Avalon 8.4 Happily Ever After, part 6 of 6

The innkeeper and his son got locked in the dungeon in the town hall.  To his credit, Charlemagne understood on the first telling of the events.  Uncle Bernard only needed a bit of clarification on a couple of points, but the magistrate needed things explained about five times.  Lincoln was good about it, and Tony helped.

The soldiers cleaned up the dead bodies.  Lockhart said to Charles how glad he was to look up to someone at last.  He said Gerraint was the last man he met where he could see eye to eye.  Charlemagne said he met the man, so they knew Genevieve shared some about the Kairos with him.

Charles said he had to go to bed.  He would be leaving in the morning, hopefully before this Engelbroad showed up.  He appreciated the fact that they would keep an eye on the events and keep Genevieve safe.  “Those elf maids are special, but I am more comfortable having a couple of Rhine maidens looking after her.”  He glanced at Sukki.  “One punch?”

Sukki nodded and kept the tears at bay.

Charles said, “Of course, Genevieve is a bit of a Rhine Maiden herself.”

“Really?” Katie sounded surprised.  “She seemed like such a nice and gentle soul.”

“In public,” Charles nodded.  “But in private? Fierce.”

Bernard spoke up.  “You men are welcome to come to the party for Otto.”

“Bachelor’s party,” Decker called it.

“I don’t do alcohol,” Elder Stow admitted.

“Oh, come on,” Lockhart said.  “It is one way to stay close to the women and keep one eye open.”

“So, don’t drink too much,” Lincoln said and winked.  Bernard laughed.

###

Very early the next morning, while men slept all around the room, Lockhart woke to the sound of activity outside, just as the sun touched the horizon.  Something felt wrong.  Decker got up right away.  Apparently, he felt it too.  They both found Elder Stow by the window that looked out on the street.  When they snuck out of the main room and went to the front door, Bernard joined them.  Out on the front steps, Lockhart saw what bothered him.

Charles stood in the open square talking to several men.  He was not hard to find, being as tall as he was.  Engelbroad could see him, and shoot him, easily.  Boston said it looked like Engelbroad got his hands on a ray-gun.  Lockhart would not have believed it if they did not run into those Ape spacemen aliens.

“Elder Stow,” he said.  “Can you put screens around the open space and make sure Charles is covered?”

Elder Stow got out his screen device.  “In a minute.  It would be best not to cut men or horses in half.”

Decker snapped the scope to his rifle as Bernard spoke.  “You expect this Engelbroad person to show up and attack Charles.  I can’t imagine he will get close enough, going through all those men.”

“He won’t have to get close,” Lockhart said as he scanned the crowd.  At least he found Waldo.

“A bow or crossbow?” Bernard asked.  “A javelin would be too difficult through so many people.”

“There he is,” Decker said, raised his rifle and fired several shots in rapid succession.  He heard Nanette yell from the steps of the church.

“Decker.  You’ll hit innocent people.”

While he paused, Elder Stow said, “There,” and turned on the device.  Engelbroad, who had ducked behind a wagon when Decker opened fire, rushed out from hiding, raised his weapon, and fired straight at Charles who just noticed where Decker’s rifle pointed.  The slightly red tinted light from that gun stopped ten feet short of Charles.  Charles saw and then looked again at Decker.

“It is not a Decker wall,” Elder Stow said quickly, and Decker lowered his rifle.

Engelbroad did something to the gun and tried again.  He had no better luck than the first time.

Decker groused.  “If I can’t shoot him, how do we get at him?”

“Maybe we won’t have to,” Lockhart said.  He pointed as an Ape shuttle came in for a soft landing on the street outside the screens.  By then, a white dress appeared on the far side of the screens.  It looked like a wedding dress, but it did not look like Genevieve.  The woman had long black hair and looked a little fuller everywhere.  Genevieve was as skinny as a runway model and might have modeled in the future.  The travelers figured it was probably because of what Katie called the Cinderella diet.

Amphitrite stepped into Genevieve’s life for a bit.  She landed and Engelbroad turned on her, but she raised her hand and the Ape weapon disappeared and reappeared in her hand.  She shut it down and marched up to the shuttle as the door opened and an Ape came out.  She yelled.

“Hiding.  What part of stay away from the people did you not understand?  How did he get this weapon?  I don’t want to know.”  She paused when she realized she was babbling just like Genevieve.  “Here.  Go hide.  Stay away from people.  Don’t let it happen again.”

She spun around and saw Engelbroad in the hands of Charles’ soldiers.  She blinked herself back to the church steps and let Genevieve come home and complain.

“She stretched out my dress.”  Genevieve put her hands on her stomach.  “Wait.  Nobody will notice the belly. Good.  I can blame it on Amphitrite.  Hey!  Real fairy weave should change sizes to fit whoever is wearing it.  Must be the cheap stuff.  We got any more chicken?”  She paused to give Charles her snooty look.  He returned an equally funny face.  She marched back into the church, followed by her maids and the fairy.  The women waved to the men, Boston having her left arm in a sling.  Katie shrugged, and the men turned, Elder Stow having turned off his screen device.

“And I can’t see that weapon,” Bernard said, just to confirm.

“Not allowed.” Decker said.

“And those Ape men you just saw?”  Lockhart said and Bernard nodded. “You didn’t see them either.”  Bernard thought a second before he laughed.

###

This wedding was a far cry from the wedding Father Aden performed when Margueritte and Roland married.  This one went on for three hours.  The bishop would not finish.  He seemed to want to cover every bit of theology he learned in seminary in one go.  Poor Genevieve fell asleep briefly, and nearly fell over.  Katie confessed that Genevieve did not sleep a wink all night.  Poor Otto.  They had to kneel so long, when they could get up, he could not get up.  Bernard and the Major Domo of Provence had to help.

Once the service was done, the feasting began.  Neither Genevieve nor Otto were to be found, but that was to be expected.

Bernard secured two big riverboats to take the travelers and all their horses and equipment down the Rhine.  He said they would wait a week and then head into Francia and Provence to drop off Otto and pick up his contingent of soldiers.

“The way into the Lombard Kingdom will be easier and quicker for us not having to move through the rough mountain passes, even if we have a longer way to go,” he said.  “In the meantime, Genevieve assured me before she fell asleep that a week should be more than enough time to make your next destination, wherever that is.”

