M3 Margueritte: The Hag Undone

People watched the hag melt.  They could not turn away.

“The Wicked Witch of the West,” Margueritte said, as she took a big Lord Birch’s hand and stepped away from the wood pile.

“I remembered what my Lucky told me,” Lolly said and waved her water bucket with a big smile.

“Is it Lucky now?”  Brianna asked as she ran up and hugged Margueritte.

“Abraxasss!”  The Hag called out one last time.

“I told you he will not dare show his face here,” Margueritte said, but she looked around and up at the sky because she felt she was really bluffing.  She heard Danna’s voice, however, inside her head, echo down the halls of time.

“I never bluff,” Danna told her.

Soon enough, the hag became no more than a wet lump of fur on the ground.  She was not actually a child of the god, like the Grendel, and had no convenient lake to jump in to retain her shape in death.

Then they heard horses coming up fast.

“Majesty.”  Brianna spoke to Lady LeFleur, but she had already gotten out her wand and in a second, every little one in that area became invisible.

“What is happening?”  Urbon said as he came out from under the spell.  Without Curdwallah to focus through, Abraxas could not maintain the enchantment.

All the people began to come to their senses.

The Franks rode into the village square.  It looked like the whole army.

Margueritte felt surprised to see Duredain at the front.  Owien rode there, too.  Roland leapt from his horse and came running up but stopped.  Tomberlain hid a smile which Margueritte did not understand.  Charles, of course, lead the way, and he was aware enough of what was happening to hold his men in check before unnecessary fighting broke out.

“What?”  Margueritte looked at Roland and wondered why he stopped.  She wanted so much to throw herself in his arms, but she did not dare.  What if that was not what he wanted?

“Just once,” he said, and turned a quick look to Tomberlain.  “Just once I wish you would let me rescue you all on my own.”  There, he said it.

“I promise,” she said.  “Next time you can rescue me, and I won’t help a bit.  All right?”  She looked pensive.

“All right,” Roland said, and he stepped up and took her and kissed her and bent her to his desire, even as she was eager to bend, cliché though it may be.

“Ahem.”  Sir Barth coughed and looked away.  Brianna came up and took Barth’s arm and helped to turn him away.

“I told you I would be back,” Owien said, proudly.  Elsbeth reached up for his hand, but her eyes were all on her sister and Roland.

“Jennifer?”  Father Aden asked Tomberlain because he did not know who else to ask.

“She’s fine, and the baby,” Tomberlain said through his smile.  “With Constantus and Lady Lavinia having a wonderful time.”

“Sir Roland.”  Charles spoke from horseback.  He paused to wait, but Roland did not pause.  “Roland.”  Charles said it again and drummed his fingers on his wrist and finally rolled his eyes.  “Sir Roland!”  He insisted.  Roland and Margueritte barely parted.

“Sir?”  Roland said, as if he was listening, but not by much.

“This young woman has caused me no end of trouble.”  That got Margueritte’s attention and she looked up, so Roland turned his head a little.  “Every time she gets in the middle of it, you go rushing off, and I lose you for weeks or months.  I can’t have this.”

“I’m sorry, sir,” Roland said.

“Me, too,” Margueritte spoke in a whisper.

“Therefore, I have decided.  As your superior I command you to marry the woman and bring her to the camp.  Next time at least you won’t have so far to run.”

Roland and Margueritte, still held each other as tight as they could and looked dumb for a second before they smiled.

“Yes sir!”  Roland shouted.

“It would be my pleasure,” Margueritte said, softly.

“No, mine,” Roland said.

“No, Mimmm.”  Her word got swallowed up in a kiss.

 

M3 Margueritte: The Hag Returned

Margueritte and Elsbeth got thrown into the same cell, and this time it was a real cell in the Magistrate’s hall.  Three days later, the queen got tossed into the cell across the hall.

“They are all under the spell of that Hag,” the queen explained through the little hole in the doors.  “Since my grandnephew, Finnian was driven out, she has come to capture poor Urbon’s ear, and I think she has taken his mind as well.  I told her I bow to Jesus alone and she and her Abraxas could both go jump in DuLac as far as I am concerned.  And here I am.”

“You told her that?”  Margueritte laughed.

“Rather cheeky of me I suppose,” the queen admitted.  Margueritte could not see if she blushed from embarrassment, but the words sounded that way.

“Margueritte.”  Elsbeth interrupted and practiced fainting on the bed.  “I’m starving.”

“You get used to it,” Margueritte said.  “So, Finnian McVey was your grandnephew?”  She wanted to get this straight.

“Yes, and I am so sorry, you know.  I had no idea what kind of man he was.”  She sounded sincere.

“But who is this hag you speak of?”  Margueritte got really curious, not the least because of the queen’s use of the word, hag.

“Why, Curdwallah.  I thought you knew,” the queen said.

Margueritte blanched and felt the lump rise in her throat.  “No.  Not possible.  Roland killed Curdwallah.  I saw the sword go right through the hag’s heart.”

“I guess he did not kill her well enough.”  The queen responded, and that was where they had to leave things because the door opened.  The guard came back from wherever he went.

In the morning, the queen got removed from her cell.  It did not sound like a reprieve.  If she had been pardoned, Margueritte felt sure she would have got them out as well, somehow.  She and Elsbeth prayed that the queen at least got better quarters, prisoner though she might still be.

“I’m starving,” Elsbeth kept saying.

“Eat your shoe,” Margueritte said at last.

“Eew!”  Elsbeth made a face at the thought.  “This place is disgusting.”  Margueritte gave Elsbeth a look that required a response.  “Okay, I learned how to clean from Maven.”  Elsbeth admitted.  “But even I think this place is disgusting.  I might have eaten my shoe if I hadn’t been walking around here for five days.”

“Six days,” Margueritte corrected her.

“No, five.  I’m fairly sure,” Elsbeth said.

“Six,” Margueritte insisted.

Elsbeth decided not to argue.

“Do you think Owien got through?”  Elsbeth asked.  That became her other litany.

“Yes.  I pray he did, but right now I am worried about Father and Mother.”  Six days, even five seemed a long time to not know what was going on.

At that moment, her Father and Mother were surrendering.  They did their best after the men came racing back from the north.  They reported that all the Franks in that area, and their families were slaughtered.  This happened before Elsbeth and Margueritte were noticed to be missing.  At that point, there did not seem to be much they could do but pray.  Barth had to build some kind of real battlements, and as soon as possible.

Thomas of Evandell finally went in search of the girls, and Grimly went with him after doing everything in his power to reassure Barth and Brianna that they were all right.

“I would know if they weren’t,” he insisted.  “I would know.”

Everyone worked day and night to prepare, and good thing, because a small army came out from Vergen after the third day and laid siege to the battlements around the triangle.  They got most of the women and children out and on the road to Paris before the siege set in, but Brianna, of course, would not leave.  Several other women felt the same way.  Father Aden and Jennifer wanted to stay in the chapel, but they were forced to flee with the others, and that proved a good thing because the chapel was the first thing the Breton burned.

Three attempts to breach Barth’s defenses failed, though the Breton outnumbered the Franks ten to one.  Men under an enchantment generally did not fight well.  They were sometimes slow to react.  All the same, the engagements were bloody, and there were losses on both sides.

At last, Lord Bartholomew made a mad sortie with half of his remaining men, while the other half, escorted the remaining women and not yet twenty-one-year-old men and made a dash for the Paris road.  Sadly, the enemy had prepared for this.  Barth had to surrender, as he knew he would, though he suspected it would mean his life.  Brianna, also got caught and surrendered at just about the same time.  The seventh day was spent escorting the Frankish prisoners to Vergen.

On the seventh day, Thomas of Evandell ended up being thrown into the Queen’s old cell.  “Glad to know you are safe,” Thomas told them.  Margueritte waited until the guard had to relieve himself.

“Where’s Grimly?”  Margueritte asked.  “Isn’t he with you?”

The answer surprised her.  “Who is Grimly?”  Thomas was not going to be taken in, but he was not exactly free of the enchantment, either.  Margueritte could not think of what to say, and then the guard returned, so it became pointless to continue talking on that subject.

