Rare Things for a Rare Life

The Knights of J'shua Book 1

by Tiana Dokerty © 1984-2021

Home | Chapter 25 | Chapter 27

Chapter 26: Surprises

Updated 3/31/23


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 minor questioning had demonstrated he’d break under torture. Blast him, he’d broken under the threat of torture. No, not even that. He’d broken at its mere mention.

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.”

Melazera considered his options. Refusing to go would doom him. Even if the king didn’t retaliate, many more of Lorness’ allies would desert him as a coward.

Then again, fleeing to his estates might prolong his life… for a time. He had the Black Robes. It would cost him many allies, but there were others who couldn’t abandon him and expect to retain their reputations, not given their exotic tastes and illegal activities.

“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.

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

Gaelib paused. This wasn’t the moment to provoke His Majesty further. “Lead on, Colonel. Given the king’s urgency, I’m sure he’ll forgive my lack of sartorial elegance.”

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


Caileagh arrived just a moment too late. Gaelib and Gonnels were walking briskly 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 that 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 already 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, the His Majesty’s expression darkened. “My lords, ladies and gentlemen, I have dire news for you all.”

Caileagh’s heart leapt with joy.

“This morning, Commander Taelor sent word from High Castle. 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 could’ve imagined. The Order of the Black Robe, those trusted bureaucrats who have been a boon to our country for many years, have been infiltrated by schemers, rebels, 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.

The Royal Herald slammed the butt of his staff into the stone floor, commanding silence.

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

The king’s voice was interrupted by the boisterous reactions of his audience.

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 Castle, 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 possible terms. At High Castle plans were uncovered to kill several of my nobles or their heirs, just as there was an attempt on the queen’s life here…” King Sagen’s voice trailed off and his gaze shifted to Gaelib.

“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 as if it was a cage. 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 plots against us. That the knights’ cowardly slaughter of hundreds of my citizens was merely a foretaste of what’s 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 wasn’t sure if she wanted to scream or jump for joy.

Could this be happening?

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 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 mouthed the word, e l e v a t e d.


Commander Peter Taelor watched from a distant hill as Farr Castle’s gates closed.

The noose tightens. The Black-Robes will be captured or driven into hiding. Just as I accomplished at High Castle. They’ll never be trusted again.

In the quarter-hour since the signal flag had been raised, only eight carts, three riders, five messengers, and some servants had departed. No one else would escape.

Each of those who’d left were being followed and would soon be detained. But it would be done somewhere quiet to minimize gossip. At the king’s order, no accurate word of what was happening was to leak out too soon.

This will be the sixth time King Sagan has ordered the castle’s gates closed. I wonder what the rumors will say this time. Regardless, it buys time.

From his hillside, Taelor saw one of the riders begin galloping hard, trying to flee. The fool was intercepted, somewhat roughly, and taken into custody.

I hope the idiot wasn’t simply in a hurry to get home.

Amusingly, the last person to enter the castle had been Melazera’s Undersecretary, George Rosewud.

What are you up to?

On the road below Commander Taelor, the three final wagons that had exited the castle were plodding along. Drawn by oxen, they were nothing special. The drivers were old, tired. He’d already had reports that they smelled bad enough that even the guards following them stayed upwind.

Within the center wagon, its load covered by a makeshift tarpaulin, lay the queen on a bed of straw. A physician and two ladies-in-waiting huddled beside her.

On rooftops along their route out of Farr, archers sought out 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.

Riding down the hill, Commander Taelor and his men took up escort positions after transferring the queen into a Royal Coach. He then sent his deputy to Farr Castle in his place, along with a message stating – for whichever spies intercepted or overheard it – that Taelor had been required to stay in High Castle to resolve ‘certain sensitive matters’.


Colonel Gonnels blinked. He hadn’t thought he could be surprised, yet…

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

Why he’d been included, the colonel had no idea. Because he was a member of the Royal Guard? Because the king trusted him? Gonnels was almost too exhausted to care.

“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 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 of Lorness, 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…”

Gonnels ignored what the duke was saying. 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 and dispatched Gaelib on a task that couldn’t be ignored, delegated, or brushed aside. The king had also dramatically enlarged the area which Melazera must administer.

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 Castle tomorrow. I want you with me. While I would like to remain with the queen, the physicians’ prognostications are clear. I have a kingdom to run. Dismissed.”


Having accepted countless congratulations regarding her new status, Cailleagh was waiting for her husband, the Duke of Lorness, in his private audience chamber. She had slipped away while he was still being fawned over by this group and that. She needed time to determine her strategy.

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 . . .
Am I no longer needed?

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. The Melazeras are finally the social equal of the petty moneygrubbing Lockes.

On her way to her husband’s private office, she’d noted a squirming nervous Rosewud being detained in a nearby waiting room.

