Rare Things for a Rare Life

The Knights of J'shua Book 1

by Tiana Dokerty ©2023

Home | Chapter 25 | Chapter 27

Chapter 26: Surprises

Updated 11/19/23

Battle on Shining Mountain


Shining Mountain

Jonathan had slept very little on the chill, stony mountain. He could not let this contest draw out too long, or the odds of his survival decreased. So, he set hazards—some obvious, some subtle, and some that only appeared to be traps—to slow his pursuers’ descent.

He retreated slightly up the mountain, only to spot another squad.

And Major Steven Blackhawk.

His presence changes things. His prowess in battle is well-known.

A hawk intoned a single warning as the air grew colder, and dawn threw a spear of brilliant light across the mountains. Eight soldiers were on watch.

Jonathan slipped deeper into the shadows.

Others would be hiding nearby or feigning sleep. Men grumbled about cold food. Circling their camp, Jonathan found his best options for escape. By the time he was in position, they had water boiling and were adding green herbs and roots. Bow ready, Jonathan concealed himself. He aimed at the sentries and released a dozen arrows rapidly. Only the sound of whispering fletchings pierced the stillness.

Those on watch dashed to where the arrows took flight, but Blackhawk and his five men didn’t move.

Sharp, he is not only muscle. This could be…interesting.

Watchmen approached the cover Jonathan had abandoned.

The corporal leading them tripped a snare. He toppled, feet snatched out from under him. He disappeared into a crevasse, and his scream stopped abruptly, leaving only silence.

“Search the area,” their lieutenant commanded, stepping through the vine covered rock. “Watch out for more—” Another snare of thin rope pulled him down the narrow chasm as well, his words cut off.

Frozen in place, the remaining six inspected the ground.

Blackhawk shouted, “Now!”

Jonathan lingered as soldiers appeared from hiding places, rushing toward him. Unfortunately for them, he had anticipated the locations they came from.

Every knight knew to walk softly on this region of the mountain. The heavy thuds of their boots as the soldiers dashed after him, were more than enough.

It began as a flurry of pebbles.

Jonathan slipped over a ledge.

The grating of stone and earth thundered above as he lowered himself thirty-five feet down a crevasse by the rope he’d prepared.

A gentle swing brought him to another ledge that was hidden from above. With the rumble still growing, he sprinted along it, emerging near the army’s tethered horses.

A guard turned.

Jonathan clubbed him with the pommel of his sword. The soldier collapsed and fell below the ledge.

A second guard turned too slowly.

Jonathan slashed the man’s thigh.

The piercing cry brought a lieutenant running, sword drawn.

Their blades clashed and clashed again.

The soldier pushed aggressively to overwhelm him with vigor and swifter reflexes.

Jonathan pulled away, leaning to his right, as he parried.

The lieutenant growled, attacking with greater ferocity.

Jonathan defended and gave ground, again leaning to his right.

The soldier lunged again.

Jonathan twisted, delivering a final upstroke, spraying blood along the stone path.

A young soldier ran toward the knight but froze when his commander fell.

Jon’s momentum moved him forward, disarming the statue-like youth. Then raising his sword rose for the killing blow—he stopped as it touched the boy’s face.

Something, some instinct, moved Jonathan. “Son, what is your name?”

“L-L-Luca, Luca Overhill…sir.” The lad swallowed hard.

Jonathan shook his head, chuckling. “Is your father’s name Richard?”

“N-n-no…that’s my uncle.”

Jon scanned for more soldiers. “Grab the lieutenant’s body. Drag it fifteen yards that way.” He pointed. “There is a drop-off. Bloody and tear your tunic. Throw the body over, then your tunic and some equipment. Then go down the mountain exactly the way you came up and return to your family.”

A look of bewilderment appeared on the boy’s face. “W-why? Y-you don’t know me.”

“I knew your uncle. You look just like him.”

Luca gulped, nodded, and did as he was told.

Jonathan loped toward the horses. Three quick strikes with his sword and the lines holding them in place were severed. He slapped a magnificent stallion on its rump. It eyed him with a snort and trotted off. The others, all mares, followed.

Returning to the ledge where another rope awaited him, he lowered himself down into a crevasse. The hunt was not over.



Major Blackhawk recognized the sound, a sprinkle of pebbles…

“Get to cover!”

Most did, he hoped.

He was glad the horses were below under the cover of a ledge. They should be safe.

If the knight doesn’t get to them first.

As the rockslide abated, Blackhawk considered his options.

This fight is over. The best I can do is withdraw and save whoever’s left.

