M3 Margueritte: Protect, Defend, part 3 of 3

Margueritte knew the sword at her back was much too heavy, but Defender, the long knife that rested across the small of her back was just as sharp.  She drew it.  The blade looked nearly as long as her forearm.  “Babies.  Nest.”  She repeated herself, her eyes turned on the Irishman and his one surviving rogue.  “Protect.  Defend.  Babies in Nest.”

Three babies, one being runt, hesitated.  “Babies, Nest, Now!”  Margueritte yelled with her last ounce of strength.  They obeyed.  The babies had to obey, and Margueritte decided that Finnian McVey did not need to know she had nothing in reserve as long as she could hold the blade steady and stay on her feet.

Only then did she hear the horses.  They were nearly up the rise, and she had heard nothing sooner.  Finnian made a mad dash to grab her, risked the return of the baby horde, but a horseman arrived even as McVey grabbed the back of her hair.  Margueritte did not even have the strength to swing her blade.  Fortunately, Runt rushed there to take a chunk out of McVey’s hand, and then the horseman tackled the man.  It wasn’t much of a struggle.  McVey surrendered without a peep, and as Lord Bartholomew and Tomberlain arrived with the others, Roland turned to a fainting young woman.  Runt chirped a warning and Roland backed up, no fool.  He saw the dead men.

“Runt.  Friend.”  Margueritte said as she fell again to her knees.  “Babies.  Friend.  Babies.  Come.  Friend. Friend.”  Margueritte went nearly unconscious as she saw Runt and several of the babies sniffing Roland, and then not objecting as he went to lift Margueritte’s head from the ground.

All this while, Festuscato, Gerraint and many others volunteered to take Margueritte’s place for a time.  She refused.  She saw no point.  They would have simply become dragon food; but now she had a last thought.  “Alice,” she called out.  “Lady Alice.  Help me.”  She got dizzy and passed out.

Lord Bartholomew, Tomberlain and the half dozen with them kept a respectful distance from the dragon’s lair, even with Margueritte in distress in the entrance.  They jumped, though, when they heard a rumbling in the rocks.  Many looked up and around for fear the dragon returned.  They jumped further away, and some backed down the hill when a tunnel, or archway of some sort formed on the cliff face directly across from the cave entrance.

“Babies.  Friend.”  Margueritte breathed.  Runt came up real close and whined, almost cried, and laid its head near Margueritte’s face and uncomfortably close to Roland’s hand.

“Hush,” Roland said.  “Everything is going to be all right now.”

Clearly, Roland had no prophetic skill as Mother dragon chose that moment to return.  The horses had long since scooted down the hill to safety.  The men were less fortunate, having to scuttle and scrunch down behind the nearest boulder, not that they had any prayer of escape.

“Mother.  Friend.”  Margueritte tried to speak, but her words were hardly audible.  Only Runt and Roland heard her.

Roland stood and pulled his sword.  He became determined to at least try and protect Margueritte, and he honestly did not know what else to do.  Flames scraped up and down the rocky cliffs along with the tremendous roars of the enraged beast.

“Runt.  Friend.”  Margueritte said at last.  She did not imagine the beast would understand.  It seemed a difficult concept, but then Runt surprised her.  Dragons were so much smarter than normal, earthly animals.

Runt fluttered up in front of Roland to get between him and Mother.  “Friend.”  Runt said.  Mother might have fried Roland in any case, perhaps mistakenly frying Runt with him.  She looked that angry.  But then several other babies caught on, and they came up beside runt and added their voices.  “Friend.  Friend.”  Then they heard a sound none expected.  It was a woman’s voice.

“Friend.”  The voice said, and it penetrated to the core of every mind present.  “No fire.  No harm.”  The woman said.

Alice came out of the archway.  Margueritte sighed and almost gave herself over again to unconsciousness.

Mother dragon was not inclined to listen, so Alice pointed something at the dragon which looked like a mere stick, or maybe a magic wand.  The dragon froze in place and appeared unable to move a muscle.

“What magic is this?”  Margueritte heard her father’s voice.

“Powerful,” a man said.  Margueritte thought it might have been Chief Brian’s voice.

“Not magic.  A simple device.”  Alice spoke with such sweet joy in her voice it made everyone feel like smiling.  Yes, Margueritte thought, that was right.  Alice had no natural magic.  She had the technology, though.  Then Margueritte paused and puzzled.  How would she know what Alice had or did not have?

