M3 Margueritte: Protect, Defend, part 1 of 3

Margueritte immediately got surrounded by the little ones.  She saw a runt, no longer than her arm.  She spoke to him, soothing words, as her charred fingertips tried to untie her other hand.  She dared not ask their help because she knew their razor-sharp teeth were designed to rip chunks off burning carcasses.

At last she got free, and the babies seemed delighted.  The runt seemed particularly pleased and friendly.  “Wrap.”  Margueritte said as she held out her good arm.  The Beast immediately curled around her arm from above her elbow down to place its’ head on the back of her hand.  It began to purr, after a fashion.

“Fly.”  Marguerite said, and the creature unwrapped and took to the air with equal delight.  Several of the others began to act like they were jealous, but Margueritte felt a moment of tremendous relief which even temporarily overcame the pain in her fingers, hand and arm.  She knew these little ones had to obey.  Thousands of years of special breeding insured that, and she knew these still feathered little ones did not even smoke.

“Sing.”  She called out, and the little dragons began a harmony of song to make the birds envious.  They sang, and then they seemed to want her to go into the cave with them.  Margueritte was not about to do that.  Instead, she turned toward the path she had come up.  The babies followed her.

“No.  Stay.”  Margueritte insisted, but the runt came up to her face and seemed to have puppy-dog eyes.  Poor Margueritte was always a sucker for puppy-dog eyes.  She reached out with her good hand to pet the beast.  It purred again.  “Stay.”  She said, sweetly.  “Go be with your brothers and sisters.”  She pointed to the others that were trying to do as they were told.

Margueritte got to the rise as the runt went sadly back to the others.  They were all watching her.  “Baby.”  One of the dragon babies mouthed the word.  “Stay.”  Another baby said in imitation of her own word.  Margueritte smiled but began to step down the hill before Mother came back.  She only got about five steps along, before she saw the men come out from the rocks below.  They had evidently prepared well in advance.  They had places in the rocks intended to protect them from the worm but from which they could watch the hill.  Margueritte knew there would be no escape in that direction.

“Get her!”  Margueritte heard that command and fled back up to the waiting and overjoyed babies.  A quick survey suggested she had no other way down, at least no easy way which would not require a significant climb over cliffs of rock face.

“Home.  Inside.  Hide!”  Margueritte commanded the babies, and they followed and lead the way into the dragon’s lair.  She stopped far enough into the dark to be hidden, but near enough to still see the light and hear the approach of the men.  She imagined it cost Finnian McVey a small fortune to entice men to stay so close to a dragon’s lair.

“She’s gone into the cave,” one man said.  “Nowhere else for her to hide.”

“Check around the rocks.  Vagi, check over the cave entrance.”

“I’m not going in there,” one man balked.

“But the dragon’s gone,” the first man said.  “We saw it take to the air.”

Margueritte became suddenly aware of the babies around her.  The runt, rested on her shoulder, its head beside her head, looking with her.  Another had wrapped around her left leg and she petted it as well as she could with her hurting hand, just to keep it quiet.  A third brushed against her good arm as if to say it wanted some of that petting action as well.  The others had settled near her feet, resting from flight, three curled in little balls, like rattlesnakes ready to strike.  She had to protect them.  She already felt attached, especially to the runt, and she would kill these men, somehow, if they so much as harmed a feather.

“But it might come back,” the man protested.  “We don’t know where it has gone.”

“Go on, I tell you.  The beast has left.”

Marguerite heard the grousing, but also careful steps into the cave.  “No,” she cried out.  “Follow.”  She commanded the babies, even while she knew that the men in the entrance would hear.  The babies obeyed, and she ran into the dark and stumbled only once before she felt far enough in.  She looked back.  She saw what looked for a moment like torch light, and then she heard men yelling and screaming.  Mother must have returned, she surmised.

Three babies almost went for the entrance, but Margueritte shouted.  “Stay.  Wait.”  They waited, but impatiently.  And when Margueritte could no longer hear the roars, she said “Go.”

Eight babies darted for the entrance.  Margueritte and her runt followed at a more leisurely pace, and Margueritte only hoped the runt would keep Mother from having her for dessert.

When they got to the cave entrance, the runt started pulling on her arm with anticipation.  The smell of cooked horse was overwhelming, along with burnt something else which Margueritte did not want to think about.

“Babies.  Eat.”  The mother dragon surprised Margueritte, stuck its’ snout behind her back to fling her and the runt at the horse.  Margueritte might have been seriously injured if she had not been armored head to toe.  As it was, she almost landed on one of the babies, and that would have been worse.  The baby stuck its head up and looked at her.

“Eat.”  It echoed Mother’s word before it burrowed into the horse’s innards.  Margueritte felt for a moment as if she was going to be sick, but then her runt stuck its head up and repeated the word.

“Eat.”

With a glance at the mother dragon, Margueritte pulled a small blade from her boot.  She stuck her nose against the horse, bad as it smelled, and cut herself a piece off the least disturbed place.  She slipped the knife home, hopefully unnoticed, picked up the chunk of horse flesh and examined it.  “At least it’s cooked,” she spoke to herself for the first time in her native tongue.  It had been a long time since her last crust of stale bread.  She ate, and added to herself, “At least I won’t starve.”

After supper, Mother dragon had another word.  “Sleep,” she said.  The sun started to set, and Mother guarded the babies as they ate, and now let them go in first.  Margueritte was very reluctant to go, but one of the babies echoed, “Sleep,” and coiled around her wrist guard and began to pull.  Two others got the idea.  One grabbed her other wrist, and another wrapped around her waist.  Again, there is no doubt Margueritte would have been injured if she was not dressed in chain mail, forged in the fires of Mount Etna by Hephaestus himself.

Mother dragon leaned down to nudge them along, but this time it was a gentle nudge.  “Babies sleep.”  The words followed.  They went into the dark, and Margueritte wished she had some light to see.  A thought crossed her mind, though she was at a loss as to which temporal connection put it there.  She remembered the electrical something-or-other she had exhibited when she put the hag out of commission.  She tried to make a spark.  It came, as she hoped, from her eyes, but it was pitiful.  It shone for a moment off a thousand points right where the cave opened-up into the tomb area.  Margueritte gulped, as a great burst of flame blew over her head, nearly singing her hair.  Mother came right behind them.  And then mother touched her back with her snout and purred like an infant, as if this Margueritte baby was showing the first sparks of growing up.

Margueritte, fortunately grasped the layout of the tomb.  She saw the babies curled up on a great pile of gold, coins and jewels.  “Nesting material,” Marguerite said to herself, and she understood something in that moment which she had always wondered.  She found her way to the pile and curled up in the middle of the babies.  She planned to be surrounded by them at every chance she got, in case Mother had a change of heart.  And while she thought she would never really be able to sleep in a dragon’s lair, in fact the gentle sounds of the sleeping babies turned out to be a perfect lullaby.  It was the last sound the Agdaline heard as they drifted off to sleep for a hundred or a thousand years in their sleepers while their ship inched through the endless void among the stars.

 

 

M3 Margueritte: The Maiden and the Dragon, part 4 of 4

It took four days before Aden and Jennifer could be located, and three more before Thomas of Evandell sent word that he would be along shortly.  Several days later, they gathered at the Triangle, and by then, Owien raced home, trying to keep up with Tomberlain and Roland.  By then, of course, it was far too late.

Margueritte got taken rudely from her cart at the base of the long hill.  Her hands remained tied, but the gag came off, and had been for most of the last part of the journey.  It hardly mattered.  Margueritte had nothing to say.