Of the twenty-five men with him, five were dead or dying. Another nine the rocks had only wounded, broken bones and head trauma. The sergeant he’d sent to assess the horses reported the knight had run the animals off. A bloody trail showed that two bodies were missing. Something large had dragged them away.

That’s all I need, natural predators.



Jonathan set another trap and then retreated into the shadow of a rocky overhang. It was nearing mid-morning, but Blackhawk was not underway, nor had he sent out scouts. He’d moved his soldiers down to the previous location of the horses.

Without getting closer and risking capture, it was impossible to know exactly how many had been wounded or killed. However, it must have been a significant number for the colonel to keep all his men together. If only ten of the survivors were injured, at least half that many would be required to care for them. That would leave Blackhawk perhaps a dozen fighters, at most, maybe only half that number. Splitting them would be folly. Hence, he’d not sent out any scouts.

Have I bought enough time for the family’s escape? Probably. Almost certainly.

Jonathan tried to calm his mind. There was ugly history between Blackhawk and him. Things that could not be ignored. Things that…

Amidst the knight’s thoughts, a still, small voice spoke the imperative: Leave.

Jonathan leaned against the cold rock and then sighed as he glanced downhill, where he knew his enemy stood. He understood the guidance he’d received. Yet there, only a little way distant, was the man who had violated his daughter-in-law, Cynthia, less than a year ago. The same man who’d taken his daughter in a debt collection ten years before that and driven his wife into hiding. Facts he’d learned only recently from a deserter at the Tarin Inn.

Loss stirred the rage within. He could not let it go.

No more! How many might I save by killing Blackhawk?

A horn blew in the distance. From the foothills below came a reply.

Blackhawk is not done. Neither am I. Yet…

He was tired, close to exhaustion. Engaging an opponent as capable as Blackhawk in such a state was asking to lose…or die a fool’s death.

Slipping away, Jonathan found a cave and slept.


Farr Castle

Gaelib felt wrung out. Despite his demands and threats, Caileagh had yet to provide a viable assassin. She had produced Kiepert’s docent. However, even the most basic questioning had demonstrated he’d break under torture.

Blast him; he broke under the threat of torture. No, not even that. He broke at its mere mention.

He wore a furrow in the plush carpet, pacing. The knock at the door announcing Gonnels was a welcome respite or should have been. The officer looked gaunt, exhausted…and worried.

Has the queen died?

“My lord.” Gonnels bowed. He was so tired the movement lacked its usual grace. “I am commanded by King Sagen to escort you to the Main Hall immediately. If I may be so bold?”

“Go ahead, Colonel,” Gaelib urged, heart in his throat.

“The king is in an…odd…mood. He was smiling. It wasn’t a pleasant expression.”

Refusing to go would doom me. Then again, fleeing to my estate might prolong my life…for a time. Even if the king doesn’t retaliate, many more of my allies will desert me for my cowardice.

“Give me a moment to change, Colonel. I am not presentable.” Gaelib gestured at the outfit he wore, which was finer than anything in the king’s possession. He turned toward his closet.

“I apologize most humbly, my lord, but several pages saw me enter your chamber. I expect one or more of them will report to His Majesty as we speak. Given his mood…delaying might not be the most auspicious choice at your disposal.”

Gaelib paused and formed a tight-lipped smile. This wasn’t the moment to provoke His Majesty further. He turned back to the officer. “Lead on, Colonel. Given the king’s urgency, I’m sure he’ll forgive my lack of elegance.”

Gonnels’ stride was martial and all too swift for Melazera’s liking. However, given the looks cast their way, perhaps it was for the best.


Shining Mountain

Major Blackhawk cursed the knight yet again.

The initial pursuit up the mountain was swift, almost effortless. Well-trained, his cavalry had thundered upward, confident in their ability to capture one fugitive.

Just one.

Damn him to the deepest of Caileagh’s dungeons.

Corporal Athos had not yet returned with the horses. The youngster had already been pursuing the knight’s horse, so Blackhawk had sounded a horn, instructing the lad to recover the others as well. Not that there was much choice. Athos and his two troopers were the only ones who’d not lost their mounts.

As for the troops he had surrounding the mountain’s base, summoning them served no purpose. Who knew what other traps the blasted Otual had left in place?

I will not have more men injured recklessly. Besides, with the rest of my forces blocking his escape, there is still the faint hope of capturing this menace.

“Captain Raynaud, we’re not breaking camp until tomorrow. Has there been any change with our wounded?”

“One man died a few moments ago, leaving four still close to death. With a day’s rest before moving…one might survive. Of the other nine wounded, seven can walk but not fight. The other two…” the captain paused, working his jaw. His anger and frustration were physical things.


