M3 Margueritte: The Maiden and the Dragon, part 4 of 4

It took four days before Aden and Jennifer could be located, and three more before Thomas of Evandell sent word that he would be along shortly.  Several days later, they gathered at the Triangle, and by then, Owien raced home, trying to keep up with Tomberlain and Roland.  By then, of course, it was far too late.

Margueritte got taken rudely from her cart at the base of the long hill.  Her hands remained tied, but the gag came off, and had been for most of the last part of the journey.  It hardly mattered.  Margueritte had nothing to say.

“I had rather hoped we would see evidence of your friends before now.”  Finnian McVey said, and looked down on her from horseback.

Margueritte looked up at him and squinted against the morning sun; but her mouth remained closed.

“I was afraid it would come to this,” Canto said.  “She will not give you what you want, so now what will you do?”

“Follow through,” McVey sneered.  “That is where most men fail.  The threat just whets the appetite.  It’s the follow through that gets them.”  He waved to Roan and Morgan who took Margueritte’s arms and began to escort her up the nearest hill.

It seemed to Margueritte that Canto might be having second thoughts.  The men were all looking about, and looking up, and the horses had seemed skittish for the last several miles.  Roan and Morgan looked positively frightened to death to be so close to the dragon’s lair, and they barely held on to their charge as they climbed the path that had been well worn over the last eighteen months.

Canto and McVey dismounted and followed.  They seemed less concerned about the danger.  Canto imagined he knew something about dragons, and no doubt banked on the wisdom that the druids had gleaned over the centuries.  McVey rather banked on the odds, believing that he could escape while the dragon paused to eat someone else first.

“You druids have always been a bloody lot,” McVey said.  “You should have no problem with a single human sacrifice.”

“This is not the sacrifice of an enemy dedicated to the gods,” Canto responded.  “But I believe I understand your attitude at last.”

“Oh?”  McVey never thought of himself as being transparent.

“Yes,” Canto said.  “If you cannot get the spirits of the earth to serve you, you are determined to see that no one should have them.”  He said what Margueritte thought.

McVey stopped, so they all stopped.  “Those are your wards, not mine,” he drawled, not exactly denying the accusation.  “But if this bothers yeh so much, yeh can go down and make sure the men are ready.”

Canto paused, glanced once in Margueritte’s direction before he returned to the base of the hill.  McVey made the others finish the climb to the top.

They found a rock-strewn place at the top of the hill and a hole in the hillside which smelled unmistakably of dragon.  No doubt, there was plenty of gold in that hillside as well, but no one would be foolish enough to try and fetch it.  Margueritte got dragged to where two iron rings had been driven into a rock face.  How anyone stuck around long enough to secure the rings without becoming dragon lunch was beyond Margueritte, but clearly, they were there for the sacrifices.  Roan and Morgan secured her hands to the rings, Morgan said, “Sorry, sorry,” because of the ropes, and then they backed away quickly.  He did not wait for McVey to give the order.

“Be that way then,” Finnian McVey said to her.  “Though you’re a skinny little thing, hardly a snack for the beast I imagine.”  He took one long look around, not at the cave, but at the hilltop and rocks, believing his eyes might see any elves or dwarfs hiding there.  Truth is, they might have been there all around, but his human eyes would never perceive them, and Margueritte would never ask them to manifest in the dragon’s mouth.  McVey turned without another word and stomped off, not so much as giving Margueritte another look.

There followed one moment when Margueritte heard the rumbling in the cave and McVey still looked visible; but with the sound he picked up his pace and soon became lost from sight.  That gave Margueritte the moment she needed.  She had to act fast.  She cried out for her armor, and it came and fitted itself perfectly to her size and shape—the same armor that once perfectly fitted Gerraint, and Festuscato in his day.  With this, she thought to her Athena woven cape and the cape responded.  It grew longer until it touched the ground, wrapped itself around her and raised the hood up by itself which also grew large enough to completely cover her face.  She remembered that Athena had told the Princess in ages past that the cape was fireproof, and indeed, many things proof.  It seemed better hope than none, though unfortunately, there was no way it could stretch sideways to cover her arms and hands, spread out and tied as they were.

“Ankh.”  She heard the beast close by.  She shouted out in the Agdaline tongue as fast and as loud as she could.

“No fire!  Do no harm!  Friend, friend!  No eating, no fire!  Do no harm!”  She wondered if it would do any good. “No fire!  Do no harm!  Friend, friend!”  Margueritte yelled.  She felt a snout touch her side.  She squeezed her eyes tight and barely kept from screaming.  Then there came the fire.  She felt the heat.  Her left hand became aflame, but quickly came free of the rope.  She did scream.  The snout came again and sniffed at her and blew her hood up ever so slightly with hot air.  The hood fell back in place, but not before she saw the bulk of the beast.  It looked larger than she remembered.

Margueritte pulled her hand inside her cloak and tried to examine it, carefully.  Her glove and wrist guard prevented the worst, but the tips of her fingers were badly singed and would no doubt blister.  “No fire!”  She kept screaming.  “No eating!  No fire!”

Then one nostril of the beast poked under her hood and pushed the hood behind her head.  Margueritte bit her tongue before she saw something which explained a great deal.  “Mother.”  She said in Agdaline.  “Mother!  Mother.”  She saw a little, feathered serpent as long as her leg flitting beside its mother’s outstretched wing.  The dragon took a deep whiff of Margueritte before it raised its’ head.

“Baby.”  The dragon responded in Agdaline.

Three more babies roughly as long as the first came up beside that first, and Marguerite could see in the distance that there were perhaps five more.  “Mother!”  Margueritte said again.  “Protecting and defending your babies.”

“Protect.  Defend,” the dragon responded.  “Baby.”

“Feeding your babies.”  Margueritte continued in the Agdaline without realizing it.  Some internal prompts were coming through time.

“Feed babies.”  The mother dragon spoke and Margueritte gulped.

“Sheep,” she said quickly and waved her burnt hand in the direction away from the cave.  “Sheep.  Cows.”  She suggested quickly.

The dragon faced her again and came close, to take one more, long sniff.  “Baby,” it said.

“Mother.”  Margueritte responded and tried not to scream again.

“Sheep.”  The dragon said, and jumped to flight, let her wings out suddenly and flapped with all her might.  It made a bit of a whirlwind which scattered her own babies.  Margueritte felt sure it would have knocked her to the ground if she was not still tied by one hand.  The dragon shadow made a circle on the ground as the beast went once around for a last look before it set off on the hunt.

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MONDAY

Apparently, Margueritte is now a dragon baby.  Don’t miss next week when Margueritte, Mother, and the babies all take a turn in Protect, Defend.  Until then, Happy Reading

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M3 Margueritte: The Maiden and the Dragon, part 2 of 4

Canto came in, followed by Morgan with his usual foolish grin, and Roan, who looked mean and serious.  They were followed by Finnian McVey, who smiled like the Cheshire Cat.

