Avalon 8.0 Confrontations, part 6 of 6

Elder Stow arrived at about the same time as the lead dwarf reached the group.  Elder Stow got right up on Mudd.

“Welcome travelers,” the dwarf said.  “Sanyas has been informed of your presence. Chief Pavhara is talking to the Princess, there.”  He pointed toward Boston.  “I think Sanyas wants us to escort you to her, but first, you should come inside for the night.  The grub-diggers won’t find you in the underground.”

“Grub-diggers?” Lockhart asked.

“Humans,” Alexis said.

“You got a name?” Katie asked.

“Yu Me,” a second dwarf said.  “His family is all immigrants, but Yu know how immigration works.  Get it?  Yu knows?”

“Got it,” Katie said, and managed a smile.

“Can I give it back?” Decker asked.

“Underground?” Lincoln complained, but it was not so bad.  The dwarfs had a big cavern, well lit by fires and plenty of torchlight.  They also had plenty of food, as might have been expected.  Best of all, they had a long tunnel, big enough for the horses and wagon, that led to the far end of the pass and the hills of Gandhara.  The Swat River was not far.  There, on the first hilltop, they found Sanyas and her camp.  She had roughly three hundred soldiers hidden among the trees.

The travelers moved slowly into the camp.  Soldiers saw them, but also saw the dwarfs, so they waited for orders from higher up to make a move.  When it appeared that the dwarfs were leading these strange people straight toward the command tents, a large number of soldiers got in their way.

A woman in her fifties pushed through the line of soldiers and yelled that these were old friends, and the soldiers should go back to whatever they were doing.  The soldiers parted, without question, and more than a few bowed as they walked off.  The travelers figured this had to be Sanyas.

“Boston,” Sanyas said, with a happy smile, as the red head jumped into her grandmotherly embrace.

“Shan-eye-ash-ra-devi?” Lincoln carefully pronounced the name.  He had to ask, just to be sure.

Sanyas frowned.  “Roughly translated, that name means I renounce being ruler or goddess.  As for Ruler, my older sister Yasomati is queen, and her husband is king, and that is as close as I want to get to running things.  As for goddess, I cannot deny the sprites of the earth, air, fire, and water, but I will never be counted as a goddess over people.  Never over people.  The gods have gone and what is done is done.”  Sanyas smiled.

“And yet, here you are with several hundred soldiers who obviously take your orders,” Lockhart pointed out.

Sanyas frowned again.  “My husband, Brahmagupta is supposed to be in charge, but he has no military heart or mind.  I love him for that, but someone has to be in charge.  Come, I will show you.”  She yelled and men hurried to collect the horses, the mule and wagon, so all the travelers could follow her.  Several soldiers also followed, old friends or not.

They came to a ledge and a fifty-foot drop that gave a view clear of trees.  To their right, they saw a camp in the valley, and men on horses.  When they got the binoculars out, way in the distance on their left, they saw what looked like a city.

“Peschawar,” Sanyas named the city.  “The valley is made by the river from the Khyber.  It joins the Swat not too far from here.  The Alchon Huns still rule in Gandhara, though they have pulled back from the Punjab.”

“We saw Huns fighting on the other side of the Khyber,” Katie said.

Sanyas nodded.  “I managed to get the Nezak and Alchon to fight each other, but after the Alchon from the Punjab returned to their capital in Kabul, the Afridi moved back into the pass and now the Alchon that are still here on this side of the pass are cut off from their home.”

“We got held prisoner by the people in the pass for a while,” Lincoln said.

“Tell me,” Sanyas turned to Lincoln, and he gave a fair telling of the story.  Lockhart interrupted to tell the important part.

“The chief worked for the Masters.  He wanted our guns, not necessarily us.  I shot him.”

“You were right to kill him,” Sanyas said, even as she looked down, and would not look in Lockhart’s eyes.  “There is no telling what damage he might have done if he lived, and if he lived and had your weapons…”  She did not finish the sentence.

“Huns in the valley?” Katie asked.

“Yes,” Sanyas said.  “I had hoped trouble in Kabul might have encouraged them to abandon this side of the pass altogether and go home.  They are cruel and intolerant toward the people.  They make great demands and show neither grace nor mercy.  Now, if I can’t get them to abandon Gandhara because the pass is blocked, I don’t know what I can do.  They might not even know there is trouble in Kabul if the messengers can’t get through.”

Lockhart noticed again and pointed before he stared through the binoculars.  That same alien ship they had seen a few days earlier rose into the sky not far from the city.  Lincoln had the other pair of binoculars while Katie and Decker used the scopes for their rifles.  The ship quickly entered the clouds and disappeared from sight.

“Not your concern,” Sanyas said.  “They have been told and will leave this world alone.”

As she finished speaking, a troop of roughly thirty men rode up.  One of them turned out to be a fourteen or fifteen-year-old boy, who came running to Sanyas to meet the strangers.  One of whom looked Sanays’ age, or maybe sixty.  He walked.

“The Huna are leaving their camp and going back to the city,” the boy reported in an excited voice, as he hugged Sanyas and took in the travelers from the safety of her arms.

“The thing is,” Sanyas finished her thought.  “With the Huna fighting each other, if I can get these last ones to go back through the pass, I might be able to help the local Afridi people close down the pass to all but merchant caravans.  Then we can have peace.”

“Peace is a good thing,” Alexis said, and looked at the young man.

Sanyas introduced him.  “This is my nephew, Harsha.”

“Good to meet you,” Lockhart said, as the older man arrived.

“My husband, Brahmagupta,” Sanyas introduced the man.

“They are headed back to the city,” Brahmagupta said.  “The way should be clear tomorrow.  We should be able to leave in the morning.”

“Lockhart.  I need you and the travelers to escort my husband, my nephew, and thirty assigned men as far as you are going.  They are going to Magadha.”

“Must I go?” Harsha asked.

“You must learn more than just military matters.  Yes,” Sanyas said.

Boston pulled out her amulet to take a look and offered a thought.  “But, if you go with us, that will just push the time gate further and further away.”

“I will not be joining you.  Brahmagupta wishes to see his family and where he grew up one last time before he dies.  Harsha has many things to learn, and Brahmagupta can teach him, if he will listen.  And I will stay here and deal with the Huna.”  She looked once again at the sky.  “But there is time before the morning.  Let us eat and rest and tell stories until then.”

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

MONDAY

8.1 Rain and Fire The travelers find themselves in the Yucatán and among the Mayan people, all of whom seem to want to cut their hearts out.  Until next time.  Happy Reading

 

*

M4 Margueritte: Banners of Christendom, part 3 of 3

Charles moved at the beginning of September.  Abdul Rahman had groups of men looting and pillaging all over western Aquitaine.  He met Odo at the river Garrone and defeated Odo a second time.  Odo limped north and begged Charles for help.  Charles moved and expected to meet the Wali at some point in early October.  He noted that Abdul Rahman’s men had not moved into eastern Aquitaine, had avoided Tolouse, and had not come up to Bourges, but the rest of the duchy was being burned.

Margueritte and her family, and all the horsemen and footmen they could muster went to Tours.  She made a note of the flags and coats of arms on display.  Flags and painted shields became yet another relatively new thing, not well displayed in the past, if the lord even had a flag to display.  Then there were tunics with symbols worn over the armor so men could better tell the good guys from the bad guys.  But they were becoming the Middle Ages, leaving the old Roman world well behind, like ancient history, and making a new way of living and doing business.  Margueritte felt saddened by the fact that she could not build any public schools for all the children of the Franks, and Bretons for that matter, but she dared not.  She had introduced enough innovations and was already in danger of going too far.  Besides, the first university of sorts would not be built until Charlemagne and that monk, what’s-his-name, got around to it.

When Charles arrived in Tours he was impressed by her turnout, but he said something that Margueritte had forgotten.  “Do you think this is what that assassin meant when he mentioned the battle of Tours?”

Margueritte shrugged.  “It may be, and he said he wanted to change the outcome.  Too bad he did not say how the battle came out.”

“I know,” Charles agreed.  “And it has bothered me for these ten or so years.”

“Not yet.  The ten years are not up.”

“And I know this too.  I am fully convinced of the great potential of your heavy cavalry, but they are still like a half-cooked meal.  You need to keep them here with yourself in reserve.  If my veterans break, we may need them to defend Tours.”

“Between Tomberlain, Owien, Wulfram, Walaric and Peppin, we have over a thousand veterans, though not veterans who fought with a lance.”

“Keep them here.  I will take your footmen, and Tomberlain, Owien, Childemund and Wulfram.  You keep Walaric and Peppin with you.”

Roland came into the tent and Margueritte turned on him.  “You put him up to this, didn’t you?” she accused.

Roland wanted to say no, but he nodded.  “You are still weak from your wound.  The battlefield is not where you belong.”

Margueritte frowned.  “But maybe I do belong.  I have no doubt Abd al-Makti has come out of his isolation and is with Abdul Rahman.  In fact, it has been confirmed for me.  No doubt Odo’s men were affected by the man’s sorcery, and I fear your men, veterans though they be, may be affected in the same way unless you have some extraordinary protection.”  Margueritte got as blunt as she could.

“I will overlook the aberration in your defense of Pouance.  You once said we humans have to fight our own battles, and this we have done.  My men need to stand on their own feet or not, as God will decide.”

Margueritte looked down before she nodded.  “You are right.  The Almighty will decide.”

“Besides,” Roland added, though he almost started it up again.  “I suspect Abd al-Makti was behind your attempted assassination in the Vergen forest.”

“You need to live long enough to finish training the men,” Charles said, thought for a second, and added, “And hopefully a long and happy life.”

“Abd al-Makti was behind the attempt, but not for the reasons you think.  The man is a scholar, not a general.  For all his time hanging around armies and military men, I doubt he has learned anything and has no idea how it works, and he does not care.  He is a man who is so enamored with his own bits of power, he does not have room for such a strange subject.  He has others to do that work for him.  No, it is simple.  He has been told I am a danger to the plan, and for that reason he has tried for years to remove me or have me removed from the playing field.  The attempted assassination was desperation on his part.  But will he warn Abdul Rahman about our cavalry?  I doubt he could tell heavy cavalry from plow horses or describe the difference between a sword and a sheath.”

Charles’ hand went to his side.  “Caliburn served me well,” he said.

“And this battle may be the reason I gave it to you,” Margueritte said, and she took Roland out from the tent to have a little private time before he rushed off again to war.

