Rare Things for a Rare Life

The Knights of Joshua

by Tiana Dokerty © 1984-2021


Parynna & Drake & Caileagh

Updated 6/7/24


Chapter 8 – 38th year - 2036

Parynna Caswell

[Ages- Sarah 15   David 18   BH 25   J,Sg,Dr, Ga 37                        38th year reign of]

Parynna was plain. Her muddy brown hair and grey eyes sat poorly in a round, flat face. She feared she’d be an old maid. One by one, her sisters married. She knew she would be last. Locke daughters were as numerous as pigeons so it took a while for her turn.

Uncle Gregory, the Duke of Lexandria, arranged the marriage which took place a year ago when she was nineteen. Drake Caswell was a good prospect. The Caswell family was respectable. They were, by anyone other than a Locke’s standards, well off. Parynna had looked forward to the excitement and glamor that her sisters carried on about.

The oldest, Syrena, married a Melazera and lived in an extravagant mansion on the shores of the Sea of Glass. Her sisters, Veryca and Beryssa—both baronesses now—floated between High Keep and Farr Castle as part of the Royal Court.

Drake was now thirty-seven, seventeen years older than she, but he was still handsome and kind. Her sisters married barons, but she’d marry the son of an earl. She was elated when she heard that.

She wanted to be a lady in her own noble court, like her sisters. But after the wedding, which was wondrous, life in Caswell was plain, too plain. There were no banquets, festivals, or tournaments. With none of her friends and nothing to do, she had been terribly homesick. Drake tried to cheer her, but she discouraged him.

Realizing how childish she had been, she was determined to make the most of her life. Drake was the daikon of his circle and she was his wife. It was time she acted like it.

On the first half-moon of spring, in the thirty-eighth year of the reign of King Edal, Parynna and Drake arrived early to the meeting house nestled within the low outer walls of Caswell Castle. They walked arm in arm through fruit trees that lined the path. She glowed with satisfaction, as her husband gasped with admiration when they entered the chamber, brightly lit with candles all around.

Before she had taken charge, the meeting place was a dull room marked only by rows of rough pine benches. When she asked Drake if she could decorate the meeting hall, he happily agreed and gave her a large budget. She let her imagination fly.

After careful negotiations, the weavers guild had decorated it with luxurious tapestries featuring stories from the Writings. The largest, and Drake’s favorite, depicted J’shua sharing his last meal, tearing bread, and offering it to his disciples. J’shua’s face radiated light, from pure gold threads woven in for that effect.

At the front was a simple table covered with a pressed white linen cloth. On it, an intricately carved bookstand made of mahogany held the Complete Writings of J’shua. Two large chandeliers designed by her and donated by the local glassmakers’ guild, illuminated the simple space.

Parynna looked up with glee at the one small window, unreachable without scaffolding, that now glowed with a rainbow of stained glass.

Drake closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, the fragrance of lilacs and roses emanated from vases at the ends of the carved oak benches. He pulled her close. “Parynna, this is lovely. I’m sure this pleases J’shua as much as it pleases me. I should have thought to let you do this long ago.”

Drake told her it was his calling to become a Knight of J’shua. Part scholar, part cleric, and—in his case—a very small part warrior. The last being a skill only required when the Faith was in peril.

As people arrived for the service, he greeted each man as a brother and gave them his personal blessing. On the other side of the foyer, she winked at him as she hugged each of the women as they entered. She was determined to please Drake.

I will be the perfect exemplar of a virtuous woman.

Now Parynna sat in the front row. Her long brown hair flowed over a perfectly pressed tunic and simple shift. Drake glowed with pride as their eyes met.

He started the service with the prayer of Mashiach, the people’s voices echoing in the lofty hall as they recited it with him. Then he gave the message he’d prepared. “He is like a man that built a house and dug deep, laying the foundation on a rock. When the flood arose, the water beat vehemently upon that house, but could not shake it.”

