M4 Margueritte: A Few Words, part 1 of 3

So, 730 became a busy year, and not just because Charles finally started to form his permanent army.  When he took back some of the church land, the church got up in arms.  Priests and bishops called him a thief, and said he was stealing from Christ himself.  One would think he was as guilty as Judas.  Margueritte wrote to Charles.

Do not be intimidated.  The good Bishop Aden, whom you know, says a bishop needs enough land to meet his daily need and no more.  Beyond that is the sin of greed and covetousness.  A bishop is an overseer.  He watches over the priests and the flock in his care. As long as he can feed himself and have a little something to share with the poor, let that be enough. As long as you are not telling him what to preach, he has no reason to complain.

Margueritte could practically hear Charles say he would like to be able to tell some of the priests what to preach.

Margueritte sent for Boniface, and he gladly came.  He heard terrible things about Charles on route, but after Margueritte explained things, he wrote many letters to bishops, to several archbishops, and even to the Pope, defending Charles’ actions.  Boniface may have been the first to point to Islam and say Christendom, by which he meant Europe, needed a champion.  The church backed off, but Charles, who had been the darling of the church until then, fell from grace for a long while.

730 was the year Aden died.  Jennifer’s letter said he was in Kernev, sharing the gospel, and some believers in the old ways rose-up and stabbed him until he died.  King David caught and executed the men, but now Jennifer felt all alone.  Lefee is sixteen and only interested in boys.  Cotton is thirteen, but he will be starting as a page next year (in the summer of 730), and Mercy is nine, and sweet, but she misses her best friend Grace.  If you could come home for a while, I miss you, Lady.  It is so quiet around here since the work has all moved to Angers and Lemans.  Pouance still belongs to you, by Owien’s decree.  Marta, Maven, and I have done our best to keep it, but you can visit any time.  My love, Jennifer, Little White Flower. 

Margueritte talked to her people.

Luckless said he actually missed Lolly.  Grimly said he wanted to go home.  Besides, they both said the men had taken over the forges, and the pages and squires were handling the barn and the stables just fine.  That was how it should be.  The horses certainly knew what to do, so Grimly got homesick.  Margueritte knew that no matter how long she stayed in the Saxon March, Luckless and Grimly would have stayed faithfully with her.  She felt a bit saddened to think that they would never volunteer what they were feeling.  She certainly could have known what they were feeling if she thought about it, but she did not.  Her general rule was to not violate the thoughts and feelings of her little ones, but it might not always be a good rule.

Margueritte took a moment to see what Calista and Melanie were feeling.  Both were content and would follow her wherever she went.  They loved the children, even the older girls who could only think of boys, and the older boys who could only think of girls.  Calista said that was the way it was supposed to work with humans, since they lived such short lives, but Melanie had other thoughts.  King Oswald, the local elf king, married Laurien, who became concerned about Oswald’s friend, Ridgemont, because he lived alone.  Melanie thought she might rectify that problem, though she had only seen Ridgemont that one time, and she had no idea if he returned her feelings.  Melanie would not waste away for wanting the elf.  Her feelings would fade in time if she never saw him again or if he did not share her feelings.  Margueritte could not stop herself from taking a look, and she got the impression that it might work, so she made a decision.

“Melanie,” she said.  “I am entrusting you with protecting Ingrid, Aduan and Sigisurd while I am away.  And their girls and boys and young children, too.  I know it is a lot, but I cannot leave in good conscience without knowing they are safe, and without Roland here, I don’t know who else I can turn to.  Walaric and Ragobert will keep the squires training, and Bertulf, with Theobald, Cassius and Geoffry will variously keep tabs on the land and taxes and such, but the women and children are my chief concern.  I have spoken with Lady Laurien and agreed Oswald’s friend Ridgemont will keep watch on the house and the Rhine, and fetch help if there is serious trouble.”

Melanie looked at Margueritte and with a straight face asked, “Do you think he will like me?”

“What?”

“My lady.  You are not a good liar.”

“I hope he loves you,” Margueritte said and leaned over to kiss the elf’s cheek.  Melanie began to cry.

“My lady, you have been so good to me, and I love you so much, my goddess.”

“And I love you,” Margueritte said as she stepped away with Calista, while Melanie cried harder in her happiness.  Sigisurd and Aduan were there to comfort Melanie as Margueritte went into the house.  Calista followed, and had a tear in her own eye, empathetic as elves are.

Margueritte packed as 730 came to an end.  Brittany turned twelve in mid-November and became a full-blown pre-teenager, concerned with her appearance, self-centered, ignoring adults, and inclined to giggle when she got around boys that she thought were cute.  Grace turned eleven just before the new year, and while she did not want Brittany to get ahead of her, she still had room in her to keep one hand on Gerald, who was six and would turn seven in March of 731 when they headed west toward Little Britain.

Martin finally turned fourteen early in December and became officially old enough to serve as a page.  Of course, the technicality of being thirteen and a half had not stopped him from serving and being with the pages all summer.  He made friends with Dodo and the gang, and Pepin got right there with him, and to be honest, they did not cause too much trouble that summer.  Martin and Pepin balked at being separated when Margueritte announced they were going to Pouance and would return in two years.  It was not so bad when Margueritte told Pepin he would be going with them.

Gisele, on the other hand, pitched a fit.  Margueritte saw the strong-willed character come out in full force as Gisele reminded Margueritte that she was not her mother and could not order her around.  Margueritte shocked Gisele by not responding to her stubborn anger with equal anger and shouting.  Instead, Margueritte spoke in a very calm and reassuring voice.

“You are right.  I am not your mother.  I am your guardian, the one your father selected, and I will give you a good home, and watch over you, and care for you, and love you as I loved my good friend, Rotrude, until you are fully grown at twenty-one, or happily married.  And then, your husband better be good to you, or he will feel your mother’s wrath, even if I am the one to do it.”  Margueritte smiled, stepped up and gave Giselle a kiss on the cheek.  “Now, get packed.  We have a long way to go.”  And she left.

Twelve-year-old Brittany came in wearing a new dress, or some jewelry, or a scarf, or something different, and she said, “What do you think?”  She seemed oblivious to Gisele who sat on the edge of her bed, staring at the wall.  Gisele reached for the girl.

“You look beautiful,” she said, hugged her, and cried.

Gisele was seventeen, six months older than Ingrid’s son Childebear, but that did not seem to matter.  They spent a lot of time together and the term “two years” got bandied about regularly.

Margueritte ignored them and turned her attention to Carloman.  He was Gisele’s twin, seventeen, and would not be elevated from page to squire until the end of the summer of 731.  He seemed to want to get on with it, not because he had interest in becoming a squire.  He was mediocre at everything except his schoolwork.  He ate history and the written word for breakfast, while he picked up his sword and went through the motions.

Margueritte put her hand gently on Carloman’s shoulder.  “Sadly, this is not an age that honors great learning.  Scholars will be appreciated at some points in the future, but now, not so much.  You need to trust me that I know something about the far future, but normally I have no idea what is happening in my lifetime, or for fifty or a hundred years out.  I suppose that is because that portion of history is not actually written yet.”

“Yes, I keep telling people you are not a witch.”

“Please, they already tried to burn me at the stake once for witchery.”  Margueritte shook her head.  “But what I wanted to say is for some reason, I happen to know that way up north in an Anglish monastery, a monk named Bede has finished, or is finishing a book titled Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum.  I could send for a copy if you would like.”

“Yes please.  I would like that very much.”

Margueritte walked to the door.  “I know your father can be a hard man, but he really wants the best for you and for the Franks.  He and Roland and I agree on that.  We want to keep the Frankish people peaceful, prosperous, secure, and safe from all the threats from the people that surround us.  He is pushing you to take up arms because this is the age for armies and battles, not scholars.  But remember, you have a younger brother who has taken to arms like a duck takes to water.  When your father passes on, you might consider a way to protect and encourage the scholars, and the great men of the church like Bede and Boniface, and the Adens of the world, and let your brother lead the armies in battle.  Just something to think about.”  She left.

M4 Margueritte: Settling Home, part 3 of 3

As if on cue, which is the sort of timing the little ones often exhibit, Luckless came from one direction and Grimly came from the other.  Luckless complained first.

