M3 Margueritte: Trouble in Banner Bein, part 3 of 3

Margueritte looked into the dark and felt immediately overwhelmed by the smell of mold and old bones.  She turned her head.  “Will you wait for me?” she asked, and the unicorn agreed.  Margueritte nodded her thanks, and with tears in her eyes, from fear as much as from the smell, she stepped into the dark of the graves.

Down a long corridor, and she had to turn away from the light altogether.  She needed her hand at that point to touch the wall and not lose her way.  She felt sure she touched dead bones more than once, but the bones and the dark did not frighten her.  The ghosts of lost souls that haunted the passageways raised the hair on the back of her neck.

She came to no more turns before she caught the glimmer of firelight ahead.  She heard the deep, gravel voices of the ogres in the distance, but curiously, they did not make her nearly as afraid as the thought of ghosts.

“The lady will be happy with the girl,” one said.

“Is that what it is?  A girl?”  That sounded like a much deeper voice.  Margueritte guessed the first one was the female—the smart one.

“I’m hungry.”  That had to be the little one, though it was hard to tell by the voice.

“The sheep’s a boiling,” the female said.  “We’ll get a good winter’s nap from that lot.”

Margueritte shook her head as she neared the light.  The sheep were already gone.  She only hoped Elsbeth was still in one piece.

“Eh!”  That was an imp voice.  “Fingers out of the pot.”  She heard a sharp crack of a metal spoon rapped against rocks, which Margueritte rightly interpreted as the ogre’s knuckles.

“Ow! But I like it more raw.”  The ogre complained in a voice which suggested he might be the grandfather.

Margueritte stole that moment to peek and guessed that the ogres would all be turned away.  Sure enough, their eyes were on the fire and the old ogre who licked his knuckles.  The imp stood on a tall stool over a cauldron big enough for three men where she stirred the meat with a spoon studded with spikes against over eager hands.

“Well, just wait with the rest.”  The imp went back to stirring, while Margueritte, who saw an opening, took that moment to sneak in behind a rough-hewn cabinet which had been pushed only lazily toward the wall.  She waited there a long time while the ogres argued over the stew, before they settled grumpily around the tremendous fire which took up the whole center of the room.  Margueritte appreciated the cabinet, since the heat from the fire felt sweltering.

Elsbeth sat in the corner, well away from the fire, her hands wrapped with thick chords of rope, tied to the bench she occupied.  Margueritte imagined the imp tied her there since she would be the only one with fingers capable of tying a knot without accidentally breaking Elsbeth’s wrist.  Elsbeth looked awake but stared blindly as if in shock and unable to fully comprehend what was happening to her.  Margueritte tried several times to get her attention, but to no avail.

At last the imp declared the sheep ready enough and everyone grabbed a favorite piece and began to munch, bones and all.  Margueritte, who had been brought up with some manners felt repulsed by the scene.  She knew she ought to wait until they finished and hopefully went to bed, or at least to sleep, but the longer she stayed behind the cabinet, the more worried she became.  It would be dark soon.  The unicorn might not wait much longer.  Surely, they are so absorbed with eating, they will not notice her.  She saw a cupboard of sorts and a terribly oversized wooden bucket she could slip behind along the way.  And all this finally convinced her to move before it was prudent.

The cabinet was easy to get to.  But the bucket sat some steps off.  She decided to try the old rock throwing routine, but her first rock, instead of sailing over the heads of the ogres and making a nice clattering sound on the other side of the cave, it slammed into the father ogre’s head.  Then again, he did not even feel it and only paused long enough to mumble something about nasty insects.

Margueritte’s next stone sailed truer to the target.  It did not clatter quite like she hoped, but it did turn the ogre heads long enough for her to dash to the bucket.

“More likely rats.”  The mother ogre commented before they returned to their feast.  “Maybe we can catch some for dessert.”

Elsbeth saw her sister suddenly and looked about to shout out.  Margueritte barely kept Elsbeth quiet long enough to hunker down behind the bucket rim.  She still concentrated on keeping her sister quiet when the father ogre got up and stepped to the bucket.  He scooped up a drink in the tremendous ladle and then splashed the scoop back into the bucket which caused the water to slosh over the side and soak Margueritte’s head.  One step and the ogre’s vision caught up with his brain, and his arm was much longer than Margueritte would have believed.

“Hey!”  The ogre shouted and in one reach, scooped Margueritte up by her hair.  Elsbeth screamed and that caused a moment of confusion, which allowed Margueritte to slip to the ground, free of the Ogre’s grasp.  Marguerite flew to Elsbeth’s side, but the thick rope proved too hard to untie quickly.  In a moment, the imp was on her and the ogre family blocked the way out.

“What have we here?”  The imp asked.

“The Danna.  The Don.”  Margueritte answered without thinking.  “And you have invaded my house without asking.”  Her fear made her angry and opened her mouth with whatever words might come out.

“Now come, pretty.”  The imp reached out to grab Margueritte’s arm, but something like lightning from ruby slippers caused the imp to jump back and suck her fingers.  Margueritte finished untying her sister.  “I told Ping no children!”  Margueritte shouted while the imp’s eyes widened as big as dinner plates.

“You saw my husband?” she whispered through her fingers.

“I said no children, and I never said he could have even one sheep,” Margueritte raged.  “You stole them.  You are thieves and you owe me your lives in return.”  It seemed a bold madness drove the poor girl.  Even Elsbeth stared.  Margueritte grabbed her sister’s hand and marched to the door full of ogres.  Elsbeth averted her eyes because they were so hideous to look at.  Margueritte, however, stared right at them all and demanded.  “Move!”

The mother, the young one and the dim-witted grandfather were all inclined to follow instructions, but the father bent down and tried to grin.  Lucky, Elsbeth was not watching.  The sight of an ogre grinning could make the strongest stomach give it up.

“Now, then, you don’t mean it,” the ogre said.  “Why not stop for a bite to eat and a bit of calm down?”

Margueritte’s fear peaked.  “Smasher!”  She shouted the ogre’s name.  “I said move!”  She screamed and her little hand rushed out and slapped the rock-hard ogre jaw dead on.  Of course, nothing should have happened other than Margueritte hurting her hand, but to everyone’s amazement, the ogre got knocked all the way to the wall and slid to his seat, unconscious.  Margueritte was not about to look that gift ogre in the mouth.  With a tight hold on Elsbeth’s hand, she raced down the long, dark hall and the other ogres gave her plenty of space.  She turned toward the light.  She heard the young one call after her.

“Don.  Danna.  Wait.  Please.”

Margueritte did not wait.  As soon as she got out the door, she saw the sun well on its way to the horizon. Gratefully, she saw the unicorn still there, not having moved an inch.

“Margueritte?”  Elsbeth said, and followed immediately with, “So pretty!”  The unicorn dropped to one knee and Margueritte placed her sister on the beast’s back.  She slipped up behind while she told her sister to hold tight to the unicorn’s mane.  Then they were off at a soft gallop which the girls hardly felt.  Margueritte even had time to look back and see that ugly young head peek out of the open door.  “Hammerhead is a dweeb.”  Margueritte thought to herself and felt rather affectionate toward the youth, ogre though he was.  She attributed the feeling to the unicorn and imagined that one could not do other than love in the purest sense when in such a creature’s presence.  In truth, everything was by necessity pure in the presence of a unicorn.

Whether by magic or by design, only moments later they found Lord Bartholomew, Tomberlain, and several soldiers of the Franks.  The troop halted and stared in wonder at the beast which carried the innocents.  Margueritte got down right away when the unicorn stopped, a good ten yards from the troop.  Elsbeth still hugged the unicorn, utterly in love, and Margueritte knew, fully cured from the trauma she had suffered.  A tear of pure joy and gratitude showed in Margueritte’s eye when she leaned over and kissed the unicorn on the nose.  Elsbeth did not want to let go, but Margueritte got her down, slowly.  As soon as Elsbeth got free, the unicorn bounded into the forest, and so fast it looked like the animal vanished into thin air.  Elsbeth cried, but her father came up quickly and lifted her in his arms.

Tomberlain hugged Margueritte to pieces.  “I thought I lost my very best sister,” he said.

“I was so scared,” Margueritte admitted, and then she saw her dog draped over one of the soldier’s horses and she cried with her sister.

The next day, she told her family the whole story.  Elsbeth praised her courageous sister and embellished the part in the ogre’s lair almost beyond reason.  In turn, they told how they trailed her, how they found her old dog and, oddly enough, the tails of all the sheep hanging from a tree branch as if set out to dry in some strange ritual.

“I don’t think those ogres will give us trouble anymore, at least as far as children go,” Margueritte said, and then she wandered down to the kennels where her dog got buried and set a small wood cross on the grave.

