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.

M3 Margueritte: And Secrets, part 1 of 3

The afternoon got spent with Maven again, shopping, while Tomberlain went with the boys to practice feats of skill and stupidity, as Margueritte had come to call them.  Sir Barth and Brianna also made the rounds before they had to get ready for the feast and the evening festivities at the king’s court.  For most of the time, Roan and Morgan were not too carefully shadowing the girls.  Margueritte once pulled Elsbeth quickly behind a booth while Maven went after some sweets and when the fools came racing up to look every which way for the girls, she and Elsbeth jumped out.

“Surprise!”  Margueritte stomped on Roan’s foot as hard as she could and Elsbeth kicked Morgan in the shins.

“Girls?”  Maven turned around.

“Here Maven,” Marguerite said, sweetly.

“Don’t do that,” Maven breathed and completely ignored the two men hopping around, each on one foot.  “I lost you once.  I’ll not lose you again.”  Margueritte simply smiled.

Not long after that, the fat old village chief, Brian himself caught up with them.  He came decked out in a long blue robe with gold trim and looked every bit a prince, though he was not.  He also had the chain and oversized symbol of his office around his neck, and Elsbeth laughed at the way it bounced off his plump tummy with each step.  He wanted to know a bit more about the unicorn.  He could not quite grasp that the unicorn had a plain, silver horn rather than one colored like the rainbow.  “Or at least white,” he said.  “Maybe it just looked gray in the dark of the woods.”

“No, it was gray,” Margueritte said, as her eye caught a sight, she felt surprised to see.  A little gnome pinched a sweet.  She gasped.  Suddenly she saw a dozen little ones, imps, brownies, pixies, and the like, all taking little bits of food and drink here and there.  A snatch of cloth and a broken needle, and she wondered why no one noticed, but then she realized they were all invisible to mortal eyes, except her own.

“What a shame,” Brian said.  “If only I could believe you.  What a wonderful find that would be, to catch and preserve a real, live unicorn, right here in my village.  Prosperity and health would be ours forever.”

“No.”  Margueritte shook her head.  “A unicorn can heal the heart, only.  It is not a fertility or prosperity beast.”

“And how do you know this?”  Brian asked.

“Well, I’m not sure.”  Margueritte said, as Elsbeth reached for her hand, curious at what could be on her sister’s mind.  Immediately, Elsbeth had to stifle a shriek since on touching her sister, she saw all that her sister saw.  “But I think that is right.  You understand unicorns are greater spirits, way beyond my little ones.”

“Your little ones?”  Brian tried to follow.

“Mmm,” Margueritte said.  “Like these.”  She took Brian’s hand and pointed.  Brian saw and gasped.  Maven reached to move Margueritte along, thinking the conversation had finished, but as she touched Margueritte’s shoulder, she also saw and screamed.  Some of the little ones ignored the scream and assumed it was what “mudders” did once in a while, but some looked up, and one particularly little gnome-like dwarf leapt up on a table and shouted.

“We been had!”  With that the Pixies, elves, and hobgoblins vanished from the fairgrounds in a matter of seconds. Elsbeth hugged her sister and whispered in her ear.

“Do it again.”

Chief Brian went off, silent in the wonder of his vision, his great iron symbol of office bouncing all the way.

Maven stopped screaming after a while.

That evening when the fires were put out, there were no untoward incidents.  Tomberlain chose that time to tell the story he heard about the robbers of Cairn Brees and how they broke into the tombs of the kings in search of booty.  When the next Samhain came, the ghosts of the kings and queens rose-up in the dark and exacted a terrible vengeance on those unfortunates.  He did a fairly good job for an amateur storyteller.  Margueritte felt frightened at the proper time.  Maven laughed.  Marta did not say a word the whole next day.  Elsbeth did not speak to her brother for a whole week.

The next day, the day of Samhain felt like a bit of a let-down.  Much of it got spent in the company of Lady Lavinia who took the girls to many of the same places they had already visited with Maven, except she made them talk and name everything the whole time in Latin.  Every time Elsbeth got something nearly right, Lavinia praised her.  Every time Marguerite so much as conjugated incorrectly, she got scolded.  Margueritte noticed.

After that, they began to dream of home and being in their own rooms and sleeping in their own beds.  Even Tomberlain said as much, and they started out early in the day, nearly at daybreak, so apparently, it was a well shared feeling.  Around ten that morning, a strong drizzle started, which did not help their spirits, but perhaps hustled up their feet.  They passed the coast road and the south road, and the rain slackened off.  They got within three bends of the triangle when they stopped completely.  Behind them they heard the sound of many horses coming up fast.

They had no time to get the wagons away safely, so Sir Barth ordered Redux, Andrew and John-James on their honor to guard the women, and especially the children.  When he turned to face the horsemen, they had already arrived.  The Moors appeared, and their swords were drawn.  The melee began at once along with Elsbeth’s scream.  Margueritte joined her scream when they saw Tomberlain knocked from his horse by a wicked hit on the head.

Few of the men were able to keep to their horses on the slippery grass and in the mud and rain.  Slick saddles sent men to the ground while horses sauntered off into the woods, away from the commotion.  Margueritte found herself and Elsbeth pushed down into the wagon and a wet, woolen blanket thrown hastily over them by their mother.

Lady Brianna sat still with a dagger in her hand while Redux the blacksmith took the tool he brought for the wagon wheels, something like a tire iron, and faced off with one of the enemy.  Brianna got startled, when one came up behind her, still on horseback.  She spun with the knife and cut the man’s hand, and then thought fast and kicked the horse which bucked and threw its’ rider.  With her back turned, however, it became easy for two strong hands to grab her from behind and pull her from the wagon seat.  It took two of them to hold her, and even then, it was only because she landed flat on the ground, on her back, and had no leverage.  Unfortunately, she had dropped the knife.

Margueritte, who thought, “Way to go, Mother,” when Brianna cut her attacker, cried out when her mother got grabbed from behind.  She reached out of the blanket to try and catch her mother and keep her from being dragged from the cart, but it was too far to reach.  Then, she felt herself lifted right out of the back of the wagon, and though she kicked, her feet could not quite reach the ground.

“Let me go!” she screamed and wriggled.  “Help!” she yelled.  “Hammerhead!” It was the first name that came to mind.  Perhaps she did not think at all but merely bubbled something up from her unconscious.  Her mother and Tomberlain were both down and who knew in what condition.  Elsbeth was surely no help, and her father fought face to face with Lord Ahlmored who kept shouting, “Save me the woman and the older girl.  Kill the rest.”  So Margueritte shouted for Hammerhead, odd as it seemed.  Odder still was the fact that he answered.

M3 Margueritte: Tales, part 3 of 3

“Wait outside,” Sir Barth told the girls, and Brianna went to retrieve them while a worried looking queen gladly placed the children in their mother’s hands.  Margueritte and Elsbeth got hustled out and Thomas of Evandell followed.  He saw Lady Brianna torn between care for her children and the need to support her husband.

“I will take them safely to your Maven, is it?”

Brianna nodded to thank him but said nothing.  She returned right away to the great hall.

“So, girls,” Thomas began.  “Let me see if I have got this straight.”

Margueritte looked up.  “You’re not going to make a song, are you?”

“And a good tale to boot.”  Thomas grinned.  “Though I would not worry about it.  I may fudge a few things.  Can’t let the facts stand in the way of a good story, you know.”  He grinned ear to ear.  He made a nice, friendly grin.

The rest of that afternoon got spent with Maven in the market area.  Maven, it seemed, loved shopping all the more when it got her out of work.  By the time they went home for supper, the girls were all tired out.  As they walked in and sat at the children’s table where Tomberlain sat and had a sour face at still being counted among the children, Baron Bernard was talking.  It seemed they were all still trying to keep Sir Barth’s anger under control.

“Apparently, this has been building for some time,” the baron said.  “I suspect the Saracens will be invited to leave after this fracas.”

“Thrown out on his ear would be better,” Sir Barth grumped.

“Have his bags packed for him,” Constantus suggested while he cut off the pig’s ear, his favorite part when it got burnt and crispy.  “I’m sorry I missed it.”

“Yes, where were you?”  Bartholomew asked.

“I thought the Gray Ghost had taken a stone, if you must know.  It would have put him right out of the running.  But no such luck for you.  He is fine and I am looking forward to the race tomorrow.”

“Ha!”  Bartholomew finally perked up a little.  “I’ve a new horse this year that Tomberlain and I have most carefully trained.  I call him the Winner.”

“I did not know you named the horse,” Lady Brianna said, innocently.

Lord Bartholomew looked at her and rolled his eyes.  “I didn’t.”  He looked at the others.  “But it seems a good name to me now.  What do you think, Tom?”

“Winner.”  Tomberlain spoke up from the small table, but his heart was not in it.

“Eat.”  Margueritte encouraged her brother.

“All right for you,” he said.  “You still are one of the children.”