She asked about her mother and father, and Elsbeth pushed her way to the door to hear the answer, but there was not much Thomas could tell them.  He left before things heated up, thinking that as a Breton and the king’s bard, he could pass freely among the people.  He did well for some time, he thought.  He wasn’t sure.

“Anyway,” he said at last.  “At least you two are safe.”  That seemed most important to him.

“I’m hungry,” Elsbeth said, but Thomas could only laugh.  Margueritte could only frown.

On the eighth day, Elsbeth got dragged out of the cell.  She fought and screamed so clearly her hunger had not been acute.  Margueritte fought alongside her, but eventually Elsbeth got dragged down the hall and the door slammed shut.  Thomas got taken next, and Margueritte found herself on her knees, but her prayer seemed blocked in some way.  That felt curious.  Only then did it occur to her that she was half Breton, and something touched that half of her mind and heart and blocked her.  It had to be the source of the spell, and the one behind it.  She got excited and scared at the same time.  And then she had another thought.  Margueritte focused her little electric shock in that corner of her mind.  She felt the blockage jump, if she did not imagine it.  Somehow, she understood something important.  She was Frank in her other half, which is to say, she was Germanic and of Odin’s people.  By blood, she came from the place that would be certain death for Abraxas if he should ever go there again.  Festuscato had seen to that.  Rather, Nameless did, and she thought a message of some sort was in order.

“Show your face or directly interfere in this time and place and you will find that death I promised.”  She felt the blockage in her mind and heart jump once again, and this time it was not her imagination; and then the blockage left her altogether, and she prayed until they came to fetch her.

###

Margueritte blinked in the sunlight, but she recognized Roan and Morgan as they grabbed her and dragged her to where the wood had been piled high and a stake had been driven deep.  She got tied to the stake, and it appeared there was going to be a ceremony.

“Curdwallah.”  The word escaped Margueritte’s lips as her eyes adjusted and she saw the witch standing beside the king.

“My poppet,” Curdwallah said with a wicked smile.  “You should have remembered that I cannot be harmed by any weapon forged by man.”

“You have been accused of the heinous crime of witchcraft against the state.”  King Urbon spoke, as if reading from a script.  “The penalty for this crime is to be burned alive.  Have you anything to say for yourself?”

Margueritte looked as closely as she could at Urbon, and in his eyes.  “Where is Gandalf the White when you need him?”  She wondered out loud.

“Wait,” Curdwallah said, and all of the Breton paused in what they were doing.  “I would hate to see you go without gloating just a little.”

“I thought you said it would be worse for you if I died.”  Margueritte remembered that much.

“No, dear,” Curdwallah spat.  “It will be worse for you.  By the time you are grown again from a baby, Europe will belong to the great, true god, Abraxasss.”  She drew the last out like a snake.

“Jesus is Lord.  You cannot win.”  Margueritte heard her mother’s voice.  She turned her head and saw several cages.  Her father had one, and he looked like a man all but crushed, yet unwilling to surrender at the last.  Elsbeth and her mother were in the next cage, and they looked untouchable.  Goldenrod sat in a small cage of her own and she looked lost and confused.  Thomas had his own cage as well, but he looked equally confused.  Father Aden was in the final cage, which meant the troops sent to Paris and the king never got through.  This looked bad, and Margueritte suddenly felt afraid for Jennifer and the baby.

“Your Christ will be swept aside along with that arrogant and power-hungry Prophet.”  Curdwallah cursed.  “The true god with the power over life and death is the one who cannot lose.”

“But he has lost already,” Margueritte said, as she caught something out of the corner of her eye.  “And he dare not interfere here, lest his very existence come to an end.”  Margueritte was not fooling, but Curdwallah laughed.

“Light the pyre,” she ordered, and everything went mad at once.  The fairy Lords, Larchmont and Yellow Leaf disarmed the guards while Lady LeFleur and Grimly began to open the cages.  Old Lord Birch zapped Marguerite free of her bonds while Luckless’ well aimed axe slew the man with the torch.  And Hammerhead arrived.

He confronted the Hag, and Margueritte could barely breathe, “No.  Hammerhead.”  The hag changed into the eight-foot monster she was and knocked Hammerhead into a building so hard, the whole wall crumbled.

“I am too strong for you now,” the Curdwallah Hag said.  “Burn her!”  Margueritte had little time to think.  Her hands shot up, but the Hag laughed at her puny electrical jolt.  The Taser effect, though, had not been aimed at the hag.  It hit the man who picked up the torch and the torch set the Hag’s fur aflame.  Instantly, Curdwallah began to grow and howl deeper and louder than ever; but Lolly stood right there with a bucket full of water the lazy pyre builders left lying around.  The water did the job.

The Hag screamed and shrank and began to melt from the inside out, just like the Grendel.

M3 Margueritte: Counting the People, part 3 of 3

“If your majesty would be so kind,” Brianna added with a slight bow of her head.  Lord Bartholomew caught that note and realized his presumption.

“If we may,” he said with a slight bow of his own head.

Lady LeFleur ignored them all and went straight to Jennifer, kissed her on both cheeks and spent a precious moment admiring the baby.  “Most fortunate of men,” she said to Aden as she smiled.  “And have either of you scamps seen my daughter?”  She turned to Elsbeth and Owien.

“No, ma’am,” Owien said with a big bow which only looked a bit awkward because he was still rather young and unpracticed.  He had gotten used to having Goldenrod around, but this was something quite different.

Elsbeth watched him bow and then thought it best to add a curtsey of her own.  “And I am getting worried about her,” Elsbeth said.

“As am I.”  Lady LeFleur responded before she turned to Margueritte and Brianna.  Margueritte felt a curtsey of her own was not out of place.

“I tried calling to her,” Margueritte said.  “But I can’t seem to get through.”

“And you might not have gotten through to me if I had not been calling to you,” Lady LeFleur said, and turned to Margueritte’s mother and father.  “Most of Amorica has not yet turned to the Christ Child,” she explained.  “The old ways are falling, but not yet gone.  Most of the people are in between, not knowing what to believe anymore.  Even Urbon and his queen have been divided for years over David-Judon.  The Lord of Light and Dark has stepped into the gap.  He is presently bringing the whole nation under his thumb.  What his intentions may be, I cannot say.  My powers are small.  I would not presume to read the mind of a god.”

“Seven-eighths god.”  Margueritte corrected without thinking through what she was saying, exactly.  “Abraxas is one eighth greater spirit on his mother’s, mother’s side.”

“All the same.”  Lady LeFleur smiled.  She was not insulted.  “He is as far beyond your little ones as you are from Puppy.  Puppy may obey your commands, but do not presume he understands them or their purpose.”

“I see what you mean,” Brianna said.

“This does not sound good,” Barth said over her words.  “Not good at all.”

“Will you stay with us for a while and be refreshed?”  Brianna asked.

“I cannot,” she said, and turned last to Margueritte.  “I have my troop to consider, and Goldenrod to find, but do not worry.  None of us will cooperate, whatever his design.”  Lady LeFleur flickered once again like a bad movie and vanished.  She had not really been fully there to begin with.

“This is bad.”  Thomas of Evandell mouthed what Barth and the others were thinking.

“Powerful bad,” Grimly said as he became visible again, having decided that it hardly mattered at that point.

The talk went on late into the night, especially after Constantus and Lady Lavinia arrived around midnight.  Morton said they should send a rider to Paris to inform the king.  Peppin knew better and insisted the rider be sent to Charles.  Lord Bartholomew kept putting them off.  “And tell him what?  We don’t know where this is going.  We don’t even know exactly what is happening.  Is it a threat to the peace?”

“Most likely,” Father Aden said.

“But we don’t know that for sure,” Barth responded.

Margueritte went to bed, and Elsbeth was not far behind.  Owien wanted to stay up with the men, but he fell asleep after a time and Brianna covered him with a blanket and Redux carried him to Tomberlain’s room.  And so, they talked, and they were asleep all over the house when Margueritte got up in the morning.

Margueritte tried to be as quiet as she could as she left the Manor house and headed toward the barn.  She worried about Goldenrod and did not think very hard about what she was doing.  She got Puppy and the sheep and headed toward the pasture.  This felt like at least one job she could do for her father.

When her parents were awake, Brianna became immediately concerned.  Barth seemed less concerned, not knowing what to think, but he sent Elsbeth and Owien to fetch her.  They rode out right away.

