M3 Margueritte: Burning Questions, part 2 of 3

“If the Lord saw fit to make these little spirits, they must have some purpose in his plan.  And in the end, they must be accountable to him in some way, even as we are,” he finished.

“Now as to Margueritte’s place among them, that is something to think about.”

“But my Lord.”  Little White Flower spoke up.  “If the little ones did not have someone to watch over us and set boundaries for us, there is no telling how much mischief we would do to this world and to all the people in it.”

“I believe this,” Lady Brianna agreed.  “Even under Margueritte’s watchful eye they can’t seem to resist lying, cheating and stealing.”  She shook her head.

“But we’ve brought it all back.”  Little White Flower spoke for the defense.  “Or nearly all of it.”

Father Aden looked at the fairy and then Margueritte and prepared for two experiences for which he could hardly prepare.

“Margueritte, I do not know why you should have to be born again and again as you say, but I understand that only such a one would be graced with the gift of these little spirits of the Lord,” Aden said.

“Gift?”  Margueritte half-kidded to lighten the atmosphere.  She knew it was her turn to show something.  She took her Mother’s hand and held tight.  Taking Aden the Convert’s hand with her other hand, she closed her eyes.  She and her mother had discussed it.  This was not the place for the Danna.  But Gerraint, Son of Erbin, was willing to come through, and he was a well-known man of faith.  In only a moment, Margueritte disappeared and Gerraint sat in her place.  A tear came to his eye as he spoke in the chapel.

Good Father,” he said.  “I too do not know why I am reborn and never know the glories of Heaven, nor did any of the scholars of my day, not even Merlin, only one thing is needful to remember.  This is Margueritte’s life, and this fine Lady is her mother as surely as anyone was ever mother to a child, and this surprisingly quiet one is her good sister, annoying though she can be.”  Gerraint smiled a little as Elsbeth was not too old to stick out her tongue and make a face.  “And this one is part of her responsibility as it was part of mine in my time.”  He smiled for Margueritte’s mother and squeezed her hand and then he went home and Margueritte appeared back in her own place.  Her mother hugged her, and none too soon.

The last surprise became a surprise for all except for Aden who had been forewarned. Brianna looked at Little White Flower and spoke clearly.  “Get big, please,” she said.

“Must I?”  Little White Flower asked one last time.

“Yes, you must.”  Brianna affirmed, and the fairy did and stood tall and slim in a full-length white deerskin-like dress that made her swarthy skin stand out.  Her long hair that reached to her knees looked nearly as long as Margueritte’s, and certainly as dark, and her eyes, a rich loam brown appeared to dance with sparkles of Gold.

“Golly Gosh.”  Goldenrod said from one pew back where she had snuck in to watch.  Little White Flower appeared to be twenty something, much older than Elsbeth ever suspected, and much more beautiful, as fairies are, than human eyes normally get to behold.  Little White Flower immediately looked to her friend, but Elsbeth did not know what to think.  She always thought of her fairy friend as about her own age, which was not quite ten.  She never imagined her as a full-grown woman.  She did not know what to think.

Little White Flower looked again at the Cleric who was but thirty, after all.  And there was something in the look to make a heart stop.  Father Aden also did not know what to think or what to say, though it crossed his mind that many of the scholars at Iona were married.  They had not given into that silly Roman superstition concerning celibacy, and he felt glad for that.

Lady Brianna finally, and graciously, as was her way, broke the ice and hugged Little White Flower.  “Welcome to the family,” she said, and added, “I’ve been wanting to do that for a long time.”

Margueritte nodded, and then got up to hug her too.  She suspected for some time that this might be the case, and probably could have known for sure if she thought hard about it.

Elsbeth got up last of all.  She neared tears and knew what would happen long before any of the others.  She had lost her fairy.  Little White Flower would be Father Aden’s fairy now, and she would remain his for the rest of his days.

They had peace in the triangle after that, or as much as there can ever be when there are little ones literally under foot.  The promised prosperity came to the farm, and everyone benefited from the bounty.

In the Lord’s year 711, Tomberlain got formally invested as a Squire as he turned seventeen.  All of those who had been calling him that already cheered.  The rest cheered as well and said it was well deserved.  Owien, age 12 cheered loudest of all as the two boys were indeed becoming fast friends.  Owien looked up to Tomberlain as an older brother and mentor, while Tomberlain found in Owien an alternative to having sisters.  He also did not mind the adulation of the youngster, but unlike some who would have swelled their heads, Owien’s adoration of Tomberlain drove Tomberlain to always do his best and try to be the best so as to not disappoint the boy.

Lady Brianna recognized in young Owien a quick mind and a sharp wit which she claimed would be wasted in the fens.  She brought him and his mother to the Triangle.  She set him to page for the master at arms, and when he turned twelve, she began to send him with Tomberlain and the girls to Lady Lavinia’s to learn his letters.

Thus, the children grew.  Margueritte turned fourteen in the spring of that year and showed every sign of becoming a fine young lady.  Elsbeth turned eleven that summer, and she also tried very hard to be grown up.  She was eleven, going on twenty, Margueritte teased, and there was some truth in that, though Elsbeth still had plenty of childish moments.  Elsbeth, Margueritte, and sometimes Goldenrod became fast friends again, and did nearly everything together.  They often rode far into the wilderness to picnic and play, and though Lord Bartholomew resisted the idea because, as he said, there are still spies around, and there were, Lady Brianna convinced him to let them go, because she knew the time the girls spent together was drawing short, and soon enough they would find nice young men, and after that they would never have such time together again.

“And they better be nice young men.”  That was all Sir Barth had to say.

Once again, everything changed when the fall came, and the leaves first began to change in the Vergen.  It seemed a warm day, what Little White Flower called a Navajo Summer, when a great shadow appeared, circling around the open fields.  The men came running in.  Sir Barth and Tomberlain were with Redux and Luckless by the forges, and from there, looking down on the grain, the shadow looked clear as a new cast bell.

“I can’t see it.”  Tomberlain squinted towards the Heavens.  He used his hand to help shade his eyes, but it did not help.  Bartholomew spoke after a glance upward.

“But it is big, whatever it is.  Where are the girls?” he asked.

“Riding,” Redux said.  “I helped saddle their mounts only an hour ago.”

“Damn.”  Lord Bartholomew swore, which he rarely did, and then he turned his eyes to the dwarf who seemed to be trembling with certainty.

Luckless swallowed hard.  “Dragon,” he said, and the men turned white.

M3 Margueritte: Burning Questions, part 1 of 3

Late in the spring in the year of our Lord, 710, when Margueritte turned thirteen, a great caravan got spotted in the northeast quarter, headed toward the Mark and for Amorica.  Margueritte was out riding with Elsbeth and Tomberlain when they found it.  There were some riders with the caravan, but mostly mule and oxen wagons that moved slowly across the fields.  Tomberlain went for Bartholomew, but Margueritte and Elsbeth refused to move from their perch.  They were on a hillside, hidden enough by the trees to not be an obvious target, so on the promise that they not move an inch, Tomberlain went, and he was not gone long.

Lord Bartholomew and every man of the March he could muster came armed to the rendezvous.  Even young Owien came with them, having taken up as page to Sir Gilles, Bartholomew’s sergeant at arms.  They rode down toward the oncoming troop, slowly and carefully, not knowing what to expect.  Bartholomew, of course, told the girls to stay put, but of course they did not.

Several men rode out from the wagons to face their visitors.  The men did not appear hostile, and they did not appear to be armed.  Appearances can be deceiving, but in this case, they turned out to be gypsies, that wretched and miserable race said to be doomed to wander over the earth, never to have a home of their own for the great sins of their forefathers.  Margueritte never thought that was quite fair to the children and grandchildren, and she felt a pang of conscience when she drew near.

Margueritte pulled up to wait, but Elsbeth could hardly keep herself from riding into the midst of them.  They were stopping at any rate.  The day was on.  Marguerite did not hear what deal her father made to have them pass through the Mark unmolested, but she felt sure it was pass through.  There would be no long camps on the Breton border.

Margueritte, however, did hear what Goldenrod whispered.  “Breedies,” she called them with a turned-up nose.

“What do you mean, breedies?”  Margueritte asked.

“They got little one blood in them,” she said.  “Not much, but enough to make them smelly.”

“Hey!  I’m a breedie, half Frank and half Breton,” Margueritte said.

“You’re a human bean.”

“Being.”

“You all smell stinky, the same,” Goldenrod said and rolled her eyes, as if everyone knew this.

“Thanks a lot.”  Margueritte kicked her horse to get a closer look.

Lord Bartholomew got invited to examine the camp to be sure the gypsies were not hiding the weapons of a secret army, and Tomberlain and Elsbeth went with him and his troops, so Margueritte thought it would be all right.  When she got near, however, she saw something she did not expect to see.  Curdwallah was speaking with one of the gypsy chiefs while at the same time trying to blend into the background with the hope that Sir Barth and his troop would not recognize her.  Margueritte recognized her.  Curdwallah the hag could not escape recognition despite how much she appeared like just another gypsy witch.

“Invisible?”  Margueritte checked with Goldenrod.