Drake smiled upon his favorites in the front row, and she could see them smile back. He gazed out over the congregation. “But he that hears and does not act, is like a man who built his house with no foundation, on shifting sand. When the storms raged, it fell into ruin.”

She heard the guilty shuffle in their seats under his gaze. After his teaching, he asked for prayers and signaled those he thought should speak. Three members stood and prayed, as Drake expected of them.

She prayed for the members.

They adore him. My husband is the perfect daikon of the Faith.

At the correct time, Drake beckoned and the children ran to him as he sat on the steps of the dais. Smiling over their heads, he gathered them close. Then he pointed to puppeteers unveiling a wooden stage.

“Long ago, a stranger washed up on the shores of the Sea of Glass,” he said as the marionette of a bedraggled man tottered into view and collapsed.

The children all wiggled and giggled, knowing the story that was coming.

“A child found him. Others came running.” More colorful puppets appeared on stage to enact the story of the First Knight and how the kingdom came to accept the words of J’shua and his Father.

“Many balked at the knight’s teachings.”

Then Drake’s voice boomed, “But Olde King Weisheit summoned him… and the king believed the beautiful words the First Knight conveyed from the God of Truth. King Weisheit confessed J’shua was his lord and that the God of Truth had raised him from the dead.

“So great did that monarch’s faith become that he gifted the knight land in the shadow of Shining Mountain and established a school to train Knights of J’shua. Later, King Weisheit prophesied: when darkness comes, and the people falter, they shall be renewed in the Word of J’shua by a knight.”

The curtain closed for the last time.

The children clapped. They always enjoyed hearing the story of the First Knight. She enjoyed it as well. It was the first thing she paid attention to once she began attending to please her husband. There were circles in Lexandria, but she had never attended one. It was popular amongst the commoners.

At a nod from Drake, they ran back to their parents.

At the end of the service, he extended a hand to his wife, Parynna, indicating she should join him on the dais. “As many of you know, three ladies from our newly formed Orphans and Widows Charity are going to Farr Castle. They’ll bring back aid and a plan to help the least fortunate members of this circle and the town.”


That afternoon, Parynna and two ladies of the circle boarded a carriage and enjoyed the countryside on the road to Farr. Accompanied by servants and a wagon full of provisions, she’d planned stops so they could take rest and refreshment during the five-day journey. A young orphan boy, who would be placed with a family in Farr, rode above with the coachman and his son. She’d sent servants to fetch one from the market. He was fed, bathed, and dressed plainly as per Lady Melazera’s instructions.

“The Countess of Lorness has begun a child placement effort to deal with the orphan problem throughout Freislicht. She has found homes for many children. The boy will be raised by worthy parents and then trained in a skill or craft. He’ll be a token of our resolve to better the lives of the poor. We shall extend her virtuous efforts to as many as we can find. In the future, we’ll place many more unwanted children. We’ll see that they find apprenticeships and have godly, productive lives. We have a duty to them.”

The ladies traveling with her uttered words of support.

One of them leaned forward, saying, “You seem to have passed your morning sickness.”

Parynna nodded and forced a smile. While thrilled to be carrying their first child, she feared how things would change. Her relationship with Drake had only recently improved. She berated herself for all the time she sulked like a schoolgirl. They had been working together lately, and a babe would change that. Her sisters all looked haggard and sad when they visited after the children came.

Drake would treat her differently. And there were expectations amongst the circle’s women folk.


Arriving in Farr, their carriages approached the castle. Immediately inside the gate was a large white tent, black banners fluttered from the top of each pole. A long line of people inched into it. The letter said to go to the back of the tent to bypass the queue.

There, she, her companions and the boy, found a majestic elderly man wearing all black, his silk tunic decorated only with gold edging on his collar and cuffs. The man smiled broadly, accepted her letter, and threw wide his hand, gesturing to the opening he held with the other.

Murmurings from the people in the main part of the tent filtered through the thin separation. The confined space was warm and she felt at ease when the man motioned for her to sit in the chair before the table. Her ladies and the boy remained standing. He sat after her.