“Mother?” she asked.  “Do dogs go to heaven?”

“I don’t see why not,” her mother said.  “God made them, too.”

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MONDAY

After the trouble in Banner Bein, there are tales and secrets to tell…  Until Monday, Happy Reading

 

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M3 Margueritte: Trouble in Banner Bein, part 2 of 3

Almost exactly a year after that day, when Elsbeth, now seven came with her, Maven found them by the stream near the grotto where the sheep were watering.   Elsbeth liked to dance through the clearing.  In truth, Elsbeth liked to dance as much as she hated to cook.

“Come along,” Maven said.  “Bring your sheep up to the meadow.  I have special treats for you today.”

“Elsbeth.”  Margueritte called, but Elsbeth did not answer.  Margueritte stepped to the clearing and reached out while Elsbeth danced.  She took hold of Elsbeth’s scarf and pulled, expecting her sister to come along, but the scarf came free and Elsbeth stuck out her tongue as she continued to pirouette across the grass.

“She’ll be along when she’s hungry enough,” Maven said, as she turned to climb up out of the hollow.  Margueritte shrugged but held on to Elsbeth’s scarf as she took her crop to drive the sheep to the meadow.  Her old dog followed but he did not really help.  He was more of a hunting hound than a sheep dog, and of an age where he had a hard-enough time getting himself up the hill without trying to drive sheep as well.

Atop the hollow, on the meadow’s edge, Maven huffed and puffed right along with the dog.  Margueritte smiled as the sheep spread out to graze.  “What special treats?”  She asked, not really expecting an immediate answer.

“Heavy ones.”  Maven feigned her need to sit and rest, as she always did.

“Well, as long as they weren’t cooked by Elsbeth, I am sure they will be good.”  Margueritte joked, mostly to herself.

No sooner had Maven set down her burden by the old oak, and the dog prepared to curl up in his usual spot, a scream from Elsbeth pierced the air.  Margueritte turned.  Maven looked ashen and the dog perked up his ears.

“Elsbeth!”  Margueritte shouted, but Elsbeth screamed again, and then a third time as Margueritte began to run.  Maven waddled after as fast as she could, and the old dog paced Margueritte and began to bark wildly at something unknown.  Elsbeth screamed again, but the scream echoed from some distance downstream.  Margueritte and her dog turned to follow, but Maven raised her voice, and that alone was so unusual it made Margueritte stop in her tracks.

“Hold where you are!”  Maven shouted as she puffed up the last few steps.  “Someone’s taken her, that is certain, and I’ll not have you follow and get lost or taken yourself.  Quickly, now, home to your father.  Let him raise the men to follow proper and be quick.  The quicker, the better.”

“No,” Margueritte protested and turned after her sister, but Maven grabbed her by her arm.

“I’ll not argue.  And I’ll not lose you, too,” Maven said, sternly.

“But the sheep.”  Margueritte reminded her.  Maven paused and looked toward the meadow.  “I’ll not leave them.”  Margueritte pressed her words.  “And I’ll have Ragnar with me to protect me.”  She pointed at the dog.

Maven spat at the dilemma, but she let go and began to waddle at top speed toward the triangle, saving only enough breath to shout back.  “You better be here and safe when your father comes, or it will be my life.”  She knew the risks.

Margueritte did not really know what to do.  “Elsbeth,” she breathed.  She knew, especially if the kidnappers were on horseback, they were well out of her reach by then.  She turned slowly, the dog panting beside her, and climbed back to the meadow with her head hung low.  When she arrived, however, a surprise greeted her.  The sheep were gone, everyone.  Look as she might, she found neither sight nor sound of any of them.  She wanted to cry, and might have, if a voice in her head had not said, “Leave them alone and they’ll come home.”

“Wagging their tales behind them,” Margueritte said out loud in a flat voice while she fingered the cloth in her hand.  The dog barked.  Margueritte took a closer look at Elsbeth’s scarf, the dog, and had an idea.

They went back to the stream and she rubbed the scarf all over the poor old hound’s nose.  She repeated the word, “Elsbeth,” as she did.  Then she let go, pointed downstream and tucked the scarf into her dress.  “Elsbeth.”  She said it again, several times.  The dog was slow but got it in the end.  He began to sniff the ground, round and round where Elsbeth danced, and he snorted several times at what was probably a strange scent before he at last settled on a direction.  The dog trotted, and Margueritte had to trot along to keep up.  A good hour passed before Margueritte wished she had brought some of Maven’s dinner with her, and another hour before she absolutely had to stop and rest.

“Thank the Lord you are old and can hardly move fast,” she said, as she patted Ragnar’s nappy head.  He had never wavered in his trail.  They left the stream behind and headed right through the woods called the Banner.  These were much wilder and untouched than the woods of Vergen.  There were no roads here at all, and no sign at all of human encroachment.  The terrible rocky soil made it impossible to farm, and the ridges of rock that broke it up made it worse.  The greatest ridge was Banner Bein, and people said it was full of caves where kings of old were buried.  This was not a place Margueritte wanted to be alone in the dark, but as it turned only an hour or two beyond noontide, Margueritte imagined she had plenty of time yet before she should have to worry.

“Okay.”  She got again to her feet and gave the dog another good whiff of Elsbeth’s scarf.  “Time to move.  Elsbeth,” she said.  “Elsbeth,” she repeated, and then she realized that two hours of her own dress pressed against the scarf might have the poor beast confused.  Still, he picked up a scent of some kind and started out, and Margueritte stayed right behind.

At one particularly rocky place, the dog stopped.  It appeared to be confused.  They were in a small dip covered with eons of fallen leaves.  All around were rock facings, boulders of various sizes, some that seemed to grow right out of the ground along with the trees, both birch and pine.

“What is it?”  Margueritte asked the dog as if he might answer.  Suddenly, the dog growled and leapt.  A black bear came growling and staggered into the little clearing.

Margueritte screamed several times while dog and bear went at each other.  The dog got a good hold of the bear’s shoulder with his old jaws, but the bear knocked him off and with a great paw swipe and sent the dog into the nearest boulder.  Fortunately, the bear seemed to have had enough and rushed off down the hill to lick its wounds.  The dog, however, did not move when Margueritte fell on it.  The dog stopped breathing, and Margueritte began to cry as her foolishness suddenly came to mind with a vengeance.  She had gotten herself utterly lost in the Banner, and it would be dark soon enough.  She became wracked in tears, and for Elsbeth as much as herself, and she stayed that way, crying on the poor dog’s face until something rather sharp poked her in the side.

Margueritte jumped back.  She thought for a brief instant that the bear had returned, and her quick motion almost frightened off the beast.  It pranced a little but settled down to stare at the girl with sad, deep-set and intelligent eyes.  The one, long horn that grew from its’ forehead looked silver in color, while the beast looked white, yet the horn sparkled ever so slightly, and the beast glowed a bit in the shadow of the trees.  This told Margueritte that this was a creature not entirely of this world.

“Will you help me?” Margueritte asked, with great hope in her voice, and never doubted for once that the unicorn would understand exactly what she asked.

The unicorn nodded and shook little sparkles from its mane.  It lowered one leg to invite the maid to ride.  Margueritte did not hesitate.  Faith guided her.  She got up on the unicorn’s back and immediately the unicorn started out at a gentle pace.

“Are we going to Elsbeth?” Margueritte asked.  The unicorn nodded again and Margueritte said “Thank you,” and cried some more into the unicorn’s glorious mane.

Another hour passed of up-hill and down, through the trees and across unexpected meadows.  One meadow showed signs of a recent fire, which might have been a ritual fire of some kind.  Margueritte did not want to look too closely.

At last they came to the face of a rock outcropping on Banner Bein and stopped.  Margueritte got the message and slipped off the unicorn’s back.  She faced the rocks and saw writing of some kind, but it looked like runes—clearly pre-Roman.  She squinted at it, but the runes made no sense except for one name: Danna, Danu or Don, depending on the accent.  “This is the place where kings are buried,” Margueritte said and the unicorn nodded and stomped its’ foot.  “And where gods of old were buried in the time of dissolution,” she added, and again the unicorn nodded and stomped.  “But how may I get in?”  She asked and stepped aside while the unicorn stepped up.  The unicorn touched the very name of Don and stepped back.  Something creaked, groaned, and it sounded like rocks scraping against rocks, but slowly a door opened in the hillside.  The opening stood ten feet tall and eight feet wide.