“Naturally,” Goldenrod responded with some miff to think that Margueritte had to remind her.

“Fly there.”  Margueritte pointed and quickly looked away so as not to let on that she saw Curdwallah.  “I must know what she is doing here so far south of her place.  I must know what she is saying.”

“Oooo.”  Goldenrod stood on Margueritte’s shoulder.  “Spies for gossip.”  Margueritte felt the fee practice peeking in and out from behind her hair several times before she took off.

“But Lady, the price you ask is too steep,” the gypsy said.

“I warned you not to enter my territory without my permission.”

“But we have gone around.  You are not disturbed.”

“You misjudge.”  Curdwallah put her hand to his shoulder, squeezed a little, which caused the man to grimace in pain.  “Amorica is mine.  All the territory is mine, and you will meet my price, or you will pay in other, less pleasant ways.”

“I will do what I can.”  She squeezed a little more.  “All right. All right.”  He yelped and fell to his knees.

“But wait.  There are too many eyes here, and I feel certain someone is listening in.”  Curdwallah turned slowly around and nearly stopped right where Goldenrod hid.  Fortunately, the fairy, though invisible to mortal eyes, thought it prudent to also hide behind a bucket.  Curdwallah’s eyes moved on.  “We will be better in your wagon,” Curdwallah said, and the poor gypsy led the way while Goldenrod sped back to Margueritte’s shoulder. She peeked out from the security of Margueritte’s hair before she said anything at all.

On hearing, Margueritte wheeled about and rode back to the hill, and then home, thinking the whole way.  When she told her father about it later, he chided her.

“Why didn’t you tell me right away, while we were there?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” Margueritte admitted.  “I didn’t think of that.  I did not know if it was important or not.”

One thing that was important came up some days later. It happened during Beltain of that year, not many days after the gypsies, when lady Brianna’s conscience finally needed to be cleared.  Tomberlain and Owien were out proving what hard heads they had, as Margueritte put it, but the girls were kept close to home.  Lady Brianna was not going to risk another Beltain romp, and on that day, she took the girls into the chapel where Aden the Convert had taken up temporary residence.

This thing had weighed heavily on Lady Brianna’s mind since Beltain a year ago, and really since the little ones first arrived in their lives.  To that end, she insisted that Little White Flower come to church.  The poor fee acted frightened out of her wits just to think of it, but one look at Father Aden calmed her, greatly.

Aden had actually been taken to Iona as a baby in his mother’s arms.  His own father had died doing no less a thing than saving the king’s life.  Aden grew up in Iona and lived twenty years under the eyes and tutelage of the monks. At age twenty, he felt the great calling to return to his native land and spread the gospel, and he received a warm reception at first for the sake of his father.  Some ten years later, the reception had cooled considerably, and at times, especially during the seasons, Aden felt grateful for the safety of the Frankish mark.

“But it is the Celtic way,” he said.  “I look to the scholars of Iona and the people look to me.  The children look to their parents, and on down the generations until we are able to make our own Iona here in Amorica, and grow our own scholars, steeped in the knowledge of the Lord.  It is better than looking, like sheep, to some distant Bishop to know what we are supposed to think and do.”

Then the topic turned to Little White Flower and the rest.  The fairy turned beet red when Aden examined her, and he seemed not a little embarrassed himself.  Then there were hours of discussion, searching as much of the scriptures as they had, and finally concluding on this note:  First, that it was wise of Sir Barth to charge his people in the strongest possible terms to say nothing of their presence to anyone at any time, and second, that there were more things in Heaven and on Earth than they could imagine

M3 Margueritte: Year of the Unicorn, part 3 of 3

Owien did not move.  He could not believe seeing a real unicorn, and when he saw the fairies, he almost fainted.  They were holding hands and dancing in a circle about five feet from the ground, chanting.

“Hurry, hurry Avalon

Under moon and under sun

Make a way to Kairos hold

Make a door for travelers bold.”

The children imagined listening to a bear thrash through the woods, the growl of the cat and the serpent slithering through the leaves, but with that chant, Margueritte perked up.  “How many miles to Avalon?” she asked.

“Three score miles and ten.”  The fairies answered in unison.

“Can I get there by candlelight?”

“Yes, and back again.”  The fairies, oblivious to the danger they were in, fell back and laughed and laughed, an enchanting, infectious laughter, and it cheered them all.  And then the door opened.  A mere shimmer in the air at first, it quickly became an arch, high and wide, that touched the ground.  The children saw another world altogether, with a carefully manicured lawn so richly green it nearly hurt the eyes to look at it, and a sky so blue that Owien claimed after that he never really saw a blue sky again.  On a hill in the distance stood the greatest castle any of them had ever imagined, with more towers and pinnacles than they would have guessed possible.  Near at hand stood the most beautiful woman any had ever seen, and she glowed all around, ever so slightly, like a true, angelic vision.  The woman stepped into this world, looked around and took in the whole scene with one sweep of her eyes.  The fairies bowed and backed away.  Margueritte just had to step forward.

“Lady Alice,” she said, for she knew who it was.  “Is it time for me to come home now?”

“No, my little self,” Alice said.  “You have much yet to do here, but soon enough, and you may come.”  She turned to Elsbeth who thought it only right to curtsey.  “Do not be afraid, child.  Your days, too, will be long and happy.  And what do you say Owien son of Bedwin.  Will Sir Owien and Sir Tomberlain, the best of friends, not come into this high adventure?”  She stepped aside first for the unicorn and invited the beast to enter in.  The unicorn did not hesitate.  It reared up once, the earth shook, and lightening pierced across the sky.  Then it dashed through the door and quickly became lost in the distance as it raced across that sea of green.  “And my children,” Alice said to the fee who fluttered passed the door.

“Come on, come on-ey.”  Goldenrod prompted the others.

“Yes, hurry.”  Little White flower added.  Margueritte started and that got everyone’s feet moving.  Tomberlain came last with his horse.  When they turned, they could not see a door at all, and Alice was also not with them.  Looking out across the pasture, they saw great fields of perfect, golden grain not far from a river which ran deep and wide, and which seemed to come from the castle on the hill.  Behind them was the sea.  Indeed, they were almost on the golden shore and it seemed as if the drab world from which they had come must be buried beneath the waves.  Beyond the pasture in one direction and beyond the fields and river in the other, there were deep forests.  The one past the pasture looked like pine and fir and rose in great procession to where it undoubtedly became cliffs fallen off into the sea.  The one past the fields looked like oak, birch, maple, elm, and a thousand species they could hardly name, and it seemed to stretch off into the distance without end.

They felt reluctant to go too far for fear of disturbing the pristine perfection that they saw.  Even the fairies, who seemed at home, hardly dared move from the moorings of the children.  Then they saw someone come from the fields and river. They waited, because they felt they could hardly do anything else.  At last he arrived, a man, deep bearded and hard to look upon, but with a kindly face and a warm demeanor.  He came barely clothed, wore only the least cloth such as the Romans once wore, and in his hands, he held a sword.

“Caliburn,” Alice said.  They all spun around and saw that she had somehow come up behind them.  “It was made for a princess by the gods of old, but it has been carried by others since.”

“Would that I could carry a weapon like that someday,” Tomberlain said with a sigh.  Owien nodded, but Alice laughed.

“You gentlemen will have swords a plenty,” she said.  “But true and proper will be the swords carried by you men.  Even Arthur, who once pulled this sword from the stone, later gained another sword from the Lady of the Lake that he could bear with honor.  I said this sword was made for a woman, but there is a man who will bear it.  Margueritte, dear, you will know him when you find him.  Now you must go home.”

“Oh, Lady, must we?”  Little White Flower whined.

“Of course.  Your father will miss you.  But you may come again.”

“Promises?”  Goldenrod asked.

“Promises, my sweet,” Alice said, and she waved her hand to open a door to another place.  Tomberlain and Owien stepped out first with the horse.  The girls took hands and followed with the fairies.  The door vanished.  They stood in the triangle and their mother ran to hug and cry over her children, before she sent a man to find their father.  The man did not have to go far.

The king left without his tents, and only sent men back to fetch them.  Lord Bartholomew told the story that evening.

“There we were, racing for the site where the girls had been left.  I was obliged to follow, not knowing the location.  Fortunately, I had sent Tomberlain ahead to search as soon as I knew of Urbon’s foolish plan.  And, I must say, when I explained to Urbon what he had done, he was most reluctant to let the girls be harmed by whatever beasts might be driven to the center of that circle.  He did not say he was sorry, but I could tell he hadn’t thought things through very well.  So, we raced ahead of the people and arrived in time to see a rather incredible and unexpected sight.  If I say she was the most beautiful woman my eyes have ever beheld, you must forgive me, dear wife.  She was angelic, glowing even in the daylight and floating some two feet above the ground.  Neither would I have had those dainty sandaled feet muddied by the grime of this world to which she obviously does not belong.”

“Poor Urbon fairly fell to his face and trembled before her, and Duredain the druid went right with him.  I kept to horse, but only because I was so astounded at the sight of her.  The Irishman also stayed up, but I believe it was shock that froze him.  He is like a man who uses words for his advantage but does not actually believe in anything but himself.  I am sure he never believed there was a unicorn.  The woman fairly froze him in his saddle.”