“North, above Strasbourg,” Lockhart said.

Katie added.  “The place is somewhere further north, but not as far as the Selz.”

Bernard knew the area and said the riverboats would travel through the night and get them to Strasbourg in plenty of time.”

Of course, what Alexis told them when Genevieve came the next morning to see them off, driving up in a beautiful Cinderella-like carriage, she slept for most of her wedding night and Otto stayed mostly awake, sleeping in the chair some, looking at her and smiling the whole time, or so Otto told her.

“In other words.” Boston just had to say it.  “They lived happily ever after.”

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

MONDAY

Th vikings overrun London and beat back the king of Mercia. Only Wessex stands between them and the conquest of the whole island.  The vikings have some alien help.  The travelers will have to counter that.  Until Monday, Happy Reading.

 

 

*

Avalon 8.4 Happily Ever After, part 5 of 6

Lockhart, Katie, Alexis, and Lincoln, or as Boston explained to the innkeeper, the two married couples decided to have supper in their rooms.  The innkeeper did not mind and brought some food upstairs.  The rest of the crew sat around one table.  The others sat at their own table, so there was no opportunity over supper for either side to ask any questions.

They just about finished when Budman came in and went straight to the table.  He tried to speak quietly, but Boston heard with her good elf ears, and she reported to her own table.  “Charlemagne is not staying for the wedding.  He is leaving first thing in the morning.”

Decker immediately spoke into his wristwatch and repeated the information.  Engelbroad jumped up and ran out of the inn.  Doctor Theobald ran to the kitchen and hurried the innkeeper out the door.  The young groom had the wagon hitched up and ready to go, the wine barrel in the back.  Hoffen and Budman hesitated.  They looked at the kitchen door before they ran out the front.  Decker followed them, and everyone followed Decker except Boston, who ran to the kitchen.

Doctor Theobald grabbed a kitchen knife and almost cut Boston as she entered the room.  “You are too late,” Doctor Theobald said, and took another swing at the red head.  Boston used some elf speed to get around the table.  Doctor Theobald began to turn toward her when Katie burst into the room.  She had her pistol out and shot the man.  He collapsed by the counter.

Lockhart, Lincoln, and Alexis followed, but paused on sight of the man bleeding from a gunshot wound.

“I didn’t do it,” Boston shouted.

Katie stepped to the man and kicked him.  She had tears in her eyes when she said, “How many times do I have to kill you?”

Doctor Theobald smiled, though he did not have much time to live.  He shook his finger, like he would not say, but then he decided to say something.  “You are too late.  The poison is already on its way.”  He appeared to want to laugh in their faces, but he died instead.

“We have to stop that delivery,” Lockhart said.  They all piled out the kitchen door and ran after the wagon which fortunately made fresh tracks in the muddy ground.

Out by the stables and the barn, Decker, Nanette, and Tony screeched to a halt.  Decker fired at the shadow in the barn, and Nanette reacted by pulling his arm down.

“You’ll hit the horses.”

Elder Stow caught up with his short legs.  “I can tune some discs to the invisible spectrum.”

“No,” Decker said, and handed his rifle to Tony while he drew his handgun.  “My job.”

Tony promptly handed the rifle to Nanette and drew his own handgun.  He would follow Decker into the barn.

Sukki had another thought and raced around the back.  The Barn had a back door.  She rushed, putting her super strength into her limbs, and showing a burst of elf-like speed.  She arrived in time to see Hoffen sneaking out the back.  She hit him and did not hold back.  She did not think about it because her adrenaline pumped through her body.  She immediately wanted to take back her punch, but it was too late.  Hoffen flew twenty feet across the lawn and smashed a shed.  He landed with big spikes of sharp, splintered wood through his middle, but it hardly mattered.  He died from the punch.  Sukki broke the man’s neck and nearly knocked his head off.

At the same time, Decker entered the barn, his military senses flared, searching for an enemy.  Budman burst out of a haystack, sword drawn, but Decker was faster. He shot Budman and Tony shot Budman.  Budman went down and would not get up again.

“Nanette,” Sukki called from the back of the barn.

“Sukki,” Tony called, but Nanette ran past him and out the back.  Sukki was crying.

###

Boston got to the back door of the municipal building the same time as the wagon, though it took some elf speed to do it, so the others were still a few minutes behind.  The Benedictines got ready to unload the great barrel of wine, but Boston whipped out her wand.  “Poison,” she yelled and turned her flames on the wine cask.  The outside of the barrel began to burn, while the insides began to boil.  The monks backed up.  The innkeeper yelled but could do nothing to stop her.  The young man with him, the groom from the stables at the inn, threw a rock at her.  It hit her in the shoulder, and she stopped her flame, but then the barrel burst open, and the wine all spilled on the ground and in the wagon.

“Poison,” Boston repeated as she held her shoulder and wondered if anything was broken.

The boy turned to run off, but one of the Benedictines stood right there and stopped him.  Katie arrived and pulled her knife on the innkeeper.  The man surrendered, looking like a broken man.  “Yellow hair,” the man said.  “My wife had yellow hair before the Franks raped her and left her to die.”  It was not said for sympathy.  Just a passing thought, and he reached out for the young man.  “Gruber,” he said.  “My son.”

When it was all over, the soldiers came.  A young blonde woman with a fairy on her shoulder and flanked by two young women also came, and the young blonde yelled, “Boston.”

Boston grimaced.  “I can’t,” she said, near tears.  “I think my shoulder is broken.”

“Genevieve?” Lincoln asked between gulps of air.  He could have walked that distance easily but running was not part of his exercise routine.

“Yes, Lincoln.” Genevieve said.

Lockhart gave the Benedictines instructions.  “Get some water and wash out the wine from the wagon and the cask, and for God’s sake, don’t taste it.  It is poisoned.”

“Lockhart, good timing for once,” Genevieve said, before she thought.  “What do you mean poisoned?”

“Ricin,” Alexis said as she got Boston to sit in a dry spot so she could examine the shoulder.

Katie took up the telling.  “There are castor beans back at the inn, left deliberately to frame us for the deed. Doctor Theobald is the same Doctor Theopholus that tried to spread the pneumonic plague in Constantinople all those years ago.”

