Rare Things for a Rare Life

The Knights of J'shua Book 2

by Tiana Dokerty ©2023

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Updated 6/8/24

 

Chapter 21

Caileagh

Caileagh paused, checking her reflection in the mirror. Yes, it was perfect. Just one or two locks of hair were out of place, ruining her usually immaculate presentation. Her face was set, as if holding back strong emotion, the slightest frown across her brow.

Happy that she would project exactly the image she intended, she opened the final door leading from the chambers in which Parynna was being cared for. Striding back out into the public corridors of Castle Lorness, she hesitated for a moment to speak to the guard. “No man, no matter who, must pass through those doors. While our guest’s health is somewhat better, her mind is… fragile. No one, not even my husband, the Lord of Lorness, must be allowed to enter. Should they do so…’ She shook her head, lowering her gaze to fixate on the flagstones.

The guard nodded. “I have heard the stories, Countess. It was most brave of you to stop her from jumping to her death. Is… is there any hope?”

“There is always hope, but the path back is likely long and fraught with danger. Ensure the guards who replace you know of my instructions.”

“Yes, Countess.”

Caileagh strode away, slower that she usually walked, to indicate the toll this was taking on her. She was pleased by the stories circulating throughout the castle and the surrounding town. There were times it was a good thing to be seen to be a caring friend. It also undermined the occasional talebearing servant who spoke too openly.

Only once, of course.

Caileagh’s network of spies and agents saw to that. Then the foolish man or woman became the centrepiece of more… sacrificial… practices. Again, only once. There were always gods that she could please, whether it was one of their special days or not.

She had been spending many hours each day helping Parynna recover from her ordeal. As far as the world was concerned, the poor woman was unable to cope with even the sight of a man, which sent her into fits of screaming. That, on one exquisite occasion, had sent Parynna running for the window in her tower room.

Those watching from below had heard the scream and witnessed the Countess of Lorness and other servants drag the madwoman back from the ledge, risking their very lives to do so.

On the two occasions Drake had ridden to Lorness to see for himself how his wife was recovering, Caileagh had done her very best to prevent him from encountering Parynna. The first time, he had acquiesced, upon hearing her through the door, “No! I can’t bear to see him. I’m not ready!” On the second, he had bulled his way past the guards…

…leading to the perfectly staged suicide attempt.

In its aftermath, Caileagh had guards drag Drake down into Gaelib’s Hall. She had emptied it of everyone but her husband, Drake and herself. Once the man calmed down, she had excused herself, leaving the matter to be resolved by them.

Given that Gaelib had been amply prepared over the preceding weeks – plus a few extra wifely inducements that she kept for special occasions – Drake had found his old friend, Gaelib, warm and comforting. They commiserated and drank well into the night.

Then…

Caileagh did not care about what came next as long as it left Drake ashamed of his weakness and betrayal of his marriage vows. Both of which would keep him far from Lorness until his wife was fit to return home.

For the sake of her sick friend, Caileagh had brought in four women trained in the healing arts. Trained at her expense. Or, that was what was known publicly about them. And, in fact, they did have extensive knowledge of the mysteries of the female body, of herbs, of potions, and many other things.

However, they were also high-ranking priestesses within the Order of the Black Robe. They were experienced in the ways of inducing pain, and pleasure. Each had been rescued from a brothel they had been sold to, but only after their spirit had been broken. This was important for, like Caileagh, each had been introduced to guiding spirits that had stitched their fractured personalities back together.

Each was so grateful for their rescue and unexpected elevation, they were willing to do anything asked of them. Already acquainted with degradation within the whorehouse, where callous men and women had used them, doing so to others was nothing more than the Great Wheel turning, grinding another beneath it. Another who, unlike them, was destined for such a fate.

And so, for weeks, at least two of these women had always been with Parynna, both day and night. Using various potions and instruments, they drove her mad with pain, and then relieved it, all the while implanting the following thoughts.

“Gregory Locke used me and discarded me.”

“Uncle Gregory did not even attend the wedding. He never checked on me.”

“Uncle Gregory and father profited by linking the Locke and Caswell bloodlines.”

“He only wants me to produce children, to further his ends.”

“Drake is the same.”

“All he cares about is his circle.”

“I won’t be their brood mare.”

Thus, the attendants whispered, was it not right that Parynna should take control of her own life?

That Parynna should find ways to exalt her position, her power?

That Parynna should not be used to breed like livestock?

That Parynna had only lost an unwanted child?

That Parynna finish the work highwaymen had started and render herself truly barren?

The decision, of course, had been solely Parynna’s.

They had opened her eyes to the real Gregory Locke, the real Drake Caswell.

So, she took the concoction that would make her barren.

The healing women had drugged her, whispered suggestions into her ears, growing her fears, planting new desires, while guiding her dreams and nightmares. Had driven her to the very brink and – when Drake had oh-so-kindly appeared at the perfect moment – freed her from the soft restraints that had prevented her from lashing out, or escaping. Her dash for the window had nothing to do with him, and everything to do with fleeing the torture she had been subjected to.