“But shouldn’t you send soldiers?”  Brianna asked outright.

Barth looked at her, and almost had a change of heart, Margueritte having gone missing twice already; but at the last he assured her Elsbeth and Owien would do.  “They are just meeting first,” he reminded her.  “That will likely go on for a few days.”  He tried to reassure her, but he honestly needed the men to help turn the triangle into a better defensive position.  He would have liked to turn the whole thing into a fort, but they had no time for that.  The women and children would be coming up from the south March by the next afternoon, and he wanted things as ready as he could make them.  The barn needed to be emptied for use as quarters, and the road needed to be cleared for some distance in case men should come at them from Vergen.  The only question seemed what might be the best use for the lumber?

“And let me know as soon as the men get back from DuLac!”  He shouted at Peppin who nodded before they both moved off in different directions.

Brianna also got busy.  She had to check their food supply and she had a great deal of cooking to do.  Maven and Lady Lavinia were a help, as well as some of the wives of the free Franks who had been brought in, but she missed Marta.  Marta disappointed her, and she wished more than once that Lolly was still there.

Elsbeth and Owien dismounted in the hollow.

“Why are we stopping?”  Owien asked, knowing full well that the pasture sat just up the ridge.

“I want to surprise her,” Elsbeth said with a wicked grin.

“You’ve been hanging out with the little ones too much,” Owien said.

“Hush,” Elsbeth said, and she grabbed his hand, which he did not mind.

They began to sneak up, side by side, but then they heard Margueritte scream, “Ow!  Not again!”  Elsbeth tried to pull away.  Owien would not let go.  He pulled her back and quieted her until they could get a look.

This time the men did not bother being careful with the net.  They cut her hair off boy length, at the neckline, and tied and gagged her, and she could not stop them.  Half a dozen men were unconscious and scattered about the field, but Margueritte had worn herself out and had no more charge in her at the moment.  She had called for the armor of Gerraint and Festuscato, and that protected her from the worst of it, but she got bound all the same and tossed over the back of a horse as she had been once before.

“The army is in the south, by Aquitaine.”  Owien whispered.

Elsbeth whispered in return.  “You go get Roland and Tomberlain.  Ride south fast as a fee.  I’ll go tell Father.”  She had decided.  Owien knew there was no point in arguing, so he nodded, and they snuck back to where they tied the horses.

Owien got right up.  He had become quite a horseman since he got a real horse to ride.  “I’ll be back before you know it,” he said, and Elsbeth could not help smiling as she felt her heart flutter a little when he raced off in one direction.  She turned and headed the other way.  As she rode carefully through the woods, there were men waiting so she did not get very far.

************************

MONDAY

Even after a lifetime of unusual events, Margueritte is hardly prepared for what lies ahead.  Until then.

*

M3 Margueritte: Counting the People, part 2 of 3

Roan and Morgan did not argue further or say anything about what Margueritte did to them.  That alone felt strange enough to raise Margueritte’s curiosity, but before she could think much about it, she had to help Elsbeth to her feet.

“Are you all right?”  Elsbeth nodded while Margueritte shouted up the ladder.  “Owien.  Stay where you are until they are gone.”

Owien wanted to rush down to Elsbeth, but he gritted his teeth.  “As long as Elsbeth is all right,” he said.  “Otherwise, I would cut the man.”

“Don’t let the small insults rule your knife.  That’s what Father says.”  Margueritte reminded Owien of something he had undoubtedly heard a hundred times.  Owien showed his gritted teeth but said no more as Marguerite and Elsbeth went to the door.

The serfs lined up outside with blankets and such small possessions as might be important to them.  It indeed looked like they were leaving for a week, if not much longer.  Brian stormed out of the house and mounted his horse.  Bartholomew followed and protested all the way though Brian looked equally determined to ignore him.

Brian and Canto lead the procession.  Roan and Morgan followed with a half dozen men, all armed, who brought up the rear.  The peasants walked in the middle as they headed off down the road to Vergen.  Bartholomew threw his hands up, and Brianna came out to stand beside him and watch.

“How can I run a farm without laborers?”  Lord Barth asked no one in particular.  Brianna just took his hand until the procession moved out of sight.  Moments later, Father Aden came out of the chapel, and Jennifer followed, the baby in her arms.

“I don’t like this,” Aden said when he came close.

“Me neither.”  Margueritte added her voice to the mix.

“I should have cut the man.”  Owien rushed up.

“No, son,” Bartholomew told him, but he appeared thoughtful, and added, “Not yet.”

A moment after that, Thomas of Evandell came up, and Grimly rode with him.  Everyone waited to hear what he had to say, and he did not waste words.  “I had to wait until they were gone.  It would not have been safe while they were here.”  He got down and Grimly took the moment to speak.

“Powerful enchantments about,” he said.  “The whole country is in a fog.  Hard to tell what is going on.”

“I felt it myself,” Thomas said.  “I was with Constantus practicing my Latin when the strangest feeling came over me.  I felt that I needed to attend to the king.  Now, as the king’s bard, I have felt that feeling before, but never like this.  It was more than a feeling, if you know what I mean.  Constantus wondered if I had taken ill.  I could not say.  As time passed, the feeling grew.  I became agitated.  I said I had to go.  I went to ride out, and curiously, I knew exactly where the king was at that moment, and thinking about it after, I know how curious that was.  You see, he was not in his home.  He was in a village by the sea, but I knew he was there, though there is no way I should have known.  I would be there now if Grimly had not found me on the road.”

“Things are afoot,” Grimly said.  “And I know Sir Thomas has been a great help in the past.  I thought we might need him, but it was powerful hard to break the spell that had come over him.  It took me and Catspaw and Pipes altogether to set him free.”

“Yes,” Thomas said.  “And even now I feel it a little.

“Aden?”  Jennifer looked at him.

“Nothing,” Aden said.

Elsbeth looked at Owien, but Owien shook his head.  “I don’t have a king, not with what he did to me and my mother.  Sir Barth is my master, and he is going to teach me to be a knight, and I’ll be a good one, I will.”  Everyone smiled, but this felt like serious business.

“Come inside,” Brianna said.  “We can talk just as well when we are comfortable.”  She took Bartholomew’s arm and brought him to the house, the others following.

Elsbeth nudged Margueritte and whispered.  “Maybe now the rest of us can get some adventure.”

Margueritte shook her head.  “I don’t know what is going on, but I don’t think this is a good thing.”

The free Franks came in all evening as their Breton serfs and servants deserted their homes.  Some Franks came all the way up from the south mark.

“I don’t know what to make of it.”  Sir Morton, Baron Bernard’s former Master at Arms spoke for the southerners.

“None from the north at all,” Sir Peppin, the man who took Sir Gile’s place beneath Bartholomew explained.

“I don’t know why Giscard should not be here.  Morton came,” Barth responded and patted Morton on the shoulder.

“Unless he has the men fortifying the Manor house,” Peppin responded.

“Yes, I thought of that.”  Barth shook his head.  Morton looked like he had not thought of that.  “It doesn’t look good.”

“Some Breton haven’t been taken in by the spell,” Morton said, changing the subject.  Besides Thomas and Father Aden, Andrew and James-John remained.

“And all committed Christians,” Aden pointed out and Brianna agreed.

“But I don’t know what that means,” Brianna added.

“Peppin.  Send two men up to the north March and see what is happening at Curdwallah’s old place.”  Bartholomew ordered, just before Margueritte, Elsbeth, and Maven began to bring in the food.  Marta had gone with the Potter and her baby.

“I apologize for the poor fixings, my lady,” Maven spoke to Brianna.

“Don’t,” Brianna said.  “In fact, let me help.”

“Me, too,” Jennifer said, though she held her baby so her hands were already occupied.  The truth was she remained uncomfortable around large groups of humans, especially when many of them were strangers.

Once outside, Brianna immediately turned to her daughter.  “Margueritte, could you call to Goldenrod?  Maybe she would know something.”

“Doubt it.”  Grimly came up from where he had been hiding out back with Owien and Redux the blacksmith.

