M4 Gerraint 2: The Dragon Slayer, part 2 of 2

They ran out in time to see the dragon land in the village square.  It looked like a big, old worm, and looked mean.  Gerraint found the horses where they left them, no doubt waiting for a decision to be made concerning the strangers.  Gerraint knew better than to get up on a horse liable to panic any second.  Bedivere figured as much, but George did not know better.  He mounted and then struggled to get his horse under control.

The dragon flamed a house and then tore at the wood until it collapsed, no doubt looking for something edible. Gerraint ran out, Bedivere on his heels, though Gerraint doubted his words would have an effect on such a mature beast.  “No fire,” he shouted all the same.  “Do no harm.”  The dragon certainly heard.  It turned, and its tail struck Gerraint and Bedivere and knocked them some distance where they crashed into the side of a house and slipped down, badly shaken.

George saw, pulled up the lance he had been given in Caerleon, and let his horse have the reigns.  The horse, in a panic, actually ran straight at the beast as animals sometimes will.  George lowered his lance, aimed for the dragon’s mid-section, but the dragon saw and began to lower its head with the intention of plucking the rider right off the beast, and no doubt going back for the beast after.  George raised his lance without realizing it.  He simply wanted to ward off that head and those terrible teeth.  The lance entered the dragon’s head in a soft spot just below the jaw where the impenetrable scales were more flexible to allow the worm to swallow.  It broke out the top of the dragon head, and the worm immediately began to thrash about.  The horse threw George, and he barely avoided being crushed by the worm as it finally collapsed to the ground.

Gerraint got up and arrived at George’s side just after Heingurt.  Heingurt picked up the boy to take him inside, thinking the boy might be unconscious.  George opened his eyes and spoke.  “Not bad for a dragon that doesn’t exist.”  Gerraint said nothing.  He let Bedivere give the boy his verbal lashing.  Everyone started laughing, a release of tension, when the same man came again to the door and yelled.  “Another one.”

This time, they got outside to see it circling.  As it came down, Gerraint noticed it still had some feathers that clung to its head and around the front and back claws, which were not fully grown.  “This one is young, a female.  I may be able to talk to this one.”  Gerraint grew his cloak to cover himself completely if necessary.  Athena called it fireproof when she gave it to him.  “Bedivere, stay here with George,” Gerraint commanded, and he stepped out to where the dragon, clearly smaller than the first one, set down beside the great worm.

“No fire.  Do no harm.”  Gerraint repeated the Agdaline phrases over and over.  The Agdaline bred the beasts to respond to verbal commands, and the dragons usually listened when they were young enough.  “No harm. Friend.”

The dragon turned its big head without turning the rest of its body, as only a serpent can do.  “No fire,” it repeated, and Gerraint got a look at the particular coloring and pattern of scales on the beast.  All at once, Gerraint no longer stood there.  Margueritte stood in his place and smiled.  She knew this beast.

“Mother,” Margueritte called.

“Mother,” the dragon repeated in a forlorn wail that could not help but let out a touch of fire.  It went over Margueritte’s head.  The dragon turned its head back to look at the dead monster and might have let out a tear.

“No.”  Margueritte was firm.  “You are mother.  I am baby.”  She repeated, “I am baby.”

“Mother?”  The dragon looked again and then turned enough to comfortably face Margueritte.  

“You are mother.  I am baby,” Margueritte said, not quite certain how much verbal information the beast could actually grasp, but they were clever when they were young.

The dragon put its nose to the ground and came right up to Margueritte.  It sniffed, and the wind almost knocked Margueritte off her feet.  “Baby?”  It sniffed again, and whether it smelled hints of the gods, or the fairy weave of the little ones, or simply Margueritte, it suddenly became excited.  “Baby.”  If dragons could smile, this one did.  “Mother.  Baby.”

“Mother, fly.  Fly south.”  Margueritte knew compass points were part of the programming, but she could not be sure if that would translate to Earth directions.  Earth was definitely not the Agdaline home world where dragons were first born and bred.  “Fly south,” she repeated.  “Over the great water.  New home.  New nest.  Mate.  Male is south.  Over great water.  Mate.  Make babies.  Fly mother.  Fly.”

“South.  Over water.  Mate, make babies.”  The dragon appeared to be getting it, but there was no telling what the dragon honestly understood.

