M3 Margueritte: Counting the People, part 1 of 3

Dearest Roland,

Once again, let me say how sorry I was not to be awake and aware of your leaving.  There are so many things I wish I could have told you, but now it will all have to wait until you return.  I worry about you at war, but I know you had to go, and that Charles needs you.  I worry about Tomberlain as well.  He has neither your skill nor experience and I hope he is not annoying you and getting in the way too much.  (I wrote that for Tomberlain).

I was told you were concerned that I get my medicine as instructed.  You know Father.  Mother has often said he would lose his sword if she was not there to point to his side.  Fortunately, Mother made sure I got every last drop, and I am much better now, you might say nearly well.  Mother says I am still too skinny, but I am really just being careful and trying to eat right and a good diet as everyone should.

Once again, Goldenrod was full of “newsy,” but it sounded much like the last time.  I’m afraid farm life does not change much.  It has been this way for hundreds of years and it will likely continue for hundreds more.   Help with the calving and the baby lambs, hoe the garden and pluck the weeds, sort the potatoes and try not to laugh too much.  I miss you.

Lady Jennifer had a baby girl.  Poor Father Aden fretted the whole last month, but she did very well, and Mother and I were right there to help all the way.  I am so happy for them both.  Oh, and Elsbeth is working very hard thinking of ways to ignore poor Owien.  Funny, though, Owien has been too busy with his duties of late to notice much, and that infuriates Elsbeth, so there is some entertainment.  Speaking of which, Thomas of Evandell, the king’s bard has been here several times.  He says he has just come to check on my condition, and I thank him kindly, but I suspect there is more to it.  I feel as if something is going on among the Breton, and I do not feel it is good, whatever it is.  Father says Baron Bernard has been allowed to go home to Paris to spend his last days in a comfortable home and in the company of friends.  I am glad for that, but it leaves terrible holes in the mark, now north and south.  Father has written to the king about it, but nothing has happened thus far.  I was thinking you might talk to Charles.  Father is a great man to do his duty, but I do not know if he can hold the border and keep the peace alone.  He is rather gray, you know.  Mother calls him distinguished, but I know he is older.  It seems to me he does not jump as he once did, if you know what I mean.  I was thinking younger men in the north and perhaps the baron’s son, Michael, in the south should come while Father is still able to teach them their duty.  Ask Charles if this makes sense, if you don’t mind.

Roland, when will I see you again?  Please bring Tomberlain home safe someday and then you could stay a while for once.  You would be most welcome.  Meanwhile, I will write again.  I would write the moment something changed or something exciting happened, but alas, if I waited for some excitement, I fear I would never write again.  Perhaps I will think of something worth telling by tomorrow.  The Lord keep you.

All my love,


Margueritte thought of her days as dull, dull, dull.  One thing she learned was how to prod the sheep along with a little electrical jolt.  She practiced because Puppy, now full grown, got as lazy as Maven.  Goldenrod came to visit when she could, but she mostly stayed with Elsbeth.  Margueritte sighed.  She got bored, bored, bored, and because of that, she talked to her puppy as often as not.

“So Gerraint went by the Tor to Tara, and that was exciting.  And he found Bridget there, though I do think he was a little hard on her.  But then they went to Avalon of the Apples.  It was not Avalon itself, mind you, not where Lady Alice lives, but it was connected in a way.  Oh, but then Festuscato faced the werewolf, the wolf-hag, and that was very scary, especially when that Abraxas showed up.  The sky turned dark and there was lightning and all.  I noticed, even if Nameless ignored it.”

Puppy looked at her with eyes which asked if she was through yet.  Margueritte sighed again.  “Even the gypsies have left for Aquitaine, maybe even Spain.  There is nothing here but sheep and Latin, and you, Puppy.”  She smiled and patted the dog’s head.  His tail wagged a little in response.  He was content to be petted, as long as he did not have to otherwise move.  “Sorry.”  Margueritte said at last.  “But it is time to go home.”  She got up, so Puppy got up.  Puppy did not mind going home.  He helped gather the sheep, and they drove them down into the hollow and toward the barn.

When she arrived home, Margueritte found horses in the triangle.  Chief Brian and her father were arguing.

“No.  It will only be for a few days,” Brian insisted.  “The king is traveling to all the towns.”

“But my serfs should not be needed.  There are no troublemakers among them, and the farm will hardly be able to function without their labor,” Barth insisted.

“Most remain subject to the king, and the census is part of it,” Brian said.  “And it will only be a few days.  Now that Finnian McVey is gone.”

“A-ha!”  Barth interrupted.  “That at least is a good thing, though the man should have been boiled in oil.”

“Bartholomew!”  Lady Brianna scolded him.  “You have said the Breton needed to make some changes in the way they do things.”

“The king’s system is very inefficient and unproductive.”  Lord Barth nodded.  “I remember saying it, but why interfere with something that is working well?  We are efficient and organized, provided the work does not stop for a week.”  He leaned into Brian’s face for the last comment.

“They remain the king’s subjects.”  Brian said, not in the least intimidated.  “Attendance is required.”

Margueritte left.  She heard enough.  She thought a trip to the barn was in order, but when she arrived, she found trouble there as well.

“Leave him alone!”  Elsbeth yelled and stood in front of the ladder to the hay loft.

“Come down, boy,” Roan shouted up.  Morgan simply stood by the big barn door and looked stupid and mean.

“You come and get me,” Owien shouted down.  “I have work to do.”

“You should do as you’re told, boy!”  Roan got angry.  “Morgan, go get him.”

Morgan moved toward the ladder, but Elsbeth threw her back to the ladder and wrapped her arms behind to clutch the wood and block the way.

“Move, girl,” Roan said.  He reached out, pulled Elsbeth roughly from her place and threw her to the ground. Margueritte’s hands went up almost without a thought, and Roan felt the electrical sting.  It sent him to his knees.  Morgan turned on Margueritte to grab her, but the charge still flowed through her blood, and Morgan snapped back and fell like a man struck with a sudden electrical shock.  The thing Marguerite noticed, however, was the look in Morgan’s eyes.  Her fool was missing.  His eyes stared blankly like one under a spell.

“Leave off.”  Canto the druid came to the door.

“But the boy,” Roan protested.

Canto looked up at the boy who stood at the top of the ladder brandishing a knife.  “He’s been too tainted by the Franks,” Canto said.  “He is of no consequence.  Let him be.  It is time to move.”

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: The Maiden and the Dragon, part 1 of 4

When the days turned cold and the winter came on, Margueritte found herself inside by necessity.  She took to writing to Roland and told him about her days and the farm, and all the people and activities around the manor.  She strictly avoided the love talk she desperately wanted to share.  Some days she did not write for fear that she had to be boring him to tears with all her farm talk.  Some days she wrote twice, but it hardly mattered.  The rider from the capitol only came once a month, so Roland always got a neat packet of letters all bundled together.

In return, Roland wrote one letter every month, and addressed it to the whole family.  It sounded very strained and formal, Margueritte thought, and all too full of military progress in Belgium or against the Saxons or Burgundians.  Roland’s praise for Charles seemed unending, but that was not what Margueritte wanted to hear.  Even the notes by Tomberlain which got scribbled at the bottom failed to cheer her up.  Her mother always had an encouraging word.  “He is thinking of you.  He only writes to us because of you,” she would say, but that was not what Margueritte wanted to hear.