“Mother.  New Home.  New Nest,” Alice said.  “Babies, come.  New home, new nest.”  Alice pronounced the words exactly right and in the Agdaline way.  The babies came and flitted through the archway against the rocks to disappear from this world altogether.  Only runt paused long enough to lick Margueritte’s face once before departing.

Then Alice shook a stern finger in Mother Dragon’s face.  “No fire.  No harm.”  She insisted with the tone and inflection of the Agdaline.  If the creature had not gone completely wild, it had to respond.  “Follow babies.  New home. New nest,” Alice said, and she set the beast free.  It understood well enough but paused to look in Margueritte’s direction.

“Baby?”

“Good-bye, Mother.”  Margueritte said, and the dragon went through and left one acid-filled tear to splash on the rocks and steam into the air.  Even with Roland once again holding her head, Margueritte could barely see into that other world.  It looked dark, like night, and full of rocks and with distant flashes of light which might have been lightning but might also have been a distant volcano.  Then the archway faded away and only Margueritte, Alice and the men remained outside the now empty tomb; the place that had once been the dragon’s lair.

“Lady Alice.”  Margueritte’s father spoke again.

“Those were words you were speaking to the dragon.”  She heard Thomas of Evandell.

“They were,” Alice said, as she stepped toward the men.  They had Finnian McVey tied by then and his man, whose finger refused to stop bleeding.

“And the dragon answered you.”  Thomas the bard said, intuitively learning something that even the druids only suspected.  “What a marvelous tone and how impossible to repeat,” he concluded.

“Unless you’ve got dragon lips,” one man said, softly.

Alice merely smiled and put something on the man’s bleeding finger.  It immediately stopped bleeding and skin grew across the cut not leaving so much as a scar.  He would never have a finger again, but he went to tears all the same out of gratitude.  Likewise, Alice treated Finnian McVey’s hand and several who had been burned, a couple rather badly, and they also healed instantly.  She called the horses, and they came, though they remained skittish, at the edge of the hill.  Alice only had to point, and several men, Tomberlain included, scooped up the dead men and tied them face down over three of the chargers.

Roland picked up Marguerite like a paper doll.

“Sir Roland.”  Alice spoke, and he gave the Lady his full attention.  “Give her this.  One tablespoon every four hours until it is gone.  She should recover.”

“But she is skin and bones.  She must be starved to death.”  Roland said in a desperate voice.

Alice paused and turned to Sir Bartholomew to give him the potion.  “It is Heinrich’s meal.  It is what they give men who have been stuck in lifeboats or without proper food for long periods of time.  See that she takes it properly.”

Lord Bartholomew nodded and accepted the jar like it was crystal, though it would not have broken, no matter how roughly handled.

“Wait.”  Margueritte spoke up as she just figured something out.  Alice was her in another life, she remembered.  “But how can I be in two places at once when I am only conscious of one at a time?” she asked.

“It is a trick,” Alice said, with her warmest smile.  “But you have been thus divided in every life, though you almost never know it.”  And she vanished, to the amazement of all.  And Margueritte, securely in Roland’s arms thought it was time to go ahead and go seriously unconscious.

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

MONDAY

Things get back to normal, or as Margueritte calls it, “Dull, dull, dull, and Latin every Wednesday,” but the condition doesn’t last for long.  The Breton decide to take a census, and the trouble begins. Until Monday, Happy Reading.

*

M3 Margueritte: Protect, Defend, part 2 of 3

Margueritte awoke, startled by the dim light, and she sat straight up.  Runt rolled off her stomach where it had curled up for the night.  She could barely make out her surroundings as the morning sun came streaming down the cave but just eked into the tomb cavern.

Several of the babies were already awake, burrowing in and out of the coins in a game of tag or chase me.  Mother also looked awake and turned an eye on Margueritte as she sat up.  Mother was smoking.

“Mother.”  Margueritte said, just to be sure.

“Baby.”  The dragon mother responded, and Marguerite let out her breath.

“This is not going to work.”  Margueritte decided, and she felt hungry.  That little bit of horse flesh did not satisfy.  Runt crawled up to face her, and she petted its head as she flopped back down on the coins.  Again, her armor protected her from the impossibly hard bedding, though she did not suppose it would be worse sleeping in a gravel pit.  Her armor, though, felt light as air, and the under things that came with the armor were immensely comfortable.  That was why she slept, she thought.  That and the dragon song.

