Thomas rode slowly to the manor house. He dismounted. He knocked. He waited and knocked again. He waited some more until at last, he heard some shuffling from inside. The door creaked open. It appeared badly in need of repair as was the whole manor. A man stood there squinting in the sun, with his eyes glazed over like a man of few thoughts.
“Her Ladyship is not here. Go away,” the man said.
“I am Thomas of Evandell, come to pay my respects,” Thomas started.
“Her Ladyship is not here.”
“Might I come in and wait?” Thomas finished.
“Go away,” the man finished as well.
Both stood in silence for a minute, Thomas looked more closely at the man, and the man stared into the distance like one who could not quite focus on what he was seeing.
The man began again. “Her Ladyship.”
“Yes, I know,” Thomas interrupted, though the man continued to say the whole speech. “Not here. Go away.” Thomas finished ahead of the man.
“Go away,” the man finished.
“Well then.” Thomas backed up to his horse. “Tell her I came by and it was nice speaking with you.” This set the man going again even as Thomas mounted his horse. He turned rather lazily toward the tower and did not hear the manor door close until after the man said, “Go away.” Though there was no one there to be talking to.
Thomas had a thought. He pulled out his mandola and began the tune of the girls, the unicorn and the ogres. Sure enough, a face came to the first-floor window of the tower. It was Margueritte’s face. She said nothing but listened intently to the story and even cried a little for joy as he sang of their heroic escape and safe return to the arms of their loving family.
“Oh, master storyteller,” Margueritte spoke at last when the song finished, and Thomas dismounted. “That was the loveliest story. Please tell me it was not make-believe.”
“True as rain, my lady,” Thomas said. He was wary, not sure how deep the enchantment ran in Margueritte’s mind. “And there are many more, wonderful, exciting, romantic stories I would be honored to share with you.”
“Oh, yes, please,” Margueritte said, excited. “You have no idea how bored and lonely I am to be in this tower day and night without so much as one to talk to.”
“Why don’t you come down and join me for a bite to eat around a cozy fire. I could tell you many tales,” Thomas suggested.
“Oh, I mustn’t,” Margueritte said. “Mother Curdwallah says if I leave the tower, I will lose my mind again and have to start over, not even knowing my own name.”
“Mother Curdwallah?” Thomas had to ask.
“Oh, yes,” Margueritte responded. “But I hardly think so sometimes. She can be very stern and so easily gets cross.” Margueritte held her head up proudly but clearly had to fight back tears.
“Dear Margueritte,” Thomas said. “Curdwallah is not your mother. I know your real mother, and she misses you, terribly.”
Margueritte was about to say one thing, but she changed her mind with a second thought. “You know my name? You do not serve the evil one, do you?”
Thomas was taken aback for a moment. “Hardly,” he said at last. “Though it pains me to speak so of any Lady, the only evil one I know is Curdwallah herself.”
That struck a note in Margueritte’s heart. Thomas could see the wheels turning, and he was about to say more when he heard a whisper in his ear.
“The witch is coming.”
“Alas, I must go for now,” Thomas said, quickly.
“Yes, but grant me a boon sweet lady. Keep my visit a secret and I will come again with special stories to lighten your days.”
“I shall,” Margueritte promised.
“Hurry.” Grimly whispered.
Thomas led his horse back into the few trees and bushes out beyond the tower and suddenly found the brownies circled around him. “No time to run.” Grimly explained, and after a moment Grimly, Catspaw and Pipes became visible again.
“But won’t she see us?” Thomas asked.
“Hope not,” Pipes said.
“No. You’re invisible now, like us,” Catspaw explained.
“Oh.” Thomas understood, but suddenly started. “But my horse.”
“Deer dew!” Grimly swore and they all tried hard, but the tail simply would not go away.
“Gots to do,” Grimly said.
“Shhh.” Thomas hushed him. Curdwallah had arrived and he was intent on eavesdropping.
Curdwallah stopped beneath Margueritte’s window and took one long look around, to be sure no one was watching or listening in. She paused and rested her eyes on the bushes where Thomas and the little ones hid.
“Damn.” Thomas breathed to himself. He scooted down deeper beneath the brush as Curdwallah came close. Grimly and the others got as small as they could.
“And what’s this?” Curdwallah said out loud as she reached out with uncanny speed and grabbed the horse’s reigns, having judged their location based on the sight of the still visible tail. “An invisible horse.” She said and checked the saddle area. “Abandoned by the rider, I see.” She raised her voice in a shout and stood nearly on top of Thomas. “And it better stay abandoned if you know what is good for you!” With that she brought the horse to the back side of the tower where Thomas assumed she had some place to tie off the horse.
After a moment, Curdwallah returned to the tower window and after one more look around, she shouted up. “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair.” Thomas watched as Margueritte let her hair down. It fell within two or three feet of the ground.
Curdwallah, though she looked like an old and frail woman, grabbed hold of the hair and scaled the tower wall as easily as a monkey climbing a tree. “Where did you ever come up with Rapunzel?” Curdwallah asked.
“I don’t know,” Margueritte answered. “But you said I had to pick a name other than my own.”
That was the last they heard as Curdwallah and Margueritte got lost in the tower.
“Strong woman,” Grimly whispered.
“Supernaturally strong,” Thomas agreed.
“Super-duper natural,” Pipes added.
“Better get your things while you can,” Catspaw said, and Thomas was glad at least one of them was being sensible.
It did not take long to get several miles away. Then plans had to be made, but immediately Grimly and Pipes began to argue. Catspaw finally settled the matter.
“I’ll go and fetch Roland from the gypsy camp,” she said. “You boys are too slow, anyway.”
“There is that,” Grimly nodded.
“She is the fast one,” Pipes agreed while Catspaw rolled her eyes for Thomas’ sake. He was not sure he followed it all, but he did get the distinct impression the little ones had no love for gypsies.
“I guess I better go back to the triangle, since the family knows me, you know,” Grimly said. “Pipes, that leaves you with Little White Flower down on the Atlantique.”
“Even by secret ways that’s a two-day trip,” Pipes complained.
“You could have the gypsies,” Catspaw offered.
“Forget it,” Pipes said and rubbed his feet to get ready.
“Wait, wait.” Thomas interrupted. “Baron Bernard’s home is at least six or seven days from here, if not more. How do you figure two days?”
“There’s ways,” Grimly said, softly. The others said nothing until Catspaw transformed suddenly into something akin to a bobcat.
“Better be off,” she meowed and bounded into the brush.
“And what should I do?” Thomas asked.
“Stay here,” Pipes said, and he started out, whistling as he went.
“Fairy circle.” Grimly pointed out the stones. “Might help some if the witch comes by, but only because I like you.” And he was gone, too.