Two days later, Charles, Roland and all their officers and lords, including Tomberlain, Owien and Count Amager of Tours, sat around a great fire with the Bishop of Tours who came to offer a blessing for the troops. That done, they sat and relaxed, and took an early lunch.  They would be moving out in the morning.

“It would be wonderful to know God’s will in all of this, to hear his voice, but that would be too much to ask,” the bishop said.

“I would like to know what pit of Hell these Saracens came from so I can put them back where they belong,” Charles suggested.

“To actually hear God’s voice would certainly be something,” Count Amager said.

Roland saw Margueritte come up to talk a moment with Tomberlain, and he spoke up.  “I don’t see why that should be so special.  I talk to God every morning when I wake up, and God talks to me and reminds me of everything I need to do that day, and how I need to set a good example for my children and the people in my care, how I always need to consider grace and mercy, and justice, and how peace is better than war.  Let me tell you, talking to God sends shivers down my spine.”  The others looked at him with staring, open-mouthed expressions.  “Yes,” he continued.  “What is most remarkable, however, is how much God sounds like my wife.”

The men paused before the laughter broke out.  Their eyes turned toward Margueritte, who had turned and heard enough.  She felt a response was necessary, so she said, “In the immortal words of my sister, Elsbeth,” and she gave Roland her best raspberries before walking off.  Of course, the men merely laughed harder.

###

When Charles moved down from Tours, he put Saint Catherine’s behind him and took a position off the road to Poitiers.  He set his men behind a wood at the top of a slight rise and waited.  Charles had ten thousand men in his army, and another five thousand veterans from various campaigns.  He also had five thousand conscripts whom he sent off to gather the necessary food stuff from the countryside, and while twenty thousand was not the largest army in the world, he was confident that his was the best

Abdul Rahman would have to travel up the road with his main force if he wanted to get at Tours and the abbey of Marmoutier, which was Saint Martin’s.  The abbey was said to have riches beyond dreams, which it did not have, and Christian relics, which the Muslims loved to destroy.

“He could sidestep in this area and go across country,” Wulfram pointed out.

“We need to hope he does not,” Charles said.  “There is no better position for what we are facing between here and Tours.”

“Let me see if I can do anything,” Roland said, and he left Charles’ tent to talk to Margueritte’s people.

Since our Lady is in Tours,” Birch spoke.  “She said it would be best to help you here, but it is for you to decide how we may best serve.”

Roland considered the elves, brownies and kobold, the hundreds of gnomes and dwarfs, and the goblins who waited his command.  Hammerhead the ogre even brought his whole family to help, if they could, and there were trolls and hobgoblins and others that he had never seen, but he knew them all, being married to Margueritte.  It became a heady experience, but he felt a deep, abiding love for every one of them and he hated the idea that any of them should be hurt. Then he had a thought.

“Can you make yourselves appear to be Frankish soldiers?” he asked.

“What did he ask?”

“He wants us to pretend to be human beanings?”

“Eww,” the little ones objected.

“It’s a terrible idea, Lord,” Grimly said.  “You ask a lot”

“Just pretend,” Roland said.  “To trick the enemy is all.  I thought you liked to trick people.”

“What us?”

“No, never.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” the little ones said.

“Well, just do it,” Roland responded.  “And here is what I want you to do.”  He explained his plan, and they understood right away.  Roland thought, for people who did not like tricking people, they took to the idea without a second thought.

“Right Lord,” Luckless said at last.  “Now where do you want us when the battle starts?”

“Nowhere near the battle,” Roland answered, and some of the dwarfs and some others threw a fit, until a hobgoblin named Ringwater stepped up with a proposal.

“Since you are forcing us to do terrible, nasty tricks on the Saracens, the least we can do is set a haunting in the woods to scare them when they move through to attack the Franks.”

“As long as you don’t have to stay in the woods,” Roland said.  “Margueritte would be very upset if I let any of you folks get hurt.”  The little ones all nodded and smiled at how much they loved their goddess and how much she loved them.

Roland finished by sending Larchmont’s men to scout the Muslims and keep Margueritte informed as to their progress. The very next day, Larchmont himself came in with Duke Odo, Hunald and five thousand men of Aquitaine.  Charles shook his head, but since this was their land, he could hardy tell them to go away.  He set them on his right where the hill went steeply up.  He figured there they would be less likely to break and run

The men of Aquitaine made the old duke stay at the back of the formation.  Hunald took command and placed two dozen horsemen around the duke.  They were to whisk him away if the Muslims broke through the line.  Charles said the Muslims were not going to break the line, so he had no need to worry.

“We have been practicing for this very engagement over the last ten plus years,” he said.  “I think we know our business by now,” but he had some private concerns.  He figured he could count on fifteen thousand men, while the men from Aquitaine and his conscripts could help, but he could not count on them.  Abdul Rahman came up the road with twenty-five thousand men in tow, and Charles figured they were all battle-hardened veterans.

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

MONDAY

Tours.  There is a battle to be fought.  Until Monday, Happy Reading

*

M4 Margueritte: Watch and Rescue, part 3 of 3

Luckless and his dwarfs started milling around the courtyard, waiting impatiently for someone to break in.  Grimly and his gnomes were still moving livestock back into the makeshift pens in the collapsed barn.  Goldenrod went down there.  The dogs got free when the kennels busted and the fence got knocked down, and now Goldenrod rode on Puppy’s back trying to corral the chickens that were still running wild all over the yard.  Margueritte almost laughed.  Then she caught sight of the boys.  Somehow, they escaped the underground and the clutches of Lolly and the dwarf wives.

Margueritte jumped up.  Her mind raced.  In seconds, every little one in the area had Pepin, Cotton, Weldig Junior and Martin corralled.  Somehow, the boys talked them into letting them climb the back wall, to watch the battle. Margueritte thought extra hard, though she hoped it did not come across as yelling.

“Heurst.  If you let them watch, you better make sure they don’t escape and try to join the fight.  If your men are needed, you better send sufficient men to escort them back underground, safely.”  Then she had a headache and imagined if she did much more of that she would get a migraine.

Margueritte refused to watch the battle.  She heard enough commentary from Elsbeth and Margo. She heard nothing from Calista and Melanie, but inside she understood they were both disappointed at not being allowed to be down in it.  Still, they did not mind guarding the women.  They understood the women, and children needed to be kept safe.

At the same time, Margueritte wondered what made certain elf maidens so bloodthirsty.  She hoped there was not some subtle influence she gave off or had given off through the centuries.  She had to admit, it was probably her fault.  Even without looking, she understood what happened down on the battlefield better than Margo or Elsbeth, who watched and explained.  Both Gerraint and Festuscato said it was not their fault.  The Princess and Diogenes both begged off responsibility.  Both Greta and Doctor Mishka said they were in the business of trying to save lives, and the storyteller said, peace baby, though no one laughed.  Margueritte answered them all.  It is all of my fault, and something terrible about the human race.  Sin, as Patrick or Boniface would say, and there will be no avoiding it until the Lord returns.

Margueritte finally looked when the big charge was due to come.  Ragenfrid tried several smaller attacks, individually, and several at once, but they got beaten back.  He tried sneaking men closer by using the cover Michael and David so conveniently put out, but that just got his men picked off by the elf archers on the wall.  Now it became time for the all-out attack.  Margueritte looked, hoping David and Michael had the good sense to pull back into the castle.  she squinted, but she could not send mental messages to Michael and David as she could to her little ones.  Just as well.  She was not down there and maybe they had an idea she did not think of.

“Hey,” Elsbeth shouted.  “Whose men are those?”

“What?” Margo asked and tried to see where Elsbeth pointed.

Margueritte saw and sighed a great sigh of relief.  “Hunald,” she said.  “From Aquitaine.  Probably advanced units on the point.  I hope Michael and David can hold the fort.  It would be terrible to have the enemy break in at the last second.”

“The charge came, but David and Michael apparently got the word, and so did Peppin and duBois.  Their men came out of the gates and struck the charge on each side.  Ragenfrid got boxed in, and did not advance, though the fighting got bloody.  As Hunald’s men moved more and more into the town on Ragenfrid’s rear, he finally gave up and squirted past duBois and back down the Paris Road.  He left his wounded where they lay, and now he had to think hard on how he would possibly break into the castle.  He still was not ready to concede defeat, even if Amager got ready to go home to Tours and Bouchart stayed frozen with indecision.

###

Hunald moved his five thousand men up into the half-burned town before dark.  David, Michael, duBois, and Peppin brought their men inside the castle.  There were lots of wounded to tend and Doctor Mishka took the first shift.  The elves, kobold, brownies, fairies, local dwarfs, and gnomes all went back into the woods.  Luckless and his smiths stayed, as did Grimly and his horse breeders, but they stayed to their place and tasks and otherwise made themselves scarce.

At sundown, having treated the worst that she reasonably felt she could save, Doctor Mishka checked with Doctor Pincher who treated the wounded among the little ones.  Doctor Pincher did not hide the fact that there were casualties, though being confined to bowshot distance, outside of a few hardheaded dwarfs, the casualties were slight.  Even so, Doctor Mishka cried for each one, and when Margueritte returned, she cried some more.

Margueritte went out to meet Hunald, followed by the ever-present Calista and Melanie, and a dozen men assigned by Childemund and Peppin.  King David, Michael of Nantes and Childemund himself went with her.  Walaric had the young men guarding the stables, the forges, and the horses they had to care for.  Peppin walked with Elsbeth and Margo and had one of the castle clerics write down everything they could find that needed repair.  He was still compiling the list at sundown when Margueritte went out.

Hunald waited for her, and spoke up right away, even waving to her from a distance, and smiled in a most pleasant way.  Margueritte came up to him and right in front of his captains, her hand flew up to his cheek, and stopped short.  Hunald squinted but did nothing to stop her.  His captains gasped, but then she touched his cheek gently, while he spoke.

“Sorry it took us so long.”

“Your timing was our salvation,” she said, and got on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek and then hugged him.  The captains relaxed when she said, “Your father is one of my best friends in the world.  Thank you for coming,” and she turned to those captains.  “And make sure you let Odo know how grateful I am.”  The captains smiled and nodded and assured her they would.

“I was glad to do it,” Hunald said as she let go of him.  “After that business in Tours, I need the penance.”

“Amager is here,” Margueritte said.  “On the other side, but he has not attacked us and is packing to leave.  I don’t think Ragenfrid was honest about the situation here and got him to come under false pretenses.”