“I had rather hoped we would see evidence of your friends before now.”  Finnian McVey said, and looked down on her from horseback.

Margueritte looked up at him and squinted against the morning sun; but her mouth remained closed.

“I was afraid it would come to this,” Canto said.  “She will not give you what you want, so now what will you do?”

“Follow through,” McVey sneered.  “That is where most men fail.  The threat just whets the appetite.  It’s the follow through that gets them.”  He waved to Roan and Morgan who took Margueritte’s arms and began to escort her up the nearest hill.

It seemed to Margueritte that Canto might be having second thoughts.  The men were all looking about, and looking up, and the horses had seemed skittish for the last several miles.  Roan and Morgan looked positively frightened to death to be so close to the dragon’s lair, and they barely held on to their charge as they climbed the path that had been well worn over the last eighteen months.

Canto and McVey dismounted and followed.  They seemed less concerned about the danger.  Canto imagined he knew something about dragons, and no doubt banked on the wisdom that the druids had gleaned over the centuries.  McVey rather banked on the odds, believing that he could escape while the dragon paused to eat someone else first.

“You druids have always been a bloody lot,” McVey said.  “You should have no problem with a single human sacrifice.”

“This is not the sacrifice of an enemy dedicated to the gods,” Canto responded.  “But I believe I understand your attitude at last.”

“Oh?”  McVey never thought of himself as being transparent.

“Yes,” Canto said.  “If you cannot get the spirits of the earth to serve you, you are determined to see that no one should have them.”  He said what Margueritte thought.

McVey stopped, so they all stopped.  “Those are your wards, not mine,” he drawled, not exactly denying the accusation.  “But if this bothers yeh so much, yeh can go down and make sure the men are ready.”

Canto paused, glanced once in Margueritte’s direction before he returned to the base of the hill.  McVey made the others finish the climb to the top.

They found a rock-strewn place at the top of the hill and a hole in the hillside which smelled unmistakably of dragon.  No doubt, there was plenty of gold in that hillside as well, but no one would be foolish enough to try and fetch it.  Margueritte got dragged to where two iron rings had been driven into a rock face.  How anyone stuck around long enough to secure the rings without becoming dragon lunch was beyond Margueritte, but clearly, they were there for the sacrifices.  Roan and Morgan secured her hands to the rings, Morgan said, “Sorry, sorry,” because of the ropes, and then they backed away quickly.  He did not wait for McVey to give the order.

“Be that way then,” Finnian McVey said to her.  “Though you’re a skinny little thing, hardly a snack for the beast I imagine.”  He took one long look around, not at the cave, but at the hilltop and rocks, believing his eyes might see any elves or dwarfs hiding there.  Truth is, they might have been there all around, but his human eyes would never perceive them, and Margueritte would never ask them to manifest in the dragon’s mouth.  McVey turned without another word and stomped off, not so much as giving Margueritte another look.

There followed one moment when Margueritte heard the rumbling in the cave and McVey still looked visible; but with the sound he picked up his pace and soon became lost from sight.  That gave Margueritte the moment she needed.  She had to act fast.  She cried out for her armor, and it came and fitted itself perfectly to her size and shape—the same armor that once perfectly fitted Gerraint, and Festuscato in his day.  With this, she thought to her Athena woven cape and the cape responded.  It grew longer until it touched the ground, wrapped itself around her and raised the hood up by itself which also grew large enough to completely cover her face.  She remembered that Athena had told the Princess in ages past that the cape was fireproof, and indeed, many things proof.  It seemed better hope than none, though unfortunately, there was no way it could stretch sideways to cover her arms and hands, spread out and tied as they were.

“Ankh.”  She heard the beast close by.  She shouted out in the Agdaline tongue as fast and as loud as she could.

“No fire!  Do no harm!  Friend, friend!  No eating, no fire!  Do no harm!”  She wondered if it would do any good. “No fire!  Do no harm!  Friend, friend!”  Margueritte yelled.  She felt a snout touch her side.  She squeezed her eyes tight and barely kept from screaming.  Then there came the fire.  She felt the heat.  Her left hand became aflame, but quickly came free of the rope.  She did scream.  The snout came again and sniffed at her and blew her hood up ever so slightly with hot air.  The hood fell back in place, but not before she saw the bulk of the beast.  It looked larger than she remembered.

Margueritte pulled her hand inside her cloak and tried to examine it, carefully.  Her glove and wrist guard prevented the worst, but the tips of her fingers were badly singed and would no doubt blister.  “No fire!”  She kept screaming.  “No eating!  No fire!”

Then one nostril of the beast poked under her hood and pushed the hood behind her head.  Margueritte bit her tongue before she saw something which explained a great deal.  “Mother.”  She said in Agdaline.  “Mother!  Mother.”  She saw a little, feathered serpent as long as her leg flitting beside its mother’s outstretched wing.  The dragon took a deep whiff of Margueritte before it raised its’ head.

“Baby.”  The dragon responded in Agdaline.

Three more babies roughly as long as the first came up beside that first, and Marguerite could see in the distance that there were perhaps five more.  “Mother!”  Margueritte said again.  “Protecting and defending your babies.”

“Protect.  Defend,” the dragon responded.  “Baby.”

“Feeding your babies.”  Margueritte continued in the Agdaline without realizing it.  Some internal prompts were coming through time.

“Feed babies.”  The mother dragon spoke and Margueritte gulped.

“Sheep,” she said quickly and waved her burnt hand in the direction away from the cave.  “Sheep.  Cows.”  She suggested quickly.

The dragon faced her again and came close, to take one more, long sniff.  “Baby,” it said.

“Mother.”  Margueritte responded and tried not to scream again.

“Sheep.”  The dragon said, and jumped to flight, let her wings out suddenly and flapped with all her might.  It made a bit of a whirlwind which scattered her own babies.  Margueritte felt sure it would have knocked her to the ground if she was not still tied by one hand.  The dragon shadow made a circle on the ground as the beast went once around for a last look before it set off on the hunt.

************************

MONDAY

Apparently, Margueritte is now a dragon baby.  Don’t miss next week when Margueritte, Mother, and the babies all take a turn in Protect, Defend.  Until then, Happy Reading

*

M3 Margueritte: The Maiden and the Dragon, part 3 of 4

It got to be well after dark before Lord Barth and Lady Brianna became seriously worried.

“Damn, blasted girl!  How can she go missing again?”  Bartholomew paced.  “I thought we played out this drama already.”

“She may not be missing.”  Brianna tried to be positive.

“That would be worse,” he countered.  “Her out there, fallen down somewhere, maybe with a broken leg, or worse.”

“Maven!”  Brianna called, and Maven came in from the kitchen.

“I swear, lady, my lord., she was not to be found when I went to fetch her.  I brought the sheep home, but she was not there, I swear.”  Maven looked very nervous.

“Calm down.”  Lord Barth assured her.  “No one is blaming you.”

“I could ride out to have a look,” Owien volunteered.

“Me, too,” Elsbeth chimed in.

“In the dark of night?”  Brianna said, to point out the absurdity of their suggestion.  “Redux has men with torches searching the whole area.  They will find her if Margueritte is to be found.”

“Then maybe I should ride to Vergen to get help to search in the morning, or maybe to the king, or to Paris to fetch Tomberlain and Roland.”  Owien was thinking.

“No one is going anywhere until morning,” Barth insisted.

“Perhaps some trouble with her little ones had detained her,” Lady Brianna said out loud, and then she went on as if talking to herself.  “I worry about her, you know.  That is a terrible responsibility for anyone, but especially one so young.”

Barth perked up.  “Maybe the night people of the little people would be willing to help.”  He also started thinking out loud.