“Tell me your name boy.”

“Timmus, milord,” he said in a whisper, staring at his feet.

The man in black wrote this down. “Do you have a surname?”

“What is a surname, milord?” The boy peeked up at him.

After many more questions, the man seemed convinced that he was in fact an orphan, not merely a reject from a large litter. He thanked Parynna for bringing the boy and indicated they should leave.

As they walked back to the carriages, Parynna glanced back to see the man walking the boy into the castle’s inner gate. She had done her good deed for the day. Just before she stepped into the carriage, a page, wearing a tunic bearing the green and gold Melazera dragon, handed her a folded paper.

“Oh, my,” she exclaimed, beaming as she read it. “Caileagh Melazera, the Countess of Lorness, wishes to meet with me. I am sure it will be brief, would you two wait in the coach?”

Before they could respond, the page was moving. “Follow me, my lady.”

The page brought her to an intimate parlor, where the countess, already seated, motioned for Parynna to sit.

“I wanted to thank you personally for showing an interest in my endeavors to improve the conditions of the poor and fatherless in our land.”

“It is my pleasure, my lady. I can bring you more if you would like.”

“That would be delightful, may I call you Parynna?”

“Certainly my lady.”

“Please call me Caileagh. For we shall be working together now, yes?”

A thrill washed over, Parynna.

Caileagh wishes to work with me?

Caileagh told her all her hopes for the new program.

“Do you think you could bring me four next moon?”

“Oh, yes, my—” She caught herself, and not wanting to be corrected again, said, “Caileagh. I could bring many more. Whatever you ask, I will do. I am happy to help you.”

“Delightful! I am so happy to meet you, Parynna. Do not hesitate to let me know all your questions and concerns. We will be sisters in this endeavor.”

When Parynna approached the carriages, she floated above the ground. Caileagh was the most important woman in the land.

I am her partner.

Parynna addressed the coach driver. “Do hurry home, I have so much to do.”

The three ladies talked excitedly, of their new important endeavor. “Our success will put Caswell on the map.”


Chapter 10 - 1184


[Ages- Sarah 15   David 18   BH 25   J,Sg,Dr, Ga 37                        38th year reign of]

Quorin signaled his young cousin, Rhaylth, who gave a nod from his perch in the tree as a coach rumbled around the bend. He backed into the brush, concealed. A meadow surrounded Caswell. They were a mile from the edge of it, in the forest.

Once Quorin had picked the spot, he’d made Rhaylth fell the tree. Now it lay across the road on the final stretch south from Farr Castle to Caswell. Although not much of a road—barely a path—but the Earl of Caswell’s people used it more and more. And Caswell garrisoned few soldiers.

“Whoa!” the old driver on top roared at the six horses, pulling back on the reins. Leaning, legs stretched, putting everything he had into it. The liveried lad beside him grabbed the reins as well.

The women inside screamed. The horses sensed danger, fighting each other, frantic to break free. Finally, the coach lurched to a stop, the old man and the boy turning their heads side to side, eyes wide, seeking a threat.

With the carriage stopped only a foot from the downed tree, Rhaylth swung on top, pricking the back of the driver’s neck with his sword.

Quorin thought neither the driver nor the lad would be any trouble for Rhaylth. No other coaches could be heard. If there were others, they’d have melted into the woods.

Yet the man turned and reached for his cousin.

Rhaylth opened the driver’s throat with a flick of his wrist. Then, pointed his blade at the boy, as the dead man’s blood dripped down the carriage.

“Owt! Geyt owt!” Quorin roared in one of his false voices, stepping from the bushes with a loaded crossbow in his hands. He pointed the weapon into the carriage, where the highborn passengers cowered. “Owt! Ay’ll neyt ask ag’in!”

Three trembling young beautiful women, dressed in colorful silk, climbed out of the carriage.