“Margueritte, dahrlin’,” The Irishman drawled.  “So good to see you again.”  His accent was positively honey-dripping.  He took the other chair.  “I am sure you would have some kind word of greeting for me as well, but I see your tongue is a little tied right now.”  He thought he was so funny.  She turned away from him, contempt in her eyes, but he grabbed her chin and turned her face back.

“I thought you might be interested in what has been happening at Caern Long since you’ve been away,” he said.  That caught her attention.  She assumed the dragon had simply gone to sleep, and that it would probably sleep for several years if not decades.  “Ah.  I see you are interested.  Well, it is this way, if I may do the tellin’.”  He took a moment to get comfortable before he went on.

“When the king refused to do anything about the beast, the people in all this part of the country got together and talked about what we could do.  They had a parlay, you might say.  Someone suggested it might be a good idea to simply take food to Caern Long and feed the beast.  That way they might keep their homes and farms flame free, if you understand.  Then someone else reminded everyone about all the missing children, and they decided that the beast must have developed a taste for such.”  He shrugged.

Margueritte’s eyes got big.

“Of course, no one would give up their sons, so it has been eighteen young garls in eighteen months.”  Margueritte shut her eyes tight and turned her head away, repulsed by what she heard.  Sheep would have been fine, she thought.  She did not want to think about it.

“Oh, I argued against it.  Truly,” McVey said quickly.  “But in a room full of stupid, stubborn farmers.”  He shrugged again.  “Most villages and towns cast lots.  I suppose that is fair, but you know, Vergen has yet to make a contribution.”

Margueritte’s eyes got big again, and Finnian McVey’s countenance changed suddenly from calm and conversational to hard and cruel.  “You know what I want,” he said.  “But perhaps you will ask the wee folk to help you out.”  He shrugged again, but Margueritte surmised he hoped she would.  He undoubtedly had some plan to capture a little one and hold it prisoner.  She dared not call for their help, even if she had a voice.  She would never willingly put her little ones in danger.

The men left.  She cried, but only a little as she thought hard about how she might escape this fate.  She could think of nothing, not even when Canto came back near nightfall with some bread, soup, and cider.  Roan untied her hands, rather roughly, and Morgan removed the gag and they waited outside.

“I am not sure this is wise,” Canto started right up.  “I am not sure it will get us what we want.  I see a penchant for self-sacrifice in you; longsuffering as Aden the Convert calls it.”

“And what of Chief Brian?” she asked, wondering how far this plot reached.

“Brian has no part in this.  In fact, he has ordered us to stay out of it,” Canto said.  He sat carefully on the other chair.  “In truth, Brian has refused to participate in the sacrifices.  Vergen would never make a contribution if it was strictly up to him.”

Good for Brian, Margueritte thought.  “So, I suppose Duredain is behind this.”

“No, actually, the king’s man has no idea about this, any more than the king.  I doubt they even know about the sacrifices.  People understand you have to keep quiet about such a thing.”  Canto started being so friendly and open, Margueritte became suspicious.  “Of course, my brother in wisdom would no doubt be pleased to have a good person of his own, not to harm the creature, mind you, but for purposes of study; that sort of thing.  No.  This is Finnian McVey’s idea, and though I don’t know how wise it may be, you know how persuasive he can be.  I must also warn you.  He is very determined to get what he wants.  There is not much I can do to help you.”

Margueritte pushed her supper away and Canto called.  She thought if she could escape the room, somehow, perhaps Chief Brian could give her sanctuary.  Surely Brian was wise enough to not want the dragon on his head; but then being closest to the border he would not want the Franks on his head, either.

Morgan came in and retied her hands.  He was not very gentle about it, but he had the decency to say, “Sorry, sorry,” when she complained.  Then McVey came crashing into the room followed by Roan.  Canto quickly got between them.

“Why did you feed her?”  McVey said, rudely.  “She should have gone hungry to sharpen her thinking.”  Roan, meanwhile, tried to put the gag back on her, but he stopped when McVey reached out, grabbed her chin, and drew his face close to hers.  “A shame to waste such prime female flesh when it hasn’t even had a chance to know what it is good for.”  He looked like he might force a kiss on her, but Margueritte stared at him with such a bold hardness in her eyes, he hesitated.  Canto drew the Irishman back.

“She is still a young lady,” Canto said.  “Whatever else she may be.”

McVey snapped his hand from her chin, scratching her with his nails, and he appeared to turn his anger toward the druid.  Margueritte, though her jaw hurt, nevertheless had a thought which made her smile.

“Good cop, bad cop,” she said, knowingly, even as Roan finally replaced her gag.  She stood up, still smiling to the amazement of all present, lay down on the army blanket, turned her back on them all, and dared them to disturb her.  After a moment, she heard the door close and she knew she was alone.

M3 Margueritte: Rapunzel Set Free, part 3 of 3

Curdwallah chose that moment to come around the side of the tower.  “No!”  She raged when she saw Margueritte free of her prison.  Roland pulled his sword, ready for battle, but Margueritte, with her head in her hand, blinking her eyes from the strain of everything rushing back at her at once, shouted.

“Wait.  No, wait.”  She shook her head.

Thomas tried to sit up and Margueritte scooted back on her knees a little to oblige.

“But why?”  Thomas asked in a small voice, his wind still coming in gasps.

Curdwallah paused.  “My true god, Abraxas, would not let me kill her.  He said she would just be reborn and come back to haunt us.  In the tower, she might live her whole life and we could invoke the plan without interference.

“But now your plan is done,” Roland said.

“I think not.”  Curdwallah eyed him and his sword closely.  With that, Curdwallah began to grow.  In no time, she became ogre sized and her face, hands and legs appeared covered with fur, while her tent-like clothes became too tight.  “I think not,” she said again in a voice a whole octave lower.

Roland slashed out with his sword, but the Curdwallah beast moved supernaturally fast.  She avoided the sword and struck Roland before he could recover.  She hit him hard in the chest.  Roland flew back and slammed against the wall of the tower where he slumped down, dazed.

Catspaw had her hands full calming the terrified horses.  Thomas still could not get to his feet.  Margueritte shrieked, but she grabbed on to the one thought that haunted her while the drooling beast started toward Roland, her prey.

“You are not my mother,” she said, and she pointed accusingly.  Without her knowing why, something like blue lightening, like electricity poured out of her hand.  It was the power given to Bodanagus, her genetic reflection, and it echoed in her.  It struck Curdwallah who arched her back and howled, and it kept coming while the beast began to shake and dance like a person being electrocuted.  Slowly, the beast shrank again until she collapsed, like a criminal struck with a massive Taser.  She still wiggled from the shock when a recovered Roland drove his sword into her heart.  Then he rushed to Margueritte who cried in his arms for what seemed like the longest time.

“I love you,” Roland said, but Margueritte did not really hear as she passed in and out of consciousness.

Boom!