Genevieve shook her head.  “Who was I back then?”

“Oh, Lady,” the fairy said and fluttered out in front of Genevieve’s face.  “We aren’t supposed to tell you if you don’t remember for yourself.”

“That is the law,” one elf maid said.

“Ancient law,” the other elf maid agreed.

“Nicholas,” Lincoln said, having missed all that.  He got out the database and started to flip through some pages before he remembered and blurted out the name.

“Oh yeah,” Genevieve’s face lit up.  “Greek fire.  The Toymaker.  I don’t remember a doctor though.”

“Maybe you never saw him,” Katie said, while Lockhart hit Lincoln in the shoulder, and not too softly.

“It is a wonder, though, that I remember anything at all right now.  I’m getting married tomorrow.  I can’t sleep.  I think there is still some roasted chicken back in the rooms.  You girls need to come with me.  This is Margo and Nelly, and the fee is Edelweiss.  This is Katie, Alexis, and Boston.  Also, Lockhart and Lincoln.”  She paused as a very tall man, two elder men and another monk came out from inside the building.

“Ouch, by the way,” Lincoln said.  “And Engelbroad is still out there, somewhere.”

“Not forgotten,” Lockhart said.

“Where are Sukki and Nanette?” Genevieve asked.

“Back at the inn,” Katie said.  “I’ll bring them along shortly.  Where are you staying?”

“In the church next door.  The priest was kind enough to give me his rooms.  Just enter the church and come all the way to the back on the right behind the sacristy.”  Katie nodded as the tall man on the steps raised his voice.

“Poisoned?”

Genevieve walked to the man, pulled his head more to her level and kissed him on the cheek.  “Thanks for saving me,” she said and let him go.

He raised his head back up and said, “And I only detect a little sarcasm.”

Genevieve smiled and stepped to the old man with the cane.  “Charles and Bernard, and the magistrate if we can find him, you need to go with my friends to where they are staying, and they will explain everything.  Well, they will explain what is happening now.  Maybe you should bring a bunch of soldiers.”  She paused to kiss Otto on the lips, then paused again to taste the kiss.  “Otto dear, you better stay here and keep the company tanked.  After all, the party is for you.  And Waldo, before you disappear, we are going to need a couple more roasted chickens, and make sure you bring some more of those potatoes while you are at it.”

“Right away,” the man said with a slight bow.

“We’ll stay here,” Alexis said, and as she could sometimes do, she saw right through the glamour of humanity and called to the two elf maidens.  “Margo and Nelly.  Help the princess.”

“Yes mum.  Yes Lady,” they said.

Avalon 8.4 Happily Ever After, part 4 of 6

Lockhart, Katie, and Boston had the horses that evening.  They found the inn had a groom, which was a nice addition to the normal service a typical inn of that age provided.  It took them a while to strip the horses and brush them down from a long day of traveling.  They even had stalls for them all, and room for Ghost, the mule.  Hoffen had the other three horses in the party that night, but he let the groom do most of the work.

Inside, Lincoln, Alexis, Decker and Nanette saw to their accommodations.  Decker had to ask.

“How come this place is empty?  I would have guessed every place would be full of soldiers.”

Engelbroad smiled when he answered.  “My friend, Theobald saw what was happening and quickly rented the whole inn for the month.  Tomorrow is May first, so we have to pay for our rooms, but this way there are rooms.  My friend did not know how many we would be bringing. Anyway, I suppose the innkeeper does not mind, as long as he gets paid.”

“He probably likes getting money and not having to worry about guests complaining, or soldiers trashing the place,” Lincoln suggested.

“I am sure,” Engelbroad agreed.

“Your friend sounds like a nice man,” Alexis said.

“And rich,” Nanette interrupted.

“I would like to meet him,” Alexis finished.

“Yes,” Engelbroad said.  “He is over there, talking to your companions.”

Everyone looked at the man who talked with Elder Stow and Sukki.  They had gone to sit at a table so Elder Stow could work on his scanner.  He did not look like he appreciated the interruption, but Sukki smiled.

The man turned suddenly, and Lincoln and Alexis got a good look before they both turned quickly to face the innkeeper.

“Is that?” Alexis said.

“Yes,” Lincoln confirmed and got the innkeeper’s attention.  “We would like to see the rooms if you don’t mind.”

“Up the stairs.  The rooms are all well marked.”

“Thank you,” Alexis said, and whispered, “Nanette, come and bring Decker.”

Nanette did not argue or ask what was up.  She simply grabbed Decker’s hand and dragged him up the stairs behind the others.  Once up in the room, Lincoln closed the door.

“Doctor Theobald is Doctor Theopholus from Chalcedon and Constantinople,” Lincoln said.

“In that day, he was planning on infecting the whole city with the plague,” Alexis said.  “I wonder what he is doing here.”

“Killing Charlemagne would be my guess,” Lincoln said.

“Are you sure?” Nanette asked, and sat on the bed beside Alexis, who nodded and explained.

“He looks almost exactly the same, though younger than he was.  I imagine the genetic code needs to be nearly exact in order for the Masters to connect the lives.”

“The Kairos is not exactly the same,” Decker said.  “Sometimes there are definite differences, like black and white.”

“Not to mention male and female,” Nanette added, and placed a hand gently on Decker’s arm.

“It might not have to be perfectly exact.  Maybe ninety-nine percent,” Lincoln suggested.

Alexis shrugged.  “The genetic code carries more information than a supercomputer.  One set of information makes a person, but the Kairos started with two complete sets so there can be a lot of mix and match.”

“But what can we do?” Nanette asked.

“Kill this doctor again,” Decker gave the quick answer.

“Find out what his plans are first,” Alexis said.

“Then kill him,” Lincoln said.

“Nanette,” Decker interrupted.  “You need to stop Lockhart and the Major from stumbling in.”

“No, you,” Nanette said.  “I can get Sukki and whisper to Elder Stow without arousing suspicion, and Lockhart and Katie will listen to you.”

Decker did not argue.

“We need to stay up here, out of sight,” Alexis also agreed with Nanette.

“Ask Elder Stow if he has any of those invisibility discs,” Lincoln suggested.

“I better go,” Decker said, and hustled downstairs and out the door.