“They can walk. And fight, if you’re willing to expend them. One will never use his left arm again, but insists he can still wield a sword. He’d be cut down easily. The other’s sight is all but ruined at anything beyond three arms’ lengths. Yet, he insists he’s fine.”

“I see,” Blackhawk said. “Add both men to the sentries. Perhaps having purpose will restore them and inspire others. What of food and water?”

“We didn’t lose any supplies. We could fortify this camp and call for reinforcements.”

“We could,” The major paused, “but Otual may know our horn signals. We could lead our own men into another trap—better that we prepare to descend cautiously. Two hours on, two hours off for everyone who’s still fit. That includes you and me. You’ll have command when I rest.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Dismissed, Captain.”

I don’t know whether to pray for Otual to attack us or not.



The major’s horn carried new orders. Corporal Athos pondered their meaning.

Bring the horses? How many am I looking for? I’ve only two men with me.

Riderless mounts came into view, chasing Ransom.

Spurring his horse into a gallop, he sent his soldiers out into flanking positions to herd as many of them as possible.

Then the stallion swerved avoiding the flank. Ahead of the horses was Otual’s mare. Ransom increased his speed as if she was in heat.

As Athos rode, he sounded his reply to the major.


Farr Castle

Caileagh arrived just a moment too late. Gaelib and Gonnels were hurrying away.

Where are they going? The court won’t assemble for another hour.

Not that she was particularly interested in chasing after them.

Gaelib had become increasingly unmanageable, unruly, and independent. His threats over the queen’s fate were nonsense. Worse, they were rude and ignored all she’d done for him. Her visions had guided him this far—just as she’d seen many, many of his successes, which continued to stretch off into the future. He wouldn’t die at the king’s hands. Certainly not in the next few days.

She wondered at the rumors flooding the court. Many of them were not of her making. Having time to waste, she refreshed herself, ate something light, and walked serenely toward the Main Hall so she’d arrive there with a few moments to spare.

The queen will soon be dead, if she isn’t already, nullifying the prophecy.

Caileagh entered the Main Hall to find it packed. Oddly, Gaelib and Gonnels were standing alone, far enough away from everyone that it’d be impossible to speak to them without raising one’s voice.

What’s going on?

A herald preceded King Sagen, bringing the Royal Court to order.

As he took his place on the throne, His Majesty’s expression darkened. “My lords, ladies, and gentlemen, I have dire news for you all.”

Caileagh’s heart leaped.

“This morning, Commander Taelor sent word from High Keep. Some of you may have noted the speed with which his messenger approached and the size of his escort.”

What? No, the queen’s dead. She must be.

“The attempted rebellion, which we had all thought put down at Dunis Glen in late summer, is not over.”

No, no, this is wrong.

“Prompted by the attempted murder of the queen, who lingers this side of death, I…”


“…had my senior commanders undertake certain urgent investigations. The results were even more shocking than I’d imagined. The Order of the Black Robe, those trusted bureaucrats who have been a boon to our country for many years, has been infiltrated by schemers and revolutionaries.”

Mutters, hisses, and rumbling arose from the court as nobles looked around, seeking someone to blame.

Despite knowing the innocent from the guilty, Caileagh delighted in the confusion.

Slamming the butt of his staff onto the stone floor, the Royal Herald commanded silence.

“The Black Robes have been compromised by a small number of such traitors.” The king continued, “Commander Taelor is confident he’s identified and isolated all of them at High Keep. However, as a precaution, he’s detained every black robe—”

The hall erupted.

Again, the Royal Herald hammered down his staff.

“And will keep them detained only until cleared of wrongdoing. As I speak, Commander Taelor has sealed this castle. If, as happened at High Keep, you encounter a black robe who’s discarded their identifying garb, it’s your duty as good subjects of this kingdom to report them. I won’t ask any of you to risk your persons by trying to detain them, but such behavior screams their guilt…”

No. No!

“…and must be dealt with in the harshest terms. At High Keep, we’ve uncovered plots to kill several of my nobles or their heirs, like the attempt on the queen’s life here…” King Sagen’s voice trailed off, and his gaze shifted to Gaelib, who stood solemn-faced before the dais, as he had for almost an hour.

“My loyal Earl of Lorness,” the monarch continued, “I have done you a disservice. Worse, I have done the kingdom a disservice. Eager to have you at my side, I’ve kept you from your domain. Kept you, the Green Dragon of Lorness, within the walls of this castle. Had I not, I’m sure your keen intellect and insight would have discovered that the Dunis Glen Massacre wasn’t the end of the plot against us. That the Knights’ cowardly slaughter of hundreds of my citizens was merely a foretaste of what was to come.