Only one wore bright jewels at her throat and on her fingers. She scowled at her ladies, silencing them. Glaring up at Rhaylth, she then turned her piercing grey eyes on Quorin.

She was confident. She was trouble.

Rhaylth’s attention strayed to the prettiest of the girls. Dark hair, fair skin, a trim waist, and intoxicating curves.

“Please don’t hurt us,” one sobbed.

Quorin scowled.

The lady stated, “Leave now and I promise none shall be sent to hunt you down. Take my jewelry if you must, but leave us be. For I am Parynna  Caswell, and should you place a finger on me or my ladies your deaths are assured.”

The driver’s lad launched himself at the distracted Rhaylth.

“Blast!” Quorin grimaced, then took a step back so he could cover the women better. A gurgling sound told him the driver’s assistant was a problem no more.

“Let’s see ’em, all ov ’em,” Rhaylth growled.

“Shet et, Rhaylth. We wuntz thar biden. Thet’z al.”

“Quorin, you drecksa!” the younger man’s accent dropped away. “I told you not to use my name.”

The noblewoman stepped forward, in front of the other ladies, closer to Quorin, who reacted, using the butt of his crossbow to knock her to the ground. Irritated he kicked her in the head.

Rhaylth got down from the carriage’s roof, advancing on the two women. “Strip. We want the fancy clothes.”

Quorin rolled his eyes, “Geyt en weth et.”

Once naked, Rhaylth bound all three, while Quorin ransacked the coach. He collected their valuables, ignoring their sobbing.

Both froze at the sound of more horses in the distance.

“Blast! Geyt they ‘orses,” Quorin shouted at Rhaylth.

The boy turned to the task with a scowl, his eyes lingering on the naked women.

Quorin pulled tight the string on the sack of booty. He tossed it to a pouting Rhaylth, as they ran away. Once hidden in the trees, they mounted two of the horses.

“Best if we leave Caswell. We’ll sell this in the next town and catch a few more travelers. Then we need to lie low.” Quorin glanced back and frowned. Rhaylth was trailing behind. “Keep up Rhay-Rhay!”

Once far from the trail, they rode north.

The idiot! Or should I be cursing myself? That was the a Caswell. Perhaps I should have killed her. Killed all of them. At least that way, there’d be no witnesses.

Damn fool and his lust. If he’d kept his eyes on the drivers, they’d not be dead.

“Rhaylth, catch up! Those approaching will come upon the carriage at any moment. They’ll not treat us kindly if we’re caught. They could even…”

…send us to Melazera’s dungeons.

As they followed the Freis River north, they came to a village with a small market. A merchant bought the horses, another the jewels. Quorin pondered on the fate of his reckless cousin for days. Deep in the woods, he stopped, turned, and looked at the youth. He’d just decided Rhaylth would do better on his own, and so would he.

As they neared another village, Quorin surprised his cousin, knocked him out cold, and left him leaning against a tree. If the gods wished the lad to live, he’d do so.

Then he mounted one of the horses they’d kept and turned east. A short ways beyond, he’d stay at a black robe lair he’d been sent to once before. There he’d be safe. The Order protected its own.

I’m not yet done with the Order. They still have riches I can loot.


The Warrior

The room was dark, lit only by a few candles and a brazier that glowed red hot. The Warrior threw bits of flesh into it, offerings from the six local heathens. They bowed before an altar, seeking his blessing. He and the demon remained in the unseen realm.

The heathens chanted their repetitious prayers as one of them cut another small animal into chunks on the altar.

“Where have you been? I have been waiting for you for over an hour.” The Warrior touched the forehead of each of his worshippers. Each fell to the ground, lying in bliss. “Did you finish your tasks?”

“Yes, my Lord.” The demon cowered, hiding from the dark angel’s scowl. “Caileagh Melazera was late. However, I have relayed your wishes to her in visions and I checked on all my other hosts in Farr. Following a girl that met with Caileagh, I came to Caswell. There I encouraged one of my black-robe hosts to rob her carriage. He harmed the girl so now Caileagh can help her. The man called Quorin blames his cousin for his rashness.”