M3 Margueritte: Trouble in Banner Bein, part 1 of 3

In the year of our Lord, 707, there were trolls reported in the hills of Banner Bein, those gentle, rocky rises just south of Vergenville.  Some sheep and cattle were said to be missing and everyone agreed that it would be ordinary thieves but for two reasons.  First, the animal tracks disappeared right where they were taken.  This spoke of a powerful enchantment or it suggested that the animals were literally lifted from the ground and carried off.  Of course, only trolls could be imagined carrying off a thousand pounds of beef.  Second was the matter of the children.  Three youngsters and two babies were missing and since there were no gypsies or other strangers around to blame, the accusation naturally fell upon the little ones in general, and trolls in particular because of the issue of the beef and sheep.

There were those Moslems around the king’s palace, but they were discounted because they were hardly remembered.  The Lord Ahlmored and his people scrupulously avoided any and all contact with the ordinary people of Amorica.  The ambassador was reported to have said that when the time came the people would be converted by the sword readily enough.  This did not sit well with the Breton any more than it did with the Franks who felt a man’s soul ought to be able to make its’ own choices.  The days when the Romans persecuted the Christians were in the deep past and hardly remembered, and the druids never imposed themselves on the people.  For too many centuries the druids had been a natural and unchallenged part of the culture, so they did not have to rule by imposition.  True, men like Aden the Convert were making many followers of the old ways uncomfortable, but they were tolerated for the good the Adens of the world did, and for the love they evidently had for all the people.  These Moslems, by contrast, apparently waited until they gained the upper hand, and then, at least in those days, it became either convert or die.  That rankled a lot of people, but it did not speak for their stealing babies.  In fact, the followers of Mohamet strove so hard not to have touch with the people, the people forgot they were there.

So, the common wisdom said trolls in Banner Bein, though Margueritte did not think that sounded exactly right.

Tomberlain went well into his thirteenth year that early summer and a true page for his father.  He had duties every day but Wednesday and Sunday.  Wednesday got spent at the home of Constantus and Lady Lavinia with his sisters, learning his letters.  Constantus was of the old Roman mindset who insisted that Latin was the only proper language in which to read, write and think.  He required that Latin alone be spoken in his house, and secretly appreciated the silence when guests came to visit.  Lady Lavinia, on the other hand, decided with her husband’s consent and support, to teach Latin to any and all young ladies and gentlemen within reach of her home.  Wednesday was the day Tomberlain and Margueritte made the trip, which was two hours each way.  And Elsbeth joined them when she got a little older.

Sunday, of course, was the Lord’s Day and Lady Brianna treated it like a Sabbath. She insisted that even the serfs and peasants should rest, though Sir Barth always saw that the necessities were done.  Her son, Tomberlain, became another matter.  She would not let him do his duties and rather schooled him, with the girls, in prayer and Christian virtues.  Often, Aden the Convert or other Christians from among the Breton and Franks would join them on Sunday, and to that end, just across the roadway from the triangle, she had a chapel built.  Andrew and John, or maybe James, did most of the building.

Elsbeth, who turned six that summer, got exceptionally bored on Mondays, Tuesdays and, before she was old enough for the Latin, on Wednesdays.  She could not do anything about Wednesday, but on Mondays and Tuesdays, Margueritte, who turned ten, got the sheep to take to pasture with her old dog along to help.  Sir Barth said he needed the extra hands of the regular shepherds to make up for the damned inconvenience of Sunday, as he called it.  Lady Brianna did not mind.  She felt her daughter was getting old enough to begin taking some responsibility around the manor, and besides, she spent plenty of her own youth watching sheep for her father.  This, however, left Elsbeth rather isolated and alone.  The end of the week was fine because that was when the girls were schooled in spinning, sewing, weaving, cooking, music and other arts, such as women did, but the beginning of the week felt lonely for poor Elsbeth.

It did not take long before Elsbeth began to follow her sister to the pasture.  Both girls were glad for the company, but Lady Brianna was not happy to see her baby so far from the house at such a young age.  She could not stop it, however, short of locking Elsbeth in her room, so in the end she relented.  She always sent Maven early with their noon meal, and Maven stayed for several hours, generally sleeping under a tree, until she had to get back to help prepare the evening meal.  In this way, Brianna became able to more or less keep an eye on the girls.

On one Monday in August, Elsbeth did not go with her, and Maven did not stay for her usual nap.  Apparently Elsbeth, who hated cooking, passionately, was being forced to make an acceptable pie.  Margueritte sighed for being alone.  She petted her old dog, Ragnar, and he almost woke, and then she counted the sheep for the millionth time.  In so doing, however, she noticed a strange sight.  An old man waggled toward her, slowly, leaning heavily on a staff of crooked oak wood.  Margueritte stood.

At once she saw that the man could not have been taller than four feet.  Margueritte, who already stood a good bit over four feet tall at age ten, towered over him, but she stayed respectful all the same, as she had been taught.

When he came near, she saw a man bent over, with a huge, bulbous nose and a white beard that fell almost to the ground.  His white eyebrows were so bushy she could barely see his eyes beneath, but those eyes appeared sharp to her and quick to see more than just appearances.

“Good-day old man,” Margueritte said with a small curtsey.  “What brings you to the land of Count Bartholomew?  Perhaps I can be of help.”

The man looked at her for a moment before he answered.  “Don’t slouch,” he said, and immediately Margueritte stood up straight and realized that she had been slouching to be more equal to his height, so as not to offend.  “You’re not a simple peasant girl I would say.”  The man’s voice was gruff but disguised a sweetness that Margueritte could not explain.

“No, sir,” Margueritte answered honestly.  “The Lord Bartholomew is my father. I am Margueritte.”

“Sending his own daughter out as a simple shepherdess?”  The man’s question came out more like a statement of judgment.

“Yes, sir,” Margueritte answered.  “Mother says it is good to learn responsibility at a young age and to learn to help with all the chores.  She, herself tended the sheep when she was young.”

“Brianna, the Breton wife,” the man said, and seemed to know all about it.  “But here, my plight is simple enough.  My family and I are hungry.  Our food is exhausted and there is time yet before the harvest.  It has been said Lord Bartholomew and Lady Brianna are generous and kind to help the poor and hungry.  It is my hope that your father may help us with enough to see us to harvest.”

“Oh, I am sure he will,” Margueritte said, with a touch of joy and pride in her words.  “Never were there more willing and generous folks than my own sweet parents.” The old man nodded, and Margueritte turned ever so slightly to point the way.  “There,” she said.  “After the meadow, you will come down into a hollow, and after the hollow, you will come to a stream and a grotto in the woods.  Pass straight through the grotto in the way you are going and beyond the trees on the other side you will come to the fields of my father.  From there you will see the triangle of buildings where the family is at home. Go and ask and say we have spoken if you wish.  I am sure…”  Margueritte let her voice trail to nothing as she saw the old man waving off her words, and with what she noticed as an exceptionally large and bony hand.

“I have little strength for such a journey.  Perhaps if I may have one of your sheep, it will save us.  This will be sufficient for our needs.”

“Oh dear.”  Margueritte immediately started to count her sheep, though she knew how many were there.  “I don’t know.”  She started to speak as well, but the old man looked up at her with such longing in his eyes she could hardly say no.

Margueritte looked deeply into those odd, little eyes, and for a moment she saw something Asian about him, strange as that sounded.  “You would not be lying to me, would you, Ping?”  She called him by name, having no idea where that name came from; but that it was his right name, she was sure, and doubly so when the man spun quickly once around.

“How did you know what I am called?  I don’t remember revealing myself.”

Suddenly, Margueritte saw the elderly imp right through his disguise.  It frightened her for a moment, but then she knew, like instinct, that the imp could not and would not harm her.  “Is my young sight so blind to not know an imp when I see one?” she said.  “Stay,” she added, to be sure the imp did not run off immediately.

“But.”  Ping looked up at her again with new eyes.  His disguise fell away which showed him to be just over three feet tall, with no white hair or eyebrows at all, and certainly they were Asian looking eyes.  “B-b-but,” he stuttered.

“I have heard things.”  Margueritte pressed her advantage as she felt suddenly, strangely empowered in the presence of this little one.  “About trolls at Banner Bein and the stealing of animals and children.”

“What?  No, never trolls.  Who would steal children?  That old way is strictly forbidden by the gods, and though they have all gone over to the other side, we do not forget the rules.  And as for the animals, they were all fairly begged.”  Ping clamped his mouth closed.  He had no intention of admitting anything more.

“No trolls?”  Margueritte imagined.  “Ogres then able to go about in the daytime.”  Ping nodded in spite of himself.  “And an imp or two, come up with the Moslems?”  Ping kept nodding, but his feet began to back up.  “And you are right.  I have forbidden the taking and eating of children,” she said, though again she hardly knew what she was saying.  She looked at the imp also without knowing what came-up into her eyes, but the imp shrieked, and he did turn, and he ran off as fast as his little old legs could carry him, which proved far faster than any human could run.

