M4 Festuscato: Saxons and Franks, part 1 of 3

Festuscato, Last Senator of Rome

After 416 AD Gaul, Kairos 96

“Festuscato Cassius Agitus, Vir Ilistrus, Comes Britannia, Legatus Augusti pro Praetore and chief cook and bottle washer, at your service.”  Festuscato bowed low and smiled.  This had to work better than it did for Margueritte.  She got tied and gagged.

“We don’t like Romans in our land,” the big man growled from his horse, and had a dozen men to back him up.  His Latin did not sound bad, but clearly the big man did not understand most of what Festuscato said.

“I don’t blame you.  I don’t like many Romans either, although I would not mind another tussle in bed with Honoria.  That girl knew more like a hundred shades of gray.”

“The emperor’s sister?”  One man asked and looked shocked, but Festuscato figured these Saxons did not know many Romans by name.  Honoria’s name got bandied about lately, and it had something to do with the Huns.

“The very same.  Ah, Bran.”  Bran stepped from the woods into the small clearing where the company camped.  He looked wary and fingered his belt where his big sword waited, but Festuscato remained friendly, and Bran took his cue from that.  Festuscato introduced his big British friend.  “Bran the Sword meet—” He could not finish the sentence and looked to the original speaker for a clue.

“Heinz,” the man said.  “Chief of my village.”

“Heinz,” Festuscato repeated.  “I was just about to invite Heinz and his men to join us.  A hundred pounds of deer meat is more than even Luckless can eat.”

“We might just take the deer,” Heinz said.  “We don’t like Brits either and don’t like strangers hunting on our land.”

“Got any gold?”  One man asked.  “We might not kill you if you have enough gold.”

“No one ever has enough gold,” a voice spoke from the woods before Luckless the dwarf made his appearance.  “I found some spice.”  He added it to the pot and totally ignored the tension in the air.  “Are your friends ever going to get down off their high horses and join us for supper?”

On sight of a real, live dwarf, Heinz and his men looked hesitant.

“Heinz, chief of your village, please, you and your men join us.  I want to ask you about your village, because the last two villages we found were burned and uninhabited.  I hope it wasn’t Romans.  I would hate to have to crucify some over eager centurion.”

Heinz got down slowly but waved to keep his men up.  “You could do that?”

“As a Roman Senator and Imperial Governor, Lord Agitus can do pretty much what he wants,” Bran said.   It was more than he said in days.

“Maybe you could be a ransom.” Heinz started thinking.

“Maybe,” Festuscato nodded.  “But I would rather be friends and find out about the villages.  Maybe I can do something about that, and that might be worth more than ransom.”

“What can you do about the Huns?” Heinz asked.

“We drove them out of Britain,” Bran said.

Festuscato paused and looked Heinz in the eye.  “Threw them right off my island.”

“Your Island?  Britain?”  Men doubted.

Heinz quieted them.  “I heard about Meglas’ humiliation.  I heard Attila cut the man’s head off.”

“My island.”  Festuscato nodded.  “I tied him up like a pig for slaughter and sent him back, but I take no responsibility for what happened after he got back to this shore.”  He took a moment to apply his sauce to the deer.  “Probably poison,” he said to Bran.  Bran touched it with his finger and licked it.

“Tastes okay to me,” he said.

“Me too.  I’m starving,” Luckless said.

“You’re always starving,” Festuscato countered, and then paused while he watched Heinz stick out his finger to try it.  Heinz clearly approved as he turned and yelled at his men to gather around.  The Saxons tied off their horses and came clinking and clanging in their armor and dragged up lumber for chairs.

“Nice horses,” one man said in halting Latin as he examined the company’s horses.

“Danish,” Bran said.

“A gift from Wulfgar of the Danes,” Festuscato added.  “After leaving the Eastern Empire and traveling back through the Germanies, we stopped in Copenhagen again to see how things were going before finally heading west, and he insisted.”

“I heard the Danes are beset by a terrible monster,” one man started, friendly enough, but paused when he looked at the dwarf.  He thought it best not to offend.

“They were,” Luckless said.  “Let me just say, the Danes were grateful.”

“Big monster, too,” Festuscato added.  “So, tell me about the Huns.”

Heinz finally sat and looked hard at his three prisoners, as he imagined them to be.  Then again, he was not sure what to think.  “You are like a dog with a bone,” he said at last.

“I am,” Festuscato agreed.  “Last time I talked to Attila, that was more than fourteen years ago, it sounded like he had big plans.  What is it now, four-forty-nine, four-fifty AD?  I want to know what he is doing in case I have to stop him.”

“How do you propose to stop anything Attila does?” Heinz asked.

“You are not a superstitious man, are you?  Attila is a superstitious man, but you aren’t, are you?”  Heinz shook his head.  “Good,” Festuscato smiled and looked up a tree.  “Tulip.  You can come down now.  These are not bad men.  They are husbands and fathers and good sons concerned about their homes and families, as they should be.  Miss Tulip, please come to my shoulder.”  Something fluttered in the leaves before a streak of light raced to Festuscato’s shoulder to hide in his hair.

“I am asking,” Heinz said, as he and several of his men tried to get a glimpse of what it was.

“A bird?” one man wondered.

Tulip stuck her little face out from Festuscato’s red strands and shouted.  “I am not a bird.”  She disappeared again and tickled Festuscato’s ear.

“What?  Oh.  She says if you try to hurt any of us she will get her big brother to beat you up.”  Festuscato smiled and reached over to give Heinz a friendly pat on the shoulder.

“Is she?”

“A fairy.”

Heinz laughed.  “Never fear, Miss Tulip?  I mean your friends no harm.”  Most of the men were smiling by then, but it all stopped when they heard a voice in the distance.

“Yahoo! Wait until you see what I found.”  Gregor one eye came riding up pulling a mule with two kegs of ale balanced over its back.  Gregor paused when he saw they had company, and Heinz and his men stood and stared until Heinz spoke.

“Lord Gregor?”

“Heinz, isn’t it?  You are all grown up.  After all these years, I can see I have some catching up to do.”

“Lord Gregor?”

“Lord Agitus.  Are these young boys bothering you?”  Wait.”  Gregor got down from his horse and stopped a few feet from the fire.  “Where is my little lady?”

“Hiding,” Festuscato said, and at the same time Tulip stuck her head out and gave Gregor the raspberries.  That set Gregor to laughing, and he slapped one of the Saxons hard on the shoulder.  The man had to catch himself to keep from falling.  He resumed his seat with a look of pain on his face and rubbed his shoulder.

“Lord Gregor?”

Luckless walked to the mule and interrupted.  “Human ale.  It’s better than piss water, but not by much.”

Bran finally asked.  “Lord Gregor?”

Heinz answered.  “Our king.”

Gregor sat by the fire.  “I went back to check out something in that last village we came through.  I was right.  The mule and the ale were just a bonus.”

“Right about what?” Tulip could be heard if not seen.

“Well, little lady, there was the mark of one of Attila’s sons left as a warning for others to find.  What game is Attila playing?”

“That is what I keep asking,” Festuscato admitted, and he stared at Heinz who appeared uncomfortable with the turn of events.  He sat and opened up.

“The talk is of war, and the Huns want to force all the Germans to fight for them.  They have cowed some of the tribes, but some are holding out.  I think they plan to invade Gaul.  They have it on good authority that General Aetius is in Italy and the one he left in charge in Gaul has just three legions available, and maybe half that in Auxiliary troops.  That is about twenty thousand men.  Attila can bring thirty thousand men by himself, maybe more, and if they can get that many Germans from the various tribes, they can go into the province with perhaps three times the Roman numbers.  But many of us are resisting.”

“My son?” Gregor asked.

Silence followed, for a moment, before Heinz pleaded.  “Forgive us, Lord.  Your son is a prisoner of Attila, a hostage, but when he was taken, he ordered us to resist, and we have resisted, though it has cost us in our homes.”

“Lord Agitus?”  Gregor did not hesitate to turn to Festuscato.

“Well, we will just have to get him back.  Tulip?”

“Maywood is my uncle and a king not far from here,” she said.

“There are two things we need to do right away,” Festuscato said.  “Maywood.”  He called in the right way, and the fairy king appeared out of thin air.  After a second to get his bearings, he approached Tulip and bowed in mid-air to Festuscato.

“Lord,” he said.

“Maywood.  I do not want you to put any of your people in danger.  We just need information.  If you would not mind, I would appreciate it if you would send out fliers to all of the Hun camps.  Anything they overhear about war objectives and Gaul would be helpful, but mostly I would like to know where Lord Gregor’s son is being held prisoner.  After that, I may need you and yours to carry some messages for me, to Thorismund, to some of the tribes that I know are not friends with the Huns, like the Samartians and Scythians, the Alans and so on, and Aldrien in Amorica.  I assume he is king now.”

“Aldrien passed away after ruling for twelve years,” Maywood said.  “His son, Budic is king now for these last two years.”