Margueritte looked hard at Grimly.  “I already tried,” Margueritte said.  “It’s like she can’t hear me or something.”  Margueritte shook her head.  “But maybe,” she had a thought.  “Lady LeFleur!  Your majesty, I need you.”  She put every ounce into the call that she could muster.  The Lady came, but she came like a bad piece of film at first, no more than a flickering image.  “Lady LeFleur!”  Margueritte called again, and the fairy became like a ghost before she solidified, ever so slowly.  She took a deep breath as soon as she fully manifested, and that was just when Father Aden, Thomas, Barth, Peppin, and Morton came out the back door.

“Oops.”  Grimly quickly went invisible.

Lady LeFleur, however, stayed visible, for a moment in fairy form before she got big.  She looked fairy beautiful.  Aden stood beside Jennifer and stared.  Peppin and Thomas went to one knee.  Morton looked afraid and wanted to run, but his feet felt planted like lead.  Barth spoke right up.

“Maybe now we can find out what is going on,” he said and put his hands together.

M3 Margueritte: Counting the People, part 1 of 3

Dearest Roland,

Once again, let me say how sorry I was not to be awake and aware of your leaving.  There are so many things I wish I could have told you, but now it will all have to wait until you return.  I worry about you at war, but I know you had to go, and that Charles needs you.  I worry about Tomberlain as well.  He has neither your skill nor experience and I hope he is not annoying you and getting in the way too much.  (I wrote that for Tomberlain).

I was told you were concerned that I get my medicine as instructed.  You know Father.  Mother has often said he would lose his sword if she was not there to point to his side.  Fortunately, Mother made sure I got every last drop, and I am much better now, you might say nearly well.  Mother says I am still too skinny, but I am really just being careful and trying to eat right and a good diet as everyone should.

Once again, Goldenrod was full of “newsy,” but it sounded much like the last time.  I’m afraid farm life does not change much.  It has been this way for hundreds of years and it will likely continue for hundreds more.   Help with the calving and the baby lambs, hoe the garden and pluck the weeds, sort the potatoes and try not to laugh too much.  I miss you.

Lady Jennifer had a baby girl.  Poor Father Aden fretted the whole last month, but she did very well, and Mother and I were right there to help all the way.  I am so happy for them both.  Oh, and Elsbeth is working very hard thinking of ways to ignore poor Owien.  Funny, though, Owien has been too busy with his duties of late to notice much, and that infuriates Elsbeth, so there is some entertainment.  Speaking of which, Thomas of Evandell, the king’s bard has been here several times.  He says he has just come to check on my condition, and I thank him kindly, but I suspect there is more to it.  I feel as if something is going on among the Breton, and I do not feel it is good, whatever it is.  Father says Baron Bernard has been allowed to go home to Paris to spend his last days in a comfortable home and in the company of friends.  I am glad for that, but it leaves terrible holes in the mark, now north and south.  Father has written to the king about it, but nothing has happened thus far.  I was thinking you might talk to Charles.  Father is a great man to do his duty, but I do not know if he can hold the border and keep the peace alone.  He is rather gray, you know.  Mother calls him distinguished, but I know he is older.  It seems to me he does not jump as he once did, if you know what I mean.  I was thinking younger men in the north and perhaps the baron’s son, Michael, in the south should come while Father is still able to teach them their duty.  Ask Charles if this makes sense, if you don’t mind.

Roland, when will I see you again?  Please bring Tomberlain home safe someday and then you could stay a while for once.  You would be most welcome.  Meanwhile, I will write again.  I would write the moment something changed or something exciting happened, but alas, if I waited for some excitement, I fear I would never write again.  Perhaps I will think of something worth telling by tomorrow.  The Lord keep you.

All my love,

Margueritte

Margueritte thought of her days as dull, dull, dull.  One thing she learned was how to prod the sheep along with a little electrical jolt.  She practiced because Puppy, now full grown, got as lazy as Maven.  Goldenrod came to visit when she could, but she mostly stayed with Elsbeth.  Margueritte sighed.  She got bored, bored, bored, and because of that, she talked to her puppy as often as not.

“So Gerraint went by the Tor to Tara, and that was exciting.  And he found Bridget there, though I do think he was a little hard on her.  But then they went to Avalon of the Apples.  It was not Avalon itself, mind you, not where Lady Alice lives, but it was connected in a way.  Oh, but then Festuscato faced the werewolf, the wolf-hag, and that was very scary, especially when that Abraxas showed up.  The sky turned dark and there was lightning and all.  I noticed, even if Nameless ignored it.”

Puppy looked at her with eyes which asked if she was through yet.  Margueritte sighed again.  “Even the gypsies have left for Aquitaine, maybe even Spain.  There is nothing here but sheep and Latin, and you, Puppy.”  She smiled and patted the dog’s head.  His tail wagged a little in response.  He was content to be petted, as long as he did not have to otherwise move.  “Sorry.”  Margueritte said at last.  “But it is time to go home.”  She got up, so Puppy got up.  Puppy did not mind going home.  He helped gather the sheep, and they drove them down into the hollow and toward the barn.

When she arrived home, Margueritte found horses in the triangle.  Chief Brian and her father were arguing.

“No.  It will only be for a few days,” Brian insisted.  “The king is traveling to all the towns.”

“But my serfs should not be needed.  There are no troublemakers among them, and the farm will hardly be able to function without their labor,” Barth insisted.

“Most remain subject to the king, and the census is part of it,” Brian said.  “And it will only be a few days.  Now that Finnian McVey is gone.”

“A-ha!”  Barth interrupted.  “That at least is a good thing, though the man should have been boiled in oil.”

“Bartholomew!”  Lady Brianna scolded him.  “You have said the Breton needed to make some changes in the way they do things.”

“The king’s system is very inefficient and unproductive.”  Lord Barth nodded.  “I remember saying it, but why interfere with something that is working well?  We are efficient and organized, provided the work does not stop for a week.”  He leaned into Brian’s face for the last comment.

“They remain the king’s subjects.”  Brian said, not in the least intimidated.  “Attendance is required.”

Margueritte left.  She heard enough.  She thought a trip to the barn was in order, but when she arrived, she found trouble there as well.

“Leave him alone!”  Elsbeth yelled and stood in front of the ladder to the hay loft.

“Come down, boy,” Roan shouted up.  Morgan simply stood by the big barn door and looked stupid and mean.

“You come and get me,” Owien shouted down.  “I have work to do.”

“You should do as you’re told, boy!”  Roan got angry.  “Morgan, go get him.”

Morgan moved toward the ladder, but Elsbeth threw her back to the ladder and wrapped her arms behind to clutch the wood and block the way.

“Move, girl,” Roan said.  He reached out, pulled Elsbeth roughly from her place and threw her to the ground. Margueritte’s hands went up almost without a thought, and Roan felt the electrical sting.  It sent him to his knees.  Morgan turned on Margueritte to grab her, but the charge still flowed through her blood, and Morgan snapped back and fell like a man struck with a sudden electrical shock.  The thing Marguerite noticed, however, was the look in Morgan’s eyes.  Her fool was missing.  His eyes stared blankly like one under a spell.

“Leave off.”  Canto the druid came to the door.

“But the boy,” Roan protested.

Canto looked up at the boy who stood at the top of the ladder brandishing a knife.  “He’s been too tainted by the Franks,” Canto said.  “He is of no consequence.  Let him be.  It is time to move.”

M3 Margueritte: Protect, Defend, part 3 of 3

Margueritte knew the sword at her back was much too heavy, but Defender, the long knife that rested across the small of her back was just as sharp.  She drew it.  The blade looked nearly as long as her forearm.  “Babies.  Nest.”  She repeated herself, her eyes turned on the Irishman and his one surviving rogue.  “Protect.  Defend.  Babies in Nest.”

Three babies, one being runt, hesitated.  “Babies, Nest, Now!”  Margueritte yelled with her last ounce of strength.  They obeyed.  The babies had to obey, and Margueritte decided that Finnian McVey did not need to know she had nothing in reserve as long as she could hold the blade steady and stay on her feet.