Margueritte sat down with a thump beside her dog who barely stirred from his nap. She put her hand tenderly on the beast’s side and wondered what that was all about.

M3 Margueritte: Samhain, part 3 of 3

In the morning, there were jugglers and acrobats, men on stilts, little people, and people who told fortunes for a price.  The cloth got a really good going over, and some actually got bought.  The highlight of the day, however, came before the noonday dinner.  It was a horse race that Constantus always won and in which Bartholomew always came in second.  The thing seemed so sure the rest argued about who would be third.  That year, however, there were some new entrants, and the one true unknown factor was how the Spaniard’s so-called Arabian might perform.

The course looked simple enough.  First came a short stretch to judge speed, but then the real test began.  Second came a field, newly flattened, as well as the people could get it, where a spear had to be put through each banner in the field.  They were spaced like chutes on a ski slope and each miss deducted points.  Third, one entered the obstacle course which involved jumps over various heights and widths with carefully measured distances between.  Last came the endurance test and it involved a real race down a long stretch of road, around the distant post and back to the finish.

Sir Barth came in fifth in the speed portion, but that was normal since his charger had not been bred for speed alone.  By the time he finished stabbing the banners, he stood in third place, but there he stayed.  The Arabian surprised everyone and kept up with Constantus’ courser the whole way.  There even came one point at the end, when they rounded the endurance pole, that it looked as if the Arabian might actually win.  Constantus eked it out by a nose, and later, the king’s men discovered that the Arabian was in bad shape after the race, as if the rider pushed it almost beyond endurance.  Some suggested it may have been drugged beforehand to perform.  That did not mollify Lord Bartholomew however, who finished a whole length behind the other two.

“I would not have minded third,” he said after.  “If it did not give that Ahlmored fellow something to brag about.”

“Come now.”  The baron whose eldest son came in seventh consoled his friend.  “I don’t think that will even register on his scale of brags.  Didn’t you know everything among the Arabs is bigger and better than anything we poor backwards People of the Book have?”

Barth laughed.  He had heard the man speak.

“But what I want to know.”  Constantus smiled.  “Is when will you give up this foolishness?  You will never beat the Gray Ghost.”

“The man names his horses?”  Lord Bartholomew made it a joke.  “He names his horses,” he repeated for a passing stranger.

Back at the inn, they found Thomas of Evandell, king Urbon’s bard, entertaining the children during their noon meal with tales of King Arthur and his knights of the round table.  Margueritte especially loved the story of Gerraint, son of Erbin, and how he won the hand of the beautiful Enid.

Sir Barth noticed that the bard carefully covered the fact that Arthur and his knights were decidedly Christian, but he did not cover it too well.  Actually, it was masterfully done so no Christian would doubt, but no druid would have reason to suspect, or if they suspected, they would have no grounds with which to accuse.

Even Elsbeth, in her way, appeared fascinated by the stories, as was her brother Tomberlain, though he spent much of the mealtime holding his head and grimacing.  After the meal, they had free time among the booths and plays.  There were puppets in the afternoon while the men and boys were off in sport, having combats, or playing games which were very much like combats.

Finally, evening began to approach.  Food got hastily prepared so the fires could all be put out.  The adults were with the king, and Father Aden of Iona, known locally as Aden the Convert, came to the inn.

“No,” he explained to Maven, along with a great deal of the Christian religion, he was not welcome at the pagan festival.  “The king hears many of my words and I like to think I am gaining some ground, but Duredain the druid still has the king’s true ear and Brian, the village chief here is a strong believer in the old ways.”

“Get up and help,” Marta yelled, but it did no good.  Maven appeared glued to Aden’s every word.  Margueritte imagined that as soon as the lights went out, Maven would find a corner for a quick nap.  Meanwhile, she kept Aden busy with her questions, and would continue rather than work for as long as she could think of questions to ask.

“So, tell me, little one,” Aden said at last when Maven needed a breath.  He turned to Margueritte, much to her surprise.  “Why has your father not been baptized?”

“Because.”  Tomberlain spoke up for his sister’s shyness.  “Father says that Mother is a Christian and that is about as much religion as any given family can stand.”

Aden nodded, but his eyes stayed on Margueritte.  “You have the Celtic look about you with your round face, big features, long, dark hair and sparkling green eyes.  You are much like your mother, but I suspect Elsbeth will favor her father and bear the more sharp and angular features of the true Franks, and with plain brown hair and plain brown eyes as well.”

“And what am I?”  Tomberlain asked.

“The perfect blend of two worlds,” Aden responded without hesitation, but then he verbalized the thought that rested in the back of his mind.  “Curious.  Of the three Frankish lords given Breton borderland, two chose to marry among the very people they were sent to guard against.”

Margueritte temporarily got over her shyness to speak.  “Mother says, the better to tie two people together in peace and mutual succor, whatever that means.”

“Well said.”  Aden the Convert laughed.  “And a very diplomatic answer.  Peace is always the hope of every right-thinking man and woman.  Still, that other Breton wife, that Curdwallah woman, she even scares me a little.  In Christ, I should have no fear of anything in this life, but there is something unearthly strange about her that clings to her like a demon.”  He shook his head.  “But this is not the time to speak of it.  Cheer up, children.  The fire will only be out for a little while and then soon enough it will be full day again.”

The fire got put out and the cold seeped slowly into the room.  Margueritte and Elsbeth huddled.  Maven snorted a little in her sleep.  Marta sat as close to Aden as she dared, and everyone looked at the door and hoped the ceremony would not be too long.  Only a deep glow of moonlight came in from the outside through the holes in the wood-board window.  A cat cried and everyone jumped.  Then the door crashed open and Margueritte and Elsbeth screamed; and Marta joined them.  They knew who it was though her image appeared just discernible in the moonlight against the dark sky.  Curdwallah paused in the doorway, with her eyes all aglow in the dark.

“What do you want here?”  Father Aden spoke loud and clear.  If the woman frightened him, he did not show it.

“What do you think?  I have come to steal the children, to eat them,” she said, and the renewed screams of Margueritte and Elsbeth made Curdwallah laugh.

“In Christ, Jesus, you will not have them,” Aden said, not knowing exactly if she might be serious.

Curdwallah laughed again.  “I live here, you dolt.”  She pushed passed to the stairs, but not without one more look at the children with her glaring, glowing eyes.  She went up, presumably to her room, and everyone breathed.

“Did I miss it?”  Maven mumbled in her half-asleep state.

“I think not,” Marta answered just before a man with a torch could be seen through the open door going from house to house relighting the home fires.

Several hours later, Margueritte got awakened by the sounds of arguing.  “The man was rude beyond words,” her father said.  “Ahlmored.”  He spat.  “The man makes me want to become a Christian like you and my mother just so I can wish him into Hell.”

“Bartholomew!”  Lady Brianna scolded with her voice, but her hands never stopped packing.

Sir Barth kicked the chair and Margueritte was fairly sure Tomberlain woke up.  She was not so sure about Elsbeth.

“Shh!”  Brianna tried to quell the volcano.

“No man should make suggestions to another man’s wife.  And he touched you!  He brought three wives of his own.  Let him touch them, abomination though they may be.  God knows how many wives he left home.”

“He comes from another world,” Brianna said, in her most reasonable voice.  “Maybe they just do things differently where he comes from.  He might not understand.”

“Understand?!”  Her reasonableness only fueled his fire.  “What is there to understand?  He is a man.  You are a woman.  I had a good knife for the meat.  The way he was looking at you, I should have cut his eyes out.”

“King Urbon will not be happy at our leaving,” she pointed out.

“The baron can speak for the Franks,” he countered.  “And if his majesty is displeased with our leaving, then perhaps he should think twice before inviting a lecher into his court.  Now pack.  We leave at first light.”  He stormed out of the room and Brianna sat down for a moment to collect herself.  Elsbeth crawled up into her lap.  Margueritte and Tomberlain stayed quietly in bed, but their eyes were wide open.

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

MONDAY

Margueritte faces trouble in the Banner Bein, the wild haunted woods south of her home where the Amorican kings of old were buried.

*

M3 Margueritte: Samhain, part 2 of 3

The strange looking man spoke much too loudly.  “The Great Lord Ahlmored requires you to stand aside so his train may pass.  Then you may follow up after as you please.”

Bartholomew looked shocked for a second at the audacity.  He looked at his men and laughed loud and long.  “You go back and tell your Lord Al-mud the Franks stand aside for no one.”

“Eat our dust,” Margueritte whispered to Tomberlain, who snickered.