“Time has gotten away from me,” Festuscato admitted, and added quickly.  “That means fourteen years ago I was a brash youth who confronted the old king and took his younger brother on an adventure to Britannia.  Fourteen years.”  He repeated and shook his head until Tulip tugged on his hair and protested.

“And fifteen years since I have been in Saxony,” Gregor mused.

“Only about ten since you found me in Wales,” Luckless said as he struggled to open one keg.  “Most of that has been spent here, on the continent though, among the Jutes and Danes, Goths of all sorts and Germans of more types than can be counted.”

“You forgot all the different Iranian types and the Slavs,” Bran noted.  “And I was thinking when we left the Holy Land to return to the west, we might get back to civilized lands soon.”

“What is the second thing?” Heinz asked.  “You said there are two things we need to do right away.”

“Enjoy this venison, the veggie pot and the ale.  We can’t make good plans on an empty stomach.”

“Ha!” Gregor agreed.

Avalon 7.8 Ambush, part 2 of 4

Lockhart, with Tony’s help, moved the wagon through the time gate, and then through the hole in the wall and into what looked like stables.  Boston directed them with hand signals toward the back of the building where she said the roof supports remained solid.  She could not vouch for the front of the building.

“This is the exact same place” Alexis whispered, as she and Lincoln came next.  “We moved forward in time from a vibrant city to ruins but stayed in the exact same place as far as I can tell.”  They immediately dismounted and began to gather the horses while Tony set Ghost, the mule, free of the wagon.

“Some years later,” Lincoln responded with a nod.

Lockhart looked around at the condition of the building.  “I would guess the Romans lost the city to the Persians.”

“Sassanids,” Lincoln corrected him.

“Must have been some battle,” Boston said.

“Where’s Katie?” Lockhart asked, as Sukki and Nanette came in.  Elder Stow had to stay in the shadow of the hole in the wall to keep the particle screen in the time gate in order to keep them from being followed.  They had seen time-locked men try to step into the future and age fifty years in a matter of seconds.  It was not pretty.

“Keep to the back of the building,” Boston told her sisters, and added, “Come on.”  She led Lockhart to the front, one eye on the ceiling, until they came to a rubble-filed front end where the ceiling had collapsed.  Katie hid in the rubble and watched the activity in the street.

The buildings across the street were almost entirely rubble.  They looked like they had been burned down at some point, and after some years, now appeared as mere ruins.  Without those buildings blocking her way, Katie could see to the city wall, and the holes someone made in that wall.

Lockhart and Boston snuck up carefully, and Lockhart asked, “Where’s Decker?”  Katie pointed up, as if to say he somehow crawled up on the roof.  She handed Lockhart her binoculars and got out the scope for her rifle.  He took a look.

A whole battalion of soldiers sat in the street down toward the city wall.  He guessed they were supposed to be hidden, ready to repel invaders when called.  On the crumbling wall itself, he saw defenders with spears, probably bows, and he definitely saw some rifles, which were utterly out of place in that time period.  He imagined they were single shot, muzzle loaded matchlocks, like they ran into before.  Individually, they would not be much more effective than bows and arrows—less effective when he considered the time it took to reload.  But they had stopping power arrows did not have. Bullets could punch right through enemy shields and armor.  If they massed a volley, or managed several volleys against a marching army, they might turn them away.  They also had better range.  Much better than a shower of arrows.

“Where did they get the rifles?” Lockhart asked.

“Ramin Lajani,” Boston said.  “He was the young merchant boss that survived when Xalazar got killed.”

“I think I see where the cavalry is located,” Katie spoke, without taking her eye from her scope.  “They must have cleared a road down by the wall, near that gate there.”

“Someone is walking into a trap,” Lockhart concluded, even as they heard trumpets in the distance.  All eyes, including Boston’s elf eyes tried to see through the spaces in the wall.  Word came down from Decker over the wristwatch communicators.

“There is a Roman army marching in the distance.  They will probably send spies, or a small troop to check out the city before getting too close.  At least, I would.  But they probably won’t have any idea how big an ambush they are walking into.”

“Why come here?” Lockhart asked.

“The city looks abandoned,” Katie answered.  “And if they are crossing into Sassanid territory, this place still has bridges across the Euphrates.”

They heard the crack of a rifle overhead.  Lockhart and Katie got on their wristwatches to admonish Decker, but Boston looked with her good elf eyes.  She saw a soldier with a rife fall off the wall.  She softly mouthed her own Wilhelm scream

“Decker,” Lockhart said, as Tony came to join them.  Tony had a message but had to wait.

“People with guns are enemy combatants,” Decker responded.

“It’s all right,” Elder Stow interrupted.  “I have managed a full Decker screen around the stables.  Young Boston is correct.  The front-end load bearing pillars are weak, probably from years of weathering.  To compensate, I had to enlarge it enough to take in the alley and the houses on both sides.  It is stretched, but manageable.”

“People?” Katie asked, without spelling out the question.

“There are seven life signs in the house across the alley,” Elder Stow responded.  “And a half-dozen below the house, like in the basement, perhaps.  Alexis and Lincoln have gone to check it out.”

Decker fired again, and another man with a rifle fell off the distant wall.

“Decker,” Lockhart yelled into his wristwatch this time, even as Alexis and Lincoln exited the hole in the stable wall.  They saw a woman, maybe in her late thirties, in the door of the house across the way—a house which surprisingly still looked in good shape.  The woman gasped on sight of Lincoln and Alexis and fell to her knees.

A young girl, maybe six, and a boy about ten came to stand behind their mother.  “What is it?” the young girl asked.

“It must be the gods,” the woman said.

A man in his early forties and a dwarf came to the door, and the man smiled and spoke first.  “No, dear.  It is Lincoln and Alexis.  I remember.  Where is the rest of the crew?”

“Where is that red-headed elf?” the dwarf asked, recognizing the travelers for who they were.  Having their home caught inside Elder Stow’s particle screens sort of gave it away.

“It’s not Zenobia,” Lincoln whispered and put his arm out to prevent Alexis from running forward.  But Alexis had already paused.  She squinted at the man before she came out with her thought.

“Arman?”

The man nodded and helped his wife up from her knees.  “I have aged.  You haven’t.  I was wondering how this time travel thing you talked about worked.”

“But I remember you,” Arman’s wife spouted, and pointed at Alexis.

“My wife, Aleah.  My younger son, Loran, and my younger daughter Leah,” Arman introduced them.

“Prenner,” the dwarf introduced himself.

Arman nodded.  “My older boy is down in the dwarf house with the dwarf boys.”

“Messing up the place, no doubt,” Prenner said.

“My older daughter is with Bitsies making super.”

“Bitsies?” Alexis asked.

“My wife,” Prenner answered.

“Lockhart,” Lincoln got on his wristwatch communicator.  ‘We got Arman living next door, right where we left him.”

“Arman,” Katie answered.

“Keep him there,” Lockhart responded.  “It isn’t safe out here.”

Three soldiers from the battalion came up the street to see what was making that noise.  Decker ignored them.  They carried nothing more than spears, or javelins, and he figured they would stop at whatever point the edge of Elder Stow’s screens reached.  He fired once more, and another gun toting man peeled off the distant wall.  The men there began to seek cover, so he would not likely get another clean shot.

Katie arrived at the hole in the wall the same time as Sukki.  Sukki spoke softly.  “Nanette and father have the horses, but they wanted to be sure Arman and his family were safe.”

“So far,” Katie responded.  “But not if Decker keeps shooting enemy riflemen.”

“What?” Lincoln needed to know, and Katie told him.

“The Sassanids have an ambush planned in the city.  A Roman legion is marching right into it, and the Sassanids have riflemen on the city walls.  Probably matchlocks, but effective enough.”

“Sergeant,” Arman yelled.  “Sergeant Vespavian.”

A grizzled old man limped around the corner and stood at the end of the alley.  He put his hand up to feel for the edge of Elder Stow’s screen, like he was familiar with the concept.  “So, your friends came back,” the sergeant said.  “You know, the governor wants to see you, twenty years ago.”  He laughed.

“You heard?” Arman said.

“I heard,” the sergeant answered.  “The problem is, the enemy has every exit from the city covered.  There is no way my few men can ride out and warn the legion.  As for attacking them, even from the rear, even by surprise, even if we had bunches of Prenner’s people with us… why, that would be just plain mad.”

Katie did not hesitate.  “Can you get your men up on the roofs?”  She pointed at the top of the house and a building across the street that still stood.  “You will need a way of escape if your position is about to be overrun, but in the meanwhile, if we draw some of the soldiers to attack us, you can catch them in a crossfire.”

“But what if they send the whole army after us?” Lincoln objected.

“They won’t,” Katie said, confidently.  “Their first concern is the oncoming Roman army, but we may be able to help by drawing off some of their troops and sting them from the rear with our guns.  Plus, the sound of our guns may alert the oncoming Romans to the pending ambush.”

The men paused to think it through, until Arman said, “Vespavian?”