“And Latin every Wednesday.”  Margueritte would respond, and then proceed to mope for the next few days.  She began to take the dogs and visit with the shepherds, and sometimes she and the dogs would take the sheep, just like old times, and give the shepherds a day off; not that her father did not have plenty of other tasks for them to do.  Love was a hard thing, she decided; especially when it did not appear to be reciprocated.

At the end of April, Marta gave birth to a baby boy, and everyone celebrated.  Then they discovered that Jennifer was pregnant, and everyone got excited and celebrated again.  Margueritte did not feel much like celebrating, though she tried hard not to put a damper on everyone else’s joy.

With the spring, Owien found his work as a squire kept him exceptionally busy.  That gave Elsbeth a great deal of free time; but then it seemed that Elsbeth and Goldenrod had become very close in Margueritte’s absence.  Margueritte often continued to absent herself from their company, feeling something like a third wheel, and she would go off and talk to the dogs, and sometimes to the sheep, and sometimes she would cry, but just a little.

“And the rider from Paris should be here any day now,” Margueritte told her puppy one day.  She patted his head and he looked up at her with big eyes and panting tongue.  Actually, the rider from Paris arrived in the triangle at that very moment, and he carried a letter addressed to her.  Roland had agonized for months over what he wanted to say to her, struggled to find just the right words; but then, Margueritte did not get to read that letter, because even as she spoke, her puppy got up and began to growl and bark.

Several horsemen rushed out from the woods.  Margueritte recognized Rowan and assumed Morgan came with him, and she recognized Canto, the druid of Vergenville, but she was not sure of the rest, and she hardly had time for close inspection.

“Hey!  Stay away from the sheep!  Watch out!  Ow, puppy!”  She said “Ow,” and called for her puppy because someone dropped a net on her and it tangled her hair and she almost twisted her ankle.  The puppy, however, got tangled in its’ own net.

“What are you doing?” she yelled.

“Get her out of there and tie her up,” Canto ordered.

“My father will hear about this,” Margueritte threatened.  “You can’t do this.”

They yanked her arms behind her back and tied her tight.  She started to scream for help, but as she did, she found a gag put around her mouth, so it came out, “He-umph!”

“Pick her up, but carefully.  We don’t want her damaged,” Canto ordered.  Roan and Morgan reached for her, but she managed to kick Roan where he would feel it for days to come.  Morgan winced.

“I had an uncle who got kicked like that once,” he said.

Other men stepped up and tied her ankles, and then she got slung over the back of a horse, face down.  She felt a sharp slap on her rump and would have felt humiliated by that if she was not so busy being angry.  The thought, what did they think they were doing?  Was followed swiftly by, how did they imagine they could get away with this? And then, who is behind this?  But for the last, she would have to wait and find out.

The ride to Vergen was not pleasant.  Bumping up and down like that with the blood rushing to her head made her pass out after a while.  That turned out to be just as well, because she started cramping up terribly and hurt in every place they tied her, where the ropes rubbed with each bounce.

Once in town, she was not taken to the magistrate’s hall and to Chief Brian as she had guessed, but instead she got tossed into an empty storage room in a warehouse where they had an old army bedroll on some wilted straw, two rickety chairs and a small table.  She got locked in.  They untied her feet, but they left her hands tied behind her back and the gag securely across her mouth in case she got any ideas.

Margueritte could not cry; she could not scream, and she could not even look at where they cut her hair to untangle her from the net, so she just sat in the chair and fumed.  It felt like they cut it almost up to her shoulder blade in that spot, and apart from that, her only other thought was how the room smelled like musty old rotten apples.

It may have been hours before she heard the latch on the door.



We shall see what the dragon has to say. Until then, Happy Reading


M3 Margueritte: Roland, part 3 of 3

Roland paid the gypsy woman before Margueritte could speak, but the woman’s practiced eye caught her reluctance.

“Little unbeliever?”  The woman spoke better Frankish than Breton.  “Do not be afraid.  Though the world is far greater than you could ever imagine, full of sprites and demons of all shapes and sizes, you need not fear them.  They will not touch you here.”  The suggestive speech had been designed to stir up anticipation and a little fright, even as the woman said, do not be afraid.  Margueritte did not get taken.  Besides, she had friends in all shapes and sizes, so she heard nothing new in what the woman said.

“Lord.”  She took Roland’s hand and he looked to Margueritte with a most silly look.  “You have a strong hand.  I see you have already known battle, but many more will follow after the first.  You will be well renowned and well respected and win great honor and praise for your deeds.  Great courage I see, and even kings will seek your counsel.  Such is a future to be desired.”

Margueritte took a breath.  The woman told him what she undoubtedly thought he wanted to hear.  Perhaps she was safe.  Perhaps the woman was merely a fake.  Good grief, Margueritte thought.  The woman could have said that much just by looking at his clothes.

“Five children.  No.  Only four will live, but they will follow you in honor, especially your two sons.  Great are the days ahead for you, and this, then is your young Lady?”

And why should a fortune teller have to ask such a thing?  Margueritte wondered.  The woman reached for her hand, but Marguerite still felt reluctant.  “Go ahead,” Roland said, quietly, so as not to break the spell.

At last Margueritte put her hand out.  The woman looked and turned the hand over and back again.  She reached for Margueritte’s other hand and stood, knocked over the stool she sat on, her eyes wide and her look far away.  “It is the one,” she said.  “It is,” and she spoke for a minute in a language neither Roland, Margueritte, nor Thomas had ever heard, and then she leaned in close and breathed garlic and onions in Margueritte’s face.  “The curse,” she said in her breath.  “The curse!”  She screamed and hurried out the back of the tent.

Margueritte felt in shock and near tears, not knowing why.  Roland picked her up by the arm and with Thomas they left that area.

“What could have come over that woman?”  Roland wondered out loud.

“I can’t imagine.  I’ve never seen the like,” Thomas said.

“And she was doing such a marvelous job of telling us just what we wanted to hear.”  Roland said.  Margueritte looked up and felt glad he had not been taken in.

“Just what I was thinking,” she sniffed, and took out her handkerchief to wipe her nose and dab her eyes.

“Strange, that,” Thomas said.  “But I would not worry about what a gypsy says.  They are a strange breed altogether.”

“Breedies.”  Margueritte remembered what Goldenrod had called them, and they went back to the inn where Thomas left them to attend to the king’s table.

Margueritte did not sleep well that night.  She never did just before that time of the month.  She felt glad that the morning would be filled with races, and the afternoon filled with games.  Likely, she would see little of Roland until that evening.  She felt excited about that, because for the first time she would be attending the king’s feast instead of waiting in the cold and dark inn for the fire to return.  With that thought she slept a little.  She still got up in the morning before most.

Lord Bartholomew won the race that year, and handily.  Margueritte did her best to congratulate her father, but he said it was a hollow victory since there was no Gray Ghost to beat.  In the afternoon there were indeed games, and she was thrilled to see Roland do so well at so many things.  Normally, she would have been at the fair with Elsbeth and Maven, but this year she decided it would be best if she simple sat quietly.  She would have done so, cheering on her quarterback, as she thought of him, and lamenting the fact that she was not more the beautiful cheerleader type, except for two interruptions.

