Margueritte imagined she would be at the inn for a couple of days. She tried to make it as comfortable for everyone as she could. The innkeepers were a nice older couple who spent most of their time doting on Martin like a couple of grandparents, and frankly were not good for much else. Rotunda took over the kitchen. Mother Mary kept the beds and everything else clean. Sigisurd kept up with the crawling machine, having assigned herself the position of Nanny. Even Relii did dishes, and Margueritte thought this was very different from the Storyteller’s day. Three days at the Holiday Inn in his day and the women would be ordering the staff around, complaining about everything, and gossiping about everything else. This seemed almost pleasant, and she wanted to get a good book and lay around the pool and would have if they knew what a pool was.
“But pools haven’t been invented yet,” she told Sigisurd, who learned to ignore her when she said things like that.
By the third night, Margueritte became a wreck for worry. She felt sure she should have heard something by then. She paced, did not feel hungry, stayed in her room, and refused supper. Sigisurd shared a scrambled egg with Martin, but otherwise she said she was also not hungry. Sleep came as a fitful thing, and in the morning, Margueritte felt no better. Sigisurd had Martin on the little balcony just off the room. She said Martin slept through the night but got up with the sun.
“Sorry if we woke you. We just got up, but I tried to get him out here to let you sleep.”
“That’s all right,” Margueritte responded, as she got dressed. “I don’t think I really slept all night.” She considered calling for Tulip or Larchmont to see if she could learn about the battle, but she had been good so far, as she thought of it, and maybe she could wait a little longer. “Let’s see what’s cooking.”
Margueritte picked up Martin and walked down the stairs, but on the last step she handed Martin right back to Sigisurd.
“What is the matter?” Sigisurd asked. The old couple and Mother Mary were all at the table, probably from the night before, and there were signs of diarrhea and vomiting and bowls of what may have been soup. Margueritte glanced at the door to the back kitchen but did not want to find Rotunda and maybe Relii back there.
“Don’t touch anything,” Margueritte ordered and Sigisurd looked like she had no intention of touching anything. Margueritte crept close and heard Mother Mary moan, but she still did not dare touch the woman. Mary never opened her eyes, but she had something clenched in her hand, and her hand opened to reveal a bean of some sort. Margueritte took out a handkerchief and picked it up. She put it right back down and grabbed Sigisurd and dragged her and the baby to the door.
“What is it?” Sigisurd repeated herself.
“Castor bean,” Margueritte said, having heard that from Doctor Mishka all the way in the twentieth century. “If Rotunda crushed them to add them in powder form to the soup, thinking they were like a spice.” Margueritte shook her head. “Castor oil doesn’t taste good, but the shell is deadly ricin.”
“Deadly?” They went outside.
“No known cure.” Margueritte confirmed, and she let out a few tears for her friends and from fear. Sigisurd tried not to join her, but Martin picked up on the sentiment and made his weepy face. Margueritte took Martin and hugged him when they heard horses approaching. Margueritte wiped her eyes to look but took a step back when she did not recognize the uniform.
“There she is. How convenient. Get her in the wagon. Bring the girl and the baby. Careful with the baby. Tie them so they stay put. There isn’t much time. Move out.” And Margueritte, Sigisurd and Martin got dragged off by strange soldiers with curious accents.
Margueritte knew these men were not Muslims, but they were not from Austrasia or Neustria either. They were certainly not Frisian. She imagined they might have been Burgundian, but she would have to wait and see. Meanwhile, she considered the castor beans. Those beans were not native to France, except maybe the Mediterranean coast, like around Septimania. Otherwise, they had to be imported from Iberia or Africa. That thought shouted Abd al-Makti loud and clear, but she admitted the evidence was circumstantial. Then she had another thought.
“Oh, you’ll be safe here,” she mumbled with only a small touch of sarcasm. She considered how easily she got captured by Ragenfrid’s men after the first battle outside Cologne. She ran from the camp and exposed herself, so she figured it was her own fault. But now, here she sat, a prisoner again, and this time she did nothing to give herself away. What is more, these men seemed to know just who they were looking for, and just where she could be found, though she was supposedly secretly hidden away in a small village inn. Yet they knew exactly where she was.
Margueritte considered her predicament. Chivalry owned Great Britain, thanks to Arthur, and it had slowly begun to take over the mindset of the Franks as it worked its way into Christian Europe through the stories told about Arthur and his Round Table. Margueritte thought that taking women hostages was not standard procedure, even at this early point in Medieval history. “Something smells,” she said out loud.
Sigisurd checked Martin’s diaper.
Margueritte got forced to ride in the wagon for the first five days, and became black and blue all over, since the two men driving the wagon seemed talented at hitting every rock, hole and bump they could find. More than once, Margueritte suggested those men should be flogged. At least they untied her after the first day, so she and Sigisurd could take turns holding Martin. Finally, she figured she complained loud and long enough to where the captain relented and let her walk. The truth was, they had left Frankish lands and entered the domain of Odo, Duke of Aquitaine. Also, they came to an old Roman road that appeared well kept, and the captain figured not knowing where she was, she had no choice but to be good, her being a woman. Just for that, Margueritte had to fight mightily to keep herself from running off.