“Fly south.  Over water.  Mate.  Make babies.”  Margueritte repeated once more, and the dragon also repeated.

“South.  Make babies.”  Then it stuck its head down to sniff Margueritte once more before it spoke again.  “Baby, come.  Fly south.”

“Mother.”  Margueritte dared to reach out and touch the dragon’s nose.  The dragon purred, a sound much deeper and stronger than any cat could ever hope to make.  “South.  Make babies. I will find you.”  Margueritte was not sure if the dragon understood that last phrase.  She was also not sure if she could extract herself from this awkward position, but then she found herself fading from sight until she became invisible.  She shouted once more.  “Mother.  Fly south.  Make babies.”

“Baby.”  There was a moment of panic on the part of the dragon, but dragons routinely deal with the loss of babies.  Sometimes, if the mother does not play black widow and eat the father after mating, the father will certainly eat the babies.  Margueritte imagined it was part of their breeding. As big as the Agdaline spaceships were, there was only so much room on a ship flying a thousand years through the void.  She imagined papa dragon made good eating.

“Fly south.  Over water.”  The dragon said and lifted its head.  Flame shot out into the sky and the dragon lifted from the ground and circled several times to gain some height before it headed off in a southerly direction.

Margueritte turned.  Rhiannon stood there, grinning.  “So now you are getting yourself adopted by dragons?  That is new even for you.”

“Thanks,” Margueritte responded happily.  “I wasn’t sure how I was going to get out of that one.”

“Yes.  I could just picture baby you in a claw being carted off by mother, south over the big water.”

“Not a pretty sight,” Margueritte laughed and Rhiannon agreed.  “Wait.”  Margueritte stopped so Rhiannon stopped.  Rhiannon looked curious, because even the gods could not read the mind of the Kairos, even when she was someone as plainly mortal as Margueritte.  Margueritte surprised her as she bent over and gave Rhiannon a kiss on the cheek.  Then Gerraint came back and as he did, he became visible.  The Lady became visible with him.

“How sweet,” Rhiannon responded to the kiss.

“From Margueritte,” Gerraint said.  “Not from me, you naughty girl.”

Rhiannon made a face at him, and they stopped at the front of the house.  Bedivere and Hans Bad-Hand were the only ones still standing.  Everyone else was down on at least one knee.  “Good to see you again,” Rhiannon acknowledged Bedivere.

“My pleasure,” he responded.

“And Hans Bad-Hand.  Do not be afraid.  I am only here for George.”  Rhiannon stepped up and put her finger under the boy’s chin to make him stand.  Then she walked around him and examined him like one might examine a horse.  She even spoke that way.  “He is rough clay, but of good stock.  I think I can train this one to good purpose.  George, the dragon-slayer.”  She smiled at the nickname.  “I think I can teach you so next time, you do it right and don’t get yelled at by your Master.”

“Next time?”  Gerraint caught it, and so did Hans by the look on his face.

Rhiannon nodded.  “There are two more, male and female, moving down into the Midlands.  They are, what do you call it, a different species?”

“Same species.  Different breed,” Gerraint said.  “Like dogs.”

“Yes, breed.  They have more leg and fat middles.  More like lizards, I suppose, even if they are still essentially worms.”

“Male and female?” Gerraint did not really ask

“Yes, I’m afraid the land will be dragon infested for some years to come.  A few hundred years, at least.”

 Gerraint sighed.  “Okay.”  There was no helping it, so he stepped up to George and shook his finger.  “Now son.”  He got in the boy’s face.  “You listen to the Lady and do what she says.  I don’t want any teenage backtalk.  Mind your manners and be gracious with please and thank you.  Now, remember the ideals of the Round Table.  Defend the weak, the fatherless, the widows and orphans.  Do good and live an honorable life, and you will be fine.  Oh, and Rhiannon is not an angel, but she is near enough, sometimes.  Is that clear?”

George said nothing.  He simply threw his arms around Gerraint for a big hug.

“Uh.  Bedivere.”  Gerraint called him over, and he took over giving the boy a hug.

“Near an angel?” Rhiannon said.

“I said sometimes, maybe.  But why should I tell you?  It will just swell your head.”

Rhiannon leaned over and this time she kissed Gerraint on the cheek.  “You are the mother.  I am the baby,” she whispered.  He said nothing, but she reached for George’s hand.  “Are we ready?”  George nodded.  “Then let us begin.”  Rhiannon and George and George’s horse and all his equipment vanished with a snap of Rhiannon’s finger.