 “Hush.”  Brianna quietly scolded the children and turned to speak as if she was the only one to fully realize the seriousness of what was happening.  “Young lord.”  She spoke up, and Sir Barth and the Frankish soldiers looked to her, being accustomed to her good counsel.  The stranger looked taken aback, at the sight of a woman speaking, and an unveiled one at that.

“The soil of this land is full of sand and I understand how difficult it can make traveling, but here it is near mid-day.”  The lady looked up through the trees as if judging the sun.  “Perhaps your lord may be willing to pause and refresh himself while we push on.  Surely by the time he is done, our dust will be well settled.”  It seemed a fair suggestion, only the stranger simply could not hear a woman’s words.

“If you will not move, you may be made to move, kafir!”  The man growled and spun his steed to the rear and sped off.

“Form up.”  Sir Barth understood the threat well enough.  He pushed the wagons out front with orders to move on to the village as fast as they could.  “Don’t draw sword unless I give the word,” he said.  It did not take long for Margueritte to hear the sound of approaching horses before a dip in the road obscured both the sight and sound.

“Mama.”  Tomberlain may have wanted to say he would be a man and take care of them all, but he clearly felt afraid.

“Hush,” Brianna said again.  She listened for something the children could not hear.  Margueritte guessed she was praying.

It turned out not long at all, perhaps twenty minutes, before they heard the horses again, coming up fast.  Lady Brianna breathed deeply, and the children cheered when they saw Sir Barth.  Old Lord Bernard rode beside him, trailed by some fifteen well-armed Franks.

“Lord Ahlmored was as loathe to draw arms as we were, but he had about two dozen men and no doubt planned to move us off the road by force of strength,” Bartholomew explained.

“Luckily, I had just caught up with his slow-moving procession.”  The Baron jumped in.  “It took a minute to figure out what was happening, but then we came straight on while my wagons pushed right by the fools.  Jessica should be along in a minute.”  He looked back for his wagons while Sir Barth finished the tale.

“I guess they decided not to try us once the numbers were more or less equal.  I will say, though, he is an arrogant son of a—”

“Bartholomew!”  Brianna did not want to hear the rest; especially in front of the children.

It took more than a minute for the Baron’s wagons to catch up, and Brianna had a chance to welcome Lady Jessica.  Then with five good wagons and some twenty men at arms, they made quite a procession when they entered the village.  A nearby field had been set aside for the servants and soldiers to set up camp.  The nobles and their families went on to the inn.

Constantus, the Roman, and the first great house just south of the triangle, had already arrived with his wife, Lady Lavinia.  Old acquaintances were renewed, but Margueritte sighed, because the baron’s youngest was sixteen, and Constantus’ youngest was fifteen, and they were both boys.  Tomberlain would be a rare sight during their stay as he would be hanging with the boys.  That left only three-year-old Elsbeth for comfort, and she was small comfort.  Thus, Margueritte decided she would have to leech herself to her mother and act grown up the whole time they were there.  It would be hard, but it felt better than being alone and left out of things.

Urbon, king of Amorica, had come into town the day before and already established himself with his court in the great house with the wooden towers, which was his only residence for the once-in-four-years visits.  Meanwhile, the village square and another adjacent field were already set up with booths and festivities and Margueritte’s mind turned to sweet meats and toys.  All they had to do was check their rooms and they could be off to the fair.

“You will love this, Elsbeth,” Margueritte told her sister.  “Everything about the Fall Festival is wonderful.  I know I loved it when I was your age.”  Of course, in truth, she could hardly remember it when she was three, but since then, and especially in the days of anticipation before coming, it had been built up so wonderfully in her mind, Margueritte was in danger of disappointment lest the reality not live up to her imagination.

Elsbeth chose that moment to scream and Margueritte screamed with her.  As they walked into the inn, a woman startled them terribly.  She was the most wrinkled and ugly, half-toothless, gray haired hag of a lady Margueritte had ever seen.  The woman’s eyes glared at the children as if piercing to their souls, and it seemed those eyes looked without blinking.  Lady Brianna picked up her baby and Margueritte found herself in her father’s firm grasp.

“I must have frightened them.”  The woman expressed a touch of glee in her voice as if she felt delighted by that prospect.

“Startled, perhaps is all,” Lord Bartholomew said, as he acknowledged the woman.  “Lady Curdwallah.”

The Baron broke in.  “Once again, m’lady, let me express our deepest condolences on the loss of your husband and children, though it was now so many years ago.  We have not forgotten him, or you, and we continue to remember you in our prayers.”

“Faugh!”  Curdwallah said.  “Thank you, but it would be better if you stopped bringing it up every time we met.  It is done.  That is that,” she said, and walked out toward the village square and the king’s house.

“A hard woman,” Bartholomew breathed after her.

“Indeed,” the baron said as he directed them to a table.  Margueritte got carried along with them.  They got drinks, though Margueritte found her portion of cider watered to almost nothing.  She looked at it, but only for a moment.  Traveling was thirsty business, and then she did want to hear what they were saying about the hag.

“I, too, have written to the king.”  Baron Bernard was speaking.  “And concerning myself as much as Lady Curdwallah.”

“No.”  Bartholomew protested, but Bernard simply moaned and rolled his arthritic shoulder in response.

“Indeed,” the baron continued after a sharp, strong drink.  “The king and the mayor do not appear overly concerned with the Amorican Mark.  Too many years of peace, plus he is older now as I am, and the political wrangling has stepped into the power gap.  I have seen the same thing happen before elsewhere, in type.  Some say the Roman Cicerus is to be watched, but my money is on Ragenfrid.”  He took another drink and added an afterthought.  “I can’t say as I like the man, personally, though.”

“What about that young Charles fellow?” Bartholomew wondered.

“I don’t think we can count him out, being of the mayor’s issue, but at this point he is terribly young, I would guess around seventeen.” Bernard agreed. “He is a fine young man and has a good military mind.  If the peace is broken with the Saxons or Burgundians, or for that matter, with Amorica or Aquitaine, however unlikely that may be, and something should happen to Pepin, I would not be surprised to see him elevated all the way to Mayor of the Palace in his father’s place, next in line to the king himself.”

There came a break in the conversation as a commotion outside drew them all to the door.  Margueritte watched from the feet of the two men who ignored her completely. Ahlmored, the ambassador from Africa had finally arrived with his twenty-four soldiers and his servants and terribly slow-moving baggage train.  The people crowded around to see this strange sight while Lord Ahlmored seemed both attracted by the attention and waved grandly like a conquering emperor might wave to the admiring masses and repulsed by the thought that one of these unbelievers might actually touch his person.

The baron picked up where he left off in his thoughts about war.  “Then again, these arrogant Africans may be looking to extend their empire and infernal religion into the heart of Europe.  Who knows?  This Ambassador may be the first salvo in a war we cannot yet imagine.  Those basted Moors, or whatever they are called, have marched with little resistance right across North Africa.  In any case, I suspect this Ahlmored fellow will be more of a spy than anything else.”

“I’ll warrant,” Sir Barth agreed before they turned back into the inn.  Margueritte stayed outside and watched for a minute more before her mother came and snatched her up.

“I swear,” Brianna said.  “Your father would lose his sword if I wasn’t there to point to his side.”  Margueritte got placed with Elsbeth in the capable hands of Lady Jessica while Sir Barth and Lady Brianna made a trip to some of the poorer places with gifts of hope.  Maven and Marta fixed the rooms as well as they could, checked on the arrangements for supper, and helped the grateful innkeeper as much as possible.  The rest of the troop had time off, except for the command to stay ready in case they were called

Lady Jessica bought the girls some sweets and each a toy.  They spent a lot of time fingering various bolts of colored cloth, but it had already gotten late in the day, and much of the festival started to close for the evening.  Thoughts turned to suppertime, and the sun would soon set.  When they returned to the inn, the Franks sat all around a big table and the Lady Jessica was nobly welcomed.  Margueritte and Elsbeth got to sit at the children’s table.

Margueritte knew they would have all the next day for fun and games before they came home to be kept by Marta and Maven.  Mother and Father would eat with the king of Amorica that night, and then all the fires would be extinguished except the king’s fire from which all the fires in the world would be relit, or so they said.  Then the day of Samhain would come, and it would be more fun and games before an evening to relax and an early start home in the morning. 

Margueritte nodded and thought about how traveling could be a tiring business, and she might have fallen asleep at the supper table if Tomberlain had not chosen that moment to stagger in.

“Son?”  Lord Bartholomew looked up.  “Have you supped?”

“Yes shir,” Tomberlain said.  “Me and Michael and Sebalus…us.”

“And had a bit to drink I would guess.”  Bartholomew looked stern.  Brianna looked mortified.  Tomberlain opted not to speak.  He simply shook his head up and down.  He shouldn’t have done that.  He ran toward the fire and promptly emptied his stomach.  No one laughed.