The first came in the form of fat Brian, the village chief who sat beside her on the bench and looked over the field where they were pitching stones and trees.  She just started wondering if Roland might think the Breton went in for some strange sports when the chief spoke.

“Have you seen Curdwallah?” he asked.  It seemed a very strange question.

“No,” Margueritte said.

“Neither have I,” Brian responded.  “But you can be sure she is around.”  He got silent for a moment, watched the games and pretended that he was not talking to anyone at all.  Margueritte’s curiosity finally got the better of her.

“Why do you ask?”

“Because Duredain the king’s druid and Canto, my own druid, are both completely under her spell, as far as I can tell.  Canto I can handle, but Duredain has the king’s right ear, you know.”

“Why do you say they are under her power like that?”  Margueritte asked.

“Because they do not seem themselves.  Because they are mouthing words I have heard her speak.  Because that woman is a witch in the worst possible terms,” he said.  Another moment came of watching before Margueritte spoke again.

“So why are you telling me this?”

Brian looked at her for the first time, but only briefly.  He looked away again before he spoke.  “Because I know you have some connection with the powers in this world, yourself.”  He put his hand up quickly to stop her mouth and then pretended to wipe his chin.  “I have my sources.  I know there are spirits hanging around your home and I know they answer to you.  I have seen things through the touch of your own hand, in case you have forgotten.”

Margueritte looked down at her lap and worried her hands.



Margueritte gets Backed into a Corner.  Don’t Miss It.  Until then, Happy Reading.


M3 Margueritte: Year of the Unicorn, part 3 of 3

Owien did not move.  He could not believe seeing a real unicorn, and when he saw the fairies, he almost fainted.  They were holding hands and dancing in a circle about five feet from the ground, chanting.

“Hurry, hurry Avalon

Under moon and under sun

Make a way to Kairos hold

Make a door for travelers bold.”

The children imagined listening to a bear thrash through the woods, the growl of the cat and the serpent slithering through the leaves, but with that chant, Margueritte perked up.  “How many miles to Avalon?” she asked.

“Three score miles and ten.”  The fairies answered in unison.

“Can I get there by candlelight?”

“Yes, and back again.”  The fairies, oblivious to the danger they were in, fell back and laughed and laughed, an enchanting, infectious laughter, and it cheered them all.  And then the door opened.  A mere shimmer in the air at first, it quickly became an arch, high and wide, that touched the ground.  The children saw another world altogether, with a carefully manicured lawn so richly green it nearly hurt the eyes to look at it, and a sky so blue that Owien claimed after that he never really saw a blue sky again.  On a hill in the distance stood the greatest castle any of them had ever imagined, with more towers and pinnacles than they would have guessed possible.  Near at hand stood the most beautiful woman any had ever seen, and she glowed all around, ever so slightly, like a true, angelic vision.  The woman stepped into this world, looked around and took in the whole scene with one sweep of her eyes.  The fairies bowed and backed away.  Margueritte just had to step forward.

“Lady Alice,” she said, for she knew who it was.  “Is it time for me to come home now?”

“No, my little self,” Alice said.  “You have much yet to do here, but soon enough, and you may come.”  She turned to Elsbeth who thought it only right to curtsey.  “Do not be afraid, child.  Your days, too, will be long and happy.  And what do you say Owien son of Bedwin.  Will Sir Owien and Sir Tomberlain, the best of friends, not come into this high adventure?”  She stepped aside first for the unicorn and invited the beast to enter in.  The unicorn did not hesitate.  It reared up once, the earth shook, and lightening pierced across the sky.  Then it dashed through the door and quickly became lost in the distance as it raced across that sea of green.  “And my children,” Alice said to the fee who fluttered passed the door.

“Come on, come on-ey.”  Goldenrod prompted the others.

“Yes, hurry.”  Little White flower added.  Margueritte started and that got everyone’s feet moving.  Tomberlain came last with his horse.  When they turned, they could not see a door at all, and Alice was also not with them.  Looking out across the pasture, they saw great fields of perfect, golden grain not far from a river which ran deep and wide, and which seemed to come from the castle on the hill.  Behind them was the sea.  Indeed, they were almost on the golden shore and it seemed as if the drab world from which they had come must be buried beneath the waves.  Beyond the pasture in one direction and beyond the fields and river in the other, there were deep forests.  The one past the pasture looked like pine and fir and rose in great procession to where it undoubtedly became cliffs fallen off into the sea.  The one past the fields looked like oak, birch, maple, elm, and a thousand species they could hardly name, and it seemed to stretch off into the distance without end.

They felt reluctant to go too far for fear of disturbing the pristine perfection that they saw.  Even the fairies, who seemed at home, hardly dared move from the moorings of the children.  Then they saw someone come from the fields and river. They waited, because they felt they could hardly do anything else.  At last he arrived, a man, deep bearded and hard to look upon, but with a kindly face and a warm demeanor.  He came barely clothed, wore only the least cloth such as the Romans once wore, and in his hands, he held a sword.

“Caliburn,” Alice said.  They all spun around and saw that she had somehow come up behind them.  “It was made for a princess by the gods of old, but it has been carried by others since.”

“Would that I could carry a weapon like that someday,” Tomberlain said with a sigh.  Owien nodded, but Alice laughed.

“You gentlemen will have swords a plenty,” she said.  “But true and proper will be the swords carried by you men.  Even Arthur, who once pulled this sword from the stone, later gained another sword from the Lady of the Lake that he could bear with honor.  I said this sword was made for a woman, but there is a man who will bear it.  Margueritte, dear, you will know him when you find him.  Now you must go home.”

“Oh, Lady, must we?”  Little White Flower whined.

“Of course.  Your father will miss you.  But you may come again.”

“Promises?”  Goldenrod asked.

“Promises, my sweet,” Alice said, and she waved her hand to open a door to another place.  Tomberlain and Owien stepped out first with the horse.  The girls took hands and followed with the fairies.  The door vanished.  They stood in the triangle and their mother ran to hug and cry over her children, before she sent a man to find their father.  The man did not have to go far.

The king left without his tents, and only sent men back to fetch them.  Lord Bartholomew told the story that evening.

“There we were, racing for the site where the girls had been left.  I was obliged to follow, not knowing the location.  Fortunately, I had sent Tomberlain ahead to search as soon as I knew of Urbon’s foolish plan.  And, I must say, when I explained to Urbon what he had done, he was most reluctant to let the girls be harmed by whatever beasts might be driven to the center of that circle.  He did not say he was sorry, but I could tell he hadn’t thought things through very well.  So, we raced ahead of the people and arrived in time to see a rather incredible and unexpected sight.  If I say she was the most beautiful woman my eyes have ever beheld, you must forgive me, dear wife.  She was angelic, glowing even in the daylight and floating some two feet above the ground.  Neither would I have had those dainty sandaled feet muddied by the grime of this world to which she obviously does not belong.”

“Poor Urbon fairly fell to his face and trembled before her, and Duredain the druid went right with him.  I kept to horse, but only because I was so astounded at the sight of her.  The Irishman also stayed up, but I believe it was shock that froze him.  He is like a man who uses words for his advantage but does not actually believe in anything but himself.  I am sure he never believed there was a unicorn.  The woman fairly froze him in his saddle.”

