Margueritte: The New Way Has Come
After 697 AD: Francia
“Shut-up. Shut-up,” Margueritte whispered with as much strength as she could and still keep quiet. “If you two don’t shut-up we will be discovered.”
“He started it,” Grimly pointed.
“You made a crack about my mother,” Pipes came right back.
“Catspaw,” Margueritte whispered. Catspaw put her hands over the mouths of the boys and she looked at them like two birds she would have for supper if they protested. Margueritte ignored the three gnomes that should have been named Moe, Larry and Curly and peeked out from behind the big tapestry. They found no one in the hall two hours before sunrise. She knew it would get busy soon enough.
“Is this the right vent?” she asked.
Grimly said, “Mumphs mus mumph mum.”
“He says yes,” Catspaw whispered.
“Get it open. Pipes, the rope.”
Grimly got out a fold of fairy weave cloth and covered the pegs which he then popped out without a sound. Pipes tied one end of the rope securely to the fixture that held up the heavy tapestry and Catspaw let it down into the dark as soon as Grimly and Margueritte moved the vent enough to squeeze through.
“Now, Catspaw. You know what to do,” Margueritte said, as Grimly shimmied down to where he could light a small light and check the room to be sure it was empty. Margueritte followed carefully, hand under hand, until her feet touched down. The room was small, but a crossroads of a sort. They saw two open corridors, a staircase, and two big wooden doors.
“Which room?” Grimly asked. He pointed to the big doors. All he knew for certain was the prisoner was in this general location.
Margueritte pressed her dress down with her hands, wiped off some dust and dirt, and shrugged. “The locked one,” she suggested, and reached for the door on her left. It popped open and three soldiers jumped. “Oops,” Margueritte said quietly, before she thought fast. “Why isn’t one of you out in the hall?” she yelled. “This prisoner is to be guarded at all times. I hope for your sakes you weren’t sleeping on the job.”
Two of the soldiers straightened up and made military type excuse noises, but the third wasn’t so easily taken. “Who the hell are you?” he asked.
“Countess DeWinter, here from Cologne to question the prisoner, on the authority of the church and my good friend, your mayor’s mother. It is only an hour before sunrise, and I can’t sleep so I see no reason why the prisoner should sleep.”
“You have papers?”
Margueritte stepped up and slapped the man. “Your lord got my papers when I arrived last night. Can you even read? Now, come along and open-up. I need to make the man miserable.”
One man got some keys from a hook on the wall, picked up and lit a torch out of a brazier, and nodded toward one of the others. One of the men mumbled that she was obviously talented at making people miserable. Margueritte knew the third man would go upstairs to check on her authorization, and she could only hope it took time to wake the old lord of the fortress. Even so, she would have to be quick.
After the man lit the two torches in the small central room, he unlocked and opened the other door. He stepped in first with the torch still in his hand while his fellow soldier stayed outside in case there was trouble.
“Charles,” Margueritte yelled. “I come with greetings from the outside world.”
The short but broad-shouldered man, under thirty, though with the bearing of one much older, sat on a rough-hewn slat bed that only had straw for a mattress and no covers. The way he had been chained around his wrists and ankles suggested he had a hard time lying down, so the uncomfortable bed hardly mattered. He looked up at his name, but his eyes seemed to be having a hard time adjusting to the light.
“Come. Let me look at you so I can see who it is that is speaking.”
“Now Charles, are your ears bound as well so you do not know my voice?”
Charles shook his head. “Who would have thought you would be here for me rather than the other way around? Last I saw you, what? you turned sixteen, still a child and tied up to be burned at the stake?”
“Seventeen and just married, and now I am eighteen and in some circles that makes me a full-grown woman.” She turned to the guard and smiled. “What do you think?”
He returned the smile as he looked her once over. “That was never a question.”
“Charles, I brought some friends who want to hear what tales you have to tell.”
“Not the big fellow, I hope.”
Margueritte knew the big fellow was Hammerhead the ogre that Charles met once and said that was enough. “No, but I can call him if you like.”
“All clear,” Grimly spoke from the hall. The guard inside the room turned, but Margueritte raised her hands. An electrical charge flowed out of her fingers and struck the guard. He jiggled and jiggled before he dropped the torch and collapsed to the floor. Margueritte called to Grimly and bent down to move the torch before it set the straw on fire, and then searched through the pile of keys.
“Never mind,” Grimly said. He applied a little gnome magic and popped the wrist and ankle chains open.
“I hope you’re not too stiff.” Margueritte helped Charles stand. “We have some climbing to do, up and down.” They went into the hall and stepped over the unconscious guard that Grimly took care of. Grimly called to Catspaw to let the rope back down. When the rope hit the floor, he shimmied up and gave the all clear.
“Ladies first,” Charles said, always the gentleman.
“No way,” she nudged him. “If I get caught, I have friends who can help, but this may be the only chance to get you out. Climb, mister.” He did, but it looked painful and slow. By the time Margueritte grabbed the rope, she heard noises down the hall. While she climbed, she called her armor out of Avalon in the Second Heavens. It replaced her dress in an instant. The chain mail, made by the god Hephaestus in the ancient days, would repel about any weapon, and the knee boots with the hard soles would protect her feet at a dead run equally through gravel and briars. The fingerless gloves helped her grip the rope better, and her cloak, woven by Athena and turned black side out, would make her all but invisible in the night and in the shadows. Sadly, at present she felt all too visible.
Margueritte got half-way out of the vent when a man reached the rope beneath her feet. That man yelled and yanked on the rope to shake her loose, but Charles grabbed Margueritte’s hand and pulled her the rest of the way out. Margueritte breathed her thank you before she said flatly, “Now we run.” True, her hard-soled boots made a clop-clop sound in the hall, but that hardly mattered with all the yelling.
At the end of the hall, Catspaw urged them on. Pipes stood at the top of the stairs and indicated the all clear. They stopped short of the very top when they reached a watch room with slit windows for bowmen. Grimly opened the door and he yelled, “Keep your heads down.” They burst through the door and ran down the wall of the fortress.
“How about a little fire, Scarecrow,” Margueritte quipped.
A big rope had been tied fast to the top of the wall, and again Margueritte insisted Charles go first. “Lord Birch, stay with him. He may need the Peter Pan treatment if his hands give way.”
“Right,” Birch, the old fairy lord responded even as Lord Yellow Leaf let out a Cherokee war cry and let loose another arrow. Margueritte saw several dead guardsmen littered about, barely discernible in the torch light. It was hard to tell how many, but there were plenty more soldiers where the first ones came from, and they would all arrive soon enough. Margueritte felt an arrow strike her back. It bounced off the armor, did not even penetrate the cloak of Athena, but it proved time was short. Margueritte did not wait for Charles to reach the bottom. She scrambled over the top of the wall and grabbed the rope while Grimly, Catspaw and Pipes jumped over the side and floated down. The gnomes could not exactly fly, but they could float pretty well. Last of all, the fairy lords Larchmont and Yellow Leaf got small, their normal fairy size, and exited the wall. They had horses down below, and Charles did not have to ask what they were for.
A hundred yards out from the fortress, and they ran into Roland with a party of thirty men. Roland yelled as loud as he could, much louder than all the yelling so far, and Margueritte wilted a bit, but they did not stop. They had a hard ride ahead of them.