“The children are safe,” the woman said.  “And I will see them safely home.  Do not be too hard on yourself for putting their innocence in harm’s way.  The unicorn is out of this world now and out of your reach.  Alas, the old ways have gone and the new has come.  Embrace the new, but also remember you must show grace to those who still see things differently.  This universe is bigger than you think, and always remember there is more you do not know than there is that is known to you.”  And she vanished.  It’s true.  She utterly vanished off the face of the earth.”

“Alice,” Tomberlain said.

“Huh?”

“Her name is Alice,” Tomberlain said.

“And she was most very beautiful,” Elsbeth added.

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

MONDAY

The years go by, but finally some questions just need to be asked, and Margueritte has to answer them, if she can.  Until Monday

*

M3 Margueritte: Year of the Unicorn, part 2 of 3

Things were about settled when Marta came sheepishly in and interrupted.  “Your pardon, but I must set the table.  There will be eight and the children?”  She asked, judging the table too small for that many.

“Let the children and Tomberlain,” Brianna added to single him out, “eat with you and Maven this evening, unless my young squire would rather share with Redux?”  Tomberlain said he might carry enough to the barn to do that very thing.  “And here,” she said.  “We will help.”

“I’ll help Maven with the cooking,” Elsbeth said, but Margueritte grabbed her arm.

“You need to think harder than that to get out of work.  You can’t cook, or did you forget?”

Everything got settled amicably that evening, and the supper went very well overall.  Margueritte helped Marta serve since Lolly was not there and Maven got so tired out from all that cooking.  Elsbeth went with her brother and Redux, and the little ones, probably had a wonderful time dancing to the sound of Luckless’ mandola and Grimly’s flute.  But that was all right.  Margueritte did not mind.

They almost got into trouble when Chief Brian wondered where that midget had gotten off to?  The others became excited for the possible distraction since the supper table was not exactly tension free.

Marta stood stiff as a board, her eyes darted back and forth, with sweat ready at any moment to break out on her forehead.

“She had to go home.”  Margueritte spoke up quickly and sent Marta outside to the kitchen.  True enough.

“Drat,” Chief Brian said, and he explained his encounter with the little one, embellishing it just enough for a good laugh.  By then, Maven had come in, presumably to help clear dishes.

“Yes.  Dear Lolly had to get on home,” Maven said.  “She has seven mouths of her own to feed, you know, in that little rundown old shack of hers.  Why, the place barely keeps out the rain, it does, and that does not help her husband, arthritic and all the way he is.  He can barely farm enough to keep his family from starving, though he might have done better if his oldest and only son had not lost a foot in the badger hole.  Come to think of it, they would have had eight children, that is a second son, if the wart hog had not got him when he was a young one.  I almost forgot about him.  Of course, Lord Bartholomew, saint that he is, does everything he can for the poor, wretched family, but there is only so much one can do.  And here, Lady Brianna, the good lady let Lolly come up to cook just for her king whom she loves with the hope that in his abundance he might send her just a little to see her and hers until they can get in the rest of the scraggly bits of grain from the field.  Even with all the little girls helping, though, I can’t see how they will get it in before the frost.  Yes, I really feel for the poor old dear and help her myself every chance I get.”

“Oh my,” Chief Brian said.

The king frowned.  “I may be able to send a little something.”

“And I will, too.”  Chief Brian agreed.  Everyone agreed, except Bartholomew who seemed to be having a hard time to keep from laughing, and Brianna whose ears were red from hearing such lies, and Finnian McVey who looked up at Maven and tipped his hat ever so slightly to a master.  Finnian was apparently no slouch in the matter of lying.

Going out the back door with the dishes, Margueritte turned to Maven.  “You lie like an elf.”  She said it bluntly and did not mean it as a compliment.

“Well, having a few around has given me some chance to practice,” Maven admitted.

###

In the morning, almost before day had fully broken, Margueritte and Elsbeth were dumped, not too softly, in a pile of leaves.  Obviously, the place had been well worked out in advance as the riders shot for it in a straight line.  Margueritte wondered what other parts of King Urbon’s plans he had neglected to share with her father.  But then Goldenrod and Little White Flower showed up and the girls got busy having fun.

“I told the ogrees like you asked,” Goldenrod said.  “That was scary for me, the most scary, ever.”

“I bet it was,” Little White Flower said.

“How come fairies don’t always talk right?”  Elsbeth asked out of the blue.

Margueritte had to think for a minute.

“Is it because when they are young, their little brains can’t hold it all in?” Elsbeth suggested.

“Mostly too many feelings in this world,” Little White Flower said.  “It’s hard to be happy, feel proud at having done well, and scardy remembering all at the same time.”

“No,” Margueritte said.  “Well. Probably something like that, but I think it is because young fairies were made to be terminally cute and sweeter even than cotton candy.”

“What’s cotton candy?” Elsbeth wondered.

“Whipped sugar,” Margueritte answered.

“I knew some cotton fairies once,” Little White Flower said.  “But I never knew a cotton candy.”

“Hmmm,” Goldenrod interrupted.  She wanted to say something intelligent, too, but she could not think of anything to say.

“Unicorn.”  Elsbeth called out when she remembered her instructions.

“Unicorn.”  Goldenrod echoed, and for a while they all called, though none of them seriously supposed the creature would come.

Meanwhile, King Urbon had moved the entire male population, and quite a few females out of the village of Vergen, and also brought about a hundred members of the court along to make nearly seven hundred people altogether.  He even offered a lesser sentence to those stuck in the fens if any would be willing to help.  These people slowly spread out at first light until they made a line, a mile in length.  Ever so slowly, they moved into the Banner.  They carried whatever nets, fishing nets, cloth or sacks they could which might help to catch a unicorn.

After a while, the girls stopped calling.  The sound of hounds could be heard, far away, closing from the other direction.

“I’m cold,” Elsbeth admitted, and she and Margueritte got up and began to walk in a great circle.  The calling started again but stopped quickly when they heard a rustling in the leaves not far away, but out of sight.  They stiffened as a face popped out from behind a tree.

“Owien, Son of Bedwin.”  Both girls called out together.

“I see you bathed,” Margueritte said.

“Look nice,” Elsbeth added.

“No time for that,” Owien said.  “I came to warn you.  It’s a trap.  The people are circling all around to keep the unicorn from escaping, but Mother says they will drive all beasts to the center, and not just the unicorn.  That means Bears and Great Cats and Wart Hogs and snakes, too.”

Elsbeth shrieked at the word, “Snake.”  They paused again, because the leaves rustled once more.  A man jumped out and grabbed Owien, took him down, and held a big knife.  Owien fought well, but the man, or rather boy was much bigger than him.  Margueritte hit the boy in the arm.

“Tomberlain,” she yelled.  “Leave Owien alone.”

“Yes, leave him alone,” Elsbeth agreed.

“You know this boy?”  Tomberlain asked.

“Of course,” Margueritte explained.  “He risked himself to come and warn us about the circle closing around us.”

“Oh, sorry,” Tomberlain said and he sheathed his knife and helped Owien to his feet.  “I thank you for caring about my sisters.”

“No, thank you, Squire,” Owien said.  “I never wrestled with a real squire before.  It was an honor.”  Margueritte thought she better step in before Tomberlain’s head swelled to where it became too big to fit between the trees.

“What can we do to get out of here?” she asked the practical question.

“No broomsticks handy,” Tomberlain said.  “But I brought my horse.  He is young and strong and might carry the four of us.”

“Three,” Owien said.  “I can just blend in with the circle as it closes.”

“Nonsense.”  Margueritte and Tomberlain spoke together.  Tomberlain finished.  “You’re in as much danger here as the rest of us.”  For a third time, everyone stopped then, to listen.  The leaves sounded agitated this time.  To everyone’s surprise and wonder, the unicorn came into the little clearing.  It would not let the boys near it, but it seemed to be offering itself to the girls to ride and to take them out of danger.

“Looks like the matter’s settled,” Tomberlain said.  “We have two chargers, but we have to hurry.”  They could already hear the drums and distant shouts.  “It took too long to find you,” Tomberlain admitted.  “But we can make a dash for it.  Hurry Owien.”

M3 Margueritte: Year of the Unicorn, part 1 of 3

In the fall, right before Samhain in the same year that Elsbeth danced, not being the year to go to Vergenville, King Urbon, Duredain the druid and Finnian McVey paid their own visit to the triangle along with Chief Brian, his druid Canto, and a very wary Roan and Morgan.  They brought a dozen men at arms, three strong hunters, and plenty of hounds.

Lady Brianna welcomed them most regally and apologized that her small manor home hardly had the room or the facilities to entertain royalty.

“Never mind,” the king said, as he pointed his men toward a newly mowed field.  “I’ve brought our hunting tents.  We will be quite comfortable in the field.”

Sir Bartholomew rode up, having gotten the word from Little White Flower.  Tomberlain rode beside him as did several peasant Franks, but Grimly was nowhere to be seen.  Luckless the dwarf also absented himself from the forges, and, in fact, Margueritte went down into the lair of the little ones in the side of the hill beneath the barn to make it very clear to all of them that they were neither to be seen nor heard during that whole visit.  Fortunately, Hammerhead the ogre had been given two cows which he took off as a present for his family in Banner Bein.