“The children are safe,” the woman said.  “And I will see them safely home.  Do not be too hard on yourself for putting their innocence in harm’s way.  The unicorn is out of this world now and out of your reach.  Alas, the old ways have gone and the new has come.  Embrace the new, but also remember you must show grace to those who still see things differently.  This universe is bigger than you think, and always remember there is more you do not know than there is that is known to you.”  And she vanished.  It’s true.  She utterly vanished off the face of the earth.”

“Alice,” Tomberlain said.


“Her name is Alice,” Tomberlain said.

“And she was most very beautiful,” Elsbeth added.



The years go by, but finally some questions just need to be asked, and Margueritte has to answer them, if she can.  Until Monday


M3 Gerraint: Winter Bound, part 3 of 3

“Gerraint of Cornwall,” the druid named him, not questioning the weapons, but identifying him by the same.  He looked hard at the others.

“Uwaine, son of Llewyl.”  Gerraint introduced him

“Urien of Laodegan.”  Urien stepped up and identified himself.  “And a great supporter of Iona.”  In the last couple of centuries of Roman occupation, the druids became terribly persecuted.  They sought and found refuge on the island of Iona, and though Arthur had pledged peace with the druids, they still kept Iona as a primary base and center of the cult.

The druid smiled.  “The Raven, of course.”

“Gwillim, Captain of the Sea Moss and Trevor, my mate,” Gwillim said, proudly. “Partner in the trading firm of Gwillim and Barrows of Totnes in Southampton, and I would be pleased to speak with whoever is in charge.  Always looking for new markets, you know.”  It felt like a long shot, and judging from the faces around them, the Scots looked to have had their fill of trade with the British.

“A long way from the sea,” the druid said.

“Yes, well.”  Gwillim looked aside.  “Sudden storms at sea do remain a problem.”

“We were shipwrecked in the North.”  Trevor spoke up.

“Indeed,” the druid said.  “And are there any more in your party?”  They all looked at one another.  Gerraint was about to say not any longer, but Urien spoke first.

“No,” he said, flatly.

“Indeed?”  The druid repeated himself and parted the crowd.  Arawn knelt there, tied fast and held by two Scots.  It became Gerraint’s turn to be surprised.  “An interesting case,” the druid said.  “He was found eating a squirrel, raw, and talking to the squirrel as well.  I’ve been studying him for the past three days.”

Arawn looked haggard and much too thin.  He looked like a man half-dead except for the wild light in his eyes.

“A word, druid,” Urien spoke.  “In private if we may.”

The druid pointed down the opening in the crowd right past where Arawn got held.  “Sir Raven,” he said, and they started out, but when Arawn recognized his friend, he shouted.

“Urien.  You’ve come for me.  I did not do it.  I did not mean to hide it from you. Oh Urien, help me.”  Arawn reached out with his head, the only thing free, and licked at Urien’s hand like a faithful dog.  The Scots quieted the man and hauled him off, while Urien and the druid disappeared into the crowd.

The others were taken to a strong house and pushed inside.  Men there tied them to the back wall and one man stayed inside by the door, to watch them.

“What of a bite to eat?”  Gwillim asked out loud.  The man stirred the fire in the center of the room which let the smoke out by way of a hole in the roof.  It started getting chilly.  He looked up as Gwillim spoke, but said nothing.

“You can be sure he understands British,” Gerraint said in his Cornish tongue.  Uwaine understood, and Gwillim and Trevor got the gist of it.  Dorset and Cornwall were neighbors, after all.  “I would not expect to be fed, and would recommend appearing to sleep.  Let us see if we can convince our watcher to do the same.”

“Agreed, and God help us,” Gwillim said, reverting to the Latin.

“Margueritte?”  Uwaine asked.  The little girl had easily slipped out of the bonds in Amorica.

“We’ll see,” Gerraint said, and after that, they were quiet.

The watcher hardly batted an eye, until well past dark, and only got up now and then to tend the fire.  Finally, the door opened.  Urien came in with the druid and two other men.  Urien spoke for the lot.

“The whole thing seems a great misunderstanding.  Even the Chief here knows better, but the people blame Kai’s men for the death of a young boy and…” Urien shrugged.

“So what of us?”  Gwillim asked.

“I did my best for you,” Urien said.  “The talk at first was just for killing you outright and sending your bodies to Kai, but I was at least able to dissuade them from that.  Instead, you are to be flogged in a public spectacle and then driven naked from the village.”

“We’ll die in the cold.”  Trevor stated the obvious.

“Killing us outright would have been kinder,” Gwillim said.

Urien still shrugged when Gerraint asked.  “And what of you?”

“I will be accompanying the priest to Iona to winter.  Arawn will go with us.  The druid says he is a most interesting case for study.  But don’t worry.  When I return to Britain in the spring, I will convey my sympathies to your families.”

“As long as you don’t forget your pledge not to seek the treasures of the Celts,” Gerraint said.  “I would hate to have your blood on my hands.”

“Ah, yes.  Your promise to the sea god.  My druid friend does not doubt that some peace had to be made with the god in order for him to let us go, but then, it was not you who finally promised, was it?  What was her name, by the way?  It was not Greta, I am fairly sure.”

“Danna,” Gerraint said, calmly.

“Named for the Mother of the Gods?” the druid asked.

“No,” Gerraint responded.  “The one who calls Manannan son.”

Urien’s eyes widened a little, but the druid laughed, and did not believe a word of that end of the tale.  The chief gave Gerraint a second look as they exited the building, and they took their watcher with them.

“Elvis has left the building,” Gerraint said, and he pulled his hands free from what proved not a very good tying job.  He called his weapons back to his hands from his home in the second heavens.  With his long knife, he quickly had the others free, and then they took a moment to plan.

Uwaine and Gwillim nudged the fire to one side of the hearth while Trevor got up on Gerraint’s shoulders.  Gerraint stood six feet tall, and Trevor, though much lighter, stood nearly as tall.  With Uwaine and Gwillim to steady Gerraint, Trevor stretched and barely reached the hole in the ceiling.

“Come right back if there are too many of them,” Gerraint reminded him.  Trevor nodded, but he got too busy trying not to cough because of the smoke.



Gerraint and his men need to escape, but then they have a long way to go though the snow, cold, and ice to get to a safe haven.  Monday.  Until then, Happy Reading.


M3 Gerraint: Winter Bound, part 2 of 3

“This is as far as I go,” Dayclimber said.  The others looked at him.  Most assumed he would take them all the way, but clearly that had not been the plan.  “Down to the left.”  He pointed out certain things to guide their steps.  “Most Scots are not hostile and not inhospitable.  They trade well enough, even though our relations have come to fighting these last several years.  I think you British have not helped matters much, and your Lord Kai of your north watch has given bad advice.”

“It is not in Arthur’s interest that you and the Scots make peace and present a united front to threaten the north,” Gerraint honestly admitted.

“Yes.”  Dayclimber understood perfectly well.  “Only now you must stew in the juices of your own cooking.”

Gerraint nodded, much as he disliked clichés.  “All the same, thank you.”  He spoke for all.  Dayclimber merely nodded and turned to be lost very quickly around the bend in the path.