Gerraint looked up at the clear sky.  The sun would set in an hour or two.  “I wouldn’t cut up that beast until morning,” Gerraint said.  “They have a bladder that runs the whole length of the body and collects gas.  Foul smelling.  And no torches because it will explode if you are not careful.”

Hans Bad-Hand looked up at Gerraint as most men did.  “These are good things to know.  I believe I may have a few more questions for you.”

“I thought you might.”

Heingurt looked at Bedivere with an amazed, slightly dumbfounded look.  Bedivere waited until Heingurt spit it out.  “All on one day.  A real, actual dragon.  Two of them.  And the Lady of the Lake.  And she knew you.  And your Lord, it was like the Lady was bowing to him the whole time.”

“It is like that sometimes with Gerraint,” Bedivere said.  “These kinds of things do tend to follow him around.  Why do you think I travel with him?”

“It must keep life interesting.”  Heingurt grinned at the thought.

“No, it is to keep the old man out of trouble,” Bedivere said, and Heingurt laughed, some genuine and only some nervous laughter.  “Come along, Brennan.”  Bedivere picked the man up off the ground.  He spent that whole time, prostrate, with his hands over his eyes and ears.

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

MONDAY

Arthur and Gerraint take what men they have to Brittany to fetch Lancelot, only to find they have to deal first with the Franks. Until then, Happy Reading

*

M4 Festuscato: The Last Gasp, part 3 of 3

They had two soldiers there to row, and the centurion insisted on coming.

“Poemon,” Festuscato called, though he thought the sprite’s name should have been Pokemon.  A gelatinous blob that looked otherwise like a gingerbread man came up out of the water.  “Can you make a bridge so Dibs and I and the four horsemen can walk across the river?”

“Who is the boat?” Poemon asked in a sweet voice.

“Pope Leo, meet Poemon the water sprite, Prince of the Po River.”  The pope stared.

“Hello, your holiness,” The water sprite waved.  “Wonderful to meet you.  Sure, we can make a bridge, but only if the four horsemen behave.  They are very scary.”

Pestilence chuckled.

The boat started out, and Festuscato stepped on the water with complete confidence.  He took Dibs by the arm and brought him along.  The horsemen followed.  Gaius looked over and objected, because it looked like Festuscato walked on the water.

“That’s cheating.”

“Not,” Festuscato answered.  “I am just using the natural gifts that God almighty has placed in my hands.  There is no magic or witchery or any such thing here.  Anyone can do this, if the spirits are willing.

Pope Leo remained calm about it. He talked to Gaius.  “Apparently, the maker of heaven and earth made more things than I ever knew about.”

“There are more things in Heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” Festuscato shouted.  “Those words were written by a playwright that will be born about eleven hundred years in the future.”

“Like I said,” Gaius spoke to the pope.  “Sometimes you just have to ignore him when he says things like that.  He has been doing that since he was a child, or at least since I was three and my father moved us from Tivoli.”

“I see.”

By the time they reached the other side of the river, a great crowd had gathered on the shore.  Attila stood there, surrounded by his generals and his shaman.  Attila looked old, his face covered in wrinkles of age and worry.  He looked stressed, and Festuscato wondered if the man’s left eye was perhaps a bit crooked.

“Dragon,” Attila said.  “I knew it was you.  Only you would have the audacity to walk across the water.”

Festuscato smiled.  “I am not the messenger this time.”

“You haven’t come to offer me my own life for a third and final time?”  Attila pulled a necklace from beneath his breastplate.  It had two rings on it, one big ruby and one diamond.

“Not this time,” Festuscato said.  “But in keeping with tradition,” he said as he pulled a ring off his finger.  It had a gaudy emerald in it.  “For your losses.” he handed it over and stepped back as the Pope finally got up the embankment.  Festuscato did the introductions.  “May I present his holiness, Pope Leo, Bishop of Rome and primate of the catholic church.  Attila the Hun.”

Both men looked at each other for a long time before Attila broke.  “So, what do you have to say, holy one?”

“I am here to tell you to leave Rome alone.  In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you shall not enter the city.”

“And I should listen to an unarmed old man in a robe?”  Attila laughed.

