Ragenfrid showed up on the seventeenth of May and parked a great tent camp across the long field. The students and soldiers of the county army pulled their encampment up the hill, to the edge of the village and castle where they could look down on their enemies. The enemy camp looked huge compared to the defenders. Then came the unhappy surprise as what looked like a second army camped in the north farm fields, half a mile off. The north fields were still the main fields for the castle and village, since the south fields, being newly cleared, still had stumps and clumps of forest in many places. Stump-land was territory the little ones could defend, as compared to the flat openness in the north.
“The Count of LeMans has taken the north with about three thousand men. Looks can be deceiving.” Larchmont reported to Margueritte and her captains. “The main camp on the other side of the long field looks about the same size but actually holds closer to eight thousand men, more than twice LeMans’ numbers. Ragenfrid kept five thousand with him and sent the Viscount of Angers, with three thousand of those men to try and circle the town and castle, but we rebuffed them in the evening before the dark elves could have a turn.”
“So Manskin is mad at not getting a turn??” Margueritte asked. Larchmont smiled, which became visible even on his little face.
“He got a turn in the north when the Count of LeMans tried to send men into the forest under cover of darkness.”
“They didn’t eat any of the men,” Margueritte said quickly, slightly worried
“No but they filed up on horse meat,” Larchmont responded. The men laughed, even if it had a nervous sound to it, when soldiers from the Breton gate came in escorting Michael, Count of Nantes, Bogart, King of Brittany, and a distinguished looking older man with gray hair and a full beard.
“Welcome cousin,” Margueritte gave King Bogart, alias David, a familial kiss before she turned on Michael. “Get any more young men stinking drunk lately?” she smiled.
Michael looked embarrassed. “You remembered that? Lord! But I hear Tomberlain recovered, did he not?”
“After father had at him.”
“You should have seen what my father did to me.”
Margueritte gave him a welcoming kiss and invited them to the table where they had various things set up to represent the various pieces in the coming battle. Elsbeth and Calista came quietly in the back door and said nothing at first. Elsbeth had two-year-old Bogart on her hip and sat at the table where she held him in her lap. Calista stood beside Margueritte, and she was dressed this time, not like a house maid, but like an elf warrior. She retained the glamour of being human, but a woman in armor was not expected.
“And who is our friend?” Margueritte asked, before the mouths closed on seeing Calista.
David did the honors. “May I present Sir Bedwin of Corveau. A trusted advisor, as he was for my father.”
“I see,” Margueritte said with a glance at Elsbeth.
“Your majesty, King David,” Peppin and Childemund knew better than to interrupt Margueritte when she was probing, and Walaric had learned to trust Margueritte implicitly, but duBois was new, less than ten years on the northern march, and he felt he should say something. “We are grateful that you are willing to extend yourself and your people in this time of trouble. It is a most gracious act for the sake of peace between our two peoples.”
Margueritte smiled. “You forget, I am half Breton. David is my cousin. I wrote to him and Chief Brian, who is getting to look like he will live forever in Vergenville.”
“Brian is here, with a small group of fighters,” David said. “And also, an old friend of yours, Sir Thomas of Evandell.”
“Thomas?” Elsbeth spoke up.
“Sir Thomas,” Margueritte corrected. “The king’s bard, and I like to think of him as my bard, too. It is only fair considering the material I provided for him to make his living.”
“Sir Thomas,” David confirmed. “He showed great bravery in the face of Curdwallah the hag, and his acts of true Christian charity and piety have been countless. My mother said you told her those were the two marks for knighthood in King Arthur’s court. As a professed Christian, he might have joined the round table.”
“He might have,” Margueritte said, but she turned to Sir Bedwin. “But what brings you here?” she asked. “I seem to recall when my husband Roland brought letters urging David’s father to keep a serious watch on the coast for Muslim activities, you thought it a great joke.”
“I was summoned,” Sir Bedwin said gruffly. He was not going to respond to her prodding.
“Oh?” she looked at David, but Elsbeth spoke up.
“I wrote to him. Owien never would, but when we married, I thought about it. But now with Owien away with Charles and this trouble come upon us, I thought every letter would help, and this way, I could meet him, and he could see his grandson, if he wanted, and without having to face Owien, son of Bedwin.”
They all looked, but the old man tried not to cry. “The boy’s mother?” he managed to ask. Elsbeth appeared confused. She was the boy’s mother, but Margueritte understood.
“She passed away about six years ago. I understand pneumonia. I would not know. I was not here. At that time, I was a hostage in the hands of Ragenfrid and forced to suffer through the siege of Cologne.”
