Sir Bartholomew stepped back a step on seeing the doctor disappear, but quickly recovered and turned to Grimly and Luckless the Dwarf. He tried hard not to look up at the ogre. “And what can I do for you gentlemen?” he asked.
Luckless stepped up again. “Actually,” he said. “We were kind of hoping we could stick around for a while.” He looked at Grimly who nodded vigorously, and at Hammerhead, who was not sure what was happening.
Sir Barth took another step back and looked to the girls and to his wife. Surprisingly, Lady Brianna did not seem to have any objections, while Elsbeth quickly said, “Please.”
“Pleasy,” Little White Flower echoed.
“But.” Bartholomew hardly knew what to say. “Where will they stay?” he asked.
“Under the hill, under the barn,” Margueritte suggested quickly. “They dig fast and well, and no one need ever know they are there.”
“Aha! But what will we feed them?” Bartholomew thought he had the right idea. “We can’t possibly feed the lot of them for free.”
“I understand fairies need only a little milk and some bread for sustenance,” Lady Brianna said, and Sir Barth knew he was already outvoted.
“And berries.” Little White Flower spoke up from Elsbeth’s hair and shoulder. Elsbeth giggled because it tickled. “I like berries.”
“I can cook a bit,” Lolly chimed in. “I been practicing, er, ‘bout four hundred years. I ought to be pretty good by now, so wouldn’t be for free.”
“You ought to be good,” Luckless mumbled.
“Never heard you complaining yet,” Lolly shot at him and Lady Brianna covered her grin.
“M’lord.” Redux the blacksmith stepped forward. “I would be pleased to learn from this good dwarf, all of whom are known to be experts in the smithy crafts.”
“I’m no expert,” Luckless said, as he straightened his helmet which was a bit large and had begun to slip to one side. He paused, but then rubbed his hands. “Still, it would be good to get my hands on a good furnace again. All play and no work makes for a fat dwarf.”
“No. It’s my good cookin’,” Lolly said and smiled from ear to ear, literally.
“And Grimly the brownie.” Margueritte gave him the Breton name rather than the Frankish “hobgoblin.” “He can help in the fields. Gnomes are known to be very good with crops and bring bounty and blessing.”
“So, it would not be feeding them for free.” Brianna summed it up.
Bartholomew put his hand to his chin. “Ah!” he said at last. “But what about this big one. He looks like he could eat a horse for breakfast.”
Grimly stepped straight up to the lord who had to look straight down to pay attention. “You got a problem with rocks and boulders in your fields? Like who doesn’t in these parts? You got a problem with sandy soil and needing tons of fertilizer? Like who doesn’t around here? You got stumps and things to clear, and sink holes and little hillocks and the like? Well, my friend can fix all that, and better than a whole herd of oxen and bunches of you human beans.”
“Beings,” Margueritte corrected, then held her tongue.
Sir Barth thought a minute longer before he turned to Margueritte. “Can you guarantee their good behavior? I’ve heard some pretty strange stories, as have you.”
“Well.” Margueritte hesitated. “No, father, I cannot promise.”
“That’s right.” Lolly stuck up for her Great Lady. “The gods never make promises.”
“’sright.” Luckless confirmed.
“But they will be loyal and faithful and won’t hurt anybody. Isn’t that right?” All the little ones agreed to that and swore mightily.
Sir Barth looked around at his men, and especially at Marta and Maven. “If any one of you ever says anything about this to anyone at any time, I will not rest until I find out who did the telling and it will be worse for them than if they had never been born.” His men and women also swore they would keep it all a secret, though they did not swear nearly as colorfully as the little ones. Margueritte knew the Franks, and even Marta and Maven would keep their word, at least up to a point. She also knew the little one’s word was hardly worth the breath it took to say it, but her father seemed satisfied.
“Let’s go home,” he said.
They rounded up the horses and found a half dozen Arabians added to the spoils. Those horses carried the dead who would be buried by the chapel, but already Lord Bartholomew’s mind turned to breeding. He thought the right combination of Arabian and Frankish charger would be a horse that could finally beat the Gray Ghost.
Luckless, constantly straightened his helmet and walked beside Redux. “Got a wife?” Margueritte heard him ask.
“No,” Redux answered.
“Lucky man,” Luckless said. “I can see maybe there’s a thing or two I could learn myself.”
Margueritte, knew how good the ears of a lady dwarf really were and felt surprised Lolly had no comment to shout. Then she saw her in the cart with Marta and Maven. Marta reached out to touch the dwarf like one might fear to touch a leper. Maven was already looking for a comfortable spot for twenty more winks.
“Lady.” Margueritte heard and almost answered before she realized Little White Flower was speaking to her mother. “Can I spend the night in Elsbeth’s room? Pleasy?”
Lady Brianna laughed and nodded. She understood this would become a regular thing. Both Elsbeth and Little White Flower cheered.
Margueritte then looked back to the end of the small procession, just past the third wagon. Hammerhead walked slowly to keep from accidentally kicking the last wagon. He grinned ever so broadly, and Margueritte felt glad no one else looked back. The sight of an ogre grinning was not something normal people would ever want to see.
“So, it’s you and me.” Margueritte heard Grimly’s voice, but the brownie was obscured by the wagon where she could not see him. When the ogre did not respond, probably because he did not hear the little voice, being lost in his own though, in the singular, Grimly floated up until he got to ear level. He leaned in, spoke right into the ogre’s ear and cupped his hands for the extra volume. “I said, so it’s you and me.”
Hammerhead dumbly turned his head in the direction of the sound and bumped Grimly who flew back and down and landed smack in a mud puddle. “Sorry,” Hammerhead said, sincerely. He tried to whisper so as not to frighten the beasts or the people. Margueritte laughed.
Come evening, Margueritte could not help dreaming of little ones, but oddly, she also dreamed of Gerraint, son of Erbin that Thomas of Evandell sang so well about. At least it seemed like a dream, at first.
Beltane, because, you know, for every fall festival there has to be a spring festival. Until Monday, Happy Reading