Nanette arrived downstairs and wandered over to Sukki and Elder Stow.  She tried to look casual, like she had no cares in the world, but imagined she did not do a very good job of it.  Doctor Theobald and Engelbroad were both at the table, asking questions.  Engelbroad appeared especially interested in Elder Stow’s scanner, and Elder Stow did not mind answering the questions even if he would rather be left alone to work on the device.

Nanette was able to pull Sukki aside.  They stepped to the porch, just outside the front door, and Nanette explained about who Doctor Theobald really was.  When she finished, they heard Boston’s voice.

“So, we have to presume Engelbroad, Hoffen, and Budman are in on whatever the plan may be.”

“Boston?”  Sukki asked, her voice a bit loud.

Boston became visible beside them and said, “Right here.  Decker is going to stick to Hoffen.  Lockhart and Katie will stay in the barn for now.  Where is Budman?”  Sukki and Nanette shrugged.

“Look out,” Nanette said.  Hoffen came from the barn and hurried.  Boston let out her best fake laugh, which made Sukki actually laugh.  Hoffen ignored them as he hurried inside.  Decker came quickly to the porch.  Boston went invisible, and the travelers pushed into the inn.

Hoffen went straight to the table and asked Doctor Theobald and Engelbroad to see him in the kitchen.  They looked curious.  They followed him while Elder Stow went straight back to work on his scanner in that moment of peace.  Boston also followed, invisible.  She heard Decker give the signal over his wristwatch communicator, and Boston turned hers off so she would not be interrupted.  Katie and Lockhart would rush to the inn and get upstairs where they would stay hidden with Lincoln and Alexis.  Boston saw Nanette and Sukki sit down with Elder Stow to explain, but then she had to scoot into the kitchen before the door closed.

“Innkeeper,” Hoffen grabbed the man from the back room so he could be part of the private meeting.

“What is it?” Engelbroad asked.  Hoffen explained when all were present.

“I finally got a look under the tarp, and it is as I suspected.  These pilgrims are the Travelers from Avalon.”

“Yes,” Doctor Theobald thought that might be the case.  “I saw those two at the counter when they first came in and felt sure they looked familiar.”

“The old man’s scanner confirms it,” Engelbroad said.  “That is a piece of equipment not from this time period.  I did not get a good look at it.  I don’t know how capable it might be, but I would guess just basic scanner technology supplied so the travelers don’t get surprised by something in the immediate area.”  He paused to pull a strange looking device from an inner pocket.  “Backup,” he called it, but Boston saw it as a weapon, what Lockhart would call a ray gun.

“This can still work,” Hoffen said.  “Doctor?”

“The castor beans got crushed to powder.  I left plenty of evidence.  It didn’t take long to poison the wedding toast.  The ricin is just the right ingredient.  It dissolved in the wine and poisoned the whole keg.  Even if some steward decides to sample the wine, it takes three or four hours for symptoms to begin to show.  But once the ricin is ingested, there is no cure.”

“Are you sure?” Engelbroad asked.

“You are the physicist,” Doctor Theobald poked Engelbroad in the chest.  “Stick to your specialty. I know my job.”

“Enough,” Hoffen said.  “Innkeeper?”

“Gruber and I will deliver the wine for the toast on schedule, and by the time they come looking for us, we will be in Bavaria.”

“And live very well, I imagine, with all that money,” Engelbroad turned from the Doctor

The innkeeper smiled.  “I might even open an inn.”

“By the time they come looking is the key,” Doctor Theobald said.

“Budman and I picked up what we needed in Rheinfelden,” Hoffen said.  “The evidence will be planted to make the travelers look like Vascon and Muslim assassins.  Once the authorities have the people that they believe are guilty, they won’t look any further.  We will be long gone, and the fact that they will execute the Travelers from Avalon will ensure the future comes out the way the Masters want.  Killing Charlemagne and his chief officers, the Kairos, and the travelers will be fantastic.  I imagine we may even be rewarded.”

“Our future lives, maybe,” Engelbroad said, but then shrugged.

“Where is Budman?” Doctor Theobald asked.

“Getting information from the Benedictines,” Hoffen answered.  “He should be here shortly.”

The innkeeper interrupted.  “I need to get supper started.  You need to take your meeting into another room.”

“Say nothing,” Hoffen said.

“Be pleasant,” Engelbroad added.

They exited the kitchen, and Boston followed them before she ran up the stairs to tell Lockhart, Katie, Alexis, and Lincoln what was up.

Avalon 8.4 Happily Ever After, part 3 of 6

The travelers arrived in Rheinfelden at sundown.  It had been a long day, but the next day should not be so long.  They saw soldiers on the road, and in the afternoon, saw whole companies of soldiers.

Decker remarked.  “If they go the way we went and then go south through the alpine passes, it should take them a month to get to Italy.”

“About right,” Katie said.  “They should arrive in late May or early June.”

Nanette pulled Katie and Lockhart aside and told them what she and Sukki noticed when the Ape ship flew over their heads.  “He did not look frightened or surprised.  He looked nervous, kept his head down, and patted his satchel several times before he left his hand there, like he was covering up something.”

“The Apes did appear to be looking for something.”  Katie shared her suspicions.

“Or someone,” Lockhart, the former policeman agreed.

Lincoln, Alexis, and Tony came in from taking care of the horses, and Katie took them aside to fill them in.  The only time she raised her voice was when she said, to Lincoln, “And you better not say anything out of line.”

“We are working on keeping Lincoln’s mouth closed,” Alexis said, with a grin for her husband.

“Witch,” Lincoln came back at her with the same grin.  They pecked at each other’s lips and went to sit down.

Supper was quiet, overall.

The next day proved much longer than expected.  Brigades of men came at them from Basel and the Rhine.  Several times, they had to get off the road to let the soldiers pass, once for a whole hour.  When they arrived in Basel, the town seemed a madhouse of activity.  Fortunately, Engelbroad said he knew a place where they could stay the night, and meet his friend, the physician, Theobald.

“That would be nice,” Nanette said, and looked at Alexis, their own medical expert, but Alexis seemed to have trouble smiling, and Katie looked downright suspicious.

###

“Waldo.”  Genevieve yelled.  “Where’s Waldo?”