“Rome has been claimed by the one, eternal, ever living God as a holy city and his own possession. Do not desecrate the holy city with the spilling of blood or your blood may be required of you.”

“Are you threatening me?  I have been threatened by the very best and they all fill their graves, but two.”  Attila looked down at the emerald ring in his hand.

“I am not threatening you.  I am calling you to give up your pagan ways and recognize the one God who made heaven and earth.  It is to him that we will all have to answer in the end, whether we are destined for Heaven or for Hell.  Take care what you do, lest you end up where you do not wish to go.

Attila looked up and his eyes got big.  He saw something, and Festuscato had nothing to do with it.  “Your Peter and Paul,” Attila said.  “The one above wields the sword.”  Attila put his face in his hands and wept, and Festuscato, Gaius and Dibs knew enough to turn his holiness back to the boat, even if the centurion did not understand what was happening.

Festuscato whispered in Pope Leo’s ear.  “You are supposed to bang your staff and say, you shall not pass.  Next time.”  Then he let Gaius hand the pope to Father Falius.

Attila turned away from the riverbank, but Dengizic caught up with Festuscato before they left.  Gaius still stood on the shore with Dibs, and they listened in.

“Father is seeing things that are not there,” Dengizic said.

“I give him about a year, tops,” Festuscato said.  “You can waste your men on the walls of Rome where Aetius is dug in, or you can prepare for the future.”

“I can see why father fears you,” Dengizic said.  “You speak sense, and you speak truth, and he does not know how to handle that.  Plus, you see things that other men cannot see.”

“Sometimes men don’t want to see,” Festuscato said, and he shoved off the boat.

Dengizic nodded and left as Gaius protested missing the boat.  “Walk with me,” Festuscato said.  “Poemon, one more for the return journey.”

“Right you are.”  The water sprite head stuck up from the water, but nothing else.  “A pleasure to take the cardinal.”  The head burst back into water.

“There is no telling what Attila saw,” Festuscato said as he gently took Gaius’ arm.  “It may have been his sickness.  It may have been real.  But, you know, even if it was his sickness, it was mighty well timed.”  Festuscato took the first step.

“It feels squishy,” Dibs warned Gaius, and Gaius stepped out, but he looked down at his feet, expecting to fall through any minute.  He later castigated himself for his lack of faith.

###

Festuscato cried two years later when Aetius got murdered right in front of Emperor Vaentinian.  He cried again a year later when Vaentinian got murdered by Hun friends of Aetius.  That happened in 455, the year the Vandals sailed into Rome and sacked the city.  Festuscato tried to stay out of it and avoided the Vandal King Geiseric, but for the two times.

In truth, he avoided Ricimer, who became the general in chief in the west after Aetius.  He avoided all the subsequent western Roman emperors, as they came and went almost too quickly to keep up.  And he avoided the church, but that became difficult, because Hillarius became pope after Leo and Festuscato laughed and laughed.  Then Gaius had the bad sense to take the position and chose the name Simpicius.

“Simplify, simplify,” Festuscato told him, but he groused, because Hillarius spent all his time worrying about controlling the church, like who was bishop here and who was in control over there.  In Gaius’ mind, that was not what was important.

“Petty bureaucrat,” Festuscato called the man.

“He missed the forest for the trees,” Gaius explained with one of Festuscato’s expressions.

“I prefer, Lord, what fools these mortals be, these days.  That was penned by the same playwright fellow who will be born one thousand and eighty years from now.  My, how time flies.”

“But seriously.  All the Germans, the Vandals, Goths and even the Franks are Arian heretics.  And in the east, there are Monophysites heretics, and they all want to take over and ruin the true faith.”

“Not even poly-physites?”

“Be serious.  The true faith is at stake.  Chalcedon is in the scales.”

“A fish scale.  I was at Nicaea, I think.  I’m not sure if I was at Chalcedon.”

Gaius nodded, ignored Festuscato, and continued on his thought.  “There are some Arians and Monophysites among the cardinals.  The only good thing is they hate each other worse than they hate us Catholics. “

“You got Childeric,” Festuscato pointed out.  “I remember how excited you got when you showed me the letter.  That young fellow in Reims, the one you recommended for bishop despite his youth.”

“I worked with Childeric and his family during all those years we were waiting for you to show up.”

“Yes, well, wait long enough and maybe your heretic cardinals will die off.”

“I should live so long.”