The old sergeant nodded.  “That might work for a couple of volleys in the right circumstances.  If they bring up a whole troop, though, we may have to run quickly.”

“Do it,” Lincoln said.  He was not sure how that would work, exactly, but he had learned to trust Katie’s military instincts.

“Do it,” Arman echoed.

The old soldier nodded slightly, and still thinking about it, he disappeared around the corner.  A moment later, they heard him yelling.

Katie turned, and Sukki mumbled that she would be up front as soon as she and Nanette secured the horses.  Lincoln followed, but Alexis paused to say, “Stay here, in your home, where you are safe.”

Arman turned to his wife, Aleah.  “Stay here.” 

Aleah turned to Prenner the dwarf.  “Keep the children here and safe,” she said, even as the little girl took hold of her dress, and the boy ran ahead.

Prenner turned in time to see his two boys and Aleah’s fifteen-year-old boy come tumbling out of the side door and follow the others.  He paused.  Whatever his wife, her mother, and Aleah’s daughter were cooking sure smelled good, but he turned to follow the others and only mumbled about how he might starve to death if this took too long.

Avalon 7.5 Ali Baba and the 40 Guns, part 5 of 6

“I remember the thousand and one nights,” Alexis finally admitted, softly.  Nanette rode to her right and Lincoln to her left.  Tony had the wagon, and Katie and Lockhart, with Baba behind him, rode out front in their own conversation.  Schaibo ran ahead with Boston and Sukki where they presumably could not hear.

“What?” Lincoln asked.

“Ali, the middle son, won the archery contest and married Princess Nuronnihar.  Hussain, the older son became a priest, like his father.  Sasan was a priest before he took the Persian throne.  Ahmed, the youngest son, secretly married a fairy—a Peri, Peribonou.  She is, or was, a tulip fairy.  When Ahmed’s father, King Sasan finds out, he starts making all sorts of unreasonable demands of his son.  Sasan gets paranoid.  He fears his son will dethrone him.  Sadly, one of the demands is Ahmed should find an extra-small man with a beard longer than himself who carries an iron staff.  Schaibo shows up, gets ridiculed, and uses his iron staff on the king and most of the court.  He gives Ahmed and Peribonou the throne.  Peribonou is his sister, I think.”

“Half-sister,” Nanette said.  “Same fairy father, but fairy and dwarf mothers.”

“That may be why Schaibo is so short,” Lincoln suggested.  “Fairy father,” he clarified.

Alexis nodded, but then shook her head.  “Maybe.  But no.  The world of the little spirits of the earth usually doesn’t follow logically like that.  But the point is, it has not happened yet.  We can’t say anything.  I get the feeling Ahmed’s father hasn’t found out yet about his marriage.  I probably should not have told you.  Benjamin, you can’t let on that you know anything.”

“Don’t worry,” Lincoln said.  “I have read lots of things in the database and kept my mouth closed.  They won’t hear it from me.”

 “I won’t say anything,” Nanette said.  She dropped her voce and her eyes.

“I almost wish you would,” Alexis told her.  “Tony doesn’t say much, but neither do Lockhart, Decker, or Elder Stow.  Most males are not talkers.  You can’t judge men by my blabbermouth husband, Benjamin.”

“Witch,” Lincoln returned the compliment.  Alexis gave him a hard look.  “Of course, my lovely witch wife is smart.  You should listen when she talks,” Lincoln added, and Alexis smiled for him.

“I won’t say anything about the thousand and one nights, but I understand what you are saying,” Nanette said.  “I was a talker back home.  I learned to talk around the Romans, once the Professor explained that being shy only made me more alluring to the powerful people there.”

“So, what is the problem with us?” Alexis asked.  “Even Benjamin’s a likeable fellow.”

“And I underline, witch,” Lincoln said, and returned Alexis’ smile.

Nanette shook her head.  She noticed the horses stopped moving, as Lockhart and Katie stopped.  Boston and Sukki, with Schaibo were returning from the front, and people were dismounting to walk the horses for a while.  Nanette got down, but Alexis was not going to let her go without a word.

“So, what is it?” Alexis asked.

Nanette found a tear in her eye but held it back.  “I’m still coming to grips with the fact that you are all, mostly, white people, and I’m a black woman, but you treat me like an equal.  I grew up in 1900.  My grandmother was a slave.  I’ve never been friends with real white people before.  Even the professor and the others treated me more like a servant than a friend.  They did not mean bad.  It was just the way they thought—the way we thought.  But now, I have seen how much you like and respect Decker, though he is a black man.  You treat him like an accomplished soldier, like the military colonel he is, and without any hesitation.”

“More like family, as Elder Stow would say,” Lincoln interjected.  “But don’t tell him I said that.”  Nanette nodded, dropped a couple of tears, but then laughed as she thought about it.  Alexis stepped up and hugged Nanette.  Katie, Lockhart, and Baba watched, as Katie spoke her mind.

“We are from a hundred years after your day, but you see, we have learned a thing or two,” she said.  “America is something the world has never seen before.  We have struggled with the old way of doing things.  The struggle against slavery got bloody.  But free and equal is the way we are all trying to be, even from the beginning of America.  There are some in our day that refuse to let go of the old way of thinking.  They want to keep us divided by race, sex, religion, and money and success, and all that—what they call identity politics, though most realize outward things like skin color do not make a person…”

Lockhart nodded.  “Some people think they are smarter than others, and deserve to run things, and that ordinary Americans are stupid.”

“We call them Democrats,” Lincoln interjected, and Alexis nudged his shoulder.  

“…But most people just want to be good neighbors and don’t let race, color, creed, or social or economic circumstances and all that get in the way,” Katie finished.

Alexis added, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female in Christ, the apostle said.”

“I remember that quote,” Baba said, and smiled at some memory.

Boston ran up and hugged Nanette, clearly having heard some of the conversation.  “Welcome to the family,” she said.  “Now you can be sisters with me and Sukki.  I never had sisters before.  I grew up with a bunch of brothers.”

“An offer from an elf—” Alexis began.

“—You can’t turn that down,” Sukki interrupted.

Nanette nodded and kept back the tears as Lockhart shouted at the sky. “Lunch.”

“I’ll get the leftovers from the wagon,” Alexis said.

“I’ll help,” Sukki and Nanette said together, and smiled at each other, and looked at Boston.

“No.  You don’t want her to help,” Alexis said, sounding like a mom.

Boston stuck her tongue out at Alexis, and said, “Fine.  I’ll get the fire started.”

“We go with our strengths,” Decker said, as he rode up.

Katie turned to Lincoln.  “And we need to check a couple of horseshoes.  I think Robert’s horse picked up a stone.”

Lunch did not take long.  They just ate up what they had.

“Not much of a lunch,” Schaibo described it after they finished, and tried hard not to complain about the meager repast.

“You’re a dwarf,” Boston teased.  “Since when are you not hungry?”

Schaibo grinned at the thought.  “I like you, too, Miss Boston.  Even if you are an uppity elf.”

The others ignored them.

“My boss is a black woman,” Lockhart said, having finally thought of something to say.

“Wait,” Tony objected.  “I thought you worked for the Men in Black, whoever they are.  How can a woman be a Man in Black?”

“Good lawyer, too,” Alexis added.

“Well, obviously, she is not a man,” Lincoln said.

“A lawyer?” Nanette sounded surprised.

“But she is black,” Baba said, and smiled again at some more memories.

“Bobbi, er, Roberta,” Lockhart named her.

“We recruited her out of the FBI,” Lincoln said.

“Wait,” Tony started again.  “FBI?”

“The Federal Bureau of Investigation.  They are like federal detectives.” Lockhart explained

“A woman detective?” Tony asked

“A black woman, who is a lawyer and an FBI detective?” Nanette shook her head in disbelief.

“Like I said earlier,” Katie spoke to Nanette.  “We learned a few things in the hundred years since your day.”

Nanette would have to think about it all.

After lunch, Nanette tied her horse to the wagon, while the others packed to travel.  She would ride with Tony to Lord Baba’s camp.  She stepped out from the others to think about where they might be headed.  They had a long way to go to reach the nineteenth, or rather the twentieth century.

Nanette stood in a field of yellow flowers under a blue sky, and decided it looked like the place she grew up.  She tried to imagine being home.  Her mother would wonder where she had been for the last seven—more like nine or ten years by the time she got home.  She wondered if her mother would like Decker.  She wondered how Venus imagined that would work since her experiences and his were separated by a hundred years.  Where would they live?  She could not imagine following him into the future.

Nanette shrugged off her worries.  She would trust God to work things out.  Besides, they might not survive the journey.  None of her worries might matter.  They had a road to travel, first.  She looked in the direction they headed, held out her hands and closed her eyes to try and glimpse where they were headed.  She screamed, over and over.

It took a few moments for the group to calm her down enough to get a word out of her.  She looked at Decker.

