Only one old priest served in the church, talking, and laughing with Charles and Roland. Four of Wulfram’s men from Potentius and four of Hunald’s men from Aquitaine stood around looking bored when the women trooped in. The men stood and followed as Mother Matilde brought them straight to the back of the altar where a flat stone had been carved with five crosses, painted red at some point in history.
“Don’t break the stone,” Margueritte kept saying. “After it serves its purpose, it needs to be put back for the next person.”
It took a while to dig out the mortar and pry up the stone. The big stone took a small chip, but that could be filled in. It took four men to carefully lift the stone and set it gently along the wall, and then one man lifted a long, thin box. Margueritte tried to get the box, but the men crowded around and blocked her way. They were anxious to open it, but Margueritte felt obliged to speak first. She stepped back, raised her hands, and called.
“Caliburn and box.”
The box disappeared, startling all the men, and it reappeared in Margueritte’s arms. Roland and the nuns were the least surprised. The priest let out a shout and Giselle dropped her jaw.
“Now listen,” Margueritte said, though she certainly had everyone’s attention. “The sword in this box was first made for a Greek princess two hundred years before Christ. That makes it nine hundred years old, so it needs respectful treatment. At the same time, you will find it stronger, sharper, and of a better-quality steel than anything that can be produced by Christians or Moslems. It should serve you well, Charles. The last one who carried this into battle was a man named Arthur.”
“Excalibur?” one man asked.
“No. Excalibur is older, heavier, and pressed with meteorite in some way, I don’t know. It is very pretty, but Caliburn in most ways is the better sword. Caliburn is the one that was taken out of the stone.” She took it out of the box, dusted it off and saw several spots that showed a rusty colored dirt, the remains of its former sheath. She tapped it gently against the pew and used her sleeve to clean the sword. The rusty spots easily fell off, and they all saw the blade itself, untainted by any discoloration. It gleamed in the dim light of the church. Charles and the others started to crowd forward again, but she stopped them.
Charles paused before he lifted his hand and called, “Sword.”
“It has a name.”
“Caliburn,” Charles amended his word and the sword jumped once, flew through the air, and landed in Charles’ hand ready to strike at an adversary. Charles looked more surprised than anyone else.
“What witchery is this?” the priest asked.
“No witchery.” Margueritte rolled her eyes for Mother Matilde and Sister Mary. “It is the sword’s only virtue, to return to the hand of its owner. It is on loan, but at present, Charles, it is fit to your hand.”
“But how?” Roland asked. “I mean a sword that comes when called.”
“It got forged in the fires of Mount Etna under the watchful eye of Hephaestus. It got worked into shape and completed by the same family of dark elves that made Thor’s hammer. It should serve well, but it is not indestructible so treat it well.” Margueritte handed the box to Matilde. “Save this,” she whispered before she turned again to Charles. “The sheath it had is rotted. I recommend a strong leather sheath to keep it from scratching.”
“It can be scratched?” a man asked.
“No, but it is sharper than any knife we have, and it will stay sharp. You won’t have to sharpen it. No, I was thinking to keep it from scratching your leg or your horse.”
“Ah,” Charles understood. “But now these crosses in the circles? There is one on each side of the block where the cross-guard meets the grip.”
“The wheel of Saint Catherine?” Sister Mary guessed.
“And on the pommel, at the end. And reflected, like an imprint in the ricasso on both sides of the blade itself above the block.”
“The five crosses,” Roland understood, and Margueritte nodded.
“It is the symbol of the Athol valley where the Princess was a princess. It is two crossed swords in a circle, but it does look cross-like. God’s providence two hundred years before Christ, do you think?”
“And it has been hidden in the church from the beginning?” The priest shook his head in disbelief.
“Lady Margueritte.” Charles spoke in his formal voice and gave a slight bow. “I never expected to have and to hold the sword of King Arthur himself. I will do my utmost to take care of it.”