“Its’ colder than a witch’s…” Uwaine started, but Gerraint cut him off.

“Careful,” he said.  “Greta will hear you.”

Uwaine gave him a hard stare while he slapped his arms, but he quieted.  Trevor and Gwillim laughed a little, and Gerraint thought that poor Uwaine’s feelings were not as secret as he imagined. It had to be hard to be in love with someone who died three hundred and fifty years before you were born.  Gerraint shook his head sadly before he started down the other side of the mountain.  Twice as sad was knowing that she cared for him deeply as well.  Then again, she could not help it.  Gerraint, himself, cared deeply for the first squire he ever had, though in a somewhat different way.  As far as that went, his thoughts were entirely on Enid, and just thinking of her made him pick up his pace a little.

They could only carry so much food from the Pictish village, and though at first, they supplemented their supplies with hunting, they were now in Scottish lands and had to be more careful.  Once again, they sought shelter before lighting a fire in the night.  A couple of times, they actually built a shelter for the fire, because they could not go through a night at that point without some warmth.

“People have died of exposure,” Gerraint said once.

Urien laughed.  “There’s a cheerful thought.”

“What?”  Gerraint and the others looked at him, seriously.

Urien shrugged.  “It just sounded like the kind of bad attitude thing I would say, that’s all.”  He shrugged again and curled up as well as he could beneath his cloak and skins.

After a few days, they came to one village where Dayclimber suggested they might get a warm reception.  He thought they might even find some of Kai’s men there as it was one place the British still traded, as far as he knew, and where Kai could provide his “bad advice”, which the Scots seemed so keen on taking.  Gerraint, Urien and Uwaine were for caution, but the thought of a warm bed in a warm hut and some honest cooked food, even if it was haggis, became more than Gwillim and Trevor could handle.  The result was not enough caution and they were rapidly surrounded and their weapons taken from them.

“Something must have happened since Dayclimber’s time,” Uwaine whispered.

“Evidently,” Gerraint responded without bothering to whisper.

One older woman seemed determined to spit on each one of them.  Several of the Scots railed at them in the British tongue, and though they could hardly tell what the complaint was from all the swear words, Gerraint felt that at least in this place there would be no language barrier.  A number of the younger Scots could not resist examining the captured weapons, like men dividing the spoils after a victorious battle, and though Gerraint knew that language would not be a problem, the actions of the younger men did not speak well for the idea of a fair hearing.

One young man picked up Gerraint’s sword, Fate, and began to pull it slowly from its’ sheath.  The others crowded around with plenty of words of praise as the gleaming metal spoke of a weapon which was one in a million, if not altogether unique.  There would have been great arguments later, but Gerraint did not let it get that far.  He sent his weapons home, to the Isle of the Kairos.  The sword and long knife vanished right out of the young men’s hands, and that caused some considerable excitement.

One came up.  “What happened to the sword?  Where did it go?”  He yelled, but Gerraint waited a moment until others had gathered before answering.

“It is not a toy,” he said.  “And finding itself in the wrong hands, it has gone back to the island which stands fast off the North shore, from whence it came.”

“And the long knife?”  Another asked.

“And its’ companion with it,” Gerraint nodded.

“What is the Sword’s name?”  One asked, knowing that all great weapons were named.  Here, Gerraint hesitated because his sword was known and had a bit of a reputation.

“Morae,” Uwaine spoke up, trying the Greek.  “Wyrd.”  He gave it the Danish name Gerraint had once mentioned.

“The sword of Fate,” A man yelled from the back and Uwaine frowned.

“I should have told you the Chinese name,” Gerraint whispered as several in the crowd “ooed” and “ahed.”  A few had certainly heard of the weapon.

One man from the back pushed his way to the front, and people stepped aside for him.  He appeared elderly, though may have been younger in reality judging by the ease with which he moved.  His beard looked long and gray, as did his hair, or what stuck out of his pointy, brim hat.  His robe, full length, looked tied with a plain rope like a future Dominican, though also gray.  Gerraint had a hard time to keep his tongue from shouting, “Gandalf!”  He suspected, though, the druid might turn out to be more like Saruman.

R6 Festuscato: 6 The Witch of Balmoor, part 3 of 3

Patrick started down the rough path, which became a bit of a climb to reach the floor of the hollow.  Bran and Greta followed him, and Giolla came and pushed up to stay near the priest.  Lord Flahartagh followed reluctantly, and Fionn came last and looked like a man who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

“Come, come,” the old woman cackled.  “I have been expecting you, but tell me, druid, how did things turn?”

“You failed, old woman.  The priest lives, and I should take my money back.”

“Curious,” the old woman cackled.  “They were the most poisonous serpents in the world. But who can control serpents?”

“Patrick can,” Giolla shouted.  “He cast your serpents into the sea where they all drowned.”

“You paid her to attack the priest?”  Lord Flahartagh caught up with what was going on and he hit his druid and knocked him down.  “You know what happened last time,” he roared.

“What happened?” Greta asked.  She wanted the conversation to continue while she thought of what to do.  She felt sure any direct movement toward the hole in the world would be stopped by the witch.

Lord Flahartagh explained.  “My father’s grandfather got cheated by the MacNeills and the King of Leinster when the King ruled in favor of the MacNeills and they took possession of the whole of the fens.  He came to the witch and she called up the dragons who terrorized our lands as readily as they terrorized MacNeill and Leinster.”

“Who can control a dragon?” the witch asked in a gleeful voice.

“Festuscato can,” Bran said, and Greta looked up at the man.

“Hey, I healed the dragon.  Oh, okay.”  Greta threw up her hands and went away so Festuscato could fill his own boots.  The witch looked startled, and the Irish yelled again, though not as loud as the last time.  Festuscato returned in his white tunic with the dragon on the front, and sent the cloak of Athena away.  “Good to be back,” he said, and winked at Patrick, while he walked around as if seeing things for the first time, and in truth positioned himself to take a stab at the branches as soon as the opportunity arose.

“You are the dragon,” the witch said, and with the sound of respect in her voice.  “I have heard of you.”  Clearly, hearing and understanding what she heard were two different things.  No human witch, no matter how powerful, could probe the depths of the Kairos.

“So, what’s cooking?” Festuscato asked and leaned over as if to get a look.

“The soup of life in the cauldron of life.”

“That is never the cauldron of life,” Festuscato objected.  “Dagda’s Cauldron was big enough for a man to stand inside it.  Cauldron of life?”  Festuscato scoffed.

“Patrick’s words are the words of eternal life,” Giolla spoke up.

“Jesus is the giver of life,” Patrick said, and the witch screamed and covered her ears.  That told Festuscato that the witch was not just a sorceress, she was demon possessed, a complication, and no doubt the source of her knowledge.

“I control life here,” the witch insisted and she lifted her spoon to mumble incoherently and wave her hand above the bubbles.  Spiders began to crawl over the edge of the cauldron and several bats flew up into the sky, to dive bomb the people.

“Mousden!”  Festuscato called, and since Mirowen presently held the boy’s hand, she came with him.

Mousden took one look at the witch, reverted to his pixie form, screamed and raced to hide behind Patrick’s robes.

“Mousden, come here,” Mirowen scolded and Mousden looked up and took a breath long enough to mouth another word.