“And you are my biggest and bestest brother in the whole world,” she said.  “And I would be heartbroken if you wasted away for not eating.”  Tomberlain smiled, but did not dig in.  “Besides, I have seen you attack food like a general on the battlefield.  I sometimes wonder if there is anything you will not eat.”  Tomberlain grinned a little more.  “Isn’t that right, Elsbeth?”

Elsbeth muttered something unintelligible.  She looked all but asleep in her soup.  Not much later, Lord Bartholomew and Lady Brianna rose from the table.

“To bed, children,” the lady said.  No one argued.  All were tired.

“Winner versus the Gray Ghost!”  Sir Barth laughed, but it was serious business.

Sure enough, in the early hours of the morning, the Lord Ahlmored and all his people were escorted out of town by some fifty men at arms.  Sir Barth cheered.  Baron Bernard shrugged.  Constantus the Roman was not around being, no doubt, with the Gray Ghost, or still in bed.  Aden the Convert showed up to talk to Lady Brianna.

“It was not pretty,” he said.  “Duredain the druid has finally gotten his way.  Luckily, I reminded the king that he knew my mother and father and the service my father did for his father.  I may have been twenty years at Iona, but I am a native Breton, born in Amorica which is still my home and Urbon is still my king.  With that, the king relented a little and did not talk exile, but he strictly charged me not to speak the name of Jesus the Christ in his presence, or, on Duredain’s insistence, among his people who might accidentally speak the name in the king’s presence.  The king said he had heard enough about prophets and sons of God for his lifetime.”

“But what will you do?”  Lady Brianna sympathized.

“I will speak of my lord and savior to whomever will listen,” he said with a smile.  “If young Marguerite can be so bold right at the king’s feet, who am I to be afraid when I am miles from the king’s feet?”

“Good for you,” Bartholomew said, and both looked up at him.  He gave a slightly embarrassed shrug before he explained.  “A man always has the right to follow his own conscience and pity the man who doesn’t.  Hardly qualifies to be called a man.”

“All the same,” Aden said.  “I would like to come and stay in your chapel now and then if you don’t mind.”

“Of course,” Brianna said quickly.  “Anytime.”  Lord Bartholomew, however, rolled his eyes and imagined all the pilgrims it would attract to tromp across his fields.

Lord Bartholomew came in second that year, but he was as close to Constantus as he had ever been.  Third got taken by Finnian McVey, and people wondered how this Irishman, in so short a time, had come into such grace with the king to be picked to ride the king’s best steed.  Finnian might well have won the race if he had not been penalized for “accidentally” whipping his opponents with his crop a couple of times.  “You Breton don’t know how to properly race,” was all he said.

At the noon meal, Thomas of Evandell, as was his custom, came in to entertain the children with a taste of what their parents would get in the evening.  He just began the tale of how Gerraint, son of Erbin, became so jealous for his wife, he drove her into the wilderness, when the door suddenly slammed open.  Curdwallah the hag stepped into the inn, and Elsbeth hid her face in Tomberlain’s shoulder rather than look at the witch.  Curdwallah cocked one crooked eye at the children.  The eyes looked more bugged out and hungry than ever to Margueritte and she dared not look directly into them, even for a moment.  Curdwallah made an almost imperceptible wave to the two who were sitting in the dark corner and then she headed to the stairs, a short cackling laugh touching the corners of her lips.

Finnian and the village druid, Canto, were nursing their cider.  Margueritte did not think they were there to spy on Thomas, but rather they seemed to be eyeing the children, and especially herself, though for what nefarious purpose, she could not guess.  Thomas took that moment to lean over and whisper.

“They say there is not such a mystery to the death of Curdwallah’s husband and sons.  They say she waited until her sons were plump and juicy and then she boiled them and ate them down to the bones.  They say her husband found out, but in her wicked strength she overcame him and strung him from the ceiling like a spider strings its’ prey.  Slowly, they say, ever so slowly she sucked the living blood out of his veins and when she had feasted, she buried the man’s shriveled carcass under the Tower DuLac and locked the door and never goes in that way, but climbs to the window one flight up whenever there is something she needs in the Tower.  They say she is a devotee of Abraxas…”

“Stop.  Stop!”  Elsbeth had her face buried in Tomberlain’s shirt and wept.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Thomas said, to comfort Elsbeth.  He placed his hand on her head once he realized he had gone too far for the little one.  “Let me tell you a different story of DuLac which happened long ago when Arthur was king and the great warrior who came from there and the Lady of DuLac.”  He proceeded to tell about Lancelot and gave him his Frankish name.  It was a wonderful story, full of love and honor, and enough battles to keep Tomberlain happy; but Marguerite felt sure Elsbeth would still have nightmares.  It being Samhain, she was not sure she would not have nightmares herself.

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

MONDAY

There are tales the people tell, and the there are secrets revealed that no one will talk about, they hope.  Monday.  Until then, Happy Reading

*

M3 Margueritte: Tales, part 2 of 3

The afternoon began wonderfully, and full of celebration for the newborn child.  “Every child is like the Christ child,” Father Aden said.  But then there were horses in the fens, and four men came up quickly, followed by a fifth some distance away.

“Duredain, the king’s druid,” Bartholomew breathed.  He did not especially like the man, and neither did the people of the fens, many of whom were there under sentence of the druid acting as magistrate for the king.

“Lord Bartholomew.”  The druid was always polite to the Franks, but it seemed thin.

“Roan and Morgan I know,” Sir Barth said.  They were Brian, the chief of Vergen’s deputies.  “But who is this tall, lean one with you?”

“Finnian McVey.”  The man introduced himself.  “Lately arrived from the Irish shore and welcomed to the hospitality of King Urbon’s court.”

“You will cease and desist this distribution at once, on the king’s orders,” Duredain said, getting right to the heart of the matter.  “These men and women have been put to this hardship under penalty of law.  They are not to be aided in their sentence or comforted for their wrongdoing.”

Sir Barth reached up to rub his chin and think of what to say.  In the interim, Lady Brianna and Aden the Convert both spoke in unison.  “Nonsense!”  Fortunately, before the argument could begin, the fifth rider arrived; Thomas of Evandell, the king’s bard.

“Lord and Lady Bartholomew.”  He shouted from some distance to gain the attention of all.  “Lord and Lady Bartholomew.”  He repeated when he arrived.  “The king requests your presence in the court at this time.  Would you be so kind as to accompany me?”

“The girls.”  Lady Brianna voiced her first thought, and Father Aden nodded for her sake to indicate that they would be safely escorted home.

“Actually.”  Thomas negated the whole arrangement.  “The king has asked if you would bring the girls, if it is not inconvenient.  He has heard stories and wonders if he may hear more of the truth of the matter.”

Duredain the druid squinted at the girls.  He had not anticipated this, but it did make his job easier.  “Yes,” he said.  “I, too would like to hear about these things.”  He snapped at Roan and Morgan who did not get it at first but realized soon enough that their mounts were required.  They reluctantly got to their feet in the unfriendly crowd.  Sir Barth got up on one horse and took Elsbeth in his lap.  Margueritte got up behind her mother on the other horse and held on tight around her middle.  As they left the fens, she saw Aden the Convert try to turn the men to their drink.  The men seemed determined, en-mass, to scare the pants off Roan and Morgan who, after a moment of hesitation, fairly ran for their lives to the sound of much laughter.

“You bet your bippy,” Margueritte said in a language she did not know, and she laughed without having the least idea why she laughed.

In the house with the wooden towers, which was clearly more of a fort than a proper castle, Margueritte looked at everything while Elsbeth ignored it all.  Margueritte saw a great skill in the tapestries and that all the furnishings were well made and well kept.  Elsbeth yawned until they came to the armed guards and entered the courtroom.  The king sat at the end of the room with the queen beside him.  Everyone else stood, except for Brian, the very overweight village chief, who had a little chair off to the side, and Canto, his druid, stood there with him.  Duredain and Thomas went to one knee before rising.  Lord and Lady Bartholomew nodded their heads and simply said, “Your Majesties.”

“I have heard some strange tidings concerning these daughters of yours,” the king said and did not wait for the niceties.  He looked at the girls and Margueritte curtsied and nudged Elsbeth to do the same, which she did after a thought.

“Your majesty,” Margueritte said, as she momentarily looked down to keep her balance.

“Majesty.”  Elsbeth echoed.

Margueritte looked at the queen.  She heard so little about her, Margueritte could not even remember the woman’s name, but she looked like a nice older lady, and the queen smiled for her.

“Come.”  The queen spoke up to her husband’s surprise who still scrutinized the girls with his best, practiced glare.  “Come and tell me all about it,” the queen prompted.  Margueritte accepted the invitation, and Elsbeth followed.  When she sat at the queen’s feet, Elsbeth beside her, there arose some consternation in the gallery.  The king said nothing, however, as it was apparently what the queen intended.  The gallery became mollified and snickered a little when Elsbeth’s seven-year-old finger went to her nose.