“Since Lolly and Luckless left there are no spirit folk around to call on for help.”  Brianna pointed out.

“Goldenrod?”  Barth said quickly.  “Maybe fetch her mother.”

Elsbeth shook her head.  “No telling when she might come around.  I can’t just call to her the way Margueritte can.”

“Little sneeze maker would probably get it all wrong, anyway,” Barth mumbled

“She would not.”  Elsbeth defended her friend, but Barth had already moved on to his next thought.

“Jennifer?” he asked.

This time Brianna shook her head.  “As far as I know, her connection to that world has been completely severed. Besides, she and Aden went south, remember?”

“Oh, that’s right.”  Barth said, and he sat heavily on the bench by the window and put his head in his hands.

Brianna went to him, speaking as she did.  “Maven, please finish putting supper away.  Owien, I believe you have duties in the barn.  Elsbeth, to bed.”

“Mother!”  Elsbeth protested, but she did not argue.  She stole a last glance at Owien before she ran upstairs.  She felt about to enter the age when she would ignore him all the time, but at just thirteen, she was not quite there yet.  At the top of the stairs, she paused outside Margueritte’s room.  “I’m praying,” she said, quietly.

Redux found nothing in the dark.  At dawn, just as Lord Barth got ready to mount his charger for a proper search, Margueritte got tied to a cart, the gag still in place.  No opportunity had presented itself in the night, and her bonds in the cart were secure.  Her sole consolation came in the knowledge that Finnian McVey defeated his whole purpose by keeping her gagged.  She hardly believed she could call to her little ones if her mouth stayed tied and useless.  Then again, maybe he did not want her to call for them.  Maybe he expected them to come and find her all on their own.  He did not know.  They would never do such a thing.  That was the law.  Maybe this was her time to die.

“I could help,” Gerraint spoke into Margueritte’s mind.  Both he and Festuscato had volunteered any number of times, and Gerraint in particular because of the help she gave him in the halls of king Hoel, and again with the seal people.  But it wouldn’t do.  Their hands, especially Gerraint’s big hands would have been cut terribly by the ropes.  That would not have helped at all.  Of course, the Gods were all quiet, as was Bodanagus and the others.  They really knew better, as did she.  It was the law after all.

It seemed a long way to Caern Long and for that reason, Finnian McVey provided a tramp to watch Margueritte when Margueritte ate her pitiful portion of bread or relieved herself.  The tramp, a hard woman, said very little, sat in the wagon beside the driver, and did her best to ignore Margueritte’s existence.  The driver said nothing at all.  In truth, if not for the occasional comments by Festuscato and Gerraint, she would have been bored to death.  Of course, she wondered what her father and mother were doing, but she had no way of knowing.

Barth spent the day making such a thorough search of the farm, not one stone remained unturned.  Brianna almost went hoarse calling for her daughter, and Elsbeth called for Goldenrod, but the sprite did not visit on that day.  Andrew got sent south to fetch Jennifer and Father Aden if he could.  John-James got sent to the south coast where Thomas of Evandell was reported to be.

“Might as well gather the troops,” Barth said.  “Looks like we have to start looking all over again.”  It appeared late in the afternoon when he said that, and because of that, he decided the rest of the riders could wait until morning.

They had a pitiful supper that evening, even with Marta back at work and her baby in attendance.

“I could ride to tell the king,” Owien volunteered again.

“No.”  Sir Barth said, and with such a heavy air it almost made one cry to hear it.  “We will leave the king out of it this time.  Urbon would probably just complain about me being an incompetent father.”

“Now, he would say no such thing,” Brianna reacted.

“Father, it will be all right.”  Elsbeth encouraged him as well as she could.

He looked up, but his thoughts stayed far away.  “Owien, you take Sir Giles to Paris.  He has family there, and at his age he may wish to stay with them.  He also knows some men at the court who should be able to help you locate Tomberlain to fetch him home.  I’ll ride to Vergenville in the morning and maybe have a chat with Brian.  Then, we’ll see.”  He paused for only a moment before he rose to go up to bed.  He looked every bit like an old man.

Brianna sent Owien off and Elsbeth up, and then she left Marta to close-up the house, and Maven to help if she could be found.

M3 Margueritte: The Maiden and the Dragon, part 2 of 4

Canto came in, followed by Morgan with his usual foolish grin, and Roan, who looked mean and serious.  They were followed by Finnian McVey, who smiled like the Cheshire Cat.

“Margueritte, dahrlin’,” The Irishman drawled.  “So good to see you again.”  His accent was positively honey-dripping.  He took the other chair.  “I am sure you would have some kind word of greeting for me as well, but I see your tongue is a little tied right now.”  He thought he was so funny.  She turned away from him, contempt in her eyes, but he grabbed her chin and turned her face back.

“I thought you might be interested in what has been happening at Caern Long since you’ve been away,” he said.  That caught her attention.  She assumed the dragon had simply gone to sleep, and that it would probably sleep for several years if not decades.  “Ah.  I see you are interested.  Well, it is this way, if I may do the tellin’.”  He took a moment to get comfortable before he went on.

“When the king refused to do anything about the beast, the people in all this part of the country got together and talked about what we could do.  They had a parlay, you might say.  Someone suggested it might be a good idea to simply take food to Caern Long and feed the beast.  That way they might keep their homes and farms flame free, if you understand.  Then someone else reminded everyone about all the missing children, and they decided that the beast must have developed a taste for such.”  He shrugged.

Margueritte’s eyes got big.

“Of course, no one would give up their sons, so it has been eighteen young garls in eighteen months.”  Margueritte shut her eyes tight and turned her head away, repulsed by what she heard.  Sheep would have been fine, she thought.  She did not want to think about it.

“Oh, I argued against it.  Truly,” McVey said quickly.  “But in a room full of stupid, stubborn farmers.”  He shrugged again.  “Most villages and towns cast lots.  I suppose that is fair, but you know, Vergen has yet to make a contribution.”

Margueritte’s eyes got big again, and Finnian McVey’s countenance changed suddenly from calm and conversational to hard and cruel.  “You know what I want,” he said.  “But perhaps you will ask the wee folk to help you out.”  He shrugged again, but Margueritte surmised he hoped she would.  He undoubtedly had some plan to capture a little one and hold it prisoner.  She dared not call for their help, even if she had a voice.  She would never willingly put her little ones in danger.

The men left.  She cried, but only a little as she thought hard about how she might escape this fate.  She could think of nothing, not even when Canto came back near nightfall with some bread, soup, and cider.  Roan untied her hands, rather roughly, and Morgan removed the gag and they waited outside.

“I am not sure this is wise,” Canto started right up.  “I am not sure it will get us what we want.  I see a penchant for self-sacrifice in you; longsuffering as Aden the Convert calls it.”

“And what of Chief Brian?” she asked, wondering how far this plot reached.

“Brian has no part in this.  In fact, he has ordered us to stay out of it,” Canto said.  He sat carefully on the other chair.  “In truth, Brian has refused to participate in the sacrifices.  Vergen would never make a contribution if it was strictly up to him.”

Good for Brian, Margueritte thought.  “So, I suppose Duredain is behind this.”

“No, actually, the king’s man has no idea about this, any more than the king.  I doubt they even know about the sacrifices.  People understand you have to keep quiet about such a thing.”  Canto started being so friendly and open, Margueritte became suspicious.  “Of course, my brother in wisdom would no doubt be pleased to have a good person of his own, not to harm the creature, mind you, but for purposes of study; that sort of thing.  No.  This is Finnian McVey’s idea, and though I don’t know how wise it may be, you know how persuasive he can be.  I must also warn you.  He is very determined to get what he wants.  There is not much I can do to help you.”

