Two days later, a group of twenty men were spotted out in the far field in the north. They walked, dressed like workers, so nobody paid much attention. Margo figured, it being spring, they were just more men hoping to earn a living in Potentius, like so many other that had come. She became persuasive in her point of view, so the others did not pay close attention, but something did not add up in the back of Margueritte’s mind. Men came to earn a living, but they came in ones, twos, and threes, and sometimes with families, not twenty at once and without any sign of women or children.
Childemund, Peppin, and Margueritte watched from above when Ronan greeted the men at the main gate on the Paris Road. The head man of the group took off his hat and held it tight.
“My name is Rolf. I heard you were looking for men to work on your walls. We got stonework experience and would work hard for pay.”
Childemund picked up the Parisian accent. Peppin did not like the look of some of them, especially the way a few were looking around the inside of the castle, not like men judging the work, but like men checking the guard posts. Margueritte frowned, not sure what she felt, but Ronan looked happy. She imagined with twenty extra pairs of experienced hands, he thought he might finish the walls in a year rather the projected three years.
“I know the head man from somewhere,” Childemund said. “Now I will be up all night trying to figure it out.”
“You said Parisian,” Peppin pointed out.
“Paris is a big city,” Childemund responded.
“Melanie,” Margueritte turned to her house elf. “Tell Ronan to tell the men to take lodging in the town. They can come in and go out the gate every day.”
“Yes lady,” Melanie said and hurried with the word. Ronan looked up at the wall before he told the new men what he was told, but only Childemund and Peppin were there to be seen. Brianna had come up and Margueritte already started walking her back to the house.
Margueritte took her elf maid Calista with her when she went to town, several days later. Melanie stayed with the children, though there was no staying with Martin when Cotton, Weldig Junior, and Pepin were running wild. They would be solid mud by evening. Sadly, Carloman, the eleven-year-old, the steady influence, preferred to hang around Father Aden who fascinated the young man by introducing him to Greek, and some Hebrew. Well, Margueritte thought. Good for him, and mud washes off after all.
The Kairos established ages ago, when the little spirits of the earth had unavoidable contact with humans, they were to work through human agents, and where that became impossible, they should appear like ordinary humans. One shop in town had become known for its linen in a good variety of colors and hues. People purchased the cloth to make clothes for their children and all the nice things they might want around the home. The shop had a tailor that could let things out or take clothes in as needed, and all of it got reasonably priced. As long as they had good, paying work in town, people were glad to have Olden’s Finery on the corner in the market square.
Margueritte knew they had more to it. She stepped into the shop, smiled for the customer she did not know, and thought there were too many new faces in Potentius to keep up. The woman curtsied, more or less, so Margueritte guessed the woman knew who she was. She went to the back room behind the curtain and saw the elf women and men working away. They stopped and stared at her until Olderon came out of the office and told them all to keep working.
“Keep working.” He had to say it twice.
“Olderon, how are my tunics?” Margueritte asked right away.
Olderon nodded and took her to a couple of crates set out of the way of the worktables. He opened the first one and pulled out a long piece of off-white linen, well edged, with a head hole in the middle so the tunic would fall front and back like a poncho. They had a tie on either side at the waist, and on the front, a large golden fleur-de-lis, the same as on the shields. He had some in blue with a triple design of three fleur-de-lises in a triangle shape with two at the top. Margueritte intended to give the blue ones to her officers, to know them on the battlefield.
“All good,” Margueritte said. “I hope we have enough for when Ragenfrid gets here.”
“There will be enough,” Olderon said. “One thousand are ready, including plenty of extra blue ones as you requested.”
“Very good,” Margueritte said, and stopped. She looked up as if agitated by something in the air. Calista gasped, a very agitated sounding gasp. Olderon voiced the concern.
“Humans are fighting in the castle. There is blood.”
Margueritte ran, and contrary to her own rules just mentioned, the elves in the shop followed her out into the street. They found weapons from somewhere unknown, mostly bows with plenty of arrows, and many of them were suddenly wearing one of the tunics with the fleur-de-lis. The gate on the far side, on the Breton Road, the road to Vergenville, stood closest, but across the open courtyard from the manor house.
They burst in and saw several pockets of fighting around the courtyard. Luckless, Redux, the men and dwarfs were there to protect the forge works by the tower. Grimly, Pipes, Catspaw, and the other gnomes by the stables looked ready to repel whatever came their way. The barn looked on fire, but men were working to put it out. The barracks were empty, but for the few left to guard the entrance.
Margueritte cared nothing about that. She wove her way through the swordfights, Calista on her heels until they reached the front door. Jennifer came in the same way from the chapel and met her there. Aden, Carloman and the boys had sticks in their hands that could double for clubs. The Annex was on fire, but some of the castle workers were working on getting it out. Margueritte saw Martin with a club-stick and swallowed hard. She had to check on the young ones.
Margueritte, Jennifer and Calista burst into the house together. The downstairs room looked empty, but they heard noises. “Calista, check upstairs.” Margueritte noticed Calista’s long knife at the ready. “Jennifer, check the underground and see if the dwarf wives got the little ones out. I have the kitchens out back. Go.”
The three women divided, Calista taking three steps up at a time. Jennifer ran to the panel closet in the corner where the secret passage led to the underground dwarf home. Margueritte did not stay and watch as she burst out the old door and turned toward the kitchen and the big ovens. She paused and called to her armor and weapons which instantly replaced her clothes and fit snug around her, like a blanket of protection. She drew her long knife, Defender and inched quietly forward.
Margueritte found her mother Brianna face down in the mud, a knife wound in her back. She knelt down and held back the tears of grief and anger.
“There she is,” someone shouted.
Margueritte stood, and her appearance in armor with the long knife in her hand caused the three men to pause. Rolf was the one in the middle, and he let out an awful grin with one word to throw in her face.
The two with Rolf began to spread out to encircle her, but Margueritte had another idea, and her word came fueled by her rage.
“Hammerhead,” she shouted in a way where the ogre had to obey. Wherever he was in the world, he disappeared and reappeared in front of her. One of the men shrieked. The other screamed. Rolf said nothing as Hammerhead picked up Margueritte’s rage, grabbed the man by the arm and shoulder and with his other hand, popped the man’s head right off his body.
The man by the house raced for the court, but an arrow from somewhere in the courtyard caught him dead center. The other man tried for the Postern gate, but a different arrow caught him. Larchmont arrived, and after the deed, he flew up to Margueritte. He noticed the ogre wanted to run to the courtyard and smash every living thing he could reach, but Margueritte had his feet glued to the ground, so all he could do was smash the ground into a great pit, like a sink hole.
“The girls are safe with me,” Larchmont said. “Lilac and Goldenrod got them out as soon as there was trouble.” Margueritte nodded as Jennifer, Elsbeth and Calista ran up.
“The babies are all underground, safe with the dwarf wives. Aude, Hitrude and Brittany as well,” Jennifer shouted, though she was not far.
“Melanie has Rotrude and Margo locked in Rotrude’s room,” Calista said more calmly. “Melanie got one on the stairs, and I got the one banging on the door, so we are even.” Calista smiled as if being even with Melanie was important.
Margueritte took it all in, but she had no room for it. She broke down and covered her mother with her body and her tears. When Elsbeth saw, she wailed and joined her, and Jennifer joined them as well, and shed big, human tears.