“Well, it all started…” Margueritte began her story, and she told it almost word for word, exactly as she told her parents.  She stuck strictly to the truth as well as she remembered it.  The queen asked very few questions and the king asked none and only spoke at the beginning when the queen lit up at the word dance and said how she, too, loved to dance.

“You have the Maying, woman.  And that is enough dance for the year,” the king said.

When Margueritte finished, she felt satisfied that the real story had gotten out in spite of Elsbeth’s interruptions and embellishments.  And when the king and queen were silent, the king opened the floor to questions from the court.

Duredain the druid became one of the first to step up.  “You say you slapped this ogre, this very force of nature itself, and he crashed against the wall and fell unconscious?”

“Yes sir,” Margueritte answered forthrightly.

“And how is it that you, a little girl, were able to do this?” he asked with a smirk.

“I do not know sir,” Margueritte said honestly.  “Unless it was by the grace of God.”  She swallowed and added, “I am a Christian, you know.”  She looked to her mother and saw pride in her mother’s eyes.  Margueritte was not completely unaware of the political implications in her statement.  The queen appeared unmoved by the revelation, but the king sat straight up, and the druid huffed and puffed, but said no more at that time.  Instead he chose to stand warily beside his king.

“And how is it that lightning came from your fingers to strike the imp?”  A woman asked.

“I do not know,” Margueritte said.

“And there are no imps handy to show you.”  A man back in the crowd muttered and several of the courtiers laughed.

Far and away, most of the questions were about the unicorn.  Elsbeth could not say enough in praise and told over and over how she was healed of all her fears and torments simply by touching the beauty.  Marguerite, however, did not like the tone of some of the questions.  These were asked mostly by men at arms, hunters all.

At the last, the Lord Ahlmored stepped forward as if he had waited patiently for just the right moment.  “Well I, for one, do not believe a word of it.  Oh, I am sure the young ladies have told what they believe is true, but I suspect the truth is more that some ordinary thieves stole the girl in the woods when they had a chance, no doubt to hold her for ransom.  The lovely Margueritte followed her little sister and probably found a gentle old nag that had come loose of its tether and wandered off in search of a good graze.  Then by mere chance they stumbled on the cave of the thieves, sheep rustlers we might call them.  The leader probably slipped in the doorway to allow the girls to escape, which happens.” Lord Ahlmored shrugged.  “The nag, which was certainly lost and had nowhere else to go, then carried them off before the other thieves could stop them.  I suspect there is no more to the real truth than that.”  He shrugged again like that should be the end of the story and the discussion.  Reason prevailed.

Lord Bartholomew, however, had not been counted on.  Red with fury, he broke Brianna’s hold on him.  “Are you calling my daughters liars?”  He shouted and faced the African who merely smiled and bowed.

“Not at all,” Ahlmored said.  “I did say they honestly believe their own story, but you know how these things get built up in the mind, and especially in the imagination of children.”

Bartholomew only kept back when Baron Bernard and Bernard’s squire, his own son Michael stepped in front of him.  Sir Barth felt steaming mad, but he was not the only one.  Duredain the druid looked ready to spit.  Ogres and unicorns made sense in his world, even if they were encountered by one who had the audacity to speak of this Christ.  Arrogant Moslem ambassadors and their rationalistic “explain-it-away” sentiments, however, were intolerable.  For all his faults, the druid could never tolerate a closed mind.

“You’re a fool, Ahlmored,” he said, as Bartholomew looked at his girls.

M3 Margueritte: Tales, part 1 of 3

Samhain in the fourth year came only two months after the trouble with the ogres of Banner Bein.  Margueritte found that some garbled word of her and Elsbeth’s exploits had already reached the ears of people so when they arrived at Vergenville, there were more than the usual number of people that watched the Franks parade in.  A few even pointed at the girls and whispered.  Elsbeth, surprised, pointed back at the people, but Margueritte took it all in stride.  In her world, there were precious few entertainments apart from malicious gossip among the women and unendurable bragging among the men.  When a real adventure happened, that was worth holding on to and telling, and retelling, even if no one ever got the story quite right.

Lord Bartholomew found the ambassador from Africa, the Lord Ahlmored, at the door to the inn in anticipation of their arrival.  Both men appeared willing to pick up where they left off four years earlier.

“Lady Brianna.”  The Lord Ahlmored spoke with an air of slime about him.  “I must say, you look even lovelier than when I last saw you.”  He offered his hand to help her down from the cart, but she wisely refused it.

“I see your grasp of the Breton tongue has improved.”  She tried to keep to pleasantries.

“I see your manners haven’t,” Sir Barth mumbled rather loudly.  “Tomberlain.  See to the men.”  He waved off his son.

“Yes, Father,” Tomberlain said, and turned his horse to ride a little too fast back to the open field.

“Now, Lord Bartholomew.  I had hoped any un-pleasantries from the past might be forgotten,” Ahlmored said.  “Let us make a fresh beginning.  I came only to welcome you to the king’s court, sorry as it is.  I have prayed to Allah in the Holy Prophet on whom be all peace, that you Franks might bring a finer wit, a keener intelligence, and a more graceful beauty into our midst, even if only for a short time.”

“Bygones be bygones.”  Baron Bernard spoke up from the doorway where he held a flagon of hard cider and had clearly already started on the festivities.

“At least the beauty has come.”  Ahlmored bowed in his Arabic style to Lady Brianna.  Sir Barth, now dismounted, thought nothing of butting in and shoved the Saracen a couple of steps back.  Lady Brianna quickly grabbed Bartholomew’s hand before he could make a fist.

Ahlmored stayed ever the diplomat.  “Your pardon, but I was speaking of your most beautiful daughters who I hear have ridden on the purity of Heaven and mastered the very demons of the earth.  Why, your eldest with her long, dark hair nearly to her ankles and her skin as white as the cream from a goat, were it not for her fascinating green eyes, I would call her the very model of an Arabian princess.”

Margueritte grabbed Elsbeth’s arm just like her mother who held tight to her father’s arm and she poked her nose straight to the sky.  “They’re ogres, not demons,” she said. Elsbeth imitated her sister’s haughty stance, though stuck out her tongue first before the two marched into the inn.

“Your pardon, Lord Ahlmored.”  Brianna spoke quickly before anyone else could speak.  “But we have duties to attend to and gifts to distribute.”

“Ah, yes.  The Prophet Mohamet who is worthy of all praise, speaks highly of those who care for the poor and the wretched.”  He bowed again and backed away before he turned to walk off.

Lord Bartholomew relaxed, a little.

“So, I would guess then the worthy Prophet never speaks highly of Ahlmored,” Bernard quipped from the doorway.

“Damn African can insult you even in the form of a compliment,” Sir Barth said.

“He’s a diplomat,” Lady Brianna pointed out, but Bartholomew was not so sure.  They went inside.

“You, I will defend with my life,” Sir Barth said, and Brianna smiled and laid her head to his shoulder.  “But if he is beginning to have such thoughts about my daughter, I’ll kill the child molester.”  Brianna removed her head and slapped her husband’s shoulder instead.

“I understand they marry very young in that land.”  The baron spoke between sips of cider.

“Oh!”  Lady Brianna shot him her sharpest look.  “You’re not helping.”  But Baron Bernard already started laughing.  He knew full well he was not helping.

That year, Margueritte and Elsbeth got to go with their father and mother into the fens where the miscreant serfs, criminals, and debtors worked off their debts, by scraping a living from the rocks and sand.  The normal hard life got made nearly impossible, with never enough to eat, particularly for the women and children who went into purgatory with their men, and who often went without so their working men could have the strength to go on.

Brianna felt loathe to bring the girls into that place, not the least for the diseases that often raced through the fens and kept the population in check, but Bartholomew insisted on keeping his daughters with him.  He did not like the girls being pointed out and secretly vowed to find out which of his own serfs or peasants opened his or her big, fat mouth. Most of all, he felt terribly disturbed and almost violent at the sight of Ahlmored’s eyes all over Margueritte.

“Good timing.”  Aden the Convert met them.  “There has been a birth today and you’ve come just in time for the celebration.  Most of the people have already gathered.

“That will simplify things.”  Sir Barth commented, always being practical about such matters.  Lady Brianna said nothing, but Margueritte believed there was something about going from home to home and from woman to woman that she would miss.

For all the bad reputation, the Fens was really a tight-knit community.  Most of the folks were good and decent folks who simply fell on the wrong side of life.  In those days, the real, hardened criminals were put to death, so at least they had no chance of running into some murderer or the like, and as long as you held on to your purse, you would probably be all right.

Lady Brianna got right up into the cart and began to hand out packages.  The women all seemed to know her and respect her, and she knew most of them by name.  She apologized for the lack of woolen things, but with glances at Elsbeth and Margueritte, they all said they understood.

Father Barth rolled out a barrel of hard cider and tapped it for the men, most of whom he also knew.  It felt like Christmas, and a celebration indeed.

“Elsbeth!”  Margueritte suddenly scolded her sister who stood by a young lad to measure her hand against his.  “He may be diseased or something,” Margueritte said in the Frankish tongue, so as not to offend.