“He certainly earned them.”  Bartholomew remarked to his wife’s question.  Hammerhead was one little one who did not mind working.  In fact, he rather enjoyed it, and he certainly did enough around the farm that spring and summer to earn a great deal.

“Lord Urbon,” Bartholomew said.  “Your majesty graces our poor home with your presence.”

“Yes, yes.”  Urbon waved off the formalities.  “Bartholomew, we have to talk.”  They went inside with Finnian and Duredain, even as Margueritte came out from the barn, having climbed up the underground stairs to the secret door.  Urbon’s men were already half-way down the hill.  Chief Brian appeared to want to speak with her first, privately, but Canto held his arm and led him also into the house.  Roan and Morgan dared not look at her and they quickly hustled their few servants down the hill to set up Chief Brian’s tents.

Elsbeth squirted out the front door, looking for Little White Flower.  “psst.”  The word came from the mistletoe oak and both girls looked up.  Little White Flower risked coming down to kiss Elsbeth on the cheek and added a bit of motherly advice.  “Be good now,” she said and wagged her tiny finger in Elsbeth’s face.  She curtsied to Margueritte and sped off to the fairy glen—a good ten miles into the Vergen forest.  Margueritte knew it would take Little White Flower almost a minute to get there.  Margueritte faced her sister who wore a devilish grin.  It was not the first time Margueritte wondered exactly what the relationship was between her sister and the fairy, but that thought got interrupted when Elsbeth spoke.

“You forgot Lolly,” she said.

Margueritte put her hand to her mouth before she said something rude.  She feared what might happen, but inside she laughed.  They ran to the side of the house, to where the kitchens were out back, and saw that Chief Brian had already walked out the back door for a little repast, as he called it, after his long, long journey.  Lolly had already slapped his hand once with her cooking spoon, and Marguerite, herself, knew how that would sting.

“Wait ‘till it’s ready, you big fat slobber, or next knock will be on your noggin,” Lolly said.

Brian was taken aback for a moment, not the least to nurse his hand, but then he laughed out loud.  “I didn’t know Bartholomew had a little person about.  I love you midgets. You always make me laugh.”

“Little people hitting each other,” Margueritte said quickly, not knowing what else to say.  She wanted to get Chief Brian’s attention before he looked at Lolly too closely.  “That’s what Napoleon liked, too.”

“Huh?”  Brian asked.  “Who’s that?”

Margueritte shrugged.  “You wanted to ask me some questions?”  She reminded him while Elsbeth hustled Lolly toward the barn, and not without some argument.

“Huh?  Yes,” Brian said.  “But I’ve quite forgotten what it was, exactly.  Anyway, I do hope all my questions will be answered tomorrow after you girls are dropped off in Banner Bein.”  He went inside.  Margueritte followed, shocked by what she heard.

Inside, the subject had already been breached, and Sir Barth stood red with anger and only refused to do anything foolish in his own home.

“Come now.”  Duredain spoke up.  “You Christians are always claiming Christ as your true protector.  You should not fear for your girls.”

“Besides,” Finnian added in his Irish drawl.  “The unicorn is reparted to be a most gentle and loving crature who is most kind to young innocent garls.”

“No.”  Bartholomew repeated himself for the hundredth time.  “You’ll not use my children as bait.  And besides, I am not a Christian.”

Poor Lady Brianna did not know what to say.  She was moved to speechlessness by the whole suggestion.

“Then by your own pagan Gods.”  Duredain looked ready to spit.

“I’m not exactly asking,” Urbon said, mostly to Lady Brianna who remained a native of Amorica.  “But it would be greatly of value to the whole kingdom and a benefit to all the people.”  He knew he had little or no say over the Franks.  In fact, having three Frankish Lords on his border watching over him rather spoke for the opposite.  Still, he hoped to appeal to the Lady as one of his own, whose daughters were at least half his.

Lady Brianna shook her head when Margueritte stepped up and Elsbeth came in the front door.

“What?”  Elsbeth asked straight out.

“Baby,” Brianna explained.  “The king and his men propose to try and catch the unicorn, if they can, and save it for all the people, for the purity and health it will bring.”

“But what?”  Elsbeth spoke again.  Apparently, she heard enough before coming inside to ask.  Margueritte stood quietly at her mother’s shoulder looked up and down the row of faces seated at the table and did not like any of them very much.

“Baby.  They propose to take you and Margueritte to the woods, alone, in the hope that the unicorn will return to you.”

“Bait,” Elsbeth said what her father said, and she turned her eyes on the men at the table.

“To Banner Bein?” Margueritte confirmed.  At least Chief Brian nodded.

“Think on it.”  The king rose so everyone rose with him.

“You will come for supper,” Brianna said.  It was a statement of invitation, not a question.

“Of course,” the king answered.  He planned to settle the matter that evening.  He stepped out, Duredain on his heels, and Finnian who sauntered a bit.  Chief Brian sent Canto on ahead but tarried until it became safe to speak.

“Care, Sir Barth.  There is much talk about you Franks being responsible for this Christian business and the dissolution of the old ways.”

“What?  Get out!”  Lord Bartholomew roared.  Chief Brain shrugged, but Brianna walked him to the door and thanked him.

“It was only a fair warning.  He risked telling you,” she said.  “It was not a threat, veiled or otherwise.”

“Oh.”  Bartholomew got it, but his ire was so engaged, he could hardly hear anything unthreatening.

“Father.”  Margueritte spoke as Tomberlain came in from caring for the horses.  “Isn’t Hammerhead in Banner Bein visiting his family?”

Bartholomew looked at her and Lady Brianna was not sure what she might be suggesting, but Elsbeth seemed to understand.  “Oh, yes.”  She clapped her hands together.

“And I don’t see why, with a little help, if you know what I mean, we might not be safe enough.  Far be it from Elsbeth and me to break the peace between the Franks and the Breton.”

“Margueritte!”  Brianna’s voice scolded, but Lord Bartholomew clearly thought about it.  If the girls could pull it off, whether they got their unicorn or not, it would give him certain leverage on the king.

“What’s it all about?”  Tomberlain asked, and Margueritte explained her plan more fully, accepting the ways in which her father amended those plans, and Brianna, though not believing her ears, nevertheless did not object.

M3 Margueritte: Beltane, part 3 of 3

Margueritte cried out and concentrated her thoughts even while she held to the horse for dear life.  She seemed to hear Lady LeFleur’s answer.

“I can control the broom if the young Squire and his page can hold your sister to her seat.  I will see them safely home.”  Then silence.

Margueritte grabbed the horse’s mane, but already she could smell the salt rising in the air.  This was one of the horses of the deep and the waves who could often be heard crashing their hooves against the rocky shores and thundering along the beach.  Very rarely, one broke free to wander across the land, looking for one to ride upon its’ back, forgetful of its’ place in the sea.  A powerful magic, indeed, drew the innocent to try the steed, but once mounted, the horse remembered the weight of the sea on its’ shoulders and instantly sought to return to its’ proper place.  Many a person had been brought to drown in the bottom of the sea for wanting to ride that beautiful creature.

“Is this it, then?”  Margueritte wondered to herself.  “Will this life be so short and snuffed out by the deeps in a wink.”

“No, little one.”  Margueritte heard the answer echo to her down through the wind of time.  The Danna herself spoke, and Margueritte began to cry for hope.  Just as the horse touched hooves to waves, Margueritte was no longer there.  Instead, Danna, a life from ever so long ago, traded places with her, and the goddess simply let the horse swim free.

Since it remained Margueritte’s lifetime, Danna’s first thought of Elsbeth and Tomberlain, but even as she thought of them, the goddess knew they were safe.  Her next though turned to Little White Flower as Danna disappeared from the surface of the sea and appeared in the grotto of the fee where all the little ones bowed to acknowledge her presence.  Lord Yellow Leaf had already scolded his daughter, but Danna had another concern.

“I fear if Little White Flower is taken from Elsbeth’s company at this time it will truly hurt her heart.  Elsbeth is very young and such a bond should not be lightly broken,” Danna said.  She thought the wisdom of letting such a bond form in the first place was another matter.

Little White Flower looked hopeful.  She was also attached to the girl.  Lord Yellow Leaf paused to consider.  He dressed in a long green robe and looked like a lord of the Breton but for the darker hue of his skin and a bear claw necklace with which he was reluctant to part.

“I will bow to the wishes of my goddess,” he said.  “But only after Little White Flower has done her penance.”  Danna raised her eyebrows.  “Is that not the right word?” Yellow Leaf asked.

“It is,” Danna confirmed.  “This is a new world we live in.  The old ways have passed away.  My children have gone over to the other side.  The new has come, and even I do not belong here, now.  Lady LeFleur.”  The fairy queen appeared as if summoned, which she was.  “I forgive you for disturbing my husband’s festival.  The old ways have passed away,” she repeated.  “Now no harm will befall you for your actions.”

Lady LeFleur could not contain herself.  She rushed forward and put her little hands on Danna’s cheek and kissed her goddess with her tears.  Danna was pleased, but not finished.