“The Wolv.  They found the camp.  The big ship is coming.”  She turned to Baba.  “The Wolv think,” she said, and barely kept from screaming again.

Katie extended her elect senses in the right direction.  “I sense something, but nothing clear.  They are not a threat to us, yet.”

Boston looked with her elf senses, and caught the thoughts of Aemir, the chief little one in the camp.  Aemir warned the people there, who immediately took up positions behind the makeshift Roman palisade.

Lockhart said, “Damn.”

Baba reacted.  “Boston?”

“Aemir is warned,” Boston said.

“Elder Stow?”

“The scout-transport is still too far for details, but I am picking up an energy signature, like they are charging the engines for flight.”

Baba turned to the group.  “Schaibo, stay with the wagon and guard the people.  Lincoln, Alexis, Nanette, and Tony, bring the wagon, and Tony, let me borrow your horse.  The rest of us need to ride.  Elder Stow, bring the transmitter we have worked on.”  He marched off to Tony’s horse, and the rest got ready as quickly as they could.

They had something like a road, so the ride was not too difficult, but they were still an hour away.  Elder Stow tried to keep one eye on his scanner, but it bounced too much to see it well, not to mention he needed to watch where he went.  They rode hard and fast.

Fifteen minutes from the camp, Elder Stow’s voice rang from the wristwatch communicators.  “Stop.”  People stopped, but some had to come back to hear.  “The Wolv transport has reached the camp.  The three in the scout ship that found the camp kept back to wait for the others, but they look like they will charge as soon as they form up.”

“Damn,” Baba said, in English.  He called.  “Jasmine and Cedar.”  A young fairy couple appeared, and Baba took the Wolv transmitter from Elder Stow.  “Cedar,” he said to the fairy.  “Hold this carefully.  Don’t drop it or break it.  You need to fly this ahead to the camp and when you are between the Wolv ship and the Romans, Jasmine, you need to press this button.  No!  Not until you are in between the Wolv ship and the Romans.  Now, fly.  Fast as you can.”

“Lord,” Cedar said, but Jasmine hurried him.  They flew out of sight in maybe a second.

“Good luck,” Decker said.  The others were polite enough not to say anything as they started to ride.

The travelers rode hard for ten minutes, and extra hard when they saw the smoke in the distance.  They stopped on a small incline where they could see the camp to their left and the metal edge of the scout-transport to their right, among the trees.  The palisade that protected the castellum burned and sent billows of smoke from the treated wood high into the sky.  A few trees on their right also smoldered, but Baba figured the transport main guns increased the size of the small meadow so they could land safely.

M3 Margueritte: Backed into a Corner, part 1 of 3

Chief Brian took a deep breath.  “Please understand.  I love our people and I expect the witch’s plans will not be in their best interest.  I assume, though I may be wrong, that you may have the power to undo her wicked scheme, whatever it may actually be.”

Margueritte paused once more to consider.  “But how do you know I am not also a witch, maybe worse than the other?” she asked.  Brian looked at her again, briefly before he looked away once more.  He seemed to laugh.

“Because I have seen you and know you, and your mother and family as well.  If there is anything in you, it is purity, not wickedness.  You have the Christ in you.  And you have shown no signs of wanting to take over anything or bend anything to your nefarious will.  Why, you are no more witch than I am.”

“But what of the king’s left ear?  Surely, he has some sense there,” Margueritte said, but Brian sighed.

“Alas, his left ear is occupied by Finnian McVey, and that Irishman is only in it for himself.  Lord knows his agenda, except he is nobody’s fool, not even for the witch. But you see, now, whether the king turns to the left or to the right it will not go well for us, not well at all.”

Margueritte had a lot to think about, though she was not sure there was anything she could do.  She hardly had time to think, though, because as she stood to walk, she found herself cornered by Finnian McVey himself.

“Young Margueritte,” he said and turned up his thin lips in what Margueritte imagined he supposed was a friendly smile.  “A weard, if you would be so kind.”

“Of course,” Margueritte said, curious enough after what the village chief just told her.

“Over here, if you don’t mind,” he said and took her by the elbow and lead her to the edge of the woods.  “What I have to ask is delicate and I would not have untoward ears listening in.

Margueritte extracted her arm before she was pushed into the actual woods, but she found herself well within the shade of the trees and her back to one great tree, while Finnian blocked her way back into the light.  “I am sure there is nothing I might tell you which is worth such secrecy,” she said.

“Ah, but there is.”  He pressed his hands together and put his fingers to his lips as if deciding exactly how to phrase things.  He stepped closer, and she took a small step back, and so he moved her more surely into the shadows.

“I have it on authority that around your home there are certain powers in the world and spirits of the darkness.”

“Then your authority is wrong.”  Margueritte said quickly even as she wondered who else knew the supposed secret.  “For I would entertain no darkness around my house, and neither would my mother nor my father who is Count of the Frankish Mark, lest you have forgotten.”

“Light and dark,” Finnian said with a step to force her back.  “These are relative terms.  They say there is a god, Abraxas, who bears the burden for both.  Of that, I would not know, but of the cratures that surround you, I am certain,” he drawled.

“Sir,” Margueritte said.  “I must return to the grounds before the others miss me.”  She was not really with others apart from Roland, Tomberlain, Owien and her father, and they were engaged in the games, though Finnian did not need to know that.  She started to walk, but he put out his arm and stopped her steps.

“Not yet,” he said.  “For I also know these powers worship the ground you walk on and will do whatever you ask.”

“Sir.  Even if that were true, it would be in the asking,” Margueritte said.  “Your spirit belongs to you and for that only you are accountable.  Would it be any different with any other spirit?  I think not.  Whatever you have heard, each one belongs to him or herself, not to me.”

“Ah, but if you were to ask, you could give one to me and then I could see what is what,” he said, and Margueritte took two steps back on that note.

“I am not one to endorse slavery, especially to the likes of you.”

His hand came very close to her face, but he withheld his slap.  “I am not asking you, missy,” he said instead.  “I am telling you to give me one of the little people, one with power in this earth, and you will, soon, if you know what is good for you.”

“Never.”  Margueritte charged toward her freedom, but Finnian caught her and dragged her deeper into the woods.  Her eyes yelled for help, but her mouth got covered by his hand.  She dreaded the taste but bit him all the same.  He yelped and she got out one “Help!” before he hit her, hard.  The smile appeared long gone from Finnian’s face as his thin lips turned down in a growl.

Finnian let go suddenly when a little one ran up his back.  He giggled, even as he caught something out of the corner of his eye.  He spun round and round and tried to get a good look, but the fee moved too fast and stayed always just in his peripheral vision.  When he fell over from dizziness, an impish lady gave him a wet, slobbering kiss right before the two below pulled on the string that held up his pants.  He fell, face down into the puddle of mud, not there a minute ago.  Finnian got up, angry, but his pants stayed around his ankles and there came a great roar, like a lion got right behind him, though it came thundering out of the littlest dwarfish creature.  Finnian screamed for his life and ran.  He tripped several times because of his pants as he ran back to the ground of the games.  Margueritte fell-down, laughing.

M3 Margueritte: Year of the Unicorn, part 2 of 3

Things were about settled when Marta came sheepishly in and interrupted.  “Your pardon, but I must set the table.  There will be eight and the children?”  She asked, judging the table too small for that many.

“Let the children and Tomberlain,” Brianna added to single him out, “eat with you and Maven this evening, unless my young squire would rather share with Redux?”  Tomberlain said he might carry enough to the barn to do that very thing.  “And here,” she said.  “We will help.”

“I’ll help Maven with the cooking,” Elsbeth said, but Margueritte grabbed her arm.

“You need to think harder than that to get out of work.  You can’t cook, or did you forget?”

Everything got settled amicably that evening, and the supper went very well overall.  Margueritte helped Marta serve since Lolly was not there and Maven got so tired out from all that cooking.  Elsbeth went with her brother and Redux, and the little ones, probably had a wonderful time dancing to the sound of Luckless’ mandola and Grimly’s flute.  But that was all right.  Margueritte did not mind.

They almost got into trouble when Chief Brian wondered where that midget had gotten off to?  The others became excited for the possible distraction since the supper table was not exactly tension free.

Marta stood stiff as a board, her eyes darted back and forth, with sweat ready at any moment to break out on her forehead.

“She had to go home.”  Margueritte spoke up quickly and sent Marta outside to the kitchen.  True enough.

“Drat,” Chief Brian said, and he explained his encounter with the little one, embellishing it just enough for a good laugh.  By then, Maven had come in, presumably to help clear dishes.

