Rare Things for a Rare Life

The Knights of J'shua Book 2

by Tiana Dokerty ©2023

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Updated 5/26/24

Part 13

 

Chapter 61

Sagen

High Keep

Six weeks later, Sagen was crowned King of Freislicht at the capital. He was still numb but performed every ceremony, met with nobles, and waved in every parade for the benefit of his people.

He was glad Gaelib was by his side. The royal steward was his only constant—the only person not trying to push him this way or that to further some private agenda—the only person who had not changed since his father’s death.

As for those who sought to undermine Gaelib with suggestions that he had been behind the corruption of the contract laws, each had proven fickle or unreliable in their loyalty.

King Sagen had thought he could just imitate his father, but there was still so much to learn. As King Edal had, he retained Gaelib as his royal steward. He was Sagen’s closest advisor and spoke frankly to him. His other friends fawned over him or left him.

Over the following weeks, the new king reserved less and less time for those so-called friends.

As soon as his dressers left, Gaelib entered with a lengthy agenda.

“Sire, here is a scroll that I found that relates to our struggle with the Mestels.”

Sagen took the parchment. “Thank you Gaelib. I so appreciate that you seem to know what worries me most.”

“It is my duty, my king. After you have finished studying that, our horses are ready for a ride. A great flock of geese has landed nearby. Perhaps we’ll have a goose feast tonight.”

“That does sound good.” Sagen said with a sigh.

“Then this afternoon, your King’s Guard wish to work with you on their sword defenses. If that would please you, I will have your armor prepared.”

“It would.”

With a sweep of his arm, Gaelib urged him toward the hallway. “Breakfast awaits you in the rose garden.”

Sagen was so busy he almost forgot his grief. It always came back with the cold and dark of night, only for Gaelib to rescue him each morning with another day’s rigorous schedule.

But as weeks passed, the new king contemplated the advice his steward had given. For example, there were subtle alterations to the contract laws that would benefit his lords. Simple things designed to reduce duplication. Yet, the more he examined them, the more he realized that they also reduced his subjects’ ability to appeal rulings and query fines. And every change was to his subjects’ detriment.

He re-engaged his old friends in casual surroundings, giving them opportunities to prove their integrity. He watched for examples of responsibility, perseverance, and wisdom. In public, he sought kindness and grace. He also observed their interactions with Melazera. When alone with a friend, he knowingly stated something unwise to see if they’d correct him.

Slowly, he built an inventory of those he might trust, those who had sold themselves to one master or another, and those in between.

 

***

Last Half-Moon, Spring - The Royal Tour

            During the preparations for his coronation, King Sagen had planned to tour his kingdom in the Spring as soon as the roads were dry. He needed to see things for himself without Gaelib’s perspective clouding matters. Thus, he left his steward behind without the authority to change laws or make edicts.

Despite those restrictions, Melazera was overly happy with the arrangement.

Commander Taelor had recommended Major Blackhawk be the leader of the king’s escort.

The tour would take several weeks, as the king intended to visit his highest nobles’ homes. He’d stay only one night at each so as not to overburden them or show favoritism. He’d be accompanied by a minimal entourage of servants—his butler, cupbearer, page, personal cook, and coachmen, besides the cook’s kitchen hands, grooms to tend the sixty horses, and the wagon drivers needed to haul supplies—plus thirty-six soldiers, most of whom he knew well.

When King Sagen arrived at the Earl of Sandria’s estate, he announced his intention to inspect the nobleman’s township dressed as a commoner. He wanted to see the true state of his people.

Are they happy? What concerns them? What changes would improve their lives?

He watched the earl’s reaction with amusement: a wringing of hands and furtive glances. Yet the question persisted. Why did the nobleman react so? Was he concerned for the king’s safety? Or did he worry the king might learn too much?

Major Blackhawk also frowned at this announcement. But he dressed as a commoner like His Majesty, chatting amiably by his side so the king did not stand out. A third of his men, similarly dressed, formed a loose cordon around them. The rest, armed and ready for battle, waited for Blackhawk’s signal that, thankfully, never came.