“It would be a good thing to let Goldenrod continue to visit with Margueritte some in her youth,” she said.  “My presence in her place will be dim in her memory.  As I said, I do not belong here.”  And she vanished from there, appeared in Margueritte’s room, and paused only for a second to repair the nightgown with a thought, even down to the last stitch, before she let go of that time and stood as Marguerite once again.

Margueritte saw the door to her room still open and her mother standing in the doorway.  “Elsbeth.  Tomberlain,” Margueritte said, without asking.

“Asleep,” Lady Brianna answered.  She came into the room and took Margueritte’s hand, and together they sat on Margueritte’s bed.

Margueritte looked down and told the whole adventure, beginning with what the Don heard from Little White Flower’s mouth.  “Little White flower should never have spoken of it in the first place, but after that, Elsbeth cried so hard and became so miserable, what could she do?”

Lady Brianna looked briefly in the direction of Elsbeth’s room.  “Yes, she can be hard-headed when she wants something.  She has a terrible stubborn streak.”

Margueritte went on and paused only when Danna came into the picture.

“I saw her,” Lady Brianna said and squeezed her daughter’s hand.  Then, with tears, Margueritte told the rest, and then she had to explain about being born again and again.

“How many times?”  Brianna asked.

“A hundred and three.”  A voice spoke from the still open window.  Goldenrod had rushed to the manor after Danna had vanished from the glen.

Lady Brianna stiffened a little, but softened again as Margueritte began to cry great, big tears.  “But Mother,” Margueritte said.  “You don’t understand.  Each time I have to start all over again and it is hard.  I’ll never get it right.  And then I hurt.  Mother I go through all the pain.  Mother I die, but I never get to go to heaven.”  She became racked with tears, part fright from her experience, part exhaustion, and part self-pity, though only a little part, and her Mother held her and rocked her until the crying subsided.

Lady Brianna put Margueritte in her bed and covered her.  “Well, this time you are my daughter,” she said at last and kissed Margueritte’s forehead.  “And you will always have my love and prayers and help in any way I can with this burden that the Almighty, in his wisdom, has laid upon you.  Do not be afraid, and don’t forget to count your blessings before you sleep.”   She turned to Goldenrod.  “And you, little lady.  The next time you see your mother, be sure and thank her for me.  God willing, I may be able to repay her someday.”

“Yes m’lady,” Goldenrod said and added a little curtsey.  As soon as Brianna left the room, she raced to Margueritte’s pillow and snuggled up beside her true friend.

There came a second time when Goldenrod helped Margueritte that summer, though it did not seem nearly so serious a matter.  Maven had just left the pasture and Margueritte and her growing hound settled in for an afternoon of fun.  Goldenrod had long since gotten over her fear of the beast and had taken to sometimes riding in her little size on Puppy’s shoulders, like a cowgirl might ride the back of a horse, the only difference being that they rounded up sheep rather than cattle.  Margueritte always laughed at such times and watched the two of them stumbling around, yelling and whooping and barking and tending to confuse the sheep more than anything else.  On that day, however, Goldenrod barely finished her thimble of milk when she dashed to the treetop to hide in the leaves.

“What is it?”  Margueritte asked with some concern as Puppy also stood and began to look in a certain direction and pant.

“Horses.”  Goldenrod’s whisper barely reached Margueritte’s ears.  “And two men with them.”  She pointed in the direction Puppy faced.

“Come out!”  Margueritte yelled, only a little afraid that they might be robbers.  “You’ve been seen.  You might as well show yourselves.”  Silence followed, before they heard the whinny of a horse.  Gradually, two men stepped from the edge of the woods, led their horses and argued about it.  Margueritte recognized Roan and Morgan and frowned.

“You’ve been spying on me.”  Margueritte stood and accused them forthrightly.

“No,” Roan lied.

“Yes,” Morgan said at the same time.

“You didn’t have to tell her that,” Roan yelled at his partner.

Morgan just smiled.  “I had an uncle once who lied about things like that,” he said, with certainty in his grin.  Roan did not ask.

“Chief Brian has told us to fetch you.  He has heard strange tidings and said he wants to see you,” Roan said.

“Tell him to bring his fatness to the triangle.”  Margueritte got rather rude and miffed at being spied on.  “I have nothing to hide.  And anyway, you must speak to my father first before I can say anything.”

“Nope,” Morgan said.

“Chief Brian does not want your father involved,” Roan explained as he stopped a couple of steps away.  Puppy began to growl.  “You get the dog.  I’ll get the girl.”

“What am I supposed to do with it once I’ve got it?”  Morgan asked.

“Do with what?”

“The dog.”

Roan frowned and turned back to face Margueritte even as Goldenrod from overhead sprinkled golden dust on Margueritte’s head.  Margueritte began to fade from sight along with Puppy.  Even then Roan might have grabbed her if he did not have to stop and sneeze.  By the time he got his nose under control, Margueritte got out of reach and became completely invisible.

“Do I still have to get the dog now that it’s invisible?”  Morgan asked.  He could pinpoint the dog, more or less, because Puppy kept barking.

“Fool,” Roan said.  “Find the girl.”  They began to reach out and walk slowly first one way then the other.

“I never had to find an invisible girl before,” Morgan said.  “Though I had a grandfather who was pretty good at disappearing.”

That did it.  Roan hit Morgan on the head, as hard as he could.  Puppy took that violent act as an invitation, jumped up and clamped down on that arm which caused Roan to fight and scream.  “Get it off!  Get it off!”

“Let go Puppy.”  Margueritte raised her voice which risked giving her location away.  Puppy let go but continued to bark.  Roan and Morgan paused to look in the direction of Margueritte’s voice, but she had already circled around behind Morgan.  She reached down behind his pants, which tickled him a bit, and pulled his underthings as far up his back as she could.

“Woohoooo!”  Morgan squealed.

“Tricky fixy, bees to sixty.”  An invisible Goldenrod joined the fun and buzzed around Roan’s head like a whole hive of bees.

“Let’s get out of here.”  Roan yelled as Marguerite began to giggle.  She couldn’t help it.  Roan grabbed his skittish horse and mounted, and so did Morgan, but not before Puppy took a snap at the back of his pants and tore them all the way to his leg.  They rode off as fast as their horses could carry them safely through the woods, and the girls collapsed in laughter.  Puppy licked them both.

When Margueritte told her father that evening what happened, he did not find it so funny, and that became the end of Margueritte’s days as a shepherdess.

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

MONDAY

The same year Elsbeth danced came to be called the year of the unicorn.  Monday.  Happy Reading

*

M3 Margueritte: Beltane, part 2 of 3

With great care, and all the quiet they could muster, they went down the stairs and out the front door.  Luckily, Father began to snore, and that racket helped hide the sound of the creaky floor.  Once outside, they straddled the broom, Tomberlain in the back and Margueritte up front.  Goldenrod could fly on her own, of course, without help.  Grimly could hover, but not move fast in the air.

“Come.”  Margueritte called him and set him in the middle between her and her brother.

“But what if we fall?” Tomberlain asked

“I just thought of that,” Grimly said.  “I’ll make sure we keep our seats.  That much I can do.”

“Okay now.”  Margueritte addressed the broom which shuttered and shook, but finally rose to a height just above the house and trees.  It could go no higher because of the weight and she would have to steer around the tower and any big trees, like the old oak in the triangle, but it was a great deal faster than walking and much easier on the feet.

“Come on, come on.”  Goldenrod fluttered about, impatient.

They started out slowly and Margueritte almost lost control right at the start as they heard a horse whinny and saw it raise its’ front hooves briefly in their direction.  They saw two riders, hidden down the road, back behind the near trees.  Both rushed off quickly on being spotted.  They headed toward Vergen and the roads to the south and the coast. Margueritte very much wanted to know who it was.  Tomberlain said so.

“No time to find out who the spies are,” Grimly said.  Goldenrod started tugging on the end of the broomstick.

“Come on, come on,” she kept saying.

They flew, barely fast enough to feel the breeze in their faces.  Margueritte wished then that she had changed from her nightgown, or at least taken the time to get her cloak.  The wind felt cold and a little damp.

Goldenrod lead them past the fields and out over the deep woods of the Vergen.  There were miles of trees, leaves green now in the freshness of spring and many an apple blossom could be seen.  People did not often go into the depths of the forest unless they were hunters, and even they tended to keep to familiar trails and favorite spots for fear of getting altogether lost.  They traveled for several miles before Margueritte heard the first wisps of music.  Then she saw the light of the great fire, and at last, the clearing where great stones, taller than a man, had been set up on a small hill in a perfect circle.  She began to guide the broom toward the ground.

“But why are we falling?”  Tomberlain asked in his voice too loud against the wind.  “I see nothing but a clearing of sorts in the moonlight, but it looks cold and empty to me.”

“Shh.”  Margueritte hushed him.  “I’ll show you when we get there.”  And Tomberlain appeared willing to wait, though he felt anxious for Elsbeth’s sake.

