Bernard looked around at Redux and then the formidable little woman guarding the house and decided the barn made the best place to start. They pushed passed Margueritte and bumped little Elsbeth out of the way, spilling two of the eggs she had so carefully salvaged and went in.
“You two, up the loft. You search the hay. You the horse stalls and you the bins. You look around for anything out of place.” Bernard was good at giving orders, but not about to soil himself actually looking through a barn. The man at the hay began to poke with his sword, but then the cavalry arrived just in time.
“What’s all this then?” Lord Barth asked, almost before he dismounted. Tomberlain, Owien and the sergeant at arms with two men from the fields came to the barn door and the intruders paused in their search while Bernard explained.
“Two escaped men are wanted for questioning by the king. Lord Ragenfrid has ordered us to search the barn, the house and the tower while he has taken the main force on to Vergenville.”
Margueritte spoke up. “I told them the men may have ridden on to Vergen while Elsbeth and I were at our chores, but they do not believe me.” She tried to look forlorn. Tomberlain thought she was serious.
“Are you calling my sister a liar?” he shouted, and only Sir Barth’s arm held him back.
Bartholomew looked at his daughters and got quite a different message than Tomberlain. “I’ll see to the safety of my home and my family. You can move on.”
“My Lord. A secret door.” A soldier shouted and the soldiers gathered there.
“No secret.” Margueritte thought fast. “We keep preserves down there. A root cellar.” Bernard did not accept that. He ordered, and two soldiers raised the lid and one started down the stairs and stopped when he heard a voice. And what a voice it was!
“Hey!” The thunder rolled up the staircase. “Who is that to disturb my sleep?”
“Didn’t I mention the ogre,” Margueritte said. “Much better than a watchdog, you know.”
Bernard went white and the soldiers were already headed for their mounts when the voice returned. “I’m coming up!”
Bernard snapped his head at Lord Bartholomew. “M’lord” and ran for his steed. Six men left as quickly as six ever left anywhere. They did not even see Hammerhead rise like a monster from the deep.
“That was a good dream, too,” he said.
“It’s been two days,” Margueritte pointed out. “I think you may be growing up.” Hammerhead straightened in his pride.
“Little White Flower saw the riders from the chapel, and she rushed to get me. Now what is this all about?” Bartholomew asked. He looked at Elsbeth but spoke to Margueritte.
“Don’t worry,” Elsbeth said to the two strangers as she came over and patted Hammerhead on the thigh, about as high as she could comfortably reach. “He won’t hurt you, much.” She paused to let it sink in.
“Ha.” Hammerhead blasted a laugh. “Much.”
“Great Lady. You put one over on them Franks,” Grimly said. “Slick as an elf selling water to a drowning man.”
“Actually,” the short man spoke as he came out from behind the hay, but in a direction that would take him farthest from the ogre’s reach. “That was the most courage and quick thinking I have seen in some time. You are a lucky man, Lord Bartholomew, to have such a daughter.” The short man took Margueritte’s hand and kissed it. “It was the best case of misleading truth I ever heard, and not one untruth in a single word. Have you ever considered politics?
“I think not, m’lord,” Marguerite said, and felt a little embarrassed.
“My sister’s not a liar,” Tomberlain said.
“May I ask what will become of our horses?” the young man said. He followed his Lord’s lead in kissing Margueritte’s hand. She rather did not mind that.
“A temporary spell,” she said. “It will wear off soon.”
“That’s right,” Grimly said. “Temporary.”
“And who are you?” Lord Bartholomew got tired of waiting for his daughter to give him an answer.
“Charles, aid decamp to the king by order of my father Pepin.” The short man spoke simply. “And my hulking young friend is Sir Roland, knighted three weeks ago last Lord’s day by the king himself hard on his twenty-first birthday. But the honor was long overdue. Best man at arms in the palace. Saved my life, twice now if we can find the priest Stephano. Ahem.”
Roland still held Margueritte’s hand and they were looking, eye to eye. “Er, yes,” Roland said and quickly let go. “My Lord Charles is too kind in his praise.” Margueritte, with a glance at her father, put her hand quickly behind her back.
“Well, come up to the house and let us straighten all this out.”
“Wait,” Charles said. “We must first be sure Ragenfrid did not leave behind someone to spy us out.
“Oh, yes.” Margueritte came to herself. “Goldenrod, would you mind taking a fly about to see if there are any spies lurking?” The fairy came right up, and Roland was glad he stood far enough from Charles not to have his arm grabbed again.
“Yes. A good wing stretchy,” she said, and vanished.
“You’re not the Charles of the Saxon campaign, are you?” Bartholomew asked.
“The same,” Charles said, but before more could be said, Goldenrod already came back to report to Marguerite.
“I went all around the triangle and around the chapel and everything,” she said. “There is one horse by the first road bend, and a man, sneaky, with his head around the tree there.” She pointed to the back corner of the barn where, clearly, no one could see anything but barn. Still, most looked. Hammerhead, who had been having trouble following all the conversation to that point had a thought. He spoke as quietly as he could.
“I think I’ll stretch my legs now that I’ve slept,” he said. “I might just go down the road a bit and see what I might find.” He excused himself, everyone gave him plenty of room to exit the barn, and he began a little sing-song chant. “I love to bite a crunchy head and grind the bones to make my bread. I sing the song that’s in my head, and grind the bones…no, I said that part.” Hammerhead got silent for a minute, then he began to whistle as he walked. If you have ever heard an ogre try to whistle, you will know why everyone in the barn had to hold their sides to keep from laughing out loud.
After a minute, all assumed the way was clear. Lord Bartholomew had been thinking in the meantime. “Father Stephano has gone to the house of my Romanish friend, Constantus,” he said.
“You know the way?” Charles asked.
“Of course. But it is getting late and it will be dark soon. Come and have supper and stay the night. For all their zeal, your friends will have to stop as well in Vergenville, at least to rest the horses, and even if they leave at daybreak, it will be noon at the earliest before they are back here.” He put his arm around Charles’ shoulder. “Now tell me about the Saxon campaign. God, I’m sorry I missed it.” They headed for the house.
“Sir Roland,” Margueritte invited him toward the house.
“Lady Margueritte,” Roland responded. He took one more look into her green eyes before he caught up with the other men and got tackled by Tomberlain. As Margueritte followed, he looked back once more, and Margueritte felt herself turn a little red.
Margueritte thought her figure seemed to be turning out very nice. All the curves and bumps were exactly as they ought to be, and it seemed her best feature. Apart from her figure, however, she imagined she might be pretty enough in her way, but hardly exceptional. Her features were too big: her ears, nose, hands, feet, and lips as well. Her face looked much too round. Just then, Elsbeth, with her perfect, sharp, angular, beautiful face bumped past her with her pert little nose stuck straight up in the air and her hips wiggling like a tramp. “Lady Margueritte,” she whispered.
Margueritte did not feel too grown up to make a face at her sister, even if Elsbeth was not looking. Besides, she thought, Elsbeth has freckles. She withdrew the face, and just in time, as Roland turned his head for one more look before he entered the house.
Guests stay in the triangle, and Margueritte feels especially interested in one of the guests. Until Monday, Happy Reading.