“Yes.  Dear Lolly had to get on home,” Maven said.  “She has seven mouths of her own to feed, you know, in that little rundown old shack of hers.  Why, the place barely keeps out the rain, it does, and that does not help her husband, arthritic and all the way he is.  He can barely farm enough to keep his family from starving, though he might have done better if his oldest and only son had not lost a foot in the badger hole.  Come to think of it, they would have had eight children, that is a second son, if the wart hog had not got him when he was a young one.  I almost forgot about him.  Of course, Lord Bartholomew, saint that he is, does everything he can for the poor, wretched family, but there is only so much one can do.  And here, Lady Brianna, the good lady let Lolly come up to cook just for her king whom she loves with the hope that in his abundance he might send her just a little to see her and hers until they can get in the rest of the scraggly bits of grain from the field.  Even with all the little girls helping, though, I can’t see how they will get it in before the frost.  Yes, I really feel for the poor old dear and help her myself every chance I get.”

“Oh my,” Chief Brian said.

The king frowned.  “I may be able to send a little something.”

“And I will, too.”  Chief Brian agreed.  Everyone agreed, except Bartholomew who seemed to be having a hard time to keep from laughing, and Brianna whose ears were red from hearing such lies, and Finnian McVey who looked up at Maven and tipped his hat ever so slightly to a master.  Finnian was apparently no slouch in the matter of lying.

Going out the back door with the dishes, Margueritte turned to Maven.  “You lie like an elf.”  She said it bluntly and did not mean it as a compliment.

“Well, having a few around has given me some chance to practice,” Maven admitted.

###

In the morning, almost before day had fully broken, Margueritte and Elsbeth were dumped, not too softly, in a pile of leaves.  Obviously, the place had been well worked out in advance as the riders shot for it in a straight line.  Margueritte wondered what other parts of King Urbon’s plans he had neglected to share with her father.  But then Goldenrod and Little White Flower showed up and the girls got busy having fun.

“I told the ogrees like you asked,” Goldenrod said.  “That was scary for me, the most scary, ever.”

“I bet it was,” Little White Flower said.

“How come fairies don’t always talk right?”  Elsbeth asked out of the blue.

Margueritte had to think for a minute.

“Is it because when they are young, their little brains can’t hold it all in?” Elsbeth suggested.

“Mostly too many feelings in this world,” Little White Flower said.  “It’s hard to be happy, feel proud at having done well, and scardy remembering all at the same time.”

“No,” Margueritte said.  “Well. Probably something like that, but I think it is because young fairies were made to be terminally cute and sweeter even than cotton candy.”

“What’s cotton candy?” Elsbeth wondered.

“Whipped sugar,” Margueritte answered.

“I knew some cotton fairies once,” Little White Flower said.  “But I never knew a cotton candy.”

“Hmmm,” Goldenrod interrupted.  She wanted to say something intelligent, too, but she could not think of anything to say.

“Unicorn.”  Elsbeth called out when she remembered her instructions.

“Unicorn.”  Goldenrod echoed, and for a while they all called, though none of them seriously supposed the creature would come.

Meanwhile, King Urbon had moved the entire male population, and quite a few females out of the village of Vergen, and also brought about a hundred members of the court along to make nearly seven hundred people altogether.  He even offered a lesser sentence to those stuck in the fens if any would be willing to help.  These people slowly spread out at first light until they made a line, a mile in length.  Ever so slowly, they moved into the Banner.  They carried whatever nets, fishing nets, cloth or sacks they could which might help to catch a unicorn.

After a while, the girls stopped calling.  The sound of hounds could be heard, far away, closing from the other direction.

“I’m cold,” Elsbeth admitted, and she and Margueritte got up and began to walk in a great circle.  The calling started again but stopped quickly when they heard a rustling in the leaves not far away, but out of sight.  They stiffened as a face popped out from behind a tree.

“Owien, Son of Bedwin.”  Both girls called out together.

“I see you bathed,” Margueritte said.

“Look nice,” Elsbeth added.

“No time for that,” Owien said.  “I came to warn you.  It’s a trap.  The people are circling all around to keep the unicorn from escaping, but Mother says they will drive all beasts to the center, and not just the unicorn.  That means Bears and Great Cats and Wart Hogs and snakes, too.”

Elsbeth shrieked at the word, “Snake.”  They paused again, because the leaves rustled once more.  A man jumped out and grabbed Owien, took him down, and held a big knife.  Owien fought well, but the man, or rather boy was much bigger than him.  Margueritte hit the boy in the arm.

“Tomberlain,” she yelled.  “Leave Owien alone.”

“Yes, leave him alone,” Elsbeth agreed.

“You know this boy?”  Tomberlain asked.

“Of course,” Margueritte explained.  “He risked himself to come and warn us about the circle closing around us.”

“Oh, sorry,” Tomberlain said and he sheathed his knife and helped Owien to his feet.  “I thank you for caring about my sisters.”

“No, thank you, Squire,” Owien said.  “I never wrestled with a real squire before.  It was an honor.”  Margueritte thought she better step in before Tomberlain’s head swelled to where it became too big to fit between the trees.

“What can we do to get out of here?” she asked the practical question.

“No broomsticks handy,” Tomberlain said.  “But I brought my horse.  He is young and strong and might carry the four of us.”

“Three,” Owien said.  “I can just blend in with the circle as it closes.”

“Nonsense.”  Margueritte and Tomberlain spoke together.  Tomberlain finished.  “You’re in as much danger here as the rest of us.”  For a third time, everyone stopped then, to listen.  The leaves sounded agitated this time.  To everyone’s surprise and wonder, the unicorn came into the little clearing.  It would not let the boys near it, but it seemed to be offering itself to the girls to ride and to take them out of danger.

“Looks like the matter’s settled,” Tomberlain said.  “We have two chargers, but we have to hurry.”  They could already hear the drums and distant shouts.  “It took too long to find you,” Tomberlain admitted.  “But we can make a dash for it.  Hurry Owien.”

M3 Margueritte: Year of the Unicorn, part 1 of 3

In the fall, right before Samhain in the same year that Elsbeth danced, not being the year to go to Vergenville, King Urbon, Duredain the druid and Finnian McVey paid their own visit to the triangle along with Chief Brian, his druid Canto, and a very wary Roan and Morgan.  They brought a dozen men at arms, three strong hunters, and plenty of hounds.

Lady Brianna welcomed them most regally and apologized that her small manor home hardly had the room or the facilities to entertain royalty.

“Never mind,” the king said, as he pointed his men toward a newly mowed field.  “I’ve brought our hunting tents.  We will be quite comfortable in the field.”

Sir Bartholomew rode up, having gotten the word from Little White Flower.  Tomberlain rode beside him as did several peasant Franks, but Grimly was nowhere to be seen.  Luckless the dwarf also absented himself from the forges, and, in fact, Margueritte went down into the lair of the little ones in the side of the hill beneath the barn to make it very clear to all of them that they were neither to be seen nor heard during that whole visit.  Fortunately, Hammerhead the ogre had been given two cows which he took off as a present for his family in Banner Bein.

“He certainly earned them.”  Bartholomew remarked to his wife’s question.  Hammerhead was one little one who did not mind working.  In fact, he rather enjoyed it, and he certainly did enough around the farm that spring and summer to earn a great deal.

“Lord Urbon,” Bartholomew said.  “Your majesty graces our poor home with your presence.”

“Yes, yes.”  Urbon waved off the formalities.  “Bartholomew, we have to talk.”  They went inside with Finnian and Duredain, even as Margueritte came out from the barn, having climbed up the underground stairs to the secret door.  Urbon’s men were already half-way down the hill.  Chief Brian appeared to want to speak with her first, privately, but Canto held his arm and led him also into the house.  Roan and Morgan dared not look at her and they quickly hustled their few servants down the hill to set up Chief Brian’s tents.

Elsbeth squirted out the front door, looking for Little White Flower.  “psst.”  The word came from the mistletoe oak and both girls looked up.  Little White Flower risked coming down to kiss Elsbeth on the cheek and added a bit of motherly advice.  “Be good now,” she said and wagged her tiny finger in Elsbeth’s face.  She curtsied to Margueritte and sped off to the fairy glen—a good ten miles into the Vergen forest.  Margueritte knew it would take Little White Flower almost a minute to get there.  Margueritte faced her sister who wore a devilish grin.  It was not the first time Margueritte wondered exactly what the relationship was between her sister and the fairy, but that thought got interrupted when Elsbeth spoke.

“You forgot Lolly,” she said.

Margueritte put her hand to her mouth before she said something rude.  She feared what might happen, but inside she laughed.  They ran to the side of the house, to where the kitchens were out back, and saw that Chief Brian had already walked out the back door for a little repast, as he called it, after his long, long journey.  Lolly had already slapped his hand once with her cooking spoon, and Marguerite, herself, knew how that would sting.

“Wait ‘till it’s ready, you big fat slobber, or next knock will be on your noggin,” Lolly said.

Brian was taken aback for a moment, not the least to nurse his hand, but then he laughed out loud.  “I didn’t know Bartholomew had a little person about.  I love you midgets. You always make me laugh.”

“Little people hitting each other,” Margueritte said quickly, not knowing what else to say.  She wanted to get Chief Brian’s attention before he looked at Lolly too closely.  “That’s what Napoleon liked, too.”

“Huh?”  Brian asked.  “Who’s that?”