“Lunch.”  The bats flew for their lives.  The spiders were not so lucky.

By the time the witch closed her mouth at the unexpected turn of events, Festuscato had Wyrd out of his sheath.  One swipe of that sword, and the old branches got cut off. He punched the remains of the branches, hurt his hand, and the wood popped out the other side of the hole, somewhere on the other earth.  The hole itself snapped shut with an audible SNAP.

The witch screamed.  Mousden screamed again on principle.  Festuscato more accurately shouted his words.  “Get out of the hollow!”  He grabbed Patrick’s robe as Mirowen scooped up Mousden, and they began to climb.  Bran went right there with them, but the others were a bit behind.  When the witch collapsed, she began to decay rapidly. She had to be over ninety.  Maybe she was over a hundred-years-old.  Maybe she was already dead and just being propped up by the demons that inhabited her.  They would never know.  As they reached the ground level above, the walls all around the hollow gave way and the hollow filled rapidly with water.  They watched while in the end it became a pond in the wilderness, and when it overflowed in one spot, it became a little stream.

“There is some water worth avoiding,” Lord Flahartagh said.

“No,” Festuscato shook his head.  “What do you think, Springs?”

A little head popped up from the stream and spoke. Flahartagh got startled, but he did not yell this time.  “Lots of muck in the water from that blasted soup the witch was cooking.  Come back this time next year and we will get things nice and cleaned up for you.  That old witch kept us out for a long time, but I knew she could not keep us out forever.”

“Thank you, Springs,” Festuscato said.  “Good to see you.”

“My pleasure.”  Springs saluted, and broke apart into the water from whence he came.

“I see you have lots of friends,” Lord Flahartagh said, and Festuscato nodded.

“Like my housekeeper Mirowen, and her ward, Mousden.” Mousden went back to walking, looking again like a nine-year-old, and it would have been easy to forget his pixie appearance or blame it on the witch casting illusions, but Mousden chose that moment to let out a big belch, and Mirowen scolded him.  “He ate too much,” Festuscato suggested.  Lord Flahartagh’s eyes got big for a second before he began to laugh.

Patrick and Fionn the Druid kept up a lively debate all the way back to the road.  To be sure, Fionn did not want to crowd his lord and remind him he went to the witch in the first place.  No one really listened to the debate, unless Bran listened, but it did seem to the casual observers that Fionn kept losing.

By the time they reached the road, Fionn started reaching for arguments that were no more than thinly disguised insults, like a man who lost the debate, and knew it, but was damned if he would admit it. He started insulting Patrick when they reached the road and Patrick had enough.

“No one is forcing you to listen to the good news, but as young Giolla plainly told you, what I am bringing is the word of life.” Patrick slammed the butt of his shepherd’s crook on the ground for emphasis.  Unfortunately, the ground seemed extra soft on the side of the road and the staff sank into the muck.  A second later, Patrick had to let go as the staff got hot.  They all watched as the staff sprouted leaves, and they watched the roots grow.

“Dern,” Festuscato said.  “I liked that staff.”

Fionn got scared when they went to see the witch. He got frightened out of his mind when he saw the pixie, and then the water sprite, but he could pretend they did not exist.  This became too much.  The fear covered Fionn’s face and he yelled the last weapon in his arsenal.

“I will call upon the gods and tell them to strike you down.”

“I don’t think that will work,” Festuscato said. “The gods don’t appreciate being told what to do.”  He stepped aside and traded places through time with Danna.  She called sweetly, “Rhiannon.”

Rhiannon did not have to come, but she came because it is polite when Mother calls.  “What is it this time?”

“This druid wants you to strike down Patrick.”

“Oh no, I couldn’t.  He is such a nice man.”

“That’s what I thought.  I told him the gods did not like being told what to do.”

“Oh, don’t I know it.  Mannanon can be as stubborn as the sea.”

“He can’t help it.”

“Oh, I almost forgot.  Clugh ate a whole goat and slept for almost twenty-four hours.”

“He is growing up.  You did cook the goat.”

“Of course, He made the cutest little whine when I tried to give it to him raw, so I cooked it for him and he squealed.  He was so happy.”

“So, you’re not mad at me for giving you the dragon?”

“Oh, how could I ever be mad at you, Mother.” Rhiannon stepped up and kissed Danna on the cheek, waved to everyone and vanished.  Danna turned to the Druid who stared, mouth wide open.  She stuck her finger in his face.

“Listen to Patrick.  He is telling you the truth.  In the words of my good friend Yul Brenner, his god is God.  Now close your mouth, and if you are good, and I said if, mind you, you just might find something special in your stocking … no, wait … Frosty the Snowman.  Anyway.” Danna hugged Patrick, and then she gave him three pieces of gold and some advice.

“The women, especially rich women will give you gifts.  Remember in this culture, they will be insulted if you don’t accept them.  But on the other hand, men will accuse you of accepting gifts from women.  You will have to do your best to turn those gifts to the church to answer your critics, and otherwise, go with God.  Use the gold to buy a new shepherd’s crook.  It suits you.”  Danna stepped back.  “The old way has gone.”

“The new way has come,” Patrick said, and Danna vanished, and she took Bran, Mirowen and Mousden with her.

They appeared on the road just beyond MacNeill’s fort, and Danna changed back to Festuscato.  He let his armor and weapons go away in favor of his comfortable clothes, and he spoke.  “I believe I have tempted history here far enough.”

“So, explain how the shepherd’s crook sprouted and grew,” Bran wondered.

“Maybe if he had some natural magic in him,” Mirowen started, but Festuscato interrupted.

“Can’t be natural.  The source of the magic got cut off when the hole closed between this earth and the other earth.”

“But then, how?”  Now Mirowen was curious.

“Some mysteries are best left alone.  It is time that we go,” Festuscato said, but he paused when he saw a half-dozen wagons beside the fort where they blocked the view of the town and dock.  Festuscato made sure Mirowen had her glamour on and Mousden stayed in his big size. “I smell visitors, and something else.”

“Yourself,” Mirowen suggested.  “You need a bath.”



R6 Festuscato: 7 Travelers: The tinkers bring spooks with them.  Don’t miss it.


R6 Festuscato: 3 Leinster, part 3 of 3

Festuscato ran.  He became dressed in his armor with hardly a thought and pulled Wyrd, his sword. He was not going to see another innkeeper’s daughter raped and left for dead.  Sure enough, there were three men in a clearing out back.  Keela’s dress had been torn, but she held it up as she backed up to a tree.  The men grinned wickedly, and two had knives ready to finish disrobing the girl or kill her if she resisted.

“Stop!”  Festuscato shouted.  He sounded like a third-rate Hollywood actor in his own ears, but the men stopped and turned on him.  One pulled a sword of his own.  Festuscato jumped to the side when they rushed him.  He let defender fly and it sliced right through one man’s jerkin and deep into the man’s ribs.  He brought his sword down, not even a trick move, and sliced the knife out of the second man’s hand, taking most of the man’s fingers with it.  He turned to face the third man when an arrow came out of the bushes.  That man dropped his sword and fell dead from the perfect shot.  The man without fingers also fell with an arrow in his chest. Festuscato called to his long knife, and defender pulled itself from the man’s ribs and flew back to Festuscato’s hand. That man moaned horribly and would not live long.

