The travelers arrived in Rheinfelden at sundown. It had been a long day, but the next day should not be so long. They saw soldiers on the road, and in the afternoon, saw whole companies of soldiers.
Decker remarked. “If they go the way we went and then go south through the alpine passes, it should take them a month to get to Italy.”
“About right,” Katie said. “They should arrive in late May or early June.”
Nanette pulled Katie and Lockhart aside and told them what she and Sukki noticed when the Ape ship flew over their heads. “He did not look frightened or surprised. He looked nervous, kept his head down, and patted his satchel several times before he left his hand there, like he was covering up something.”
“The Apes did appear to be looking for something.” Katie shared her suspicions.
“Or someone,” Lockhart, the former policeman agreed.
Lincoln, Alexis, and Tony came in from taking care of the horses, and Katie took them aside to fill them in. The only time she raised her voice was when she said, to Lincoln, “And you better not say anything out of line.”
“We are working on keeping Lincoln’s mouth closed,” Alexis said, with a grin for her husband.
“Witch,” Lincoln came back at her with the same grin. They pecked at each other’s lips and went to sit down.
Supper was quiet, overall.
The next day proved much longer than expected. Brigades of men came at them from Basel and the Rhine. Several times, they had to get off the road to let the soldiers pass, once for a whole hour. When they arrived in Basel, the town seemed a madhouse of activity. Fortunately, Engelbroad said he knew a place where they could stay the night, and meet his friend, the physician, Theobald.
“That would be nice,” Nanette said, and looked at Alexis, their own medical expert, but Alexis seemed to have trouble smiling, and Katie looked downright suspicious.
“Waldo.” Genevieve yelled. “Where’s Waldo?”
“I am sure I don’t know,” Margo the elf maid shook her head and looked at her companion elf, Nelly who agreed. Margo took the pucker flowers out of the pattern and made the dress smooth again.
“Yes, white,” Genevieve said. “Don’t get me started on red and blue again. I don’t want to hear about it.”
“There,” Margo said and backed up to examine her handiwork.
Genevieve looked at the girls. Both had long black hair, a real contrast to Genevieve’s blonde locks. She squinted at them. Margo had a little red in her hair. Nelly’s black looked more very dark blue. Genevieve pushed her hair behind her ears, then changed her mind and fluffed it so some curls fell down her front. She turned to look at herself and yelled.
“That won’t work. You can see my bump,”
“You are just two months at most,” Nelly scoffed. “You are not even showing yet.”
“I can see it. I feel full. There isn’t any more room. I’ll never make nine months. I feel sick.”
Margo whipped a giant bib seemingly out of nowhere. It practically tied itself around Genevieve’s neck and covered most of the front of her dress. Nelly moved elf fast to shift the many layers of dress to the rear where it touched the floor. Genevieve gagged, paused, and said, “False alarm. Anyway, real fairy weave won’t stain.”
“Better to be safe,” Margo said as she made the bib disappear.
Genevieve moved on. “Waldo. Where is Waldo? That monk is never around when you need him. Edelweiss,” she called a different person. “Edelweiss.” The fairy fluttered up even as Genevieve said, “I need my regular clothes back. I’ll look at the wedding dress later.” The white dress vanished, and Genevieve stood clothed in pants, tall bearskin boots with leather bottoms, like moccasins, and a dress-like top that fell to her knees and had a collar up around her neck. The dress also had a hood she could pull over her head if it got really cold. At the end of April, however, she decided to unbutton her collar so her neck and chest could get some air. “Wedding tomorrow. May day. Otto will have no excuse for forgetting our anniversary.” she shouted, “Mayday! Oh, yes, Edelweiss…”
“Lady?” The fairy waited all that time patiently, a remarkable thing for a fairy under two hundred years old.
The fairy shrugged. “Outside?” She guessed.
Genevieve huffed and stepped into the church. She had displaced the priest, taking his rooms for herself and her helpers. The poor priest had to room down the way, though he spent most of the day in the church hearing confessions, one after the other, before the soldiers went off to war. Even then, there was a line of penitents waiting.
Genevieve marched to the front door, Margo and Nelly flanking her, just one step back, and Edelweiss fluttering along beside her ear. She stopped on the steps where she stood above the square and could look out over the sea of people. There were mostly soldiers, though many different kinds, and townspeople, mostly trying to hawk their wares and keep them safe from thieving hands at the same time. She saw Benedictines here and there but could not find Waldo anywhere in that crowd.
“I don’t see him,” Edelweiss admitted.
“Margo?” Genevieve asked, thinking that elf eyes were so much better than human eyes.
“No, Lady,” Margo admitted. Nelly said nothing, but Genevieve did see one thing, and not far away.