Thomas kicked open the door to the first floor of the tower.  “Aeugh!”  He sounded repulsed and turned quickly away from the sight.  Someone invisible handed him a torch.  He threw it in without looking again, and they all waited until the tower was well in flames.

“Come on,” Roland said.  He mounted his horse, the half-conscious Margueritte cradled gently in his arms.

“The children,” Thomas said.

“I guessed as much,” Roland responded, and he started to walk his horse away from there.

“So did I.”  Grimly said.  Grimly handed Thomas the torch.

“No, you never guessed,” Catspaw objected.

“Did too,” Grimly said.

Thomas whistled for their attention before they started a good row.  “Where’s Lord Barth?”

“Had to fetch him and Squire Tomberlain from Vergenville.  Sorry we were late, but we should find them on the road in about an hour or so.”

“On the road?”  Catspaw questioned.

“I came on ahead,” Grimly admitted.  “I got worried.  I love my Lady.”

“So do I.” Catspaw nodded.

“So do I,” Roland said, quietly.

It took all day to get Margueritte home and into her own bed.  She stayed delirious most of the time, and at times she passed out altogether; but sometimes she seemed lucid enough to give everyone hope.  Jennifer suggested Doctor Pincher and Brianna tried to call him as Margueritte had done, but she got no response.  Finally, she held her daughter’s hand, stomped her foot, lifted her eyes toward heaven, and shouted for the Doctor.

“Here.  Here.”  Doctor Pincher appeared and gave the impression that he had some ringing in his ears.  Lady Brianna quickly explained, and she felt a little surprised the Doctor did not already know all about it.  To this, the Doctor explained something in return.

“You must understand, the Kairos dies.  She is reborn, to be sure, but who is to say how long or short a given life may be.  It is not our place to interfere with that process, even for those of us who may be devoted to her.  She is only human, after all, and in ages past that was one of the main reasons we agreed to have her as a goddess over us all.” Brianna felt astonished by what she heard, but the Doctor consoled her.  “Then again, there is no reason why she should not have first-rate medical treatment, just like any other human might have.  Let me examine the patient.”  He said this as he threw everyone else out of the room and only let her mother stay.

After a while he gave his prognosis.  “There is nothing I can really do.  She is healthy enough, though undernourished.  Her trouble appears to be raging in her mind.  All the same, I see no reason why she should not make a full recovery.  Rest is what she needs, and time.  The Kairos has resources in time which can help far better than I can, even if they may be the partial cause of her present distress.  Rest is the best.  Give her some time, and some chicken soup to see that she is properly nourished.”

“Thank you.  I will.”  Lady Brianna smiled.  “But, oh!”  She interrupted her smile.  “I don’t know how to send you home.”

“Quite all right.”  Doctor Pincher stood while she remained seated.  That put them about eye to eye.  “I am way overdue for a good vacation.  I think I may look around, and perhaps come by here in a week or so to see how my patient is doing.”

“You are so kind.”  Lady Brianna stood as they went out to tell the news to the others.

“I know,” Doctor Pincher said.  “She ruined me when she was Gerraint, or rather, the Lady Greta.  I’ve had no desire for anything but to help people ever since.”  He shrugged and Brianna looked at him once more.  She would never have guessed he was that old.

The next morning, Doctor Pincher walked down the road toward Paris in the company of Roland and Tomberlain, who had been given over to be Roland’s squire.  Lord Barth had taken on Owien since Sir Gilles got too old for such a thing and his dragon busted arm never quite healed right.  They had all waited that morning to be sure Margueritte passed a quiet night, and indeed, she slept well and woke up hungry.  Now, Brianna and Bartholomew stood in the manor door and watched them ride away.

“Lord!”  Barth spoke.  “I bet there will be a real blow in Belgium.  I’ll be sorry to miss it.”

Brianna gave him a love tap on his chest to chide his remark and get his attention.  “I’ll be worried day and night as it is about Tomberlain,” she said.  “I’ll not let you go to get yourself killed at our age.  Whatever would I do?”

Barth smiled.  “Yes, well I still have the girls to watch over.  By the way, where is Elsbeth?”

“I believe she and Owien chose to take an early morning ride,” Brianna said.

“Oh, they did?”  Barth looked up at the barn and stepped down from the front stoop.  “I think I may have a talk with that boy.”

Brianna was about to say something else when they heard the bell ringing from Margueritte’s room.  “I’ll get it,” was what she ended up saying.

Barth started toward the barn and mumbled.  “Yes, I believe it is time that boy and I had a little talk.”

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MONDAY

One happy ending, but…  Well, the dragon is still out there, if you recall.  Until Monday.

Happy Reading

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M3 Margueritte: Backed into a Corner, part 2 of 3

One little one did come up to Margueritte.  “We don’t hold with slavery neither,” he said, before he vanished into the woods.

“Of course,” Margueritte said.  That was one of her rules.  Then Roland got there to help her up while a whole crowd had gathered because of her cry.  They all laughed hard, with the great guffaws of her father sounding out above all.  Finnian, to preserve what remained of his dignity, pulled up his pants, only to hear them tear at the seam.  He had a smiley face painted on the butt of his slacks, and yes, the sign pinned to the back of his jerkin said, “Kick me”, in three languages.

Margueritte still giggled when she reached the inn to change for the night’s festivities.

The king’s house seemed festive, but on entering, she felt the air of tension underneath it all.  They had music, and though a couple of tunes were danceable, for the most part they were not.  Margueritte felt sure it was deliberate so as not to encourage the queen.  She thought it must have been nearly impossible for the musicians to fill a night with Breton music to which one could not dance.  They had food, also in abundance, and spread around numerous tables where one could help themselves whenever the urge might strike.

All felt wonderful, and Margueritte found herself quite shy despite being with Roland who became very gregarious and outgoing.  He seemed to know a lot of people for having been in town for all of a day and a half, and the ones he did not know seemed to know him.  They mostly knew Margueritte as well, but in part her embarrassment came from being called such a sweet girl and, “My how you’ve grown,” and “You’re quite the young lady now.”  She knew she was only fifteen, but they did not have to treat her that way.  When she had just about had enough, her mother became her refuge and for a minute she wished she was back at the inn with Elsbeth and Squire Tomberlain.

Roland, for all his desire to be with her, kept so easily being dragged away by the men.  She told him, at last, to go and enjoy, and he did until the time came and the chamberlain called for quiet.  Roland stood beside Margueritte when the people attended the king.  The king sat in his place on the dais, and the queen beside him, but a bit further away and a bit lower than before.  Finnian filled the gap to the king’s left, and at the moment, he looked around the room with his hardest stare in case anyone should be tempted to smile in his direction.  Duredain stood to the king’s right, and he leaned over to whisper and the king then remembered.