“I am sure I don’t know,” Margo the elf maid shook her head and looked at her companion elf, Nelly who agreed.  Margo took the pucker flowers out of the pattern and made the dress smooth again.

“Are you sure it has to be white?” Nelly asked for the hundredth time.

“Yes, white,” Genevieve said.  “Don’t get me started on red and blue again.  I don’t want to hear about it.”

“There,” Margo said and backed up to examine her handiwork.

Genevieve looked at the girls.  Both had long black hair, a real contrast to Genevieve’s blonde locks.  She squinted at them.  Margo had a little red in her hair.  Nelly’s black looked more very dark blue.  Genevieve pushed her hair behind her ears, then changed her mind and fluffed it so some curls fell down her front.  She turned to look at herself and yelled.

“That won’t work.  You can see my bump,”

“You are just two months at most,” Nelly scoffed. “You are not even showing yet.”

“I can see it.  I feel full.  There isn’t any more room.  I’ll never make nine months.  I feel sick.”

Margo whipped a giant bib seemingly out of nowhere.  It practically tied itself around Genevieve’s neck and covered most of the front of her dress.  Nelly moved elf fast to shift the many layers of dress to the rear where it touched the floor.  Genevieve gagged, paused, and said, “False alarm.  Anyway, real fairy weave won’t stain.”

“Better to be safe,” Margo said as she made the bib disappear.

Genevieve moved on.  “Waldo.  Where is Waldo?  That monk is never around when you need him.  Edelweiss,” she called a different person.  “Edelweiss.”  The fairy fluttered up even as Genevieve said, “I need my regular clothes back.  I’ll look at the wedding dress later.”  The white dress vanished, and Genevieve stood clothed in pants, tall bearskin boots with leather bottoms, like moccasins, and a dress-like top that fell to her knees and had a collar up around her neck.  The dress also had a hood she could pull over her head if it got really cold.  At the end of April, however, she decided to unbutton her collar so her neck and chest could get some air.  “Wedding tomorrow.  May day.  Otto will have no excuse for forgetting our anniversary.”  she shouted, “Mayday! Oh, yes, Edelweiss…”

“Lady?”  The fairy waited all that time patiently, a remarkable thing for a fairy under two hundred years old.

“Where’s Waldo?”

The fairy shrugged.  “Outside?”  She guessed.

Genevieve huffed and stepped into the church.  She had displaced the priest, taking his rooms for herself and her helpers.  The poor priest had to room down the way, though he spent most of the day in the church hearing confessions, one after the other, before the soldiers went off to war.  Even then, there was a line of penitents waiting.

Genevieve marched to the front door, Margo and Nelly flanking her, just one step back, and Edelweiss fluttering along beside her ear.  She stopped on the steps where she stood above the square and could look out over the sea of people.  There were mostly soldiers, though many different kinds, and townspeople, mostly trying to hawk their wares and keep them safe from thieving hands at the same time.  She saw Benedictines here and there but could not find Waldo anywhere in that crowd.

“I don’t see him,” Edelweiss admitted.

“Margo?” Genevieve asked, thinking that elf eyes were so much better than human eyes.

“No, Lady,” Margo admitted.  Nelly said nothing, but Genevieve did see one thing, and not far away.

“Leibulf,” she called.  “Haito.  Come here, boys.  I need you.”  She waved for them to come to her.  Leibulf was eight, but a big enough eight.  Haito looked smaller, but he was ten.  Together, they made typical boys caught up in all the excitement of men gathering for war.  They looked back at Genevieve like a deer might look into headlights.  It felt like fight or flight.  They could just as easily run away.  But something clicked in the boy’s heads.  Maybe it was the fairy that started toward them.  They both met Edelweiss.  The soldiers could not really bring Edelweiss into focus, and probably thought she was a bird of some kind, as most people thought about fairies.

The boys did follow the fairy up the steps, and Leibulf asked, “What?”  He managed to keep most of the grumpiness from his voice.

Genevieve smiled for him.  “Isn’t it time for the horse guard to return to the stables?”

Leibulf shook his head.  “They did not go out today.  They are leaving first thing in the morning.”

“Next time,” she said for him.   She wanted to tussle his hair but kept her hands to herself.  She cried when her mother died.  She remembered, but she was young.  She was old enough when her brother died.  She cried lots and lots.  She always wanted a baby brother.  She stayed her tears and turned to the other boy. “Now, Haito.  Where is Waldo?”

“He is in a meeting,” the young Benedictine said.  “We are eating with the monks tonight.  They are not to be disturbed, and we were told not to disturb you.”

Genevieve understood, but asked, “Where?”

“I’ll show you,” Leibulf said, and Genevieve gathered that do not disturb for the boys did not mean do not disturb.  They moved through the crowd to the municipal building.  Inside, they came to a big double door that led to the main room.  “In there,” Leibulf said.

Genevieve nodded, said, “Wait here,” to the elves and fairy, and the boys if they listened.  She opened one door and stepped in.  “Waldo.”  She got his attention.  She got everyone’s attention.  The room was full of dukes and counts. Charles was there with his Uncle Bernard.  They all looked at her, and all instantly admired her.  Genevieve knew she was very pretty, much prettier than Margueritte.  One might well call her a prize, or maybe a trophy wife, not that she intended to become a moron.

Genevieve spied the big jug of beer and had to say something no matter how much she tried to keep her mouth closed.  “Easy on the beer.  I want a husband to stand with me tomorrow, not be tipsy and falling down or hungover.”  She gave Bernard her meanest stare and included the dukes and counts she knew.  She stepped over and kissed Otto on the forehead, even as a mother might kiss her child at bedtime, then she grabbed Charlemagne’s hand.  “A word,” she said, dragged him into the other room, and closed the door.

Charles watched her grab a stepstool from the corner.  She was a tall five and a half feet, but he stood nearer six and a half feet tall.  Genevieve got up on the stool so they could see more eye to eye, and she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him, passionately.  When they finished, she got down, replaced the stool, and spoke.

“Don’t get killed.  Love your wife.  And when you beat the daylights out of the Lombards, make sure you take the crown of Italy.  That was your grandfather’s one mistake.  He beat people like the Saxons into the dirt, but then he would go away and give them years to rebuild their forces and try again.  You beat the Lombards into submission, put some loyal men there, but mostly take the crown. You can be king of the Franks and the Lombards.”  She shook her finger at him, but before he could respond she called, “Lord Evergreen.”