“We are going to have to tear down that primitive blacksmith forge and build a proper one from scratch,” he said.

“Lady,” Grimly had something to say.  “We better get started building those stables right away.  Even though it is June, the way you humans build things, the cold weather will be upon us before we have a place to keep the horses warm and healthy.”

“And the barracks,” Walaric said.  “Some word of what you have been doing in Maine and Anjou has reached here, and all the ones we talked to on the way will send their young men soon enough.  I’m surprised some of them did not get here ahead of us.”

“It sounds like real work,” Cassius said.

“It will be, but the real work will be in the learning and teaching.  I brought a nest egg to get the work started, but we have to get our surveyors out starting yesterday so we can get the population settled and properly taxed.”

“I already know how to fight and ride,” Theobald caught up with the conversation.

“Good.  I was hoping as much,” Margueritte said. “So, you can help teach the young ones.”

“That is not what I meant.”

“Baron needs to set a good example,” she said and smiled.

It took until the following spring before the family really began to understand what this was all about and how this was going to work.  Gerald turned two, and then Margueritte turned thirty in the spring of 727, and she felt too old to have a two-year-old.  Theobald spent Margueritte’s birthday complaining that he would never get good with the lance.  Cassius teased him.

“Easy for you,” Theobald said.  “You are younger and carefree.”

“What about Geoffry?” Cassius rubbed it in.  Geoffry was a natural, and Theobald just frowned.

Mama Rosamund died that summer, and the family mourned, but Margueritte made sure to assure Ingrid that the house was now hers, and Ingrid still complained.

“Subject to you, of course, and my stupid brother.”

“And to Charles and the king, of course.  But you are a good person and will do good for the people on your land and under your care, and your brother and I will love you even when you feel like yelling.”

Ingrid walked away, confused as usual.

In 728, some of the first young ones really seemed to be getting it.  The number of true heavy horses that could reasonably carry the weight of all the armor and weapons remained small, but the herd grew under Grimly’s care, and Luckless found local dwarfs and a couple of dark elves to work under cover in the night, and the stockpile of weapons, armor and shields also grew.

Early on, Aduan proved to have a real talent for silk screening, as Margueritte described it.  She made the figure of a black eagle that impressed everyone.  The large version went on the flag that hung outside the barracks, which were really more like dormitories for the youth.  An annex where the teachers lived and held classes got built beside it, connected by a hallway.  Another flag flew outside the growing fortress, several miles upriver, on a hill overlooking the Rhine.

Aduan made a pattern of smaller eagles, and three in a red stripe ran diagonally down yellow-colored shields.  Aduan wanted to do a dragon, but Margueritte said no, she already did the dragon.  Instead, she made a design of simple red and white stripes for the lower Rhine, no animal images, and shortly decided on one horizontal white stripe across about a third of the red shield.  When she changed the bottom third of the shield to blue, she said it looked more Dutch, even if no one knew what she was talking about.

By 729, Margueritte felt confident enough in her men, mostly the older men, to cross the Rhine and reclaim all the land that got named in the original grant of Dagobert.  There were old Frankish families on the land, and plenty of new families since Charles came through and beat back both the Frisians and the Saxons.  But there were also plenty of Frisians and Saxons on the land, some of whom came back after Charles and his army left the area.

She gave no choice to the Franks, and for the most part that seemed fine.  They would rather answer to a Frankish overlord than be subject to either Saxons or Frisians.  For the Saxons and Frisians, she made it simple.  Acknowledge Roland, settle down and build a village, build and support a church, pay taxes and supply men when called to fight.  Do that, and they were welcome to stay on her land.  Refuse any part of the deal, and they would be given a peaceful escort to the border as soon as the surveyors laid it out.  Most stayed.  Some, both Saxons and Frisians, left.  A few started trouble but quickly discovered that a fight was not a good idea.  A very few paid with their lives.

Margueritte selected a man named Bertulf to be her sergeant at arms.  He worked right there from the beginning, with Ragobert and Walaric, both teaching and training the men, and he picked up the lance like he had been born to it.  He had a good and cheerful disposition, and always respected her and her family, though he learned to give Ingrid her space.  He also had a good eye for men and understood when to press them and when to back off.  He was the main reason Margueritte became successful with the Saxons and Frisians living on her land.  Margueritte praised him when they finally crossed back over the Rhine, not far from Ingrid’s home.

Three days passed before Margueritte left the house, and almost before she left her bed, and then it was only to saddle her horse and take a ride in the country.  Calista went with her but parted when they returned.  Calista made for the house.  She said she wanted to check in on Sigisurd’s little ones, and Gerald, just to be sure.

Margueritte smiled for Calista’s and Melanie’s loyalty to the children, and went on to the stables, but stopped short.  Martin was there and in a fight with a boy who looked older by a couple of years, and bigger.  Martin got in a good punch and the boy went down, and Margueritte thought that might be a good time to intervene.  Some of the other boys standing around, saw her ride up and made the combatants pause.

“Martin?” Margueritte said, and she could not quite keep the scolding out of her tongue.

“He started it,” Martin pointed.

“Lady, we have work to do, and we don’t need children looking over our shoulder,” the boy said.  Martin looked like he wanted to take another swing at the word, children.  “Lady,” the boy repeated and made a poor attempt at a bow. He probably did not know who she was.  This might have been his first summer, and she had been away all summer.

“And what did you learn?” Margueritte asked a surprise question.  Martin and the boy stared at each other like they did not know how to answer.  Margueritte helped them.  “Martin.  You should never let words rule your fists.  You know that words can never hurt you.  And you.”

“Dodo, son of Grimald of Cologne, your ladyship.”  The boy looked prepared to be scolded

“Dodo, son of Grimald, you should learn not to antagonize your enemies unless you want a black eye.”  The boys laughed but stopped suddenly when Ingrid came around the corner with Aduan’s Dombert and her own Childebear on her heels.  They were both sixteen and had paged for a couple of years, so were no strangers to stable fights.

“Margueritte,” Ingrid acknowledged her before she lit into the boys.  They were supposed to be cleaning the stables, not fighting.  She should give them a whole week of kitchen duty.  She should give them a whole week of laundry duty.  And Martin, “You have been told to stop hanging around the pages and getting into trouble.  It has been all summer with you.  Go up to the house and get cleaned off, er, with the countess’ permission, of course.”

Martin looked ready to shuffle off grumpily, even as Dodo figured out that he was in a fistfight with the viscount of the whole march, when Martin suddenly shouted, “Father!”  Margueritte turned and saw Roland ride up, three riders following him.

Margueritte smiled and wanted nothing more than to lean over and give him a kiss.  He had only visited a few times in those years, and never for more than a few weeks at a time.  She would have said something, but Martin shouted again.

“Pepin!”

Pepin returned the shout.  “Martin!” and Pepin bounded from his horse so the two boys could hug.  They had not seen each other in years, but nothing had changed.  Margueritte noted the other two riders were Carloman and Gisele, Charles’ eldest.  Roland quickly mentioned that Margueritte had two new recruits, and she felt something needed to be said right from the beginning.

“Pepin and Carloman.  You will report to Walaric whom you should remember from the battle of Pouance.  He will assign you to page for a squire and assign your duties according to the order of the day.  You will do your duties without complaint, you will learn something worth learning, and you will receive no special treatment for being Charles’ sons.  Is that clear?”

“Yes mum,” Pepin said with his eyes as wide as they could get.  “She hasn’t changed a bit,” he added softly and nudged Martin.

“Perfectly clear,” Carloman said as he got down and took his and Pepin’s horses into the stables where Grimly waited.

“And Gisele, why are you here?”

“Now that I am sixteen, Father’s new wife does not have room for me,” she said, sadly, and looked twice at both Childebear and Dombert.

“Swanachild doesn’t mind Aude and Hiltrude,” Roland explained.  “They were young enough to learn to call her mother, but Gisele rubbed her the wrong way from the beginning.  Strong willed.  Charles said he has had enough of the boys fighting and the cat fights, and you’re a girl, maybe you can talk sense into the child.  He says all Gisele wants is boys, and her other choice is a convent.”

Margueritte nodded.  “Clara is twenty-one and just married.  Her sister Thuldis is eighteen and has the same problem.  Boys everywhere.  This is Boy Central, you know.”  She turned to Gisele.  “Would you like to meet the girls?  They can tell you all about it.”

