Margueritte cried out and concentrated her thoughts even while she held to the horse for dear life. She seemed to hear Lady LeFleur’s answer.
“I can control the broom if the young Squire and his page can hold your sister to her seat. I will see them safely home.” Then silence.
Margueritte grabbed the horse’s mane, but already she could smell the salt rising in the air. This was one of the horses of the deep and the waves who could often be heard crashing their hooves against the rocky shores and thundering along the beach. Very rarely, one broke free to wander across the land, looking for one to ride upon its’ back, forgetful of its’ place in the sea. A powerful magic, indeed, drew the innocent to try the steed, but once mounted, the horse remembered the weight of the sea on its’ shoulders and instantly sought to return to its’ proper place. Many a person had been brought to drown in the bottom of the sea for wanting to ride that beautiful creature.
“Is this it, then?” Margueritte wondered to herself. “Will this life be so short and snuffed out by the deeps in a wink.”
“No, little one.” Margueritte heard the answer echo to her down through the wind of time. The Danna herself spoke, and Margueritte began to cry for hope. Just as the horse touched hooves to waves, Margueritte was no longer there. Instead, Danna, a life from ever so long ago, traded places with her, and the goddess simply let the horse swim free.
Since it remained Margueritte’s lifetime, Danna’s first thought of Elsbeth and Tomberlain, but even as she thought of them, the goddess knew they were safe. Her next though turned to Little White Flower as Danna disappeared from the surface of the sea and appeared in the grotto of the fee where all the little ones bowed to acknowledge her presence. Lord Yellow Leaf had already scolded his daughter, but Danna had another concern.
“I fear if Little White Flower is taken from Elsbeth’s company at this time it will truly hurt her heart. Elsbeth is very young and such a bond should not be lightly broken,” Danna said. She thought the wisdom of letting such a bond form in the first place was another matter.
Little White Flower looked hopeful. She was also attached to the girl. Lord Yellow Leaf paused to consider. He dressed in a long green robe and looked like a lord of the Breton but for the darker hue of his skin and a bear claw necklace with which he was reluctant to part.
“I will bow to the wishes of my goddess,” he said. “But only after Little White Flower has done her penance.” Danna raised her eyebrows. “Is that not the right word?” Yellow Leaf asked.
“It is,” Danna confirmed. “This is a new world we live in. The old ways have passed away. My children have gone over to the other side. The new has come, and even I do not belong here, now. Lady LeFleur.” The fairy queen appeared as if summoned, which she was. “I forgive you for disturbing my husband’s festival. The old ways have passed away,” she repeated. “Now no harm will befall you for your actions.”
Lady LeFleur could not contain herself. She rushed forward and put her little hands on Danna’s cheek and kissed her goddess with her tears. Danna was pleased, but not finished.
“It would be a good thing to let Goldenrod continue to visit with Margueritte some in her youth,” she said. “My presence in her place will be dim in her memory. As I said, I do not belong here.” And she vanished from there, appeared in Margueritte’s room, and paused only for a second to repair the nightgown with a thought, even down to the last stitch, before she let go of that time and stood as Marguerite once again.
Margueritte saw the door to her room still open and her mother standing in the doorway. “Elsbeth. Tomberlain,” Margueritte said, without asking.
“Asleep,” Lady Brianna answered. She came into the room and took Margueritte’s hand, and together they sat on Margueritte’s bed.
Margueritte looked down and told the whole adventure, beginning with what the Don heard from Little White Flower’s mouth. “Little White flower should never have spoken of it in the first place, but after that, Elsbeth cried so hard and became so miserable, what could she do?”
Lady Brianna looked briefly in the direction of Elsbeth’s room. “Yes, she can be hard-headed when she wants something. She has a terrible stubborn streak.”
Margueritte went on and paused only when Danna came into the picture.
“I saw her,” Lady Brianna said and squeezed her daughter’s hand. Then, with tears, Margueritte told the rest, and then she had to explain about being born again and again.
“How many times?” Brianna asked.
“A hundred and three.” A voice spoke from the still open window. Goldenrod had rushed to the manor after Danna had vanished from the glen.
Lady Brianna stiffened a little, but softened again as Margueritte began to cry great, big tears. “But Mother,” Margueritte said. “You don’t understand. Each time I have to start all over again and it is hard. I’ll never get it right. And then I hurt. Mother I go through all the pain. Mother I die, but I never get to go to heaven.” She became racked with tears, part fright from her experience, part exhaustion, and part self-pity, though only a little part, and her Mother held her and rocked her until the crying subsided.