“He is not,” Elsbeth shot back in Breton.  “Just dirty.”  She turned to the boy.  “Don’t you ever take a bath?”  The boy shook his head, not sure what a bath was.  “I do.”  Elsbeth said, sweetly.  “Mother bathes us every Saturday night before the Lord’s Day.  I hate the water and all that soap, but I must say it feels good after it is over.”  She backed up to the boy to judge their heights.

“Oh.”  The boy understood.  “But we haven’t got any soap.”

“Mother?”  Elsbeth looked up to where her mother was not unaware of what her children were doing.

“Given out,” she said.  “But I will save a bar next time for your friend?”  She made it a question, and Margueritte saw that the boy was at least not without wits.

“Owien, son of Bedwin,” the boy said.  Then he remembered to take off his cap and added, “m’lady.”

“Yes, I believe your mother has some soap.  Perhaps she will give you a sliver, Owien, son of Bedwin,” Lady Brianna said.

“Yes.  Thank you m’lady,” Owien said, and he turned and gave Elsbeth a look so cold and hard it made Margueritte laugh.  Elsbeth did not look fazed at all as the boy ran off.  Margueritte laughed again and took her sister over to be under the watchful eyes of their father.  Then again, she was not altogether sure if perhaps she did that as much for herself—the way some of the older boys seemed to be looking at her.

M3 Margueritte: Trouble in Banner Bein, part 3 of 3

Margueritte looked into the dark and felt immediately overwhelmed by the smell of mold and old bones.  She turned her head.  “Will you wait for me?” she asked, and the unicorn agreed.  Margueritte nodded her thanks, and with tears in her eyes, from fear as much as from the smell, she stepped into the dark of the graves.

Down a long corridor, and she had to turn away from the light altogether.  She needed her hand at that point to touch the wall and not lose her way.  She felt sure she touched dead bones more than once, but the bones and the dark did not frighten her.  The ghosts of lost souls that haunted the passageways raised the hair on the back of her neck.

She came to no more turns before she caught the glimmer of firelight ahead.  She heard the deep, gravel voices of the ogres in the distance, but curiously, they did not make her nearly as afraid as the thought of ghosts.

“The lady will be happy with the girl,” one said.

“Is that what it is?  A girl?”  That sounded like a much deeper voice.  Margueritte guessed the first one was the female—the smart one.

“I’m hungry.”  That had to be the little one, though it was hard to tell by the voice.

“The sheep’s a boiling,” the female said.  “We’ll get a good winter’s nap from that lot.”

Margueritte shook her head as she neared the light.  The sheep were already gone.  She only hoped Elsbeth was still in one piece.

“Eh!”  That was an imp voice.  “Fingers out of the pot.”  She heard a sharp crack of a metal spoon rapped against rocks, which Margueritte rightly interpreted as the ogre’s knuckles.

“Ow! But I like it more raw.”  The ogre complained in a voice which suggested he might be the grandfather.

Margueritte stole that moment to peek and guessed that the ogres would all be turned away.  Sure enough, their eyes were on the fire and the old ogre who licked his knuckles.  The imp stood on a tall stool over a cauldron big enough for three men where she stirred the meat with a spoon studded with spikes against over eager hands.

“Well, just wait with the rest.”  The imp went back to stirring, while Margueritte, who saw an opening, took that moment to sneak in behind a rough-hewn cabinet which had been pushed only lazily toward the wall.  She waited there a long time while the ogres argued over the stew, before they settled grumpily around the tremendous fire which took up the whole center of the room.  Margueritte appreciated the cabinet, since the heat from the fire felt sweltering.

Elsbeth sat in the corner, well away from the fire, her hands wrapped with thick chords of rope, tied to the bench she occupied.  Margueritte imagined the imp tied her there since she would be the only one with fingers capable of tying a knot without accidentally breaking Elsbeth’s wrist.  Elsbeth looked awake but stared blindly as if in shock and unable to fully comprehend what was happening to her.  Margueritte tried several times to get her attention, but to no avail.

At last the imp declared the sheep ready enough and everyone grabbed a favorite piece and began to munch, bones and all.  Margueritte, who had been brought up with some manners felt repulsed by the scene.  She knew she ought to wait until they finished and hopefully went to bed, or at least to sleep, but the longer she stayed behind the cabinet, the more worried she became.  It would be dark soon.  The unicorn might not wait much longer.  Surely, they are so absorbed with eating, they will not notice her.  She saw a cupboard of sorts and a terribly oversized wooden bucket she could slip behind along the way.  And all this finally convinced her to move before it was prudent.

The cabinet was easy to get to.  But the bucket sat some steps off.  She decided to try the old rock throwing routine, but her first rock, instead of sailing over the heads of the ogres and making a nice clattering sound on the other side of the cave, it slammed into the father ogre’s head.  Then again, he did not even feel it and only paused long enough to mumble something about nasty insects.

Margueritte’s next stone sailed truer to the target.  It did not clatter quite like she hoped, but it did turn the ogre heads long enough for her to dash to the bucket.

“More likely rats.”  The mother ogre commented before they returned to their feast.  “Maybe we can catch some for dessert.”

Elsbeth saw her sister suddenly and looked about to shout out.  Margueritte barely kept Elsbeth quiet long enough to hunker down behind the bucket rim.  She still concentrated on keeping her sister quiet when the father ogre got up and stepped to the bucket.  He scooped up a drink in the tremendous ladle and then splashed the scoop back into the bucket which caused the water to slosh over the side and soak Margueritte’s head.  One step and the ogre’s vision caught up with his brain, and his arm was much longer than Margueritte would have believed.

“Hey!”  The ogre shouted and in one reach, scooped Margueritte up by her hair.  Elsbeth screamed and that caused a moment of confusion, which allowed Margueritte to slip to the ground, free of the Ogre’s grasp.  Marguerite flew to Elsbeth’s side, but the thick rope proved too hard to untie quickly.  In a moment, the imp was on her and the ogre family blocked the way out.

“What have we here?”  The imp asked.

“The Danna.  The Don.”  Margueritte answered without thinking.  “And you have invaded my house without asking.”  Her fear made her angry and opened her mouth with whatever words might come out.

“Now come, pretty.”  The imp reached out to grab Margueritte’s arm, but something like lightning from ruby slippers caused the imp to jump back and suck her fingers.  Margueritte finished untying her sister.  “I told Ping no children!”  Margueritte shouted while the imp’s eyes widened as big as dinner plates.

“You saw my husband?” she whispered through her fingers.

“I said no children, and I never said he could have even one sheep,” Margueritte raged.  “You stole them.  You are thieves and you owe me your lives in return.”  It seemed a bold madness drove the poor girl.  Even Elsbeth stared.  Margueritte grabbed her sister’s hand and marched to the door full of ogres.  Elsbeth averted her eyes because they were so hideous to look at.  Margueritte, however, stared right at them all and demanded.  “Move!”

The mother, the young one and the dim-witted grandfather were all inclined to follow instructions, but the father bent down and tried to grin.  Lucky, Elsbeth was not watching.  The sight of an ogre grinning could make the strongest stomach give it up.

“Now, then, you don’t mean it,” the ogre said.  “Why not stop for a bite to eat and a bit of calm down?”

Margueritte’s fear peaked.  “Smasher!”  She shouted the ogre’s name.  “I said move!”  She screamed and her little hand rushed out and slapped the rock-hard ogre jaw dead on.  Of course, nothing should have happened other than Margueritte hurting her hand, but to everyone’s amazement, the ogre got knocked all the way to the wall and slid to his seat, unconscious.  Margueritte was not about to look that gift ogre in the mouth.  With a tight hold on Elsbeth’s hand, she raced down the long, dark hall and the other ogres gave her plenty of space.  She turned toward the light.  She heard the young one call after her.

“Don.  Danna.  Wait.  Please.”

Margueritte did not wait.  As soon as she got out the door, she saw the sun well on its way to the horizon. Gratefully, she saw the unicorn still there, not having moved an inch.

“Margueritte?”  Elsbeth said, and followed immediately with, “So pretty!”  The unicorn dropped to one knee and Margueritte placed her sister on the beast’s back.  She slipped up behind while she told her sister to hold tight to the unicorn’s mane.  Then they were off at a soft gallop which the girls hardly felt.  Margueritte even had time to look back and see that ugly young head peek out of the open door.  “Hammerhead is a dweeb.”  Margueritte thought to herself and felt rather affectionate toward the youth, ogre though he was.  She attributed the feeling to the unicorn and imagined that one could not do other than love in the purest sense when in such a creature’s presence.  In truth, everything was by necessity pure in the presence of a unicorn.

Whether by magic or by design, only moments later they found Lord Bartholomew, Tomberlain, and several soldiers of the Franks.  The troop halted and stared in wonder at the beast which carried the innocents.  Margueritte got down right away when the unicorn stopped, a good ten yards from the troop.  Elsbeth still hugged the unicorn, utterly in love, and Margueritte knew, fully cured from the trauma she had suffered.  A tear of pure joy and gratitude showed in Margueritte’s eye when she leaned over and kissed the unicorn on the nose.  Elsbeth did not want to let go, but Margueritte got her down, slowly.  As soon as Elsbeth got free, the unicorn bounded into the forest, and so fast it looked like the animal vanished into thin air.  Elsbeth cried, but her father came up quickly and lifted her in his arms.