“Well, I’m glad,” Hunald said.  “I thought he was a nice man.”

“As did I,” Margueritte said and turned Hunald by taking his arm.  “Now let me introduce you to some more nice men.”  Michael, Childemund, and David all looked like they had been through the wars, which they had.

“We have met,” Hunald said as he shook Michael’s hand, and Michael confirmed as much.

“Childemund came here escorting Charles’ wife, Rotrude.  He has represented Charles in our talks with Ragenfrid.”

“Pleased to meet you.  You talked with Ragenfrid?”  Hunald looked surprised.

“For three days,” Margueritte admitted.  “We were hoping to stall him until you got here, and once you arrived, we hoped he would think twice about attacking us.”

“I see.”

“But please, let me introduce David, King of Amorica, what you might call Little Britain.

“David?”  Hunald looked confused.  “Bogart?”

“His mother calls him David, and so do I.  He is my cousin, you know.”

“Either name will do,” David said, and in such a friendly manner, Hunald swallowed the words, “Your majesty.”

“And this, is Prince Hunald, son of Duke Odo the Great of Aquitaine.”

Hunald also swallowed his guffaw.  “Odo the Great?”

Margueritte shrugged.  “But we must get back to the great hall, and you must come to supper.  The dwarf wives are cooking something special in the way of pork, and applesauce.  Bring any men you want.  Your captains are welcome.  I am sure there will be enough for all.  Please ignore the hole in the ceiling, and the courtyard where so many men are resting.  And there are wounded, so if you have a physician with you, it would be greatly appreciated.

“Of course,” one of the older captains said.

“Oh, my apologies.  I should have thought of that right away.”

They returned to the castle, and Hunald and his captains got a good look at the damage, but the pork supper turned out as great as promised.  There were no complaints there.

One of the captains said the courtyard looked like a small scale of what they had after the battle of Toulouse when they drove the Saracens from their land.

“Hold that thought,” Margueritte said.  “I am sure Charles will want to hear all about it.”

“Charles?” Hunald asked.

“By my best estimate, he should be here with the Frankish army about the same time tomorrow that you came today.”

“That will end the rebellion,” Childemund stated flatly.

“Yes, but that does not mean Ragenfrid will not try something foolish in the morning.”

“Sadly, you may be right,” King David said.

“This is an excellent apple pie,” Hunald said.  “My compliments to the cook.”

“Sadly, I did not make this pie,” Margueritte said.

“Did your lovely sister make it?” he asked, looking at Elsbeth.

Margueritte, Margo, and Jennifer started to laugh, loud.  Elsbeth showed her tongue and gave them all her best raspberries.

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

MONDAY

Margueritte feels pulled back to Roland’s home, but she has to settle things on the Breton March first.  Until next time, Happy Reading

*

M4 Margueritte: Watch and Rescue, part 2 of 3

Out where the town met the castle, the walls that came down from the Paris gate was nine feet for almost a hundred yards before it dropped down to less than seven feet.  DuBois was backing up slowly, trying to make the ground as costly as he could.  Michael and his men were ready to fight and had a hard time keeping still when they saw the men at the back of duBois’ troop coming down through the streets.  Olderon the elf had three hundred elves on top of the short wall to back up Michael.  He, and his command group of six elf lords followed the action as duBois backed away from the castle corner and got into the streets.

“Brave man,” Olderon said quietly.  The others kept silent.  They were on the wall when Ragenfrid’s catapults sent the first volley of stones over the castle wall.  “To your posts,” Olderon ordered as fairies came speeding down the lane Michael made in front of the wall.

“Keep back.  Keep your heads down.  Keep to your places,” the fairies shouted, until they reached duBois.  Then they shouted, “Get in the houses.  Get out of the street.   Get back against the house walls.”

Six hundred lancers, squires, and few knights among them, came roaring down the streets and roads.  Ragenfrid’s men fled back the way they had come, poured out of the town and raced down the Paris Road.  The lancers stopped at the head of the road.  They did not appear the best organized or most impressive looking group, but Ragenfrid’s army wanted no part of those lancers, after they heard what they did to the men of LeMans.

At the same time, Bedwin slowly pulled his men back, like duBois, as Talliso concentrated on the end of King David’s line in the hope of turning it.  Peppin, with three hundred men from the County who came up, and in Tomberlain’s name, drove back the men of Anjou.  When Talliso saw his own flank being turned, and the men of Ragenfrid fleeing, he pulled his men back and retreated carefully to his own camp.

LeMans did not get away with such ease.  His men assaulted the front wall in vain, as Birch and his fairies easily thrust down their ladders, cut their ropes, and kept them away with arrows that rarely missed hitting somewhere.  They saw Creasy withdraw and Talliso follow, so they pulled back without waiting to be told.  But LeMans was around the corner, among the apple trees, concentrating on the postern door.  Unfortunately, he could not figure out how to stick his head out from the trees without getting shot at by the kobold, the brownies, or both.

Luckless and a large party of dwarfs finally pushed up to the postern door.  “You can’t go out there,” Childemund argued.

“Can’t stay in here,” Luckless responded, and pointed at the sky where the rocks were falling.

“They busted the forge,” a red headed dwarf said as he cradled a two-headed axe as big as himself.  Childemund did not doubt these dwarfs were ready for battle.

“On condition,” Childemund said.  “If you succeed in driving LeMans off, let him go and come back into the castle.  You must promise.”

Luckless and all the dwarfs promised with great and colorful language.  After they were let loose, Ringwald the brownie Lord heard that the dwarfs promised, and he laughed and laughed.

“And you believed them?” he asked.  When Childemund nodded, Ringwald laughed harder.

“Heurst,” Childemund called to the kobold lord.  “Bring some men if you want to participate.  We need to go get the dwarfs.”

“They promised to be right back,” Ringwald said, barely, before he laughed some more.

In the end, they got Luckless, and everyone back behind the postern door, but in the meanwhile, Luckless and his dwarfs not only chased off LeMans, they also took a chunk out of the man’s leg.  The man made it back to Ragenfrid’s camp, but he would not live for many days.

Ragenfrid saw his men pulling back and decided on an early lunch.  He would have to revise his attack plans for the afternoon.  The sun would not be favorable by then, so he would have to make some change in direction.  He would also have to decide what to do about Count Amager and Baron Bouchart.  They promised to hold the camp and stay in reserve, but Ragenfrid doubted they would fight.

“What to do?” he said, even as a series of explosions occurred in his line.  He stood and saw the nearest catapult broken to pieces and burning.  He seriously underestimated the resources of the witch.  He would have to finish this quickly.  His source said Rotrude and her children were in the castle.  That was all he wanted.  He knew he could not get her by stealth.  It was going to have to be brute force and manpower.  He still felt confident he would succeed, but first he would have a good lunch.

Lord Yellow Leaf and his warrior fairies flew from Ragenfrid’s lines back to the Paris gate.  He laughed as he spoke.  “Those cat-of-puts won’t be bothering us anymore.”  He let out a Cherokee war cry, and Childemund’s men on the gate all applauded.

Margueritte, Margo, Elsbeth and Jennifer all came upstairs to survey the damage.  The chapel near the short wall looked undamaged.  “I would guess Ragenfrid did not want the stones landing too close to the wall he expected his men to be crawling over,” Jennifer said.

The barn and stables took some hits, along with the manor house.  The house, mostly the roof holes and one spot in the floor of Margueritte’s room all looked repairable.  The stables looked solid, with holes, but the old barn looked ruined.  One whole corner collapsed, the milk cows were out in the yard, one wounded, and the chickens were running wild while potatoes rolled around the yard.  The men would be getting pork for a while as the hog pen looked crushed.  It all looked like a real mess, but it could have been much worse.  The women all showed stiff upper lips until they found the big old oak that had stood all their lives out in front of the house.  It had a crack down the middle and could not have been killed cleaner if it had been struck by lightning.

Margo stared.  Jennifer cried.  Elsbeth wept.  And Margueritte wailed.  Her mother left the oak tree in the yard because it held mistletoe—the last gasp of her pagan, druidic days, when she first married and became a Christian.  She kept the tree up, and it became a sign of stability at times for the whole family.  Margueritte felt this atrocity too much, and everything felt broken in that moment.  Her father got poisoned.  Her baby got killed before he was even born.  Her mother got murdered.  This became too much.

Margueritte felt Elsbeth and Jennifer hold her as she sank to her knees.

###

Margueritte struggled in her funk, but finally resurfaced enough to pull back David’s troops.  She put them on the edge of town where they could fall back to Michael’s position, and she made sure they put out as many obstacles as they could.  On the one hand, it would give the enemy boxes to hide behind, but on the other hand, it would negate a concerted charge and make the enemy crawl around and over things, thus exposing themselves to arrow fire.  It would also give her outnumbered troops plenty of cover.

Peppin complained that putting out all those obstacles would negate his chance to charge with his cavalry.  Margueritte told him he already revealed himself and they now knew where he was.  She told him to send his footmen to reinforce duBois and protect the Paris gate, while his horsemen, dismounted, protected the Breton gate.  She told him, true knights had to be the best and fiercest of fighters, even when their horse got taken away.  In this case, they had to keep a path of access to the gates if they could, in case David and Michael had to retreat behind the wall.

Finally, Margueritte got Ringwald to move down and spread out and hold the front wall, while Heurst and his kobold covered both sides around the postern gate.  This freed Lord Birch and his fairies.  Lord Larchmont went with Peppin, and Lord Yellow Leaf went with duBois, but she borrowed them all, about five hundred fairies, and sent them to the roofs in the line where King David and Count duBois had been.  She knew fairies had to be big to fire their arrows, but she also knew they could get big, fire, and get small again quickly, and thus present a very little target for return fire.  They were to harass the enemy, and not be caught, if possible.  She knew she was tempting the enemy to burn the town to give the men over their heads no place to stand, but she wanted to make the taking of Potentius as costly as possible.

After that, she went back to her tears, but Margo and Elsbeth got her to climb again to the lookout roof which had miraculously survived the catapult bombardment.  Margueritte even roused enough in the climb to comment.

“At least we destroyed the catapults before they started in with the big, wall buster stones.”

“Yes, Lady,” Calista and Melanie echoed each other as they helped Margueritte climb.

Margueritte turned her eyes to Ragenfrid’s lines only long enough to see where he went.  He did, in fact, what she expected.  He concentrated his attack on the center of the town, and poured so many men up that easy incline, King David’s line would have busted open right in the middle.