“I think I’ll have a talk with that son of mine,” Constantus said.

“Indeed,” the baron added.  “And my Michael.”

Margueritte and Elsbeth got promptly carried to bed.

 

M3 Margueritte: Samhain, part 1 of 3

Margueritte was born in the year of our Lord, 697, on the Amorican Mark—the border land that divided Brittany, sometimes still called the kingdom of Amorica, from the Frankish domains around Paris.  Her father, Sir Bartholomew, the Count of the Central March had come some years earlier to join two older gentlemen who guarded the March in the North and South.  Together, the three were assigned to watch the Breton border and, if possible, keep the peace.  Bartholomew married a Breton Lady, Brianna, who was a very distant cousin of King Alain II of Amorica, and together they settled down to his long duty to the Merovingian king, having been granted sufficient land by treaty to support a reasonable number of men and their families.  They had a son, Tomberlain, born just after Samhain, and three years later, on a fine spring day, Margueritte came along.  In 701, a second daughter, Elsbeth completed the family.  And thus, they lived in peace with a small number of Breton serfs to keep the fields and flocks, and an equally small number of free peasants, mostly Franks, who contracted for land for a percent of their produce and for the promise to fight for the Lord of the manor whenever such need might arise.

The manor house itself was roughly the size of a modern Cape Cod, with a thatched roof and glass in the upper windows.  A bowshot away so as not to be a hazard should one or the other building catch fire, sat a strong, stone tower, ten years in the building.  The blacksmith workshop was there, though outside of the tower itself, as the kitchens were out behind the manor house.  Redux was the blacksmith.  Marta and Maven were the cooks and housekeepers.  Everyone else worked out of the third building in the triangle of buildings—the barn.  By far the biggest building, the barn looked the size of the manor house and tower put together; but that was the world they lived in.  It was an agrarian world.

The barn was home to the horses, nearly two dozen.  Outside, but attached, a shelter had been put up for the milk cows as well as a pen for the sheep.  The hogs and chickens also had their own houses outside the barn, proper.  There were bins in the barn for every kind of grain, potatoes and vegetables, and a great hay loft from which the beasts were fed.  They also had stacks of tools for the labor-intensive form of agriculture practiced.  The serfs lived in their small houses just down the little hill from the barn, out of sight from the Manor House, but alongside the fields where they worked.  Every morning at dawn they came up the hill, collected their tools, and drove the various animals out to pasture.  Those animals came home around sundown, and the tools got put back at dark. It was also a hard life.

The dogs in the kennels were old when Margueritte was born.  Lord Barth was not much of a hunter, but Margueritte loved those dogs, and they loved her.  She spent most of her time near the kennels, with Tomberlain, whom she loved dearly and looked up to about everything, and later she played with Elsbeth when Elsbeth grew old enough.  When they weren’t playing by the kennels, they were in the center of the triangle by the great old oak which their mother, Brianna, insisted stay up.  The oak had mistletoe on it, a rare thing, and sacred to the druids and to the people, though whether the lady still felt the same since her conversion to the Christ seemed a question.

All around the triangle of buildings there were trees which helped block the view of the houses of the serfs, but if one looked from the upstairs windows of the manor house, one could see, far out across the cleared land, the misty edge of the forest of Vergen through which one had to travel to reach the Amorican village of the same name.  The road to that village skirted the edge of the triangle and came from the east where Lord Barth often pointed and told young Tomberlain, “There is Paris.  There is the heart of civilization where ladies of distinction and men of war and great valor live.  There, son, is the real world to which you belong, and if you ever despair, remember that we live on the edge of it.  Turn your back on the superstitions of the Bretons and look to the golden city, only keep your ears open.  You never know when someone might be sneaking up behind you.”

In the year of our Lord, 704, the household packed three ox-drawn wagons and saddled nine horses for the trip to Vergenville, as the Franks called it.  Every fourth year the Amorican king, now Alain’s son, Urbon, came to Vergen during the days of Samhain—at the end of October.  It was the great fall festival and all sorts of craftsmen and entertainers came to town, many following the royal court.  Lady Brianna always insisted on going shopping.  They had to go in any case.  It had been arranged in treaty that the three Lords of the Frankish Mark would meet with the king during those days and talk trade, review and resolve any complaints, and reaffirm the peace.

Along with Lord Bartholomew, the peace in the south was kept by the eldest of the three lords, Baron Bernard and his Frankish Lady Jessica, while in the north the March was kept by the Count DuBriss and his Amorican wife, Curdwallah, who lived in the Tower DuLac, which is to say, by the lake.  Baron Bernard always came in the fourth year with a dozen or more men at arms, believing that arms always spoke louder than words.  His lands were the best, being free of the rocks and hillocks that made parts of Amorica so hard to farm, and so his free Frankish population grew larger than the others.  Count DuBriss, on the other hand, passed away rather mysteriously some years earlier, along with his two sons.  The Lady Curdwallah, a native Breton, now lived alone at DuLac.  Sir Barth had written to the king of the Franks several times suggesting the Lady be given a small, comfortable place and the north March be given to another man, but thus far, the king had failed to move.  Clearly, Amorica no longer posed the threat it once did. 

Brianna and the children rode in the first of the three ox carts guided by Redux the blacksmith.  Elsbeth, at three years of age, spent most of the morning journey in her mother’s arms.  Margueritte, seven, held tight to her doll.  Tomberlain, being ten, felt he should be going on horseback with the men, but Sir Barth would not have it.  They argued for days, and it only ended when they agreed to make Tomberlain a page on their return, though he was honestly too young.

The second cart, driven by a man named Andrew—the Christian name he took for himself at his baptism—carried Marta and Maven and all the things Lady Brianna imagined she might need over the next few days.  The cart was full, but Maven managed a soft place to sleep while Marta fretted the whole way about thieves and monsters in the dark woods.

The third cart, as was custom, carried grain and gifts for the king, his court, and the people of Vergenville.  Both Sir Barth and Lady Brianna had a soft spot for the poor and helpless.  They always made sure they had enough to share, and they left that cart in the capable hands of a man named Ky; though lately he had taken to calling himself John.  He was not sure, but his Christian name was definitely going to be John—or James.

Sir Barth rode his charger, of course, and a half-dozen men at arms rode with him. The other two horses trailed behind as spares.  “Spare tires,” Margueritte called them, though she could hardly explain what she meant.

They left the manor early in the morning, but the sun was well up when they entered the proper forest.  Not far along, they came to the point where they crossed the road that came up from the south.  Happily, they only had to stop twice to clear fallen branches and a fallen tree from the path, as Margueritte called it.  She could hardly call it a road.

“I’ll be black and blue by the time we arrive,” she complained and took every bump, root and rock, personally.

“Why do you think I wanted to ride on horseback?”  Tomberlain told her.

“Mama, hold me,” Elsbeth said, and she got to ride in a soft lap.

“Ouch.”  Margueritte bumped her knee.  “It isn’t fair,” she said generally to the wind.

“Maybe you can hit your head next time and be knocked out,” Tomberlain suggested.  “Then at least you won’t know any better.”

“Ha, ha!”  Margueritte responded without really laughing, and while she rubbed her knee, she thought a good set of shock absorbers would help.

Their way improved after they crossed the road that came up from the coast.  More traffic, Margueritte assumed.  They had not gone far, however, and they were still a good hour from the village, when a man in very strange dress caught up with them.  He spoke with a heavy accent and with some condescension once he determined that Sir Barth was the one to whom he had to speak.

*

Kairos Medieval 3: Light in the Dark Ages. M3) Margueritte: The Old Way Has Gone

Beginning MONDAY

In the early days of Charles Martel, Margueritte experiences everything a Medieval girl might want: fairies, ogres, a unicorn, dragons, knights to love and daring rescues.  But it is Curdwallah the hag, the devotee of Abraxas, that haunts her dreams in the dark.

Don’t Miss it. Enjoy a preview… So it begins…

M3 Margueritte: In the Dark

The woman came on her knees, her head lowered, her eyes downcast, the blood still dripping from her lips.  “I have done all that you asked,” she said, and then held her tongue to await her god’s pleasure.  The shining one stepped close.

“And what is it you have done?” 

“My children have been my meat.  Their bones litter my floor.  And my husband has hung from the rafters.  His blood has been my drink.”  The woman spoke plainly.  She had no guilt or remorse.  She was simply obedient to her god.

“I am the god of light and dark,” Abraxas proclaimed himself.  “I hold the night in my left hand and the day in my right.  One hand covers with darkness and the other blinds with the light.  I know what you have done in the darkness.  What you do in the light will be proclaimed.  You will be my witness, and all people will come to me through you, only not yet.”