Tomberlain hugged Margueritte to pieces.  “I thought I lost my very best sister,” he said.

“I was so scared,” Margueritte admitted, and then she saw her dog draped over one of the soldier’s horses and she cried with her sister.

The next day, she told her family the whole story.  Elsbeth praised her courageous sister and embellished the part in the ogre’s lair almost beyond reason.  In turn, they told how they trailed her, how they found her old dog and, oddly enough, the tails of all the sheep hanging from a tree branch as if set out to dry in some strange ritual.

“I don’t think those ogres will give us trouble anymore, at least as far as children go,” Margueritte said, and then she wandered down to the kennels where her dog got buried and set a small wood cross on the grave.

“Mother?” she asked.  “Do dogs go to heaven?”

“I don’t see why not,” her mother said.  “God made them, too.”

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

MONDAY

After the trouble in Banner Bein, there are tales and secrets to tell…  Until Monday, Happy Reading

 

*

M3 Margueritte: Trouble in Banner Bein, part 2 of 3

Almost exactly a year after that day, when Elsbeth, now seven came with her, Maven found them by the stream near the grotto where the sheep were watering.   Elsbeth liked to dance through the clearing.  In truth, Elsbeth liked to dance as much as she hated to cook.

“Come along,” Maven said.  “Bring your sheep up to the meadow.  I have special treats for you today.”

“Elsbeth.”  Margueritte called, but Elsbeth did not answer.  Margueritte stepped to the clearing and reached out while Elsbeth danced.  She took hold of Elsbeth’s scarf and pulled, expecting her sister to come along, but the scarf came free and Elsbeth stuck out her tongue as she continued to pirouette across the grass.

“She’ll be along when she’s hungry enough,” Maven said, as she turned to climb up out of the hollow.  Margueritte shrugged but held on to Elsbeth’s scarf as she took her crop to drive the sheep to the meadow.  Her old dog followed but he did not really help.  He was more of a hunting hound than a sheep dog, and of an age where he had a hard-enough time getting himself up the hill without trying to drive sheep as well.

Atop the hollow, on the meadow’s edge, Maven huffed and puffed right along with the dog.  Margueritte smiled as the sheep spread out to graze.  “What special treats?”  She asked, not really expecting an immediate answer.

“Heavy ones.”  Maven feigned her need to sit and rest, as she always did.

“Well, as long as they weren’t cooked by Elsbeth, I am sure they will be good.”  Margueritte joked, mostly to herself.

No sooner had Maven set down her burden by the old oak, and the dog prepared to curl up in his usual spot, a scream from Elsbeth pierced the air.  Margueritte turned.  Maven looked ashen and the dog perked up his ears.

“Elsbeth!”  Margueritte shouted, but Elsbeth screamed again, and then a third time as Margueritte began to run.  Maven waddled after as fast as she could, and the old dog paced Margueritte and began to bark wildly at something unknown.  Elsbeth screamed again, but the scream echoed from some distance downstream.  Margueritte and her dog turned to follow, but Maven raised her voice, and that alone was so unusual it made Margueritte stop in her tracks.

“Hold where you are!”  Maven shouted as she puffed up the last few steps.  “Someone’s taken her, that is certain, and I’ll not have you follow and get lost or taken yourself.  Quickly, now, home to your father.  Let him raise the men to follow proper and be quick.  The quicker, the better.”

“No,” Margueritte protested and turned after her sister, but Maven grabbed her by her arm.

“I’ll not argue.  And I’ll not lose you, too,” Maven said, sternly.

“But the sheep.”  Margueritte reminded her.  Maven paused and looked toward the meadow.  “I’ll not leave them.”  Margueritte pressed her words.  “And I’ll have Ragnar with me to protect me.”  She pointed at the dog.

Maven spat at the dilemma, but she let go and began to waddle at top speed toward the triangle, saving only enough breath to shout back.  “You better be here and safe when your father comes, or it will be my life.”  She knew the risks.

Margueritte did not really know what to do.  “Elsbeth,” she breathed.  She knew, especially if the kidnappers were on horseback, they were well out of her reach by then.  She turned slowly, the dog panting beside her, and climbed back to the meadow with her head hung low.  When she arrived, however, a surprise greeted her.  The sheep were gone, everyone.  Look as she might, she found neither sight nor sound of any of them.  She wanted to cry, and might have, if a voice in her head had not said, “Leave them alone and they’ll come home.”

“Wagging their tales behind them,” Margueritte said out loud in a flat voice while she fingered the cloth in her hand.  The dog barked.  Margueritte took a closer look at Elsbeth’s scarf, the dog, and had an idea.

They went back to the stream and she rubbed the scarf all over the poor old hound’s nose.  She repeated the word, “Elsbeth,” as she did.  Then she let go, pointed downstream and tucked the scarf into her dress.  “Elsbeth.”  She said it again, several times.  The dog was slow but got it in the end.  He began to sniff the ground, round and round where Elsbeth danced, and he snorted several times at what was probably a strange scent before he at last settled on a direction.  The dog trotted, and Margueritte had to trot along to keep up.  A good hour passed before Margueritte wished she had brought some of Maven’s dinner with her, and another hour before she absolutely had to stop and rest.

“Thank the Lord you are old and can hardly move fast,” she said, as she patted Ragnar’s nappy head.  He had never wavered in his trail.  They left the stream behind and headed right through the woods called the Banner.  These were much wilder and untouched than the woods of Vergen.  There were no roads here at all, and no sign at all of human encroachment.  The terrible rocky soil made it impossible to farm, and the ridges of rock that broke it up made it worse.  The greatest ridge was Banner Bein, and people said it was full of caves where kings of old were buried.  This was not a place Margueritte wanted to be alone in the dark, but as it turned only an hour or two beyond noontide, Margueritte imagined she had plenty of time yet before she should have to worry.

“Okay.”  She got again to her feet and gave the dog another good whiff of Elsbeth’s scarf.  “Time to move.  Elsbeth,” she said.  “Elsbeth,” she repeated, and then she realized that two hours of her own dress pressed against the scarf might have the poor beast confused.  Still, he picked up a scent of some kind and started out, and Margueritte stayed right behind.

At one particularly rocky place, the dog stopped.  It appeared to be confused.  They were in a small dip covered with eons of fallen leaves.  All around were rock facings, boulders of various sizes, some that seemed to grow right out of the ground along with the trees, both birch and pine.

“What is it?”  Margueritte asked the dog as if he might answer.  Suddenly, the dog growled and leapt.  A black bear came growling and staggered into the little clearing.

Margueritte screamed several times while dog and bear went at each other.  The dog got a good hold of the bear’s shoulder with his old jaws, but the bear knocked him off and with a great paw swipe and sent the dog into the nearest boulder.  Fortunately, the bear seemed to have had enough and rushed off down the hill to lick its wounds.  The dog, however, did not move when Margueritte fell on it.  The dog stopped breathing, and Margueritte began to cry as her foolishness suddenly came to mind with a vengeance.  She had gotten herself utterly lost in the Banner, and it would be dark soon enough.  She became wracked in tears, and for Elsbeth as much as herself, and she stayed that way, crying on the poor dog’s face until something rather sharp poked her in the side.

Margueritte jumped back.  She thought for a brief instant that the bear had returned, and her quick motion almost frightened off the beast.  It pranced a little but settled down to stare at the girl with sad, deep-set and intelligent eyes.  The one, long horn that grew from its’ forehead looked silver in color, while the beast looked white, yet the horn sparkled ever so slightly, and the beast glowed a bit in the shadow of the trees.  This told Margueritte that this was a creature not entirely of this world.

“Will you help me?” Margueritte asked, with great hope in her voice, and never doubted for once that the unicorn would understand exactly what she asked.

The unicorn nodded and shook little sparkles from its mane.  It lowered one leg to invite the maid to ride.  Margueritte did not hesitate.  Faith guided her.  She got up on the unicorn’s back and immediately the unicorn started out at a gentle pace.

“Are we going to Elsbeth?” Margueritte asked.  The unicorn nodded again and Margueritte said “Thank you,” and cried some more into the unicorn’s glorious mane.

Another hour passed of up-hill and down, through the trees and across unexpected meadows.  One meadow showed signs of a recent fire, which might have been a ritual fire of some kind.  Margueritte did not want to look too closely.