“Gentlemen,” the king said.  “My lords.”  He paused.  “And ladies.”  He added.  “I have received correspondence from Charles, Aid decamp of the Franks.  He has suggested that Lord Ahlmored may pose a threat to our fair country.”  The king laughed and most of the Breton lords laughed with him.  Ahlmored, most not knowing him dead, had become the butt of quite a few jokes since his sudden departure.  The king waved for silence.  “Nevertheless, Lord Durin has volunteered to take a ride to the south coast a week hence.  When he returns, having sighted no African sails, I will return correspondence that we have indeed had our eyes on the coast.”  Most of the Lords snickered again as Lord Durin stepped briefly into the center and waved to all.

Duredain whispered in the king’s ear and the king waved him off, like he did not need to be reminded.  “Now as for this dragon,” he began, and many in the court smiled but those who knew became still and serious.  “I am not convinced there is such a beast.  I believe rather it is a petty chief or robbers, cleverly disguised.  Dragon stories are all around these days what with Beowulf and the stories around George the Saxon.  I say, we leave the dragon stories to the Danes and Germans.  Let us be more sensible about these matters, and let my petty chieftains settle their own squabbles as they see fit.”

“But I’ve seen it,” one man’s voice rang out.

“No, my Lord,” the king countered.  “I am not sure what you saw was really what it was.  I did say, cleverly disguised intentions.  Mark me, someone is growing rich off your delusions.  You must find the real culprit, and not bother me with such nonsense.”

“But.”

“Enough!”  The king’s rage flared for a moment as he slapped the arms of his chair and rose to his feet.  He calmed and sat.  “I’ll not speak of it anymore, as it will merely distract from the real joy of this day.”  With this, the queen, even in her lowly position, sat up a little straighter in her chair.

“Judon,” the king called.  If someone stood in the wings, they did not respond.  “David!”  The king tried again, and slowly a young boy poked his head around the curtain.  One could almost feel the push his nanny gave him as he stumbled, recovered, and walked slowly like one overawed by the gallant lords and ladies that surrounded him.  At last the king grabbed the boy around the middle and pretended affection.  The boy did not resist, but he never took his eyes off the crowd.  He looked scared, and almost like a child who could cry at any moment, though surely, he was too old for that.

“His mother calls him David,” the king said patently ignoring the queen.  “I objected at first, but I understand this David was a great king in his day, and a valiant warrior.  His name, though, is Judon and by royal decree three weeks gone, Wednesday, I have declared him my son and heir.”  Many present were not surprised, and of those who were, most were accepting.  A short round of applause went up.  Margueritte thought it very short.

M3 Margueritte: Roland, part 2 of 3

Roland looked up and Marguerite turned, both having rather silly smiles, just as Hammerhead stuck all six potatoes in his mouth at once and chewed and announced.  “These are good to eat.”  Margueritte barely stopped him before he disgorged his chewed bits into the good bin.

She thanked the little ones and asked them to see if Luckless or Tomberlain might need their assistance.

“Always glad to be of service,” Grimly said, and Roland rolled up his sleeves and helped.

“That gnome still has a lot of imp in him,” Margueritte said, and that sparked a good discussion, but the kiss they both thought about never got mentioned.

When the evening came. Marta came to Margueritte’s room where she helped brush Margueritte’s hair.  That near black hair, when taken down, now fell to the floor which made it more than five feet long.  Marta had begun to help her care for it, though she also bore the brunt of nearly every other duty in the house.  Margueritte was grateful, and they were both rather giddy that night, though Margueritte became a bit miffed by bedtime.  She could hardly get a word in about Roland.  Marta kept talking about her Weldig, the potter, whom she called, Mister Potter.  And every time Margueritte did mention something, it only reminded Marta of something else.  Marta was not long for this world, Margueritte reminded herself, and she reconciled herself to having good dreams, which she did.

By the time they reached Vergenville that next day, Margueritte felt rather grumpy.  She knew what was going on, physically, but she thought the timing rather poor.  While she waited at the inn for Roland to deliver his letters to the king, all the talk around her was of the dragon.  The people hoped that now that the king had come from his western court, something might be done about this scourge.

“I heard it was as big as a tower,” one said.

“Big as the whole village,” another countered.

“I heard it ate a whole fishing boat in one gulp, fisherman and all,” one said.

“A whole fishing fleet,” yet another spoke.

“It’s big, but not that big,” Lord Bartholomew turned to the table.

“You’ve seen it then,” the baron concluded.

“I have,” Sir Barth nodded, and stopped Margueritte’s hand.  “No,” he said.

“Father.”  She complained, rolled her eyes, but acquiescing in the end.  She contented herself with unfermented cider, though she thought she ought to be able to try the harder stuff.

“Bartholomew.”  Lady Brianna called from the doorway.  Owien stood there, and Elsbeth was going, too.  Bartholomew stood and downed his drink at once.

“Coming,” he said.  “Time for the Fens.”

“But I thought the king said you were not supposed to do that anymore,” Baron Bernard questioned, with a smile.

Bartholomew shrugged.  “Young Owien has so been looking forward to handing out the soap, I hate to disappoint the boy,” he said.

“You’re not going this year?”  The Baron asked after they left.  Margueritte shook her head.  “Oh, that’s right.  Your young man.”

“I bet he gets to drink the real stuff,” she said, in an attempt to not turn red at the thought of her young man.

“You had better wish he doesn’t like the stuff,” the baron suggested, as Constantus came crashing in the door, all but swearing.

“Don’t bother,” Baron Bernard said.  “Bartholomew’s gone to the Fens.”

Constantus calmed down instantly, got a drink and took a seat with his friend.  “That dragon got my Gray Ghost.”

“Ah!”  The Baron smiled, knowingly.

“It didn’t.”  Margueritte felt concerned.  Constantus looked up and patted her hand reassuringly.

“It was the Gray Ghost number two,” he said.  “And really too old to be racing again.  The truth is Gray Ghost number three is not ready.  Still too young.”

“Too young?”  The Baron asked.

“Yes, and not a true gray in any case.”

“Too bad,” Margueritte said.  “Father has been breeding Arabians to get a winner, and now he’ll never know.”  They all had a little chuckle at that thought.

Not long after that, Roland returned with the bard, Thomas of Evandell.  Margueritte slid down the bench so Roland could sit comfortably beside her, and then he, the bard, the baron and Lord Constantus had a grand old time all around her.

At last, Marguerite sighed, and Roland got the hint.  “I think it would be good to see this fair of yours, Thomas,” he said.  He rose-up and put his empty tankard which had been full of ale on the bar counter, and Thomas rose with him.  “And would my lady like to accompany us?”  Roland added.

Margueritte rose immediately.  She said nothing but merely took Roland’s arm, and then Thomas’ arm as well for balance.  Together, they went into the market fair.  Thomas said, “Well I’ll be,” more than once, because as long as he held Margueritte’s arm, he saw what she and Roland saw.  Every little one, every sprite, elf, dwarf and fee in the market area, though otherwise invisible to the people, came and paid their respects to the girl before they began to pilfer their little bits.  Odd, though, that Thomas was not truly amazed, nor the least bit frightened by it all.  He said he could not tell all those stories for all of those years without believing at least some of them.  He did ask, however, why they could see the sprites when no one else could and why the little spirits were so careful to pay their respects to Margueritte.