“Therefore, first, I publicly thank you for your unfailing devotion to me and to my father before me. I couldn’t ask more of a royal steward.

“Second, I apologize to you for the brusque, impolite ways that I’ve addressed you over these last few days. Fear of losing my queen drove me to say things I shall regret for many years to come.

“Third, as acknowledgment of the wrongs I have done you and of the unparalleled service you have given to my kingdom, I wish to demonstrate my faith in you. Step forward, Gaelib, Ninth Earl of Lorness. Kneel before me.”

Caileagh’s mouth was agape as she stared..

Gaelib did as instructed.

A gasp went through the court as the Royal Sword of State was handed to the king.

Sagen took the bejeweled two-handed sword and raised its point to the heavens. Then, in a smooth downward motion, lowered its tip so that it lightly touched Gaelib’s left shoulder and then his right. “Arise, Gaelib, First Duke of Lorness. By my authority as King of Freislicht, I extend the lands under your domain, for you and for the generations that follow you. All hail the Duke of Lorness!”

Caileagh felt weak. She stared as Gaelib slowly turned around with a boyish grin. Then he surveyed the room with his head as high as she’d ever seen it. Finally, she caught his eye and slowly mouthed the word, e-l-e-v-a-t-e-d. But he gave her no nod, nor any sign of understanding.



Commander Peter Taelor peered though his spyglass as Farr Castle’s gates closed.

The noose tightens. The Black Robes will be captured or driven into hiding—just as at High Keep. They’ll never be trusted again.

In the quarter-hour since they’d raised the signal flag, only eight carts, three riders, five messengers, and some servants had departed. None would escape.

He’d sent royal guardsmen to follow each of those who’d left to detain them somewhere quiet to minimize gossip. At the king’s order, no accurate word of what was happening was to leak out.

From his hillside, Taelor saw one rider galloping hard, trying to flee. Soldiers intercepted that fool somewhat roughly. Amusingly, the last person to enter the castle was Melazera’s Undersecretary, George Rosewud.

What are you up to?

On the road below Commander Taelor, the three last wagons to exit the castle were plodding along. Drawn by oxen, they were nothing to draw attention. The drivers were old and tired. Reports said they smelled bad enough that even the guards following them stayed upwind.

Within the center wagon, its load covered by a tarpaulin, lay the sleeping queen on a bed of straw. An apothecary and two ladies-in-waiting huddled beside her in the hopes she would awake.

On rooftops along their route out of Farr, archers sought any threat. Their orders were: Shoot to disable if possible; kill if necessary. No one was to get within a horse-length of those wagons.

J’shua be with the queen. Keep her soul safe. And comfort my king.

Taelor continued to pray for all his people and all his plans as the wagon disappeared behind a distant hill.

Riding down the hill, Commander Taelor and his men took up escort positions after transferring the queen into a royal coach. He sent his deputy to Farr Castle in his place, with a message that Taelor had to return to High Keep.



Chiba, the apothecary, counted the queen’s pulse again. It was faint. He expected it would increase as the body struggled to overcome the poison and then slow until it stopped.

“There’s no chance, is there?” The younger lady-in-waiting kissed the queen’s hand.

He closed his eyes and shook his head no. “It was a brown viper—”

But the older lady opened her eyes, after leaning against the side of the wagon silently for hours. “I’ve seen people bitten by a viper before. That she’s alive now is already a miracle.”

Chiba nodded slowly.

The old woman continued, “Ah, so you see now. We who believe in J’shua are never lost to death, only a long sleep. But with a little more faith, and less ‘There’s no chance’, you’ll see that this is only the beginning of God’s miracles. ” Shutting her eyes again, she moved her lips in more silent prayers.



Colonel Patrik Gonnels blinked. He hadn’t thought he could be surprised.

After the king’s announcement and almost two hours of Gaelib Melazera accepting the best wishes and congratulations of almost every member of the Royal Court, Gonnels and the new duke were invited into the King’s Drawing Room.

“My good duke,” the king beamed. “I am sorry to have sprung that on you, but I hope you found it a pleasant surprise.”

“I was shocked beyond words, Sire.” Gaelib Melazera bowed.

“Things have been moving exceedingly quickly in the last few days, and, although I have already asked so much of you, I must ask more.”

“I am yours to command, Sire.”