“My wife keeps me young,” Festuscato said, as Morgan came in and sat beside him.  She just turned fifty and Festuscato thought she was as lovely as ever.

“It isn’t fair, you know,” she said.  “Sibelius looks as young as the day I first met her.”

“I remember the way you looked the day I first met you, with your knife, ready for action, and the sweat on your brow.”  Festuscato made a couple of stabs at the curtain with his empty hand.

“And you.  I thought, here is an arrogant fellow.”

“Cad,” Festuscato said.  “Arrogant cad.”

“If you’ll excuse me,” Gaius said and stood.  “I must be getting back to work.  Thanks for straightening out that little misunderstanding.”

Festuscato heard, but as he looked at his wife, he already had other thoughts in mind.  Morgan caught the look.  “We have a daughter and four sons.  Isn’t that enough?”  She was past the point of having children, but that did not deter Festuscato one bit from trying anyway.

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

MONDAY

We move about sixty years into the future for the final tale of Gerraint, son of Erbin in the days of King Arthur.  It will post over the next six weeks.  To tide you over until Monday, have a Dragon Tunic, worn by Festuscato and all Pendragons everywhere.

Happy Reading.

*

 

M4 Festuscato: The Last Gasp, part 2 of 3

An hour later, Festuscato found his rescue party.  Dibs and six of his men were escorting Morgan and Macy, who were riding on horseback and showing that they knew how to ride well.  They were headed and followed by twenty light elves, also on horse, including the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.  Festuscato said nothing, but he understood there was a very large party of gnomes, dwarfs, and others all around, hidden, including one determined ogre who was going to be disappointed at not having the chance to smash some Hun heads.

Morgan spurred her horse to ride up to meet him, but the horse balked when Clugh and Rhiannon appeared at Festuscato’s back.  Festuscato had gotten down to wait for the group to catch up, and his Hun horse bolted.  Fortunately, an elf was not far and able to catch it.  

Morgan kept her seat when her horse bucked, but she could not get her horse to go closer, so she got down, then wisely decided not to get closer herself until invited.  That dragon looked full grown.

“I thought you might like to say good-bye,” Rhiannon said.

“Have you decided to go over to the other side?  You are only four hundred and fifty years late.”  Festuscato smiled while Rhiannon frowned.

“I meant to Clugh.”

“Clugh.  Brother.  No fire.  No harm,” Festuscato shouted in dragon-speak.  He could not be sure the dragon heard him as its eyes were trained on the troop of horsemen, but it leaned down and sniffed, and then it got excited.  “Aha!  You remember me,” Festuscato shouted, and when Clugh’s head stopped bobbing up and down, Festuscato petted the beast and scratched behind the ear, which made Clugh purr, now a deep bass rumble.

“Ank!” Clugh said in something like a roar and raised his head.  Morgan started inching up, but she stopped at the sound.

“Tell your wife I am proud of her and happy for her,” Rhiannon said with a broad smile.  “She succeeded where all of the rest of the women in the world failed.”

“I didn’t sleep with every woman in the world,” Festuscato protested.

“Just about,” Rhiannon said through her grin.

“We will meet again,” Festuscato said quickly, as he sensed his audience with the goddess was finished.  “But maybe not in this life.”

“I know,” Rhiannon said.  “I wish you hadn’t said that.  And I lost Greta already.”  Rhiannon showed a tear in her eye and gave him a hug before she and Clugh vanished, and Morgan ran.  She tackled Festuscato and landed on top of him in the grass.  She started kissing his face all over while the words tumbled out.

“You are the best husband.  You have given me the best wedding present, ever.  All the fairies and elves and dwarfs and even the big ugly one, and the spooky ones all listen to me.  And the sprites in the sky and the rivers and the fire all pay attention.”  She took a breath. “Of course, they don’t do what I tell them, oh but they are wonderful, and I love them, and they love me, and I know it.  I really know it.”  She took another breath and her eyes went to tears.  “And I was so afraid I was going to lose you before I ever had you.  Sibelius, your house elf maid pulled me through the wall at the house, so I escaped the Huns, but then I kept crying, and they kept telling me that you were still alive, and here you are.” Her smile came back.  “And I love you so much.”  She hugged him and grinned an elf worthy grin as she laid her head on his chest.