“Yes please,” Gisele said.

“Ingrid?” Margueritte asked.

“I might as well,” Ingrid said.  “I have the experience.  Get down from the horse and come on up to the house.  I’ll introduce you.”

Gisele slipped down from the horse and watched the boys watch her before she turned and followed Ingrid.

“You were never like that,” Roland said.

“Martin, up to the house and get cleaned off.  Pepin scat.  You can catch up later.”  Margueritte turned to Roland.  “When I was sixteen, I already knew what I wanted.”

“And did you get what you wanted?”

“Not when one or the other of us keep going away,” she said, and they dismounted, and Roland held her for a good long while before he took the horses into the stables.

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

MONDAY

Margueritte has a few words as too much time is spent apart from Roland…  until Monday, Happy Reading.

*

M4 Margueritte: Battle, part 1 of 2

Ragenfrid showed up on the seventeenth of May and parked a great tent camp across the long field.  The students and soldiers of the county army pulled their encampment up the hill, to the edge of the village and castle where they could look down on their enemies.  The enemy camp looked huge compared to the defenders.  Then came the unhappy surprise as what looked like a second army camped in the north farm fields, half a mile off.  The north fields were still the main fields for the castle and village, since the south fields, being newly cleared, still had stumps and clumps of forest in many places.  Stump-land was territory the little ones could defend, as compared to the flat openness in the north.

“The Count of LeMans has taken the north with about three thousand men.  Looks can be deceiving.” Larchmont reported to Margueritte and her captains.  “The main camp on the other side of the long field looks about the same size but actually holds closer to eight thousand men, more than twice LeMans’ numbers.  Ragenfrid kept five thousand with him and sent the Viscount of Angers, with three thousand of those men to try and circle the town and castle, but we rebuffed them in the evening before the dark elves could have a turn.”

“So Manskin is mad at not getting a turn??” Margueritte asked.  Larchmont smiled, which became visible even on his little face.

“He got a turn in the north when the Count of LeMans tried to send men into the forest under cover of darkness.”

“They didn’t eat any of the men,” Margueritte said quickly, slightly worried

“No but they filed up on horse meat,” Larchmont responded.  The men laughed, even if it had a nervous sound to it, when soldiers from the Breton gate came in escorting Michael, Count of Nantes, Bogart, King of Brittany, and a distinguished looking older man with gray hair and a full beard.

“Welcome cousin,” Margueritte gave King Bogart, alias David, a familial kiss before she turned on Michael.  “Get any more young men stinking drunk lately?” she smiled.

Michael looked embarrassed.  “You remembered that?  Lord!  But I hear Tomberlain recovered, did he not?”

“After father had at him.”

“You should have seen what my father did to me.”

Margueritte gave him a welcoming kiss and invited them to the table where they had various things set up to represent the various pieces in the coming battle.  Elsbeth and Calista came quietly in the back door and said nothing at first.  Elsbeth had two-year-old Bogart on her hip and sat at the table where she held him in her lap.  Calista stood beside Margueritte, and she was dressed this time, not like a house maid, but like an elf warrior.  She retained the glamour of being human, but a woman in armor was not expected.

“And who is our friend?” Margueritte asked, before the mouths closed on seeing Calista.

David did the honors.  “May I present Sir Bedwin of Corveau.  A trusted advisor, as he was for my father.”

“I see,” Margueritte said with a glance at Elsbeth.

“Your majesty, King David,” Peppin and Childemund knew better than to interrupt Margueritte when she was probing, and Walaric had learned to trust Margueritte implicitly, but duBois was new, less than ten years on the northern march, and he felt he should say something.  “We are grateful that you are willing to extend yourself and your people in this time of trouble.  It is a most gracious act for the sake of peace between our two peoples.”

Margueritte smiled.  “You forget, I am half Breton.  David is my cousin.  I wrote to him and Chief Brian, who is getting to look like he will live forever in Vergenville.”

“Brian is here, with a small group of fighters,” David said.  “And also, an old friend of yours, Sir Thomas of Evandell.”

“Thomas?” Elsbeth spoke up.

“Sir Thomas,” Margueritte corrected.  “The king’s bard, and I like to think of him as my bard, too.  It is only fair considering the material I provided for him to make his living.”

“Sir Thomas,” David confirmed.  “He showed great bravery in the face of Curdwallah the hag, and his acts of true Christian charity and piety have been countless.  My mother said you told her those were the two marks for knighthood in King Arthur’s court.  As a professed Christian, he might have joined the round table.”

“He might have,” Margueritte said, but she turned to Sir Bedwin.  “But what brings you here?” she asked.  “I seem to recall when my husband Roland brought letters urging David’s father to keep a serious watch on the coast for Muslim activities, you thought it a great joke.”

“I was summoned,” Sir Bedwin said gruffly.  He was not going to respond to her prodding.

“Oh?” she looked at David, but Elsbeth spoke up.

“I wrote to him.  Owien never would, but when we married, I thought about it.  But now with Owien away with Charles and this trouble come upon us, I thought every letter would help, and this way, I could meet him, and he could see his grandson, if he wanted, and without having to face Owien, son of Bedwin.”

They all looked, but the old man tried not to cry.  “The boy’s mother?” he managed to ask.  Elsbeth appeared confused.  She was the boy’s mother, but Margueritte understood.

“She passed away about six years ago.  I understand pneumonia.  I would not know.  I was not here.  At that time, I was a hostage in the hands of Ragenfrid and forced to suffer through the siege of Cologne.”

“So now he has come up to lay siege here,” Peppin deftly guided the conversation back to topic.

“Yes,” Margueritte said.  “But he will not be able to cut us off here, and that is an order of business you need to know about.  This is why we own the woods,” Margueritte said, with a look at the men who knew, so they could hold Michael, David, or Sir Bedwin as necessary.  When the men nodded to her, she lifted her hand and the glamour that made Calista appear human fell away and she stood there in all her elfish glory.  Michael laughed, and after a moment, David joined him, and said he always suspected.  Sir Bedwin stared, even after Margueritte lowered her hand and the glamour returned, and he had something to say.

“I thought that whole story about the ogres had a ring of reality to it.  You are the witch they said.”

“I am not a witch,” Margueritte yelled.  “Why does everything have to be witchery?  Larchmont, will you come down here and tell these men I am not a witch.”

Larchmont fluttered down much like the last time, but this time he missed the table and took on his big size, which made him look altogether human, dressed in the green garb of a hunter.  “She is not a witch,” he said, and a voice from the back of the room echoed him.

“It is true,” the voice said.  “She has not a shred of magic in her.  Blessed as her reflection was by the gods of old, she hardly needs any ordinary magic.”

“Lord Pomadoro,” Margueritte identified the elf, who appeared, obviously, an elf, and in fact looked like a veritable elf king given the way he dressed and carried himself.  He stood there with what looked like a dozen monks, but they were a dozen more elves dressed in monk’s robes.  They were monks after a fashion, Margueritte imagined, but they assisted the elf wizard who attended the knights of the lance.  Pomadoro took the position when Lord Sunstone finally passed away.”

“My lady,” Pomadoro bowed, regally.

“You better have news about the battle formations, because if you have come about that other thing, I’m not going to talk about that.  I am not doing that.”

“I have only half come about that other thing, For the other half, I have come about the sorcerer in Ragenfrid’s camp.”

“Abd al-Makti is here?”

“Even so.”

“Sit,” Margueritte commanded them.  “All of you sit and wait.  We need to set the battle order.”  She turned to Michael and David.  “Your men are all camped in the woods of the Vergen and have been careful not to reveal yourselves.”

“Yes.  Certainly.” Count Michael and King David assured her.

“Good,” she spoke to Pomadoro.  “As soon as we set the battle order, these men will be going to get their men ready and then will be back here for supper where they can argue about it over a good meal.  After they have gone, you and I need to have an argument.”  Margueritte went straight into the plan that Gerraint, Festuscato, and Diogenes agreed on.  Then she paused only long enough to see if someone pointed out an obvious flaw.  Peppin and Walaric both said the young men were too raw and not trained nearly well enough, but that objection she expected.