Once on the ground, the children walked slowly to where they could see.  Grimly stood out front, ready, just in case.  Margueritte took her brother’s hand and he drew in his breath, sharply as a whole scene, not entirely in this world, opened up in front of him.  The enchanted music that he heard made him want to tap his feet, and run, and fight, and become delirious for joy in the night

“No!”  Margueritte cried and barely held on to Tomberlain’s hand.  “You are my brother.  You are not to be enchanted by the little ones.”

Tomberlain stopped tugging for his freedom after a moment.  He rubbed his eyes and shook his head like one who had tried to stay awake but nearly fell asleep.

“Of course,” he said.  “What was I thinking?”  And he turned to take in what he could see.  The fire blazed in the center of the circle and shot sparks higher than the stones and deep into the night sky where they looked like little stars. There were creatures feasting and dancing all about, and there, in the midst of them, Elsbeth smiled as broadly as she could, and danced in sheer joy.

Margueritte stopped Tomberlain short of the circle.

“Aren’t we going to get her?” he asked.

“I don’t know how, yet,” Margueritte answered.  “The magic here is much greater than just the magic of my little ones.  They participate, but do not originate.”  She knew what she meant.

“This is the fire of strength,” Grimly explained.  “It is thousands of years old and was set to honor the god of the North, the son of Thor who became the third husband of the Don and whose children became the great gods of the Celts and all the people in this land.

“But the Breton call it the fire of peace,” Tomberlain objected.

“A later name,” Grimly said.  “There is strength of peace in the flames, but also strength of war, for the god was strong to do all things well.”

Margueritte sighed.

“And Samhain then is not just a village thing?”  Tomberlain asked.  He remembered something vague from his youngest years before his mother Brianna came to Jesus.

“In truth,” Grimly said.  “It is the fire of healing, lit in honor of the Don’s second husband, the god of the sun and of life.”

“But he was not allowed to follow her north of the Pyrenees,” Margueritte said, as she remembered more clearly.  She had remembered Danna in Gerraint’s time, and now she remembered that she lived Danna’s life those thousands of years ago.  Danna came north on the urging of all the gods to confront the Titaness who had stolen the most western lands and was becoming a threat to all.

“But what then of her first husband?” Tomberlain asked in all innocence.

“We don’t speak of him,” Grimly said, but Marguerite spoke all the same.

“He was a god of the dead who wrongly abused Danna as a young child.  She bore him twin son, who grew tall and strong, but then that one son married Morrigu, a wicked, evil creature who bore him the daughters of fury.  Those girls could set a man’s blood to boil and go berserk for the killing of war.”  She confused her stories a little, but Grimly did not correct her.

“Only a mother-in-law would remember her in that way.”  A woman’s voice took their attention.  Margueritte and Tomberlain looked up to see the fairy queen, and Goldenrod who had vanished for a time came with her.  Grimly bowed once before looking.

The fairy queen and Goldenrod curtsied to Margueritte who curtsied in return and named the little one.  “Lady LeFleur,” she said.  “Majesty.”  And she nudged her brother who bowed, though he never lowered his eyes.  Lady LeFleur was queen of all the fee in that region, and as two and two came together in Margueritte’s mind, she knew that the queen was also Goldenrod’s mother.

“If your majesty may help,” Margueritte said.  “I cannot think of how to get her out of there.”

“Nor I, exactly,” Lady LeFleur said.  “There are too many lesser and greater spirits at the feast, and most have no interest in being reasonable, but if we do not get her out of there, she may well dance forever.  If the fire is not extinguished before sunrise, she will be trapped, and you might not see her again until next Beltain.”

At that moment, one beautiful and utterly naked woman came to the edge of the circle and stared at the watchers.  Fifteen-year-old Tomberlain’s blood got the better of his tongue.  The woman laughed, seductively, and reached for the boy.  His hand started to rise, but Grimly slapped it down.

“All hollow,” he said, and the woman, with another short laugh, turned and danced away, and, in fact, from the back she did appear to be hollow, like no more than a woman imposed on a piece of bark that had been stripped from a tree.

“Woodwife,” Grimly named her.

“Not mine,” Margueritte said frankly.  And the more she looked around, the less she saw of her own little ones.

“Fauns.”  Tomberlain pointed.  Sure enough, several goat-hooved creatures came dancing into the circle, adding their pipes to the never-ending music.  Margueritte felt her own feet tap a little at that, until one of the fauns twirled Elsbeth like a ballerina, and then all Margueritte felt was anger.

“It is getting too strong,” Lady LeFleur admitted.  “There is one chance, but I have hesitated because I will face consequences, and it is very dangerous.”

“I will defend you.”  Tomberlain spoke up too quickly.  He became keen to play a part and win some knightly honor.

“And I am sure you will, good sir, but perhaps not this evening.”  Lady LeFleur smiled for his sake.

“Unsavories.”  Goldenrod whispered in Margueritte’s ear, though Margueritte did not feel sure what that meant.  All at once, Lady LeFleur let out a great cry.  She let out a call that echoed all through the woods, and with such force, if not volume, Margueritte wondered if it might wake her parents, miles from there.  The music stopped and a hush fell on the crowd in the circle.  Then, there came an echoing cry, near to hand, and it came with such evil intent, Margueritte screamed.  The fire went out.  The feasters all vanished.  Elsbeth collapsed to the ground and Grimly and Lady LeFleur rushed to her side.  Tomberlain got distracted by the sound of horse hooves on the rocks, and fortunately for him, Margueritte got distracted with him.

“What a magnificent beast,” Tomberlain breathed.

“No!”  Margueritte shouted once more, having some idea of what the horse was; but the enchantment fell very strong on Tomberlain.  The beast drew him in like an insect to the light.  There was nothing Margueritte could do but rush ahead of her brother and leap on the horse’s back.  Immediately, the horse took to the air and headed at great speed toward the sea.

M3 Margueritte: Beltane, part 1 of 3

When Margueritte awoke, she could not wait to tell Elsbeth all about her adventures with Gerraint, son of Erbin and Ali the thief and Bodanagus the king.  She leapt out of bed and then remembered her ankle which still hurt though it was not nearly as swollen as it had been.  All the same, she limped as fast as she could to Elsbeth’s room where she cracked the door and peeked. Elsbeth was still fast asleep, and Little White Flower slept on the pillow above Elsbeth’s head.

Margueritte frowned and closed the door as quietly as possible.  She felt disappointed as she returned to her own comfy covers.  She saw castles, and Gwynyvar, and Arthur, and everything.  Rhiannon was the most beautiful creature she had ever seen.  And there were battles, and monsters, and intrigue and romance.  They had everything!  By contrast, Margueritte felt her life was so dull.

“Sheep and dogs.”  She described it.  “And Latin every Wednesday.”  She pulled the covers over her head.

Marta came in.  “And so?  We are awake.”  Marta said, as she pulled out Margueritte’s favorite dress.  Margueritte uncovered, and when Marta picked up her matching red slippers, Margueritte could not help herself.

“Shoes!  Shoes!”  Margueritte shouted and giggled.

For all of her acceptance, in the end, Lady Brianna had the hardest time adjusting to having the little ones around.  Lord Bartholomew had no trouble getting the little ones to earn their supper, when he could find them.  He even got to where he could look Hammerhead in the eye.  Luckless and Redux, of course, hit it off right away, while Grimly found a place acting as page for the young Squire, Tomberlain.  He also became invaluable breeding the Arabians and mixing them into the herd to produce just the right horse for his lordship—one which he finally hoped would actually be a winner.  Lolly the dwarf and Marta ended up good friends, because it turned out Lolly also preferred a clean and tidy house.  Marta finally had her help, and she and Lolly even began to tell jokes about how, in the face of work, Maven could disappear quicker than an elf.  And then there was Elsbeth.

Elsbeth and Little White Flower became inseparable.  They went everywhere and did everything together, whatever it was they did.  Margueritte felt a little left out until she found Goldenrod one-day, peeking at her from the tree over her head.

“Come down,” Margueritte called, and her new puppy, a gift from the queen, barked, excited.

“Can’t,” Goldenrod insisted.  “The beast might get me.”

“Come down,” Margueritte said again.  “Puppy won’t bother you.  He just gets excited, that’s all.  He loves Little White Flower,” which was true enough.

Goldenrod shook her head vigorously.

“If you come down and get big, you will be much bigger than Puppy,” Margueritte suggested.  Goldenrod scrunched up her face.  Her little head had not thought of that.

“Okay,” she said grandly as she flitted in her mind from one position to another without an afterthought of any kind, the way Fairies do.  She was down in a flash and stood looking for all the world like a fourteen or fifteen-year-old girl, which Margueritte calculated meant she was actually about seventy years old.

Puppy stood up to her thigh and panted, and she petted the beast grandly and eventually got down beside Margueritte, looking like a true young woman and making Margueritte feel very girlish as she had not quite turned twelve.

“You’ve been watching for days,” Marguerite pointed out.  “But never close enough to call.”

“Yes, but I wanted to see,” Goldenrod responded in pure honesty.  “Mother said we are not supposed to bother you, even though we now know who you are.  She said it would be just awful if all the little ones flocked to the Triangle. Why, the crops would all be trampled there, and nothing would grow quite right anywhere else.  She said we all have our work to do and we should stick to it, and that doing a good job is what you really want, anyway.”