“Isn’t it obvious?” Roland teased.  “Clearly my lady’s charms surpass those of other, ordinary mortals.”

Margueritte struggled and at last produced the littlest burp.  “Excuse me, Gentlemen,” she said, and Roland fell over for laughing.

When they came to the end of the royal fair, they found a small gypsy camp had been set up.  Margueritte thought it odd that there were no little ones among the gypsies, but she said nothing to the others.  She felt reluctant to enter the area herself, but with some persuasion she came along, and the first place they came to, was a tent with an older woman who claimed she could tell fortunes in a man’s palm.

M3 Margueritte: Burning Questions, part 3 of 3

A commotion could be heard in the fields as men ran, and many pointed when the creature circled in low.  Fortunately, the creature chose a back corner of the far quarter, by the Vergen forest to set down.  It did not look, from that distance, nearly as big as its’ shadow, but no one doubted what it could do.  It flamed the grain in that corner before setting down.

Margueritte and Elsbeth came to the edge of the wood, laughing and sighing for the stories they told and heard from Goldenrod’s storehouse of stories.  Some of them were about the Kairos, the Traveler in Time, and that embarrassed Margueritte a little.  She reminded Goldenrod that she was not supposed to talk about lives which Margueritte could not herself remember, but Goldenrod said they were elf perfected stories, so who knew how much of them was true.  Margueritte accepted that and listened while Goldenrod told about the three dwarfs at the bottom of the well.

“They should have been named Moe, Larry and Curly,” Margueritte said, even as Goldenrod became very agitated.

“What is it?” Elsbeth asked.

“Roan and Morgan again?”  Margueritte wondered because that was the only other time she saw Goldenrod in such a state.

“Worser,” Goldenrod insisted, and she flew into Elsbeth’s hair to hide.  “Dragon.” Her voice sounded barely above a whisper.  As if on cue, Margueritte’s horse reared up and Elsbeth’s horse stepped back from the field and shook her head vigorously, so both girls had a hard time staying up and keeping control of their mares.

“Get down.”  Margueritte commanded when she could, and Elsbeth did not argue. The horses, well trained, did not run, but they did step further from the edge of the woods.  The girls quickly tied them to keep from losing them, and none too soon as even then the dragon came to land in a great ball of fire.  The smoke and the acrid, acid smell came instantaneously, before the mere smell of burning grain and charcoal.  The beast roared once.  It sounded ear splitting.  Then something happened which shocked Margueritte to no end.  The beast spoke.  It said only one word.  “Hungry.”  It spoke in a strange tongue, and it looked to snatch up a horse from the edge of the trees.  The horse got cooked in an instant, and with great jaws and almost useless front claws the horse got quartered.  These bite-sized morsels were then taken into the worm’s mouth rapidly, one after the other, to become four lumps in the worm’s throat.  Margueritte watched the worm undulating to swallow the lumps as far as it could.

“Where did that horse come from?”  Elsbeth asked.  She peeked around Margueritte’s shoulder.  “Owien,” she shrieked.  The master at arms could not be seen, but Marguerite guessed he got injured and dragged somewhere behind a tree by the boy who now knelt behind his master’s shield, facing the dragon, with his master’s sword pointed up, though he could barely lift it.

“Stay here!”  Margueritte commanded her sister like she never before commanded anything.  Not that it would do any good, she thought, as she turned back toward her own horse.

Margueritte reached out in time, not for the Danna who said this was not the place for her, and neither for Gerraint, though he was a great warrior in his way, but for Festuscato, the Roman Senator who came north in the days just before Rome fell to the Goths and Vandals.  Festuscato had some practical experience with dragons.

“And several saints.”  She heard the words clearly in her head, paused and closed her eyes.  She went away, and Festuscato took her place, dressed not in her dress, but in the armor he called from home.  That armor was a gift of the gods and the last made before the time of dissolution, and the sword called Fate was one of the two that came after Caliburn.  At the moment, however, Festuscato felt mostly interested in the cloak which was woven by the hand of Athena herself.  It was fireproof, among other things.

Festuscato got up on Margueritte’s mare which he judged would give him the least problem, though he did not like his choices, and with a kick, horse and rider bounded out into the open.

Festuscato knew he had a few moments yet.  Dragons were quick to strike and eat, but then they had to take time to swallow and think about what to do next.  They had been bred by a strange race, the Agdaline, who bred a command language into their system.  Festuscato knew that language, but he felt uncertain if the dragon would respond.  “Do no harm.”  Festuscato shouted in the Agdaline tongue over and over as he approached the beast.  “No fire.  Do no harm.”

The dragon looked at him as he approached and turned its’ head at the sight almost a full one hundred and eighty degrees, so Festuscato could be seen upside down.  The head snapped back as the man came to face the beast.  He was ready to hide beneath his cloak on the least provocation, though the horse would have undoubtedly become toast.

“Do no harm.  No fire.”  Festuscato repeated.

“No harm.”  The dragon said in barely discernible tones.

“No harm.  No fire.”  Festuscato repeated, again.

The dragon looked straight up and belched a great roar of flame.  Festuscato was barely able to keep his horse under him.  The dragon still smoked when it came to look again on horse and rider.  “No fire.”  It repeated.

Before another thought might enter the dragon brain, Festuscato spurred to snatch up Owien.  Their other horse, the nag Owien got to ride was apparently too old and lazy to even run too far.  “Can you ride?”  He asked the sergeant at arms, who just came around from being knocked unconscious when the dragon snatched his horse.

“I think so,” he moaned.  His arm looked busted all to pieces.  Festuscato helped him up on the nag, put Owien in front and took the sword and shield to discard as an unnecessary burden.  At the edge of the woods, he knew the dragon had nearly finished swallowing.

“No harm.  No fire.”  Festuscato repeated the command.  The dragon said nothing in response.  It merely stared at them with the fire dancing in its’ red eyes.  Neither did Festuscato wait for an answer, but immediately rode towards Elsbeth, snatched her by the hands so she would ride behind him, and they did not stop riding until they were well away. They turned from the top of a small hillock by the woods and heard the dragon roar and spew fire once more into the sky. It took to wing and paused only briefly over the far pasture to snatch a cow in its’ larger hind claws.  It flew north and passed right over the rider’s heads, who followed its’ flight as well as they could until it got lost in the clouds.

“Owien, dear,” Festuscato said, inadvertently calling him by Margueritte’s term.  “You need to get your master to the house, but not too fast lest you worsen his condition by banging across the uneven ground.

“Yes sir,” Owien said.

“Your name, Lord?”  The sergeant asked, though the delirium of his pain came on him, so he had to struggle to keep conscious.

“Festuscato,” he said.  “And I will see to the girls and their safety.”