Once the men left, and Elsbeth left with Bedwin holding little Bogart’s hand, Margueritte said “No.”  She explained.  “Greta used the knights of the lance in Dacia, and I still feel guilty about that.  Then they seemed to come out of nowhere when I, I mean, Festuscato was trying to help Patrick get started.  I think I got blindsided.  Then again, they helped Gerraint against Claudus, and I was very grateful for their help, but please, it is enough.  They are not of this world, and for a good reason.  They have their place, to defend Avalon from demons.  Their place is not here, fighting in a transient human event.”

“Just a few in front to help guide your young and inexperienced men—the raw ones.”  Pomadoro smiled at remembering the term.

“No, no, no.” Margueritte paused.  “I’ll think about it.  Tell me the rest of it.”

“The sorcerer.”

“I do not want him dead, yet.  I need to know who is behind him, the source of his power.”

“I understand.  But he is able to interfere with whatever battle plans you follow.  With these monks, we will generate more than sufficient power to block him.  I propose only to prevent his interference, but you must fight your own battles.”

“You sound like Gerraint.”

“I accept the compliment, but understand this, the sorcerer’s source, and we believe it is a god who has not made the journey to the other side, if he or she should grant the sorcerer a temporary surge of power, we may not be able to stop him.”

“I do understand, and while I never want to put you in danger, I almost wish he tries that because that would be something I could trace.”

Lord Pomadoro bowed and Margueritte stepped out of the great hall, Calista on her heels.  “What do you think?” Margueritte asked her house elf.

“I think you will let some of the knights guide your young men,” she said.  “Even like an arrowhead, as they did in Dacia, and again with Lord Gerraint on this very field.”

“How old are you again?”

“Two hundred and eighteen.  I am not that old, but we elves have a long memory, as you very well know.”

Margueritte nodded.  She did know that, and in fact she knew just how much danger her elves would be in if Abd al-Makti received a surge of power to break through their shield.  She did not want to think about that.

M4 Margueritte: Disturbances, part 2 of 3

Two days later, a group of twenty men were spotted out in the far field in the north.  They walked, dressed like workers, so nobody paid much attention.  Margo figured, it being spring, they were just more men hoping to earn a living in Potentius, like so many other that had come.  She became persuasive in her point of view, so the others did not pay close attention, but something did not add up in the back of Margueritte’s mind.  Men came to earn a living, but they came in ones, twos, and threes, and sometimes with families, not twenty at once and without any sign of women or children.

Childemund, Peppin, and Margueritte watched from above when Ronan greeted the men at the main gate on the Paris Road.  The head man of the group took off his hat and held it tight.

“My name is Rolf.  I heard you were looking for men to work on your walls.  We got stonework experience and would work hard for pay.”

Childemund picked up the Parisian accent.  Peppin did not like the look of some of them, especially the way a few were looking around the inside of the castle, not like men judging the work, but like men checking the guard posts.  Margueritte frowned, not sure what she felt, but Ronan looked happy.  She imagined with twenty extra pairs of experienced hands, he thought he might finish the walls in a year rather the projected three years.

“I know the head man from somewhere,” Childemund said.  “Now I will be up all night trying to figure it out.”

“You said Parisian,” Peppin pointed out.

“Paris is a big city,” Childemund responded.

“Melanie,” Margueritte turned to her house elf.  “Tell Ronan to tell the men to take lodging in the town.  They can come in and go out the gate every day.”

“Yes lady,” Melanie said and hurried with the word.  Ronan looked up at the wall before he told the new men what he was told, but only Childemund and Peppin were there to be seen.  Brianna had come up and Margueritte already started walking her back to the house.

Margueritte took her elf maid Calista with her when she went to town, several days later.  Melanie stayed with the children, though there was no staying with Martin when Cotton, Weldig Junior, and Pepin were running wild.  They would be solid mud by evening.  Sadly, Carloman, the eleven-year-old, the steady influence, preferred to hang around Father Aden who fascinated the young man by introducing him to Greek, and some Hebrew.  Well, Margueritte thought.  Good for him, and mud washes off after all.

The Kairos established ages ago, when the little spirits of the earth had unavoidable contact with humans, they were to work through human agents, and where that became impossible, they should appear like ordinary humans.  One shop in town had become known for its linen in a good variety of colors and hues.  People purchased the cloth to make clothes for their children and all the nice things they might want around the home.  The shop had a tailor that could let things out or take clothes in as needed, and all of it got reasonably priced.  As long as they had good, paying work in town, people were glad to have Olden’s Finery on the corner in the market square.

Margueritte knew they had more to it.  She stepped into the shop, smiled for the customer she did not know, and thought there were too many new faces in Potentius to keep up.  The woman curtsied, more or less, so Margueritte guessed the woman knew who she was.  She went to the back room behind the curtain and saw the elf women and men working away.  They stopped and stared at her until Olderon came out of the office and told them all to keep working.

“Keep working.”  He had to say it twice.

“Olderon, how are my tunics?” Margueritte asked right away.

Olderon nodded and took her to a couple of crates set out of the way of the worktables.  He opened the first one and pulled out a long piece of off-white linen, well edged, with a head hole in the middle so the tunic would fall front and back like a poncho.  They had a tie on either side at the waist, and on the front, a large golden fleur-de-lis, the same as on the shields.  He had some in blue with a triple design of three fleur-de-lises in a triangle shape with two at the top.  Margueritte intended to give the blue ones to her officers, to know them on the battlefield.

“All good,” Margueritte said.  “I hope we have enough for when Ragenfrid gets here.”

“There will be enough,” Olderon said.  “One thousand are ready, including plenty of extra blue ones as you requested.”

“Very good,” Margueritte said, and stopped.  She looked up as if agitated by something in the air.  Calista gasped, a very agitated sounding gasp.  Olderon voiced the concern.

“Humans are fighting in the castle.  There is blood.”

Margueritte ran, and contrary to her own rules just mentioned, the elves in the shop followed her out into the street.  They found weapons from somewhere unknown, mostly bows with plenty of arrows, and many of them were suddenly wearing one of the tunics with the fleur-de-lis.  The gate on the far side, on the Breton Road, the road to Vergenville, stood closest, but across the open courtyard from the manor house.

They burst in and saw several pockets of fighting around the courtyard.  Luckless, Redux, the men and dwarfs were there to protect the forge works by the tower.  Grimly, Pipes, Catspaw, and the other gnomes by the stables looked ready to repel whatever came their way.  The barn looked on fire, but men were working to put it out.  The barracks were empty, but for the few left to guard the entrance.

Margueritte cared nothing about that.  She wove her way through the swordfights, Calista on her heels until they reached the front door.  Jennifer came in the same way from the chapel and met her there.  Aden, Carloman and the boys had sticks in their hands that could double for clubs.  The Annex was on fire, but some of the castle workers were working on getting it out.  Margueritte saw Martin with a club-stick and swallowed hard.  She had to check on the young ones.

Margueritte, Jennifer and Calista burst into the house together.  The downstairs room looked empty, but they heard noises.  “Calista, check upstairs.”  Margueritte noticed Calista’s long knife at the ready.  “Jennifer, check the underground and see if the dwarf wives got the little ones out.  I have the kitchens out back.  Go.”

The three women divided, Calista taking three steps up at a time.  Jennifer ran to the panel closet in the corner where the secret passage led to the underground dwarf home.  Margueritte did not stay and watch as she burst out the old door and turned toward the kitchen and the big ovens.  She paused and called to her armor and weapons which instantly replaced her clothes and fit snug around her, like a blanket of protection.  She drew her long knife, Defender and inched quietly forward.

Margueritte found her mother Brianna face down in the mud, a knife wound in her back.  She knelt down and held back the tears of grief and anger.

“There she is,” someone shouted.

Margueritte stood, and her appearance in armor with the long knife in her hand caused the three men to pause.  Rolf was the one in the middle, and he let out an awful grin with one word to throw in her face.

“Kairos.”

The two with Rolf began to spread out to encircle her, but Margueritte had another idea, and her word came fueled by her rage.

“Hammerhead,” she shouted in a way where the ogre had to obey.  Wherever he was in the world, he disappeared and reappeared in front of her.  One of the men shrieked.  The other screamed.  Rolf said nothing as Hammerhead picked up Margueritte’s rage, grabbed the man by the arm and shoulder and with his other hand, popped the man’s head right off his body.