Margueritte shrugged.  “You wanted to ask me some questions?”  She reminded him while Elsbeth hustled Lolly toward the barn, and not without some argument.

“Huh?  Yes,” Brian said.  “But I’ve quite forgotten what it was, exactly.  Anyway, I do hope all my questions will be answered tomorrow after you girls are dropped off in Banner Bein.”  He went inside.  Margueritte followed, shocked by what she heard.

Inside, the subject had already been breached, and Sir Barth stood red with anger and only refused to do anything foolish in his own home.

“Come now.”  Duredain spoke up.  “You Christians are always claiming Christ as your true protector.  You should not fear for your girls.”

“Besides,” Finnian added in his Irish drawl.  “The unicorn is reparted to be a most gentle and loving crature who is most kind to young innocent garls.”

“No.”  Bartholomew repeated himself for the hundredth time.  “You’ll not use my children as bait.  And besides, I am not a Christian.”

Poor Lady Brianna did not know what to say.  She was moved to speechlessness by the whole suggestion.

“Then by your own pagan Gods.”  Duredain looked ready to spit.

“I’m not exactly asking,” Urbon said, mostly to Lady Brianna who remained a native of Amorica.  “But it would be greatly of value to the whole kingdom and a benefit to all the people.”  He knew he had little or no say over the Franks.  In fact, having three Frankish Lords on his border watching over him rather spoke for the opposite.  Still, he hoped to appeal to the Lady as one of his own, whose daughters were at least half his.

Lady Brianna shook her head when Margueritte stepped up and Elsbeth came in the front door.

“What?”  Elsbeth asked straight out.

“Baby,” Brianna explained.  “The king and his men propose to try and catch the unicorn, if they can, and save it for all the people, for the purity and health it will bring.”

“But what?”  Elsbeth spoke again.  Apparently, she heard enough before coming inside to ask.  Margueritte stood quietly at her mother’s shoulder looked up and down the row of faces seated at the table and did not like any of them very much.

“Baby.  They propose to take you and Margueritte to the woods, alone, in the hope that the unicorn will return to you.”

“Bait,” Elsbeth said what her father said, and she turned her eyes on the men at the table.

“To Banner Bein?” Margueritte confirmed.  At least Chief Brian nodded.

“Think on it.”  The king rose so everyone rose with him.

“You will come for supper,” Brianna said.  It was a statement of invitation, not a question.

“Of course,” the king answered.  He planned to settle the matter that evening.  He stepped out, Duredain on his heels, and Finnian who sauntered a bit.  Chief Brian sent Canto on ahead but tarried until it became safe to speak.

“Care, Sir Barth.  There is much talk about you Franks being responsible for this Christian business and the dissolution of the old ways.”

“What?  Get out!”  Lord Bartholomew roared.  Chief Brain shrugged, but Brianna walked him to the door and thanked him.

“It was only a fair warning.  He risked telling you,” she said.  “It was not a threat, veiled or otherwise.”

“Oh.”  Bartholomew got it, but his ire was so engaged, he could hardly hear anything unthreatening.

“Father.”  Margueritte spoke as Tomberlain came in from caring for the horses.  “Isn’t Hammerhead in Banner Bein visiting his family?”

Bartholomew looked at her and Lady Brianna was not sure what she might be suggesting, but Elsbeth seemed to understand.  “Oh, yes.”  She clapped her hands together.

“And I don’t see why, with a little help, if you know what I mean, we might not be safe enough.  Far be it from Elsbeth and me to break the peace between the Franks and the Breton.”

“Margueritte!”  Brianna’s voice scolded, but Lord Bartholomew clearly thought about it.  If the girls could pull it off, whether they got their unicorn or not, it would give him certain leverage on the king.

“What’s it all about?”  Tomberlain asked, and Margueritte explained her plan more fully, accepting the ways in which her father amended those plans, and Brianna, though not believing her ears, nevertheless did not object.

M3 Margueritte: And Secrets, part 2 of 3

A crack of lightening split a rogue apple tree down the middle, and a roar came that sounded like thunder.  “I am here.”  Horses danced and skidded away in pure fright, and everyone paused, in the midst of their life or death struggles, to look.

They saw three men, dressed resplendently for battle.  They all glowed a bit with an unearthly glow.  Somehow, Margueritte knew them all by name.  Birch, the eldest fee, stood full sized, big as a man.  He had gray hair like a well-seasoned warrior.  He came dressed all in German-like chain mail of black and silver, though much finer than any German made chain, and the silver looked to be real silver.  Beside him stood young Larchmont, also a full-sized fairy lord, dressed like a druid prince in black and gold that matched his golden hair.  The third was a sight, in wooden chest protection, feathers on his head, a wicked looking war club in one hand and a wooden shield in the other on which the thunderbird had been painted.  Yellow Leaf was his name, and he was not long arrived from the other side of the world.

Beside those three fairy lords, there were three more figures.  Grimly, the hobgoblin stood only three feet tall, pink faced, and dressed all in green like a midget Robin Hood, but no one doubted the determination written all over his grim face, and no one wanted any part of the long knife he brandished with what appeared to be great skill.  Beside him, and a foot taller, stood Luckless the dwarf.  His armor showed neither gold, nor silver, but it looked ancient as if made before human beings ever entered that part of the world, and it also looked like it hardly fit him.  The double headed ax he held, however, appeared to fit him very well.  Last came Hammerhead, the ogre, the youngster from Banner Bein.  He stood eight feet tall, almost as broad in the shoulders and ugly enough to make a stomach turn just to look at him.  The tree trunk of a club he held over his shoulder seemed superfluous.

Lord Birch spoke first into the stunned silence.  “Unhand the Lady.”  He pointed his glimmering steel at the two who held Brianna to the ground.  They did not argue.  They let go immediately and backed away.

Margueritte took that moment to try wriggling again.  “Let go of me.”

“Yes!”  Luckless the dwarf yelled to gain everyone’s attention.  “Let go of our special lady.”

The soldier that held Margueritte did not move and may have even tightened his grip a little out of pure, unthinking fear.

Hammerhead took one step forward and opened his mouth like a shark, wide enough to bite a man’s head off and showed several rows of teeth.  “Let-Her-Go!” he said like thunder and with a great wind that exploded from his gut.

The soldier dropped Marguerite like a hot coal, screamed, and ran off down the road the way he came without even stopping to collect a horse.

Margueritte fell hard onto the mud and rocks.  Concern quickly crossed the faces of Sir Barth and Lady Brianna, but it passed when Margueritte came up laughing, wrinkled her nose and waved her hand through the air.

“Good Lord, Hammerhead,” she said.  “When was the last time you brushed your teeth?”

“I’m supposed to brush them?”  Hammerhead responded in his more normal deep gravel, and honestly, quite scary enough voice.

The Franks laughed, however nervously.  The Saracens were mortified to finally realize that these apparitions actually answered to the young girl.  Immediately they began to grab what horses they could, and each other, to run, except Ahlmored, who took the distraction to take a swing at Bartholomew.  Sir Barth was not so distracted, though, when any enemy threatened his flank.  He blocked the swing of the sword and followed up with a thrust of his own that went right under Lord Ahlmored’s chinstrap, through his throat, and out the back of his neck.  It only stopped against the chain that draped down from the back of Ahlmored’s helmet.  With that, the enemies were all gone.

“Tomberlain!”  Margueritte remembered.  Tomberlain moaned and tried to sit up.  He bled beneath his helmet.

“Luckless!”  Margueritte turned quickly.  “Is there a doctor?”

“Doctor Pincher might be available,” he said with a bow.

Margueritte grinned at the name and made the call.  “Doctor Pincher,” she commanded his attention in a voice she did not know she had.  Doctor Pincher, a half dwarf, appeared out of thin air.  He looked confused at first until Luckless pointed to Margueritte.

“Ah, so it is true,” he said.  “Great Lady.”  He bowed low to Margueritte, but she was concerned for her brother.

“Tomberlain.”  She pointed.  “He got bonked on the head.  Help my brother.”

“Hmm.  Let me see.”  The doctor drew a big black bag out from the inside of his coat, though the bag clearly looked bigger than any pocket he might have had inside the coat.  Immediately, he helped Tomberlain remove his helmet and quickly announced, “It’s only a flesh wound.  Nothing to worry about.”

Margueritte then remembered her manners.  “Thank you, Lord Birch.  Thank you, Lord Larchmont.  Thank you, Lord Yellow Leaf and welcome to this side of the Atlantic.” The three fairy Lords bowed without a word and became small together and flew off into the woods.  Lady Brianna crawled up beside her daughter and helped Margueritte and herself to their feet.  She held Margueritte because Margueritte appeared to have twisted her ankle a little.

“Thank you Grimly, Luckless, and dear Hammerhead,” Margueritte said.

As she held her daughter and saw for a moment as if through Margueritte’s eyes, Lady Brianna asked her daughter a quick question.  “Are all these yours?”