“No, Charles. It is being given to you to use. I hope the sword will take care of you. I don’t know who the Masters may be, or anything about Tours, or what that man was talking about, but I know it is important that you be there, alive to meet it. You understand, I can make no promises. Caliburn is the best I can give you—that and some heavy cavalry if I have maybe ten years to organize the Breton March and train the men.” Margueritte looked around at all the faces staring at her and decided she said too much. “I don’t know what crucible you plan to put your men through in the next ten years. That is not my job.” She genuflected to the image of Jesus on the cross behind the altar, lit a candle for her father at the statue of Saint Catherine and left.
Margueritte held on to Roland in the night but said nothing. She said nothing all the next day when they returned to Tours, though she listened while Roland explained to Charles how Tomberlain planned to divide up his property and rent it to faithful men, and how he planned to include military service as part of the rental price.
“And any who refuse the call to arms will have their land taken away and given to others,” Roland said. He did not exactly get it right, but Charles grasped the concept.
“You know I have another half-brother, Childebrand,” Charles said. “He has a small place in Burgundy.”
“You can’t trust your brother?” Roland asked.
“No. He is content with his place and supported me in my struggle as you know.”
“We are headed for Bavaria on the Burgundian border, even as your spooky wife guessed. But the Burgundians are making noises about needing to tend the land, the fields, the grapes, and maybe not being able to raise many men to fight, even though the fight will be on their border and to their own benefit.” Charles paused and rubbed his chin.
“I’m not following,” Roland admitted.
“I was just wondering how Childebrand might like being the Duke of Burgundy, and maybe there are some other Burgundian nobles worth replacing.”
Roland said nothing, and Margueritte said nothing until they got back to the inn in Tours. Then she said something to Roland on an entirely different subject.
“Tomorrow is Sunday. I need to go to church, at Saint Martins. I told the abbot I would come back and check on his work.”
Roland considered when she might have spoken to the abbot. “When was this?” he asked.
“About three hundred years ago,” she answered.
Giselle begged off when Margueritte went to church. Margueritte felt concerned, because Giselle was very faithful in church, but Giselle said she just wanted some quiet time, and that had not really been possible when they were traveling.
As soon as Margueritte stepped into the sanctuary, Giselle walked to the woods by the stream where Abd al-Makti waited. Giselle spoke first.
“The father is gone by my hand, and as you said, the Lady has taken on the responsibility of overseeing the organization of the Breton March. She is occupied and out of the world, so why have you called me? You promised to let my family go free once Lady Margueritte became occupied.”
“Because the job is not finished,” Abd al-Makti said. “Charles is taking his army out to battle, and it is not my desire that the Franks should become good at war. It is my desire that Sir Roland, Charles’ strong right arm, should leave his mind, if not his body, back in the Mark.” He reached into a pocket in his vest and pulled out a small vial of clear liquid.
“I’ll not poison anyone else. The old man suffered night and day. I did not mind that, like an act of mercy. But no more. I will not harm the lady or anyone else in the family. They are good people, and the lady, her mother, and Lady Jennifer are saints. I will not do it.”
Abd al-Makti continued speaking as if Giselle said nothing at all. “I am not asking you to harm any living person. But I have seen a bit of what is to come, and I know the lady will again be with child.” He held up the vial. “This is for the last month when the lady is with child. It will not harm the lady, only the lump of flesh in her belly will be affected.”
Giselle’s eyes got big. “I will not harm her unborn child. That would be murder.”
“But unborn, it is not yet a child. I tell you it is just a lump of flesh until it is born. It has no feelings, and cannot feel, not like a person. And it will be quick. The lady will be sad, and Sir Roland will turn his mind to his wife. That is all.”
“You promised. My family.” Giselle got stubborn.
Abd al-Makti held out the vial. “This time I do promise to set your family free when you do this successfully.”
Giselle closed her eyes for a moment and thought, but in the end, she took the vial and put it in her pocket. As she walked off, she did not look like a person who was decided if she would do anything or not. Abd al-Makti simply shrugged and called for Marco and the horses.
What can you do when everything gets broken? Next time. Happy Reading.