The man by the house raced for the court, but an arrow from somewhere in the courtyard caught him dead center.  The other man tried for the Postern gate, but a different arrow caught him.  Larchmont arrived, and after the deed, he flew up to Margueritte.  He noticed the ogre wanted to run to the courtyard and smash every living thing he could reach, but Margueritte had his feet glued to the ground, so all he could do was smash the ground into a great pit, like a sink hole.

“The girls are safe with me,” Larchmont said.  “Lilac and Goldenrod got them out as soon as there was trouble.”  Margueritte nodded as Jennifer, Elsbeth and Calista ran up.

“The babies are all underground, safe with the dwarf wives.  Aude, Hitrude and Brittany as well,” Jennifer shouted, though she was not far.

“Melanie has Rotrude and Margo locked in Rotrude’s room,” Calista said more calmly.  “Melanie got one on the stairs, and I got the one banging on the door, so we are even.”  Calista smiled as if being even with Melanie was important.

Margueritte took it all in, but she had no room for it.  She broke down and covered her mother with her body and her tears.  When Elsbeth saw, she wailed and joined her, and Jennifer joined them as well, and shed big, human tears.

M4 Margueritte: Trouble All Around, part 2 of 3

Margueritte said to her little ones, “Thank you, and please make sure they actually cross the river and leave.”

“How many minutes?” Oswald asked.

“I don’t know.  I don’t have a stopwatch.  Just as long as they leave.  And thank you again.”  She clapped her hands and the little ones vanished.  Her armor and weapons also went away, and she became clothed again in her many layers.  They were not as warm as the fairy weave, and her gloves were not as good, but they looked normal.  She had to breathe on her hands against the frost.

“So that was the next attempt?” Relii had come out of the barn with the others to watch.

“Yes, but he changed his mind before anything happened,” Margueritte said.  “I think our sorcerer was afraid for his life.  He got told by a greater power to stop picking on me.”

“Abd al-Makti,” Relii guessed.  “I thought it might be him.”

“Clever girl,” Margueritte said.  “But I cannot figure why, or who he is working for.”  She turned to Geoffry.  He spoke right up.

“Sigisurd told me, but I didn’t believe her,” he said.

Margueritte nodded.  “And keep it that way.  Don’t make more out of it than it is, and don’t be afraid to question even what you see.”  Margueritte breathed on her hands again.  “Relii and Sigisurd, please help our wounded men.”  She pointed.  “And check on the others to see if they are really dead.  Watch out for the Saxons who may just be too badly wounded to escape.  Geoffry and I need to go inside and check on the others.”

“Lady,” Sigisurd said, and curtsied the way she had seen Tulip curtsey.

Geoffry asked a question as they walked up to the door.  “So, are you a witch or a sorceress?”

Margueritte hit him, not too hard.  “I keep telling everyone, I am not a witch,” but when they went inside, she found the guard that Gunther the chief left and forgot about.  He had the children cowering in the corner, seated with their backs to him.  Ingrid, Aduan and Rosamund were in chairs, and Horegard lay on the floor where he bled from a stomach wound.  She had to do something.  “Gunther has abandoned you.  If you hurry you can catch him.”  Margueritte put out her arm to hold back Geoffry while the man looked at her.  He decided.  He looked like he might kill the hostages before he went in case she was not telling the truth.

Margueritte’s hands went up and a blue electrical charge escaped her fingertips and struck the man.  He jerked violently and just missed striking Rosamund’s face before he could no longer hold on to his sword.  The sword clattered to the ground as the man dropped to his knees.

Margueritte called to Oswald and Oswald’s friend, Ridgemont, and they appeared.  “Please take this one to Gunther.  No message.  I just don’t want this one to miss the boat and have to swim home.”

“Very good,” Oswald said, and they hustled him out the back door and then ran faster with the man than humanly possible, but no one other than Margueritte saw, and maybe a few of the children.  Geoffry got busy helping his sisters get their father up on the couch.  The man started getting delirious and had lost a fair amount of blood.

“Let me see,” Margueritte said, “And no screaming.  I am going to go away, and another person is going to stand in my shoes, but she is a physician, and she will do what she can to help.”  Margueritte pointed at Aduan.  “No screaming,” and she immediately went away so Doctor Mishka could examine the wound.  Aduan let out a small shriek, but she was the only one out of them all, including the children.  “Now let me see.”

Mishka had her bag with her, or she supposed in the current day and age it should still be Greta’s bag, but Mishka came because Greta was not a surgeon.  Doctor Mishka practiced all too much battlefield surgery in the first and second world wars.  She began by spreading an anesthetic cream to deaden the area before she looked.  “The wound looks clean,” she said, and got out some thread and a very fine needle and a hemostat.  After Ingrid and Rosamund got hold of Horegard’s hands, it took twenty-one stitches, and then iodine, which stung, and an anti-bacterial spray, and the cleanest cloth Aduan could find.

“I know it is asking a lot, but you must try to keep him off his feet for a few days.  Does he toss and turn in the night?”

Rosamund took a minute to realize Mishka was talking to her.  With Horegard tended to, she got a good look at the Doctor for the first time.  “Uh, some.  Not much.”

“Well, be careful with that, and keep him off his feet.  I will give Margueritte something when I leave that will help him rest and sleep, but only if he needs it.  Now some other men are wounded.”  Doctor Mishka stood and walked toward the front door, but she went away, and Margueritte came back before she got to the door, because Margueritte thought to say something.  “Oh, and it would be best if you did not talk about Mishka.  That is something that is best not to be public knowledge, if you don’t mind.  I am trusting you because you are family.”  She went out.

###

It turned out Grandma Rosamund blocked Mishka completely out of her mind and credited Margueritte with saving Horegard’s life.  Horegard, who was kind of out of it at the time, believed her.  Aduan knew better, but she, Geoffry, Sigisurd and Relii all discussed it and decided that Margueritte had been wise to tell everyone to keep it a secret.  Ingrid also knew, of course, but it seemed the blue lightning Margueritte produced from her fingertips much more than the appearance of Doctor Mishka that bothered her.  She felt sure that Margueritte was a witch, but then Margueritte saved her life, and her father’s life, and apparently, everyone else’s life as well, so she said nothing.  She and Margueritte were never that close to begin with, and Ingrid was not surprised her stupid brother would marry a witch, so nothing really changed between them.  What the children saw and understood remained to be seen in the years to come.  So, nothing much changed, except Geoffry and Sigisurd started spending time together.  If it was another day and age, Margueritte would have said they were dating.

###  

Count Adelard, Herlindis, Boniface and fifteen men at arms showed up about mid-March.  They did some rearranging, as the Count and Herlindis moved into the room with Relii.  Boniface got the eighth room by himself, and Sigisurd made peace with old lady Oda in the servant’s quarters.  Margueritte said Sigisurd could stay with her and the children, but Sigisurd pointed out that Roland would be due in about two weeks, and they should have their own room.

Poor Rosamund fretted about where she could put Charles, the mayor.  It felt like a visit from Royalty.  Boniface offered to share his room, but Rosamund liked to fret about it, and Horegard said it would not do to have the mayor and a bishop in the same room.  It started to look like Geoffry might have to sleep on the couch, and Margueritte could not help the comments.

“Separation of Church and State, huh?  Too bad you don’t have a convertible sofa.”

Boniface became anxious to begin his work in Saxony, but Margueritte delayed him.  She talked about church lands, and in the end convinced him to wait for Charles by practically promising Charles would be land generous to the church.  When Charles finally arrived, and his twelve thousand men tried to camp without destroying every nearby field, he got very mad at her.  He readily roomed with the bishop, but he would not talk to Margueritte for three days.  Margueritte would have been very upset by that if she and Roland were not so busy catching up on things.

Roland explained to Charles what Margueritte told him; that if Boniface went into Saxony just before Charles started his campaign, it would be like suicide for the bishop.  Charles understood that.  In fact, he argued that before gallivanting off into new territory, Boniface should first set about organizing the disorganized and overlapping Frankish church.  He tried to convince Boniface to go first to Paris, where Charles promised to meet him soon and talk about land donations to the church.  Boniface felt reluctant, until Margueritte reminded him that the Franks were his distant cousins as well, perhaps not as close as his Saxon brothers and sisters, but cousins all the same.