Festuscato knew she was suffering from what he called elf overload.  He remembered Greta’s husband, Darius suffered from it when they were engaged, but he soon settled down, and so would Morgan.  Meanwhile, she excited him, terribly, and she seemed to know it, so he thought to say something.

“Wouldn’t you rather enjoy telling me all this without so many clothes getting in the way?”

Morgan pulled up her head, her eyes got big, and her cheeks turned red.  “Oh, I hope so,” she whispered, and kissed his ear.

###

Late in August, Gaius came to fetch Festuscato.  Morgan, three months pregnant, became happy all the time.  Festuscato stayed happy as well, but he also felt exhausted.  The only thing he could not figure out was if he or she was responsible for not letting the other get any rest.  He decided they were both responsible, and he could not prevent the smile that came to his lips, thinking about it.

“Father forgive me for I have sinned,” Festuscato said, as soon as he saw Gaius.  “I can’t think of a good one to tell you right now, but I must have done something.”

“I guessed from the smile on your face,” Gaius nodded.

“This?  Oh, this has nothing to do with sin for once.  I am a happily married man, you know.”  He looked up as Morgan came in, patting her belly.

“I’m happy too,” she said.  Festuscato looked at her with love in his eyes, and she finished her thought.  “Sibelius has finally mastered unburned toast, and she makes such great ham sandwiches.”

Festuscato stood and got in her face.  “I see.  You’re happy about ham sandwiches.” 

“I am eating for two.”

He put his hand on her tummy.  “Your mama likes to play.  She can’t fool me.”

“I don’t play.  I take it serious,” Morgan protested.  “You are the teacher.  I am the student.”

“And an excellent student you are.” He pulled up close and ran his fingers up her back which made a soft sigh come out of her lips.

“Got any more lessons?” she asked.

“Ahem.”  Gaius interrupted.  “And for once I don’t want to hear about it.  I just came to fetch you.  Are you ready to go?”

“Am I ready to go?” Festuscato asked his wife.

“Yes, you are ready,” Morgan said, but she moved in to hug him and squeeze him.  Then they kissed, and Gaius spoke again.

“I’ll wait outside.”

Pope Leo waited by the gate.  Dibs stood there, and the four horsemen came for a reunion trip, so at least six of them would wear the dragon tunic.  Aetius arrived, but only to try to talk them out of it.  The Pope did not listen, so Aetius turned to at least seeing them off safely.  He had brought his little army into Rome to man the walls when Attila turned and appeared to be headed for the city.  Aetius offered Festuscato good luck and went back to work.

“Hillarius will stand in my place while we are out of the city,” Leo explained to Felix, who had found his place at last, supplying all of the ecclesiastical robes for the priests, bishops, cardinals, and the Pope himself.  He had what Festuscato called his sweatshop down by the docks to be close when his imported silk came in.  “He will pay the agreed upon price or hear about it when I get back.”

“Very good,” Felix said, and bowed.  He really was a first-class salesman.

“Felix, Dibs, Gaius,” Festuscato got their attention.  “Who would have thought four grubby kids would go from stealing oranges to this?”

“We didn’t steal the oranges,” Gaius said, in a moment of selective memory.

“You were the grubby one,” Felix insisted.

“Too bad Mirowen couldn’t be here,” Dibs said, and they all agreed with that.

“She is happy where she is,” Festuscato said, though he had no way of knowing for sure.  “Queen of the Geats.  Of course, about now they ought to be fighting their own dragon.  Seamus knows some dragon-speak, and he should get the story down on paper.  We will all be able to read about it in about a hundred years.”  He mounted up, so they all mounted.  The Pope, naturally, had a hundred men under the centurion Abelard, going to protect him in the wilderness.  They kept their distance from the dragon and his men, having heard stories, and they gave Pope Leo plenty of room, and tried not to crowd him as well.  It became an easy thing for Festuscato to push through the dozen priests and scribes and ride beside Leo.

“So, your number two man is named Hillarius?”  The pope nodded and Festuscato said, “That’s hilarious.”  He laughed hard, and Gaius had to interject.

“Just ignore him when he says things like that.”

It took more than a week to get to the Po river.  Everyone kept thinking that Attila would cross over, and they would meet him on the way, but he seemed to be stuck on the far bank.  No one, except Festuscato, and maybe Dengizic, had any idea why he got stuck.