The woman looked up, but still held her tongue for fear of her awesome god.

“The gods of old are gone and I am left to start anew.”  The shining one spoke to himself.  “This Aden from Iona must bring the people to uncertainty between the old ways and the new ways.  When there is stress and confusion and war between the old and new, we will strike.  In the meanwhile, grow strong.”  Abraxas placed his hands on the woman’s head, and something flowed from him to her.  “The fire and the water are forever at war,” he said.  “Thus, you will know when to move.  Strike when you sense the elements in opposition and war in the minds of the people.”  He withdrew his hands, and the woman reeled from the power.

“Yet there is one annoyance of which I must be certain.”  Abraxas still thought out loud and tapped his chin.  “Right now, the Kairos is an old man in Constantinople.  When the old man dies, it will be better for all concerned if the Kairos is not reborn in this time and in this place.” 

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

Until Monday,

*

M3 Gerraint: Epilogue

Gerraint, and all of the people with him, took the last ship from Avalon of the Apples.  They made a turn toward a stable harbor on Avalon proper.  Water sprites danced on the sea as they approached.  Mermaids and mermen made fast the ship at the docks.  Elves helped them disembark and dwarfs gave the ship the once over, Luckless waving to one of them like an old friend.  An ogre stood guard at the door and in the shadows, a goblin waited to record the names of all the visitors.  But despite all of these wonders, every eye looked up the cliff face to the castle of the Kairos, the palace of limitless spires and towers where the great kings and queens of all the little ones lived and rested from their labors.

“Castle Perilous,” Lancelot called it.

“Castle Turning,” Arthur said.

“Lunch,” Luckless had a different name.

“That’s not what we’re here for,” Gerraint said.

“I’ve heard it said the castle turns to always present a different face to the enemy,” Bedivere said.

Gerraint shook his head.  “Alice realigns things now and then, but that is really like rearranging the furniture.”

“And why shouldn’t she?”  Enid came up with Guimier who was delightedly pointing out everyone, including the ogre.

Gwynyvar could not look at the ogre, or the dark elf behind the book.  “And why have we come?” she asked.

“I have to speak with Guimier’s brother of a sort,” Gerraint said, and he took them to a comfortable room where they could have some privacy.  Then he called, and he put plenty of emphasis in it to be sure he got obeyed.  “Talesin.” The fairy who had just enough blood of the goddess in him to be immortal and to not be uncomfortable being big for long periods of time, appeared in a corner.

“Were those your hands that carried the cauldron across the round table?”  Gerraint started right in and did not make nice first.

“Maybe,” Talesin said.

“Was this search for the cauldron your idea, or did some other put you up to it?” Gerraint asked.

“My idea, some, maybe.  Maybe not, no, not alone,” Talesin hedged.  He started sweating.  Gerraint turned toward the others in the room.

“Has the search for the Graal been a good thing for the kingdom, or not?” he asked the others.

“Mostly,” Gwynyvar said.

“It has given the young ones some taste of adventure and kept them off our backs for a time,” Lancelot spoke straight.

“It has given the headaches to the church for a change and left my meager bits of a treasury alone,” Arthur admitted.

“Overall,” Uwaine said.  “Though we’ve been through a bit to keep it from going the wrong way.”

“Very true,” Trevor said.  Gwillim stayed quiet, still trying to swallow all that he saw and had seen.

Gerraint nodded and turned again to Talesin.   “Come here.”  Talesin swallowed like Gwillim but came like one who had been through this often.  He even turned around and presented himself.  Gerraint gave him one whack on the rump, but it was a good one.  They could see it on Talesin’s face and several winced when they heard the slap.  “Get thee to a,” and Gerraint had to pause.  “Monastery,” he said, and added, “Now we go home.”

“That’s it?”  Talesin protested.  “Aren’t you going to do any more than that?  I sweated all this time and that’s it?”

“Anticipation son.  It is the worst.”  Arthur gave some hard-earned advice.

Talesin walked out, red with embarrassment.

“Monastery,” Gerraint shouted after him.  Then he made two archways appear in the room, or Alice did.  It felt hard to say, exactly.

“Two ways?”  Bedivere asked.

“Luckless and Lolly.”  Gerraint nodded and pointed to one.  “A way back to the Continent.  “You have things to do ahead that don’t involve lying about with Rhiannon and her court.”

“Lord?”  Lolly wondered, but Luckless took her hand.

“I’ll explain it to you when we get there.”  Luckless said, and they vanished with the door.

“This other door?”  Gwillim wondered.  He finally, honestly, questioned everything.

“Cadbury Castle,” Gerraint said.  “I think Arthur owes us one good meal before we go home.”

“And a hot bath,” Enid added.  Gerraint nodded, but Guimier turned up her nose.

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Tomorrow:  In anticipation, a sneak peak at The Kairos Medieval, book 3 (M3), A Light in the Dark Ages, the story of Margueritte: The Old Way has Gone.  It is the story of a young girl growing up in the middle ages, the dark ages, and… Well… Wait and see.  Happy Reading

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M3 Gerraint: Tara to Avalon, part 4 of 4

The door shut and the two sides drew swords and went at it, Gwillim kept himself and Trevor in reserve, to step in where they might be needed.  Certainly, Gwillim knew Trevor was no soldier.

Peredur and Bedivere together disarmed Pelenor and Ederyn soon enough.  The hearts of the old men were not in it.  Uwaine and Lancelot dispatched the two men at arms, wounding them, one grievously.  Arthur disarmed the druid. who clearly had little practice with his sword.  Gerraint noticed Mesalwig when Mesalwig looked ready to stab Arthur in the back, but he got too busy with Urien to do anything other than shout.  Fortunately, Macreedy caught Mesalwig first, before he could strike a blow and before Arthur knew what was happening.  Mesalwig would not get up again.  Arthur seemed surprised, but not surprised, and chided himself for not recognizing the traitorous signs ahead of time.

Gerraint stopped.  Urien stopped.  They were the last, and Gerraint apologized.

“I’m sorry,” he said.  “I swore.”  Gerraint went into the time stream and Danna took his place.  Urien did not even have time to scream before his flesh simply turned to dust.  Danna began to cry.  Uwaine stood right there to throw his arms around her and let her cry on his shoulder.  Manannan also appeared, and after a moment he took his mother to a seat.  She patted his hand.  He was a quiet boy, stoic and stubborn, but a good grandson.  Llyr and Pendaron’s son, she remembered.  Manannan nodded and vanished before Gwyn and Pwyll came back in with the others.  Gerraint returned, but he felt very heavy.  He stayed seated.

“That didn’t take long,” Gwyn almost complained.

“And I missed it all,” Luckless did complain.

“Lucky for them,” Lolly said as she took his arm.  They could almost see his head visibly swell.

Gwyn had Guimier and went back to trying to explain that her name was his in the feminine form.  Guimier didn’t care about that, but she liked his yellow beard.

“So you see.”  Pwyll explained to the ladies.  “I am bored beyond words.”

Enid spoke in response.  “When Gerraint first mentioned you, I was frightened, just a little, but now I see you are really a very nice man.”

“Indeed.”  Gwynyvar agreed and the ladies each took one arm.

“How about you, druid?”  Pwyll looked up.  Bedivere was currently tying up the man with the ropes that had once held Enid.  The druid looked over, but he looked scared almost to death, now knowing who he was looking at.  “Perhaps you should go with me.”  Pwyll lowered his gaze just a little and the druid let out a little whimper.

“But why?”  Peredur sat at the table with his old friend.

“I am old,” Pelenor said.  They were seated.  “How could I resist a chance at the Cauldron of Life?  I would give anything not to get old.”  Ederyn nodded slightly, but it was clear that he came mostly to support his friend.

“But it is not so bad to get old,” Arthur said.

“It is the way of things,” Trevor said.

“You don’t know.”  Pelenor’s voice rose.  He put out his hand and they watched it shake.  “But someday you will understand.  Someday.”

“Even dying is not so hard,” Gerraint said.

“How would you know?”  Pelenor shot at him.

“Because I have done it nearly a hundred times,” he said.  “Besides, it is the way of things, as Trevor said.”

“And for us all, apparently,” Pwyll said as he seated the ladies.  Everyone looked at him, so he continued.  “I have grown tired of beating Gwyn at chess.”

“What?  Never.”  Gwyn protested, but it was kindly spoken.

“I have decided it is time to make the journey over to the other side.  I would be honored if you would join me.”  He spoke this last to Pelenor.

Pelenor looked up.

“It would be a great adventure,” Macreedy said.  Some looked his way, as he clearly had something in mind.

“It might not be so bad,” Ederyn said.

“I could go with you,” Peredur suggested, and his hand went once more, unbidden to his lips.