“Yes, indeed, m’lady.”  Grimly tipped his green hat.

“No, mother,” Margueritte answered.  “They belong to themselves as we belong to ourselves, but sometimes they help me and do what I ask, and I am always grateful.”  She smiled for her mother because her mother seemed to understand far more than most would on such short notice.

“And the unicorn?”  Sir Barth asked.

Brianna answered for her daughter.  “No dear.  Nothing so grand.  Only the littlest spirits and certainly not even all of them.”

“Elsbeth!”  Lady Brianna and Margueritte reacted together.  They paused to listen and heard giggles come from under the wagon.  They peeked.  Elsbeth lay on her back and tried in vain to catch the fairy that buzzed around her face, and she giggled.  Beside her was a dwarf wife who held her cooking spoon like a war club.

“Is it safe?”  The dwarf wife asked.

“Yes Lolly.”  Margueritte called the spirit by her name.  “You and Little White Flower can come out now.”

“Elsbeth.  Stop playing with the fairy and come out here so I can look at you.”

“Aw, Mother,” Elsbeth protested, but complied.  Little White Flower grabbed onto Elsbeth’s hair, came with her and took a seat on Elsbeth’s shoulder.  “This is Little White Flower.”  Elsbeth introduced her friend.  “And this is Lolly, my other friend, even though she is threatening to make me learn to cook.”

“Hmm.”  Lady Brianna saw that her daughter was unhurt.  “That would take some very strong magic.”

“Well, that’s that,” Doctor Pincher interrupted.  “All bandaged, disinfected and cleaned.  Some dead though.”  Three Saracens and one of the Franks would move no more.  Two other Franks were bandaged, but like Tomberlain, neither had been wounded too seriously.  The Africans seemed to have taken their wounded with them, which spoke well for their training to have done so despite the loss of their leader, and the fact that they were frightened out of their minds.  “If you don’t mind my saying, you might tell these mudders it would not hurt to get clean once in a while.  The water won’t melt them, mud though they be.”

“Thank you, Doctor Pincher,” Margueritte said.

“Yes, thank you,” Lady Brianna added.

“Ahem.”  The doctor coughed.  “Don’t mention it, but I do have lots of ‘pointments this afternoon.”  He whipped out a list which stretched to the ground.  No one asked where his black bag went.

“Oh, yes,” Margueritte said.  “Go home.”  She waved her hand and the dwarf instantly vanished.

M3 Festuscato: To the Hall of Heorot, part 1 of 3

In the morning, everyone had to wait until Festuscato got up and about.  At one point, out of boredom, Gregor pointed behind Mousden and shouted, “Bear!”

“Where?” Mousden asked from half way down the street where he flew in the blink of an eye. Seamus laughed.  Even Bran smiled.

“Now come, little one.  Do you really think these Jutes would let a bear wander the streets?” Gregor asked.

Mousden shook his head after a moment’s thought.  “I suppose not, though mortal humans are still very strange to me.”

“Quite all right,” Seamus said.  “They are strange to me, too, and I am one of them.”

“Sorry.” Festuscato spoke up from the doorway. Without another word, he went straight to his horse and mounted.  “Lead on Macduff.”  He waved at Ingut who volunteered to lead them into Danish lands and to the hall of Hrothgar.  Ingut the shipbuilder, became one of the few, in those times of tension, who could continue to move freely across borders.  Ingut did not understand a word Festuscato said, but he understood the intent. He turned his horse into the lane, and everyone fell in behind, Luckless with his arms still full of breakfast.

Mirowen had her own horse then, and as soon as they passed through the city gate, she nudged up to ride beside Lord Agitus.  “Vingevourt had duties, but he said he might see us at Heorot.”

Festuscato said nothing.  He looked deep in thought.

“You missed breakfast, so Luckless ate your portion,” she tried again.

“Huh?”  She at least got that much before he said something that did not really make sense.  “My breakfast was eaten by a person you would least expect, but not find surprising, but it wasn’t me.”  He fell again to thinking.

“Will my Lord be having gloom for lunch as well?” Mirowen asked.

“Huh?” Festuscato looked up then, and seemed to focus.  “I’m sorry. I’ve been thinking about this monster. Twelve years is a long time not to have some lead on where the beast comes from.”

“From the place of the great swamps and dreaded pools,” Mirowen reported what she had heard.

Festuscato shook his head.  “Speculation. It has never been seen.  In fact, the tracks of the beast always disappear at the gate to the city, and not always the same gate.  You know, an animal, even a monster, can be tracked, and all animals, and especially monsters, cannot help leaving a trail of some kind.  But the trail of this beast apparently disappears at the edge of the city.  I know, because I stayed up most of the night bothering people and asking questions.

“But how?” Mirowen started to ask, but Festuscato caught the gist of the real question and answered before she could finish.

“The king found a girl who spoke the British tongue, a slave of sorts I guess, but a nice lass, as Patrick would say.”

Mirowen looked at him, as if the answer to her concern simply raised another whole series of questions.  “You overslept,” she confirmed.  Festuscato nodded slowly and Mirowen frowned and thought she could not have been that nice a girl, at least in the way Patrick would have meant it.  Then she had another thought.  “I know with the spirit of Diana inside your heart, the gift given to your reflection in the old days, you know more than most about tracking animals. I do not doubt what you say is true. A monster, certainly ought to be easy to follow.  But right now, I suspect it is the other gift shared with your reflection; it is the spirit of Justitia which is driving you.”

“Ah, yes.” Festuscato smiled.  “Your suspicious gland is functioning very well I see.  Every woman has a suspicious gland, you know, and you are exactly right.”

Mirowen ignored the insult, and after a pause, she spoke again.  “How so?  How am I right?”

Festuscato did not answer directly.  “Did you notice the monster always attends the hall, but he never seeks victims in their homes or apartments?”  He asked, though he made it a statement of fact.  “It might become evident, you see, if one house never got attacked, or the houses of friends, if any.”

“But is it not a monster?”  Luckless rode right behind them and he had been listening in with those excellent ears, at least between bites.  “Don’t monsters just go for blood and gore and that sort of thing?”

“If it is a monster, it is an intelligent monster,” Festuscato said.

“Like a Troll or Ogre?” Mirowen asked, but Festuscato shook his head.

“I said intelligent,” he joked.

At least Luckless laughed.  “If it is one of ours, it must be a dark elf to come only at night, like a Goblin,” he suggested.

“No.  It is not one of my little ones,” Festuscato said. “I checked that out first.”

“Surely you don’t think an ordinary man would do all I hear this Grendel has done,” Mirowen said.

Festuscato paused to look at her closely.  “Tell me. Do you know what a werewolf is?”

“I have only heard the word,” Mirowen admitted, while Luckless shook his head and wondered.

“It is a disease, actually,” Festuscato said.  “Of the few humans who are really susceptible, most carry the gene without ever knowing it.  But they pass it on through the generations, until it surfaces at some point.  It happens when the moon is full, like the pull on the tides, and the man, like the Were people of old, changes into a wolf and is driven half mad in the process because human people are not built to be transformed.  These people become mostly mindless killing machines, and I suspect this Grendel may be something like that, only with his mind still intact somehow.”

“Oh, I see,” Luckless said, not really seeing at all.  But Mirowen understood perfectly.

“So, you think the monster may be an ordinary person by day, and it may actually be a person in the hall itself, every day,” she said.

“Exactly. And I think if anyone figures this out, there are plans already set to see someone else, someone innocent, accused. I feel it in my gut, but then I may be wrong altogether.”

“No.” Mirowen shook her head.  “It is the only explanation I have heard that makes any sense at all.”  She dropped back to consider the problem in her own private world.  She said very little the rest of the day, and nothing at all about the monster.  Then again, no one said much that day, until just before night when they entered a village in the forest where they were refreshed and could be bedded for the night.

M3 Festuscato: Saved, part 1 of 3

It did not take long for Mousden to have the driest wood he could find stacked in a neat pile. Unfortunately, no one could get it started until Luckless came along from the opposite direction.  Dwarfs can nearly always get a fire started.

“Unless I’ve lost my tinder, too,” Luckless grumbled.  He had not, and in a moment, the flames rose with the sun.  The rain was over.  “I see you saved your books,” he added, with a nod to Seamus.

“It was Bran,” Seamus explained.  “We were able to stay aboard ship until there was nearly enough light to see.  The pounding of the waves made the ship lean more and more terribly to the weak side, where the hole was.”

“List,” Hrugen interrupted.  “Ships list, they don’t lean.  I don’t know why.”

“Yes, well, all that time, Bran kept tearing up boards and lashing them together with what rope he could find.  In the end, he said we were in danger of turning over altogether and he dropped the raft on the side closest to the water.  I got down with the books and Bran dove in and hauled the raft free of the ship, which by the way did turn over shortly after we escaped.  We came to shore, and it was a miracle the books are not more soaked.”

“Common sense.” That was all Bran called it.