Only then did she hear the horses.  They were nearly up the rise, and she had heard nothing sooner.  Finnian made a mad dash to grab her, risked the return of the baby horde, but a horseman arrived even as McVey grabbed the back of her hair.  Margueritte did not even have the strength to swing her blade.  Fortunately, Runt rushed there to take a chunk out of McVey’s hand, and then the horseman tackled the man.  It wasn’t much of a struggle.  McVey surrendered without a peep, and as Lord Bartholomew and Tomberlain arrived with the others, Roland turned to a fainting young woman.  Runt chirped a warning and Roland backed up, no fool.  He saw the dead men.

“Runt.  Friend.”  Margueritte said as she fell again to her knees.  “Babies.  Friend.  Babies.  Come.  Friend. Friend.”  Margueritte went nearly unconscious as she saw Runt and several of the babies sniffing Roland, and then not objecting as he went to lift Margueritte’s head from the ground.

All this while, Festuscato, Gerraint and many others volunteered to take Margueritte’s place for a time.  She refused.  She saw no point.  They would have simply become dragon food; but now she had a last thought.  “Alice,” she called out.  “Lady Alice.  Help me.”  She got dizzy and passed out.

Lord Bartholomew, Tomberlain and the half dozen with them kept a respectful distance from the dragon’s lair, even with Margueritte in distress in the entrance.  They jumped, though, when they heard a rumbling in the rocks.  Many looked up and around for fear the dragon returned.  They jumped further away, and some backed down the hill when a tunnel, or archway of some sort formed on the cliff face directly across from the cave entrance.

“Babies.  Friend.”  Margueritte breathed.  Runt came up real close and whined, almost cried, and laid its head near Margueritte’s face and uncomfortably close to Roland’s hand.

“Hush,” Roland said.  “Everything is going to be all right now.”

Clearly, Roland had no prophetic skill as Mother dragon chose that moment to return.  The horses had long since scooted down the hill to safety.  The men were less fortunate, having to scuttle and scrunch down behind the nearest boulder, not that they had any prayer of escape.

“Mother.  Friend.”  Margueritte tried to speak, but her words were hardly audible.  Only Runt and Roland heard her.

Roland stood and pulled his sword.  He became determined to at least try and protect Margueritte, and he honestly did not know what else to do.  Flames scraped up and down the rocky cliffs along with the tremendous roars of the enraged beast.

“Runt.  Friend.”  Margueritte said at last.  She did not imagine the beast would understand.  It seemed a difficult concept, but then Runt surprised her.  Dragons were so much smarter than normal, earthly animals.

Runt fluttered up in front of Roland to get between him and Mother.  “Friend.”  Runt said.  Mother might have fried Roland in any case, perhaps mistakenly frying Runt with him.  She looked that angry.  But then several other babies caught on, and they came up beside runt and added their voices.  “Friend.  Friend.”  Then they heard a sound none expected.  It was a woman’s voice.

“Friend.”  The voice said, and it penetrated to the core of every mind present.  “No fire.  No harm.”  The woman said.

Alice came out of the archway.  Margueritte sighed and almost gave herself over again to unconsciousness.

Mother dragon was not inclined to listen, so Alice pointed something at the dragon which looked like a mere stick, or maybe a magic wand.  The dragon froze in place and appeared unable to move a muscle.

“What magic is this?”  Margueritte heard her father’s voice.

“Powerful,” a man said.  Margueritte thought it might have been Chief Brian’s voice.

“Not magic.  A simple device.”  Alice spoke with such sweet joy in her voice it made everyone feel like smiling.  Yes, Margueritte thought, that was right.  Alice had no natural magic.  She had the technology, though.  Then Margueritte paused and puzzled.  How would she know what Alice had or did not have?

“Mother.  New Home.  New Nest,” Alice said.  “Babies, come.  New home, new nest.”  Alice pronounced the words exactly right and in the Agdaline way.  The babies came and flitted through the archway against the rocks to disappear from this world altogether.  Only runt paused long enough to lick Margueritte’s face once before departing.

Then Alice shook a stern finger in Mother Dragon’s face.  “No fire.  No harm.”  She insisted with the tone and inflection of the Agdaline.  If the creature had not gone completely wild, it had to respond.  “Follow babies.  New home. New nest,” Alice said, and she set the beast free.  It understood well enough but paused to look in Margueritte’s direction.

“Baby?”

“Good-bye, Mother.”  Margueritte said, and the dragon went through and left one acid-filled tear to splash on the rocks and steam into the air.  Even with Roland once again holding her head, Margueritte could barely see into that other world.  It looked dark, like night, and full of rocks and with distant flashes of light which might have been lightning but might also have been a distant volcano.  Then the archway faded away and only Margueritte, Alice and the men remained outside the now empty tomb; the place that had once been the dragon’s lair.

“Lady Alice.”  Margueritte’s father spoke again.

“Those were words you were speaking to the dragon.”  She heard Thomas of Evandell.

“They were,” Alice said, as she stepped toward the men.  They had Finnian McVey tied by then and his man, whose finger refused to stop bleeding.

“And the dragon answered you.”  Thomas the bard said, intuitively learning something that even the druids only suspected.  “What a marvelous tone and how impossible to repeat,” he concluded.

“Unless you’ve got dragon lips,” one man said, softly.

Alice merely smiled and put something on the man’s bleeding finger.  It immediately stopped bleeding and skin grew across the cut not leaving so much as a scar.  He would never have a finger again, but he went to tears all the same out of gratitude.  Likewise, Alice treated Finnian McVey’s hand and several who had been burned, a couple rather badly, and they also healed instantly.  She called the horses, and they came, though they remained skittish, at the edge of the hill.  Alice only had to point, and several men, Tomberlain included, scooped up the dead men and tied them face down over three of the chargers.

Roland picked up Marguerite like a paper doll.

“Sir Roland.”  Alice spoke, and he gave the Lady his full attention.  “Give her this.  One tablespoon every four hours until it is gone.  She should recover.”

“But she is skin and bones.  She must be starved to death.”  Roland said in a desperate voice.

Alice paused and turned to Sir Bartholomew to give him the potion.  “It is Heinrich’s meal.  It is what they give men who have been stuck in lifeboats or without proper food for long periods of time.  See that she takes it properly.”

Lord Bartholomew nodded and accepted the jar like it was crystal, though it would not have broken, no matter how roughly handled.

“Wait.”  Margueritte spoke up as she just figured something out.  Alice was her in another life, she remembered.  “But how can I be in two places at once when I am only conscious of one at a time?” she asked.

“It is a trick,” Alice said, with her warmest smile.  “But you have been thus divided in every life, though you almost never know it.”  And she vanished, to the amazement of all.  And Margueritte, securely in Roland’s arms thought it was time to go ahead and go seriously unconscious.

************************

MONDAY

Things get back to normal, or as Margueritte calls it, “Dull, dull, dull, and Latin every Wednesday,” but the condition doesn’t last for long.  The Breton decide to take a census, and the trouble begins. Until Monday, Happy Reading.

*

M3 Margueritte: Protect, Defend, part 2 of 3

Margueritte awoke, startled by the dim light, and she sat straight up.  Runt rolled off her stomach where it had curled up for the night.  She could barely make out her surroundings as the morning sun came streaming down the cave but just eked into the tomb cavern.

Several of the babies were already awake, burrowing in and out of the coins in a game of tag or chase me.  Mother also looked awake and turned an eye on Margueritte as she sat up.  Mother was smoking.

“Mother.”  Margueritte said, just to be sure.

“Baby.”  The dragon mother responded, and Marguerite let out her breath.

“This is not going to work.”  Margueritte decided, and she felt hungry.  That little bit of horse flesh did not satisfy.  Runt crawled up to face her, and she petted its head as she flopped back down on the coins.  Again, her armor protected her from the impossibly hard bedding, though she did not suppose it would be worse sleeping in a gravel pit.  Her armor, though, felt light as air, and the under things that came with the armor were immensely comfortable.  That was why she slept, she thought.  That and the dragon song.

As she petted Runt, she thought about how the beasts were made.  Even with feathers on the outside, the dragons had their own sort of armor.  It actually worked something like a finely jointed exoskeleton.  They could give the appearance of slithering like snakes, but really, they were more like insects in that respect.  Worms, indeed, she thought.  Of course, if they had bones on the inside, they would have been much too heavy to leave the ground.  It was only because of their almost impenetrable but extremely light exoskeleton, set like scales she imagined, that their wings proved strong enough.

