serving, and mean. He blamed his failures on others, kept all glory for himself, and delighted in inflicting pain.

Albirt kept watch throughout the day. The knight had asked to be woken at the darkest stage of twilight. “Sir Otual, it’s time.”

“Thank you,” Jonathan rolled onto his back, brushing the leaves from his chest. “I feel… better.” Yet, he panted as he rose to his feet.

“I wish you’d ride a horse, sir. It’s a long way to town.”

“I can make it. It would be hard to miss an army horse ridden by a commoner. I can be inconspicuous at this hour as a stumbling drunk.”

Albirt frowned in worry, but said nothing. Words wouldn’t dissuade him. The knight had bested the venomous Greysun while still tied to a horse.

“I will return well before dawn. If I do not, leave before daylight. Go to the Lion & Tiger Inn, midway on the High-Fairness Road. Repeat it.”

“The Lion & Tiger Inn, midway on the High-Fairness Road. Yes, sir.”

“Tell the owner what happened.”

Albirt handed the knight his waterskin who took a long drink and handed it back. “You should take it.”

Otual shook his head. “No, you keep it. It is a cool night. I will be fine.”

“I insist.” Albirt looped the waterskin over the knight’s shoulder. “Pretend it’s wine. Safe travels, sir.”

The knight nodded and hobbled toward town.


The City of Farr  

Jonathan trudged toward the inn, relieved Greysun had fallen for his ruse. Otherwise, he would be dead.

He stifled a groan as he struggled up the stairs to the daikon’s room. He knocked, but no one answered. He could not wait. If he stopped moving, he’d collapse. So, he entered and gathered his things.

One of Lafferty’s tunics was hung out to dry. Jon took it, feeling guilty. He scribbled a brief apology, and left six baden in its place. He wished he had more to give.

“Be well, Lafferty, Daikon Paul. Lord, watch over them.”

He shuffled back to the woods, finding Albirt easily. “We need to hide your uniform, so I brought this.” He held out the oversized grey tunic he’d borrowed.

“Wear that? I’ll swim in it.”

“Belt it around you, as if it were a hand-me-down. What could be less like a soldier than clothes that don’t fit?”

Albirt’s mouth opened, but no sounds emerged. Then he nodded and donned the garment, making him look even younger than the boy-man he was.

“I need to rest and recover, but that will have to wait until we reach my friend’s inn.”

Jonathan forced himself to sit straight and keep a normal gate, but could only ride a mile. He led them deep in the woods and slept for hours.

When he finally woke, Albirt sat against a tree stripping seed heads off grasses, watching him.

“Albirt, how did you become a militet?”

“My parents had trouble feeding my six siblings. I was ten when I asked my older brother, Benjamin, to take me to the Fairness Crossing Garrison. There, Ben accepted the enlistment bounty so my family could buy seed. Many of the crops had failed that year.”

“I have heard such stories before. As freedom is curtailed, the common welfare is weakened and the people become poorer. Evil men benefit from this.”

It would take at least two weeks to ride to the Lion & Tiger, even with the extra horse. As they rode, Jon learned more about his young accomplice. The pair avoided roads and other travelers, finally arriving at the inn. Jonathan introduced Albirt to Daryl Andrews, the proprietor, and his daughters, Charmaine and Missy. Daryl was an alias. His friend, Willam Miles, had taken the name of his dead brother-in-law when he was led by the spirit to remain home after their last mission. Willam too was hunted by the soldiers of the Lord of Lorness.

While Jonathan slept and healed, Daryl showed Albirt how to alter the royal brands on their horses and change their tack, so they no longer looked like warhorses.


Farr Castle

Undersecretary George Rosewud plastered a smile on his face as the two muscular black-robes escorted him briskly through a dark, unused servant’s passage deep within Farr Castle. He’d come to witness Gaelib’s triumph over Otual but, yesterday in the Main Hall, King Sagen had exiled the knight. So, George had made himself scarce, but hadn’t done so well enough.

The Lord of Lorness had to be furious. Therefore, this was most definitely not the moment to be brought before him.

The dimly lit corridor reminded George of the ways to some of Gaelib’s playrooms. In particular, there was a…

As the door to the small torture chamber opened, Rosewud’s bowels almost let go.

Not like this!

Yet, it was Caileagh, not her husband, waiting there, leaning back in the only chair before an almost spent fire, gazing at the chains that hung from beams above. As she rose and approached, George’s escorts seized him. Then she produced a small vial of blue liquid, forcing its contents down his throat. Setting the empty container down, a needle appeared in her hand. She opened another vial containing a bilious green liquid, dipped its tip inside, then scratched his cheek with it.

You may wait outside,” she instructed the black-robes. “Re-enter only if you hear me call for you. Otherwise, ignore the sounds you hear.”

George’s legs could not hold him upright. His body was too heavy. He slumped to his knees. “What…?”