Owien started out at a slow and steady walk which he did his best to maintain even after he reached the flatter fields.  Luckily, the old nag seemed content to move at that pace.

Festuscato took Elsbeth back to her own horse.  When they got down, Elsbeth stared at him.  Goldenrod came fluttering back from wherever she had hidden and clapped both hands with delight.  Elsbeth squinted and cocked her head, though not nearly as far as the dragon.

“I can kind of see my sister in you,” she said.  “Only she doesn’t have any red in her hair and your light brown eyes don’t look like her green ones.”

“But Elsbeth.  Aren’t you forgetting what you should do when you are saved by a brave knight?” he said.

Elsbeth stiffened briefly, but then she saw he was teasing her.  She played along with a curtsy.  “Thank you, most brave and noble knight.”  Then she went one further and stepped up to kiss his cheek.  He laughed and immediately traded places with Margueritte, who continued the laugh, and Elsbeth joined her in the release of their fears, until they fell to the ground, laughing.  Goldenrod’s fairy laugh, a powerful enchantment in its’ own right, kept them at it until they could hardly breathe.  Goldenrod then broke the spell with her question.

“What are we laughing about?”

It got late, well after all the talk of dragons and other monsters had subsided, well after Owien had been praised and Elsbeth had kept silent for once, and well after bedtime when Margueritte sat straight up in bed.  It came to her like an electric shock.  She had no idea who Festuscato was.

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

MONDAY

Margueritte and Elsbeth are surprised by Visitors from the Real World.  Don’t Miss it.  Until then,

*

M3 Margueritte: Burning Questions, part 2 of 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

M3 Gerraint: To the Lake, part 2 of 3

The fight did not last long.  Both Bedivere and Uwaine killed their man, and the third Roman fled, wanting no part of it.  Gerraint’s encounter with Ondyaw was even shorter as Fate cracked the Roman’s sword on first contact and broke it in two.  Gerraint’s well aimed back swing sliced through the Roman’s jaw like it was putty, and the man’s jaw fell to the ground, his own eyes fastened on it.  “Tooth for a tooth.”  Gerraint muttered.  Then Ondyaw collapsed as Fate had also cut through most of the man’s neck.  Gerraint stirred himself, then.  He was not unaware of what happened elsewhere.

The words came from somewhere in time.  “No fire!”  He yelled in the Agdaline tongue, the command language to which all dragons were bred to obey.  “Do no harm!”  Gerraint was aware that when dragons went wild, when they generally shed their feathers and got big, the Agdaline commands did not always register.

“No fire!  Do no harm!”  Gerraint shouted again while the dragon cocked its’ head as if in confusion.  Gerraint decided it would not be worth the risk of his own skin.  Besides, there was something he needed to check out.  He found Amphitrite once more, but this time Danna pushed her way in front.  He traded places with Danna, exchanging one life in time for another.  The Don floated right up to the dragon’s face, repeated the commands for the sake of those below, but concentrated on looking for that fingerprint.  It showed there, but looked covered by another.

The dragon breathed as it faced the goddess.  Fire came, but Danna merely felt warmed by it.  She was the Mother goddess who touched the fires of the sun itself as well as the fires that ran like blood through the earth.  She was also, as Amonette, the serpent of Egypt and inclined to commiserate with this worm.  And again, she was the cold north wind and the frost that hardened the metal beaten on the anvil.

“Rhiannon.”  Danna commanded immediately as she floated back to the ground.  The goddess showed up instantly and kissed Danna on the cheek.

“Mother.”  Rhiannon said, lovingly.

“Rhiannon, dear.  What is with the dragon?”

Rhiannon looked pained for a minute.  “It was his suggestion.”

“His who?”  Danna spoke with some sternness in her voice.  “Don’t tell me this is the worm’s fault.  Eve already tried that one.”  The dragon moaned, softly and the women turned.

“Go home and take a nap.”  Danna commanded.

“Sleep?”  The dragon barely mouthed in Agdaline.

“You heard me.  No arguments.”  Danna insisted and the dragon shot flame straight up into the sky with a moan loud enough to make the few men who were still near cover their ears against the sound.  The dragon took to the sky and was soon lost in the clouds.

“He, who?”  Danna returned to the former conversation, not having forgotten.  Rhiannon had that pained look again.

“Young Abraxas,” she said, and then she struck a pose.  “Master of light and dark.  God of good and evil.  He has such an ego.”

“Sounds it,” Danna said.  “And you listened to him?”

“Well,” Rhiannon hedged.  “You were hurt and seemed in such trouble.  He suggested the dragon might help you escape.”

“Help?  It went straight for the tent where we were held prisoner.  If we had not escaped already, we would have been toast!”

“I did not know,” Rhiannon admitted.  “He is a very slick character.”

Danna stopped walking and Rhiannon stopped with her.  “Daughters don’t usually take a mother’s advice on such things.  And I don’t honestly remember if you are a granddaughter or great-great, whatever.  Not that it matters.  But he does not sound like the sort of young man a mother, any mother, would like.  Please avoid him in the future.”

“Oh, yes I will,” she said.  “Most assuredly.”

Danna leaned over and returned Rhiannon’s kiss and barely kept her tongue from saying, “You lie like an elf.”  She traded places then with Gerraint and came straight to the point.

“The Welshmen,” Gerraint said.

“I have them,” Rhiannon admitted.  “They wanted me to open a door to Avalon, Gwynwas as they call it.  Abraxas seemed keen on the idea as well.”

“You didn’t.”  Gerraint needed to hear it.

Rhiannon pretended offense.  “No,” she said.  “You have told us a million times how the Island is private, even if we are your children.  That is your place, shared with Mannanan in the old time.  Mine was in Tara, before it was deserted.”

“Yes, about that,” Gerraint said.  “I thought after Lancelot you were going over to the other side with the others?  The time of the gods is over.  What are you still doing here?”

“Galahad,” she said.  “And you did ask me to keep Meryddin under wraps for the rest of his life.

“Oh, yes.  And how is the geezer?”

“Gone.”  Rhiannon said, sadly.  “And I’ve been thinking of moving the court elsewhere.  I don’t want to stay and be reminded.”

“What is it with you and the wrong sort of men?”  Gerraint asked with some tenderness in his voice.  He wiped the tear that formed in the corner of her eye.  “But seriously, if Meryddin is now gone and Galahad is grown, why are you still here?”

“Apparently, there is one more young man.  But I do not know who it is yet.”

“Yes, well you must not dawdle.  Nearly all of the gods have already passed over centuries ago, you know.”  Gerraint still spoke with some tenderness.  Dying was hard enough when it was involuntary, not that her spirit would cease to function in the world, only she would no longer have flesh to touch the world, or eyes to see, or ears to hear.  She would be more like a force in this world, deaf, dumb and blind, and subject only to the directions of the Spirit of the Most-High God.