As expected, Ragenfrid started burning the houses so Birch, Larchmont, and Yellow Leaf would have no place to land.  The fairies got off a number of good shots, and Ragenfrid’s men had to be nervously scanning the skies as they spread out in the streets and came up on King David’s position.

Margueritte guessed Ragenfrid had as many as seven thousand men.  He must have scraped the bottom of the barrel, since Count Amager and Baron Bouchart were holding their men back.  But with those numbers, David’s eighteen hundred beat up men would not hold them back for long.  They might do better when they fell back and got reinforced by Michael’s fresh five hundred, not to mention the elf archers on the wall itself, but they were still outnumbered by more than two to one.

Margueritte had six hundred men on each gate, and that should hold for a time, especially when Larchmont and Yellow Leaf got back into position.  She did not specify where Birch should go, but she imagined he would join the elves under Olderon in the center.  She did not want to watch.

M4 Margueritte: Negotiations, part 3 of 4

“Do you know the story of Gerraint, son of Erbin and his relationship with Arthur Pendragon?” she asked.  She paused a moment because they all knew something about Arthur, and a bit about Percival, but less about Gerraint.  Margueritte told about when Arthur was young and faced a rebellion of his own.  She told all about Loth, and how he sided with the rebels, yet Arthur, in victory, did not remove Loth from his place, and Loth, she said, became a great supporter of the Pendragon.  That was not always true, but that was the way she told the story.

“But I thought you were going to tell about Gerraint,” Baron Bouchart reminded her, and Amager and LeMans echoed the thought.

So she told about how Gerraint first met Enid and drove the Irish out of Caerdyf, and by the time she said the part about her trusting him which made him confess his love for her, and the men laughed, Gerraint arrived there, in Margueritte’s place, dressed in his armor, and telling his own story.  The men quieted and listened.  More than one man’s eyes got big at seeing Gerraint, but no one dared interrupt.

Gerraint told how Merlin tricked him and infected him with an incubus that made him believe Enid cheated on him.  When he got word that his stepfather was ill, he took her out and drove her over Mount Badon.  Amager could not hold back his words.

“I heard there was a great battle at Mount Badon.”

“That came much later,” Gerraint said.  “I may tell you about that another time.”  He went on to tell about the first village and the three robbers he killed.  Then he told about the little man and his people.  Then he told about the giants who attacked the young couple and how he had to slay all three, but by then became so grievously wounded and bleeding from so many places he could not go on.  He believed Enid would be happy if he just died and she could take whatever men she wanted, but Enid wept for him as he fell unconscious.  He awoke in a great tent.  The Lady of the Lake came and set him free from his enchantment, Gerraint explained with a sharp glance in Amager’s direction.  And then Arthur, Percival and so many others came and helped him finish the journey to Cornwall.  When his stepfather died, and his mother grieved for him, Gerraint got invested as King of Cornwall.  All the Lords of Devon Tintangle, Exeter, and even Lyoness acknowledged him as King.

“But Arthur was the Pendragon.  That was a place apart.  He was not a king, and I ruled in my kingdom without interference, sending only some taxes to Arthur to maintain Caerleon and the rapid defense force stationed there.  But when Arthur called, I did not hesitate to raise as many men as quickly as I could and ride to stand beside Arthur, ready for battle.”

Gerraint went on to explain how individually they would have been eaten alive.  But by acting together under a war chief, they beat back the barbaric Angles, Jutes and Saxons.  They kept the Scots north of the wall and ruined the Picts.  They drove out the Irish and broke the back of piracy on the seas and in the channel.  They kept back the tide of barbarism and paganism that threatened to overrun Christian civilization, but they only succeeded because they did not question the Dux Belorum Britannia, the war chief of Britain, Arthur Pendragon.

“In this place, Charles is the one who is out there beating back the barbarians and pagans on this continent, and he needs all the help we can give him.  He has already taken on the Frisians, the Saxons, and Alemans.  Right now, he is fighting the pagan Bavarians, keeping the world safe for the Frankish people, the faith, and the church, and we should be glad he is doing the hard work.  I believe even Lord Ragenfrid will say he is the best man for the job.  He has proven his worth in battle after battle.

“You know, I always found ruling a royal pain.  I collected the taxes, and everybody hated me for that.  Then I had to use the taxes to upkeep the roads, and educate the children, and train men for war, and supply horses and equipment for all the men, and deal with things like trade agreements and promoting the general welfare.  I didn’t get much for myself and my family.  Let me tell you, trying to find honest and honorable men to sheriff and magistrate, to keep the law and keep the peace is hard work.  I gave it up and made my sons take over as soon as possible.”  Margueritte came back and hardly took a breath in the telling.

“Tomberlain, and Owien too, they hardly know the headaches they have gotten themselves into, let me tell you.  And my husband, Roland on the far side of Austrasia, on the Saxon Mark.  He will get the same troubles, trying to be fair to all the people that depend on him and expect him to take the lead in defending the border.  But let me tell you this.  When the Muslims break out of Septimania and overrun Aquitaine, and they will not make the same mistakes twice, you can be sure when Charles calls, Tomberlain Owien and Roland will all be there with as many men as they can muster.  And you all better hope Charles can raise enough strength to gain the victory, because if we lose, all of you, including you, Lord Ragenfrid, will be overrun and reduced to slaves to the Caliph, and that is not a fate I wish on anyone.”

Margueritte looked at Ragenfrid who seemed to be deep in thought.  She did not care what anyone else thought.  She stood and looked at the sky as if judging the time.

“The sky is darkening,” she said.  “It may just be my eyes that are tired, but it looks like it may rain.  I am very tired.  Telling the story of Gerraint makes me feel like I suffered the wounds myself, and Arthur and Percival are not here to carry me.  We have hopefully said many things for us all to think about.  I promise, tomorrow we will discuss land and compensation, as well as title and control of the lands.  Please forgive me.  Lamb tomorrow.”  She did not wait for a response.  She started back up the hill, slowly, and soon King David, Michael and duBois caught up with her.  Peppin and Childemund were delayed assuring LeMans and Talliso of Angers that they were authorized to speak for Tomberlain and Charles.

“Don’t underestimate the wives,” Childemund said.  “Lady Rotrude will give the assurance of Charles, and the Countess Margo will insure Tomberlain’s word.”

“Or Lady Margueritte will beat both men up and that will be that,” Peppin said with a grin that made Childemund laugh.  Neither LeMans nor Talliso found it funny, but they accepted the word.

Back up top, Margueritte went for her critique.

“Nice to see Gerraint again,” Elsbeth said through her grin.

“Lady,” Jennifer remembered the last time she saw Gerraint, and she flushed with embarrassment.  It happened when she met Aden for the first time, and she was still a fairy.  “You should not have revealed yourself so.”

“Gerraint was willing,” Margueritte responded to say it had not only been her idea.  “The stories were pertinent, it made them pay attention, and it wasted another day.”

“That was truly the Lion of Cornwall, friend of Arthur the King?” Rotrude sounded amazed.

“Gerraint was willing,” Margueritte repeated.  “So, I borrowed him for a bit.”

“I suspected, you know,” Thomas of Evandell had joined them that day and sat on the wall next to Walaric and Aden who sat in their own little male enclave.  “I suspected, even when she was a little child.  I did not know the connection, but she corrected a few of my stories of Arthur, and always when Gerraint came into the story.”

“My Lady knows fairy food would bring a quick end to the negotiations,” Melanie said.

“They would become her slaves forever,” Calista agreed.  “But she would never do that.”

“It would be cheating,” Margueritte nodded.

“Poison would work,” Margo said.

“Hey, I know,” Elsbeth sat up.  “Maybe Doctor Mishka could whip up something to give them twenty-four hours of the runs.  Hunald should be here by then.  Then all we have to do is make them hesitate for a day, so Charles can get here.”

“Cheating,” Margueritte, Jennifer and Aden all responded.

“Besides, I would never ruin Lolly’s good cooking.  I just have to keep them busy for the pork and venison dishes,” Margueritte said and stood. “I have to go see the children,”

“I have to go in, myself,” Rotrude agreed.  “It looks like it is going to rain.”

On the following day, Margueritte had to negotiate, and it was going to be hard to keep it up all afternoon and extend it into tomorrow.  Ragenfrid, Lemans, and Talliso wanted the land they claimed, and it added up to more than the participants imagined, and they wanted it for free.

“That is not a reasonable expectation,” Margueritte pointed out.  They went on like that for a while, until Amager of Tours and Baron Bouchart looked like they were about to come over to Margueritte’s side.  Then Ragenfrid backed off.  Finally, Margueritte felt she might be losing LeMans and Talliso, so she went to the rent idea.

“Lord Ragenfrid.  You have already broken your rental agreement, though I do not intend to invoke your penalty at this time.”

“Not when I have an army at your gates,” Ragenfrid said flatly.

“But I might consider revising the agreement.  Let us say a hundred head in a one-time payment for fifty years of use without interference.”

Ragenfrid spit.  “It would take fifty years for my herd to rebuild itself to its present number and I would be right back in the same mess.”

“Perhaps so,” Margueritte responded, but by then you would have had fifty free years of milk and beef, I say again, without interference.”

“That is no deal.”

“It is a very good deal if you are able to tax your neighbors in some degree.  You want the fields and meadows on the march because they are prime for your beef.  With sufficient land, you may be able to contrive a way to add to your herd more quickly.”

“We are talking Neustria, at a minimum.”

“The Austrasians have fully accepted Charles, and Roland will not bow to your Suzerainty.”

Ragenfrid got mad at the mention of Charles and Roland.  He needed to stand and take a break.  That rule was laid out at the beginning of the negotiations, that they could call for a brief break if they needed to step back and make a decision, “Or to calm your anger,” Margueritte said first thing.

M4 Margueritte: Negotiations, part 2 of 4

“Wait,” Childemund shouted at Peppin, having put it together in his head.  “The question is, why are we stalling Ragenfrid.  We don’t have the numbers to hold him off more than a day or two, so it seems like we are just stalling the inevitable.”  Peppin looked at Margueritte and waited for her to explain.

“We are talking to try and find a way to make peace.  That much is true, and if we can settle things peacefully, everyone wins.  The thing is, if any of you say the wrong thing so Ragenfrid figures out we are stalling, he will attack immediately, and we will be fighting for our lives.  I will tell you this, but in the meeting, you must promise to keep your mouths shut.  You may directly answer a direct question, but any more would be risky.”  She waited until the men all agreed to stay silent before she told them.