Impressed by the major, Sagen had watched Blackhawk for weeks. A moon before departing on the royal tour, he’d requested every record available on his would-be-protector. Blackhawk was young for his rank, but Sagen was even more shocked to learn the officer was only twenty-five. He’d assumed at least thirty.

The major is remarkable and a potential ally. Clearly, my father saw valor in him.

Sagen observed Blackhawk closely as he performed his duties as leader of the caravan. While traveling to the Duke of Wooster’s home, he sent for him. “Major, join me in my carriage. I wish to talk with you.”

Blackhawk hesitated, surprised, “As you wish, Your Majesty.”

The king rapped on the coach’s roof, and the carriage stopped.

After tying his horse to the coach, Blackhawk entered and sat.

“Continue,” Sagen instructed the driver, causing the coach to lurch forward. He examined Blackhawk.

He has self-control, looking straight at me with a slight smile. His breathing is slow. He seems content.

“Tell me how you’re a major at twenty-five.”

“Forgive me, Your Majesty,” Blackhawk tilted his head, “I’m not prepared to answer well, but I’ll try.”

“I simply want to know who you are.”

 

***

A bored young noble that chased peas around his bowl, perked up. Blackhawk caught his eye and smiled.

Sagen caught his eye and motioned with his head and eyebrows.

“Once, there was a peasant boy who was slave to an evil ruler. He always did what his master bid him. He followed his noble caravan, watching for his master to call for him.

This day he decided to run away. He watched from a nearby forest as soldiers surrounded a strange girl they found in the field. The air around her stirred with color like fire. They took her to the castle and locked her in a high tower. The ruler wanted the girl to take him to the faery treasure.

The boy snuck into the tower chamber where she was held.

She looked up at the stars and read the future. She told him that the faery prince who would buy his freedom.”

 

***

Blackhawk spoke well and concisely, despite claiming to be unready. He conveyed his story amusingly.

If this is how he speaks when caught off-guard, I want to see how well he does when he’s prepared.

“I tire of hearing the same stories each evening. Major, prepare some amusing anecdotes. At dinner, ensure the stories are suitable for a lady’s ears. For later, something spicier.”

Blackhawk excelled that evening. He held everyone’s attention while they sat at the banquet tables. Sagen even noted that a handful of maidens, whose sole focus was to become the next queen, swooned at the major’s words.

This man is indeed someone I want to serve me, but I need to know more.

By the time the royal tour was half-complete, Sagen had decided, instructing the major, “I have another task for you. When we return to High Keep, you are to meet me once a week to discuss the state of the kingdom. I need to know the unfiltered truth. Given the breadth of your experience, I want to view Freislicht through your eyes.”

“Happily, Your Majesty,” Blackhawk replied.

 

Chapter 62

Owakar

Owakar tucked the luach in his tunic, hoping he wasn’t bending the rule to breaking. But he just had to see this defector up close. He decided to interact in the Density.

Looking for a clump of brush near the cooks wagon, Owakar hid himself as he materialized. He popped a warm macaron in his mouth when the cook turned his back. Then he grabbed a waterskin from a hook and walked briskly to catch up to Blackhawk. He tingled as he followed him, gathering courage.

Finally, he ran up to the soldier, smiled broadly, offering him the skin.

The big, dark-headed man drank deeply.

“Thank you, I needed that. I haven’t seen you before. What’s your name?”

“I am Owakar, sir. A water-boy for the cook.”

“Pleased to meet you.” Blackhawk eyed him up and down. Then he clapped him on the shoulder. “Thanks for the drink.”

Owakar bowed.

“He touched me. It felt… heavy, and warm…pleasant.” He scurried off, happy to get a close look at this one who J’shua said seeks the truth.

As he left the Density, his luach flashed a message:

[That ye put off concerning the former ways, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.]

Steven Blackhawk seemed to be straying from blind devotion to his lord. Was he choosing to be freed from his past?

 

Chapter 63

Sagen

As the tour turned toward Lexandria, King Sagen took stock of what he’d learned so far and the things he’d had time to ponder. He discovered several of his noblemen remained true to his father’s ideals and would support him. He’d identified more who were Melazera’s creatures. Then there were those who would go with the wind, regardless of where it blew.