Rhiannon looked at Gerraint and smiled.  “Don’t worry,” she said.  “Festuscato has already scolded me enough.  “Keep away from Patrick!  You should not be here!” OH!”  Rhiannon read the look on Gerraint’s face and stopped.  “He was a past life of yours, don’t you remember?”

He remembered, but he wanted to have a bit of fun.  “Past would be the only ones you would know,” Gerraint said.  “But that doesn’t mean I know.  You know the rule.  Never tell the Kairos about any life he has not yet experienced.”

“Oh, yes, but then you trade places sometimes with the future lives,” she responded.

“Festuscato?”  Gerraint grinned, and she knew he was teasing.

“Stop it.  You’re embarrassing me.”  They came to Uwaine and Bedivere.  She named them, looked gently into their minds, and welcomed them to the lake.

M3 Gerraint: To the Lake, part 1 of 3

They slept in the wilderness, and in the morning, headed straight for the North road.  “The main way down the center is just as quick and probably easier traveling,” Gerraint explained.  “But this way will take us by the old Cairns, the burial places of the kings.”

“You think the Welshmen came this way?” Bedivere asked.

“No.”  Gerraint spoke plainly.  “I think they must already be at the Lake, or near enough.  But we are less likely to be pursued in this direction.  I doubt any trouble would guess we even know about this road.”

“Trouble?”  Bedivere asked.  “I thought last night you said that was all cleared up.”

“Odyar,” Uwaine said.  Gerraint liked his old squire.  He had a gift in the judgment of character.

They stayed at a coastal inn that next night, and again, on the night after that.  The following evening, they had hopes of reaching the lake, but they were surprised around midday by the last thing Gerraint expected.  Instead of swords from behind, they ran smack into swords ahead.  Even as they turned to the Southeast and toward the actual lake, they were surrounded by about thirty swords of the Romans coming up from the south.  Gerraint knew the lake area was like a kind of no man’s land that separated the Romanish lands from Amorica.  He felt distressed to see the revived Romans making incursions across the border and again, he did not doubt Howel’s concerns about a possible war in the near future.

Gerraint would not let Uwaine draw his sword against such odds.  They surrendered quietly.

Ondyaw was the Captain of the Romans, despite his obvious Gallic name.  Gerraint looked at him closely and immediately saw the family resemblance.  “Odyar’s brother?”  He asked.  Ondyaw confirmed as much with a slap across Gerraint’s face.  Bedivere struggled against the ropes, but Uwaine knew better and kept still.  Bedivere only hurt his own wrists.

“And where are you headed?” he asked.  “My brother’s message was rather vague on the details and said only that I should stop you.”

“To the Lake of the Vivane,” Gerraint said.  He saw no reason to hide it.

“That accursed place.  I should take you there and dump you.  I doubt you would last the night.”

“Fluff and mirrors,” Gerraint said.  “Rhiannon just likes her privacy is all.”

Ondyaw slapped him again.  “That great Lady’s name should never touch your lips.”  Gerraint felt it in his jaw, and for a moment, he was sorry his hands were tied so he could not put his hand up to help wiggle his jaw back into place.

“Sorry,” he said.  “But I thought you were Roman.  Shouldn’t you be defending Diana and Venus instead?

Ondyaw struck him one more time just for that, or perhaps just for fun, because he could.  Gerraint decided silence was called for.  He had to pause in any case until the dizziness passed.

“Tell my brother all is well.”  Ondyaw spoke to the man who was waiting.  “The men are still watching the lake and I will send more when I know more.”  The man left and Ondyaw turned as if he had something else to say, but then decided against it.  He left and the three were alone in the tent.

“Are you all right?”  Bedivere asked while Uwaine spoke at the same time.

“Now what?”  Uwaine asked.

“Now we leave.”  Gerraint showed anger.  They had freely surrendered and honorably submitted to being captive.  They did not need to be tied.  They certainly did not deserve to be beaten, not by any standard of civilized behavior. “More like barbarians than Romans,” Gerraint said and spat out a tooth.  “Damn.  Now I’m really mad.”  He had to calm down and think for a minute.

Margueritte came immediately to mind and when he traded places with her once more, her feminine, eleven-year-old hands and feet slipped right out of the ropes.  She had on her red dress, of course, and would from then on until she changed it.

“Let me see your wrists,” she said to Bedivere.  They were chaffed raw from his attempts to tug himself free.  “Now you were so smart with the horses,” Margueritte scolded him.  “How could you be so stupid now?  How are you going to hold your sword with your wrists hurting so?”  She shook her finger at him and frowned.  Bedivere melted.

“But she’s so cute,” he said to Uwaine.

“Yes, and dangerous I’ll warrant.”  Uwaine responded.

“Not.”  Margueritte insisted, but she was getting nowhere with her young hands and fingers against the knots.  She felt obliged to trade once again with Ali.  He still wore the Armor, and though his nimble thief’s fingers would soon have them free, he pulled his long knife, not wanting to take forever.

Once Bedivere and Uwaine were up, and Ali had to say hush three or four times, they got their weapons back as they had simply been dumped in a corner of the tent. Ali then cut a small slit in the back of the tent which grew bigger as he looked and saw no one back there.  “Allow me to steal our horses,” he said.  “Must keep in practice, you know.  Be right back.”

Ali slipped from the tent and, quiet as a snake in the grass, he wound his way around the camp to where their horses were tied but unguarded.  He considered the problem, and then went back for his companions, believing the men might move more quietly than the beasts.  Perhaps they did, but they were still too loud.  The Romans would have got them but for the noise from above and the shadow that crossed over their heads.  As soon as the beast landed, the tent they had just vacated went up in flames and a roar and fire shot up into the sky.

Uwaine stared.  Bedivere screamed, though not nearly as loud as some of the Romans.  The camp turned into chaos while the dragon nosed through the burning tent.  On finding nothing edible, the dragon set its’ sights on the scattering men.

“You!”  Ondyaw saw them and pointed.  “Cursed.”  He shouted and he and three other Romans attacked.  Gerraint came back, of course, Ali having returned to his own place in time at the first sign of trouble; and none too soon as far as Ali was concerned.  Gerraint drew his sword and the long knife he had sheathed and he and his friends went at the Romans, even as the dragon contentedly swallowed a piece of charcoal which only vaguely retained the shape of a man.

Avalon 6.0 Monkey Brain Fever, part 5 of 6

Lockhart spurred forward, but his horse would only get so close before it refused to go further.  Lockhart had to shout, enunciating the alien Agdaline words as well as he could.  “No fire.  Do no harm.  Friends. Friends.  No fire.”

The worm had very stubby arms and legs.  This kind looked more like a true worm, or serpent, and it still had plenty of asbestos-like feathers, like an infant dragon.  It did not look like an infant.

“No fire.  No harm. Friend.”  Lockhart kept yelling, and the dragon paused to turn its head and look at the people and horses, as it were, upside-down.  The head snapped back right-side-up, and the dragon made a very different sound.  It almost sounded like the dragon repeated the word “friend”, before it looked up and let out a stream of fire at the sky.