Margueritte pushed her supper away and Canto called.  She thought if she could escape the room, somehow, perhaps Chief Brian could give her sanctuary.  Surely Brian was wise enough to not want the dragon on his head; but then being closest to the border he would not want the Franks on his head, either.

Morgan came in and retied her hands.  He was not very gentle about it, but he had the decency to say, “Sorry, sorry,” when she complained.  Then McVey came crashing into the room followed by Roan.  Canto quickly got between them.

“Why did you feed her?”  McVey said, rudely.  “She should have gone hungry to sharpen her thinking.”  Roan, meanwhile, tried to put the gag back on her, but he stopped when McVey reached out, grabbed her chin, and drew his face close to hers.  “A shame to waste such prime female flesh when it hasn’t even had a chance to know what it is good for.”  He looked like he might force a kiss on her, but Margueritte stared at him with such a bold hardness in her eyes, he hesitated.  Canto drew the Irishman back.

“She is still a young lady,” Canto said.  “Whatever else she may be.”

McVey snapped his hand from her chin, scratching her with his nails, and he appeared to turn his anger toward the druid.  Margueritte, though her jaw hurt, nevertheless had a thought which made her smile.

“Good cop, bad cop,” she said, knowingly, even as Roan finally replaced her gag.  She stood up, still smiling to the amazement of all present, lay down on the army blanket, turned her back on them all, and dared them to disturb her.  After a moment, she heard the door close and she knew she was alone.

M3 Margueritte: The Maiden and the Dragon, part 1 of 4

When the days turned cold and the winter came on, Margueritte found herself inside by necessity.  She took to writing to Roland and told him about her days and the farm, and all the people and activities around the manor.  She strictly avoided the love talk she desperately wanted to share.  Some days she did not write for fear that she had to be boring him to tears with all her farm talk.  Some days she wrote twice, but it hardly mattered.  The rider from the capitol only came once a month, so Roland always got a neat packet of letters all bundled together.

In return, Roland wrote one letter every month, and addressed it to the whole family.  It sounded very strained and formal, Margueritte thought, and all too full of military progress in Belgium or against the Saxons or Burgundians.  Roland’s praise for Charles seemed unending, but that was not what Margueritte wanted to hear.  Even the notes by Tomberlain which got scribbled at the bottom failed to cheer her up.  Her mother always had an encouraging word.  “He is thinking of you.  He only writes to us because of you,” she would say, but that was not what Margueritte wanted to hear.

“And Latin every Wednesday.”  Margueritte would respond, and then proceed to mope for the next few days.  She began to take the dogs and visit with the shepherds, and sometimes she and the dogs would take the sheep, just like old times, and give the shepherds a day off; not that her father did not have plenty of other tasks for them to do.  Love was a hard thing, she decided; especially when it did not appear to be reciprocated.

At the end of April, Marta gave birth to a baby boy, and everyone celebrated.  Then they discovered that Jennifer was pregnant, and everyone got excited and celebrated again.  Margueritte did not feel much like celebrating, though she tried hard not to put a damper on everyone else’s joy.

With the spring, Owien found his work as a squire kept him exceptionally busy.  That gave Elsbeth a great deal of free time; but then it seemed that Elsbeth and Goldenrod had become very close in Margueritte’s absence.  Margueritte often continued to absent herself from their company, feeling something like a third wheel, and she would go off and talk to the dogs, and sometimes to the sheep, and sometimes she would cry, but just a little.

“And the rider from Paris should be here any day now,” Margueritte told her puppy one day.  She patted his head and he looked up at her with big eyes and panting tongue.  Actually, the rider from Paris arrived in the triangle at that very moment, and he carried a letter addressed to her.  Roland had agonized for months over what he wanted to say to her, struggled to find just the right words; but then, Margueritte did not get to read that letter, because even as she spoke, her puppy got up and began to growl and bark.

Several horsemen rushed out from the woods.  Margueritte recognized Rowan and assumed Morgan came with him, and she recognized Canto, the druid of Vergenville, but she was not sure of the rest, and she hardly had time for close inspection.

“Hey!  Stay away from the sheep!  Watch out!  Ow, puppy!”  She said “Ow,” and called for her puppy because someone dropped a net on her and it tangled her hair and she almost twisted her ankle.  The puppy, however, got tangled in its’ own net.

“What are you doing?” she yelled.

“Get her out of there and tie her up,” Canto ordered.

“My father will hear about this,” Margueritte threatened.  “You can’t do this.”

They yanked her arms behind her back and tied her tight.  She started to scream for help, but as she did, she found a gag put around her mouth, so it came out, “He-umph!”

“Pick her up, but carefully.  We don’t want her damaged,” Canto ordered.  Roan and Morgan reached for her, but she managed to kick Roan where he would feel it for days to come.  Morgan winced.

“I had an uncle who got kicked like that once,” he said.

Other men stepped up and tied her ankles, and then she got slung over the back of a horse, face down.  She felt a sharp slap on her rump and would have felt humiliated by that if she was not so busy being angry.  The thought, what did they think they were doing?  Was followed swiftly by, how did they imagine they could get away with this? And then, who is behind this?  But for the last, she would have to wait and find out.

The ride to Vergen was not pleasant.  Bumping up and down like that with the blood rushing to her head made her pass out after a while.  That turned out to be just as well, because she started cramping up terribly and hurt in every place they tied her, where the ropes rubbed with each bounce.

Once in town, she was not taken to the magistrate’s hall and to Chief Brian as she had guessed, but instead she got tossed into an empty storage room in a warehouse where they had an old army bedroll on some wilted straw, two rickety chairs and a small table.  She got locked in.  They untied her feet, but they left her hands tied behind her back and the gag securely across her mouth in case she got any ideas.

Margueritte could not cry; she could not scream, and she could not even look at where they cut her hair to untangle her from the net, so she just sat in the chair and fumed.  It felt like they cut it almost up to her shoulder blade in that spot, and apart from that, her only other thought was how the room smelled like musty old rotten apples.

It may have been hours before she heard the latch on the door.

************************

MONDAY

We shall see what the dragon has to say. Until then, Happy Reading

*

M3 Margueritte: One Happy Ending, part 2 of 2

Father Aden and Lady Jennifer held hands, and Margueritte felt warmed by that sight.  Father Stephano came a moment behind them, and they crossed the road, and headed straight for Margueritte.

“My lady,” Jennifer said, and nodded her head slightly toward Marguerite as they came within range.

“Dear Margueritte.”  Father Aden began immediately.  “I do not know if you are well enough or strong enough for this yet,” he apologized.  “But Father Stephano has been recalled to Rome and I am afraid the matter must be settled quickly if things are going to be done properly.”

He did not have to say wedding.  That was understood.  Margueritte just stared for a moment.  She had researched this as well as she could, gathered as much information from her other lifetimes as possible, but that only assured her that there was no absolute answer.  She still felt undecided as to what she should do, or even if she could do anything; so she just stared for a minute before she spoke.

“For my part.”  Father Stephano filled the gap.  “I will say I have never seen two human beings before who were so right for each other.  I would be honored to do the service.”

“But that’s just it…” Margueritte said, and she let the sentence trail off.  She did not say that one of the two was decidedly not human.

“Yes,” Father Aden understood.  “But it is our tradition that a Priest marry and be faithful to one wife rather than subject to daily temptation.”

“Now, let’s not start that again,” Father Stephano said, to one he had evidently taken as a friend.  “We have agreed to disagree.”