As she stood looking around, a thought struck her.

I don’t want to rub my visions in Gaelib’s face, not until I’m sure of his mood. Instead…

She slipped into a secret passage that not even the newly elevated Duke knew about.

…I’ll wait to see how he deals with Georgie. Then I shall make Gaelib acknowledge that 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.


When Undersecretary Rosewud was finally granted entry into Gaelib’s private chamber, he dropped to his knees and begged, “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 smiled, saying nothing.

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

Gaelib rose from his throne-like chair and walked slowly 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.” Gaelib smiled menacingly. “I am elevating 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,” Gaelib picked up a drink and admired himself in a mirror, 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 Gaelib’s favor? How can I avoid the same fate?

“However, even before you deal with the docents, we have a small problem with pilferage.” Gaelib 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 doing business. No, someone has been intercepting money shipments.” Melazera’s face darkened. “So much so it’s putting the slightest of crimps in my plans. Before it becomes a significant nuisance, stop the robberies. You can do that for me, can’t you, George?”


Where the hell do I start?


The next day, Undersecretary George Rosewud glowered at the docent abasing himself on the carpet at the center of his office. He did hope this one wouldn’t soil himself. Few of them were of any use to him.

Recently promoted from Lesser Docent, this Rhaylth fellow had a slimy personality. He’d no doubt sell out his closest friend for advancement. Just as he’d done with his predecessor, Streib.

“So,” Rosewud gibed, doing his best impression of Gaelib being condescending, “Caileagh Melazera gave you an important task. A critical task. Yet, I – your newly appointed master – had to find out about this from your fellows. They don’t like you very much. They blame you for… all sorts of things. Some of which you may even be responsible for. So, why should I have any faith in you? Why shouldn’t I simply reallocate you to a new role? Perhaps as the sacrifice in some petty ritual?”

The silence stretched.

“I am waiting,” Rosewud prompted.

“I… my lord, I—”

“I am not a lord,” George sneered, enjoying the moment. “I am, publicly, Undersecretary to the Duke of Lorness. Within our Order, I am your Master.”

“Yes, Master.”

“Better, much better. So, you didn’t report to me because…?”

“Lady Melazera insisted I report only to her. She—”

Rosewud scowled. “Tut-tut. That was before she was replaced. Report. Now.”

“Lady Melazera had intelligence that Otual’s wife may have become involved with the fools opposing the God of this Age. And that she may have lived within a community hidden within Frei Forest for a time.”

Easing back in his chair, Rosewud decided he needed something grander, more thronelike. But on a smaller scale than Gaelib’s, of course. “I see. And what progress have you made?”

“I’ve sent men to scour the Frei, as ordered. However, I’ve located a source, someone said to be able to track down a whore’s lost virginity. For enough baden, he’ll find the Otual woman.”

“And what of the lost daughter? Otual’s wife embarrassed Greysun over her. I want both found. I don’t care about cost. Only solutions. Produce results for me and I’ll see you ascend. Have nothing for me at this time next moon and you’ll descend to the pit. Go!”

As the fearful docent scrambled out the door, George gave his departure a barely passing grade. He’d not been as terrified as some. He’d been far less dignified than others. Still, he might be useful.

Signaling to one of his mercenaries, he instructed, “Follow him. See where he goes and who he speaks to. Monitor and report who, if anyone, captures or kills him..”


“Has no one seen that incompetent Rhaylth?” Caileagh demanded of the docents assembled before her.

The chorus of “No, Your Grace” was not what she wanted to hear. She needed a result. With Gaelib’s ever-decreasing need for her, she had to demonstrate her worth.

Had to!

Especially after what my accursed husband told that incompetent peacock! Giving him control over my Black Robes, over my funds!

Worse, she had to do so quickly. Her husband had not forgiven her attempted assassination of Her Majesty. He’d even insisted she only act with his permission and refused to hear anything of her visions.


She’d show him.

“Put a bounty on Rhaylth’s head. Five thousand alive. A thousand dead. Make it known he’s failed me once too often. Scour Frei Forest. If there ever was a settlement there – hidden or otherwise – I want it found. I want to know when it was occupied and by whom. The one who succeeds shall be promoted. Go!”


River Town

It should have been so simple.

Docent Rhaylth had been given six moons. All of which had now passed. If it hadn’t been for Caileagh’s disgrace and the single extra moon granted by Rosewud, the docent knew he’d already be dead. All for failing to complete the most trivial of tasks: find a hidden village amongst a few trees… and a specific woman.

However, it turned out Frei Forest was impossible to scour. It was barely possible to traverse. Horses broke legs. Riders were thrown. Those on foot got entangled in underbrush. All of which made it impossible to definitively confirm whether or not there’d been a settlement there.He’d had men crisscrossing that damned wood for moons. Some of them disappeared. Some deserted. Some turned up dead, admittedly mostly by accident. Some even came back with wild tales of feral boys who’d set upon them, stealing everything except their trousers. And, sometimes, those too.