“But you could not resist coming to see,” Marguerite said, not even bothering to put it as a question.

“Exactly,” Goldenrod said.

“You are a little rebellious, huh?”

“Yes.  I guess I am.”

“I was just thinking of being a little rebellious myself,” Margueritte admitted.  “I am going to be twelve, you know, and that is almost a teenager.”

Goldenrod’s face lit up with heartbreaking joy.  She took Margueritte’s hand without thinking about what she was doing.  “We could be rebellious together,” she said with such contagious excitement it got Puppy to his feet and his tail wagging again.

Margueritte held on to that hand, freely.  “That would be great,” she admitted, very much wanting a friend at the moment.  “Only I haven’t decided yet in what way I want to be rebellious.”

“I have a question, too.”  Goldenrod looked suddenly serious.  “What does rebellious mean?”

In any case, it got settled, that Goldenrod would come to visit every chance she got, and that happened often enough.  She usually came to the pasture when Margueritte tended her sheep, because every time she got too close to Sir Barth, his eyes teared up, and his nose filled, and he began to have inexplicable sneezing fits.  But it turned out to be a good thing, that Marguerite and the fairy became friends, because on the night of Mayday, Margueritte got awakened by a tapping on her window.  It happened around midnight.  The moon looked nearly full, and the light made a bright square and splash across the floor.

At first Marguerite thought a stick broke off the old oak and got caught in the roofing.  She imagined it hanging down, tapping on her glass.  That happened once, long ago.  The minute she opened her window to see what was the matter, however, Goldenrod fluttered in, all in a rush.

“It’s Elsbeth.”  Goldenrod panted, overexerted.  “Little White Flower has taken her to the hills.  There are unsavories there.  Come quick.”

Margueritte understood that Elsbeth was in a risky situation, but not in trouble yet.  She nodded.  She wisely felt it would be best not to follow the fairy alone, but she had to think a minute.  Father would not do if silence was needed.  All his sneezing would give them away much too soon.  Tomberlain, on the other hand, might be some help, and it also would not hurt to have Grimly and his bits of magic around.

Margueritte tapped her shoulder and Goldenrod came to stand there and held tight to Margueritte’s hair.  “Not another word.”  Margueritte whispered and Goldenrod nodded, though Marguerite could hardly see her from that angle.  Slowly and quietly, they went out onto the upstairs landing.  Margueritte left her door open for the light she could get through the window.  In Elsbeth’s room, sure enough, Elsbeth and Little White Flower were not to be found.  Margueritte left the door to Elsbeth’s room open as well, and that gave her just a little more light to see.  She could not do anything about the creaking floorboards.

Tomberlain was hard to wake, and she had to cover his mouth to keep him from shouting.  His eyes got big, but he recognized his sister and the worried look on her face and quickly his startled look changed to curiosity and concern.  Grimly got up immediately when they entered the room.  He helped wake the boy, but then Margueritte had to explain.

“Elsbeth has run off,” she said.  “She and Little White Flower have gone into the woods at night and Goldenrod fears there may be trouble.”

“We should wake father,” Tomberlain said, almost too loud.

“Shh.  No,” Margueritte responded.  “We don’t want her in trouble, just to fetch her home, safely.”

Tomberlain nodded, rose, and dressed quickly.  He tied his long knife to his belt and Grimly also grabbed his own weapon.  “But how far is it?”  Tomberlain asked.

“Far, far.”  Goldenrod squeaked in her little whisper.

“No good.”  Grimly did whisper.  “Can’t walk in time and dare not take time for horses.”

Margueritte thought briefly about being in her nightgown.  Seeing Tomberlain dressed made her think, but she imagined she had no time to change.  She needed to think of something else, and at last she had an idea.  “Come on,” Margueritte said, and lead them back into Elsbeth’s room where Maven had been cleaning earlier in the day and lazily left things stacked in the corner.  “Can you help us fly?” she asked Goldenrod.

“Oh no,” Goldenrod said seriously.  “You are much too big for my little magic.  I’m not nearly old enough for that.”

“As I thought,” Margueritte said.  “But can you make this broom fly?”  She pulled it from the corner.  Goldenrod flitted back and forth a couple of times.

“I think, yes, maybe.”  She sounded uncertain.  She sprinkled golden dust on the broom, spoke some words of the first tongue which were almost unintelligible.  She scrunched her little face in such a concentrated effort, Margueritte felt sure she would get a little headache, if she did not pass out altogether.  All at once, the broom jerked in Margueritte’s hand, and she had to hold it down.

“Steady,” she told the broom.  “Wait for us.”  Though she imagined she had no power to perform the magic herself, because of her special relationship with the little ones, she did have some ability to control their magic, once the magic was performed.

M3 Margueritte: And Secrets, part 3 of 3

Sir Bartholomew stepped back a step on seeing the doctor disappear, but quickly recovered and turned to Grimly and Luckless the Dwarf.  He tried hard not to look up at the ogre.  “And what can I do for you gentlemen?” he asked.

Luckless stepped up again.  “Actually,” he said.  “We were kind of hoping we could stick around for a while.”  He looked at Grimly who nodded vigorously, and at Hammerhead, who was not sure what was happening.

Sir Barth took another step back and looked to the girls and to his wife.  Surprisingly, Lady Brianna did not seem to have any objections, while Elsbeth quickly said, “Please.”

“Pleasy,” Little White Flower echoed.

“But.”  Bartholomew hardly knew what to say.  “Where will they stay?” he asked.

“Under the hill, under the barn,” Margueritte suggested quickly.  “They dig fast and well, and no one need ever know they are there.”

“Aha!  But what will we feed them?”  Bartholomew thought he had the right idea.  “We can’t possibly feed the lot of them for free.”

“I understand fairies need only a little milk and some bread for sustenance,” Lady Brianna said, and Sir Barth knew he was already outvoted.

“And berries.”  Little White Flower spoke up from Elsbeth’s hair and shoulder.  Elsbeth giggled because it tickled.  “I like berries.”

“I can cook a bit,” Lolly chimed in.  “I been practicing, er, ‘bout four hundred years.  I ought to be pretty good by now, so wouldn’t be for free.”

“You ought to be good,” Luckless mumbled.

“Never heard you complaining yet,” Lolly shot at him and Lady Brianna covered her grin.

“M’lord.”  Redux the blacksmith stepped forward.  “I would be pleased to learn from this good dwarf, all of whom are known to be experts in the smithy crafts.”

“I’m no expert,” Luckless said, as he straightened his helmet which was a bit large and had begun to slip to one side.  He paused, but then rubbed his hands.  “Still, it would be good to get my hands on a good furnace again.  All play and no work makes for a fat dwarf.”

“No.  It’s my good cookin’,” Lolly said and smiled from ear to ear, literally.

“And Grimly the brownie.”  Margueritte gave him the Breton name rather than the Frankish “hobgoblin.”  “He can help in the fields.  Gnomes are known to be very good with crops and bring bounty and blessing.”

“So, it would not be feeding them for free.”  Brianna summed it up.

Bartholomew put his hand to his chin.  “Ah!” he said at last.  “But what about this big one.  He looks like he could eat a horse for breakfast.”

Grimly stepped straight up to the lord who had to look straight down to pay attention.  “You got a problem with rocks and boulders in your fields?  Like who doesn’t in these parts?  You got a problem with sandy soil and needing tons of fertilizer?  Like who doesn’t around here?  You got stumps and things to clear, and sink holes and little hillocks and the like?  Well, my friend can fix all that, and better than a whole herd of oxen and bunches of you human beans.”

“Beings,” Margueritte corrected, then held her tongue.

Sir Barth thought a minute longer before he turned to Margueritte.  “Can you guarantee their good behavior?  I’ve heard some pretty strange stories, as have you.”

“Well.”  Margueritte hesitated.  “No, father, I cannot promise.”

“That’s right.”  Lolly stuck up for her Great Lady.  “The gods never make promises.”

“’sright.”  Luckless confirmed.

“But they will be loyal and faithful and won’t hurt anybody.  Isn’t that right?”  All the little ones agreed to that and swore mightily.

Sir Barth looked around at his men, and especially at Marta and Maven.  “If any one of you ever says anything about this to anyone at any time, I will not rest until I find out who did the telling and it will be worse for them than if they had never been born.”  His men and women also swore they would keep it all a secret, though they did not swear nearly as colorfully as the little ones.  Margueritte knew the Franks, and even Marta and Maven would keep their word, at least up to a point.  She also knew the little one’s word was hardly worth the breath it took to say it, but her father seemed satisfied.

“Let’s go home,” he said.

They rounded up the horses and found a half dozen Arabians added to the spoils.  Those horses carried the dead who would be buried by the chapel, but already Lord Bartholomew’s mind turned to breeding.  He thought the right combination of Arabian and Frankish charger would be a horse that could finally beat the Gray Ghost.

Luckless, constantly straightened his helmet and walked beside Redux.  “Got a wife?”  Margueritte heard him ask.

“No,” Redux answered.

“Lucky man,” Luckless said.  “I can see maybe there’s a thing or two I could learn myself.”