In the end, the matter got settled when Margueritte’s brother, Tomberlain rode up to the farm with twenty men from the Breton border, which Sigisurd imagined was on the other side of the world.  The message was not good.  Father had gotten sick; like he went dead on the whole right side of his body, and Elsbeth, Mother, and Jennifer were all worried sick.  They don’t know what to do, and Mother can’t raise Doctor Pincher or anyone.”

“Who is holding the Fort?” Margueritte asked.

Tomberlain looked put on the spot, though Margueritte did not mean that.  “Sir Peppin is there, and Owien is in your old room, plus the north end of the mark is covered now, thanks to Charles, and Michael is doing well in the south, and the Breton are not going anywhere after all the mess they made with the Curdwallah hag.  Everyone is safe if that is what you mean.”

“No, I’m sorry.  It isn’t your job, and you have held the fort long enough.  You deserve a chance to be here with Charles and Roland.  It is my turn to hold things together back home, but from the sounds of it, I doubt there is much we can do for Father, except make him comfortable.”

“Not even—”  

“No, not even with extraordinary help.”  Margueritte said, not wanting to get into it in detail.

“So, I rode a month through the snow for nothing,” Tomberlain said.

“Not for nothing,” Roland said to cheer him.  “I am sure Charles has just the right place for you in the army.  We are headed into Saxony.”

“Charles plans to be the hammer and the Wesser River will be the anvil, and we shall see how well he can flatten the steel in between and put a sharp edge to it,” Margueritte suggested.

“That is very good,” Roland praised her.

“Can I quote you?” Boniface and Charles walked up.

Geoffry came up holding Sigisurd’s hand and she looked shy and embarrassed.

“Let me do the introductions,” Margueritte said, and she took Tomberlain’s hand and took him to everyone and remembered everyone’s names, though Tomberlain would never remember that much.  He was terrible with names.

M4 Margueritte: Trouble All Around, part 1 of 3

Come the first of January, Margueritte went to Captain Ragobert with the intention of sending his troop home for the winter, since the men all lived in the general area.  The men camped by the barn and had sufficient supplies of their own so as not to burden the family.  Ragobert said his men would gladly volunteer to help around the farm, but they were charged by the Mayor Charles himself with protecting her, and they were not going to be found negligent in their duty.

Margueritte would not hear his objections, but she eventually compromised.  Half of Ragobert’s men would go home for thirty days.  The other half would take the second thirty days, so they would all get a good visit home and be back to full strength by the second week in March, well before Charles was expected.

Grandma Rosamund went wild when she heard Roland and Charles were coming.  Spring cleaning started in January, and everyone was expected to help.  Margueritte noted that Ingrid did a lot of work around the house, and Aduan acted a lot like Margueritte’s younger sister, Elsbeth.  She did not do much, messed up much of what she did, and please don’t let her cook anything, because it would likely be inedible, she would make a big mess, and then not clean up after herself.

One morning in early January, Ingrid went out to the barn to gather eggs.  Margueritte grabbed a basket and followed.

“What are we doing?” Margueritte asked.

Ingrid huffed.  “Someone has to keep this family fed.”

“Eggs,” Margueritte said.  “You know; I grew up on a farm much like this one.  I have a sister who does not do much, so I had to do many things by myself.  I remember once they kept Elsbeth by the oven for a whole week and tried to teach her to make a pie worth eating.”

Silence followed, for a minute, until they reached the chicken coop and Ingrid asked, “What happened?”

“They failed.  Please don’t let her near the oven.”  Margueritte smiled and went to work before she added a note.  “Or near the dishes, or near the laundry, or near the broom.”  Her voice trailed off and Ingrid looked back at the house and laughed.

Margueritte helped and worked around the farm, and she and Ingrid got along just fine from that morning.  Aduan was the type to get along with everyone, and even Geoffry lightened up when Sigisurd came around, Margueritte noticed.  In fact, Margueritte never felt so welcomed in her life.  In part, it might have simply been the joy of being around a farm again—the smell of the barn, the animals, the grain in the bins.  She felt at home, and they all treated her like family.  It felt wonderful, to the point where it made her homesick.

Margueritte loved Rosamund, a large and hugging sort of a woman, and she loved grumpy old Horegard in his way, but she missed her mother, Brianna and her father, Sir Bartholomew, and she worried because she knew father was not well.  Greta called it hardening of the arteries.  Doctor Mishka said he started showing signs of arterial blockages and she would have to watch for a possible stroke or heart attack.  Her older brother, Tomberlain went home, despite his protests about wanting to fight with the army.  He was needed to maintain the farm and the Frankish presence on the Breton border.  Owien was there as well, Father’s squire, though more probably Tomberlain’s squire at this point.

Deep into February Margueritte paused her thoughts to figure the year.  She decided it was 719, and she started getting ready to turn twenty-two, still young.  Owien turned nineteen.  He was easy to figure.  Tomberlain was Aduan’s age and would turn twenty-five in the summer. That meant Elsbeth had to be eighteen.  Margueritte wondered how that could be possible.  The last time she saw Elsbeth, her sister had a runny nose, still looked like a child in her fourteen years, and stayed busy spending all of her time and energy ignoring Owien.   Margueritte smiled at that thought.  She wondered if Elsbeth was still ignoring Owien now that he was nineteen and she was eighteen.  They might be married and Margueritte would have no way of knowing.  She wondered if Tomberlain ever found a good woman.  She paused.  She wondered what those men were doing, fighting down by the blacksmith shed and around the cooking fires.

“Relii,” she called.  Relii had gone to the barn with her, Sigisurd, and Geoffry, though Margueritte was the only one sifting through the potatoes while the others sat around and tried to keep warm.  “Keep everyone here,” she said.  “And if the big ugly men come, do what they say.”

“What is it?” Sigisurd asked.

“Saxon raiders,” Margueritte answered, before she slapped Geoffry and stole his knife so he could not get himself killed.

Margueritte pulled her cape around her shoulders and stepped out of the barn and into the snow.  She tossed Geoffry’ knife into a snowbank and yelled.  “Where is the chief of the Saxons.”  She shouted a second time using the Saxon words Festuscato and Gerraint gave her, though they were two or three hundred years out-of-date.  “Saxons, where is your chief?  I must speak with him now before he does something stupid.”

One of the Saxons sheathed his sword and stepped away from where two of Ragobert’s men lay dead and two were wounded and, on their knees, surrendered.  Two Saxons also looked dead; but the other six of Ragobert’s men were somewhere out in the fields with the men and the mules, despite the snow.  The Saxon stepped up to Margueritte, no weapon in his hand as if the woman posed no threat.  He looked her over, and even though she stood wrapped up in plenty of clothing, like wearing a tent, he grinned a half-toothless grin of approval.  He looked ready to do something stupid when Margueritte raised her hand and shouted, “Defender.”  The long knife appeared in her hand and went to the man’s throat before he could react.

“I am not asking,” Margueritte said.  “Are you the chief?”

“I am Chief,” a voice came from a big man on the porch outside the front door of the manor house.  He appeared, chewing on a leg of lamb leftover from last night’s supper.  “I am Gunther, and I have thirty men here, little witch.  What can you do against thirty men?”

Margueritte stepped a few feet away to be out of arm’s reach.  “I am not a witch, and you don’t really want to know.”  She held up her hand and Defender disappeared.  “But here, I just realized I am not properly dressed.”  She called for her armor and it replaced all of her layers in an instant.  With the fairy weave under her leather, she felt the cold in her knees and elbows, but that was it.  The weapons came as well, with Defender attached to the small of her back and the sword called Salvation slanted across her back.  “Now listen carefully, Saxon Chief Gunther.  You have thirty minutes to pack up your thirty men and get back across the river, and if you harm anyone here, there will be no place in the whole world you can hide.”

Gunther did not look impressed, despite the quality of what he thought were magic tricks.  Clearly, he had something else on his mind, and he spoke it.  “I had thought you were the one to be wife for my son, but you are not her.  I do not know why I thought to find a wife for my son among the Franks.”

“I know why, but the sorcerer’s life would have been in danger if he followed through.  You now have twenty-nine minutes.”

“You are still little, and yet you make jokes.”