“Maywood flew all the way here from the Rhine with the news.”

“What do you mean, flew?” duBois interrupted and asked about the unusual term, but concluded with an, “Oh, you mean flew.”  He waved his hand in imitation of a fairy.

Margueritte nodded.  “Charles and his whole army are roughly four days out, not counting today.  Larchmont got word to Roland, and they are on their way.  What is more, I got word last night through the dwarf grapevine.  Duke Odo of Aquitaine has sent his son, Hunald with five thousand men from the Bordeaux region.  They are three days away after today.  If we can stall Ragenfrid for three more days, we will have the men to equal his numbers, and on the fourth day, the rebellion will end.”

The men on the wall smiled and congratulated each other, like the battle had already been won, but Peppin had to say something.  “I don’t know if I am a good enough actor to do what you ask.”

Margueritte explained.  “Depending on how the talks go, on a prearranged signal, Peppin is to stand up and protest on behalf of Count Tomberlain and suggest Tomberlain will never agree to whatever it is.  He stomps off, angry.  Then I say I can control my brother and please give me the night so I can talk sense into Peppin’s stubborn head.  I figure that should gain us one more day.”

“I could do that,” Childemund spoke.  “On behalf of Charles, I mean.”  Margueritte stared at him and thought about it.  “I’ve seen plays in Paris,” he went on.  “I always thought it would be fascinating to get up on stage and pretend to be someone else for a while.”

“I’ll write some lines and we will practice,” Margueritte suggested.  “But only back-up.  The best option is with Tomberlain.  I can’t hardly suggest I can control Charles.”

“Ha.  I would like to see someone try,” Rotrude said, but then she began a coughing spell and since she had to go inside, they all went inside.

The following day, just before noon, Margueritte and her men made the trek to the canopy beside the Paris Road.  Ragenfrid and his men came out as soon as they saw Margueritte descending

“The lady is well?” Ragenfrid asked.  He was polite but sounded short tempered.

“Quite well, thank you.  And prepared to make peace,” Margueritte said, but waved and directed everyone’s attention to the beef.  It had been as well prepared as the chicken had been, and again, few words were spoken until the dwarf women brought dessert.  Even Ragenfrid, tempted as he might have been to get on with it, paused long enough to savor the food.  Margueritte felt glad the meal took up an hour or more.  That meant an hour less time she had to babble and delay things.

They had apple pie for dessert and cut nine pieces per pie so in the second pie there were six pieces left over.  It was deliberate.  Peppin helped himself to a second piece and Childemund went right there with him.  LeMans took a second without asking, but Amager of Tours asked, and when Margueritte offered he added a comment.

“If I had cooks like yours, I would never leave my home.”

“I made the pies,” Margueritte offered.

“A woman of talent,” Baron Bouchart praised her.

Creasy took a second piece, so one remained in the pie plate, but Ragenfrid started getting impatient to talk, so Margueritte had to talk.  She would try to guide the conversation.

“Yesterday, I asked what you can do about Charles,” Ragenfrid started right in.

“Quite a lot,” Margueritte answered with a perky smile.  “But first, let me apologize for yesterday.  It was impertinent of the sorcerer to interrupt the proceedings before they hardly got started.  I am sorry for reacting, but I felt he needed to be answered, and most strongly.”

“Yes, yes.” everyone agreed, remembered, and were not about to argue, given what they saw.  Margueritte felt glad one of them did not have the bad sense to call her a witch.

“I want these negotiations to be open and fair and honest, and to that end let me see if I can introduce everyone and suggest why you may be here and that might help us understand the stakes.”  She waited for objections, but she did not wait too long.

“King David is here to make sure the peace between the Franks and Bretons remains secure.  I don’t blame my cousin for not liking an army on his border.  And the Counts Michael and duBois wish the same, to leave Brittany undisturbed.  Beyond that, Michael and duBois have answered the call to arms sounded by the Marquis of the Breton March, Count Tomberlain, and Peppin speaks for him.  Childemund speaks for Charles, and the Lady Rotrude, and please hear me concerning the lady.  If any of you injure that sweet woman at any time or in any way, there will be nowhere on earth where you will be safe.”  Margueritte coughed to clear her throat.  Men held their tongues.

“Now, Lord Creasy and Baron Bouchart are here by invitation.  Creasy is here more on mercenary terms, wondering what he might gain in the way of power, or title, or money, or land, all reasonable commodities in his thinking, such as it is.”

Margueritte looked at Ragenfrid as she spoke and saw by his expression that he suspected as much.  Creasy, who was only minimally paying attention, said something else.

“Is anyone going to claim that last piece of pie.”  He grabbed it before anyone could answer.

“Chew your food,” Margueritte scolded the man.  “You are as bad as my children.  You don’t want to choke.”  She noticed Ragenfrid looked like he would not mind if Creasy choked.

“It is a wonder where the little man puts it all,” Peppin joked

Baron Bouchart, by no means a small man, responded with a laugh. “Indeed.  Though it was an excellent pie.”  He and Peppin shared a friendly look over Creasy’s head.

“Enough!”  Ragenfrid made his word sound like they were getting off topic, but Margueritte understood that Ragenfrid’s real concern was that these were supposed to be enemies.  He did not want them getting friendly.

“Quite right,” Margueritte said, and she picked right up where she left off before Ragenfrid could get another word in.  “The baron, quite to the contrary, believes in Ragenfrid’s cause, but it is a limited cause as Lord Ragenfrid will admit.”  Margueritte held up her hand to forestall Ragenfrid’s objections.

“Ragenfrid, LeMans and Angers all claim, or would like to claim land which is clearly land granted by the king to the Count of the Breton March.  Something equitable may be worked out.  It may cost, and you may not be entirely happy, but I am sure Tomberlain and Margo will not be entirely happy either, but let it be enough so there may be peace.”  Margueritte looked at Peppin, and he merely nodded.

And yes, Talliso of Angers, yesterday you heard me threaten your god, Abraxas, the one in whose name you practice so much cruelty.  That came as one god to another, you might say.  And, unless he has become a fool, I suspect you will not be hearing from him for quite a long time.”  Margueritte did not pause.  “Count Amager is the only one I do not understand.  My Lord Count, why are you here?”

“Because…” he paused.  The man had clearly been enchanted, but under the canopy and the protective spell of Pomadoro and his monks, he started shaking it off.  “I am not sure.”

“Do not fear,” Margueritte quickly told Ragenfrid.  “The enchantment will return as soon as he leaves the sanctuary of the canopy.”

Ragenfrid said nothing, but he denied nothing.  Margueritte continued.

“Now apart from wanting the land, which as I said may be negotiated for a fair price, the whole thing boils down to Lord Ragenfrid wanting the position of Mayor of Neustria— or do you now want all of the Frankish lands?”

“All, but…” Ragenfrid paused, and everyone felt great anticipation in that pause.  “We Franks have lived with two or more kingdoms in the past.  There are options.”

Margueritte smiled a genuine smile because he told her he might consider alternatives to taking everything.

M4 Margueritte: Negotiations, part 1 of 4

After the Count of LeMans got driven from the farm fields, and the Viscount of Angers got prevented from encircling the village, Margueritte opted to talk and Ragenfrid obliged.  King David, Count Michael, Count duBois, Peppin in the place of Count Tomberlain, and Childemund in the place of Charles, all accompanied her down the hill.  Besides the Count Garrold of LeMans and Viscount Talliso of Angers, Ragenfrid brought Count Amager of Tours, Baron Bouchart of Vendome and Sir Creasy, Lord of Dun from the other side.

Margueritte tussled with the Count of LeMans when she surveyed the lands west of the Sarthe.  She found that over the years, LeMans claimed a large portion of the land.  She took it back, one might say she liberated it, and the people were glad to get out from under the greedy count.  LeMans twice sent men over the river, but Margueritte’s troop drove them back, decisively.  If that had been it, Margueritte might have let it go, but know it or not, this rebellion would be the end of Count Garrold’s lands and title, if Margueritte had anything to say about it.

Margueritte also met Count Amager in Tours.  The man seemed a reasonable and honorable man, at least in front of Charles.  She felt rather disappointed to see him supporting Ragenfrid, and she wondered if she might talk to him privately and help him have second thoughts.

She did not know the other three, but the cruelty of Talliso of Angers had been reported to her by more than one man who moved his family out of Talliso’s territory.  The Baron Bouchart came across as dim witted.  And Sir Creasy of Dun seemed too slick and smarmy for his own good.  Margueritte felt surprised Ragenfrid put up with Creasy.  She figured the man must have a large number of soldiers, or money, or both.

Margueritte sent men first to put up a canopy and set a dozen chairs and a long table on the neutral ground at the bottom of the hill beside the Paris Road.  When she walked casually to the meeting with Ragenfrid, she had the dwarf wives bring a light meal of chicken, with a fine dwarf cheese, elf bread, and several bottles of an excellent Bordeaux wine, a gift from Duke Odo of Aquitaine.  She took the end seat and put King David and Michael to her left.  She set duBois on her right and placed Childemund and Peppin beside him, though their backs would be toward the enemy.

Ragenfrid did not hesitate to take the other end seat, and Garrold of LeMans sat to his right.  The others were not sure what they were supposed to do at this unusual gathering.  Count Amager of Tours started to sit next to Garrold, but Margueritte stopped him.

“No, no.  Amager, please sit next to Michael, Count of Nantes, and it is wonderful to see you again.”

“Lady,” Amager acknowledged her and took his assigned seat.  That got the others to sit.  Talliso of Angers sat between LeMans and Amager.  Bouchart and Creasy sat in the last two seats with the little Creasy next to the imposing Peppin.  Margueritte felt sorry that Peppin would probably get indigestion watching the greasy little slime eat.

“Gentlemen,” Margueritte said, and raised her glass.  “My treat, and please enjoy it before it gets cold.”  Again, the enemy hesitated until Ragenfrid laughed and dug in.  Once the meal got started, not much got said.  The food tasted that good.  And when they had finished, the dwarf wives appeared out of nowhere, cleared the table, and left honey sweetened pastries, sliced apples, and a hearty burgundy for dessert.