As she petted Runt, she thought about how the beasts were made.  Even with feathers on the outside, the dragons had their own sort of armor.  It actually worked something like a finely jointed exoskeleton.  They could give the appearance of slithering like snakes, but really, they were more like insects in that respect.  Worms, indeed, she thought.  Of course, if they had bones on the inside, they would have been much too heavy to leave the ground.  It was only because of their almost impenetrable but extremely light exoskeleton, set like scales she imagined, that their wings proved strong enough.

“Fly.”  Margueritte said to Runt.  Runt lifted happily from the ground and circled her head several times, singing.  “Wrap.”  Margueritte held out her good arm.  The creature wrapped and succumbed to more petting.  That was when Margueritte noticed her burns were not hurting and, in fact, they were nearly healed.

Of course, she had no way of knowing that she had slept for almost two and a half weeks.  Her father just then, with Roland and Chief Brian, set out to fetch her, having figured out what happened.  Canto confessed.

Margueritte eyed the mother dragon then until she got the creature’s attention.  “Hungry.”  Margueritte tried at last.  She figured she had nothing to lose.

Mother dragon stirred.  Most of the little ones were awake by then.  Two or three stuck their heads up from the golden pile and echoed Margueritte’s word.  “Hungry.”

“Sheep.  Cow.”  Margueritte tried once again, but the great dragon said nothing, merely curled around to slither out the cave entrance, temporarily blocking out nearly all the dim light.  Margueritte got up to follow and the babies went with her.  At the entrance to the cave, Mother had one more word before she took to the sky.  “Stay.”  Margueritte marveled.  She honestly did not know if the Agdaline were aware that adult dragons used command language on their own children, or if the Agdaline had bred that in on purpose.  The babies stayed, and Margueritte felt obliged to stay with them, at least until Mother flew out of sight.

Margueritte headed for the lip of the rise, though the babies tried to stop her.  “Stay.  Stay.”  A couple of them became quite verbal.

“Runt.”  Margueritte called.  She only felt a bit surprised that little one had already learned its name.  She saw a lone tree near the bottom of the hill, one not utterly charred.  A few green leaves tenaciously hung to the top branches.  Margueritte paused.  She did not know the word for green in Agdaline, and for a moment she wondered if the Agdaline were color blind, living, as it were, in a black and white world.

“Shades of gray,” she told herself in her own tongue.  “Runt.”  She got the baby’s full attention.  “Tree.  Leaf.  Fetch.”  She said the words even as several of the other babies got agitated.

“Stay.”  One of the babies breathed, but Runt looked delighted with the command.  It rushed to the tree, snapped off a twig with its razor-sharp teeth, nearly a branch, really, which sported several leaves, and rushed back to Margueritte like the most obedient puppy.  Margueritte watched.  There were still a few men among the rocks.  She found this no surprise, though she had imagined she had only slept one night.

When Runt returned, several of the babies were eyeing her, suspiciously; but she took the leaves and tickled Runt, and soon enough, they all wanted to be tickled.  It was great fun, until Margueritte fell suddenly to her knees.  Three babies immediately went to her.  One tried to lift her up and nearly snagged its teeth in her chain mail.  She felt very grateful to Hephaestus at that moment, but she did get to her hands and knees and mouth what was on her mind. “Hungry,” she said.  Several babies agreed.

Then she heard the men on the hill.  It seemed as if they had been waiting for the dragon to leave the lair.  And now they had seen a baby and better knew what they were dealing with.  Margueritte chided herself for stupidly exposing the infant.  “Home!”  Margueritte commanded, though she hardly had strength to talk.  “To the nest.”  She pointed and prepared to give herself up.  She had no idea why she should have suddenly become so weak.  But three of the babies were not going to give up.  They wrapped her wrists and middle as they had in the night and dragged her to the entrance.  Runt stayed behind to chirp urgency and growl at the approaching men.

“Go!”  Margueritte commanded as she staggered to her feet.  “Go!”  The babies went but hovered nearby.  “Hide,” she added the words.  “Nest.  Hide.”  She clearly heard the men by then.  They were getting close.

Once the babies were out of sight, though they may have been just beyond the light, Margueritte fell to her knees once more.  She felt utterly drained of energy, and famished, and she knew something was not right.  Runt stayed with her.  It looked over her shoulder when she heard the Irishman.

“Funny looking wee one, my dear,” McVey said.