“Maywood.”  Margueritte called, and the fairy came and circled once around the Saxon’s head before he became full sized, a fairy dressed for war.  He fell to his knee before Margueritte.

“Lady, I have men here who have been watching you, and my troop gathered as soon as we saw that the Saxons intended to cross the river.  My troop is now here.   What is more, Prince Oswald of the Elves of the deep wood has a troop that followed the Saxons when he wisely figured out their intended target.”

“Twenty-eight minutes,” Margueritte said.  “Oswald,” she called, and the Elf appeared, and like the Fairy King, he went to one knee before Margueritte, and spoke.

“Lady, it would be my pleasure to rid this world of all these Saxon men.”

“Not yet,” Margueritte said.  “Being a woman, I know how hard it can be on a woman to lose her man, and how she will weep.  On the other hand, twenty-seven minutes.”  Margueritte did not wait for the man to reply, this time.  “You better tell your people not to harm any more of my family and friends here.  Defender.”  She held out her hand and let the chief watch the long knife vacate its place and fly to her hand in case he missed it the first time.  She stepped up to the man without too many teeth who still stood there with his mouth open.  “Don’t kill him yet.”  she shouted to the wind and used the knife as a pointer.  “Here, in the leg.  One arrow to make the point, please.”  There were three arrows and they all struck more or less in the same place.  the man cried out and fell to the snow, and the other Saxons that had gathered around looked briefly toward their chief before they started toward the river.

“Twenty-six minutes,” Margueritte said nice and loud before she spoke in a more normal voice to the two little ones who were still on their knees.  “You really must teach your men to count.”  She looked up at the chief.  His mouth stood wide open now, but he wasn’t saying anything, so Margueritte turned.  “You two.”  She got the attention of two of the Saxons.  “You better help this one.”  She pointed to the man in the snow, holding his leg and crying.  The two men picked him up by the arms and carted him off, while Margueritte turned one last time to the chief.  “Twenty-five minutes,” she said, sweetly, and Gunther, the Saxon chief left without a word.

M4 Gerraint: Old Men, part 1 of 4

Gerraint:  The Last Days of Arthur

After 479 A. D., Britannia

Gerraint watched Belle tug open the heavy drapes that covered the window.  They were almost too heavy for her, but Coppertone helped, and between them both, the girls managed.  The sun would be up soon.  Normally elves and pixies did not get along well, but these two at least made some sort of peace between them.  Gerraint felt glad for that.  The older he got, the more he appreciated peace.

“Your thoughts?”  Enid turned to him and snuggled for a minute into his shoulder.  He looked at her and loved her as much as he did the first time he saw her.  He kissed the top of her head before he answered.

“I was thinking what it would be like to grow up a young girl.”

“Not much different than a young boy.”  Enid smiled up at him.  “Why?”

“A stray memory,” Gerraint said.  “A life I won’t live for two hundred years.  And my best friends will be my older brother and my little sister, even though my little sister will be much prettier than I will be.”

“Every girl thinks that of her sister,” Enid said.  “Otherwise, they would have no reason to fight.”

Gerraint raised his brows.  “Fighting is something I try to avoid these days.”

“I bet you will be plenty cute,” Enid said.  “I am just sorry I won’t be around to see.”

“You, my dear, will be in such heavenly bliss I doubt you will even remember.  I am the one who will have to continue to toil in this hard and cruel country,” he said.

“So you say,” she answered.  “But I am still sorry.”  She pulled herself up for a proper kiss and Gerraint paused before he swung his legs to the side of the bed and sat up.  A slight moan escaped his lips.  He rubbed his shoulder where he once took a wicked wound.

“And to think, I have to get old like this over and over again,” he said, before he stood.  His knees creaked a little, but he knew they would unstiffen soon enough.  He threw on his doublet, tightened his belt and stepped barefoot to the door.  “Get big,” he said.  The Pixie, Coppertone did so with a nod.  The elf maiden, Belle looked for all the world like a beautiful young woman, early to mid-twenties, though she was three hundred years old.  The Pixie became only four feet tall, not inhumanly short, and looked more like a mature middle-aged woman, though she was also three hundred years old.  Her green and copper skin color faded when she got big.  “Help your mistress dress,” Gerraint said, and pointed to Enid who already started pulling back her long silver hair.  How black it had once been!

“I’ll get her shoes.”  Coppertone cried and skipped happily to the closet to retrieve them.  She did not act much like a matron, but Gerraint supposed he could not really do anything about that.

Gerraint headed toward breakfast where he got waylaid by his daughter of age, Guimier. She was born the day after Gerraint turned forty-three, a month after the battle at Badon finally brought peace to the Saxon Shores.  Gerraint wondered briefly if Margueritte bothered her father when she fell in love with Roland.  He thought, Well, at least Guimier was not locked in a tower with her memory wiped, and no one tried to feed her to a dragon, or burn her at the stake for being a witch.

“Father,” she said.  “Caradoc is still not found and Cador is searching everywhere for him.”

“No.”  Gerraint said the word before he heard any more.  Guimier, sixteen, going on seventeen, looked beautiful, like her mother.  Gerraint, nearly sixty, found he had even less patience than when he was young and brash.  Besides, they already had this conversation several times.

“But I don’t understand,” she whined.  “It would be so easy for you to ask your little ones to look.”

“No, that is not their job,” Gerraint said.

“But if you ask them.”

“No,” he repeated.  He really wanted breakfast, not an argument.

“It’s not fair.”  Guimier stomped her feet and pouted.

“Look.”  Gerraint spoke more sweetly to his daughter whom he hardly had the will to resist.  “Caradoc’s father knows full well where his son is, and Caradoc will be found if and when he wants to be found.  He is his own man and will be twice as unhappy as you if I interfere with his own decisions about his own life.”

“But.”

“Guimier.”  Gerraint put his arm around his daughter and gently guided her toward the breakfast table.  “If he loves you, he will be found by you when he is ready, and not before.  Now, let this be the end of it.”

Guimier found a tear but said no more.  She quietly accepted the plate her father fixed for her and ate in silence. Gerraint felt glad this so-called great love of hers had not had an ill effect on her appetite.

After breakfast, Gerraint dressed and found his horse already properly saddled and his bags properly packed.  Gerraint checked everything anyway.  Arthur’s summons had said nothing of urgency, and Gerraint was not of the age to hurry in any case.

“Must you go?” sweet Enid asked, already knowing the answer.

“The Pendragon has called,” Gerraint said.  “Cornwall is secure.  Peter has it all in hand, and he has James and John and a good mother to keep him straight.  But this kingdom has known peace these last seventeen years because of Arthur.  He calls now.  I must go.  I will take my nephew, Bedivere”

“But what of Arthur’s nephew?”  She avoided calling the man Arthur’s bastard son.  “Men are clamoring for Medrawt to take over.”

“The north, mostly.  Some Welsh.”  Gerraint said.  “But I have a suspicion that old Arthur may have one more great deed in him before that day.  Who knows how it will turn?”

“Memory?” Enid asked, wondering if he might have had a glimpse of the future.

“No, my dear,” Gerraint said.  “You know tomorrow and the next hundred years are always a blur.  I do not know what will happen tomorrow.”

“Because tomorrow has not been written.”  Enid interrupted him with the words he had spoken so many times before.  He kissed her forehead before he reached out with his heart to Avalon, the island of the Kairos.  He called to his armor.  He became clothed instantly in his chain and leather, his long boots, fingerless gloves, and the cloak of Athena which covered over all.  He left his helmet on Avalon, but brought his sword to him, the sword he called Wyrd, the Sword of Fate.  It fit across his back, and Defender, his long knife, stayed across the small of his back where it could come quickly to hand.

“Surely you won’t need these.”  Enid touched the weapons.

“Not likely,” Gerraint responded, but he could hardly ride without them.  He would have felt naked.  “God keep you,” he said, and turned to her and kissed her properly.  She began to cry and spoke softly.

“I feel as if I will never see you again.”

“You will,” he assured her.  “No matter what happens, as long as there is breath in me.”

“Daddy.”  Guimier cried with her mother and hugged him, all quarrels forgotten.