“What?” The fairy appeared and seemed disoriented at first.  “Lady?” he asked.

“You have your eye on the Lombards?”

“Of course. Old Desiderius is setting a trap, but I can guide Charles’ men round it, and maybe to turn the trap on the Lombards.”

Genevieve nodded.  “Get big and escort me to the main room.  I don’t want people getting any ideas.”

“Of course,” he said.

“You can stay and join the men, if you want.”

“No offense, your majesty,” Evergreen spoke to Charles.  “But I’m not a beer drinker.  I prefer a good glass of wine.”

“Same,” Charles said, and they reentered a subdued room.  Charles spoke up.  “You have my word.  I will be leaving first thing in the morning, and I would like to be able to sit on my horse.”

“You are not staying for the wedding?” Genevieve asked.

“Bernard will be here in my stead,” Charles said in self-defense.

Bernard spoke up.  “My smaller army will be escorting you and Otto back to Provence where we will add your men and head into Lombardy from the west.”

“We have plans to meet up first or second week in June,” Charles added.

Genevieve said nothing about Charles avoiding any emotional situations.  She just gave Charles a snooty face and turned on Waldo.  “I’m starving.  You are off galivanting, and I am wasting away from hunger.”

“The monks have been instructed to bring your supper,” Waldo insisted.

“Are they bringing a whole roast chicken?  I feel like I could eat a whole chicken by myself.  I’m craving chicken.  Just because I am a woman, that does not mean I have to eat like a bird.  I could eat a bird.  Look.  Look, I’m fainting from hunger.”

Waldo stood.  “Forgive me.  I’ll just go see to the lady’s sustenance.  I’ll be back.  Save my spot.”

They went to the door, and Genevieve heard Bernard.  “I have heard them argue and fight.  She did us a kindness taking him in the other room and closing the door.”  After that, all she thought of was roast chicken.

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

MONDAY

There is a plot within the plot and the travelers are going to be blamed for the disaster if they cannot act.  Until then, Happy Reading.

*

Avalon 8.4 Happily Ever After, part 2 of 6

The travelers went right up the middle of the Swiss Plateau.  They reached the Aare River midday on the fourth day.  It took another three and a half days to reach Habsburg, still a few hours from the Rhine.  They figured early on that if they were on foot, like infantry, and maybe had a wagon and a mule, a flatboat would seriously cut the time in the field.  But they were on horseback, like cavalry, and would not fit on a riverboat.  They would also have to stop and rest regularly, walk the horses plenty, and could not float along through the night, not that they assumed the flatboats did that.

In Habsburg, they found a road that would cut the corner of where the Aare flowed into the Rhine. By taking the road, they might reach Basel in two long days.

“Still ten days since entering this time zone,” Lockhart pointed out over supper at the inn.

“Not twelve or fourteen days,” Katie countered.  “At least the zones stopped getting bigger.”

“It would have been more than twelve days if we didn’t find the roads we found, and if the Romans did not build such straight roads,” Lockhart said.  “Winding back and forth around every little hill would have taken forever.”

“But it would have been less if we could have gone straight to Basel,” Katie countered.  “We had to take two sides of the triangle instead of the hypotenuse to get around the Jura Mountains.”

“Why is that guy looking at us?” Boston asked.  Nanette stopped eating to look.

Decker spoke softly.  “Our track record of meeting people at an inn has not been good.”  Katie nodded, but the man already left his two companions to come to the table.

“Pardon me for listening, but did I hear you say you are traveling to Basel?”

“Overland, on the road,” Lockhart said.

“To Rheinfelden, and Basel the next day.”  Katie added, “Why?”

The man humbled himself.  “My companions and I have some business to take care of in Basel, but we are afraid to go there.  Too many soldiers on the road makes for dangerous passage.”

“I would think the soldiers would scare the thieves away,” Boston said, but Tony answered.

“Soldiers can be as dangerous as thieves if their officers are not there to watch them.”

“Indeed,” the man said.  “Sometimes the officers encourage the looting.  Soldiers agree to fight for the loot and to enrich themselves, but they are not always particular about where that loot comes from.”

“You have a name?” Decker asked.

“Engelbroad,” the man said.  “My companions are Hoffen and Budman.  I see that you are ten.  We have horses and thirteen is even better than ten.”

“Thirteen is unlucky,” Tony mumbled.

“Half of my crew are women,” Lockhart pointed out.

The man nodded to Lockhart.  “But this one with the yellow hair, and the big one at the other table have the look of Rhine maidens.  They are known to be fierce warriors.”

Katie smiled.  “I can’t deny that.”

Lockhart looked at Decker who shrugged, Tony who looked at his food, and Boston who kept her mouth closed, and Lockhart spoke.  “We will leave early, hopefully sunrise.  Meet us then if you want to go with us.”

“Yes, thank you, thank you,” the man said and went back to his supper.  Almost immediately, the three men finished and left the inn, and Boston spoke.

“I don’t know.  Something fishy about that guy.”

“I did not sense any danger to us,” Katie said.

“But what?” Lockhart asked.  Katie shook her head.  She was not sure.

“Too convenient,” Decker tried a thought.  “Too coincidental.”

“Or a lucky break for them,” Nanette tried.

“They might have come in here every day for a week waiting to find a group headed for Basel,” Tony suggested.

“Maybe,” Decker said, and dropped the subject.

“So, we keep an eye on them,” Lockhart said, and that was the last thing they said about it until the morning.

When the morning came, the travelers found the three men up and waiting for them.  It did not take long to saddle up and hitch Ghost to the wagon.  The road to Rheinfelden was not in the best repair, but it was Roman straight and maintained well enough.  It got some regular traffic.

Boston and Sukki took the point, as usual.  They spent the day riding ahead and coming back to report what they found—mostly farmland.    Decker and Elder Stow did not wander too far out on the wings.  This was farm country, and the people were wary.  Farmers tended to lose their grain and livestock when soldiers, and in particular foreign fighters came through the area.