“Not a little one.”  Margueritte struggled to her feet and faced the man.  There were four others with him, not nearly as many as she imagined from before.

“A queer bird, then,” McVey held his hand out to stop the men from rushing her.  He clearly wanted to know what he was dealing with before venturing in.

“Not a bird.”  Margueritte said as Runt darted forward.  “Ankh!”  It breathed, showed its’ razor teeth, and then darted back to Margueritte’s side.  That was a warning.

“Not a…”  Finnian McVey stopped speaking and all at once his eyes lit up.  “A baby!”  He understood and shouted the word.  It echoed off the rocks and down into the tomb.  “Hang the wee ones.  The charmed Lady has provided even better.”  He started to drool.  “Get the baby,” he ordered.  “And the garl if yeh can.”  He drawled the afterthought.

Four men sprang forward, not having the least idea what they were facing, having only the word “baby” to go on and thinking that sounded harmless enough.

The babies rushed out of the darkness and counter attacked.  One man jumped back to look at the stump where his finger had been.  It got snapped off as cleanly as Runt had snapped off the tree branch.  Two men found themselves wrapped and tied up, squeezed to death before their throats were ripped out.  The fourth simply stopped where he was, a look of utter disbelief on his face as a baby simply bored right through his stomach and came out his back.

Finnian McVey had backed well away, and had drawn a sword, and Margueritte knew that might be a serious threat to the babies.

“Babies!  Nest!”  Margueritte ordered.  “Now!  Nest!”  She yelled, and the babies were bred to obey.

“Protect.  Defend.”  One of the bigger babies mouthed to her.

M3 Margueritte: Protect, Defend, part 1 of 3

Margueritte immediately got surrounded by the little ones.  She saw a runt, no longer than her arm.  She spoke to him, soothing words, as her charred fingertips tried to untie her other hand.  She dared not ask their help because she knew their razor-sharp teeth were designed to rip chunks off burning carcasses.

At last she got free, and the babies seemed delighted.  The runt seemed particularly pleased and friendly.  “Wrap.”  Margueritte said as she held out her good arm.  The Beast immediately curled around her arm from above her elbow down to place its’ head on the back of her hand.  It began to purr, after a fashion.

“Fly.”  Marguerite said, and the creature unwrapped and took to the air with equal delight.  Several of the others began to act like they were jealous, but Margueritte felt a moment of tremendous relief which even temporarily overcame the pain in her fingers, hand and arm.  She knew these little ones had to obey.  Thousands of years of special breeding insured that, and she knew these still feathered little ones did not even smoke.

“Sing.”  She called out, and the little dragons began a harmony of song to make the birds envious.  They sang, and then they seemed to want her to go into the cave with them.  Margueritte was not about to do that.  Instead, she turned toward the path she had come up.  The babies followed her.

“No.  Stay.”  Margueritte insisted, but the runt came up to her face and seemed to have puppy-dog eyes.  Poor Margueritte was always a sucker for puppy-dog eyes.  She reached out with her good hand to pet the beast.  It purred again.  “Stay.”  She said, sweetly.  “Go be with your brothers and sisters.”  She pointed to the others that were trying to do as they were told.

Margueritte got to the rise as the runt went sadly back to the others.  They were all watching her.  “Baby.”  One of the dragon babies mouthed the word.  “Stay.”  Another baby said in imitation of her own word.  Margueritte smiled but began to step down the hill before Mother came back.  She only got about five steps along, before she saw the men come out from the rocks below.  They had evidently prepared well in advance.  They had places in the rocks intended to protect them from the worm but from which they could watch the hill.  Margueritte knew there would be no escape in that direction.

“Get her!”  Margueritte heard that command and fled back up to the waiting and overjoyed babies.  A quick survey suggested she had no other way down, at least no easy way which would not require a significant climb over cliffs of rock face.

“Home.  Inside.  Hide!”  Margueritte commanded the babies, and they followed and lead the way into the dragon’s lair.  She stopped far enough into the dark to be hidden, but near enough to still see the light and hear the approach of the men.  She imagined it cost Finnian McVey a small fortune to entice men to stay so close to a dragon’s lair.

“She’s gone into the cave,” one man said.  “Nowhere else for her to hide.”

“Check around the rocks.  Vagi, check over the cave entrance.”

“I’m not going in there,” one man balked.

“But the dragon’s gone,” the first man said.  “We saw it take to the air.”