Margueritte, knew how good the ears of a lady dwarf really were and felt surprised Lolly had no comment to shout.  Then she saw her in the cart with Marta and Maven.  Marta reached out to touch the dwarf like one might fear to touch a leper.  Maven was already looking for a comfortable spot for twenty more winks.

“Lady.”  Margueritte heard and almost answered before she realized Little White Flower was speaking to her mother.  “Can I spend the night in Elsbeth’s room?  Pleasy?”

Lady Brianna laughed and nodded.  She understood this would become a regular thing.  Both Elsbeth and Little White Flower cheered.

Margueritte then looked back to the end of the small procession, just past the third wagon.  Hammerhead walked slowly to keep from accidentally kicking the last wagon.  He grinned ever so broadly, and Margueritte felt glad no one else looked back.  The sight of an ogre grinning was not something normal people would ever want to see.

“So, it’s you and me.”  Margueritte heard Grimly’s voice, but the brownie was obscured by the wagon where she could not see him.  When the ogre did not respond, probably because he did not hear the little voice, being lost in his own though, in the singular, Grimly floated up until he got to ear level.  He leaned in, spoke right into the ogre’s ear and cupped his hands for the extra volume.  “I said, so it’s you and me.”

Hammerhead dumbly turned his head in the direction of the sound and bumped Grimly who flew back and down and landed smack in a mud puddle.  “Sorry,” Hammerhead said, sincerely.  He tried to whisper so as not to frighten the beasts or the people.  Margueritte laughed.

Come evening, Margueritte could not help dreaming of little ones, but oddly, she also dreamed of Gerraint, son of Erbin that Thomas of Evandell sang so well about.  At least it seemed like a dream, at first.

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

MONDAY

Beltane, because, you know, for every fall festival there has to be a spring festival.  Until Monday, Happy Reading

*

M3 Margueritte: And Secrets, part 2 of 3

A crack of lightening split a rogue apple tree down the middle, and a roar came that sounded like thunder.  “I am here.”  Horses danced and skidded away in pure fright, and everyone paused, in the midst of their life or death struggles, to look.

They saw three men, dressed resplendently for battle.  They all glowed a bit with an unearthly glow.  Somehow, Margueritte knew them all by name.  Birch, the eldest fee, stood full sized, big as a man.  He had gray hair like a well-seasoned warrior.  He came dressed all in German-like chain mail of black and silver, though much finer than any German made chain, and the silver looked to be real silver.  Beside him stood young Larchmont, also a full-sized fairy lord, dressed like a druid prince in black and gold that matched his golden hair.  The third was a sight, in wooden chest protection, feathers on his head, a wicked looking war club in one hand and a wooden shield in the other on which the thunderbird had been painted.  Yellow Leaf was his name, and he was not long arrived from the other side of the world.

Beside those three fairy lords, there were three more figures.  Grimly, the hobgoblin stood only three feet tall, pink faced, and dressed all in green like a midget Robin Hood, but no one doubted the determination written all over his grim face, and no one wanted any part of the long knife he brandished with what appeared to be great skill.  Beside him, and a foot taller, stood Luckless the dwarf.  His armor showed neither gold, nor silver, but it looked ancient as if made before human beings ever entered that part of the world, and it also looked like it hardly fit him.  The double headed ax he held, however, appeared to fit him very well.  Last came Hammerhead, the ogre, the youngster from Banner Bein.  He stood eight feet tall, almost as broad in the shoulders and ugly enough to make a stomach turn just to look at him.  The tree trunk of a club he held over his shoulder seemed superfluous.

Lord Birch spoke first into the stunned silence.  “Unhand the Lady.”  He pointed his glimmering steel at the two who held Brianna to the ground.  They did not argue.  They let go immediately and backed away.

Margueritte took that moment to try wriggling again.  “Let go of me.”

“Yes!”  Luckless the dwarf yelled to gain everyone’s attention.  “Let go of our special lady.”

The soldier that held Margueritte did not move and may have even tightened his grip a little out of pure, unthinking fear.

Hammerhead took one step forward and opened his mouth like a shark, wide enough to bite a man’s head off and showed several rows of teeth.  “Let-Her-Go!” he said like thunder and with a great wind that exploded from his gut.

The soldier dropped Marguerite like a hot coal, screamed, and ran off down the road the way he came without even stopping to collect a horse.

Margueritte fell hard onto the mud and rocks.  Concern quickly crossed the faces of Sir Barth and Lady Brianna, but it passed when Margueritte came up laughing, wrinkled her nose and waved her hand through the air.

“Good Lord, Hammerhead,” she said.  “When was the last time you brushed your teeth?”

“I’m supposed to brush them?”  Hammerhead responded in his more normal deep gravel, and honestly, quite scary enough voice.

The Franks laughed, however nervously.  The Saracens were mortified to finally realize that these apparitions actually answered to the young girl.  Immediately they began to grab what horses they could, and each other, to run, except Ahlmored, who took the distraction to take a swing at Bartholomew.  Sir Barth was not so distracted, though, when any enemy threatened his flank.  He blocked the swing of the sword and followed up with a thrust of his own that went right under Lord Ahlmored’s chinstrap, through his throat, and out the back of his neck.  It only stopped against the chain that draped down from the back of Ahlmored’s helmet.  With that, the enemies were all gone.

“Tomberlain!”  Margueritte remembered.  Tomberlain moaned and tried to sit up.  He bled beneath his helmet.

“Luckless!”  Margueritte turned quickly.  “Is there a doctor?”

“Doctor Pincher might be available,” he said with a bow.

Margueritte grinned at the name and made the call.  “Doctor Pincher,” she commanded his attention in a voice she did not know she had.  Doctor Pincher, a half dwarf, appeared out of thin air.  He looked confused at first until Luckless pointed to Margueritte.

“Ah, so it is true,” he said.  “Great Lady.”  He bowed low to Margueritte, but she was concerned for her brother.

“Tomberlain.”  She pointed.  “He got bonked on the head.  Help my brother.”

“Hmm.  Let me see.”  The doctor drew a big black bag out from the inside of his coat, though the bag clearly looked bigger than any pocket he might have had inside the coat.  Immediately, he helped Tomberlain remove his helmet and quickly announced, “It’s only a flesh wound.  Nothing to worry about.”

Margueritte then remembered her manners.  “Thank you, Lord Birch.  Thank you, Lord Larchmont.  Thank you, Lord Yellow Leaf and welcome to this side of the Atlantic.” The three fairy Lords bowed without a word and became small together and flew off into the woods.  Lady Brianna crawled up beside her daughter and helped Margueritte and herself to their feet.  She held Margueritte because Margueritte appeared to have twisted her ankle a little.

“Thank you Grimly, Luckless, and dear Hammerhead,” Margueritte said.

As she held her daughter and saw for a moment as if through Margueritte’s eyes, Lady Brianna asked her daughter a quick question.  “Are all these yours?”

“Yes, indeed, m’lady.”  Grimly tipped his green hat.

“No, mother,” Margueritte answered.  “They belong to themselves as we belong to ourselves, but sometimes they help me and do what I ask, and I am always grateful.”  She smiled for her mother because her mother seemed to understand far more than most would on such short notice.

“And the unicorn?”  Sir Barth asked.

Brianna answered for her daughter.  “No dear.  Nothing so grand.  Only the littlest spirits and certainly not even all of them.”

“Elsbeth!”  Lady Brianna and Margueritte reacted together.  They paused to listen and heard giggles come from under the wagon.  They peeked.  Elsbeth lay on her back and tried in vain to catch the fairy that buzzed around her face, and she giggled.  Beside her was a dwarf wife who held her cooking spoon like a war club.

“Is it safe?”  The dwarf wife asked.

“Yes Lolly.”  Margueritte called the spirit by her name.  “You and Little White Flower can come out now.”

“Elsbeth.  Stop playing with the fairy and come out here so I can look at you.”

“Aw, Mother,” Elsbeth protested, but complied.  Little White Flower grabbed onto Elsbeth’s hair, came with her and took a seat on Elsbeth’s shoulder.  “This is Little White Flower.”  Elsbeth introduced her friend.  “And this is Lolly, my other friend, even though she is threatening to make me learn to cook.”

“Hmm.”  Lady Brianna saw that her daughter was unhurt.  “That would take some very strong magic.”

“Well, that’s that,” Doctor Pincher interrupted.  “All bandaged, disinfected and cleaned.  Some dead though.”  Three Saracens and one of the Franks would move no more.  Two other Franks were bandaged, but like Tomberlain, neither had been wounded too seriously.  The Africans seemed to have taken their wounded with them, which spoke well for their training to have done so despite the loss of their leader, and the fact that they were frightened out of their minds.  “If you don’t mind my saying, you might tell these mudders it would not hurt to get clean once in a while.  The water won’t melt them, mud though they be.”

“Thank you, Doctor Pincher,” Margueritte said.

“Yes, thank you,” Lady Brianna added.

“Ahem.”  The doctor coughed.  “Don’t mention it, but I do have lots of ‘pointments this afternoon.”  He whipped out a list which stretched to the ground.  No one asked where his black bag went.

“Oh, yes,” Margueritte said.  “Go home.”  She waved her hand and the dwarf instantly vanished.