Katie and Lockhart led the group.  Engelbroad rode behind them, mostly by himself, though sometimes Sukki, and once Boston fit themselves in beside the man. They offered to let Engelbroad lead the party, but he said he had only been on that road a couple of times, and it was a road, not a trail they had to follow through the wilderness.

Tony and Nanette followed the man, while Lincoln and Alexis drove the wagon.  Hoffen and Budman brought up the rear and said nothing, except occasionally to each other.  Katie asked where they were from, and Engelbroad did not mind answering questions.

“I was raised in Ufenau, on the lake south of Zurich, if you heard of it.  Budman is from Konstanz on the big lake, where the bishop resides, and Hoffen lives between us in Kyburg.  Our families have been partners in business for many years.”

“And what is it you sell?”  Katie tried to encourage the man to open up without sounding like she was prying.

Engelbroad seemed to accept her natural curiosity.  “The land between the lakes is full of stones and not given to crops, but for horses and cattle, it is well made.  We hope to make a deal with the army, to supply cattle and horses for the war.  Everyone is gathering along the Rhine, Alemanni, Burgundians, Swabians, and some Bavarians and Thuringians.  The call went out two months ago, and they must be about ready now to march.  I do not know exactly where they are going, but it will be a fight.  What I know is we would like to sell our beef and horseflesh and have some coins, rather than have the army just take our livelihood on their way through.”

“And you figure to go to Basel?” Lockhart asked.

Engelbroad sounded certain about that.  “I heard that is where the great Charles, King of the Franks and his Uncle Bernard are gathering the leaders of the various army groups and setting their plans, wherever they are going. They would be the ones to talk to if I can.”

“The great Charles?” Lockhart asked Katie.

“Right now, everyone is subject to the Franks.  The great Charles is a safe thing to say.  Soon enough it will be Charlemagne, which means the great Charles in the Frankish tongue.”  Katie shrugged.

“Yours is a fine horse,” Tony spoke up from behind, distracting Engelbroad.  The horses, at least in Europe, were beginning to catch up to the quality of the mustangs the travelers rode.

Engelbroad looked back to say thank you and stared at Nanette for a second before speaking again.  “Yours is certainly a strange crew. Where are you from if I may ask?”

Lockhart looked back and felt glad Lincoln was driving the wagon and mostly out of earshot.  Normally, Lincoln would have blurted out something that might not be the best thing to admit.

“Far in the west,” Katie said.  “We have a friend to visit in Basel before we head into the west.”

“Francia?” Engelbroad asked.

“Most of us have British blood,” Lockhart said.

“From Brittany?”  Engelbroad asked.  “You are Celtic?”

“From England, or Scotch or Irish,” Lockhart guessed.  “Tony still has some family around Rome.”

“And your Black people?”

  “Originally from Africa, south of the Muslim intrusion in North Africa, but they have lived in our country for several generations.”

Engelbroad took a breath of relief.  “I thought for a minute you might all be Muslims.  The Franks and Muslims do not get along well, you know.”

“Baptist,” Nanette raised her hand.  “Decker is AME, whatever that is.”

“We were in Constantinople not that long ago,” Tony thought to add.

“Ahh,” Engelbroad sighed.  “Pilgrims.  That explains much.  And you being from Celtic lands explains much as well.”

“We are certainly people on a journey,” Katie said, and they let the man assume what he would.

After a brief lunch, somewhere in the midst of a long afternoon, they saw an Ape ship, a shuttle of some sort, fly overhead.  It paused to examine the people from above but made no move to stop them as it flew quickly to the horizon.  Everyone looked up. Sukki, for the moment, rode beside Engelbroad, and Nanette got her attention.  They noticed Engelbroad looked nervous, but not surprised to see a spaceship overhead.  They would mention it to the others over supper, or when they had a chance.

Nanette figured a man from 773, if not frightened, would at least be surprised and staring, not trying to hide like she imagined him doing.  Sukki pulled out from the group and caught up with Boston who was coming back, pointing overhead.  She did not need to point out the obvious.  Everyone saw, and many of the travelers wondered what the apes might be looking for.  They clearly got the message the Apes were looking for something.

Avalon 8.4 Happily Ever After, part 1 of 6

After 755 A.D. Provence

Kairos 102: Mistress Genevieve

Recording …

The travelers came out in the mountains. Tony drove the wagon.  Nanette and Sukki helped guide the wagon through the roughest spots until Tony brought it down to a dirt and gravel road that ran alongside a river.  Boston and Katie compared amulets but decided the road by the river was the best they could do.  The valley was not wide in most places, but the mountains looked impossible.

“Somewhere in the Alps,” Lincoln concluded.  “Genevieve should be toward the southwest, maybe west from here.”

“North,” Boston corrected his thinking.

“Almost due north,” Katie said.

“But Provence should be that way from the Alps,” Lincoln protested.  “Unless we are all the way over in the Pyrenees.”

“Definitely the Alps,” Alexis said and pointed to the ground.  “I recognize the edelweiss.”

Elder Stow stared at his scanner, shook it a few times to be sure it was working but reported nothing.  Lockhart looked around for Decker.  Colonel Decker disappeared in the forest that lined the road and the river as soon as they came through.  Lockhart debated calling the man but imagined Decker might have run into something and did not need a blast of sound from his watch-radio.  Decker could call them if he got in trouble.

Decker, at that moment, stopped and stared through the trees.  It looked like a gorilla.  A couple of gorillas, or big apes of some kind.  It felt too cold for tropical apes, like gorillas.  One of them moved, and he saw the gorilla wearing pants.  Aliens, he thought.  Gorilla aliens.  He wanted to flee, but wisely planted himself where he was, and his horse cooperated and stayed quiet.  They had not seen him yet.  He imagined if he moved, they would spot him and then who knew what might happen.  He felt certain they had weapons of some sort.  They would not be out here in the wilderness on a strange planet without protection.

He did not have to wait long before the aliens moved further back among the trees.  They must have finished whatever they were doing, like taking samples of something.  Decker quickly turned around and headed back toward the others, and his watch radio went off.

Katie called.  “Decker, where are you.  We are all waiting.”

“We got gorilla aliens in the woods,” Decker’s voice came before he appeared fifty yards down the road.  The rest caught up and he reported his encounter.

Katie shrugged.  “I’m not picking up any hostility,” Katie told Lockhart.