“I don’t suppose you saw my tools?” Luckless asked.  The poor dwarf was still wringing buckets of water from his clothing. Dwarfs were not good swimmers in calm water.  Their legs and arms were too short.  They had a tendency to sink like stones.  The others all shook their heads, but Seamus turned and pointed to the sea.

“You’re welcome to take a look,” he said.  “The ship is not very far out.”  He pointed, and sure enough they could see the hull just above the water line in the distance.  It could not entirely sink, being grounded there on the rocks, but in time it would be broken to pieces by the relentless sea and become driftwood for someone else’s fire.

Luckless warmed his hands.  “What’s the point?” he asked.  “All is lost and it is all my fault.  If I hadn’t come along, you would have had clear sailing to the Danish coast where the Lord wanted to land.  I’m such a jinx.”

“No.” Everyone spoke together, but Luckless felt convinced.  The only reason they hit that storm had to be because he was a jinx, and he lost his precious tools as well, the last gift of his father, and now he would just sink into the rock until he was no more.  He felt miserable and he would not be talked out of it.

A couple of hours later, they caught sight of Mirowen.  They were hungry and just about to give up waiting and go in search of food, when she appeared, meandering sweetly down the coast.  She looked perfectly dry, her long black hair flowed in the light breeze, every hair in place, and her dress looked like it had just been cleaned and pressed.  By contrast, the men looked disheveled in their muddy, damp and wrinkled clothes. Hrugen’s blond head looked brown from the mud.

Gregor one eye was the first to notice that she was talking while she walked.  “I can’t hardly make out what it is, though, she is talking to,” he said.

Luckless squinted. His eyes in the day were barely better than Mousden’s.  “Water sprite.  I think.” He did not sound sure.

“Be back.” Mousden announced and flew off to greet the Lady.

Mirowen arrived with not one, but a whole train of water sprites in her trail.  They were true little ones, from eight to twelve inches tall and looked like a gelatinous mass roughly in the shape of a person, with a shimmer along the edge, which made a casing, like a nearly transparent exoskeleton that held them together.  The chief walked beside the elf and had a voice high pitched like a mouse, but sounded sweet as a baby.  The others, what Festuscato might have called liquid gingerbread men, carried all of the boxes and personal things that could be salvaged from the ship.  They also brought two more horses and a pony.

“Gentlemen.” Mirowen spoke when she got close enough. “May I present Lord Vingevourt, king of the water sprites and ruler of the Baltic.”

“The whole sea?” Hrugen asked, and looked ever so uncomfortable.

“No,” Vingevourt squeaked in Danish.  Mirowen had to translate.  “I’ve got a nephew in the North Sea, and a third cousin in the Channel.  I don’t know about the Arctic, what ice blob has that at present.”  Luckless and Mousden, of course, understood every word.  The little ones had the uncanny ability to understand each other regardless of the language, but even as Mirowen translated, the rest of the crew looked at Hrugen who shook his head.

“Not proper Danish,” Hrugen said.  “Jutland dialect which is difficult and has some strange soundings.”

“Odd pronunciations.”  Seamus returned the favor.  “Words are pronounced, not sounded,” he said.  “I don’t know why.”

Vingevourt continued while his train set down the cargo and dove back into the sea to disappear. “Imagine my horror when I came to discover through this fine Lady that I nearly drowned my own god in that storm.”

“Your god?” Hrugen asked.  He was the new member of the group and didn’t know the full story of Festuscato.

“Sure,” Gregor said with a sly grin.  “Didn’t you know your captain was one of the gods?”

“God only for the sprites of the earth,” Luckless said.

“God for us, too,” Vingevourt responded.  “Many sprites of the waters, the air, and the fires under the earth belong to him as well.”

“Mostly, you might think of him as the Watcher or a Traveler.”  Mirowen explained before the argument hardly started.  “But he is just an ordinary human to you.  That is inevitably how he or she is born.”

“She?” Hrugen raised an eyebrow.

“Of course.” Mirowen nodded.  “You don’t suppose he should always be born a male, do you?”

M3 Festuscato: Shipwreck, part 2 of 3

“Mousden!” Festuscato shouted to the top of the mast where the last member of the motley crew spent most of his time. “What do you see?”  The light seemed to be fading too fast and Festuscato started becoming concerned about the possible storm.  He wondered if he should turn the ship toward the shore to seek shelter.  Certainly, the sea began to turn rough.  Fortunately, the Cornish Pixie’s eyes were very sharp in the dark.

“I see the usual collection of lazy layabouts on the deck,” Mousden shouted down.

The men looked up. “Hawk!”  Gregor shouted and suddenly pointed.

“Hawk?” Hrugen looked up, but Mousden had already shrieked and flown to the deck faster than an eye could see.  He crawled under a coil of rope to hide, being only a foot and a half tall, altogether.

Gregor laughed with the others, and after a moment, even Hrugen thought it was funny. Mousden, however, got mad.

“How would you like a hot foot,” Mousden threatened Gregor for the millionth time, but everyone knew the old, one eyed Saxon really cared for the little winged man. Even Mousden could see that much.

“Ahem!”  Festuscato cleared his throat.  “I meant, what can you see at sea?”

“Oh.” Mousden nodded.  “Just some monsters spouting water and headed right for us.”

“Whales on the whale road.”  Hrugen jumped to the railing and Bran caught him before the pitch tossed him.  All the men, carefully strained in the growing darkness to catch a sight of the wonder.

“Ahem,” the captain said.  “I meant the clouds.  Is there a storm coming?  Should we seek the shelter of the shore?”

“Oh, yes, Lord,” Mousden said, frankly, but without the least comprehension of what he was saying.  He was just not very used to moving among men and did not fully understand human needs in the face of a hostile universe.  For that matter, most of his life got spent in caves and such, and he still just started learning about things like bad storms.  “There’s a big storm coming.  A monster storm.”  Festuscato had already turned toward the shore.

“When?” Festuscato asked.

It started to drizzle.  “About now. Why?”

At that moment, a giant swell washed the front of the boat, nearly swamped the whole bow. Mirowen held to her place, like a magnet to iron, but she got soaked head to foot and reacted as any woman would. Festuscato had one moment to view her glorious water soaked figure and the sheer vulnerability of her in her state, and the heavens opened up.

“Hrugen! Gregor!  Tear that sail.  Bran! Seamus!  Loose the horses.  Mousden to Mirowen.  We need your eyes in the dark.  Mirowen! Call out direction.”

“To port.” She spoke right from the beginning. “There are rocks to starboard.”

The lightning began and rapidly came in sheets like the driving rain.  It took only moments before Gregor and Hrugen cut the chords of the sail and the ropes began whipping in the wind.  They still had enough tension in the canvas to give the ship some real impetus and direction, but not enough to cause the mast to snap. That would have been a real danger. As for direction, Gregor and Hrugen quickly joined their captain at the tiller.

“To Port. We’re drifting,” Mirowen said.

“I see the land. I see it,” Mousden shouted, excited, though how the men at the tiller imagined he could see anything was beyond them. He bobbed up and down about a foot above Mirowen’s head, barely able to stay aloft in the wind.  He got hard blown toward the sea twice before a particularly close lightning strike made him quit his post and seek out his hiding ropes.  Luckless had already come back on deck with his precious bag of tools.  Seamus also came back up, his precious books in hand. He held the ropes across the deck from Luckless and hunkered down over his papers.  Bran came last, rubbing his shoulder where a terrified horse kicked and grazed him.  All the same, he joined the men at the tiller.

“More to port.” Mirowen shouted, her words somehow got through against the rain.  The swells came, and the little ship began to bob up and down like a cork in water. They began to take on water, but there seemed no point in bailing.  Everyone had to hang on for dear life as the sea took them for a ride.

For three hours Mirowen shouted, “To port!”

And Festuscato shouted back.  “She’s hard over already.”

For three hours, Mousden shivered under the ropes, Seamus and Luckless protected their priceless cargos and four men kept the ship turned hard to port, though whether they went to port or were driven to starboard in spite of everything, none could say.

“There are rocks to starboard!”

The lightning flashed, and the rain and thunder crashed, near deafening.

The sail ripped altogether in the third hour.  It flapped in the wind and the ropes flailed about and became dangerous for those amidships. That condition did not last long as the mast cracked in a snap as loud as the thunder.  When it broke altogether, it fell into the sea right over Luckless’ head.

“Luckless!” Seamus shouted.  The dwarf did not answer.  Leaving his books to the wind and rain, Seamus crawled toward the spot.

“I’m okay,” came the call.  “Mousden snatched me away in the nick.”  Seamus crawled quickly back to his spot by the railing.

“More to port! We’re getting too close to the rocks.” And they did get too close, first to hear the horrifying sound of an underwater ridge scrape up against the bottom before a boulder, taller than the rest, crunched into the ship’s side and caved in a portion of the deck below.  The ship jerked to a stop and Festuscato got thrown overboard.  He barely missed the rock itself as he plunged headlong into the cold waters of the Baltic.