At last they came to the face of a rock outcropping on Banner Bein and stopped.  Margueritte got the message and slipped off the unicorn’s back.  She faced the rocks and saw writing of some kind, but it looked like runes—clearly pre-Roman.  She squinted at it, but the runes made no sense except for one name: Danna, Danu or Don, depending on the accent.  “This is the place where kings are buried,” Margueritte said and the unicorn nodded and stomped its’ foot.  “And where gods of old were buried in the time of dissolution,” she added, and again the unicorn nodded and stomped.  “But how may I get in?”  She asked and stepped aside while the unicorn stepped up.  The unicorn touched the very name of Don and stepped back.  Something creaked, groaned, and it sounded like rocks scraping against rocks, but slowly a door opened in the hillside.  The opening stood ten feet tall and eight feet wide.

M3 Margueritte: Trouble in Banner Bein, part 1 of 3

In the year of our Lord, 707, there were trolls reported in the hills of Banner Bein, those gentle, rocky rises just south of Vergenville.  Some sheep and cattle were said to be missing and everyone agreed that it would be ordinary thieves but for two reasons.  First, the animal tracks disappeared right where they were taken.  This spoke of a powerful enchantment or it suggested that the animals were literally lifted from the ground and carried off.  Of course, only trolls could be imagined carrying off a thousand pounds of beef.  Second was the matter of the children.  Three youngsters and two babies were missing and since there were no gypsies or other strangers around to blame, the accusation naturally fell upon the little ones in general, and trolls in particular because of the issue of the beef and sheep.

There were those Moslems around the king’s palace, but they were discounted because they were hardly remembered.  The Lord Ahlmored and his people scrupulously avoided any and all contact with the ordinary people of Amorica.  The ambassador was reported to have said that when the time came the people would be converted by the sword readily enough.  This did not sit well with the Breton any more than it did with the Franks who felt a man’s soul ought to be able to make its’ own choices.  The days when the Romans persecuted the Christians were in the deep past and hardly remembered, and the druids never imposed themselves on the people.  For too many centuries the druids had been a natural and unchallenged part of the culture, so they did not have to rule by imposition.  True, men like Aden the Convert were making many followers of the old ways uncomfortable, but they were tolerated for the good the Adens of the world did, and for the love they evidently had for all the people.  These Moslems, by contrast, apparently waited until they gained the upper hand, and then, at least in those days, it became either convert or die.  That rankled a lot of people, but it did not speak for their stealing babies.  In fact, the followers of Mohamet strove so hard not to have touch with the people, the people forgot they were there.

So, the common wisdom said trolls in Banner Bein, though Margueritte did not think that sounded exactly right.

Tomberlain went well into his thirteenth year that early summer and a true page for his father.  He had duties every day but Wednesday and Sunday.  Wednesday got spent at the home of Constantus and Lady Lavinia with his sisters, learning his letters.  Constantus was of the old Roman mindset who insisted that Latin was the only proper language in which to read, write and think.  He required that Latin alone be spoken in his house, and secretly appreciated the silence when guests came to visit.  Lady Lavinia, on the other hand, decided with her husband’s consent and support, to teach Latin to any and all young ladies and gentlemen within reach of her home.  Wednesday was the day Tomberlain and Margueritte made the trip, which was two hours each way.  And Elsbeth joined them when she got a little older.

Sunday, of course, was the Lord’s Day and Lady Brianna treated it like a Sabbath. She insisted that even the serfs and peasants should rest, though Sir Barth always saw that the necessities were done.  Her son, Tomberlain, became another matter.  She would not let him do his duties and rather schooled him, with the girls, in prayer and Christian virtues.  Often, Aden the Convert or other Christians from among the Breton and Franks would join them on Sunday, and to that end, just across the roadway from the triangle, she had a chapel built.  Andrew and John, or maybe James, did most of the building.

Elsbeth, who turned six that summer, got exceptionally bored on Mondays, Tuesdays and, before she was old enough for the Latin, on Wednesdays.  She could not do anything about Wednesday, but on Mondays and Tuesdays, Margueritte, who turned ten, got the sheep to take to pasture with her old dog along to help.  Sir Barth said he needed the extra hands of the regular shepherds to make up for the damned inconvenience of Sunday, as he called it.  Lady Brianna did not mind.  She felt her daughter was getting old enough to begin taking some responsibility around the manor, and besides, she spent plenty of her own youth watching sheep for her father.  This, however, left Elsbeth rather isolated and alone.  The end of the week was fine because that was when the girls were schooled in spinning, sewing, weaving, cooking, music and other arts, such as women did, but the beginning of the week felt lonely for poor Elsbeth.

It did not take long before Elsbeth began to follow her sister to the pasture.  Both girls were glad for the company, but Lady Brianna was not happy to see her baby so far from the house at such a young age.  She could not stop it, however, short of locking Elsbeth in her room, so in the end she relented.  She always sent Maven early with their noon meal, and Maven stayed for several hours, generally sleeping under a tree, until she had to get back to help prepare the evening meal.  In this way, Brianna became able to more or less keep an eye on the girls.

On one Monday in August, Elsbeth did not go with her, and Maven did not stay for her usual nap.  Apparently Elsbeth, who hated cooking, passionately, was being forced to make an acceptable pie.  Margueritte sighed for being alone.  She petted her old dog, Ragnar, and he almost woke, and then she counted the sheep for the millionth time.  In so doing, however, she noticed a strange sight.  An old man waggled toward her, slowly, leaning heavily on a staff of crooked oak wood.  Margueritte stood.

At once she saw that the man could not have been taller than four feet.  Margueritte, who already stood a good bit over four feet tall at age ten, towered over him, but she stayed respectful all the same, as she had been taught.

When he came near, she saw a man bent over, with a huge, bulbous nose and a white beard that fell almost to the ground.  His white eyebrows were so bushy she could barely see his eyes beneath, but those eyes appeared sharp to her and quick to see more than just appearances.

“Good-day old man,” Margueritte said with a small curtsey.  “What brings you to the land of Count Bartholomew?  Perhaps I can be of help.”

The man looked at her for a moment before he answered.  “Don’t slouch,” he said, and immediately Margueritte stood up straight and realized that she had been slouching to be more equal to his height, so as not to offend.  “You’re not a simple peasant girl I would say.”  The man’s voice was gruff but disguised a sweetness that Margueritte could not explain.

“No, sir,” Margueritte answered honestly.  “The Lord Bartholomew is my father. I am Margueritte.”

“Sending his own daughter out as a simple shepherdess?”  The man’s question came out more like a statement of judgment.

“Yes, sir,” Margueritte answered.  “Mother says it is good to learn responsibility at a young age and to learn to help with all the chores.  She, herself tended the sheep when she was young.”

“Brianna, the Breton wife,” the man said, and seemed to know all about it.  “But here, my plight is simple enough.  My family and I are hungry.  Our food is exhausted and there is time yet before the harvest.  It has been said Lord Bartholomew and Lady Brianna are generous and kind to help the poor and hungry.  It is my hope that your father may help us with enough to see us to harvest.”

“Oh, I am sure he will,” Margueritte said, with a touch of joy and pride in her words.  “Never were there more willing and generous folks than my own sweet parents.” The old man nodded, and Margueritte turned ever so slightly to point the way.  “There,” she said.  “After the meadow, you will come down into a hollow, and after the hollow, you will come to a stream and a grotto in the woods.  Pass straight through the grotto in the way you are going and beyond the trees on the other side you will come to the fields of my father.  From there you will see the triangle of buildings where the family is at home. Go and ask and say we have spoken if you wish.  I am sure…”  Margueritte let her voice trail to nothing as she saw the old man waving off her words, and with what she noticed as an exceptionally large and bony hand.

“I have little strength for such a journey.  Perhaps if I may have one of your sheep, it will save us.  This will be sufficient for our needs.”

“Oh dear.”  Margueritte immediately started to count her sheep, though she knew how many were there.  “I don’t know.”  She started to speak as well, but the old man looked up at her with such longing in his eyes she could hardly say no.

Margueritte looked deeply into those odd, little eyes, and for a moment she saw something Asian about him, strange as that sounded.  “You would not be lying to me, would you, Ping?”  She called him by name, having no idea where that name came from; but that it was his right name, she was sure, and doubly so when the man spun quickly once around.

“How did you know what I am called?  I don’t remember revealing myself.”

Suddenly, Margueritte saw the elderly imp right through his disguise.  It frightened her for a moment, but then she knew, like instinct, that the imp could not and would not harm her.  “Is my young sight so blind to not know an imp when I see one?” she said.  “Stay,” she added, to be sure the imp did not run off immediately.

“But.”  Ping looked up at her again with new eyes.  His disguise fell away which showed him to be just over three feet tall, with no white hair or eyebrows at all, and certainly they were Asian looking eyes.  “B-b-but,” he stuttered.

“I have heard things.”  Margueritte pressed her advantage as she felt suddenly, strangely empowered in the presence of this little one.  “About trolls at Banner Bein and the stealing of animals and children.”

“What?  No, never trolls.  Who would steal children?  That old way is strictly forbidden by the gods, and though they have all gone over to the other side, we do not forget the rules.  And as for the animals, they were all fairly begged.”  Ping clamped his mouth closed.  He had no intention of admitting anything more.