Still scowling, the Warrior paced. “I suppose your tardiness was productive, so I’ll let it go unpunished this time. Return to Caileagh Melazera so that she remains focused on her tasks, but get her to Caswell to follow up on your new endeavor.”

The demon bobbed lower and lower as he backed away, then scurried out of sight as a lesser angel strode into the room. “Great one, we have another rite to attend. They gather in Fairness Crossing.”

“I know, Panther. My followers grow.” His rattlesnake smile spread wide. “Let’s see what treats they have brought me.”


Chapter 13 - 1207


Parynna’s eyes fluttered, but would not open. She winced at the pain. She shivered.

She was naked.

A drip crept down her cheek.

Was she bleeding?

An abdominal cramp blotted out everything else.

Something warm covered her. She was being carried by… she didn’t care. Women walked beside her whispering soothing words. It required too much effort to make them out. Just as it required too much effort to open her eyes. Unconsciousness claimed her again.

But her sleep was not dreamless. She floated.

Inside the carriage, just as she should be, she held court, speaking of the wonderful changes they would bring to Caswell once they returned. The orphans roaming the streets today would have food, clothing, and be taught a useful profession. They would improve the young lives that would otherwise end in despair.

The coach drivers roared, cursing at the horses to stop. Thrown from her seat with a lurch, the conveyance stopped far too abruptly. Muddled amid a pile of femininity, one under her, one atop, she pushed at them clambering out. The carriage door flung open.

A man with a crossbow was framed by it. “Out! Geyt-out!”

Frozen in fear, she did not move. No one moved.

The women screamed as a thick red drop splattered on the  pristine white upholstery.


A third.

The man carrying the crossbow snapped, “Geyt-out.”

Horses nibbled on the leaves of a downed tree that lay across the road. A second man, younger, perhaps still a stripling lad, stood on the carriage roof. His dripping sword pointed at the assistant. The driver’s tunic and trousers drenched in blood that ran down the side of the coach.

Where is the luggage wagon, the servants?

“Let’s see ’em nekid, all ov ’em,” the younger one atop the carriage barked.

“Shet et. We wuntz thar biden and jewls. Thet’z al.”

“You drecksa! We want the fancy clothes too.” the younger man’s language changed, becoming clear.

That was the moment. Right then, it had come to her that these were not uneducated men. They merely pretended, so they could be reasoned with. She’d known it for a fact, so she had stepped forward, facing the older of the assailants. She said something, but he slammed the crossbow into her belly.

She could not remember what had happened next. Just flashes—a weight upon her, foul breath, and grunting. She was naked. Pain robbed her of breath. She’d clutched at her unborn child, fear lancing through her.

Parynna groaned. Someone forced a cup to her lips.

Finally, her eyes opened. She was in the infirmary at Caswell. All three healers from the town turned towards her. Behind them, Drake’s face was long, exhausted, his clothes rumpled. He seemed unsteady on his feet. He leaned on another man.
Drake moved to her and squeezed her tight.

She cringed and pushed him away.

“No!” she croaked.

“It might be easier,” Drake’s friend began, forcing him out the door, leading her husband away as if he had no will of his own.

If Parynna heard the rest of what was said, it was lost. She clutched the blanket tightly and hid her face as the three healers approached, each with a solemn expression. “What is it? What happened?” she demanded.

“Countess, you have been unconscious for over a week,” the most respected began, as the other two edged away. “On your way back from Lorness, highwaymen waylaid your carriage. Your driver and his assistant were killed. The servants’ wagon following you was delayed by a wheel caught in a hole. The luggage boy rode for help. If he had not done so, we would not have found you in time to save… your life.”

“What are you saying? Tell me what happened.”