Pelenor looked around the room, and at last nodded.  “Perhaps it is a cure,” he said.  “Even if not, I could use the much-needed rest.”  Then his whole countenance fell.  “I am tired.”  He spent his last word on Gerraint.  “God, son, how can you stand it more than once?”  He stood.

Peredur stood as well, and after a moment, Ederyn joined them.  “We’re ready,” Peredur said.

“And me,” Macreedy walked over to stand beside them.

“Macreedy, don’t be daft.”  Gwillim spoke loud and clear, and Trevor nodded, but the druid also spoke.

“They’re all mad,” he said.

Pwyll shook Gerraint’s hand for them all.  “It’s been great, but as I explained to the Ladies, I’ve been terribly bored since my livelihood was taken.”  Gerraint traded places with Danna once more and gave Pwyll a great hug.

“Gwyn?”  Danna looked at the other.

“Not just yet, mother,” Gwyn said.  “I think I’ll watch over Macreedy’s daughters for a time.”

“Bridgid has been sent on,” Danna said.  “And I have told her I will be closing the door.”

“Aye, but there are ways,” Gwyn said with a smile.  He turned to go.

“Ahem!”  Enid held her hands out.  Gwyn pretended embarrassment and handed her Guimier.  To be honest, he would have been happy to have the little girl accompany him back to Tara.  He paused at the door.

Pwyll put his arms around Pelenor and Peredur.  Ederyn and Macreedy followed behind as they turned their backs on the world and walked into the hall.  They began to fade.  None, except perhaps Lolly with her good ears could quite hear what Pwyll said as they faded from sight.  Everyone caught a glimpse of light and smelled something like Hyacinth.  Then they were gone, and Danna went to tears again.

Gwyn left quietly and headed toward the boat.

“Pardon.  His job?”  Bedivere had to ask.

Danna and the druid answered together.  “God of the dead.”

“And you are?”  The druid asked in a very surly voice.  Danna said nothing.  She just looked at the man.  She said nothing until all at once when his eyes got big as he realized who he was looking at.

“I am Gerraint, son of Erbin,” she said.  “And a Christian, though my wife claims I have never been especially devout.”  Danna looked at Enid, smiled and went home.  Gerraint returned without pause, but the smile never left his lips.

One of Urien’s men died.  The other, with the use of one arm, brought the druid.

“Time to go home,” Arthur said, and they all felt the same.

“One child, two ladies, two dwarfs, two prisoners, and seven men survivors.”  Bedivere counted again.

“Not bad, considering we stormed the gates of Heaven,” Lancelot said, and he put a friendly hand on the young man’s shoulder.

M3 Gerraint: Tara to Avalon, part 3 of 4

Gerraint came around when the sun returned, but this time it came as a more normal sunrise.  Granted, the sun reached near noon in only a couple of hours, but it appeared relatively normal all the same.

“Land!”  Lolly was the first to shout.

“Land!”  Trevor echoed from the helm.

“Make ready to come ashore,” Macreedy shouted.  “Lower the sail, and be quick.”  Everyone helped, and not especially quick, but from the way the land grew in their sight, it seemed as if they were in a speed boat.  Before then, no one knew how fast they were really going.

“We’re going to crash.”  Gwynyvar hid her face in her hands.

“Keep her dead on.”  Macreedy ordered.  Trevor did not argue, but he closed his eyes.  Gwillim already started praying.  Arthur and Lancelot had Gwynyvar between them in case they were needed to cushion her fall when they crashed.  Uwaine came up to stand in the bow beside Gerraint.  Bedivere and old Peredur followed.  Gerraint, however, turned and got Luckless’ attention.

“Keep watch over your charge,” he said and made sure that Lolly also heard.  Arthur and Lancelot were both hard in battle, but they were fish out of water themselves, and could hardly be counted on to protect the Lady.

“Lord,” Luckless acknowledged the reminder.

The dock came up fast.  Uwaine and Peredur involuntarily squinted, expecting a terrible crash.  Bedivere had to look to the side, but as it turned out, they missed the dock and it now looked as if they were going to crash right up on the shore.  Everyone held on to whatever they could grab, but the ship came to an instant and absolute stop, their momentum and inertia rose up in something like a bubble and rushed into the sky, while not one of them so much as leaned forward at the stop.

“You missed the dock.”  Gerraint pointed out that they landed nearly a foot away.

Macreedy and Gerraint went to throw ropes around the posts and heave the boat closer to the planks.  “Amateur at the rudder,” Macreedy said.  “And don’t rub it in.”

Gerraint laughed, while the others came up to help, and soon enough they were up on the dock and headed toward the shore.

“Keep together and watch your back.”  Arthur gave some general instructions as they began to walk down the dock.  They stopped a few feet before the end.  Two men waited there.  One looked blond, middle aged and dressed like a king.  The other looked dark, dressed in black, and as old as Peredur.  No one knew them until Gerraint squinted.

“Gwyn?”  He guessed at the younger one.

“And Pwyll.”  The older man gave his name.  Gerraint would have never guessed since he had aged so much.

“Enid?”  Gerraint asked

“At the house.”  Gwyn smiled.  “Safe enough.”  He pointed over his shoulder with his thumb.

“The treasures?”  Arthur asked.

“Safe,” Pwyll answered.

“That Formor wanna-be, Abraxas left when he knew you were coming,” Gwyn said, and he added a word.  “Coward.”

“And Talesin has gone into hiding,” Pwyll said, but he smiled.

“The ghostly hands and cauldron.”  Uwaine put two and two together.  Arthur and Lancelot looked up, stern anger on their faces.  But Pwyll and Gwyn laughed.

“Fat lotta good it will do him,” Gerraint said.  He began to walk up toward the house and everyone followed.

“How many are there?”  Bedivere asked.  Lancelot looked.  He should have thought to ask that question.

“Well young squire,” Gwyn said, affably.  “I should say eight, but I suppose you mean six.  There is old Pelenor and his friend Ederyn, the Raven and his druid, and two men at arms who follow the Raven.”

“Nine on six is not bad,” Arthur said.

“Eleven,” Macreedy corrected him.

“Ten,” Luckless said without explanation, but he and Lolly were side by side with Gwynyvar, and Luckless fingered his ax.

The house appeared a simple thatched cottage from the outside.  It seemed an idyllic scene, like the home of a gentle fisherman and his wife, set out to overlook the sea.  There were even flowers in the garden.  Gerraint knew better.  He opened the door without knocking, and they stepped into a vast hall where they saw row after row of great oak tables and a vast, distant fire burning in a great stone fireplace in the center of the room.

Enid looked tied to a chair at a nearby table, and gagged.  Guimier was allowed to play at her mother’s feet.  Four men sat around the table on all four sides, like men arguing four different propositions, which they were.  The two men at arms held back, but kept an eye on the mother and child.

As the company entered, Pelenor looked up, but his eyes looked defeated already.  Ederyn smiled, briefly.  The druid stood suddenly, having been seated across from the lady. His chair fell back and clattered to the floor while the druid fingered his sword, but he did not draw it.  Urien quickly drew his knife and placed it at Enid’s throat.

“You’re supposed to be dead,” Urien said through his teeth.

Arthur and his men spread out.  Luckless and Lolly kept Gwynyvar by the door.  Her impulse had been to run to her friend, but of course, that would have been foolish.

Gwyn and Pwyll stepped up beside Gerraint.  “Cannot interfere, you know,” Gwyn whispered in Gerraint’s ear.

“I would like a visit with this lovely child, though,” Pwyll said.  Guimier began to rise from the floor.  The men at arms looked at each other, but did not know what to do.  Gummier giggled and floated into Pwyll’s arms.  Everyone stared, but Guimier shouted.

“Daddy!”  Gerraint touched his daughter and smiled.

“Thank you Pwyll,” Gerraint said, and Pwyll nodded, tickled Guimier in the stomach and looked on her like a grandfather might look on a favorite grandchild.

“Now tell me about this doll of yours,” Pwyll said, as the stepped back outside.

“Yes,” Gwyn said, eyeing his brother god.  “Now that he mentions it, I would like a little talk with this woman of yours.”  He winked at Gerraint.  “Maybe she can tell me how to blunt a mother’s anger.”

Urien grabbed Enid by the hair and pressed his knife close to the throat, but it did no good.  Enid simply vanished out of his hand and appeared beside the blonde God.  He whispered in Enid’s ear, and Enid giggled with a look at Gerraint.  Then they walked out, Enid and Gwynyvar hugging, and Luckless and Lolly following.  Luckless alone glanced back once.  He was going to miss it.

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MONDAY

Don’t you miss it.  The end of the story… Until Then, Happy Reading

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