Margueritte became suddenly aware of the babies around her.  The runt, rested on her shoulder, its head beside her head, looking with her.  Another had wrapped around her left leg and she petted it as well as she could with her hurting hand, just to keep it quiet.  A third brushed against her good arm as if to say it wanted some of that petting action as well.  The others had settled near her feet, resting from flight, three curled in little balls, like rattlesnakes ready to strike.  She had to protect them.  She already felt attached, especially to the runt, and she would kill these men, somehow, if they so much as harmed a feather.

“But it might come back,” the man protested.  “We don’t know where it has gone.”

“Go on, I tell you.  The beast has left.”

Marguerite heard the grousing, but also careful steps into the cave.  “No,” she cried out.  “Follow.”  She commanded the babies, even while she knew that the men in the entrance would hear.  The babies obeyed, and she ran into the dark and stumbled only once before she felt far enough in.  She looked back.  She saw what looked for a moment like torch light, and then she heard men yelling and screaming.  Mother must have returned, she surmised.

Three babies almost went for the entrance, but Margueritte shouted.  “Stay.  Wait.”  They waited, but impatiently.  And when Margueritte could no longer hear the roars, she said “Go.”

Eight babies darted for the entrance.  Margueritte and her runt followed at a more leisurely pace, and Margueritte only hoped the runt would keep Mother from having her for dessert.

When they got to the cave entrance, the runt started pulling on her arm with anticipation.  The smell of cooked horse was overwhelming, along with burnt something else which Margueritte did not want to think about.

“Babies.  Eat.”  The mother dragon surprised Margueritte, stuck its’ snout behind her back to fling her and the runt at the horse.  Margueritte might have been seriously injured if she had not been armored head to toe.  As it was, she almost landed on one of the babies, and that would have been worse.  The baby stuck its head up and looked at her.

“Eat.”  It echoed Mother’s word before it burrowed into the horse’s innards.  Margueritte felt for a moment as if she was going to be sick, but then her runt stuck its head up and repeated the word.

“Eat.”

With a glance at the mother dragon, Margueritte pulled a small blade from her boot.  She stuck her nose against the horse, bad as it smelled, and cut herself a piece off the least disturbed place.  She slipped the knife home, hopefully unnoticed, picked up the chunk of horse flesh and examined it.  “At least it’s cooked,” she spoke to herself for the first time in her native tongue.  It had been a long time since her last crust of stale bread.  She ate, and added to herself, “At least I won’t starve.”

After supper, Mother dragon had another word.  “Sleep,” she said.  The sun started to set, and Mother guarded the babies as they ate, and now let them go in first.  Margueritte was very reluctant to go, but one of the babies echoed, “Sleep,” and coiled around her wrist guard and began to pull.  Two others got the idea.  One grabbed her other wrist, and another wrapped around her waist.  Again, there is no doubt Margueritte would have been injured if she was not dressed in chain mail, forged in the fires of Mount Etna by Hephaestus himself.

Mother dragon leaned down to nudge them along, but this time it was a gentle nudge.  “Babies sleep.”  The words followed.  They went into the dark, and Margueritte wished she had some light to see.  A thought crossed her mind, though she was at a loss as to which temporal connection put it there.  She remembered the electrical something-or-other she had exhibited when she put the hag out of commission.  She tried to make a spark.  It came, as she hoped, from her eyes, but it was pitiful.  It shone for a moment off a thousand points right where the cave opened-up into the tomb area.  Margueritte gulped, as a great burst of flame blew over her head, nearly singing her hair.  Mother came right behind them.  And then mother touched her back with her snout and purred like an infant, as if this Margueritte baby was showing the first sparks of growing up.

Margueritte, fortunately grasped the layout of the tomb.  She saw the babies curled up on a great pile of gold, coins and jewels.  “Nesting material,” Marguerite said to herself, and she understood something in that moment which she had always wondered.  She found her way to the pile and curled up in the middle of the babies.  She planned to be surrounded by them at every chance she got, in case Mother had a change of heart.  And while she thought she would never really be able to sleep in a dragon’s lair, in fact the gentle sounds of the sleeping babies turned out to be a perfect lullaby.  It was the last sound the Agdaline heard as they drifted off to sleep for a hundred or a thousand years in their sleepers while their ship inched through the endless void among the stars.

 

 

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.

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

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

*

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.”

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

MONDAY

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

Happy Reading

*

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.