At last, Margueritte began.  “I have asked to speak with you so we may devise a way to settle all of our differences without the further need for bloodshed.”  She raised her glass.  “I would like to propose a toast for peace.”  Her men joined her right away.  The enemy moved a bit slow, but Ragenfrid lifted his glass and agreed.

“Peace is always preferred.”

“Exactly,” Margueritte agreed cheerfully.  “And I have drawn up a list of the grievances these men have voiced, and I will gladly counterbalance that with your concerns, as you voice them, and then we will see if we can find common ground and a mutually equitable solution that does not involve war and blood.”

“As you well know, the grievance I have is ultimately with Charles,” Ragenfrid said.  “And what can you guarantee about that?”

Margueritte got distracted.  She looked up the hill to where Pomadoro and his monks were holding a magical shield around the canopy area, so that the sorcerer could not interfere with honest and fair negotiations.  Suddenly, Pomadoro fell to his knees, and Margueritte stood and shouted at the sky.  She raised her hands without realizing it and felt almost like an observer in her own skin as her primal calling took over.  The sky overhead turned black, nearly as dark as night, and a great bolt of lightning struck the middle of Ragenfrid’s camp.  It looked like the explosion of a cruise missile.  Men, animals, tents, and wagons were shredded, thrown in the air, and charred beyond recognition.  Then, as soon as it began, it all stopped.  Margueritte lowered her hands, her hair stopped writhing in the wind like so many snakes, the sky returned to a beautiful spring blue, and Margueritte smiled.  She sighed, sweetly.

“I beg your pardon, gentlemen.  The spirits of the earth were threatened by an unnatural force.  That has now been removed.  Lord Ragenfrid, your sorcerer got taken away at the last second, but now I know who did it.”  They watched Margueritte’s green eyes turn fire golden as she turned her head up and shouted at the sky.

“Abraxas.  Nameless gave you the coward’s option of suicide.  You could do the honorable thing and give up your flesh and blood and go over to the other side.  In any case, you have no place in Frankish or Breton lands.  You are coming very close to being banished from the Lands of Danna.  And the lands of Olympus, and the waters of Amphitrite.  If you want to play with the armies of Islam, Junior will only interfere if you screw up, but be warned.  You come here at your own risk.  You better hear me.”

Margueritte fell to her knees and King David and Count duBois were right there to lift her gently and help her back to her chair where she took a moment to recover before she spoke again.

“You will forgive me if I take a rest.  I know our business is important, and I ask you please not to do anything rash in the night, but right now I have a need for a time of quiet.  Please, let us begin again tomorrow.  I will see what the cooks can do with a bit of beef, if you don’t mind.”  She stood, looking a bit shaky.

David and duBois took her arms again and helped her back up the hill.  Michael and Childemund followed while Peppin looked to see Ragenfrid and his companions march back across the field.  Once they reached the top and were out of sight from the enemy, Margueritte let go, took a moment to brush the dust from her dress and turned to David.

“That was a frightening but fortuitous moment.  I should have brought Thomas of Evandell with me.  He is really an excellent actor as well as a bard.”  She looked and sounded not the least bit tired.  She smiled for the others.  “I believe that went as well as could be expected.  Peppin?”  She walked to where Pomadoro and his monks were settled and chanting something.

“They will return tomorrow, at least.  But Ragenfrid is not known for patience.  No telling how long we may be able to keep it up.”

“I pray we keep it up long enough to negotiate peace, though that is the least likely scenario.”  Margueritte leaned down, heedless of the elf ritual of meditation they were performing, an exercise which she knew perfectly well, and she kissed Pomadoro on the forehead.  Then she went back to climb the castle wall to where Margo, Elsbeth, Jennifer, Rotrude, and quite a number of the women, including Calista and Melanie, were taking the sun and saw the whole thing.  All the while the men were asking Margueritte and pressing Peppin for answers as to what they were doing and what they were talking about.

“Ragenfrid will break first,” Rotrude said.

“My money is on LeMans,” Margo said.  “After the drubbing you gave him, it is a wonder he can show his face.”

Walaric came up to join the conference.  He felt unhappy at being left out, but he understood someone needed to keep the men to their duties.  Elsbeth saw him and thought to nudge him.

“The drubbing would have been worse five years from now, after all those young men get properly trained.”  Elsbeth did not really know what she was talking about, but she heard Margueritte say things like that, and she looked up at Peppin, not meaning to leave him out.

“Yes, that was a remarkable use of horsemen, unheard of,” David said.

“Heavy horse,” Margueritte said.  “It’s the new thing, very modern.  You should get some.”

“I’m with Lady Elsbeth,” Peppin grumped.  “It would have been a massacre with fully trained horsemen.  But it is hard to train men and horses when we only have their attention for two or three months in the summer.”

“But it is all we have for now,” Margueritte sighed

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

MONDAY

There may be a chance as long as Margueritte can keep Ragenfrid talking.  Too bad Ragenfrid is not known for patience.  Until then, Happy Reading.

*

M4 Margueritte: The Breton March, part 1 of 3

Margueritte moved her father’s bed downstairs so he could be part of what went on, and she put up curtains for some privacy.  She made him a chair with wheels so he could use his good leg and good arm to roll himself around, and she made him a potty-chair behind the curtain as well.  She had a big cane for him, and it took serious time and effort, with Mother and Jennifer working tirelessly, to teach him to get out of bed without falling to the floor.  Once he got the idea that Margueritte did not see him as bed ridden and hopeless, he became determined to succeed.

Doctor Pincher came by on a regular basis, not only to tend Father, but also to check on the progress of the three ladies.  “And not a man of yours present,” he pointed out the obvious before he spoke to Sir Bartholomew.  “Hardest battle you ever fought,” he called the struggle to get around.

“It is,” Bartholomew responded.  “But it is a battle I am going to win.”

“Good for you,” Margueritte said, and then Mother said the same thing out of her exhaustion and tears.

While Margueritte had things made for her father, she gathered men with skills to make her saddles with stirrups, lances, gauntlets, helmets, and shields.  She got Luckless to come back to the farm, and with his recommendation, got several more dwarf craftsmen.  Lolly also returned with Luckless to run the kitchen, which became a great blessing for everyone.

“I know a few dark elves who would be perfect for the work on the armor, lances and shields,” Luckless said.  “But I think you are right.  That would be too much for this crowd.”  Then Grimly interrupted with a report, or more honestly, a complaint.

“So, you want twice the number of foals as a normal year.”  Grimly looked grim.  “Powerful hard for these poor horses.”  Under Grimly’s direction, they had quite a herd of horses already, most of whom were a combination of Frankish Chargers and the Arabians that were taken after the unpleasant visit of the African Ambassador, Ahlmored.  These horses were very strong and capable, and Margueritte thought they would do just fine for her knights.

“Not double necessarily, but more.  More each year.  Big and strong.  As many as reasonable, and we will have to work out how to train them to be heavy cavalry and carry an armored man with equipment into battle.”

Margueritte moved on before Grimly had another objection.  “Captain Wulfram,” she called.  He came, but he looked at Grimly and made sure he kept Margueritte between himself and the gnome.  “How goes the addition?”  With all she had been doing, that one thing she neglected, though it stood right under her nose.  She contracted with Ronan, a Gallo-Roman builder of some reputation, and then she moved on to other things.

“The great hall is as you see.  Ronan the builder says another week and we can begin to furnish it.  Now that the big new field is cleared, we have plenty of lumber to finish all the work you have drawn out.  Stone is still coming in from everywhere for the foundation, so we are in good shape with supplies.  Ronan says stone it about the only thing Little Britain has too much of.  Stone and sand.”

“And apples,” Grimly interjected.

“We will be ready to start adding the four second-floor rooms in the next few days,” Wulfram finished.  Three of those second-floor rooms were going to be bedrooms big enough for a family. The fourth was going to be the new servant’s quarters for the women, connected to the tower where old Redux the blacksmith and the other male servants were presently housed.  It would also have a set of stairs down the back of the house to the new Kitchen.

“All good, Margueritte said.  She had plans to move Tomberlain and Margo into one big room, Elsbeth, should she ever settle with Owien into the second, and herself and Roland into the third of the big rooms.  They would fix up the one big, old room, the room that used to be the servant’s quarters and was right next to the Master bedroom where Mother still slept.  Jennifer and her children would have that room if she wanted it, whenever Father Aden went away, as he did all spring.  With that, Margueritte’s, Elsbeth’s and Tomberlain’s small old rooms, with the old guest room, could all be cleaned and used for visitors, like Charles, or the king, or whatever lord, chief or count happened by.

“All good,” Margueritte repeated.  “But that is not why I called you.”  She took him into the adjunct area beside the barn, a large roofed in area near the new forges.  Margueritte was both pleased and surprised to have found two farriers who were actually qualified to make and nail real horseshoes.  True, they were used to shoeing mules, but the principle was the same.  Wulfram watched while one of the men carefully measured the hoof and trimmed the nails.

“This is called a rasp,” the farrier said, having noticed he was being watched.  “It is important to trim the hooves and file down nails to avoid any sharp edges.  Prevents snags and splits and such things.”

“I’ve not seen that done before on horses,” Wulfram said.  “What is the purpose of such shoes?”

Margueritte thanked the farrier, and he led the horse away while she talked.  “The iron shoe will protect the war horse from injury when running across rough ground at a full charge, carrying a man and all that equipment on its back.  It is much better than hipposandals.”

“War horse?”

“That is what the Princess called them, and Diogenes too, I suppose.”

“Truly a fine animal, whatever you call it.”  Wulfram leaned down a bit, cupped his hand to his mouth, and spoke slow and loudly.  “The finest horses I’ve ever seen.”

Grimly looked up at Margueritte.  “What?  So now I’m deaf and stupid?”

Margueritte spoke before things went any further.  “Anyway, I need ten volunteers.”  They stepped to where Giselle looked a mess of paints.  She painted plain linen cloth with ugly, mean Saracen faces, as she remembered seeing them in her youth, and she turned out to be quite an artist.  Those faces were going to be plastered on the straw dummies.  “I have a dozen horses that are more or less ready.  Keep in mind they are three and four-year olds.  They have not been training since they were foals.  They have been broken to ride, but not necessarily to the work we will put them through.”  She stepped over near the forges.  There were shields with a golden Fleur-de-lis and a cloth draped over the leaves with writing on the cloth painted on each and a whole stack of lances.

“What do these words mean?” Wulfram asked.

“In the Latin,” Giselle explained.  “It says for king and country.”

