By the year of our Lord, 712, the dragon had exacted a toll on the region. Vergen got attacked, and another village to the north and one west as well. Briesten on the sea got reduced to cinders as the dragon seemed to have a real taste for fish. Of course, No one could tell how much hunting in the wild and fishing on its’ own the dragon did, but when Margueritte added it all up in her mind, she began to wonder what was going on. Dragons usually ate a lot, but then they normally slept, sometimes for years, even decades before they stirred again with hunger. This all suggested there might be more than one beast at Caern Long.
Caern Long was the place where the most recent kings and queens of Amorica were buried. They were generally known by name, and their treasures, up to that point, were essentially undisturbed. Caern Briis, on the other hand, dated from around the time of Caesar. The graves there held those who ruled during Roman days. There were many stories about the treasures they contained. Some were good stories with happy endings, but many were frightening, and well suited to warn the young about the sins of greed and theft.
Caern Long was located in the north on a ridge that looked out over the sea. In that place, likely attracted by the treasures, the dragon took up residence and burrowed into the long caves and warren of tombs. King Urbon had already prepared his burial place there, but now it seemed unlikely the aging king could actually be buried there unless something got done.
Nothing, however, got done.
The people tried to blame the gypsies, but the gypsies themselves took the brunt of one vicious attack and promptly packed up and moved further west on the Breton peninsula. Then, the issue of missing children once again came to the surface. Margueritte assured her mother that her little ones were not responsible, and the gypsies also appeared to be missing three children of their own—not that it stopped the mouths of those who were inclined to prejudice. Still most, if they did not blame the little ones, they blamed the dragon for that too, and noted that young maidens seemed a special favorite of the beast.
After Beltain in the Lord’s year 712, when Margueritte had just turned fifteen and Elsbeth was still eleven, Margueritte found herself working about the barn while Elsbeth went out collecting eggs from the chickens. Margueritte heard two horses coming up the road from the Paris side, and they sounded like they were being ridden hard.
“What is it?” Elsbeth asked and ran in with her apron full of eggs. Margueritte wondered how many were now cracked. She also wondered what to do since Lady Brianna went off visiting in some of the serf houses, and Lord Bartholomew went off to the fields with Tomberlain.
“Hide.” Margueritte decided as she heard the horses slow. She ran behind the hay and Elsbeth, after a moment’s thought, let the eggs fall and clambered up into the loft. The horses stopped in the Triangle.
“There doesn’t appear to be anyone home,” a man said.
“Quick. Into the barn,” the other man said. The door stood wide open and both horses trotted in. One dismounted and bounded to the doors in almost a single motion. The other looked around before dismounting, and Margueritte understood they were looking for a place to hide. She rose-up.
“Leave the door open,” she said, to gain their attention. “It will be less obvious you are here if the door is wide open.” The short one, who almost had to look up ever so slightly at Margueritte’s five foot five-inch height, had an air of authority about him nonetheless that required her attention.
“The girl’s right.” He waved to his friend. “It will look conspicuous to see the barn shut up at an early hour.” The man at the door opened them again without a word. “But what to do about the horses?” The short man spoke to himself and had gotten over the girl’s presence already.
“Grimly.” Elsbeth said as she began to climb down the ladder. The man by the door came and helped her off the last few rungs.
“Oh, no. Elsbeth. What are you thinking?” Margueritte asked.
“Grimly can do it,” she said. “Remember how he made Tomberlain’s steed invisible for a prank?” Margueritte laughed. The tail was still there, but out of stubbornness, it looked for several hours as if Tomberlain rode around on thin air.
“Oh, but do you think?” Margueritte said.
“Oh yes,” Elsbeth said. “These seem good and right men. They will not tell a soul.”
Margueritte did not feel so sure. Curiosity appeared all over the face of the short one. Margueritte was not sure what entered the face of the young one, but he did seem very nice, and clearly these were noblemen and no common thieves or robbers. “All right,” she said. “Now no jumping or yelling.” She told the men. “Grimly!” she called.
“Right up here,” the gnome said from the loft. “I was having a good nap before miss bigfoot stepped on me.” He came to the lip but bypassed the ladder, preferring to float slowly to the ground. The short one grabbed the young man’s arm, tight, but otherwise neither made a move.
“These two horses. You need to make them invisible.” Margueritte did not waste any time.
“Well, I don’t know.” Grimly began.
“Yes, m’lady,” he said. He led the horses into a dark corner, and war horses though they were, they trusted the gnome completely, as most animals did. Immediately, as Margueritte said, he began to circle the beasts and chant something that sounded like “Flicky, sticky, quicky, tricky. Mucky, ducky,” and so on.
“But what about them?” Elsbeth asked.
“Yes, what about us?” The young man asked. He showed his perfect glistening teeth in his smile and extracted his arm from the short man’s clutches at the same time.
“The cellar?” Elsbeth suggested.
“Wouldn’t do,” Margueritte said. “I think Hammerhead is napping.”
“Oh.” Elsbeth made a big, knowing sound. It was not a good thing to wake an ogre when he was napping.
There were many horses in the distance coming on.