“If your majesty would be so kind,” Brianna added with a slight bow of her head. Lord Bartholomew caught that note and realized his presumption.
“If we may,” he said with a slight bow of his own head.
Lady LeFleur ignored them all and went straight to Jennifer, kissed her on both cheeks and spent a precious moment admiring the baby. “Most fortunate of men,” she said to Aden as she smiled. “And have either of you scamps seen my daughter?” She turned to Elsbeth and Owien.
“No, ma’am,” Owien said with a big bow which only looked a bit awkward because he was still rather young and unpracticed. He had gotten used to having Goldenrod around, but this was something quite different.
Elsbeth watched him bow and then thought it best to add a curtsey of her own. “And I am getting worried about her,” Elsbeth said.
“As am I.” Lady LeFleur responded before she turned to Margueritte and Brianna. Margueritte felt a curtsey of her own was not out of place.
“I tried calling to her,” Margueritte said. “But I can’t seem to get through.”
“And you might not have gotten through to me if I had not been calling to you,” Lady LeFleur said, and turned to Margueritte’s mother and father. “Most of Amorica has not yet turned to the Christ Child,” she explained. “The old ways are falling, but not yet gone. Most of the people are in between, not knowing what to believe anymore. Even Urbon and his queen have been divided for years over David-Judon. The Lord of Light and Dark has stepped into the gap. He is presently bringing the whole nation under his thumb. What his intentions may be, I cannot say. My powers are small. I would not presume to read the mind of a god.”
“Seven-eighths god.” Margueritte corrected without thinking through what she was saying, exactly. “Abraxas is one eighth greater spirit on his mother’s, mother’s side.”
“All the same.” Lady LeFleur smiled. She was not insulted. “He is as far beyond your little ones as you are from Puppy. Puppy may obey your commands, but do not presume he understands them or their purpose.”
“I see what you mean,” Brianna said.
“This does not sound good,” Barth said over her words. “Not good at all.”
“Will you stay with us for a while and be refreshed?” Brianna asked.
“I cannot,” she said, and turned last to Margueritte. “I have my troop to consider, and Goldenrod to find, but do not worry. None of us will cooperate, whatever his design.” Lady LeFleur flickered once again like a bad movie and vanished. She had not really been fully there to begin with.
“This is bad.” Thomas of Evandell mouthed what Barth and the others were thinking.
“Powerful bad,” Grimly said as he became visible again, having decided that it hardly mattered at that point.
The talk went on late into the night, especially after Constantus and Lady Lavinia arrived around midnight. Morton said they should send a rider to Paris to inform the king. Peppin knew better and insisted the rider be sent to Charles. Lord Bartholomew kept putting them off. “And tell him what? We don’t know where this is going. We don’t even know exactly what is happening. Is it a threat to the peace?”
“Most likely,” Father Aden said.
“But we don’t know that for sure,” Barth responded.
Margueritte went to bed, and Elsbeth was not far behind. Owien wanted to stay up with the men, but he fell asleep after a time and Brianna covered him with a blanket and Redux carried him to Tomberlain’s room. And so, they talked, and they were asleep all over the house when Margueritte got up in the morning.
Margueritte tried to be as quiet as she could as she left the Manor house and headed toward the barn. She worried about Goldenrod and did not think very hard about what she was doing. She got Puppy and the sheep and headed toward the pasture. This felt like at least one job she could do for her father.
When her parents were awake, Brianna became immediately concerned. Barth seemed less concerned, not knowing what to think, but he sent Elsbeth and Owien to fetch her. They rode out right away.
“But shouldn’t you send soldiers?” Brianna asked outright.
Barth looked at her, and almost had a change of heart, Margueritte having gone missing twice already; but at the last he assured her Elsbeth and Owien would do. “They are just meeting first,” he reminded her. “That will likely go on for a few days.” He tried to reassure her, but he honestly needed the men to help turn the triangle into a better defensive position. He would have liked to turn the whole thing into a fort, but they had no time for that. The women and children would be coming up from the south March by the next afternoon, and he wanted things as ready as he could make them. The barn needed to be emptied for use as quarters, and the road needed to be cleared for some distance in case men should come at them from Vergen. The only question seemed what might be the best use for the lumber?
“And let me know as soon as the men get back from DuLac!” He shouted at Peppin who nodded before they both moved off in different directions.
Brianna also got busy. She had to check their food supply and she had a great deal of cooking to do. Maven and Lady Lavinia were a help, as well as some of the wives of the free Franks who had been brought in, but she missed Marta. Marta disappointed her, and she wished more than once that Lolly was still there.
Elsbeth and Owien dismounted in the hollow.
“Why are we stopping?” Owien asked, knowing full well that the pasture sat just up the ridge.
“I want to surprise her,” Elsbeth said with a wicked grin.
“You’ve been hanging out with the little ones too much,” Owien said.
“Hush,” Elsbeth said, and she grabbed his hand, which he did not mind.
They began to sneak up, side by side, but then they heard Margueritte scream, “Ow! Not again!” Elsbeth tried to pull away. Owien would not let go. He pulled her back and quieted her until they could get a look.
This time the men did not bother being careful with the net. They cut her hair off boy length, at the neckline, and tied and gagged her, and she could not stop them. Half a dozen men were unconscious and scattered about the field, but Margueritte had worn herself out and had no more charge in her at the moment. She had called for the armor of Gerraint and Festuscato, and that protected her from the worst of it, but she got bound all the same and tossed over the back of a horse as she had been once before.
Elsbeth whispered in return. “You go get Roland and Tomberlain. Ride south fast as a fee. I’ll go tell Father.” She had decided. Owien knew there was no point in arguing, so he nodded, and they snuck back to where they tied the horses.
Owien got right up. He had become quite a horseman since he got a real horse to ride. “I’ll be back before you know it,” he said, and Elsbeth could not help smiling as she felt her heart flutter a little when he raced off in one direction. She turned and headed the other way. As she rode carefully through the woods, there were men waiting so she did not get very far.
Even after a lifetime of unusual events, Margueritte is hardly prepared for what lies ahead. Until then.