“We have enough equipment ready, but here is the thing.”  Margueritte got him to focus.  “I want your best horsemen to start.  We need to develop a way to train the horses when they are young.  That is what I want you and your men to figure out.  As we work through our paces, we may need to adjust the shield and lance, and it will take some work to learn how to lance and not spear the enemy, among other details, but all of that can be worked out and learned.  I know the men will adjust, but we need to have trained horses to do this well.  So, while we work through our paces, you need to be figuring out how to train the horses for the job.”

“What paces?” Wulfram asked.

“Bring your men here in an hour, and we will talk.”  Margueritte had to check on the Children before time got away from her.

In an hour, Wulfram showed up with ten men, including three that Margueritte got to know fairly-well during their journey.  Lambert and Folmar were her wagon drivers, and Walaric was Wulfram’s lieutenant who had the small group that tended to stay around the wagon, encircling it most of the time during their journey.  Margueritte acknowledged her friends before she made an announcement.

“I am going to bring a man who knows the basis of this business to begin teaching you.  Much of this we will have to work out ourselves, but he can get us started.  He is an older man, so be good and listen the first time.  He will be riding my horse, Concord.  We worked with Concord this past week so he could connect with the horse, but I will let him explain.  Now, I have other things to attend to, as you can imagine, so let me get him.  His name is Gerraint.”

Margueritte stepped away from the group and through a door at the back of the stables where several trees gave shelter against prying eyes.  She took a breath and traded places with Gerraint, son of Erbin.  He came in his own armor, the armor made for him by Arthur’s men.  It was not nearly as good as the armor of the Kairos, but he was not going into battle.  It would work fine for the demonstration, and it would not be recognizable as connected to Margueritte.

Gerraint straightened the tunic he wore over his armor.  It looked blood red and had the picture of the Cornish lion on the front.  He looked impressive at six feet tall, despite his gray hair.  Six feet was practically a giant in the medieval world.  With the great sword Wyrd on his left hip and Defender on his right, he felt impressive.  He carried his helmet in his hand when he stepped through the door and walked to face the men.  Everyone stopped talking when they saw him, and that made Margueritte grin in his head.

Avalon 7.12 The Guns of Camelot, part 3 of 6

The travelers found the gift of the dwarfs fairly quickly.  There were eight fires burning, plenty of wood to keep them burning into the night, and eight whole deer roasting in spits over the fires.  The deer had been well butchered, and the dwarfs even left the livers to be fried, and two big cauldrons of vegetables to cook up when the deer got near ready.  That would not be until about four o’clock.  They would eat at five when there was still plenty of daylight.  Meanwhile, they had leftovers from the night before to chew on.

The first to join them were four dwarf women who wore glamours to make them look like kindly little old ladies.  “I’m Magpie,” the chief woman said.  “This here is Parcels, Treewart, and Butterbut.  The men folk said to leave you alone, but we figured somebody gots to cook this snack if you want to get more than four hundred humans fed.”

“Snack?” Lincoln asked.

Magpie frowned at him.  “We got bunches of men folk hidden in the woods, and the women there aint doing nothing but cooking and more cooking.”

“We have seen dwarfs eat,” Katie admitted.

Magpie smiled.  “My Piebucket is a good eater.  He also said I had to be good to the elf princess.”  Magpie tipped her hat for Boston and wandered over to the other dwarf wives who were basting the deer with something unknown.

“We could help,” Sukki said to Alexis.

“No, dear,” Alexis responded.  “I don’t think we can.”

The next to show up was a group of fifty rough looking men who looked more like pirates than soldiers.  The head man stepped forward while his men waited patiently.  Lockhart stepped up to shake the man’s hand, and Katie went with him.

The man introduced himself.  “Sir Thomas of Dorset, Admiral of the fleet of Britain and Knight of the Round Table, though I am hardly deserving of the honor.  I am really a merchant from the south coast.  I trade mostly with Dumnonia, Wales, South Ireland where there are the only Irish ports safe for British shipping, Little Britain across the channel, and sometime far away Galicia.  We have tried a few Francia ports, though the Franks are not very hospitable.”

Lockhart tried to match the man’s demeanor.  “Robert Lockhart, Assistant Director of the Men in Black and self-appointed leader of this motley group of time travelers.”  He paused to let Sir Thomas ask a question.

“Motley?  Outside of having two Africans, I see a normal enough crew.  Even the Africans are unusual, but hardly unnatural.”

Lockhart smiled.  That was not what he expected the man to ask, but he explained anyway.  “We are from the year 2010, except Nanette, there, and Tony are from 1905.  Sukki, the big girl, is from the time before the flood.  Elder Stow is a member of the Elder Race that once walked these lands in the days before human history began.  Boston, the red head is an elf.  She used to be human and became an elf to marry an elf.  Her sister, the one with the black hair, used to be an elf and became human to marry Lincoln.”  He took a moment to name all of the travelers.

“Motley crew,” Thomas said, and finally asked.  “Time travelers?”

“My wife and Colonel Decker, there, are Marines.  That is something like an army that works with our navy.  The Colonel knows a lot about naval combat, as long as you understand he cannot tell you certain future things that might upset history.”

“I understand,” Thomas said.  “But we have an errand to perform, much as I might like to stay and chat.”

Katie interrupted.  “We were told to stay here and wait for Percival.  The dwarf wives are just over the hill where you see the smoke.  They are cooking enough for a small army.  I think you are supposed to stay and wait with us, until Percival gets here.”

Thomas nodded at something that came to his mind.  “My little brother, Gwillim; he was the one who got the word.  We grabbed as many men as were handy, including a bunch from the Tumbling Seagull.  Sorry if some of them are hungover.  Anyway, Gwillim took ten men and rode off to find Percival.  We will wait.”  He turned to his men.  “Set the canopies for the night.  Make a fire, but we have supper already cooking so no need to break into the stores.”

“Aye, Captain,” one man responded, and promptly began yelling at the men.

“So, can you tell me more about your crew.  I’ve never met an elf.  I heard Gwillim talk about them, though I understood they were connected in some way with Gerraint, the Lion of Cornwall.”

“Come and sit,” Katie invited him to join their group.

“And time travel.  What all have you seen?  It must be fascinating, and you know, as a merchant sailor, I do love to travel, new ports and all that.”

“All we have seen would make a very long story,” Lockhart said.

“Then, let us hope Percival takes a very long time to get here,” Thomas smiled and took a seat.

###

Gerraint finally sat up when he heard the sound of firecrackers overhead.  The big chamber-cell did not have any windows, but he recognized the sound and did not have to see.  The distinctive Crack! was enough to trigger his memories.  The multiple cracks, like mini thunder, sounded like a firing squad.

“That’s it,” he said as a way of giving himself enough energy to get up and swing his feet to the ground.  He knew better than to try to walk, but he could at least sit.  Enid came right away and mothered his cuts.  She and Gwynyvar tore the bottom of their dresses to make bandages.  They tore his shirt to wrap his ribs tight and tore the sleeves of his shirt to make a sling for his right arm.  The arm was badly bruised, not broken, except every time he moved the arm, he felt some shooting pain in his ribs.

“Daddy.”  Guimier came to his left side, not to mother him, but to touch him and look at him with big eyes full of concern.  Gerraint cleared his throat.  He seemed to be having trouble breathing, like a rib might be pressing against his lungs, or maybe a bone shard scraped them.

“I need a big empty space in the middle of the room.  No straw there.  Bedivere.”  He coughed, took a big breath. “Enid and Guimier, you can help.”

Gwynyvar also helped clear the space, but Arthur got curious.  “What do you have in mind?”

Gerraint paused.  He had just been dreaming about Greta, the time she borrowed four fire sprites from Avalon and blew up the black powder and guns hidden beneath the temple mount of Ravenshold.  Arthur did not need that whole story, so he just said, “Watch.”  First, he looked at Guimier.  Everyone there went with him to Avalon when Enid and baby Guimier got kidnapped.  They all knew something about it, but Guimier would not remember.  Gerraint sighed, went away, and Greta came to take his place.  She came dressed in her own fairy weave dress, like she wore most recently on the Scottish shores.

Gwynyvar and Bedivere let out a slight shriek, though Bedivere had met Greta before.  Guimier more nearly screamed and cried out for her Daddy.  Enid grabbed her.

“It’s all right.  Hush.  This is your daddy from another time.  This is Mother Greta.  She is a healer, though I can’t imagine there is much she can do for her Gerraint self.”  That last bit got directed at Greta.

“Not what I am here for,” Greta said.  She settled her mind and heart as she had been taught by wise, old Mother Hulda.  Then she called for two of the fire sprites from Avalon.  “Scorch and the lovely Miss Spark.”  That was what Marcus Aurelius called them, and Gerraint agreed, so those words came out of Greta’s mouth.

Two balls of flame appeared in the room.  They spun in the air and fell slowly to the ground, only setting on fire a couple of stray pieces of straw.  It took a minute for them to get their bearings, before they took on human looking form and Spark said, “Missus,” to correct Greta’s word.

“And a lovely couple you are.” Greta said, and smiled for them.  She rose and hugged them both.  She returned to the cot and sat as comfortably as she could, knowing exactly how much Gerraint hurt.

“But Greta,” Scorch said, in a slightly worried voice.  “You died.”

“I did,” Greta agreed.  “A long time ago.  But I came here because I need to blow something up.  Do you want to do the blowing up?”

“Yes,” both shouted, together, and Spark grabbed both of Scorch’s hands and almost started dancing in her excitement.

Greta turned to the others.  “They are fire sprites.  They blew something up for me ages ago, in Dacia.  These two claimed at the time that they wanted to do it again.”  Greta smiled and shrugged, like maybe the fire sprites were crazy.  “That cracking sound you hear in the distance are guns—a very powerful weapon that has no place in this day and age.  They work by using a black powder called, plainly enough, gunpowder.  The powder is usually stored where it can be kept dry and away from fire, because the fire sets it off.  I propose to let our friends set off the powder all at once.  It will be a big explosion.  It will probably destroy whatever building in which the powder is being kept and might well set the fort on fire.”

“You are not suggesting we sacrifice our Scorch and Spark,” Enid objected.

Greta shook her head as she went away and Gerraint came back to suffer in his rightful place and time.  “No,” Gerraint verbalized.  “But it won’t be like the last time. Scorch and Spark will have to take great care in how they do this.  There will not be a magical string to draw them safely back to Avalon.  Still interested?”