“No trolls?”  Margueritte imagined.  “Ogres then able to go about in the daytime.”  Ping nodded in spite of himself.  “And an imp or two, come up with the Moslems?”  Ping kept nodding, but his feet began to back up.  “And you are right.  I have forbidden the taking and eating of children,” she said, though again she hardly knew what she was saying.  She looked at the imp also without knowing what came-up into her eyes, but the imp shrieked, and he did turn, and he ran off as fast as his little old legs could carry him, which proved far faster than any human could run.

Margueritte sat down with a thump beside her dog who barely stirred from his nap. She put her hand tenderly on the beast’s side and wondered what that was all about.

M3 Margueritte: Samhain, part 3 of 3

In the morning, there were jugglers and acrobats, men on stilts, little people, and people who told fortunes for a price.  The cloth got a really good going over, and some actually got bought.  The highlight of the day, however, came before the noonday dinner.  It was a horse race that Constantus always won and in which Bartholomew always came in second.  The thing seemed so sure the rest argued about who would be third.  That year, however, there were some new entrants, and the one true unknown factor was how the Spaniard’s so-called Arabian might perform.

The course looked simple enough.  First came a short stretch to judge speed, but then the real test began.  Second came a field, newly flattened, as well as the people could get it, where a spear had to be put through each banner in the field.  They were spaced like chutes on a ski slope and each miss deducted points.  Third, one entered the obstacle course which involved jumps over various heights and widths with carefully measured distances between.  Last came the endurance test and it involved a real race down a long stretch of road, around the distant post and back to the finish.

Sir Barth came in fifth in the speed portion, but that was normal since his charger had not been bred for speed alone.  By the time he finished stabbing the banners, he stood in third place, but there he stayed.  The Arabian surprised everyone and kept up with Constantus’ courser the whole way.  There even came one point at the end, when they rounded the endurance pole, that it looked as if the Arabian might actually win.  Constantus eked it out by a nose, and later, the king’s men discovered that the Arabian was in bad shape after the race, as if the rider pushed it almost beyond endurance.  Some suggested it may have been drugged beforehand to perform.  That did not mollify Lord Bartholomew however, who finished a whole length behind the other two.

“I would not have minded third,” he said after.  “If it did not give that Ahlmored fellow something to brag about.”

“Come now.”  The baron whose eldest son came in seventh consoled his friend.  “I don’t think that will even register on his scale of brags.  Didn’t you know everything among the Arabs is bigger and better than anything we poor backwards People of the Book have?”

Barth laughed.  He had heard the man speak.

“But what I want to know.”  Constantus smiled.  “Is when will you give up this foolishness?  You will never beat the Gray Ghost.”

“The man names his horses?”  Lord Bartholomew made it a joke.  “He names his horses,” he repeated for a passing stranger.

Back at the inn, they found Thomas of Evandell, king Urbon’s bard, entertaining the children during their noon meal with tales of King Arthur and his knights of the round table.  Margueritte especially loved the story of Gerraint, son of Erbin, and how he won the hand of the beautiful Enid.

Sir Barth noticed that the bard carefully covered the fact that Arthur and his knights were decidedly Christian, but he did not cover it too well.  Actually, it was masterfully done so no Christian would doubt, but no druid would have reason to suspect, or if they suspected, they would have no grounds with which to accuse.

Even Elsbeth, in her way, appeared fascinated by the stories, as was her brother Tomberlain, though he spent much of the mealtime holding his head and grimacing.  After the meal, they had free time among the booths and plays.  There were puppets in the afternoon while the men and boys were off in sport, having combats, or playing games which were very much like combats.

Finally, evening began to approach.  Food got hastily prepared so the fires could all be put out.  The adults were with the king, and Father Aden of Iona, known locally as Aden the Convert, came to the inn.

“No,” he explained to Maven, along with a great deal of the Christian religion, he was not welcome at the pagan festival.  “The king hears many of my words and I like to think I am gaining some ground, but Duredain the druid still has the king’s true ear and Brian, the village chief here is a strong believer in the old ways.”

“Get up and help,” Marta yelled, but it did no good.  Maven appeared glued to Aden’s every word.  Margueritte imagined that as soon as the lights went out, Maven would find a corner for a quick nap.  Meanwhile, she kept Aden busy with her questions, and would continue rather than work for as long as she could think of questions to ask.

“So, tell me, little one,” Aden said at last when Maven needed a breath.  He turned to Margueritte, much to her surprise.  “Why has your father not been baptized?”

“Because.”  Tomberlain spoke up for his sister’s shyness.  “Father says that Mother is a Christian and that is about as much religion as any given family can stand.”

Aden nodded, but his eyes stayed on Margueritte.  “You have the Celtic look about you with your round face, big features, long, dark hair and sparkling green eyes.  You are much like your mother, but I suspect Elsbeth will favor her father and bear the more sharp and angular features of the true Franks, and with plain brown hair and plain brown eyes as well.”

“And what am I?”  Tomberlain asked.

“The perfect blend of two worlds,” Aden responded without hesitation, but then he verbalized the thought that rested in the back of his mind.  “Curious.  Of the three Frankish lords given Breton borderland, two chose to marry among the very people they were sent to guard against.”

Margueritte temporarily got over her shyness to speak.  “Mother says, the better to tie two people together in peace and mutual succor, whatever that means.”

“Well said.”  Aden the Convert laughed.  “And a very diplomatic answer.  Peace is always the hope of every right-thinking man and woman.  Still, that other Breton wife, that Curdwallah woman, she even scares me a little.  In Christ, I should have no fear of anything in this life, but there is something unearthly strange about her that clings to her like a demon.”  He shook his head.  “But this is not the time to speak of it.  Cheer up, children.  The fire will only be out for a little while and then soon enough it will be full day again.”

The fire got put out and the cold seeped slowly into the room.  Margueritte and Elsbeth huddled.  Maven snorted a little in her sleep.  Marta sat as close to Aden as she dared, and everyone looked at the door and hoped the ceremony would not be too long.  Only a deep glow of moonlight came in from the outside through the holes in the wood-board window.  A cat cried and everyone jumped.  Then the door crashed open and Margueritte and Elsbeth screamed; and Marta joined them.  They knew who it was though her image appeared just discernible in the moonlight against the dark sky.  Curdwallah paused in the doorway, with her eyes all aglow in the dark.

“What do you want here?”  Father Aden spoke loud and clear.  If the woman frightened him, he did not show it.

“What do you think?  I have come to steal the children, to eat them,” she said, and the renewed screams of Margueritte and Elsbeth made Curdwallah laugh.

“In Christ, Jesus, you will not have them,” Aden said, not knowing exactly if she might be serious.

Curdwallah laughed again.  “I live here, you dolt.”  She pushed passed to the stairs, but not without one more look at the children with her glaring, glowing eyes.  She went up, presumably to her room, and everyone breathed.

“Did I miss it?”  Maven mumbled in her half-asleep state.

“I think not,” Marta answered just before a man with a torch could be seen through the open door going from house to house relighting the home fires.

Several hours later, Margueritte got awakened by the sounds of arguing.  “The man was rude beyond words,” her father said.  “Ahlmored.”  He spat.  “The man makes me want to become a Christian like you and my mother just so I can wish him into Hell.”

“Bartholomew!”  Lady Brianna scolded with her voice, but her hands never stopped packing.

Sir Barth kicked the chair and Margueritte was fairly sure Tomberlain woke up.  She was not so sure about Elsbeth.

“Shh!”  Brianna tried to quell the volcano.

“No man should make suggestions to another man’s wife.  And he touched you!  He brought three wives of his own.  Let him touch them, abomination though they may be.  God knows how many wives he left home.”

“He comes from another world,” Brianna said, in her most reasonable voice.  “Maybe they just do things differently where he comes from.  He might not understand.”

“Understand?!”  Her reasonableness only fueled his fire.  “What is there to understand?  He is a man.  You are a woman.  I had a good knife for the meat.  The way he was looking at you, I should have cut his eyes out.”

“King Urbon will not be happy at our leaving,” she pointed out.

“The baron can speak for the Franks,” he countered.  “And if his majesty is displeased with our leaving, then perhaps he should think twice before inviting a lecher into his court.  Now pack.  We leave at first light.”  He stormed out of the room and Brianna sat down for a moment to collect herself.  Elsbeth crawled up into her lap.  Margueritte and Tomberlain stayed quietly in bed, but their eyes were wide open.

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

MONDAY

Margueritte faces trouble in the Banner Bein, the wild haunted woods south of her home where the Amorican kings of old were buried.

*

M3 Margueritte: Samhain, part 2 of 3

The strange looking man spoke much too loudly.  “The Great Lord Ahlmored requires you to stand aside so his train may pass.  Then you may follow up after as you please.”

Bartholomew looked shocked for a second at the audacity.  He looked at his men and laughed loud and long.  “You go back and tell your Lord Al-mud the Franks stand aside for no one.”

“Eat our dust,” Margueritte whispered to Tomberlain, who snickered.