“Me neither,” Boston confirmed.

“Nothing here,” Nanette agreed.

“Alexis?” Lincoln turned toward her and grinned.

Alexis frowned.  “You know I don’t do that hypersensitive-intuition thing.  They could be looking over my shoulder and I would not know it.”

Lincoln smiled.  “I just wanted to make sure all the witches got heard from.”

She hit him.  He laughed and reassured everyone.

“The Apes—that is the only name for them given in the database—they are essentially peaceful and nonviolent.  It says they land somewhere in the Jura Mountains on the other side of the Swiss Plateau.  I’m surprised we saw some here.”

Lockhart nodded, ignored the couple as Alexis nudged Lincoln again, and started them down the road just when they saw a small craft lift above the trees and head off to the northeast.

“Going our way?”  Katie said.  “Something to look forward to.”  She quoted Lockhart from a few time zones earlier.

###

It took the travelers all day to get out of the mountains and to the lake, even following the road that ran through the river valley.  By the time they arrived and set their camp by the lake, Lincoln identified it as Lake Geneva, and said he had to do more reading.  He said he expected to land somewhere in Provence, southern France, or if Genevieve was really young, like under eighteen, maybe somewhere on the Rhine River, not the Rhone up in the mountains, near the glacier.  He explained over supper.

“Genevieve of Breisach, an old Roman fort town on the Rhine, was daughter of the Frankish chief of the town and an Alemanni mother.  Her mother died after giving birth to Genevieve’s baby brother, who also died at age two.  That left Genevieve as the sole child and heir. After that, the story reads like a remake of Cinderella.  When Genevieve turned six, her father remarried a widow from Habsburg who had two daughters of her own, one a year older and one two years younger than Genevieve, then her father died fighting for King Pepin of Francia.  Genevieve was twelve.  The stepmother was cruel, and Genevieve got reduced to a virtual servant in the house, though it was technically her house.  Then the prince came to town, or in this case, Charlemagne, though he wasn’t called the great yet, so maybe just Charles.”

“Charlemagne,” Boston interrupted.  “I heard of him.”

“Hush,” Alexis quieted her.

“Charles’ wife, Hildegard, age fifteen by the way, was busy giving birth to their first son, Charles the Younger.  Charles was frustrated…for many reasons.  The stepmother offered her two daughters to relieve his tension.  Charles picked Genevieve, also for many reasons, and Genevieve got pregnant, which would not do since Charles was married to someone else.  Besides, Charles and Genevieve ended up in a love-hate relationship.  It says they argued a lot.”

“One question,” Katie interrupted.  “What was Charles doing in Alemanni land?”

“Technically in Swabia, but on the corner of Swabia, Burgundy, and Alemanni land.  He was raising an army to invade Italy, that is, the Lombard kingdom.  The pope appealed to him to get back the papal lands now claimed by the Lombard king.”

“So, we are talking around 773,” Katie concluded, and Lincoln nodded to say that would be his guess.

“So, Genevieve is pregnant,” Boston grinned.  “We saw Margueritte get married and now we have Genevieve pregnant.  Good timing.”

“She is seventeen or eighteen,” Lincoln picked up the story.  “Anyway, Charles getting someone pregnant when he is married, and not married that long, and doesn’t want to upset his new wife who is busy giving birth is not a good thing.  His solution is to marry Genevieve off to Otto of Provence and blame the pregnancy on Otto”

“Otto of Provence?” Tony asked.

“Okay, Otto.  He was related to Pepin in some way, a cousin or something, and he fought for Pepin when Pepin was mayor and when Pepin became king of the Franks.  He gave good service, and when he was crippled so he walks with a cane, Pepin gave him the watch over Provence, made it a march so he could keep an eye on the Lombards in Italy and keep the Saracens—the Muslim Arabs out of southern Francia.  He is a Marquis or Margrave, depending on the language, which means march lord, kind of like Margueritte’s father.  He arrived around Breisach with a small contingent, leaving most of his troops at home ready to fall on Genoa or wherever Charles wanted them.  Charles would take the men, but said Otto still had Saracen pirates all along the coast and was needed in Provence.”

“He was not going to take the crippled old man on campaign in Italy,” Decker concluded.

Lincoln nodded.  “Genevieve was compensation.  Otto had an eight-year-old son, Leibulf, whose mother died in childbirth.  Apparently, that happened plenty in these days, but the man had been without a wife for the last eight years.”

“Wait a minute,” Boston interrupted.  “Genevieve is seventeen and she gets stuck with a fifty-year-old cripple with an eight-year-old son?  That is hardly fair or nice.”

“It was the way things were done,” Katie said, but Nanette shook her head at the idea.

“Doesn’t make it right,” Sukki agreed with Boston, but Alexis shrugged.

Lincoln nodded for Katie.  He was not going to argue.  “The bishop in Basel performs the ceremony.  I would guess that is where they are right now.”

“I wonder if Charlemagne is there,” Katie said.

“When is it, I mean the time of year?” Tony asked.

“Mid-spring,” Boston answered, being an elf and tuned into the seasons.  “About the end of April or early May.”

Tony shook his head.  “Spring planting is over.  He has probably gathered whatever auxiliary troops he is going to get and is on his way to Italy by now.”

“Well, I hope Otto is nice,” Nanette said, and smiled for Decker.  He tried hard to maintain a serious face.

“Feeling protective of the Kairos?” Alexis asked, and after the briefest moment, Nanette said that she did.

“I don’t blame you,” Katie agreed.

Lockhart stirred the fire.  “I remember back in the real world, the Men in Black headquarters got temporarily overrun with marines.  Fyodor, the pilot, had been with us about ten or maybe more years at that point and had seen the Kairos in action. I remember Alice, a newbie in the legal department followed the Kairos to a shed where Fyodor waited.  She took it upon herself to introduce everyone.  She said the big marine sergeant had assigned himself to be the Kairos’ bodyguard for the duration of the trouble.  I never saw Fyodor laugh so hard.  Like the Kairos, of all people, needs a bodyguard.  I swear, for the next hour Fyodor could not look at the big marine without laughing, just thinking about the Kairos needing a bodyguard.”

Boston giggled.  “I remember that…But all the same, I agree with Nanette.  This Otto better be nice.”