“So now he has come up to lay siege here,” Peppin deftly guided the conversation back to topic.
“Yes,” Margueritte said. “But he will not be able to cut us off here, and that is an order of business you need to know about. This is why we own the woods,” Margueritte said, with a look at the men who knew, so they could hold Michael, David, or Sir Bedwin as necessary. When the men nodded to her, she lifted her hand and the glamour that made Calista appear human fell away and she stood there in all her elfish glory. Michael laughed, and after a moment, David joined him, and said he always suspected. Sir Bedwin stared, even after Margueritte lowered her hand and the glamour returned, and he had something to say.
“I thought that whole story about the ogres had a ring of reality to it. You are the witch they said.”
“I am not a witch,” Margueritte yelled. “Why does everything have to be witchery? Larchmont, will you come down here and tell these men I am not a witch.”
Larchmont fluttered down much like the last time, but this time he missed the table and took on his big size, which made him look altogether human, dressed in the green garb of a hunter. “She is not a witch,” he said, and a voice from the back of the room echoed him.
“It is true,” the voice said. “She has not a shred of magic in her. Blessed as her reflection was by the gods of old, she hardly needs any ordinary magic.”
“Lord Pomadoro,” Margueritte identified the elf, who appeared, obviously, an elf, and in fact looked like a veritable elf king given the way he dressed and carried himself. He stood there with what looked like a dozen monks, but they were a dozen more elves dressed in monk’s robes. They were monks after a fashion, Margueritte imagined, but they assisted the elf wizard who attended the knights of the lance. Pomadoro took the position when Lord Sunstone finally passed away.”
“My lady,” Pomadoro bowed, regally.
“You better have news about the battle formations, because if you have come about that other thing, I’m not going to talk about that. I am not doing that.”
“I have only half come about that other thing, For the other half, I have come about the sorcerer in Ragenfrid’s camp.”
“Abd al-Makti is here?”
“Sit,” Margueritte commanded them. “All of you sit and wait. We need to set the battle order.” She turned to Michael and David. “Your men are all camped in the woods of the Vergen and have been careful not to reveal yourselves.”
“Yes. Certainly.” Count Michael and King David assured her.
“Good,” she spoke to Pomadoro. “As soon as we set the battle order, these men will be going to get their men ready and then will be back here for supper where they can argue about it over a good meal. After they have gone, you and I need to have an argument.” Margueritte went straight into the plan that Gerraint, Festuscato, and Diogenes agreed on. Then she paused only long enough to see if someone pointed out an obvious flaw. Peppin and Walaric both said the young men were too raw and not trained nearly well enough, but that objection she expected.
Once the men left, and Elsbeth left with Bedwin holding little Bogart’s hand, Margueritte said “No.” She explained. “Greta used the knights of the lance in Dacia, and I still feel guilty about that. Then they seemed to come out of nowhere when I, I mean, Festuscato was trying to help Patrick get started. I think I got blindsided. Then again, they helped Gerraint against Claudus, and I was very grateful for their help, but please, it is enough. They are not of this world, and for a good reason. They have their place, to defend Avalon from demons. Their place is not here, fighting in a transient human event.”
“Just a few in front to help guide your young and inexperienced men—the raw ones.” Pomadoro smiled at remembering the term.
“No, no, no.” Margueritte paused. “I’ll think about it. Tell me the rest of it.”
“I do not want him dead, yet. I need to know who is behind him, the source of his power.”
“I understand. But he is able to interfere with whatever battle plans you follow. With these monks, we will generate more than sufficient power to block him. I propose only to prevent his interference, but you must fight your own battles.”
“You sound like Gerraint.”
“I accept the compliment, but understand this, the sorcerer’s source, and we believe it is a god who has not made the journey to the other side, if he or she should grant the sorcerer a temporary surge of power, we may not be able to stop him.”
“I do understand, and while I never want to put you in danger, I almost wish he tries that because that would be something I could trace.”
Lord Pomadoro bowed and Margueritte stepped out of the great hall, Calista on her heels. “What do you think?” Margueritte asked her house elf.
“I think you will let some of the knights guide your young men,” she said. “Even like an arrowhead, as they did in Dacia, and again with Lord Gerraint on this very field.”
“How old are you again?”
“Two hundred and eighteen. I am not that old, but we elves have a long memory, as you very well know.”
Margueritte nodded. She did know that, and in fact she knew just how much danger her elves would be in if Abd al-Makti received a surge of power to break through their shield. She did not want to think about that.