“Quite right,” Father Aden said, and he turned his eyes back to Margueritte.

“I do not understand, though, why you must seek the permission of this young lady.”  Father Stephano went on.  “That is one tradition that makes little sense to me.”

“Because I am pledged to her,” Jennifer said, plainly, and she lowered her head a little as if to indicate that she was ready to listen and accept, no matter what.

“Precisely.”  Father Stephano shook his head.  “I would think the younger would be pledged to the older.”  He shrugged, as if to indicate that it was something he might never understand, but it was not that important.

Margueritte knew Father Stephano did not have all the facts.  It was that important, and, like it or not, she was the one had to decide if they could marry.  That one thing had been made most-clear to her.  No matter how many other lives she lived, this one belonged to Margueritte, and so it was up to her how she would live it.  This became her responsibility, not a decision to be made by Gerraint, Festuscato, or even the goddess, Danna.  Margueritte shook herself free of her stare.

“And what has your father to say?” she asked Jennifer.

Jennifer looked up, but not at Margueritte.  Instead, she looked to the manor house where several people came out of the front door, a sure example of the impeccable timing that the little ones so often show.  Lord Barth, Lady Brianna, Elsbeth and Owien, came out with Lord Yellow Leaf, Jennifer’s father, full sized of course.

“My lord.”  Margueritte said to the fee as he approached.

“My lady.”  He bowed to the invalid wrapped in her cloak and blanket as a man might bow to a Dowager Empress.  “We have spoken long and hard these past several days.  We have taken much counsel.  And I have concluded that I will not stand in the way of my daughter’s happiness.”

“You understand if she does this there may be no going back,” Margueritte said.

“I understand.”  Lord Yellow Leaf nodded, but he seemed to be at peace.

“Father Aden?”  Margueritte felt curious, though she did not exactly ask a question.

“I have no reservations, and no doubts.”  Father Aden answered plainly.  Margueritte did not have to ask, exactly.

“Little White Flower?”  Margueritte prompted, deliberately using the Lady’s true name.

“With all my heart,” Little White Flower responded.  “His God is my God, and because of that I know, whether we are apart or together, I will be his, always.”

“His God is my God, too,” Margueritte said, and only then did she understand what she would do.  “Jennifer, please come here and kneel because I do not know if I have the strength to stand and do what I must.”  She did not really intend to do anything, but she honestly did not know what might happen.

Jennifer stepped forward and went to her knees.  She clasped her hands, lowered her head and closed her eyes like a woman in prayer.  She took a deep breath and let it out slowly as if to say she was ready.  Margueritte leaned forward and placed her hands on Jennifer’s head.  Then she took a breath of her own and said what she decided.

“You have my permission, and my blessing.”

They stayed that way for a moment.  It seemed hard to tell, outwardly, if anything much happened.  Jennifer’s appearance hardly changed at all, and she never looked more beautiful, but from the inside-out she got transformed. Neither she nor Margueritte had any doubts.  She became fully human, and the proof came in the tears that began to stream down her face.  As for Margueritte, she felt something like a conduit as the power of creation flowed through her.  It felt a heady, and draining experience, though she lost nothing of herself in the process.  Then she removed her hands and Jennifer went immediately to Aden to hold him and cry on his shoulder.

After a moment, Jennifer turned to cry on Lady Brianna’s shoulder, the Lady having a few tears of her own.  Then she cried on her father, and Yellow Leaf, being as empathic as fairies are, cried with her.  Margueritte saw Elsbeth and Owien standing side by side, touching hands, though not actually holding hands.  Elsbeth had teary eyes herself, but Owien asked a question.

“Why is she crying?” he wondered.  “I thought she would be happy.”

Margueritte looked up.  She had slumped down low on her seat and her mother looked concerned.  “Bartholomew,” she said.  “Help me get your daughter to bed.”  Lord Bartholomew did not just help; he picked Margueritte up and carried her himself all the way to her room and mumbled as he went so Brianna would not hear him.

“I’d kill that hag for hurting my Margueritte so, if she wasn’t already dead.  Made you weak as a kitten.”  Margueritte smiled, but she fell asleep almost before she touched her pillow.

M3 Margueritte: One Happy Ending, part 1 of 2

It took a whole week before Margueritte felt well enough to sit on the bench under the old oak.  She loved her visit with Goldenrod, but she hardly got a word in edgewise.  Goldenrod had too much “newsy.”

“And Hammerhead got so ogerish it was scary to be around him, and he broke bunches of stuff,” she said.  “But your mother was very brave, and she and Lady Jennifer, that’s Little White Flower, you know, they convinced him to go home to his family for a while.  And his family moved down to Aquatainey, but Roland says king Eudo thought the Saracens were scary.  I think he was making a ha-ha.  And anyway, Lord Larchmont and Lord Birch and Lord Yellow Leaf, that’s Little White Flower’s father, you know, and my mother, Lady LeFleur kept everyone working really hard at what they were supposed to be doing.  Mother said you would want it that way, and the Lady Danna, too, though everyone wanted to go looking for you.”

“Grimly?”  Margueritte got one-word in.

“Oh, he and Catspaw went to find where Pipes wandered off to, and Catspaw says she wants children.  And Marta is pregnant, now that she is married to Weldig the potter, though how anyone can stay pregnant for so long is a mystery.  She’s been pregnant five whole months now!  Oh, and Luckless and Lolly are talking to each other, now that Lolly says her work here is done, what with Marta being married and all, and they are talking about going to find their own children.  I didn’t know they had children.”

Margueritte shrugged.

“Oh, and I saw Owien and Elsbeth kissing once, and I laughed and laughed.  It was so funny!  And Maven found a new hidey place for nap time and she says I’m not supposed to tell anyone that it is just past the bushes between the kitchen and the tower, you know, where it is all soft grassy on the hillside.  Oh, and Little White Flower, I mean, Lady Jennifer is beside herself with frets and fusses because Father Stephano has been here three whole weeks and Father Aden has asked her not to get little when Father Stephano is around, but I think she is really in love with Father Aden, you know.  But sometimes he and Father Stephano get really loud, but I think they like each other, so I don’t understand why they get loud unless one of them has some troll or ogre in him.”

“Ahem.”

“Oh, hello, Lady.”  Goldenrod flitted over to Margueritte’s shoulder.

“Mother.”  Margueritte looked up and pulled her blanket up a little as well.

Lady Brianna looked down at her daughter and the little fairy perched so sweetly on her daughter’s shoulder.  “You two are a real picture,” she said with her warmest smile.  “But I think maybe Margueritte has had enough for one day.”

“No, Mother, please,” Margueritte said.  “I’m all right, really.  Here.”  And she pushed over a little to give her mother room to sit

Her mother sat, slowly.  “I always loved the fall,” she said.  “But it is rather chilly out.  I think it may snow soon.”

“It may.”  Margueritte shared the blanket.

“White and lovely, warm and fluffy,” Goldenrod said.

“You don’t know how wonderful it is to be outside, even if it is chilly,” Margueritte said.  Her mother looked at her and after a moment, nodded.  “And Goldenrod, even at her most runny-mouth, is the best company a girl ever had.” Margueritte finished her thought.

“I am?”  Goldenrod asked with complete surprise.

“The best,” Margueritte confirmed with a nod.

“Weee!”  Goldenrod took to the air, positively, and literally beaming with delight.  Both Marguerite and Brianna had to smile.  They felt a small touch of that delight as surely as if it was their own.

After a moment, Goldenrod settled down, and Lady Brianna looked seriously at her daughter.  “I need to speak with you about Jennifer,” she said.  She paused only for a moment as if searching for just the right words.  “She told me the spirits and people are not supposed to mingle.”