“Fly.”  Margueritte said to Runt.  Runt lifted happily from the ground and circled her head several times, singing.  “Wrap.”  Margueritte held out her good arm.  The creature wrapped and succumbed to more petting.  That was when Margueritte noticed her burns were not hurting and, in fact, they were nearly healed.

Of course, she had no way of knowing that she had slept for almost two and a half weeks.  Her father just then, with Roland and Chief Brian, set out to fetch her, having figured out what happened.  Canto confessed.

Margueritte eyed the mother dragon then until she got the creature’s attention.  “Hungry.”  Margueritte tried at last.  She figured she had nothing to lose.

Mother dragon stirred.  Most of the little ones were awake by then.  Two or three stuck their heads up from the golden pile and echoed Margueritte’s word.  “Hungry.”

“Sheep.  Cow.”  Margueritte tried once again, but the great dragon said nothing, merely curled around to slither out the cave entrance, temporarily blocking out nearly all the dim light.  Margueritte got up to follow and the babies went with her.  At the entrance to the cave, Mother had one more word before she took to the sky.  “Stay.”  Margueritte marveled.  She honestly did not know if the Agdaline were aware that adult dragons used command language on their own children, or if the Agdaline had bred that in on purpose.  The babies stayed, and Margueritte felt obliged to stay with them, at least until Mother flew out of sight.

Margueritte headed for the lip of the rise, though the babies tried to stop her.  “Stay.  Stay.”  A couple of them became quite verbal.

“Runt.”  Margueritte called.  She only felt a bit surprised that little one had already learned its name.  She saw a lone tree near the bottom of the hill, one not utterly charred.  A few green leaves tenaciously hung to the top branches.  Margueritte paused.  She did not know the word for green in Agdaline, and for a moment she wondered if the Agdaline were color blind, living, as it were, in a black and white world.

“Shades of gray,” she told herself in her own tongue.  “Runt.”  She got the baby’s full attention.  “Tree.  Leaf.  Fetch.”  She said the words even as several of the other babies got agitated.

“Stay.”  One of the babies breathed, but Runt looked delighted with the command.  It rushed to the tree, snapped off a twig with its razor-sharp teeth, nearly a branch, really, which sported several leaves, and rushed back to Margueritte like the most obedient puppy.  Margueritte watched.  There were still a few men among the rocks.  She found this no surprise, though she had imagined she had only slept one night.

When Runt returned, several of the babies were eyeing her, suspiciously; but she took the leaves and tickled Runt, and soon enough, they all wanted to be tickled.  It was great fun, until Margueritte fell suddenly to her knees.  Three babies immediately went to her.  One tried to lift her up and nearly snagged its teeth in her chain mail.  She felt very grateful to Hephaestus at that moment, but she did get to her hands and knees and mouth what was on her mind. “Hungry,” she said.  Several babies agreed.

Then she heard the men on the hill.  It seemed as if they had been waiting for the dragon to leave the lair.  And now they had seen a baby and better knew what they were dealing with.  Margueritte chided herself for stupidly exposing the infant.  “Home!”  Margueritte commanded, though she hardly had strength to talk.  “To the nest.”  She pointed and prepared to give herself up.  She had no idea why she should have suddenly become so weak.  But three of the babies were not going to give up.  They wrapped her wrists and middle as they had in the night and dragged her to the entrance.  Runt stayed behind to chirp urgency and growl at the approaching men.

“Go!”  Margueritte commanded as she staggered to her feet.  “Go!”  The babies went but hovered nearby.  “Hide,” she added the words.  “Nest.  Hide.”  She clearly heard the men by then.  They were getting close.

Once the babies were out of sight, though they may have been just beyond the light, Margueritte fell to her knees once more.  She felt utterly drained of energy, and famished, and she knew something was not right.  Runt stayed with her.  It looked over her shoulder when she heard the Irishman.

“Funny looking wee one, my dear,” McVey said.

“Not a little one.”  Margueritte struggled to her feet and faced the man.  There were four others with him, not nearly as many as she imagined from before.

“A queer bird, then,” McVey held his hand out to stop the men from rushing her.  He clearly wanted to know what he was dealing with before venturing in.

“Not a bird.”  Margueritte said as Runt darted forward.  “Ankh!”  It breathed, showed its’ razor teeth, and then darted back to Margueritte’s side.  That was a warning.

“Not a…”  Finnian McVey stopped speaking and all at once his eyes lit up.  “A baby!”  He understood and shouted the word.  It echoed off the rocks and down into the tomb.  “Hang the wee ones.  The charmed Lady has provided even better.”  He started to drool.  “Get the baby,” he ordered.  “And the garl if yeh can.”  He drawled the afterthought.

Four men sprang forward, not having the least idea what they were facing, having only the word “baby” to go on and thinking that sounded harmless enough.

The babies rushed out of the darkness and counter attacked.  One man jumped back to look at the stump where his finger had been.  It got snapped off as cleanly as Runt had snapped off the tree branch.  Two men found themselves wrapped and tied up, squeezed to death before their throats were ripped out.  The fourth simply stopped where he was, a look of utter disbelief on his face as a baby simply bored right through his stomach and came out his back.

Finnian McVey had backed well away, and had drawn a sword, and Margueritte knew that might be a serious threat to the babies.

“Babies!  Nest!”  Margueritte ordered.  “Now!  Nest!”  She yelled, and the babies were bred to obey.

“Protect.  Defend.”  One of the bigger babies mouthed to her.

M3 Margueritte: Protect, Defend, part 1 of 3

Margueritte immediately got surrounded by the little ones.  She saw a runt, no longer than her arm.  She spoke to him, soothing words, as her charred fingertips tried to untie her other hand.  She dared not ask their help because she knew their razor-sharp teeth were designed to rip chunks off burning carcasses.

At last she got free, and the babies seemed delighted.  The runt seemed particularly pleased and friendly.  “Wrap.”  Margueritte said as she held out her good arm.  The Beast immediately curled around her arm from above her elbow down to place its’ head on the back of her hand.  It began to purr, after a fashion.

“Fly.”  Marguerite said, and the creature unwrapped and took to the air with equal delight.  Several of the others began to act like they were jealous, but Margueritte felt a moment of tremendous relief which even temporarily overcame the pain in her fingers, hand and arm.  She knew these little ones had to obey.  Thousands of years of special breeding insured that, and she knew these still feathered little ones did not even smoke.

“Sing.”  She called out, and the little dragons began a harmony of song to make the birds envious.  They sang, and then they seemed to want her to go into the cave with them.  Margueritte was not about to do that.  Instead, she turned toward the path she had come up.  The babies followed her.

“No.  Stay.”  Margueritte insisted, but the runt came up to her face and seemed to have puppy-dog eyes.  Poor Margueritte was always a sucker for puppy-dog eyes.  She reached out with her good hand to pet the beast.  It purred again.  “Stay.”  She said, sweetly.  “Go be with your brothers and sisters.”  She pointed to the others that were trying to do as they were told.

Margueritte got to the rise as the runt went sadly back to the others.  They were all watching her.  “Baby.”  One of the dragon babies mouthed the word.  “Stay.”  Another baby said in imitation of her own word.  Margueritte smiled but began to step down the hill before Mother came back.  She only got about five steps along, before she saw the men come out from the rocks below.  They had evidently prepared well in advance.  They had places in the rocks intended to protect them from the worm but from which they could watch the hill.  Margueritte knew there would be no escape in that direction.

“Get her!”  Margueritte heard that command and fled back up to the waiting and overjoyed babies.  A quick survey suggested she had no other way down, at least no easy way which would not require a significant climb over cliffs of rock face.

“Home.  Inside.  Hide!”  Margueritte commanded the babies, and they followed and lead the way into the dragon’s lair.  She stopped far enough into the dark to be hidden, but near enough to still see the light and hear the approach of the men.  She imagined it cost Finnian McVey a small fortune to entice men to stay so close to a dragon’s lair.

“She’s gone into the cave,” one man said.  “Nowhere else for her to hide.”

“Check around the rocks.  Vagi, check over the cave entrance.”

“I’m not going in there,” one man balked.

“But the dragon’s gone,” the first man said.  “We saw it take to the air.”