When they came to the river, they found it wide and deep.  That should not have mattered to the Huns.  If they had no bridge or boats, they were adept at making things like simple rafts, and their horses could swim well enough. 

“Why is he just standing there?”

Festuscato explained.  “Attila is a very superstitious man.  He is a pagan believer in the old ways, even though he is educated in the new ways.  He lives by the omens.  He had his shaman sacrifice before the battle of Chalons, and the man read the entrails and told Attila that a great leader would die in the battle.  Attila hesitated, but when he came out to fight, I believe he hoped Aetius would die, or maybe me, though I wasn’t the leader.”

The Pope waited before he said, “And?”

“Theodoric, King of the Visigoths died, but when you think about it, it would have been strange in a battle like that for every leader to come through unscathed.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” Leo said, and Gaius helped him down into the boat where Father Falius waited.  

M4 Festuscato: The Last Gasp, part 1 of 3

Festuscato shoved Morgan into the small room beside the entranceway, before he got grabbed.  Festuscato prayed, and when one of the Huns burst the door to that room, he found the room empty and yelled.  Two more Huns followed and banged around on the walls and floor, but the room proved solid and the woman had gone.

“Where did she go?” The chief Hun yelled and slapped Festuscato, hard.

“In that room,” Festuscato responded through his bloody lip. “I don’t know, unless the goblins took her.”

The chief Hun hit him again, but the two who held his arms lightened their grip and another stared at the floor, like he expected something to rise up any minute.  No matter.  Festuscato would not escape.  They tied his hands and feet, dragged him outside, and threw him over a horse, Margueritte style, he thought to himself.  They rode through the night and arrived at a Hun camp just before sunrise.  

Festuscato felt dizzy and half-conscious when they threw him into a tent and posted several guards.  The tent looked like some sort of command tent, with a table and stools, and a cot behind a curtain.  Festuscato hit the ground near the spot where a fire had burned, recently, but he felt too dizzy to look around much.  He slept for a while, now that he was not being jostled about.  When he awoke in the early afternoon, his stomach remained queasy, but his head felt better.  He just started thinking a bit of food might help his stomach settle down, when his visitor arrived.  Dengizic, Attila’s middle son.  Festuscato made the effort to sit up—not an easy thing with his hands and feet still tied.

Dengizic entered the tent with two others, no doubt his captains, and he slapped Festuscato, hard.  Festuscato’s lip began to bleed as the slap shoved him back to the ground.  He groused because he had to make the effort to sit up again.

“Dengizic,” Festuscato said as he spat blood.  “I heard your father was in Italy.  Did you come for the warm weather?”

Dengizic raised his hand to slap Festuscato a second time but changed his mind.  “At last, the dragon is bound,” he said in a triumphant voice.

“What?  You came this far south just for me?”

Dengizic shook his head.  “We got the word that Valentinian abandoned Ravena and made a dash for Rome.  I was sent to intercept him, but somehow, he slipped past us.  I heard he was dressed as a woman.”  Dengizic and his captains thought of that as terribly funny.

“So, you got me instead,” Festuscato concluded.

“Father will not be unhappy.”

“But what do you expect to gain by invading Italy?” Festuscato asked, seriously.  “The empire in the west is all but gone.  The gold is all spent, and Rome is ready to crumble with nothing to be gained by it.”

“We will be the end of you Romans.  We have utterly destroyed Aquileia and your legion on the Adriatic.  Attila is marching on Padua, and men are scouting as far away as Milan.  Now that the weather has turned, Aetius is seeking to come back from Gaul, but he has no army to reckon with.  The Franks and Visigoths have abandoned him.”

“So, Italy is wide open, waiting for you to take whatever plunder there is.  I hope you won’t be too disappointed.  Besides, Italy has had some bad harvests these last couple of years.  You may find it hard to keep your great army fed as well as paid.”

“We will take the food of the people,” Dengizic said calmly, quite certain that he had the upper hand.  “What do we care if you Romans die by the sword or by starvation?”

“People die of many things,” Festuscato responded.  “How is your father holding up by the way?  His circulation must be getting pretty bad.  Has he shown any signs of bleeding?”

Dengizic paused in his own thoughts and stared at Festuscato.  Clearly, he had seen some things.  “What do you know?” he asked.

Festuscato looked at the others in the tent as he spoke.  “Maybe this needs to be private, for your ears only.”  Dengizic also looked at his captains before he ordered them to leave.  He took a stool and sat facing Festuscato while he waited to hear what Festuscato had to say.