“It isn’t encouraged,” Margueritte said.  “Imagine the trouble that could cause.”

“Yes.”    Lady Brianna nodded, grimly.  “I can testify to that by personal experience over these last several years,” she said.  “But there are exceptions.”  She was suggesting something.  Margueritte got curious.  “Say, in the case of true love?”

“Oh?”  Margueritte felt suspicious, but Goldenrod voiced the suspicion before Margueritte could ask.

“Like Lady Jennifer and Father Aden who want to get married,” she blurted it right out.  Lady Brianna looked over to the Chapel.

“Jennifer has grown into a lovely, faithful young woman,” the lady said.  “But I cannot imagine how that might work.”  Fairies tended to live as much as a thousand years, and by comparison, the human lifespan was so terribly short.

“Has anyone talked to her father?”  Margueritte wondered.

Lady Brianna’s eyes lit up, but she said no more about it as she smiled and patted her daughter’s hand and went back inside with one more word.  “Come in soon.”

“I will mother,” Margueritte said and she shrugged off the more disturbing questions by turning back to Goldenrod.  “What other newsy since I’ve been gone?” she asked.

Goldenrod flitted, almost danced in the air like a little porcelain ballerina.  “Lovey, lovey, lovey.”  She stopped still in mid-air.  “No time for newsy.  I have to see if Elsbeth and Owien are getting kissy again.”  And she was gone.

Margueritte got stronger every day, though she remained skinnier than even she wanted to be.  But every day she felt more certain of herself, in her identity, and in her memories, including those memories throughout time that she could reach, and she supposed that was the important thing.

After three days, on an early afternoon very much like the other, Margueritte sat again on the bench under the old oak.  She had her cloak wrapped tight around her, and her blanket tucked in beneath her legs.  She imagined she looked like an invalid, but she felt determined to spend as much time outdoors as she could before the winter made that impossible.

She thought of Roland, of course, and fretted over his going to war.  She felt worried for him, and the thought of Tomberlain with him felt frightening.  She decided not to dwell on that thought.  She just began to wonder for the millionth time if Roland might propose, and imagined what such a life might be like, when she saw Little White Flower, or rather, Lady Jennifer and Father Aden come out from the Chapel.

M3 Margueritte: Rapunzel Set Free, part 3 of 3

Curdwallah chose that moment to come around the side of the tower.  “No!”  She raged when she saw Margueritte free of her prison.  Roland pulled his sword, ready for battle, but Margueritte, with her head in her hand, blinking her eyes from the strain of everything rushing back at her at once, shouted.

“Wait.  No, wait.”  She shook her head.

Thomas tried to sit up and Margueritte scooted back on her knees a little to oblige.

“But why?”  Thomas asked in a small voice, his wind still coming in gasps.

Curdwallah paused.  “My true god, Abraxas, would not let me kill her.  He said she would just be reborn and come back to haunt us.  In the tower, she might live her whole life and we could invoke the plan without interference.

“But now your plan is done,” Roland said.

“I think not.”  Curdwallah eyed him and his sword closely.  With that, Curdwallah began to grow.  In no time, she became ogre sized and her face, hands and legs appeared covered with fur, while her tent-like clothes became too tight.  “I think not,” she said again in a voice a whole octave lower.

Roland slashed out with his sword, but the Curdwallah beast moved supernaturally fast.  She avoided the sword and struck Roland before he could recover.  She hit him hard in the chest.  Roland flew back and slammed against the wall of the tower where he slumped down, dazed.

Catspaw had her hands full calming the terrified horses.  Thomas still could not get to his feet.  Margueritte shrieked, but she grabbed on to the one thought that haunted her while the drooling beast started toward Roland, her prey.

“You are not my mother,” she said, and she pointed accusingly.  Without her knowing why, something like blue lightening, like electricity poured out of her hand.  It was the power given to Bodanagus, her genetic reflection, and it echoed in her.  It struck Curdwallah who arched her back and howled, and it kept coming while the beast began to shake and dance like a person being electrocuted.  Slowly, the beast shrank again until she collapsed, like a criminal struck with a massive Taser.  She still wiggled from the shock when a recovered Roland drove his sword into her heart.  Then he rushed to Margueritte who cried in his arms for what seemed like the longest time.

“I love you,” Roland said, but Margueritte did not really hear as she passed in and out of consciousness.

Boom!

Thomas kicked open the door to the first floor of the tower.  “Aeugh!”  He sounded repulsed and turned quickly away from the sight.  Someone invisible handed him a torch.  He threw it in without looking again, and they all waited until the tower was well in flames.

“Come on,” Roland said.  He mounted his horse, the half-conscious Margueritte cradled gently in his arms.

“The children,” Thomas said.

“I guessed as much,” Roland responded, and he started to walk his horse away from there.

“So did I.”  Grimly said.  Grimly handed Thomas the torch.

“No, you never guessed,” Catspaw objected.

“Did too,” Grimly said.

Thomas whistled for their attention before they started a good row.  “Where’s Lord Barth?”

“Had to fetch him and Squire Tomberlain from Vergenville.  Sorry we were late, but we should find them on the road in about an hour or so.”

“On the road?”  Catspaw questioned.

“I came on ahead,” Grimly admitted.  “I got worried.  I love my Lady.”

“So do I.” Catspaw nodded.

“So do I,” Roland said, quietly.

It took all day to get Margueritte home and into her own bed.  She stayed delirious most of the time, and at times she passed out altogether; but sometimes she seemed lucid enough to give everyone hope.  Jennifer suggested Doctor Pincher and Brianna tried to call him as Margueritte had done, but she got no response.  Finally, she held her daughter’s hand, stomped her foot, lifted her eyes toward heaven, and shouted for the Doctor.

“Here.  Here.”  Doctor Pincher appeared and gave the impression that he had some ringing in his ears.  Lady Brianna quickly explained, and she felt a little surprised the Doctor did not already know all about it.  To this, the Doctor explained something in return.

“You must understand, the Kairos dies.  She is reborn, to be sure, but who is to say how long or short a given life may be.  It is not our place to interfere with that process, even for those of us who may be devoted to her.  She is only human, after all, and in ages past that was one of the main reasons we agreed to have her as a goddess over us all.” Brianna felt astonished by what she heard, but the Doctor consoled her.  “Then again, there is no reason why she should not have first-rate medical treatment, just like any other human might have.  Let me examine the patient.”  He said this as he threw everyone else out of the room and only let her mother stay.

After a while he gave his prognosis.  “There is nothing I can really do.  She is healthy enough, though undernourished.  Her trouble appears to be raging in her mind.  All the same, I see no reason why she should not make a full recovery.  Rest is what she needs, and time.  The Kairos has resources in time which can help far better than I can, even if they may be the partial cause of her present distress.  Rest is the best.  Give her some time, and some chicken soup to see that she is properly nourished.”

“Thank you.  I will.”  Lady Brianna smiled.  “But, oh!”  She interrupted her smile.  “I don’t know how to send you home.”

“Quite all right.”  Doctor Pincher stood while she remained seated.  That put them about eye to eye.  “I am way overdue for a good vacation.  I think I may look around, and perhaps come by here in a week or so to see how my patient is doing.”

“You are so kind.”  Lady Brianna stood as they went out to tell the news to the others.

“I know,” Doctor Pincher said.  “She ruined me when she was Gerraint, or rather, the Lady Greta.  I’ve had no desire for anything but to help people ever since.”  He shrugged and Brianna looked at him once more.  She would never have guessed he was that old.