“Then, Duke Gaelib, I require you to investigate and clean up whatever is happening within your extended provinces. You need to do this personally. There isn’t another I can entrust with such an important matter. You’ve been telling me for years of the problems with the Mestels on our western border. There may be problems to the east as well. Find out. Take however long is needed, but your report must be absolute in its precision.”

“Sire, I…” the new duke began with excited gestures and a radiant smile.

Patrik ignored what the duke was saying and fought back a smile. He should have seen it coming. He’d played chess with King Sagen. In one move, His Majesty had vastly decreased the trustworthiness of the Black Robes, dramatically enlarged the area which Melazera must administer, and dispatched him on a task that couldn’t be ignored, delegated, or brushed aside.

But what traps, My Liege, have you already laid for the duke?

“Colonel Gonnels,” the king’s words snapped him back to the present, “my thanks for assisting me today with my little surprise. I appreciate that you’ve kept guard over the queen for so long. However, it is time for you to get some well-deserved rest. I return to High Keep tomorrow. I want you with me. While I would like to remain with the queen, the apothecaries’ prognostications are clear. I have a kingdom to run. Dismissed.”

As Patrik turned to leave, Gaelib bowed. “If it is your will, Sire, I should go. There is much to prepare.”

The king nodded.

The new duke rushed away.

With a hint of a smile, Patrik remembered the passage:

[If God be for us, who can be against us.]



Caileagh accepted countless congratulations regarding her new status, then slipped away while Gaelib was still being fawned over by this group and that. She needed time to determine her strategy.

Shall I coo over my beloved? I think not. He’ll have received too many accolades for my performance to have any effect.

Shall I be aloof and merely acknowledge the improvement of our fortunes? No, that won’t do either. He would not be where he is without me…

I foresaw this! It was my visions he mocked that were right, yet again. Gaelib is more prominent and powerful than any of his ancestors. We are finally the social equal of that petty, money-grubbing Locke.

On her way to her husband’s audience chamber, she noted a squirming, nervous Rosewud being detained in the antechamber.

As she watched him, a thought struck her.

I don’t want to see Gaelib until I’m sure of his mood. Instead…

She slipped into a secret passage.

…I’ll wait to see how he deals with Georgie. Then I shall make Gaelib acknowledge I am utterly essential. I’ll have him admit he cannot do without me.

Moving silently along the passage, she sank into the chair she’d placed there, opened a hidden spyhole, and waited. Finally, Gaelib entered her view and sat while a servant poured him wine.



Undersecretary Rosewud stepped into Gaelib Melazera’s private chamber and dropped to his knees, begging, “My lord, please forgive my tardiness. I didn’t get your message until I returned to Lorness. I was away arranging debt collections and conscriptions.”

Gaelib Melazera smiled, saying nothing.

Rosewud was terrified. The silence drew out. Desperate for something, anything to say, he blurted, “We’ve been very successful in raising money and men for the army. The Lightning Battalion will be loyal to only you, my lord…I’m sorry, Your Grace. My congratulations on your long-overdue elevation to Duke.”

Melazera rose from his throne-like chair and sauntered toward the cowering undersecretary. He leaned down and took his hand. “Rise, George, I forgive all.”

“You are most merciful, Your Grace.”

“I am pleased. No, I am…impressed. So much so, I’ve an important task for you.”


“Exactly the response I wanted,” Melazera smiled menacingly. “I am raising you to Secretary. I intend to institute some security procedures for the money allotted to the Black Robes. Despite it being publicly disgraced, its influence can still be significant. But…”

“Yes?” Rosewud knew he sounded like a puppy begging for the attention of its master, but it was the only safe response.

“But Caileagh has proven she lacks the command of details necessary given recent…setbacks. I need someone who understands money, how to use it, and how to hide it. You can do that easily, can’t you, George?”


“Then,” Melazera picked up his cup, eventually turning back to face Rosewud, “you will deliver funds to the docents only after they swear allegiance to me. And only after I receive their reports each moon.”

“Yes, my lord,” Rosewud nodded.

What did Caileagh do to lose Melazera’s favor?

“However, even before you deal with the docents, we have a slight problem with pilferage.” Melazera smiled beneficently.

Rosewud’s insides clenched tight.

“I’m not talking of Caileagh diverting funds or even the docents retaining a few baden for their uses. The former has never happened, and the latter is simply the cost of commerce. No, someone has been intercepting money shipments.” Melazera’s face darkened. “So much so it’s putting a crimp in my plans. Before it becomes a significant nuisance, stop the robberies. You can do that for me, can’t you, George?”

“Yes!” He smiled even as his bowels puckered and he wrung his hands behind his back.

Where do I start?


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