Come the first of January, Margueritte went to Captain Ragobert with the intention of sending his troop home for the winter, since the men all lived in the general area. The men camped by the barn and had sufficient supplies of their own so as not to burden the family. Ragobert said his men would gladly volunteer to help around the farm, but they were charged by the Mayor Charles himself with protecting her, and they were not going to be found negligent in their duty.
Margueritte would not hear his objections, but she eventually compromised. Half of Ragobert’s men would go home for thirty days. The other half would take the second thirty days, so they would all get a good visit home and be back to full strength by the second week in March, well before Charles was expected.
Grandma Rosamund went wild when she heard Roland and Charles were coming. Spring cleaning started in January, and everyone was expected to help. Margueritte noted that Ingrid did a lot of work around the house, and Aduan acted a lot like Margueritte’s younger sister, Elsbeth. She did not do much, messed up much of what she did, and please don’t let her cook anything, because it would likely be inedible, she would make a big mess, and then not clean up after herself.
One morning in early January, Ingrid went out to the barn to gather eggs. Margueritte grabbed a basket and followed.
“What are we doing?” Margueritte asked.
Ingrid huffed. “Someone has to keep this family fed.”
“Eggs,” Margueritte said. “You know; I grew up on a farm much like this one. I have a sister who does not do much, so I had to do many things by myself. I remember once they kept Elsbeth by the oven for a whole week and tried to teach her to make a pie worth eating.”
Silence followed, for a minute, until they reached the chicken coop and Ingrid asked, “What happened?”
“They failed. Please don’t let her near the oven.” Margueritte smiled and went to work before she added a note. “Or near the dishes, or near the laundry, or near the broom.” Her voice trailed off and Ingrid looked back at the house and laughed.
Margueritte helped and worked around the farm, and she and Ingrid got along just fine from that morning. Aduan was the type to get along with everyone, and even Geoffry lightened up when Sigisurd came around, Margueritte noticed. In fact, Margueritte never felt so welcomed in her life. In part, it might have simply been the joy of being around a farm again—the smell of the barn, the animals, the grain in the bins. She felt at home, and they all treated her like family. It felt wonderful, to the point where it made her homesick.
Margueritte loved Rosamund, a large and hugging sort of a woman, and she loved grumpy old Horegard in his way, but she missed her mother, Brianna and her father, Sir Bartholomew, and she worried because she knew father was not well. Greta called it hardening of the arteries. Doctor Mishka said he started showing signs of arterial blockages and she would have to watch for a possible stroke or heart attack. Her older brother, Tomberlain went home, despite his protests about wanting to fight with the army. He was needed to maintain the farm and the Frankish presence on the Breton border. Owien was there as well, Father’s squire, though more probably Tomberlain’s squire at this point.
Deep into February Margueritte paused her thoughts to figure the year. She decided it was 719, and she started getting ready to turn twenty-two, still young. Owien turned nineteen. He was easy to figure. Tomberlain was Aduan’s age and would turn twenty-five in the summer. That meant Elsbeth had to be eighteen. Margueritte wondered how that could be possible. The last time she saw Elsbeth, her sister had a runny nose, still looked like a child in her fourteen years, and stayed busy spending all of her time and energy ignoring Owien. Margueritte smiled at that thought. She wondered if Elsbeth was still ignoring Owien now that he was nineteen and she was eighteen. They might be married and Margueritte would have no way of knowing. She wondered if Tomberlain ever found a good woman. She paused. She wondered what those men were doing, fighting down by the blacksmith shed and around the cooking fires.
“Relii,” she called. Relii had gone to the barn with her, Sigisurd, and Geoffry, though Margueritte was the only one sifting through the potatoes while the others sat around and tried to keep warm. “Keep everyone here,” she said. “And if the big ugly men come, do what they say.”
“What is it?” Sigisurd asked.
“Saxon raiders,” Margueritte answered, before she slapped Geoffry and stole his knife so he could not get himself killed.