The next morning, Doctor Pincher walked down the road toward Paris in the company of Roland and Tomberlain, who had been given over to be Roland’s squire.  Lord Barth had taken on Owien since Sir Gilles got too old for such a thing and his dragon busted arm never quite healed right.  They had all waited that morning to be sure Margueritte passed a quiet night, and indeed, she slept well and woke up hungry.  Now, Brianna and Bartholomew stood in the manor door and watched them ride away.

“Lord!”  Barth spoke.  “I bet there will be a real blow in Belgium.  I’ll be sorry to miss it.”

Brianna gave him a love tap on his chest to chide his remark and get his attention.  “I’ll be worried day and night as it is about Tomberlain,” she said.  “I’ll not let you go to get yourself killed at our age.  Whatever would I do?”

Barth smiled.  “Yes, well I still have the girls to watch over.  By the way, where is Elsbeth?”

“I believe she and Owien chose to take an early morning ride,” Brianna said.

“Oh, they did?”  Barth looked up at the barn and stepped down from the front stoop.  “I think I may have a talk with that boy.”

Brianna was about to say something else when they heard the bell ringing from Margueritte’s room.  “I’ll get it,” was what she ended up saying.

Barth started toward the barn and mumbled.  “Yes, I believe it is time that boy and I had a little talk.”

************************

MONDAY

One happy ending, but…  Well, the dragon is still out there, if you recall.  Until Monday.

Happy Reading

*

M3 Margueritte: Rapunzel Set Free, part 2 of 3

Thomas was considering breakfast when he heard a horse and rider.  He thought it better to hide, though he could not remember ever having seen Curdwallah on horseback.  Indeed, that image put a hold on the idea of breakfast.

The bushes rustled and a cat jumped out.  She immediately began to lick herself, as if trying to remove some unpleasant stain.  The horseman followed.

“Why have we stopped?”  The horseman asked.

“Roland.”  Thomas came out from the bushes.

“Thomas!”  Roland got down.  “You found her.  But what are you doing so near the gypsy camp?”

“But, no,” Thomas said.  “We’re just a few miles from DuLac.  So close that I was almost afraid to sleep last night.”

“What?”  Roland looked confused.

“You slept?”  Catspaw looked surprised as she reverted to her elfish form.  “I would not have guessed.”

“Well, I might not have if Grimly had not pointed out the safety of this fairy circle,” Thomas admitted.

“What fairy circle?”  Catspaw asked.  “All I see is a few rocks thrown around.”

Thomas swallowed as Roland interrupted.

“Hold on.  How can we be a few miles from DuLac?  We just left the gypsy camp a couple of hours ago.”

“Would have been sooner if you had listened sooner,” Catspaw said.  She had collected some of the rocks with some sticks and got ready to light a fire.

“I am sorry,” Roland said.  “I don’t understand cat talk.”

“There’s the pity,” Catspaw said, as Thomas quickly fetched a larger bit of wood and a small log.  “I suppose you’ll be wanting breakfast.”

“I was just thinking the same thing,” Thomas said.  He sat by the fire.

“No.”  Roland seemed to want to pace.  “We have to get her out of that place.”

“Come, Roland.  Have a biscuit,” Thomas said, and he offered some to Catspaw.

“Faugh.”  She turned it down, produced a frying pan from a secret pocket, a half-dozen eggs and a good bit of bacon to grease the pan.  “You need to keep up your strength,” she said.  “You’ve ridden all night, know it or not.  At least let your horse have a breather.”

“But the gypsy camp has to be three- or four-days ride from DuLac.”  Roland groused as he sat.  “How can we be so close?”

“There’s ways,” Catspaw said, and handed Roland a wooden bowl already filled with scrambled eggs and bacon.

“That was amazing,” Thomas said, having watched the cooking process.  “Can I watch that again some time?”

“Maybe,” Catspaw sounded non-committal.

“But wait,” Thomas had a thought.  “I imagined all of you brownies were vegetarians.”

“Cats are carnivorous,” Catspaw said, the only explanation she was going to give.

Thomas sighed.  “Eat,” he said, and turned to Roland to make it as much of a command as he could, though he was not very good at such things.  “She’s been enchanted for nearly a year.  Another morning won’t hurt her, but you might not be able to help her if you don’t get some sustenance.”  Roland picked at his food.

When they finished, and cleaned up, Catspaw grinned like a cat.  “Now, you’ve eaten fairy food.  You know you are both my prisoners forever.”

“No offense, but there is only one lady who owns my heart,” Roland said, gently petting his horse.

Catspaw screwed up her face.  “It’s gone that far already, huh?  I guess you’re right.   Fairy food isn’t going to affect you.”

“But I’m your prisoner,” Thomas said, as he brought his horse carefully to the road.

“Naw, have your freedom.”  Catspaw waved her hand.  “I wouldn’t mind a tune or two along the way, though.”

“It would be my pleasure,” Thomas said, and fetched his mandola.

Catspaw paused, and it made Roland turn to look in the same direction.

“I thought the others, or at least Grimly would be back by now to join us,” she said, and Roland nodded, better understanding the delay for breakfast.

“We will just have to do,” he said, and Thomas began to sing.

They had a hard time keeping Roland from rushing on ahead, but at last they came to the spot that strange party of gnomes and lone minstrel had reached the day before.  The tower could be seen, and the manor house sat directly ahead.  Thomas put his hand out to keep Roland from rushing headlong into the unknown.

“We stop at the house first to see if the witch is home,” he said.

Roland nodded.  He understood but appeared terribly impatient.

“I’ll be near if you need me,” Catspaw said, as she faded from sight.

This time, Thomas did not bother with a polite knock.  He pounded on the decrepit door until he heard the shuffling feet.  The door creaked open.

“Her Ladyship is not here.  Go away,” the man said.

“Still not here?  How unfortunate.  Good to see you again, though.”  Thomas smiled.

“Her Ladyship is not here.  Go away.”  The man gave his speech, and they turned their horses toward the tower.

“What’s wrong with him?”  Roland whispered.

“No idea,” Thomas said, as they heard the door close.  “But he’s an interesting fellow.  I was haunted all night with a strange tune to set to those words.  Her Ladyship is not here, go away,” Thomas sang.  “Her ladyship is not here, go away.”

“My minstrel.”  Margueritte shouted from the tower window.  “How glad I am to see you.”

“Margueritte, my friend,” Thomas shouted back and waved.

“And who is this fine-looking knight who rides beside you?”  Margueritte asked, with just a touch of shy in her voice.

“Roland is the most noble and upright sword in the whole land.”  Thomas said with a bit of surprise in his voice.  “I am surprised your mother has not told you.”

“Mother Curdwallah is a woman of few words,” Margueritte said.  “But I am pleased to make the acquaintance of such a noble knight.  What say you?”

“You are every bit as lovely as the good bard has said.”  Roland spoke graciously, going straight to the plan.  “And your mother of few words has often praised you.”

“Kind sir, you know my mother Curdwallah?”

“We are friends for some time, and I am pleased, now, that she has given permission for the master storyteller and I to entertain you in your room so that your days may not be so long and tiresome.”

Margueritte hesitated.  “She spoke nothing of this to me,” she said.

“It was in passing just now,” Thomas said, and he pointed toward the road as if the event had just occurred.  Meanwhile, Roland dismounted and came to the base of the tower.

“But I don’t know.”  Margueritte sounded wary.

“Fine Lady, I understand your hesitation because of all the ills you have suffered, but to show you we have permission, let me say the magic words.”  Roland cleared his throat.  “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair.”

Margueritte hesitated no longer.  She had spent nearly a year bored out of her wits and it did not take that much convincing.  Her hair dropped quickly.