That just left those who followed Duke Gregory of Lexandria. Sagen had already learned that he’d badly underestimated their hatred of the Melazeras. They seemed loyal to the Crown, but their famed independence clouded matters.

The situation is both graver and better than I’d imagined.

I have enemies. Real enemies who want my throne and all my royal line has built. Enemies who…did they kill you, Father? Or did they just take advantage of the situation?

I have allies—or would-be allies—but have no way to rally them, nor even meet with them regularly without drawing attention.

How do I begin?

Sagen remembered the passage:

[Except the God of Truth build the house, they labor in vain that build it: except the God of Truth keep the city, the watchman wakes but in vain.]

 

Chapter 64

Blackhawk

Full Moon, Early Summer

Blackhawk strategized how to meet with the king safely.

Melazera can’t find out I’m working with the king.

It would be relatively easy at High Keep. But at Farr, it would be nearly impossible to do covertly. Something overt would need to occur. Then he had an idea.

Blackhawk approached the king and kneeled on one knee. “Your Majesty, may I have a private word?”

“Yes, ride with me again.” 

In the coach, Blackhawk suggested, “You could meet me, or anyone that you wish to talk with privately, by holding regular chess matches. I can play, and I have seen you do so. What do you think?”

“An excellent idea. My nobles also play. I could invite them regularly.”

“Sire, I am here to serve you,” Blackhawk responded, bowing his head, “but must return to my duties; people will talk. What shall I tell them you commanded?”

“That I wish to have a grand feast at our next stop in the public square. All should attend, noble and commoner alike.”

 

Chapter 65

Sagen

Sagen marveled at the reception awaiting him as they neared Lexandria. Most times, his entourage had surprised the lords they were visiting. Others had a scant few hours’ warning due to alert sentries. However, it was clear even before entering Gregory Locke’s domain that preparations had been going on for days, possibly since the royal tour began.

Three dozen men from noble households greeted the royal caravan a day away from Fairness Crossing. Its leader was Gregory’s eldest son and heir, Danyth, a handsome lad half the king’s age. With long flaxen hair, a neatly trimmed beard, and a suntanned face, he was typical of that family.

Nor had the riders come alone. Cresting a hill before sunset that night, Sagen beheld a tent city waiting for them. The smells of food carrying on the soft evening breeze made his mouth water. Servants had laid out tables covered in heavy brocade.

“I apologize for the paucity of this small reception, Your Majesty—”

“Small?” Sagen interrupted.

“Yes, Sire,” Danyth affirmed. “With barely any time to set up this staging point, we have only tents for your comfort this night. The inn at your next waypoint has been refurbished, so it’s fit for your royal presence.”

“I see…” Sagen kept his face impassive. As a display of wealth, it was impressive. As an example of how well-informed the Lockes were, it was far more so. “And what can I expect upon reaching Lexandria?”

“We’ve bedecked the city with the banners of all your southern lords. The duke, his earls, viscounts, and barons, plus their ladies, are already in attendance and awaiting your arrival. A royal ball is planned for your one night with us. I know the duke would have you stay longer. It’s so rare for the king to visit the south.”

Sagen smiled. “That sounds wonderful, but I can’t believe all your preparations have gone to plan. Tell me one thing that isn’t ready as your father would wish.”

Danyth bowed. “If I must, Sire. There are many petty things I could bring to your attention. However, the most galling—from my parents’ perspective—is that Uncle Bradley’s wife, Aleyn, is unwell. The result being my unmarried sisters have gone to be with her. They expected to return in time for your visit, but it seems Aunt Aleyn has taken a turn for the worse. Thus, my sisters won’t be there to greet you. Mother is furious.”

“A pity,” Sagen replied neutrally. In truth, he was relieved. It would be one less set of daughters paraded before him, their parents seeking a royal alliance.

A messenger approached and handed a note to the Duke of Lexandria’s son, who skimmed the missive, then frowned. “I also regret to inform you, Sire, that we have no performers to entertain you tonight. The axle on their wagon broke. However, we’ve added them to tomorrow’s line-up. I wonder,” Danyth hesitated, “I know it’s a poor substitute, but…do you play chess?”

Sagen smiled and shot a knowing glance at Blackhawk. “I would enjoy a game. Perhaps a wager?”

 

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