Margueritte pulled her cape around her shoulders and stepped out of the barn and into the snow. She tossed Geoffry’ knife into a snowbank and yelled. “Where is the chief of the Saxons.” She shouted a second time using the Saxon words Festuscato and Gerraint gave her, though they were two or three hundred years out-of-date. “Saxons, where is your chief? I must speak with him now before he does something stupid.”
One of the Saxons sheathed his sword and stepped away from where two of Ragobert’s men lay dead and two were wounded and, on their knees, surrendered. Two Saxons also looked dead; but the other six of Ragobert’s men were somewhere out in the fields with the men and the mules, despite the snow. The Saxon stepped up to Margueritte, no weapon in his hand as if the woman posed no threat. He looked her over, and even though she stood wrapped up in plenty of clothing, like wearing a tent, he grinned a half-toothless grin of approval. He looked ready to do something stupid when Margueritte raised her hand and shouted, “Defender.” The long knife appeared in her hand and went to the man’s throat before he could react.
“I am not asking,” Margueritte said. “Are you the chief?”
“I am Chief,” a voice came from a big man on the porch outside the front door of the manor house. He appeared, chewing on a leg of lamb leftover from last night’s supper. “I am Gunther, and I have thirty men here, little witch. What can you do against thirty men?”
Margueritte stepped a few feet away to be out of arm’s reach. “I am not a witch, and you don’t really want to know.” She held up her hand and Defender disappeared. “But here, I just realized I am not properly dressed.” She called for her armor and it replaced all of her layers in an instant. With the fairy weave under her leather, she felt the cold in her knees and elbows, but that was it. The weapons came as well, with Defender attached to the small of her back and the sword called Salvation slanted across her back. “Now listen carefully, Saxon Chief Gunther. You have thirty minutes to pack up your thirty men and get back across the river, and if you harm anyone here, there will be no place in the whole world you can hide.”
Gunther did not look impressed, despite the quality of what he thought were magic tricks. Clearly, he had something else on his mind, and he spoke it. “I had thought you were the one to be wife for my son, but you are not her. I do not know why I thought to find a wife for my son among the Franks.”
“I know why, but the sorcerer’s life would have been in danger if he followed through. You now have twenty-nine minutes.”
“You are still little, and yet you make jokes.”
“Maywood.” Margueritte called, and the fairy came and circled once around the Saxon’s head before he became full sized, a fairy dressed for war. He fell to his knee before Margueritte.
“Lady, I have men here who have been watching you, and my troop gathered as soon as we saw that the Saxons intended to cross the river. My troop is now here. What is more, Prince Oswald of the Elves of the deep wood has a troop that followed the Saxons when he wisely figured out their intended target.”
“Twenty-eight minutes,” Margueritte said. “Oswald,” she called, and the Elf appeared, and like the Fairy King, he went to one knee before Margueritte, and spoke.
“Lady, it would be my pleasure to rid this world of all these Saxon men.”
“Not yet,” Margueritte said. “Being a woman, I know how hard it can be on a woman to lose her man, and how she will weep. On the other hand, twenty-seven minutes.” Margueritte did not wait for the man to reply, this time. “You better tell your people not to harm any more of my family and friends here. Defender.” She held out her hand and let the chief watch the long knife vacate its place and fly to her hand in case he missed it the first time. She stepped up to the man without too many teeth who still stood there with his mouth open. “Don’t kill him yet.” she shouted to the wind and used the knife as a pointer. “Here, in the leg. One arrow to make the point, please.” There were three arrows and they all struck more or less in the same place. the man cried out and fell to the snow, and the other Saxons that had gathered around looked briefly toward their chief before they started toward the river.
“Twenty-six minutes,” Margueritte said nice and loud before she spoke in a more normal voice to the two little ones who were still on their knees. “You really must teach your men to count.” She looked up at the chief. His mouth stood wide open now, but he wasn’t saying anything, so Margueritte turned. “You two.” She got the attention of two of the Saxons. “You better help this one.” She pointed to the man in the snow, holding his leg and crying. The two men picked him up by the arms and carted him off, while Margueritte turned one last time to the chief. “Twenty-five minutes,” she said, sweetly, and Gunther, the Saxon chief left without a word.