 “Hush.”  Brianna quietly scolded the children and turned to speak as if she was the only one to fully realize the seriousness of what was happening.  “Young lord.”  She spoke up, and Sir Barth and the Frankish soldiers looked to her, being accustomed to her good counsel.  The stranger looked taken aback, at the sight of a woman speaking, and an unveiled one at that.

“The soil of this land is full of sand and I understand how difficult it can make traveling, but here it is near mid-day.”  The lady looked up through the trees as if judging the sun.  “Perhaps your lord may be willing to pause and refresh himself while we push on.  Surely by the time he is done, our dust will be well settled.”  It seemed a fair suggestion, only the stranger simply could not hear a woman’s words.

“If you will not move, you may be made to move, kafir!”  The man growled and spun his steed to the rear and sped off.

“Form up.”  Sir Barth understood the threat well enough.  He pushed the wagons out front with orders to move on to the village as fast as they could.  “Don’t draw sword unless I give the word,” he said.  It did not take long for Margueritte to hear the sound of approaching horses before a dip in the road obscured both the sight and sound.

“Mama.”  Tomberlain may have wanted to say he would be a man and take care of them all, but he clearly felt afraid.

“Hush,” Brianna said again.  She listened for something the children could not hear.  Margueritte guessed she was praying.

It turned out not long at all, perhaps twenty minutes, before they heard the horses again, coming up fast.  Lady Brianna breathed deeply, and the children cheered when they saw Sir Barth.  Old Lord Bernard rode beside him, trailed by some fifteen well-armed Franks.

“Lord Ahlmored was as loathe to draw arms as we were, but he had about two dozen men and no doubt planned to move us off the road by force of strength,” Bartholomew explained.

“Luckily, I had just caught up with his slow-moving procession.”  The Baron jumped in.  “It took a minute to figure out what was happening, but then we came straight on while my wagons pushed right by the fools.  Jessica should be along in a minute.”  He looked back for his wagons while Sir Barth finished the tale.

“I guess they decided not to try us once the numbers were more or less equal.  I will say, though, he is an arrogant son of a—”

“Bartholomew!”  Brianna did not want to hear the rest; especially in front of the children.

It took more than a minute for the Baron’s wagons to catch up, and Brianna had a chance to welcome Lady Jessica.  Then with five good wagons and some twenty men at arms, they made quite a procession when they entered the village.  A nearby field had been set aside for the servants and soldiers to set up camp.  The nobles and their families went on to the inn.

Constantus, the Roman, and the first great house just south of the triangle, had already arrived with his wife, Lady Lavinia.  Old acquaintances were renewed, but Margueritte sighed, because the baron’s youngest was sixteen, and Constantus’ youngest was fifteen, and they were both boys.  Tomberlain would be a rare sight during their stay as he would be hanging with the boys.  That left only three-year-old Elsbeth for comfort, and she was small comfort.  Thus, Margueritte decided she would have to leech herself to her mother and act grown up the whole time they were there.  It would be hard, but it felt better than being alone and left out of things.

Urbon, king of Amorica, had come into town the day before and already established himself with his court in the great house with the wooden towers, which was his only residence for the once-in-four-years visits.  Meanwhile, the village square and another adjacent field were already set up with booths and festivities and Margueritte’s mind turned to sweet meats and toys.  All they had to do was check their rooms and they could be off to the fair.

“You will love this, Elsbeth,” Margueritte told her sister.  “Everything about the Fall Festival is wonderful.  I know I loved it when I was your age.”  Of course, in truth, she could hardly remember it when she was three, but since then, and especially in the days of anticipation before coming, it had been built up so wonderfully in her mind, Margueritte was in danger of disappointment lest the reality not live up to her imagination.

Elsbeth chose that moment to scream and Margueritte screamed with her.  As they walked into the inn, a woman startled them terribly.  She was the most wrinkled and ugly, half-toothless, gray haired hag of a lady Margueritte had ever seen.  The woman’s eyes glared at the children as if piercing to their souls, and it seemed those eyes looked without blinking.  Lady Brianna picked up her baby and Margueritte found herself in her father’s firm grasp.

“I must have frightened them.”  The woman expressed a touch of glee in her voice as if she felt delighted by that prospect.

“Startled, perhaps is all,” Lord Bartholomew said, as he acknowledged the woman.  “Lady Curdwallah.”

The Baron broke in.  “Once again, m’lady, let me express our deepest condolences on the loss of your husband and children, though it was now so many years ago.  We have not forgotten him, or you, and we continue to remember you in our prayers.”

“Faugh!”  Curdwallah said.  “Thank you, but it would be better if you stopped bringing it up every time we met.  It is done.  That is that,” she said, and walked out toward the village square and the king’s house.

“A hard woman,” Bartholomew breathed after her.

“Indeed,” the baron said as he directed them to a table.  Margueritte got carried along with them.  They got drinks, though Margueritte found her portion of cider watered to almost nothing.  She looked at it, but only for a moment.  Traveling was thirsty business, and then she did want to hear what they were saying about the hag.

“I, too, have written to the king.”  Baron Bernard was speaking.  “And concerning myself as much as Lady Curdwallah.”

“No.”  Bartholomew protested, but Bernard simply moaned and rolled his arthritic shoulder in response.

“Indeed,” the baron continued after a sharp, strong drink.  “The king and the mayor do not appear overly concerned with the Amorican Mark.  Too many years of peace, plus he is older now as I am, and the political wrangling has stepped into the power gap.  I have seen the same thing happen before elsewhere, in type.  Some say the Roman Cicerus is to be watched, but my money is on Ragenfrid.”  He took another drink and added an afterthought.  “I can’t say as I like the man, personally, though.”

“What about that young Charles fellow?” Bartholomew wondered.

“I don’t think we can count him out, being of the mayor’s issue, but at this point he is terribly young, I would guess around seventeen.” Bernard agreed. “He is a fine young man and has a good military mind.  If the peace is broken with the Saxons or Burgundians, or for that matter, with Amorica or Aquitaine, however unlikely that may be, and something should happen to Pepin, I would not be surprised to see him elevated all the way to Mayor of the Palace in his father’s place, next in line to the king himself.”

There came a break in the conversation as a commotion outside drew them all to the door.  Margueritte watched from the feet of the two men who ignored her completely. Ahlmored, the ambassador from Africa had finally arrived with his twenty-four soldiers and his servants and terribly slow-moving baggage train.  The people crowded around to see this strange sight while Lord Ahlmored seemed both attracted by the attention and waved grandly like a conquering emperor might wave to the admiring masses and repulsed by the thought that one of these unbelievers might actually touch his person.

The baron picked up where he left off in his thoughts about war.  “Then again, these arrogant Africans may be looking to extend their empire and infernal religion into the heart of Europe.  Who knows?  This Ambassador may be the first salvo in a war we cannot yet imagine.  Those basted Moors, or whatever they are called, have marched with little resistance right across North Africa.  In any case, I suspect this Ahlmored fellow will be more of a spy than anything else.”

“I’ll warrant,” Sir Barth agreed before they turned back into the inn.  Margueritte stayed outside and watched for a minute more before her mother came and snatched her up.

“I swear,” Brianna said.  “Your father would lose his sword if I wasn’t there to point to his side.”  Margueritte got placed with Elsbeth in the capable hands of Lady Jessica while Sir Barth and Lady Brianna made a trip to some of the poorer places with gifts of hope.  Maven and Marta fixed the rooms as well as they could, checked on the arrangements for supper, and helped the grateful innkeeper as much as possible.  The rest of the troop had time off, except for the command to stay ready in case they were called

Lady Jessica bought the girls some sweets and each a toy.  They spent a lot of time fingering various bolts of colored cloth, but it had already gotten late in the day, and much of the festival started to close for the evening.  Thoughts turned to suppertime, and the sun would soon set.  When they returned to the inn, the Franks sat all around a big table and the Lady Jessica was nobly welcomed.  Margueritte and Elsbeth got to sit at the children’s table.

Margueritte knew they would have all the next day for fun and games before they came home to be kept by Marta and Maven.  Mother and Father would eat with the king of Amorica that night, and then all the fires would be extinguished except the king’s fire from which all the fires in the world would be relit, or so they said.  Then the day of Samhain would come, and it would be more fun and games before an evening to relax and an early start home in the morning. 

Margueritte nodded and thought about how traveling could be a tiring business, and she might have fallen asleep at the supper table if Tomberlain had not chosen that moment to stagger in.

“Son?”  Lord Bartholomew looked up.  “Have you supped?”

“Yes shir,” Tomberlain said.  “Me and Michael and Sebalus…us.”

“And had a bit to drink I would guess.”  Bartholomew looked stern.  Brianna looked mortified.  Tomberlain opted not to speak.  He simply shook his head up and down.  He shouldn’t have done that.  He ran toward the fire and promptly emptied his stomach.  No one laughed.

“I think I’ll have a talk with that son of mine,” Constantus said.

“Indeed,” the baron added.  “And my Michael.”

Margueritte and Elsbeth got promptly carried to bed.