“Get ready.”  Roland whispered as he climbed to the window.

Thomas dismounted and the invisible Catspaw took the reins of both horses.  “Not bad lying for a couple of amateurs,” she whispered.  Thomas kept quiet, though they could hear nothing of what transpired in the tower.  All was still until they heard a clang!  This got followed by Margueritte, her hair cut to waist length, flying out of the window. Thomas broke her fall, but he ended up on his back with the wind knocked out of him.  Margueritte, on top of him, at least appeared unhurt.  Roland jumped from the window, but it proved high enough from the ground to twist his ankle a little when he landed.

M3 Margueritte: Rapunzel Set Free, part 1 of 3

Thomas rode slowly to the manor house.  He dismounted.  He knocked.  He waited and knocked again.  He waited some more until at last, he heard some shuffling from inside.  The door creaked open.  It appeared badly in need of repair as was the whole manor.  A man stood there squinting in the sun, with his eyes glazed over like a man of few thoughts.

“Her Ladyship is not here.  Go away,” the man said.

“I am Thomas of Evandell, come to pay my respects,” Thomas started.

“Her Ladyship is not here.”

“Might I come in and wait?” Thomas finished.

“Go away,” the man finished as well.

Both stood in silence for a minute, Thomas looked more closely at the man, and the man stared into the distance like one who could not quite focus on what he was seeing.

The man began again.  “Her Ladyship.”

“Yes, I know,” Thomas interrupted, though the man continued to say the whole speech.  “Not here.  Go away.”  Thomas finished ahead of the man.

“Go away,” the man finished.

“Well then.”  Thomas backed up to his horse.  “Tell her I came by and it was nice speaking with you.”  This set the man going again even as Thomas mounted his horse.  He turned rather lazily toward the tower and did not hear the manor door close until after the man said, “Go away.”  Though there was no one there to be talking to.

Thomas had a thought.  He pulled out his mandola and began the tune of the girls, the unicorn and the ogres.  Sure enough, a face came to the first-floor window of the tower.  It was Margueritte’s face.  She said nothing but listened intently to the story and even cried a little for joy as he sang of their heroic escape and safe return to the arms of their loving family.

“Oh, master storyteller,” Margueritte spoke at last when the song finished, and Thomas dismounted.  “That was the loveliest story.  Please tell me it was not make-believe.”

“True as rain, my lady,” Thomas said.  He was wary, not sure how deep the enchantment ran in Margueritte’s mind.  “And there are many more, wonderful, exciting, romantic stories I would be honored to share with you.”

“Oh, yes, please,” Margueritte said, excited.  “You have no idea how bored and lonely I am to be in this tower day and night without so much as one to talk to.”

“Why don’t you come down and join me for a bite to eat around a cozy fire.  I could tell you many tales,” Thomas suggested.

“Oh, I mustn’t,” Margueritte said.  “Mother Curdwallah says if I leave the tower, I will lose my mind again and have to start over, not even knowing my own name.”

“Mother Curdwallah?”  Thomas had to ask.

“Oh, yes,” Margueritte responded.  “But I hardly think so sometimes.  She can be very stern and so easily gets cross.”  Margueritte held her head up proudly but clearly had to fight back tears.

“Dear Margueritte,” Thomas said.  “Curdwallah is not your mother.  I know your real mother, and she misses you, terribly.”

Margueritte was about to say one thing, but she changed her mind with a second thought.  “You know my name?  You do not serve the evil one, do you?”

Thomas was taken aback for a moment.  “Hardly,” he said at last.  “Though it pains me to speak so of any Lady, the only evil one I know is Curdwallah herself.”

That struck a note in Margueritte’s heart.  Thomas could see the wheels turning, and he was about to say more when he heard a whisper in his ear.

“The witch is coming.”

“Alas, I must go for now,” Thomas said, quickly.

“Must you?”

“Yes, but grant me a boon sweet lady.  Keep my visit a secret and I will come again with special stories to lighten your days.”

“I shall,” Margueritte promised.

“Hurry.”  Grimly whispered.

Thomas led his horse back into the few trees and bushes out beyond the tower and suddenly found the brownies circled around him.  “No time to run.”  Grimly explained, and after a moment Grimly, Catspaw and Pipes became visible again.

“But won’t she see us?” Thomas asked.

“Hope not,” Pipes said.

“No.  You’re invisible now, like us,” Catspaw explained.

“Oh.”  Thomas understood, but suddenly started.  “But my horse.”

“Deer dew!”  Grimly swore and they all tried hard, but the tail simply would not go away.

“Gots to do,” Grimly said.

“Shhh.”  Thomas hushed him.  Curdwallah had arrived and he was intent on eavesdropping.

Curdwallah stopped beneath Margueritte’s window and took one long look around, to be sure no one was watching or listening in.  She paused and rested her eyes on the bushes where Thomas and the little ones hid.

“Damn.”  Thomas breathed to himself.  He scooted down deeper beneath the brush as Curdwallah came close.  Grimly and the others got as small as they could.

“And what’s this?”  Curdwallah said out loud as she reached out with uncanny speed and grabbed the horse’s reigns, having judged their location based on the sight of the still visible tail.  “An invisible horse.”  She said and checked the saddle area.  “Abandoned by the rider, I see.”  She raised her voice in a shout and stood nearly on top of Thomas.  “And it better stay abandoned if you know what is good for you!”  With that she brought the horse to the back side of the tower where Thomas assumed she had some place to tie off the horse.

After a moment, Curdwallah returned to the tower window and after one more look around, she shouted up.  “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair.”  Thomas watched as Margueritte let her hair down.  It fell within two or three feet of the ground.

Curdwallah, though she looked like an old and frail woman, grabbed hold of the hair and scaled the tower wall as easily as a monkey climbing a tree.  “Where did you ever come up with Rapunzel?”  Curdwallah asked.

“I don’t know,” Margueritte answered.  “But you said I had to pick a name other than my own.”

That was the last they heard as Curdwallah and Margueritte got lost in the tower.

“Strong woman,” Grimly whispered.

“Supernaturally strong,” Thomas agreed.

“Super-duper natural,” Pipes added.

“Better get your things while you can,” Catspaw said, and Thomas was glad at least one of them was being sensible.

It did not take long to get several miles away.  Then plans had to be made, but immediately Grimly and Pipes began to argue.  Catspaw finally settled the matter.

“I’ll go and fetch Roland from the gypsy camp,” she said.  “You boys are too slow, anyway.”

“There is that,” Grimly nodded.

“She is the fast one,” Pipes agreed while Catspaw rolled her eyes for Thomas’ sake.  He was not sure he followed it all, but he did get the distinct impression the little ones had no love for gypsies.

“I guess I better go back to the triangle, since the family knows me, you know,” Grimly said.  “Pipes, that leaves you with Little White Flower down on the Atlantique.”

“Even by secret ways that’s a two-day trip,” Pipes complained.

“You could have the gypsies,” Catspaw offered.

“Forget it,” Pipes said and rubbed his feet to get ready.

“Wait, wait.”  Thomas interrupted.  “Baron Bernard’s home is at least six or seven days from here, if not more.  How do you figure two days?”

“There’s ways,” Grimly said, softly.  The others said nothing until Catspaw transformed suddenly into something akin to a bobcat.

“Better be off,” she meowed and bounded into the brush.

“And what should I do?”  Thomas asked.

“Stay here,” Pipes said, and he started out, whistling as he went.

“But.”

“Fairy circle.”  Grimly pointed out the stones.  “Might help some if the witch comes by, but only because I like you.”  And he was gone, too.