Roland looked up and Marguerite turned, both having rather silly smiles, just as Hammerhead stuck all six potatoes in his mouth at once and chewed and announced. “These are good to eat.” Margueritte barely stopped him before he disgorged his chewed bits into the good bin.
She thanked the little ones and asked them to see if Luckless or Tomberlain might need their assistance.
“Always glad to be of service,” Grimly said, and Roland rolled up his sleeves and helped.
“That gnome still has a lot of imp in him,” Margueritte said, and that sparked a good discussion, but the kiss they both thought about never got mentioned.
When the evening came. Marta came to Margueritte’s room where she helped brush Margueritte’s hair. That near black hair, when taken down, now fell to the floor which made it more than five feet long. Marta had begun to help her care for it, though she also bore the brunt of nearly every other duty in the house. Margueritte was grateful, and they were both rather giddy that night, though Margueritte became a bit miffed by bedtime. She could hardly get a word in about Roland. Marta kept talking about her Weldig, the potter, whom she called, Mister Potter. And every time Margueritte did mention something, it only reminded Marta of something else. Marta was not long for this world, Margueritte reminded herself, and she reconciled herself to having good dreams, which she did.
By the time they reached Vergenville that next day, Margueritte felt rather grumpy. She knew what was going on, physically, but she thought the timing rather poor. While she waited at the inn for Roland to deliver his letters to the king, all the talk around her was of the dragon. The people hoped that now that the king had come from his western court, something might be done about this scourge.
“I heard it was as big as a tower,” one said.
“Big as the whole village,” another countered.
“I heard it ate a whole fishing boat in one gulp, fisherman and all,” one said.
“A whole fishing fleet,” yet another spoke.
“It’s big, but not that big,” Lord Bartholomew turned to the table.
“You’ve seen it then,” the baron concluded.
“I have,” Sir Barth nodded, and stopped Margueritte’s hand. “No,” he said.
“Father.” She complained, rolled her eyes, but acquiescing in the end. She contented herself with unfermented cider, though she thought she ought to be able to try the harder stuff.
“Bartholomew.” Lady Brianna called from the doorway. Owien stood there, and Elsbeth was going, too. Bartholomew stood and downed his drink at once.
“Coming,” he said. “Time for the Fens.”
“But I thought the king said you were not supposed to do that anymore,” Baron Bernard questioned, with a smile.
Bartholomew shrugged. “Young Owien has so been looking forward to handing out the soap, I hate to disappoint the boy,” he said.
“You’re not going this year?” The Baron asked after they left. Margueritte shook her head. “Oh, that’s right. Your young man.”
“You had better wish he doesn’t like the stuff,” the baron suggested, as Constantus came crashing in the door, all but swearing.
“Don’t bother,” Baron Bernard said. “Bartholomew’s gone to the Fens.”
Constantus calmed down instantly, got a drink and took a seat with his friend. “That dragon got my Gray Ghost.”
“Ah!” The Baron smiled, knowingly.
“It didn’t.” Margueritte felt concerned. Constantus looked up and patted her hand reassuringly.
“It was the Gray Ghost number two,” he said. “And really too old to be racing again. The truth is Gray Ghost number three is not ready. Still too young.”
“Too young?” The Baron asked.
“Yes, and not a true gray in any case.”
“Too bad,” Margueritte said. “Father has been breeding Arabians to get a winner, and now he’ll never know.” They all had a little chuckle at that thought.
Not long after that, Roland returned with the bard, Thomas of Evandell. Margueritte slid down the bench so Roland could sit comfortably beside her, and then he, the bard, the baron and Lord Constantus had a grand old time all around her.
At last, Marguerite sighed, and Roland got the hint. “I think it would be good to see this fair of yours, Thomas,” he said. He rose-up and put his empty tankard which had been full of ale on the bar counter, and Thomas rose with him. “And would my lady like to accompany us?” Roland added.
Margueritte rose immediately. She said nothing but merely took Roland’s arm, and then Thomas’ arm as well for balance. Together, they went into the market fair. Thomas said, “Well I’ll be,” more than once, because as long as he held Margueritte’s arm, he saw what she and Roland saw. Every little one, every sprite, elf, dwarf and fee in the market area, though otherwise invisible to the people, came and paid their respects to the girl before they began to pilfer their little bits. Odd, though, that Thomas was not truly amazed, nor the least bit frightened by it all. He said he could not tell all those stories for all of those years without believing at least some of them. He did ask, however, why they could see the sprites when no one else could and why the little spirits were so careful to pay their respects to Margueritte.
“Isn’t it obvious?” Roland teased. “Clearly my lady’s charms surpass those of other, ordinary mortals.”
Margueritte struggled and at last produced the littlest burp. “Excuse me, Gentlemen,” she said, and Roland fell over for laughing.
When they came to the end of the royal fair, they found a small gypsy camp had been set up. Margueritte thought it odd that there were no little ones among the gypsies, but she said nothing to the others. She felt reluctant to enter the area herself, but with some persuasion she came along, and the first place they came to, was a tent with an older woman who claimed she could tell fortunes in a man’s palm.