Mirowen stepped from the bushes while Festuscato cleaned his blades.  “Bad news,” she said, as she stepped toward the young woman.

Mousden flew ahead to the young woman.  “Are you all right?” he asked.  Keela took one look at the pixie in his natural form and threw a fist to her mouth to stifle the scream.  Her eyes got big and Mirowen had to grab her attention and ask the question three more times before it penetrated.

“Are you all right?”  Keela finally nodded when Mirowen helped the girl to her feet.

Keela never stopped staring at Mousden as Mousden spoke.  “Mother Elowen taught me how to sew.  I could help you fix your dress.  Mother Elowen said I was a natural.”

“Yes, Mousden.  But now we are back with people.  You need to get big again,” Mirowen spoke in a very comforting, motherly tone, as much for Keela as for Mousden.  Mousden looked once at Festuscato, but Festuscato simply nodded and returned the stare.  Mousden acquiesced and looked again like an ordinary nine-year-old boy.

Dibs and Bran chose that moment to show up.  “Bran thought he heard something,” Dibs said. “But we were inside so it wasn’t clear. We finally agreed to check it out.” Bran knelt by the three bodies to make sure they were dead.  Dibs also looked, but he recognized who he was looking at.  “These are Sean Fen’s men, the Irish pirate.”  Festuscato nodded.  He thought that might be the case.

“That means we are in double trouble,” he said.

“But you saved me.”  Keela came to herself as they escorted her back to the tavern.

“What do you mean?” Mirowen asked.

Festuscato frowned.  “I have no doubt when Sean Fen finishes telling his story, I will be the rapist and a murderer besides.”

“But that’s not true,” Mousden said.

“Truth is in the eye of the beholder,” Festuscato said.  “A beautiful young elf once explained that to me.  Patrick is here telling the truth, but most people can’t hear him.”

“Oh, but it is worse than you think,” Mirowen got his attention.  “The King of Leinster has ordered us to get out of his land, and if we won’t leave, he said to kill us and be done with it.”  Festuscato just nodded that he heard, but he could not respond right away because when they entered the tavern, Keela got all the attention of the locals, and Captain Breok stood there, waiting patiently.

“Captain.  You could not have timed that better if you were an elf.”  Festuscato patted the Captain on the shoulder.

“We came in on the tide, four hours after midday. But I must warn you, we followed an Irish pirate into the dock.  His name’s Sean Fen.”

“Yes, I know,” Festuscato interrupted. “Mirowen.  You and Mousden need to get us packed, and you better pack for Gaius and Patrick, and I guess everyone.  Dibs and Bran, you need to fetch Gaius and Patrick.  Carry Patrick here if you have to.  Captain, we will be sleeping on board tonight.  How soon can we put out to sea?”

“Not before dawn.  Maybe a couple of hours before if we set the course while it’s daylight.”

“Get on that.  We will be there soon.”  Festuscato went to see about Keela and got tackled by Aideen, who jumped up into his arms.

“But you will be going away, and I will miss you terribly.”

“And I will miss you, lovely spitfire that you are.”

Aideen held him tight and managed to hold back the words, “Don’t go,” as Keela’s father stepped up.

“I want to thank you for the sake of my daughter.”

Festuscato hushed him.  “The men belonged to Sean Fen.  I expect you will not insist on the truth, but I would appreciate it if you held back and kept this quiet until we have a chance to leave in the morning.”

The man looked astounded with the way Festuscato spoke in such a straight forward manner, and he nodded.  “I think I can do that.”

Aideen whispered in his ear.  She wanted to say good-bye.  “Find a good man for your daughter to marry, and be quick,” Festuscato added.  “And one for Aideen who can handle being burnt, though I know Aideen is not yours.”

The man grinned slightly, but nodded again as Festuscato paid him for their time at the tavern and a little extra, he said, for a dowry.  That done, Festuscato kissed Aideen and stepped out to fetch his purchase.  He found a good woodworker when he first arrived in town and paid to have a proper staff built for the Bishop. Patrick was honestly older than the rest of them, except Mirowen of course.  He had it in hand, hardly seasoned though it was, and got back to the tavern when the others arrived.

Bran and Dibs showed up with Gaius and a protesting Patrick.  Dibs had to sit the Bishop in the corner and stand over him to keep him still.  Bran went to carry the luggage even as Treeve, the first mate showed up with Colan and Gerens to help.  Together, they managed the trunks and made straight for the ship.  Dibs and Gaius followed, Patrick between them so he could not run away.

“Lord Agitus, you have no right kidnapping me,” Patrick said.  “You promised you would not interfere with my work.”

“I’m not interfering with your work,” Festuscato said. “I’m interfering with your life. By the way, here.”  He handed Patrick the staff.  “A shepherd’s crook.”

“I know what it is.”

“A gift,” Festuscato said.  “I thought it would be appropriate considering your occupation when you were last on these shores.”

“The Lord is our shepherd,” Gaius added.

“We shall not want,” Patrick understood.

“I think one of my sons wrote that one, or no, that one was David’s.”  Festuscato smiled and asked to see the shepherd’s crook one last time, pretending he saw a nick in the wood he wanted to examine.  Patrick obliged, but then they reached the dock and the planking to the deck of the ship.  Two members of the crew were there to help Patrick aboard and Dibs and Gaius would not let him back away.  Patrick suddenly realized he had been tricked and he flailed his hands and stared at Festuscato.

“I would not have hit them with it, you know.”

Festuscato held up the crook.  “Sometimes temptation is best removed.”

They were not aboard more than a half-hour before the captain of Leinster and his dozen soldiers arrived on the dock.  They were joined by a druid who appeared unhappy the Christian holy men were slipping from his grasp.  “Come down,” he shouted from the dock.  “I have an ax waiting for your head.”

Patrick stood at the railing, shepherd’s crook in hand, squeezed between Bran and Festuscato so he would not go anywhere. “When Hell freezes over,” Patrick whispered, and Festuscato chuckled.  He was not aware Patrick heard that one.

“Not by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin,” Festuscato added out loud before he raised his hand and waved to everyone ashore. “I can’t come back.  I don’t know how it works.  Good-bye folks.”  Several men and women working on the docks and a couple of soldiers returned the wave. The druid spat and stomped up and down the planking.  He yelled at the captain of the soldiers and, getting nowhere, he started to yell at the soldiers directly.  Finally, he turned to insult Patrick.

“Crooked man with your crooked staff.  Your head is crazed.  Even the head of your staff is crooked.  How dare you come into my house and stand at my table and speak impieties to my people.”

Festuscato put his hand over Patrick’s mouth and spoke for him.  “The king has ordered us to leave, and we are leaving.  The king said we are only to be harmed if we refuse to leave, but we are leaving.  If you defy the king’s orders and harm any of these men, I think your head will not sit long on your shoulders.  Captain, we are obeying the king’s orders and will leave as soon as the tide turns. Will you and your men also obey the king’s commands and see we are not harmed until our leaving can be accomplished?”

The captain paused before he set his men on the dock to guard the ship.  “By the king’s command, you will not be harmed this night,” he said, and the druid pitched an absolute fit before he stomped off, yelling at the sky.