Now, with Parynna’s spirit broken, she too was being put back together with the aid of spirits that would guide her. That would soothe her fears. That opened her to new possibilities and new delights. Parynna was ready to be retrained. Retrained to do whatever was necessary, to be the perfect wife, to be picture of virtue. Thus, she would gain power over her life, she would be safe and in control. And she would obey Caileagh.

And when they were done, Parynna would return to Caswell, taking with her two of those women who had helped her recover, to ensure her ongoing health. With them would go administrators, clerks, and scribes. All of whom wore Black Robes.

 

Parynna

Parynna remembered very little of her ordeal. She relied on the women caring for her and Caileagh for the details. But finally—finally!—Caileagh had shown her the truth. When she’d awoken from the nightmare and walked with Caileagh Melazera, watching her work, she fell in love—or, rather, lust. Not for the woman, but for the power she wielded, for the way she drew every eye to her as she entered a room, for having her every whim catered to. Men and women fawned over her, lavished praise on her, and—it was whispered—would do unseemly, unspeakable things to gain a single moment’s favor from her.

Parynna wanted to be Caileagh—yearned to be—ached to be.

On the final night of her recovery at Lorness Castle, Parynna had been escorted into a private room where Caileagh was waiting. What occurred that night was something she never spoke of to anyone, but six assistants trained by the Order of the Black Robe followed her home. These she inserted as managers throughout her household to report back to her everything they saw and heard. They also brought her communication from Caileagh who taught her the hidden wisdom of the Alte Regieren.

In the moons that followed, Parynna’s eyes were opened to a world of intrigue, endless possibility, and limitless advancement.

Parynna had been unhappy in the first year of their arranged marriage.

All Drake cared about was his circle. He glowed as he fussed over these common people. But now she’d become engaged and was much more cheerful. Her eyes brightened with eagerness when they worked together. She had seen the light—Caileagh’s light.

Earl Gaelib Melazera’s wife had changed everything.

Drake was the youngest son of Mardom, the Sixth Earl of Caswell. His four older brothers had joined the Royal Guard. But Drake had sought the way of the Knights of J’shua and thus could hold no title. As fifth in the line of succession, Drake’s father had seen no reason to prohibit it.

So, Drake had become a knight in the same cohort as his friend Jonathan. Then he’d returned home to become his circle’s daikon and foster the largest gathering of the followers of J’shua ever known. That was when she’d been married off to Drake.

But once Caileagh revealed to Parynna hidden arts, they sought to bring the earldom to her husband. His father and brothers all died in due time.

She almost chuckled as she observed her success.

When the circle meeting was over, Parynna entered the room she’d chosen for her private ministrations. Servants had prepared the room with comfortable furnishings. Well-made, plush, but understated to show a godly prosperity. Her place was not as high as Caileagh. She must use wisdom as she gathered her flock.

The six men in black backed into the shadows of the room, barely noticeable. Parynna prepared the libations. Then she made sacrifices as Caileagh taught her and waited.

An hour later, three of the wives that she’d invited entered the room. She offered them food and drink and spoke kindly to them. She heard their concerns and desires. She determined how to alleviate them. She laid hands on them and gave each a word of prophecy. To the first she whispered. “You will prosper greatly this week. You have been under a bondage too great to bear, but the spirit will relieve it. The spirit of the lord is with us when we gather. Simply serve the spirit about you now. The fullness you feel is his touch. The spirit is well pleased with you. Seek him.”

Parynna was inspired to speak a comforting word to each of them.

The look of adoration these women gave her, thrilled her soul.

“You may each bring a worthy friend next week. It must be someone who is as pious as you are. For we will spread the charity of the spirit.”

After the women were gone, the six followed Caileagh out. As she returned to the inner castle, she nodded and they slipped away.

Perhaps Caileagh will show me more uses for the unworthy.

 

Chapter 22

Gaelib

["As a favour to his wife and as Drake's ""good friend"" sets assassins and bounty hunters to deal with whoever harmed Parynna, but is secretly delighted as it gives him a greater hold on Drake.

Gaelib thanks the Warrior for intervening. It takes credit for doing so."

 

Chapter 23

David

["David hearing that his ""aunt"" has been attacked,goes to Drake, and tells him the good news of his impending marriage.

Drake insists on hosting it, much to David's dismay as Jon is a wanted man.

But Drake insists because it will give Parynna something to do. And they'll hold it as the same time as the Royal Hunt so everyone's attention will be elsewhere"]

 

Chapter 24

Sarah

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?”

 

Chapter 25

Blackhawk

["Blackhawk learns of a plot against Peter Taelor which may, or may not, be Gaelib's doing. He takes risks to find out what is going on

He is distracted from Gaelib's other endeavours"]

 

***

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.

 

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