“That can’t possibly be Puff.”  Katie came up near to Lockhart.  Her horse, Black Beauty, seemed even more leery of the dragon than Lockhart’s horse.

“I can’t imagine.  Maybe a child or grandchild or something.”  They met puff roughly two-thousand, five hundred years ago, back when people first started moving into the area that one day would become the Olmec civilization.  That happened when they first met Maya and her children.

“Chac was the storm and Kuican, the wind,” Lockhart tried to name those children.

“And Ixchel, the rainbow after the storm,” Katie said.  “I remember.”

“Ixchel.” Lockhart nodded.  “I couldn’t remember the girl’s name.”

“And Puff poked her nose right between a Pendratti and a Gott-Druk shuttle and scared everyone half to death.”

In timing, such as the little ones had, they heard a woman’s voice. “There you are.”  They looked up and saw a beautiful woman floating up by the dragon’s head, which lifted up near the tree tops to greet her.  She appeared to scratch under the dragon’s chin. The dragon purred.  The travelers could not imagine getting that close to the dragon’s jaw, though they had seen it done before.

“Friend,” the dragon said, and looked at Lockhart, and the rest who came up to stand behind Lockhart and Katie.  The woman looked, squinted, and appeared curious, until Katie spoke

“Maya?” Katie asked, though she knew it was not.

“Quetzalcoatl,” the woman spouted through her smile, as she zoomed to the ground, to face them.  “Maya said you were here, but I didn’t believe her.  I am Ixchel.”

“You didn’t believe your own mother?” Boston sounded surprised.

“Yes, I suppose she is my mother.  After going on three thousand years, since you were in this part of the world, some things blur.  Other things don’t make sense at all.  I mean, my father is a girl.”

“That must be interesting,” Decker said.

“I love her dearly,” Ixchel said, before Lincoln interrupted.

“I don’t suppose you can take us to the city the quick way.”

Ixchel took a moment to figure out what he asked, before she shook her head.  “I am not really here.  I came to collect Kuku.  She got set out to guard the ways to the city.  She can smell the disease, but not being native to earth, she cannot get the sickness.  She wandered off.”  Ixchel smiled a lovely smile.  “But I will welcome you when you arrive…” she vanished, and reappeared straddling the dragon’s neck.  She said something in Agdaline—the world from which dragons came.  It sounded like, “Come along, baby.”  And the dragon spread its wings and took to the sky.

Lockhart turned around and saw Ota on his knees, weeping.  He breathed through his tears. “Kukulkan.  Man of the dragon.”

Mister Crow returned from whatever safe perch he visited.  “I guessed, you know.”

“You guessed?” Alexis asked.

“Well, there weren’t any dragons around before now to know for certain.” The crow settled down on Misty Gray’s back.  “So, what did Kukulkan say to the beast, anyway?”

“He said we were friends,” Katie spoke up.

Mister Crow appeared to nod.  “Good choice of words,” he said.

“Man,” Lockhart said, as he got Ota to stand.  “Man of the dragon, but the important word is man.  I am as human as you are.”

Ota looked uncertain, but Mister Crow spoke again.  “Not if you are three thousand years old. The great goddess, Ixchel herself said she knew you three thousand years ago.”

“More like twenty-five hundred years,” Lincoln responded, as he helped Ota get up on Cortez, his horse.  “I’ll have to look it up.”

“That is a long story,” Alexis said.

“We need to ride.  The way appears to be clearing,” Lockhart said.

Lockhart rode out front and avoided looking back at the local man and the crow.  He heard Alexis and Lincoln trying to explain things, but tried not to overhear the actual conversation.

The travelers came out of the forest and found themselves in a meadow, the road clearly delineated by mud between fields of grasses and flowers. They saw a river, far in the distance, and a hint of pale green beyond, which everyone guessed might be the city. They traveled for nearly an hour before Boston had a thought.

“No,” Boston shouted, but it was already too late.

Lincoln and Katie both slipped from their seats at about the same time.  Ota hung on to Cortez’s saddle, but he weaved in his seat, like one ready to fall. Boston looked back and saw Decker leaning forward, hanging on to his horse’s neck, trying not to fall, and trying to stay awake.

“Decker,” Elder Stow reached out to the man.  The Gott-Druk did not appear as affected by whatever it was.

Boston looked at Sukki.  The girl yawned, but did not appear to be in danger of falling asleep.

“No,” Boston said again, and looked to the front to see Lockhart and Alexis slip to the ground.  The crow followed Alexis, and Boston’s hair felt like it stood on end.  “Arm up,” she said.  “Elder Stow.  I think we are going to need your weapon, especially.”

“What is it?” Sukki asked.

Elder Stow checked his scanner.  He stopped focusing on it after they got out in the open where they could see around with their own eyes.  His eyes shot toward a small rise in the landscape.  People began to come over the rise.  Maybe a hundred or more, and they all looked insane with disease.

“I don’t think the dragon just wandered off,” Sukki said, as Boston handed over her Beretta.  Boston pulled Decker’s super advanced military rifle she could turn to automatic fire.  She didn’t wait.  She sprayed the oncoming horde with bullets, even as Decker became the last to slip to the ground.  Boston felt glad that the horses were magically tied to their riders and would not wander off.  She also felt glad they got sent back from the American wild west, and would not be spooked by gunfire.

Boston tried to confine herself to bursts of five to seven bullets. The rifle would never run out of ammunition, thanks to the Kairos who set that up at the beginning, but it could overheat, and she could not afford for it to jam.

Sukki fired her pistol as she had been taught.  She only paused, and dropped her jaw, when Elder Stow’s weapon let out a line of light that turned the ones in front to ash and the ones behind to charcoal.

Even with all that power, Elder Stow admitted, “Some are going to reach us.”

“I know,” Boston wanted to panic, when a wind came up that nearly pulled her off her feet.

The people on the ground remained unaffected.  The horses turned into the wind and lowered their heads to keep from being tipped over.  Elder Stow and Sukki, with their strong and squat Neanderthal bodies, appeared to hold on to the earth.  But across the way, the diseased people got lifted up and blown away, until they moved out of sight.

Boston, who eavesdropped on Katie and Lockhart when they talked about Maya’s children, thought to say something.  “Thank you Kuican.”

Lightning, coming out of a perfectly blue sky, struck in the direction of the diseased people, and the thunder clapped loud.  The cloudless sky instantly filled with deep gray clouds, and the rain came, pouring, turning the mud road into puddles and a little river, an inch or so deep.

Boston, Sukki, and Elder Stow ran to the others to get their heads above the water; but found them coming out of their sleep.  People turned their fairy weave clothing into rain slickers, hats, and rain boots, though they got rather soaked at first.  It took some time to shake off the effects of whatever got into their systems, but soon enough they got ready to move on to the city in the distance.