Margueritte became suddenly aware of the babies around her.  The runt, rested on her shoulder, its head beside her head, looking with her.  Another had wrapped around her left leg and she petted it as well as she could with her hurting hand, just to keep it quiet.  A third brushed against her good arm as if to say it wanted some of that petting action as well.  The others had settled near her feet, resting from flight, three curled in little balls, like rattlesnakes ready to strike.  She had to protect them.  She already felt attached, especially to the runt, and she would kill these men, somehow, if they so much as harmed a feather.

“But it might come back,” the man protested.  “We don’t know where it has gone.”

“Go on, I tell you.  The beast has left.”

Marguerite heard the grousing, but also careful steps into the cave.  “No,” she cried out.  “Follow.”  She commanded the babies, even while she knew that the men in the entrance would hear.  The babies obeyed, and she ran into the dark and stumbled only once before she felt far enough in.  She looked back.  She saw what looked for a moment like torch light, and then she heard men yelling and screaming.  Mother must have returned, she surmised.

Three babies almost went for the entrance, but Margueritte shouted.  “Stay.  Wait.”  They waited, but impatiently.  And when Margueritte could no longer hear the roars, she said “Go.”

Eight babies darted for the entrance.  Margueritte and her runt followed at a more leisurely pace, and Margueritte only hoped the runt would keep Mother from having her for dessert.

When they got to the cave entrance, the runt started pulling on her arm with anticipation.  The smell of cooked horse was overwhelming, along with burnt something else which Margueritte did not want to think about.

“Babies.  Eat.”  The mother dragon surprised Margueritte, stuck its’ snout behind her back to fling her and the runt at the horse.  Margueritte might have been seriously injured if she had not been armored head to toe.  As it was, she almost landed on one of the babies, and that would have been worse.  The baby stuck its head up and looked at her.

“Eat.”  It echoed Mother’s word before it burrowed into the horse’s innards.  Margueritte felt for a moment as if she was going to be sick, but then her runt stuck its head up and repeated the word.

“Eat.”

With a glance at the mother dragon, Margueritte pulled a small blade from her boot.  She stuck her nose against the horse, bad as it smelled, and cut herself a piece off the least disturbed place.  She slipped the knife home, hopefully unnoticed, picked up the chunk of horse flesh and examined it.  “At least it’s cooked,” she spoke to herself for the first time in her native tongue.  It had been a long time since her last crust of stale bread.  She ate, and added to herself, “At least I won’t starve.”

After supper, Mother dragon had another word.  “Sleep,” she said.  The sun started to set, and Mother guarded the babies as they ate, and now let them go in first.  Margueritte was very reluctant to go, but one of the babies echoed, “Sleep,” and coiled around her wrist guard and began to pull.  Two others got the idea.  One grabbed her other wrist, and another wrapped around her waist.  Again, there is no doubt Margueritte would have been injured if she was not dressed in chain mail, forged in the fires of Mount Etna by Hephaestus himself.

Mother dragon leaned down to nudge them along, but this time it was a gentle nudge.  “Babies sleep.”  The words followed.  They went into the dark, and Margueritte wished she had some light to see.  A thought crossed her mind, though she was at a loss as to which temporal connection put it there.  She remembered the electrical something-or-other she had exhibited when she put the hag out of commission.  She tried to make a spark.  It came, as she hoped, from her eyes, but it was pitiful.  It shone for a moment off a thousand points right where the cave opened-up into the tomb area.  Margueritte gulped, as a great burst of flame blew over her head, nearly singing her hair.  Mother came right behind them.  And then mother touched her back with her snout and purred like an infant, as if this Margueritte baby was showing the first sparks of growing up.

Margueritte, fortunately grasped the layout of the tomb.  She saw the babies curled up on a great pile of gold, coins and jewels.  “Nesting material,” Marguerite said to herself, and she understood something in that moment which she had always wondered.  She found her way to the pile and curled up in the middle of the babies.  She planned to be surrounded by them at every chance she got, in case Mother had a change of heart.  And while she thought she would never really be able to sleep in a dragon’s lair, in fact the gentle sounds of the sleeping babies turned out to be a perfect lullaby.  It was the last sound the Agdaline heard as they drifted off to sleep for a hundred or a thousand years in their sleepers while their ship inched through the endless void among the stars.

 

 

M3 Margueritte: The Maiden and the Dragon, part 4 of 4

It took four days before Aden and Jennifer could be located, and three more before Thomas of Evandell sent word that he would be along shortly.  Several days later, they gathered at the Triangle, and by then, Owien raced home, trying to keep up with Tomberlain and Roland.  By then, of course, it was far too late.

Margueritte got taken rudely from her cart at the base of the long hill.  Her hands remained tied, but the gag came off, and had been for most of the last part of the journey.  It hardly mattered.  Margueritte had nothing to say.

“I had rather hoped we would see evidence of your friends before now.”  Finnian McVey said, and looked down on her from horseback.

Margueritte looked up at him and squinted against the morning sun; but her mouth remained closed.

“I was afraid it would come to this,” Canto said.  “She will not give you what you want, so now what will you do?”

“Follow through,” McVey sneered.  “That is where most men fail.  The threat just whets the appetite.  It’s the follow through that gets them.”  He waved to Roan and Morgan who took Margueritte’s arms and began to escort her up the nearest hill.

It seemed to Margueritte that Canto might be having second thoughts.  The men were all looking about, and looking up, and the horses had seemed skittish for the last several miles.  Roan and Morgan looked positively frightened to death to be so close to the dragon’s lair, and they barely held on to their charge as they climbed the path that had been well worn over the last eighteen months.

Canto and McVey dismounted and followed.  They seemed less concerned about the danger.  Canto imagined he knew something about dragons, and no doubt banked on the wisdom that the druids had gleaned over the centuries.  McVey rather banked on the odds, believing that he could escape while the dragon paused to eat someone else first.

“You druids have always been a bloody lot,” McVey said.  “You should have no problem with a single human sacrifice.”

“This is not the sacrifice of an enemy dedicated to the gods,” Canto responded.  “But I believe I understand your attitude at last.”

“Oh?”  McVey never thought of himself as being transparent.

“Yes,” Canto said.  “If you cannot get the spirits of the earth to serve you, you are determined to see that no one should have them.”  He said what Margueritte thought.

McVey stopped, so they all stopped.  “Those are your wards, not mine,” he drawled, not exactly denying the accusation.  “But if this bothers yeh so much, yeh can go down and make sure the men are ready.”

Canto paused, glanced once in Margueritte’s direction before he returned to the base of the hill.  McVey made the others finish the climb to the top.

They found a rock-strewn place at the top of the hill and a hole in the hillside which smelled unmistakably of dragon.  No doubt, there was plenty of gold in that hillside as well, but no one would be foolish enough to try and fetch it.  Margueritte got dragged to where two iron rings had been driven into a rock face.  How anyone stuck around long enough to secure the rings without becoming dragon lunch was beyond Margueritte, but clearly, they were there for the sacrifices.  Roan and Morgan secured her hands to the rings, Morgan said, “Sorry, sorry,” because of the ropes, and then they backed away quickly.  He did not wait for McVey to give the order.

“Be that way then,” Finnian McVey said to her.  “Though you’re a skinny little thing, hardly a snack for the beast I imagine.”  He took one long look around, not at the cave, but at the hilltop and rocks, believing his eyes might see any elves or dwarfs hiding there.  Truth is, they might have been there all around, but his human eyes would never perceive them, and Margueritte would never ask them to manifest in the dragon’s mouth.  McVey turned without another word and stomped off, not so much as giving Margueritte another look.

There followed one moment when Margueritte heard the rumbling in the cave and McVey still looked visible; but with the sound he picked up his pace and soon became lost from sight.  That gave Margueritte the moment she needed.  She had to act fast.  She cried out for her armor, and it came and fitted itself perfectly to her size and shape—the same armor that once perfectly fitted Gerraint, and Festuscato in his day.  With this, she thought to her Athena woven cape and the cape responded.  It grew longer until it touched the ground, wrapped itself around her and raised the hood up by itself which also grew large enough to completely cover her face.  She remembered that Athena had told the Princess in ages past that the cape was fireproof, and indeed, many things proof.  It seemed better hope than none, though unfortunately, there was no way it could stretch sideways to cover her arms and hands, spread out and tied as they were.