“Just a little incentive towards honesty,” Caileagh crooned leaning in close. “You’ve been a naughty boy, Georgie. I’ve just been told that Otual married a Dowling. And that you were the one who foreclosed on the Dowling’s farm.”

“I…” The word was hard to form. His throat felt tight. His vision began to fade. He was becoming lightheaded.

Caileagh produced the vial again, then scratched his other cheek.

The pain cleared his mind, a little.

“That’s better. Can’t let you have respite too soon,” she continued. “It wasn’t obvious as no one had thought about Otual’s long dead in-laws. Yet, there it was. Your mark and the date on which that loan was finalized. What happened?”

“What do you mean, Lady Melaz—”

Her slap set his poisoned cheek on fire again.

He could not muster the strength to even raise his hands. He’d sunk down on his haunches and his frozen muscles locked him in place. Only his eyes and his mouth operated as they should.

With a wicked smile, she sauntered over to the only chair in the chamber and positioned it before him. Then she sat down, leaning forward.

“Things can become unpleasant if you don’t tell me the whole truth, Georgie. While killing you would, I suspect, put Gaelib out of sorts under normal conditions, today you’ll be a treat he’ll want to share.”

“I…” He took a slow breath to clear his head. Should he mention Blackhawk? There was no telling how Gaelib would react. No, he’d hold that in reserve. “I was there. When we arrived, the knight was away, as expected. There was only his wife, his daughter, and his wife’s parents.”

“That’s a good boy.”

“The knight’s son had already been apprenticed to some horse-trainer in Esthlanis. We couldn’t snatch him legally, or without creating an incident.”

“Go on.”

“I demanded payment. They couldn’t, so I ordered the soldiers to seize the girl and her mother. But—”

“Soldiers?” Caileagh demanded. “The official report lists only a sergeant whose been dead now for over a year. Who was the other?”

“Someone I picked up and paid a few coins to. I’ve done so many of these I’d have to check—”

“Perhaps later. It’s unimportant.” She nodded leaning even closer, so her face was only inches from his. Her perfume wafted over him.

Rosewud’s head spun, ever so slowly. The two scratches on his cheeks heated up as if hot pokers were placed there. When she eased back in her chair, the pain diminished. A little.

“Don’t hold out on me.” She rolled the vial in her fingers. “Do you want to drag this out? None of this will inconvenience me as I… but let’s leave such delightful prospects to later.”

“Otual’s wife sent her daughter into the cabin. The sergeant, the lazy bastard, let Otual’s wife fetch her. But they ran. He…”

“He…” Caileagh leaned in again, causing Rosewud’s cheeks to burn.

She slapped him. Again, the fire licked across his face.

George awoke in his own room. He did not know how much time had passed and couldn’t remember what, if anything, he’d said after blaming the sergeant for the mother and daughter’s escape.

Trembling, he raised his hands to his cheeks. There were no boils or scars. Nor any pain. Looking into his reflecting glass, there were not even marks.

What did she do to me?


Gaelib had used his influence and cleverness to extend his economic control over the kingdom. Every state office was now infiltrated by the Order of the Black Robe. All except the Heralds.

He’d allowed Caileagh to use his money to build the Order of the Black Robe. It had grown from a handful of silly girls and a few scribes into a behemoth. But despite her past and present need for his wealth, she belittled his economic machinations as unimportant.

Her fanciful visions make no sense. Yet she expects me to follow her wishes in matters of state. Her charms enthrall me, but…

Gaelib smiled, thinking of her, of the warmth of her body, and the ways she could make him feel.


But those things were no longer enough. He was no longer a boy to be toyed with as a woman’s plaything. He was a man. He served the Warrior.

No. The Warrior served him.

No matter what Caileagh’s dreams, signs, and portents foretold, he was in control. Her refusal to understand that caused tension between them.

Gaelib’s smile broadened as Steven entered, exactly on time. “Before dinner, and other pleasures, there’s a matter to dispose of. You must recapture Jonathan Otual. He’s escaped. Caileagh,” he sighed, “won’t be happy until she has him.”

“Yes, my lord. Is there intelligence on him?”

“Here’re the sightings for the last year before his capture.” Gaelib handed over a rolled parchment. “It will help you predict where he might go.”

“He’ll not get away.”

“Alive. Wound him if needs must, but I require him alive. There’ll also be a reward: five thousand alive, fifteen hundred dead.”

“Dead?” Blackhawk’s eyebrow rose quizzically, as it had done when he was a boy.

Gaelib smiled at the pleasant endearing sight.

“I must offer both, it’s the law. Plus, the cowards that’ll settle for fifteen hundred… Let’s just say their failures are another way to track him. Jon’s been studying the sword since he was a boy. Read the reports. Don’t underestimate him. Bring him to me in secret and I’ll triple the reward. No one must know he’s here. I’ll not have Caileagh disappointed again. That means I don’t want the king or others interfering.”

“As you wish.” Steven bowed.

Gaelib led him by the hand to the table of decadent food and wine. He had many entertainments planned.

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