“That Roman is a wicked sorcerer.  I have heard the truth.  You are all under a spell, and I will not rest until the Christian scourge is driven from our land, once and for all.”

Patrick pushed Festuscato’s hand away and spoke in a deadpan voice.  “Emotional fellow.”  Bran said nothing.  He just showed that hint of a grin for which he was becoming famous.  Mirowen, Gaius ad Dibs walked up and Mirowen spoke first in the same deadpan tone.

“A long hot bath would do his nerves a lot of good.”

“He does not appear to be one that does that very often,” Patrick added.

Gaius joined the emotionless expressions. “Probably took a vow of dirtiness.”

Dib’s voice was not quite so deadpan.  “Hey, Festuscato.  They are all sounding like you.”

Everyone looked at him while Festuscato nodded, and in a deadpan voice, added, “That’s because I am a wicked sorcerer and have them all under a spell, don’t you know?”

The meeting at the railing broke up, and they decided to try again further north, beyond the lands of Leinster.



R6 Festuscato: Clugh.  North there are Picts, Pirates, and a big fire-breathing beast… Until then, Happy Reading


R5 Greta: How May Miles to Avalon? part 1 of 3

“Oh, no, my Lady.”  Berry jumped up.  She remained full sized, and Greta decided that perhaps Berry was thirteen after all. “But that would mean, Bogus, oh dear.” Berry finished without saying anything at all.

Greta spoke up loud as the men picked themselves off the ground.  “It would be a great kindness to me if you would clean up the three in the lock-up and feed them so they are ready to travel when I return.”

“It will be done.” Baran spoke graciously.  He dared not speak otherwise.  He behaved like a politician, after all.

Greta smiled, but turned to Fae.  “Coming?” She asked.  She stepped over to help Fae to her feet the way she used to help Mother Hulda.  At first Fae looked reluctant to have Greta even touch her, but at last she accepted Greta’s help even as a small tear fell to her feet.

“Where are we going?”  Fae asked.

“To see Bogus the Skin.”  Greta answered.  “This foolishness has gone on long enough.”

“Oh, oh, but oh!” Berry tugged on her own hair as if trying to hide in it, pacing in a quick two step back and forth, and not sure of where to go or what to do.

“If you get little again, you could hide in my hair.”  Greta suggested.

Berry looked at her with astonishment.  She had not thought of that.  Immediately, Berry flew to Greta’s shoulder and stayed hidden from view.  This caused Greta to consider her hair.  It felt frizzled and badly frayed and in need of washing, and so was she, but it couldn’t be helped.

“Vilam?” Greta looked up.  “Will you and your son kindly escort us back across the river?”  Vilam said nothing.  He doffed his hat, nodded to her and to Fae, and went to fetch his son.

They made a quick trip back across the water, and though Finbear continued to stare at Greta, he did not give her the same discomfort as before.  Greta believed he kept trying to catch a glimpse of the fairy on her shoulder, but Berry stayed firmly hidden in her hair.  Every now and then, when Finbear’s attention would waver and he would look down at his pole for a second, her little head would pop out and so would her tongue.  By the time he looked up, Berry would be hidden again, so Greta could not be sure if he ever actually saw the sprite.

When they reached the other side, Greta asked Berry which way to go.  “All ways are equal,” she said.  “All roads lead to Avalon if it is your heart’s desire.” Greta understood.  They would not find Bogus the Skin so much as he would find them.  They said farewell to Vilam and Finbear who headed back for a called council of the Bear Clan.  They did not know it, but Danna made sure that representatives from nearly all of the other Clans would be there by the time the council got into full swing. Only the Dragon Clan in the mountains lived too far away for such short notice.

They waved, and then Fae, who was hardly of the age for a long journey, asked very sensibly, “How many miles to Avalon?”

“Three score miles and ten,” Berry said, without hesitation.

“Can I get there by candlelight?”  Greta asked.

“Yes, and back again.”  Berry completed the story and clapped her hands and giggled.  Fae did not get it, so while they walked in the direction of the fairy circle where Greta and Berry first met, Greta tried to explain.

“Usgard above Midgard is my home, in a sense,” she said, naming the place in her own tongue. “It is a small point of relative stability in the Second Heavens, a universe which folds in and back on itself in ever new, kaleidoscopic fashion.  It is anchored by the seven isles of Elfhome, Dark Elfhome, Dwarfhome and so on.  They act sort of like the tail on a kite, and the innumerable isles stretch out beyond that. All the same it is a small place in the infinitely large and infinitely small universe that divides Midgard from the throne of the Most-High.”

Fae shook her head and did not follow.  “I know of Avalon,” she said.  “It is among the oldest of the stories of my people, but it was always said that Avalon could be found just around the next bend, or just over the horizon, or at the end of the rainbow.”

“Or here and gone in a blink.”  Berry chimed in.  “Or the way you didn’t go, or…”

“Enough,” Greta said, and Berry sat, quietly.  “Mostly it is home for the little ones, much more in the Second Heavens than here under the first.”

“Have you been there?”  Fae asked.

“No.”  Greta shook her head.  “But maybe someday, perhaps, but now, what was I saying?”

“How far is it to Avalon?”  Fae prompted.

“Three score miles and ten.”  Berry shot right back and she would have gone through the whole rhyme again if Greta had not covered her little mouth with her finger.

“It is right there all the time for the little ones.”  Greta said, remembering Fae’s quarter blood.  “It is accessible simply by being there.”

Fae looked very sad.  “How often I felt it was right there before me, and I would reach out and stretch out my hand, but always it stayed just beyond my fingertips.  And when the Villy, the imps of the boon, the spirits of the earth, the sprites of life were in the fields and trees and sky and the moonlight, I could almost see them and almost hear the strange, magical music by which all life danced.  But I never did until today, and now I dare not speak her blessed little name for fear that she will vanish away and prove once again to be only a dream.”

“What?  My name?”  Berry asked, actually following the conversation.  “But my name is easy to say.  You just say “Berry” and I say, “What?”

“And I promise that she won’t vanish,” Greta said.

“Your name is easy, too.”  Berry wasn’t finished.  She squeaked, “Fae.”  She spoke in her normal voice.  “Fae.” She dropped her voice an octave. “Fae.”  They stopped moving.  Berry stood on Greta’s shoulder with her hands on her hips, looking very miffed. Fae just looked at Berry in wonder until she shook herself free.

“What?” Fae asked.

“Yippee!” Berry shouted and did a back flip, landing perfectly again on Greta’s shoulder.  The wings helped.  “Now it’s your turn.”

Fae hesitated, but at last she pulled herself up.  “Berry.”

“What?” Berry yelled as loud as she could. Greta put her hand to her ear, but Berry could not help it.  It all built up inside of her, and with that much built up in that little body, it just had to explode.

“You know,” Greta said.  “Maybe this conversation would go better if you rode on Fae’s shoulder for a while.”

“Oh, may I?” Berry liked the idea but she wanted to be sure it was all right.  She knew the rule that the little ones and humans were not supposed to mingle.

“Yes, if it is all right with Fae,” Greta said.

“Oh, please,” Fae said, and Berry waited for no more invitation.

Good, Greta thought, perhaps now they could get moving again.  She no sooner turned around, however, when she saw a little one standing in the path, baring their way and looking very cross.