Lady Brianna put Margueritte in her bed and covered her. “Well, this time you are my daughter,” she said at last and kissed Margueritte’s forehead. “And you will always have my love and prayers and help in any way I can with this burden that the Almighty, in his wisdom, has laid upon you. Do not be afraid, and don’t forget to count your blessings before you sleep.” She turned to Goldenrod. “And you, little lady. The next time you see your mother, be sure and thank her for me. God willing, I may be able to repay her someday.”
There came a second time when Goldenrod helped Margueritte that summer, though it did not seem nearly so serious a matter. Maven had just left the pasture and Margueritte and her growing hound settled in for an afternoon of fun. Goldenrod had long since gotten over her fear of the beast and had taken to sometimes riding in her little size on Puppy’s shoulders, like a cowgirl might ride the back of a horse, the only difference being that they rounded up sheep rather than cattle. Margueritte always laughed at such times and watched the two of them stumbling around, yelling and whooping and barking and tending to confuse the sheep more than anything else. On that day, however, Goldenrod barely finished her thimble of milk when she dashed to the treetop to hide in the leaves.
“What is it?” Margueritte asked with some concern as Puppy also stood and began to look in a certain direction and pant.
“Horses.” Goldenrod’s whisper barely reached Margueritte’s ears. “And two men with them.” She pointed in the direction Puppy faced.
“Come out!” Margueritte yelled, only a little afraid that they might be robbers. “You’ve been seen. You might as well show yourselves.” Silence followed, before they heard the whinny of a horse. Gradually, two men stepped from the edge of the woods, led their horses and argued about it. Margueritte recognized Roan and Morgan and frowned.
“You’ve been spying on me.” Margueritte stood and accused them forthrightly.
“No,” Roan lied.
“Yes,” Morgan said at the same time.
“You didn’t have to tell her that,” Roan yelled at his partner.
Morgan just smiled. “I had an uncle once who lied about things like that,” he said, with certainty in his grin. Roan did not ask.
“Chief Brian has told us to fetch you. He has heard strange tidings and said he wants to see you,” Roan said.
“Tell him to bring his fatness to the triangle.” Margueritte got rather rude and miffed at being spied on. “I have nothing to hide. And anyway, you must speak to my father first before I can say anything.”
“Nope,” Morgan said.
“Chief Brian does not want your father involved,” Roan explained as he stopped a couple of steps away. Puppy began to growl. “You get the dog. I’ll get the girl.”
“What am I supposed to do with it once I’ve got it?” Morgan asked.
“Do with what?”
Roan frowned and turned back to face Margueritte even as Goldenrod from overhead sprinkled golden dust on Margueritte’s head. Margueritte began to fade from sight along with Puppy. Even then Roan might have grabbed her if he did not have to stop and sneeze. By the time he got his nose under control, Margueritte got out of reach and became completely invisible.
“Do I still have to get the dog now that it’s invisible?” Morgan asked. He could pinpoint the dog, more or less, because Puppy kept barking.
“Fool,” Roan said. “Find the girl.” They began to reach out and walk slowly first one way then the other.
“I never had to find an invisible girl before,” Morgan said. “Though I had a grandfather who was pretty good at disappearing.”
That did it. Roan hit Morgan on the head, as hard as he could. Puppy took that violent act as an invitation, jumped up and clamped down on that arm which caused Roan to fight and scream. “Get it off! Get it off!”
“Let go Puppy.” Margueritte raised her voice which risked giving her location away. Puppy let go but continued to bark. Roan and Morgan paused to look in the direction of Margueritte’s voice, but she had already circled around behind Morgan. She reached down behind his pants, which tickled him a bit, and pulled his underthings as far up his back as she could.
“Woohoooo!” Morgan squealed.
“Tricky fixy, bees to sixty.” An invisible Goldenrod joined the fun and buzzed around Roan’s head like a whole hive of bees.
“Let’s get out of here.” Roan yelled as Marguerite began to giggle. She couldn’t help it. Roan grabbed his skittish horse and mounted, and so did Morgan, but not before Puppy took a snap at the back of his pants and tore them all the way to his leg. They rode off as fast as their horses could carry them safely through the woods, and the girls collapsed in laughter. Puppy licked them both.
When Margueritte told her father that evening what happened, he did not find it so funny, and that became the end of Margueritte’s days as a shepherdess.
The same year Elsbeth danced came to be called the year of the unicorn. Monday. Happy Reading