“Leibulf,” she called. “Haito. Come here, boys. I need you.” She waved for them to come to her. Leibulf was eight, but a big enough eight. Haito looked smaller, but he was ten. Together, they made typical boys caught up in all the excitement of men gathering for war. They looked back at Genevieve like a deer might look into headlights. It felt like fight or flight. They could just as easily run away. But something clicked in the boy’s heads. Maybe it was the fairy that started toward them. They both met Edelweiss. The soldiers could not really bring Edelweiss into focus, and probably thought she was a bird of some kind, as most people thought about fairies.
The boys did follow the fairy up the steps, and Leibulf asked, “What?” He managed to keep most of the grumpiness from his voice.
Genevieve smiled for him. “Isn’t it time for the horse guard to return to the stables?”
Leibulf shook his head. “They did not go out today. They are leaving first thing in the morning.”
“Next time,” she said for him. She wanted to tussle his hair but kept her hands to herself. She cried when her mother died. She remembered, but she was young. She was old enough when her brother died. She cried lots and lots. She always wanted a baby brother. She stayed her tears and turned to the other boy. “Now, Haito. Where is Waldo?”
“He is in a meeting,” the young Benedictine said. “We are eating with the monks tonight. They are not to be disturbed, and we were told not to disturb you.”
Genevieve understood, but asked, “Where?”
“I’ll show you,” Leibulf said, and Genevieve gathered that do not disturb for the boys did not mean do not disturb. They moved through the crowd to the municipal building. Inside, they came to a big double door that led to the main room. “In there,” Leibulf said.
Genevieve nodded, said, “Wait here,” to the elves and fairy, and the boys if they listened. She opened one door and stepped in. “Waldo.” She got his attention. She got everyone’s attention. The room was full of dukes and counts. Charles was there with his Uncle Bernard. They all looked at her, and all instantly admired her. Genevieve knew she was very pretty, much prettier than Margueritte. One might well call her a prize, or maybe a trophy wife, not that she intended to become a moron.
Genevieve spied the big jug of beer and had to say something no matter how much she tried to keep her mouth closed. “Easy on the beer. I want a husband to stand with me tomorrow, not be tipsy and falling down or hungover.” She gave Bernard her meanest stare and included the dukes and counts she knew. She stepped over and kissed Otto on the forehead, even as a mother might kiss her child at bedtime, then she grabbed Charlemagne’s hand. “A word,” she said, dragged him into the other room, and closed the door.
Charles watched her grab a stepstool from the corner. She was a tall five and a half feet, but he stood nearer six and a half feet tall. Genevieve got up on the stool so they could see more eye to eye, and she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him, passionately. When they finished, she got down, replaced the stool, and spoke.
“Don’t get killed. Love your wife. And when you beat the daylights out of the Lombards, make sure you take the crown of Italy. That was your grandfather’s one mistake. He beat people like the Saxons into the dirt, but then he would go away and give them years to rebuild their forces and try again. You beat the Lombards into submission, put some loyal men there, but mostly take the crown. You can be king of the Franks and the Lombards.” She shook her finger at him, but before he could respond she called, “Lord Evergreen.”
“What?” The fairy appeared and seemed disoriented at first. “Lady?” he asked.
“You have your eye on the Lombards?”
“Of course. Old Desiderius is setting a trap, but I can guide Charles’ men round it, and maybe to turn the trap on the Lombards.”
Genevieve nodded. “Get big and escort me to the main room. I don’t want people getting any ideas.”
“Of course,” he said.
“You can stay and join the men, if you want.”
“No offense, your majesty,” Evergreen spoke to Charles. “But I’m not a beer drinker. I prefer a good glass of wine.”
“Same,” Charles said, and they reentered a subdued room. Charles spoke up. “You have my word. I will be leaving first thing in the morning, and I would like to be able to sit on my horse.”
“You are not staying for the wedding?” Genevieve asked.
“Bernard will be here in my stead,” Charles said in self-defense.
Bernard spoke up. “My smaller army will be escorting you and Otto back to Provence where we will add your men and head into Lombardy from the west.”
“We have plans to meet up first or second week in June,” Charles added.
Genevieve said nothing about Charles avoiding any emotional situations. She just gave Charles a snooty face and turned on Waldo. “I’m starving. You are off galivanting, and I am wasting away from hunger.”
“The monks have been instructed to bring your supper,” Waldo insisted.
“Are they bringing a whole roast chicken? I feel like I could eat a whole chicken by myself. I’m craving chicken. Just because I am a woman, that does not mean I have to eat like a bird. I could eat a bird. Look. Look, I’m fainting from hunger.”
Waldo stood. “Forgive me. I’ll just go see to the lady’s sustenance. I’ll be back. Save my spot.”
They went to the door, and Genevieve heard Bernard. “I have heard them argue and fight. She did us a kindness taking him in the other room and closing the door.” After that, all she thought of was roast chicken.
There is a plot within the plot and the travelers are going to be blamed for the disaster if they cannot act. Until then, Happy Reading.