“I imagine he has a couple of years, at most.  The consensus is he has circulatory problems, may be developing blood clots, and may have a stroke or heart attack in the next year or so.  Doctor Mishka thinks he may have a brain tumor, but it is impossible to be certain without examining him with equipment that hasn’t been invented yet.”

Dengizic struggled to understand.  “I know what a heart attack is.  Are you saying my father will have a heart attack?”

“Or a stroke or seizure of some kind.  A stroke is where one whole side of the body dies.”

Dengizic’s eyes got wide.  “I have seen such a thing.”

“Of course, if it is a brain tumor, he could die at any point.  Look for bleeding from the nose, or worse, from the ears.  Look for erratic, that is, strange behavior.  Look for him to behave like a completely different person.  He might go along seeming normal for days or weeks, and then have an episode where he starts to act strange, and then after a time he seems normal again.”

“This will kill him?” Dengizic asked.  He looked at the ground, thinking hard.

“A year.  Maybe two.”  Festuscato paused before he asked a question.  “Tell me about Ellak.  He is your older brother, right?”

“Ellak is not so smart.  You see, father did not send him on this errand.”

“So, when your father dies, you are going to let Ellak take over and rule?”

Dengizic’s eyes got big.  “What are you suggesting?”

“I am not suggesting anything.  I am telling you that you have a year or two to get your house in order and build support if you don’t want not-so-smart to take over.  I am telling you to watch out for Emak, your younger brother.  I hear he is a clever one.  I would not be surprised if he started reaching out to supporters years ago.  I don’t think it will take him long to build an army.”

Dengizic stood.  He looked like a man for whom the universe just made sense and he did not know what to do about it.  Festuscato had a different thought, about something he could do.

“Rhiannon,” he called.  Then the goddess Amphitrite spoke into his mind from her time in the deep past, and Festuscato amended his statement. “In Amphitrite’s name, I give you permission to come into the jurisdiction of Olympus and Saturn.”

Rhiannon appeared, meek and unsure, looking around as if she expected Zeus or someone to show up any minute and start yelling.  When she caught sight of Festuscato all tied up and on the ground, she covered her mouth to hold back her laugh.  She paid no attention to Dengizic, who took a step back and opened his mouth.

“Mother, you look like that pig, Megla.”

“If you don’t mind,” Festuscato said and held out his hands.  “And your mother Danna says she does not want to get involved.”

Rhiannon raised one hand and the ropes that bound Festuscato fell away. He got up stiffly and rubbed his back as he did.  “But what are the Huns doing here?” she asked. “I saw your battle, by the way.  You just sat on your hill and didn’t even draw your sword.  Tsk, tsk.”  She shook a finger at him and scolded him.

Festuscato rolled his eyes.  Most Celtic goddesses were a bit bloodthirsty.  He got to the point.  “How is my dragon?”

“My dragon,” Rhiannon said, possessively.  “You gave him to me.”  He nodded but looked for his answer.  “Well,” she said softy before her face lit up.  “He is really growing.  He has learned to cut a deer in half so the whole thing doesn’t get stuck half-way down.  He is really very clever, you know.”

“Smarter than your average bear,” Festuscato nodded.  “I was wondering if you would mind bringing him here for a bit.  These Huns captured the dragon and I want them to think twice before trying it again.  Besides, I need something to cover my escape.”

Rhiannon curled her lip.  “I have really been good and steered Clugh away from people.”

“The Huns have horses,” Festuscato suggested.

Rhiannon’s lip stayed curled. “Horse gives him the burpies.  He ate a whole horse once and stayed up all night burping flames in his nest.”

“He doesn’t have to eat any. Just crisp a few and cause some panic so I can get away.”

“All right,” Rhiannon agreed, and her smile returned.  She stepped out of the tent with a word to Dengizic.  “Close your mouth.”

“Close your mouth,” Festuscato agreed as he followed Rhiannon outside.  He found a horse there ready to ride.  Whether it was Rhiannon’s doing or not seemed unclear.  Festuscato gave the cheek of the goddess a quick peck, said, “Thank you,” and mounted.  As he rode off, the dragon flew over his head and started burning tents, men and horses.  Rhiannon rose happily in the air and helped Clugh practice his aim.

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.

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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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