Margueritte knew the sword at her back was much too heavy, but Defender, the long knife that rested across the small of her back was just as sharp. She drew it. The blade looked nearly as long as her forearm. “Babies. Nest.” She repeated herself, her eyes turned on the Irishman and his one surviving rogue. “Protect. Defend. Babies in Nest.”
Three babies, one being runt, hesitated. “Babies, Nest, Now!” Margueritte yelled with her last ounce of strength. They obeyed. The babies had to obey, and Margueritte decided that Finnian McVey did not need to know she had nothing in reserve as long as she could hold the blade steady and stay on her feet.
Only then did she hear the horses. They were nearly up the rise, and she had heard nothing sooner. Finnian made a mad dash to grab her, risked the return of the baby horde, but a horseman arrived even as McVey grabbed the back of her hair. Margueritte did not even have the strength to swing her blade. Fortunately, Runt rushed there to take a chunk out of McVey’s hand, and then the horseman tackled the man. It wasn’t much of a struggle. McVey surrendered without a peep, and as Lord Bartholomew and Tomberlain arrived with the others, Roland turned to a fainting young woman. Runt chirped a warning and Roland backed up, no fool. He saw the dead men.
“Runt. Friend.” Margueritte said as she fell again to her knees. “Babies. Friend. Babies. Come. Friend. Friend.” Margueritte went nearly unconscious as she saw Runt and several of the babies sniffing Roland, and then not objecting as he went to lift Margueritte’s head from the ground.
All this while, Festuscato, Gerraint and many others volunteered to take Margueritte’s place for a time. She refused. She saw no point. They would have simply become dragon food; but now she had a last thought. “Alice,” she called out. “Lady Alice. Help me.” She got dizzy and passed out.
Lord Bartholomew, Tomberlain and the half dozen with them kept a respectful distance from the dragon’s lair, even with Margueritte in distress in the entrance. They jumped, though, when they heard a rumbling in the rocks. Many looked up and around for fear the dragon returned. They jumped further away, and some backed down the hill when a tunnel, or archway of some sort formed on the cliff face directly across from the cave entrance.
“Babies. Friend.” Margueritte breathed. Runt came up real close and whined, almost cried, and laid its head near Margueritte’s face and uncomfortably close to Roland’s hand.
“Hush,” Roland said. “Everything is going to be all right now.”
Clearly, Roland had no prophetic skill as Mother dragon chose that moment to return. The horses had long since scooted down the hill to safety. The men were less fortunate, having to scuttle and scrunch down behind the nearest boulder, not that they had any prayer of escape.
“Mother. Friend.” Margueritte tried to speak, but her words were hardly audible. Only Runt and Roland heard her.
Roland stood and pulled his sword. He became determined to at least try and protect Margueritte, and he honestly did not know what else to do. Flames scraped up and down the rocky cliffs along with the tremendous roars of the enraged beast.
“Runt. Friend.” Margueritte said at last. She did not imagine the beast would understand. It seemed a difficult concept, but then Runt surprised her. Dragons were so much smarter than normal, earthly animals.
Runt fluttered up in front of Roland to get between him and Mother. “Friend.” Runt said. Mother might have fried Roland in any case, perhaps mistakenly frying Runt with him. She looked that angry. But then several other babies caught on, and they came up beside runt and added their voices. “Friend. Friend.” Then they heard a sound none expected. It was a woman’s voice.
“Friend.” The voice said, and it penetrated to the core of every mind present. “No fire. No harm.” The woman said.
Alice came out of the archway. Margueritte sighed and almost gave herself over again to unconsciousness.
Mother dragon was not inclined to listen, so Alice pointed something at the dragon which looked like a mere stick, or maybe a magic wand. The dragon froze in place and appeared unable to move a muscle.
“What magic is this?” Margueritte heard her father’s voice.
“Powerful,” a man said. Margueritte thought it might have been Chief Brian’s voice.
“Not magic. A simple device.” Alice spoke with such sweet joy in her voice it made everyone feel like smiling. Yes, Margueritte thought, that was right. Alice had no natural magic. She had the technology, though. Then Margueritte paused and puzzled. How would she know what Alice had or did not have?
“Mother. New Home. New Nest,” Alice said. “Babies, come. New home, new nest.” Alice pronounced the words exactly right and in the Agdaline way. The babies came and flitted through the archway against the rocks to disappear from this world altogether. Only runt paused long enough to lick Margueritte’s face once before departing.
Then Alice shook a stern finger in Mother Dragon’s face. “No fire. No harm.” She insisted with the tone and inflection of the Agdaline. If the creature had not gone completely wild, it had to respond. “Follow babies. New home. New nest,” Alice said, and she set the beast free. It understood well enough but paused to look in Margueritte’s direction.
“Good-bye, Mother.” Margueritte said, and the dragon went through and left one acid-filled tear to splash on the rocks and steam into the air. Even with Roland once again holding her head, Margueritte could barely see into that other world. It looked dark, like night, and full of rocks and with distant flashes of light which might have been lightning but might also have been a distant volcano. Then the archway faded away and only Margueritte, Alice and the men remained outside the now empty tomb; the place that had once been the dragon’s lair.
“Lady Alice.” Margueritte’s father spoke again.
“Those were words you were speaking to the dragon.” She heard Thomas of Evandell.
“They were,” Alice said, as she stepped toward the men. They had Finnian McVey tied by then and his man, whose finger refused to stop bleeding.
“And the dragon answered you.” Thomas the bard said, intuitively learning something that even the druids only suspected. “What a marvelous tone and how impossible to repeat,” he concluded.
“Unless you’ve got dragon lips,” one man said, softly.
Alice merely smiled and put something on the man’s bleeding finger. It immediately stopped bleeding and skin grew across the cut not leaving so much as a scar. He would never have a finger again, but he went to tears all the same out of gratitude. Likewise, Alice treated Finnian McVey’s hand and several who had been burned, a couple rather badly, and they also healed instantly. She called the horses, and they came, though they remained skittish, at the edge of the hill. Alice only had to point, and several men, Tomberlain included, scooped up the dead men and tied them face down over three of the chargers.
Roland picked up Marguerite like a paper doll.
“Sir Roland.” Alice spoke, and he gave the Lady his full attention. “Give her this. One tablespoon every four hours until it is gone. She should recover.”
“But she is skin and bones. She must be starved to death.” Roland said in a desperate voice.
Alice paused and turned to Sir Bartholomew to give him the potion. “It is Heinrich’s meal. It is what they give men who have been stuck in lifeboats or without proper food for long periods of time. See that she takes it properly.”
Lord Bartholomew nodded and accepted the jar like it was crystal, though it would not have broken, no matter how roughly handled.
“Wait.” Margueritte spoke up as she just figured something out. Alice was her in another life, she remembered. “But how can I be in two places at once when I am only conscious of one at a time?” she asked.
“It is a trick,” Alice said, with her warmest smile. “But you have been thus divided in every life, though you almost never know it.” And she vanished, to the amazement of all. And Margueritte, securely in Roland’s arms thought it was time to go ahead and go seriously unconscious.
Things get back to normal, or as Margueritte calls it, “Dull, dull, dull, and Latin every Wednesday,” but the condition doesn’t last for long. The Breton decide to take a census, and the trouble begins. Until Monday, Happy Reading.