“Although the accounts vary, once they forced you from the carriage, you bravely stood up to them. Sadly, these were rough dangerous men who beat you unconscious. They—”
“My face!” Parynna’s hands leapt up to check for scars, wounds or disfigurements. Her hair was matted, her fingers came away with blood, but except for some swelling everything was as it should be.
The healer took a half-step closer. “There will be no permanent marks. Your beauty is untouched.”
Parynna grit her teeth.
Beauty? I have always been plain.

“Continue. What did they do?”

“They required each of the women with you to remove their clothes. And all of yours. They bound each of you.”

“Are any of the ladies dead?”

“No, although as they were unmarried, their situations are… awkward. Messages were sent out urgently, once your servants returned with you. A reward has been offered. A lad is being questioned and may, or may not, have anything to do with your assault. He was found walking on the road to the castle.”

“What are you not telling me?” Parynna demanded.

The doors pushed open and Caileagh Melazera to strode in. “I came as soon as I heard. My dear girl, you must be distraught.”

The Countess of Lorness sent every man and servant scurrying out of the room with only a glance. One of Caileagh’s ladies-in-waiting closed the door from the outside. “How far did they get?”

“That I was stripped of my clothes, so were my companions, that the luggage boy went for help, and there is a lad in custody. But he is not likely to be guilty of this.”

Caileagh sat smoothing out her gown. “Dear Drake is a wreck, blaming himself for not sending an appropriate armed escort.

Parynna looked away. “I’ve been defiled.”

“Yes, my dear. It will take time before Drake can look at you the same way again.”

Caileagh took her hand.

“He is willing to do anything to see you recover, so you must return to Lorness with me. Everyone knows the skill of the healers in Lorness. I will take care of you. I have wisdom in these things.”

Parynna nodded, tears in her eyes. “I think that would be best.”

“You will both need time.”

Drake would never forgive her for losing their child. He would never love her again. “Will you tell Drake that I want to go with you.” Parynna wailed, thinking of her ruined marriage.

Drake forced the door open, only to be confronted with Caileagh who hissed at him, “She knows. You must leave. A guard must be posted preventing any man from entering until I tell you it is safe to do so. She is weak. Any shock could kill her. Send me your best female healer.”

“We have none. They are all men.”

“That will not do. I have had women trained in Lorness. Sending for one will take too long. If only I had thought to bring one with me.”

Drake stepped closer. “Then take her to Lorness. I insist. I want whatever is best for her. I…” He turned toward Parynna, but took only one step, then strode out the door.

Caileagh gently closed it behind him.

Parynna’s head rose cautiously. “Drake…?”

“He wants the best for you, so insists I take you to Lorness. Do not try to get out of bed, or even stand. Your wounds are serious and, it is true, it would not take much to bring about your death. Therefore, as your dear friend, allow me to coordinate everything.”



Chapter 21 - 1877


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 narrow 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.


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 what 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 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 29

Drake - 252

Caswell Castle

Garlands of freshly cut flowers hung everywhere. Servants set trestle tables for the townsfolk he’d invited to the feast following the wedding.

Drake bustled about the castle, delighted by his Circle’s well wishes for his friend’s son and bride.

Drake knew David wanted this to be a small affair, but this was a day for celebration. A day to be remembered. A day on which he could indulge a young man he thought of as a son.

He would never have a son of his own. Parynna had informed him she was barren after she lost the baby. He loved her. He would never replace her. So what if one of his uncles’ sons would one day inherit the earldom from him? It was an irrelevance.

Today, he would rejoice.

He regretted he could not share with his wife why he was so caught up in the preparations, but he did not want to cause her pain. He did not want her thinking back to the night that had almost broken them. No. This was his burden to shoulder. He would not let her suffer. And she was so happily engaged in her charities that he didn’t want to distract her.

Of course, the last surprise he still withheld: David’s mother would attend in disguise. He wondered how long it would take for Parynna to identify Rebekah bedecked in clothes and make-up that transformed her into an old crone.

It’s going to be splendid! Oh, she is here!