“Ankh.”  She heard the beast close by.  She shouted out in the Agdaline tongue as fast and as loud as she could.

“No fire!  Do no harm!  Friend, friend!  No eating, no fire!  Do no harm!”  She wondered if it would do any good. “No fire!  Do no harm!  Friend, friend!”  Margueritte yelled.  She felt a snout touch her side.  She squeezed her eyes tight and barely kept from screaming.  Then there came the fire.  She felt the heat.  Her left hand became aflame, but quickly came free of the rope.  She did scream.  The snout came again and sniffed at her and blew her hood up ever so slightly with hot air.  The hood fell back in place, but not before she saw the bulk of the beast.  It looked larger than she remembered.

Margueritte pulled her hand inside her cloak and tried to examine it, carefully.  Her glove and wrist guard prevented the worst, but the tips of her fingers were badly singed and would no doubt blister.  “No fire!”  She kept screaming.  “No eating!  No fire!”

Then one nostril of the beast poked under her hood and pushed the hood behind her head.  Margueritte bit her tongue before she saw something which explained a great deal.  “Mother.”  She said in Agdaline.  “Mother!  Mother.”  She saw a little, feathered serpent as long as her leg flitting beside its mother’s outstretched wing.  The dragon took a deep whiff of Margueritte before it raised its’ head.

“Baby.”  The dragon responded in Agdaline.

Three more babies roughly as long as the first came up beside that first, and Marguerite could see in the distance that there were perhaps five more.  “Mother!”  Margueritte said again.  “Protecting and defending your babies.”

“Protect.  Defend,” the dragon responded.  “Baby.”

“Feeding your babies.”  Margueritte continued in the Agdaline without realizing it.  Some internal prompts were coming through time.

“Feed babies.”  The mother dragon spoke and Margueritte gulped.

“Sheep,” she said quickly and waved her burnt hand in the direction away from the cave.  “Sheep.  Cows.”  She suggested quickly.

The dragon faced her again and came close, to take one more, long sniff.  “Baby,” it said.

“Mother.”  Margueritte responded and tried not to scream again.

“Sheep.”  The dragon said, and jumped to flight, let her wings out suddenly and flapped with all her might.  It made a bit of a whirlwind which scattered her own babies.  Margueritte felt sure it would have knocked her to the ground if she was not still tied by one hand.  The dragon shadow made a circle on the ground as the beast went once around for a last look before it set off on the hunt.

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MONDAY

Apparently, Margueritte is now a dragon baby.  Don’t miss next week when Margueritte, Mother, and the babies all take a turn in Protect, Defend.  Until then, Happy Reading

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M3 Margueritte: The Maiden and the Dragon, part 3 of 4

It got to be well after dark before Lord Barth and Lady Brianna became seriously worried.

“Damn, blasted girl!  How can she go missing again?”  Bartholomew paced.  “I thought we played out this drama already.”

“She may not be missing.”  Brianna tried to be positive.

“That would be worse,” he countered.  “Her out there, fallen down somewhere, maybe with a broken leg, or worse.”

“Maven!”  Brianna called, and Maven came in from the kitchen.

“I swear, lady, my lord., she was not to be found when I went to fetch her.  I brought the sheep home, but she was not there, I swear.”  Maven looked very nervous.

“Calm down.”  Lord Barth assured her.  “No one is blaming you.”

“I could ride out to have a look,” Owien volunteered.

“Me, too,” Elsbeth chimed in.

“In the dark of night?”  Brianna said, to point out the absurdity of their suggestion.  “Redux has men with torches searching the whole area.  They will find her if Margueritte is to be found.”

“Then maybe I should ride to Vergen to get help to search in the morning, or maybe to the king, or to Paris to fetch Tomberlain and Roland.”  Owien was thinking.

“No one is going anywhere until morning,” Barth insisted.

“Perhaps some trouble with her little ones had detained her,” Lady Brianna said out loud, and then she went on as if talking to herself.  “I worry about her, you know.  That is a terrible responsibility for anyone, but especially one so young.”

Barth perked up.  “Maybe the night people of the little people would be willing to help.”  He also started thinking out loud.

“Since Lolly and Luckless left there are no spirit folk around to call on for help.”  Brianna pointed out.

“Goldenrod?”  Barth said quickly.  “Maybe fetch her mother.”

Elsbeth shook her head.  “No telling when she might come around.  I can’t just call to her the way Margueritte can.”

“Little sneeze maker would probably get it all wrong, anyway,” Barth mumbled

“She would not.”  Elsbeth defended her friend, but Barth had already moved on to his next thought.

“Jennifer?” he asked.

This time Brianna shook her head.  “As far as I know, her connection to that world has been completely severed. Besides, she and Aden went south, remember?”

“Oh, that’s right.”  Barth said, and he sat heavily on the bench by the window and put his head in his hands.

Brianna went to him, speaking as she did.  “Maven, please finish putting supper away.  Owien, I believe you have duties in the barn.  Elsbeth, to bed.”

“Mother!”  Elsbeth protested, but she did not argue.  She stole a last glance at Owien before she ran upstairs.  She felt about to enter the age when she would ignore him all the time, but at just thirteen, she was not quite there yet.  At the top of the stairs, she paused outside Margueritte’s room.  “I’m praying,” she said, quietly.

Redux found nothing in the dark.  At dawn, just as Lord Barth got ready to mount his charger for a proper search, Margueritte got tied to a cart, the gag still in place.  No opportunity had presented itself in the night, and her bonds in the cart were secure.  Her sole consolation came in the knowledge that Finnian McVey defeated his whole purpose by keeping her gagged.  She hardly believed she could call to her little ones if her mouth stayed tied and useless.  Then again, maybe he did not want her to call for them.  Maybe he expected them to come and find her all on their own.  He did not know.  They would never do such a thing.  That was the law.  Maybe this was her time to die.

“I could help,” Gerraint spoke into Margueritte’s mind.  Both he and Festuscato had volunteered any number of times, and Gerraint in particular because of the help she gave him in the halls of king Hoel, and again with the seal people.  But it wouldn’t do.  Their hands, especially Gerraint’s big hands would have been cut terribly by the ropes.  That would not have helped at all.  Of course, the Gods were all quiet, as was Bodanagus and the others.  They really knew better, as did she.  It was the law after all.

It seemed a long way to Caern Long and for that reason, Finnian McVey provided a tramp to watch Margueritte when Margueritte ate her pitiful portion of bread or relieved herself.  The tramp, a hard woman, said very little, sat in the wagon beside the driver, and did her best to ignore Margueritte’s existence.  The driver said nothing at all.  In truth, if not for the occasional comments by Festuscato and Gerraint, she would have been bored to death.  Of course, she wondered what her father and mother were doing, but she had no way of knowing.

Barth spent the day making such a thorough search of the farm, not one stone remained unturned.  Brianna almost went hoarse calling for her daughter, and Elsbeth called for Goldenrod, but the sprite did not visit on that day.  Andrew got sent south to fetch Jennifer and Father Aden if he could.  John-James got sent to the south coast where Thomas of Evandell was reported to be.

“Might as well gather the troops,” Barth said.  “Looks like we have to start looking all over again.”  It appeared late in the afternoon when he said that, and because of that, he decided the rest of the riders could wait until morning.

They had a pitiful supper that evening, even with Marta back at work and her baby in attendance.

“I could ride to tell the king,” Owien volunteered again.

“No.”  Sir Barth said, and with such a heavy air it almost made one cry to hear it.  “We will leave the king out of it this time.  Urbon would probably just complain about me being an incompetent father.”

“Now, he would say no such thing,” Brianna reacted.

“Father, it will be all right.”  Elsbeth encouraged him as well as she could.

He looked up, but his thoughts stayed far away.  “Owien, you take Sir Giles to Paris.  He has family there, and at his age he may wish to stay with them.  He also knows some men at the court who should be able to help you locate Tomberlain to fetch him home.  I’ll ride to Vergenville in the morning and maybe have a chat with Brian.  Then, we’ll see.”  He paused for only a moment before he rose to go up to bed.  He looked every bit like an old man.

Brianna sent Owien off and Elsbeth up, and then she left Marta to close-up the house, and Maven to help if she could be found.