Scorch looked at Spark, and she gave him a peck on the lips.  “We will do it,” he said.  “What do we have to do?”

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

MONDAY

The last three posts of the episode and the end of Season Seven where nothing works out to anyone’s plan.  After Avalon, Season Seven is finished, we ill return to our regularly scheduled programming.  The final story of Festuscato, Last Senator of Rome (6 weeks) followed by the final tale of Gerraint in the days of King Arthur (6 weeks) and finally the second tale of Margueritte, The New Way has Come.  Don’t miss it, but first the end of this episode and the end of Season Seven begins Monday.  Until then, Happy Reading

*

Avalon 7.12 The Guns of Camelot, part 2 of 6

The castle gate swung open, and three wagons full of barrels of black powder came in.  It was near suppertime, but the men would not eat or rest until all the gunpowder got stored in the castle barracks room that had been designated the powder room.  It would be guarded, not the least to be sure no fire got close enough to set anything off.

Up in the great hall, the Saxons Odacer and Harwic the blade argued.  The other Germans in the room, both at the table waiting for supper, and standing by the doors, guarding the room, knew better than to open their mouths.

“I tell you, it is perfect, ironic,” Odacer said.  “This is the very fort where all that Pendragon crap got started.  It is fitting that New Saxony should begin here.”

“You won’t think it is so perfect if they bring the army down from Caerleon,” Harwic countered.  “We could have built our forces in the safe haven of the south Saxon shore and had a good port from which to overrun the continent.”

“Bah.  You worry.  Besides, we will not leave enemies at our back.  We must control this island before we extend our empire.  We have the rifles, the same Trajan used to conquer Mesopotamia.  Once the men are trained, we will crush the whole world and make everyone slaves to the new order, rule by the New Saxons.”

“We do not have rifles,” Harwic countered.  “We have smooth-bore muskets, basically muzzle-loaded matchlocks.”

Odacer did not seem bothered by that.  “The design will improve as we improve the equipment to make them.”

“But what if they bring the army from Caerleon before we are ready?” Harwic asked, seemingly stuck on that thought.

“So?”  Odacer scoffed.  “We have this lovely castle to defend.  More men are coming every day to join us, while the fools in Caerleon think we are engaged in peace talks.  And even if they figure it out, we have hostages.  We have Arthur and the Kairos, the King of Dumnonia, and the women to ensure their cooperation.”  He paused while people brought in food and laid it out on the table.  Then he added, “You worry too much.  Tomorrow, we will begin training the men and use the guards from this castle for target practice.”

The wraith appeared in the hall, and everyone looked.  She felt pleased to see more than one turn away and vomit from her appearance.  She spoke.  “The powder is here.  Kill the Kairos.”

“Now, wait a minute,” Harwic stood.  Odacer shriveled in the face of the wraith.  “You said your chief desire is to kill the travelers, and the travelers have guns from the future.  I appreciate your help in taking this castle from the inside, and I know you did it because we also have guns, not out of altruism.  But our men need to be trained to use those guns if you wish us to kill your travelers.  Meantime, we are vulnerable until our men are trained.  If the British send an army before we are ready, we will need to keep the ones in the dungeon as hostages.”

“But the Kairos is too dangerous to be allowed to live,” the wraith yelled.

“Dangerous to you, maybe,” Harwic responded.  “But to us, he is just a man.  We will kill him when we are ready, not before.”

The wraith screamed, a sound to frighten the strongest of men.  She raced up to one of the guards and sucked the life out of him, slowly.  Her scream got replaced by the scream of the man, which sounded even more frightening to the listeners.  She left a husk of shriveled flesh that collapsed to the floor, and she flew to the table.  Men ran from their chairs, except Odacer, who appeared frozen in place.  She touched a roasted pigeon with her finger and sucked all the moisture and life from the flesh, leaving an empty carcass where even the bones cracked, being emptied of their marrow.

“See that you kill him,” the wraith said, as she licked her finger and vanished, pleased to notice that more men around the room vomited.

Odacer finally pushed his chair back from the table.  “I lost my appetite.”

###

Down in the dungeon, Gerraint woke and tried to sit up.  He got as far as his elbows before he collapsed back down to his back.  Everyone rushed to his side, but only his daughter and squire said anything at first.

“Daddy,” Guimier cried.

“We didn’t know if you were going to make it,” Bedivere said.

People waited while Gerraint managed to lift his hand and brush the hair from his little girl’s face.  He tried to smile for her, but he was not sure if his puffy lips and face actually managed it.  He turned to Enid but spoke to Bedivere.  His words came out slurred, and soft, but understandable.

“Squire Bedivere.  Ye of little faith.”  He spoke to Enid.  “I don’t think any bones are broken.  I may have a couple of cracked ribs.”

Enid quickly lifted her hands from his chest, as Gwynyvar spoke.  “Bedivere is full grown.  He hasn’t been your squire for many years.”  She may have wondered if the torture addled his brains.

Gerraint smiled, better that time.  “Once a squire, always a squire,” he said.

“Master.  Your Majesty.  Uncle.” Bedivere acknowledged as much.

“So, where do we stand?” Gerraint asked.  He wanted to sit up but could not manage it.

Arthur spoke.  “I am working on a way to get us out of here, or barring that, to get word to Caerleon to call up the rapid deployment force.  Even a company of RDF might be enough to get us out of this predicament.”

“Might get us killed,” Enid objected, and Gwynyvar agreed.

“I’ll see what I can do,” Gerraint said, but Arthur cut him off.

“You are not in any condition to do anything right now except heal.  Enid said her handmaids, Belle and Coppertone managed to escape the fort, but I am not sure there is much hope in handmaids.”

“More than you know,” Gerraint whispered and closed his eyes.  He knew Belle was a house elf, and Coppertone was a Cornish pixie.  Who knew what forces they might raise?  Belle in particular was sensible enough.  Hopefully she would go directly to Percival in the nearby midlands, or maybe Tristam at Tintangle in the other direction.  He slept again.

###

Having said good-bye to Brennan, the travelers moved one day through a mix of farm fields and wilderness.  They only saw a few people, and those mostly from a distance.  In the morning, Boston suggested they were only a day away from the Kairos.

“And an easy day at that,” she said, as she and Sukki rode out to the point to see if the way was clear.  Lockhart and Katie watched them race.

Tony and Nanette had taken to riding together when Elder Stow and Decker moved out on the wings.  Lincoln drove the wagon and spent most of the time complaining.  “These old Roman roads have not been well kept in some places.  Poor Ghost has had to really work to keep us moving.  I’m surprised we haven’t thrown a wheel, or worse, busted an axel on these roads.”

Tony leaned back from where he rode in front of the mule.  “I could drive if you don’t feel comfortable driving.”

Lincoln shook his head and spoke up.  “You drove most of the way through the mountains.  I can take my turn.”  He grumbled softly, and Alexis beside him grinned and gave him a brief hug.

Boston and Sukki did not get far before they found two odd looking men who blocked the road.  Sukki pulled up and looked at Boston.  Boston saw right through the glamour of humanity.

“Lockhart,” she shouted back, and could make herself heard even over that distance.  “Boss, we got dwarfs.”  She turned and spoke to the two in the road.  “You might as well take off your glamour.  It doesn’t matter to us.”

“Dwarfs?” Sukki asked.  She could not see it.  She only saw two exceptionally grubby, bearded men.  But one, and then the other removed their glamours of humanity to stand in their natural, fully bearded form.

“You will notice, the dirt and grubbiness are natural, not part of the illusion of humanity,” Boston said and Sukki covered her grin.

One dwarf growled and got a tight grip on his axe.  The other put his hand out to keep his fellow from doing something stupid, and he spoke.  “Name’s Chief Bogus.  You will have to forgive Piebucket here.  He doesn’t like elves much.”

“I’m Boston,” Boston said and gave them her best elf grin.

“We know, Princess,” Bogus said, and gave a slight bow.  Piebucket lowered his axe, but he still growled.

“What’s up?” Lockhart asked, as he and Katie rode up.  The others came along more slowly with the wagon, while Decker and Elder Stow moved in from the wings.

“Don’t know,” Boston said and turned to Bogus to explain.

Bogus nodded and looked at the road.  “You are headed to the Lord at Cadbury Fort.  Well, in an admirable bit of trickery, the Saxons have taken the fort.  The village is deserted, but right now, they got the Lord and his lady, and their baby girl with the Pendragon, Gwynyvar and Squire Bedivere in the dungeon cell beneath the great hall.  And the Lord has been tortured.”  Bogus shook his head, and Piebucket gripped his axe tight again, and growled.

“How can we get them out?” Boston asked Lockhart, some desperation creeping into her voice.

“Well, first you need to wait for reinforcements to get here,” Bogus said, before Lockhart could answer.  “There is a hundred coming down from the forts at Caerleon and Caerdyf.  They may pick up a few more on the way.  There’s eighty coming with Percival from the Midlands, and another thirty from around Swindon will join them, compliments of old, bed-ridden Bedwyr.  There’s about seventy coming up from Dorset and the British shore.  Admiral Thomas and his brother Gwillim are bringing them.  Both are Knights of the Round Table. And there’s around a hundred and thirty coming from the west.  Tristam is leading the men from Tintangle and Devon.  The Lord’s own son, Peter, is bringing the rest from Cornwall.”

“A pittance,” Piebucket said.

“Sudden notice,” Bogus nudged his fellow dwarf.  “As soon as they heard, they grabbed those they could and came on.”

“Four hundred?  Four-fifty?  Hardly enough men to take a fort like Cadbury.”

“These powerful folks might help too,” Bogus said.  “If you treat them right and stop growling at the elf.”

Piebucket tipped his hat and did his best to put on a smile, doofy as it was.  For once, Boston did not burst with laughter.

“I thank you dwarfs for your help and invitation,” she said.  “We will gladly help.  After all, he is my Lord, too.”

The others had caught up by then, so Lockhart did not have to yell too loud.  “Lunch.”

“We will be near,” Bogus said, and the two dwarfs vanished into the nearby woods.  With that, Lockhart took Boston aside.

“That is not your decision to make,” he said.  “I used to yell at others for getting us entangled in things that are none of our business.”  He let her stew for a moment, until she looked down and worried her hands.  “In this case, I agree with you.  Katie would never forgive me if we left without seeing Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.  Guinevere is just icing on that cake.”

Boston smiled again.  “Gwynyvar,” she corrected him, and then hugged him.  He was the best boss, ever.