As to whether there was a settlement in the Frei, Rhaylth was no closer to proving that. He had not a single captive, witness or shred of proof. However, someone or something was using it as their hunting ground. A finding he was loathe to report.

As for Rhaylth’s boast about having a source who could locate Madame Otual, that was true. Almost. Sort of.

It was so simple as to be obvious. He’d even known exactly where to start. Or, more accurately, whom to seek out, leading him… here.

Again, he tried breaking free of his bonds, but the knots were too elaborate. He sighed, thinking back to his blunder.

Despite his outward devotion to the Order of the Black Robe and the god they worshipped, Rhaylth was a non-believer in everything except his own survival.

Once appropriately prepared, Rhaylth had been apprenticed amongst the Black Robes, his position bought to ensure his future. Yet, he was already pledged to not-so-minor familial spirits, making the vows, rituals, and devotions he went through as part of the Order utterly irrelevant.

His spirit guide was greater than the trivial creatures his fellow acolytes became entwined with. It was also more open to ‘exchanges’, contracts that once completed, saw him rise in status amongst the faithful.

He was sure he knew how to rig the game. That was why he had betrayed Streib. Not only did it improve his position, it delivered another life to his otherworldly patron.

The man he’d gone in search of was that rarest of beings, a still-living deserter from the Order. If there was an underground organization opposing Melazera, he would know of it. And be willing to sell it out. The man was a not-so-distant cousin after all. One whom he’d partnered with as a highwayman and assassin when younger. A cousin who’d become a tad too greedy and just careless enough to almost get caught.

But only almost.

Of course, there had been that tiny disagreement where Quorin had knocked him out and left him in the woods. All over some silly carriage drivers. But that was in the past and, after all, Quorin was family.

What Rhaylth had not taken into account was his cousin’s care for his own wellbeing over Rhaylth’s. It also explained the drugged wine and waking tied to an overhead beam.

“Welcome back, Rhay-Rhay—”

“It’s Rhaylth. I’m not a boy anymore.”

“Not a man either. You walked in here sure that a coin purse full of baden would buy whatever you wanted.

“I have more, Quorin,” Rhaylth offered.

“Of course you do,” his cousin gloated. “I’d expect no less. But I’ve run into a little problem. You were followed.” He stepped closer and drew a long, sharp knife from his belt. “Due to your clumsiness, I need to relocate. The spy following you had four more following him. That many deaths will draw attention. Worse, you’ve threatened my deal with the only allies I’ve got left.” Quorin glowered. “Why’ve you come?”

“I’m hunting a woman. She’s supposed to be working with some group of subversives against the Melazeras. They’re called Licht Gegen.

Quorin began laughing. “Rhay-Rhay, when you put your foot it in, you do so right up to the hip. I can’t let you have them. They’re the ones keeping me alive. So, you have a choice.”

Rhaylth looked at the edge of the blade, remembering some of the things mother had said about his cousin’s love of using it. “Always open to a new deal.”

“This is one you can’t go back on.”

"Of course, of course.”

“Shut it, Rhay-Rhay. I won’t risk my life for you. I notified my protectors while you took your nap. The only choice is: permanently switch sides, or die. Either way, while you spent the last few days drugged, the Black Robes have learned you’ve embezzled money from them. A very great amount of money. So much there’s already a price on your head. Lady Melazera is said to be ever so displeased. This new Rosewud fellow even more.” He grinned nastily.

“Oh…” Rhaylth knew better than to trust his cousin’s tales. Lady Melazera and Rosewud might have learned of his embezzlement – it had only been a few thousand baden each year – or they might not. Either way, he couldn’t risk going back.

“Now we get to the amusing part, for me,” Quorin continued. “I’ve a colleague who wants to ask you some questions. If she doesn’t think you’re answering honestly,” he fingered the knife’s edge, “I get to encourage you.”

Whoever Rhaylth had expected, it was not the prim little woman of middle years who walked into the room and examined him as if he was a particularly disappointing cut of meat.

“This,” his cousin announced, “is Semagine and she is far more than a gossipy widow.”

Her smile made Rhaylth’s insides clench.



Rebekah as Tyrone Beecham watched out the window of the gloomy tavern as she waited for the courier to arrive. A commotion outside caught her attention.

A couple of young men were accosting a maiden. She pushed one away, but was grabbed by the other.

Rebekah’s gut clenched. Unsheathing one of her jeweled daggers, she was about to intervene when a dozen hooded townsfolk appeared carrying staves and shillelaghs.

The two youths screamed and ran off.

The young woman thanked her rescuers profusely.

Licht Gegen will always be watching,” came the reply.


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