Late in the spring in the year of our Lord, 710, when Margueritte turned thirteen, a great caravan got spotted in the northeast quarter, headed toward the Mark and for Amorica. Margueritte was out riding with Elsbeth and Tomberlain when they found it. There were some riders with the caravan, but mostly mule and oxen wagons that moved slowly across the fields. Tomberlain went for Bartholomew, but Margueritte and Elsbeth refused to move from their perch. They were on a hillside, hidden enough by the trees to not be an obvious target, so on the promise that they not move an inch, Tomberlain went, and he was not gone long.
Lord Bartholomew and every man of the March he could muster came armed to the rendezvous. Even young Owien came with them, having taken up as page to Sir Gilles, Bartholomew’s sergeant at arms. They rode down toward the oncoming troop, slowly and carefully, not knowing what to expect. Bartholomew, of course, told the girls to stay put, but of course they did not.
Several men rode out from the wagons to face their visitors. The men did not appear hostile, and they did not appear to be armed. Appearances can be deceiving, but in this case, they turned out to be gypsies, that wretched and miserable race said to be doomed to wander over the earth, never to have a home of their own for the great sins of their forefathers. Margueritte never thought that was quite fair to the children and grandchildren, and she felt a pang of conscience when she drew near.
Margueritte pulled up to wait, but Elsbeth could hardly keep herself from riding into the midst of them. They were stopping at any rate. The day was on. Marguerite did not hear what deal her father made to have them pass through the Mark unmolested, but she felt sure it was pass through. There would be no long camps on the Breton border.
Margueritte, however, did hear what Goldenrod whispered. “Breedies,” she called them with a turned-up nose.
“What do you mean, breedies?” Margueritte asked.
“They got little one blood in them,” she said. “Not much, but enough to make them smelly.”
“You’re a human bean.”
“You all smell stinky, the same,” Goldenrod said and rolled her eyes, as if everyone knew this.
“Thanks a lot.” Margueritte kicked her horse to get a closer look.
Lord Bartholomew got invited to examine the camp to be sure the gypsies were not hiding the weapons of a secret army, and Tomberlain and Elsbeth went with him and his troops, so Margueritte thought it would be all right. When she got near, however, she saw something she did not expect to see. Curdwallah was speaking with one of the gypsy chiefs while at the same time trying to blend into the background with the hope that Sir Barth and his troop would not recognize her. Margueritte recognized her. Curdwallah the hag could not escape recognition despite how much she appeared like just another gypsy witch.
“Invisible?” Margueritte checked with Goldenrod.
“Naturally,” Goldenrod responded with some miff to think that Margueritte had to remind her.
“Fly there.” Margueritte pointed and quickly looked away so as not to let on that she saw Curdwallah. “I must know what she is doing here so far south of her place. I must know what she is saying.”
“Oooo.” Goldenrod stood on Margueritte’s shoulder. “Spies for gossip.” Margueritte felt the fee practice peeking in and out from behind her hair several times before she took off.
“But Lady, the price you ask is too steep,” the gypsy said.
“I warned you not to enter my territory without my permission.”
“But we have gone around. You are not disturbed.”
“You misjudge.” Curdwallah put her hand to his shoulder, squeezed a little, which caused the man to grimace in pain. “Amorica is mine. All the territory is mine, and you will meet my price, or you will pay in other, less pleasant ways.”
“I will do what I can.” She squeezed a little more. “All right. All right.” He yelped and fell to his knees.
“But wait. There are too many eyes here, and I feel certain someone is listening in.” Curdwallah turned slowly around and nearly stopped right where Goldenrod hid. Fortunately, the fairy, though invisible to mortal eyes, thought it prudent to also hide behind a bucket. Curdwallah’s eyes moved on. “We will be better in your wagon,” Curdwallah said, and the poor gypsy led the way while Goldenrod sped back to Margueritte’s shoulder. She peeked out from the security of Margueritte’s hair before she said anything at all.
On hearing, Margueritte wheeled about and rode back to the hill, and then home, thinking the whole way. When she told her father about it later, he chided her.
“Why didn’t you tell me right away, while we were there?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” Margueritte admitted. “I didn’t think of that. I did not know if it was important or not.”
One thing that was important came up some days later. It happened during Beltain of that year, not many days after the gypsies, when lady Brianna’s conscience finally needed to be cleared. Tomberlain and Owien were out proving what hard heads they had, as Margueritte put it, but the girls were kept close to home. Lady Brianna was not going to risk another Beltain romp, and on that day, she took the girls into the chapel where Aden the Convert had taken up temporary residence.
This thing had weighed heavily on Lady Brianna’s mind since Beltain a year ago, and really since the little ones first arrived in their lives. To that end, she insisted that Little White Flower come to church. The poor fee acted frightened out of her wits just to think of it, but one look at Father Aden calmed her, greatly.
Aden had actually been taken to Iona as a baby in his mother’s arms. His own father had died doing no less a thing than saving the king’s life. Aden grew up in Iona and lived twenty years under the eyes and tutelage of the monks. At age twenty, he felt the great calling to return to his native land and spread the gospel, and he received a warm reception at first for the sake of his father. Some ten years later, the reception had cooled considerably, and at times, especially during the seasons, Aden felt grateful for the safety of the Frankish mark.
“But it is the Celtic way,” he said. “I look to the scholars of Iona and the people look to me. The children look to their parents, and on down the generations until we are able to make our own Iona here in Amorica, and grow our own scholars, steeped in the knowledge of the Lord. It is better than looking, like sheep, to some distant Bishop to know what we are supposed to think and do.”
Then the topic turned to Little White Flower and the rest. The fairy turned beet red when Aden examined her, and he seemed not a little embarrassed himself. Then there were hours of discussion, searching as much of the scriptures as they had, and finally concluding on this note: First, that it was wise of Sir Barth to charge his people in the strongest possible terms to say nothing of their presence to anyone at any time, and second, that there were more things in Heaven and on Earth than they could imagine