Gerraint climbed quickly on his steed.  Many of the men wanted to go with him, but he would have none of it and only allowed young Bedivere to tag along.  Young!  Gerraint thought to himself with a chuckle.  Bedivere was married and in his thirties.  All the young ones were at or over thirty, including his own sons.  Soon enough, they would become the old men, and Arthur and Gerraint and Percival would be gone.

Kai had already gone.  But Gwalchemi had Caerlisle well in hand.  Sadly, he became the kind of man who would seek peace through compromise rather than through strength.  Looking at the horizon, maybe that was wise.  Gawain had Edinburgh and rumor had it that he married his daughter to a Scottish Prince.  What could be more compromise than that?

Bedwyr remained ancient and bed ridden.  He had moved his family some years ago to Swindon and left Oxford in capable hands, but it probably would not last after Arthur.  Already, there were Saxon families moving into the empty and deserted lands in the Midlands.  They did not come as an invading army, though it became an invasion in a sense.  But the men, mostly farmers, came with women and children, and how does one fight that?  As long as they settled down and became good neighbors, what was there to complain about?  Gerraint knew it would not be long before the Saxons finally overran the country.  Once Arthur had gone, only the old men could stop them.

Gerraint rode out of the main gate with his head up.

Perhaps the northerners were right, Gerraint thought.  Medrawt seemed a relatively young thirty-five or so.  He might make a difference if invested now.  But then he shook his head.  The Angles and Saxons would find only old men in the north standing between them and York.  Cornwall would stand, but for how long?  Medrawt might be able to hold on to Wales, but that seemed about it.  Things were even worse, now, than in the days when Ambrosius and Uther had to wrench the leadership from Vortigen’s hands.

There were great men in those days, like Budic of Amorica and his son Hoel, Evrawk and Nudd, Laodegan, Gwynyvar’s father, and Ynywl, Enid’s father.  And then Arthur had his peers.  A whole host of names and faces came to Gerraint’s mind, though most were now gone.  Then Gerraint’s sons followed in the generation that included Lancelot.  But who follows Lancelot?  Galahad was already gone.  Caradoc was missing.  Gerraint could only name a few, most of whom he only heard of from Guimier and her friends.  There had been seventeen years of peace, and the young men were not turned to war as they had once been, and those who were had gone with Lancelot to fight in Amorica against the Sons of Claudus and the Franks. Then again, perhaps Gerraint simply got old and out of touch with the younger generation.

M4 Festuscato: A Little Romance, part 3 of 3

Morgan still had her hand covering her mouth.  “This is you in another lifetime, isn’t it?”  Gerraint nodded.  He had already breached the subject.  “When did you live?”

“Oh, it’s worse than you know,” Gerraint said with a sly smile.  “I haven’t even been born yet.”

Morgan laughed and put her hand on his arm.  “I love it.”

“Move on,” Gerraint said, and Clover got the oxen moving again.  Mercedes crawled up into the wagon and kept shaking her head.  Ironwood stayed big and talked quietly with Macy.  And she talked with him, more conversation than Festuscato got from the girl.  He looked again at Morgan who kept staring at him like she was waiting for the next chapter in the saga.

“Festuscato is thirty-five.”

“Just right.  Well matured, and I assume I won’t have to teach him manners.”

“True, but I’ve lived some lives as women.”

“I expected as much.”

“But I am the only one.  No one else has other lives like that.”

“I have no other lives, but I like what I have seen of him so far.  I like red hair.  It is exciting.”

“You have no idea,” Gerraint said.  “My life is usually like a tornado, like a hurricane.  Sometimes I can stand in the eye of the storm, but those around me often get caught up in the madness and danger.  I have been ninety-five people before Festuscato, though I don’t remember them all, or close to it.  Right now, all I know are the Princess and Diogenes before Christ, Greta, Festuscato, myself and Margueritte in these several hundred years, Doctor Mishka and the Storyteller in the future, oh and Alice who is the creator and caretaker of Avalon in the second heavens.  Worse than that, I have been a god, four gods, four different times in the deep past, and when I have to reach out to one of them it is because something so horrible is happening, the whole word is in danger. Enid, my wife, keeps begging me to stay home, but I have to do my duty, and she is a real help and a real trooper.”  Gerraint paused and took a breath.  “Still interested?”

“More than ever.”

Gerraint glanced back to be sure the Visigoths were well out of sight before Festuscato returned.  He came back and immediately caught Morgan in his arms and kissed her, passionately.  He couldn’t speak for her, but he felt the fireworks go off in his head.  When they stopped, and turned, they saw they had some catching up to do.  They held hands as they ran, then let go when they walked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Yes what?”

“I’m just practicing for when you ask me to marry you.”  

“You realize, no one knows all this, and maybe I didn’t explain the worst part.  I never get to go to heaven.  I try not to dwell on that fact, but sometimes I get depressed about it and then I am not fun to be around.  I just keep getting to start all over again from scratch, as a baby.”

“And a very cute baby, I am sure.”  Morgan took Festuscato’s arm, and Festuscato knew that this was one woman he could not just slip into bed.  With Morgan, it would be all or nothing, but as he thought about it, he didn’t mind.  “So, tell me about the fairies,” she said.

###

Once they got to Arles, they had some negotiating to do with the merchant and his son.  The boy and Mercedes looked happy with the arrangement, but the dowry did not seem right.  Festuscato felt afraid the man might try to back out of the deal, but then the chief Roman military man in the province, the Dux of Provence found out Lord Agitus, alias the dragon was in town, and the whole city turned out to guide him to the palace, like it was the return of Constantine himself.

Morgan walked beside him and asked softly.  “Is it always like this?”  She was not used to being a public spectacle.

“No,” Festuscato said through his grin as he waved at the people like a conquering hero.  “Sometimes they just arrest me and throw me in prison.”

When they got back to the merchant, three days later, he seemed more than happy to accommodate them.  The bishop of Arles himself offered to perform the wedding, and the merchant’s wife kept fainting.  It became a lovely time, but in the end, Festuscato had to dig out the last of his gold coins from the secret pocket in his armor and pay for passage for four to Rome.  Clover and Heather decided to stay in Provence and promised to look in on Mercedes now and then.  They found May’s family and the fairy troop that roamed the fields and forests of the region and fit right in, as fairies do. Ironwood decided to go with Macy, and he stayed big as much as possible, and maybe more than he should, but sometimes he got small, sat on her shoulder and hid in her hair, which made her very happy.

###

Festuscato spent a lot of time on deck, fretting and bored.  Someone said the Huns had crossed the Alps into Italy and that did not sound good to him.  Morgan comforted him as well as she could, and they hugged and kissed plenty, but then Festuscato would just berate himself for stupidity.  Why did he ever imagine he should wait for Gaius to marry them.  His only consolation was by the end of the voyage, she seemed as frustrated as him. 

When they sailed in on the morning tide, they found everyone there, waiting for his arrival.  The elf Lord Atias stood with the four horsemen decked out in their dragon tunics.  Dibs and all ten of his men were present with Marcellus and a well-worn woman who had to be Marcellus’ wife.  She stood next to Emma, and Felix and the children were with them.  Gaius, it appeared, had been elevated to cardinal, the Abbot of Marmoutier, the name given to Saint Martins looked happy, and Pope Leo himself stood with them.  Festuscato kissed the Pope’s ring and the Pope hugged Morgan and whispered, “Thank you, thank you.”

At the pope’s insistence, they were married that day in Saint Peters Basilica, the one commissioned by Constantine, the Pope himself presiding, and all Leo could say to Morgan was “Thank you, thank you.”

Gaius explained to the bewildered woman.  “Festuscato’s indiscretions are legendary.  Three popes, Celestine, Xystus, and now Leo, could only look at me and shake their head,” he spoke brightly.  “We started to fear no woman would ever get him to marry and settle down, so congratulations.”

“He is all I want,” she confessed quietly.  “But I know he has work to do that the rest of us can hardly comprehend.”

“A little advice,” Gaius confided.  “Sometimes it is better not to ask.”

Festuscato bundled Morgan up on a carriage and they headed for his home. Morgan finally got to ask something when she caught her breath.  “Are you rich or something?”

“Very,” he said.  “Want to spend it all?”

She just grinned.

Everyone went elsewhere so the couple could reach the Agitus house on the Appian Way and have the night to themselves.  They all had plans to call within the next week, but for the present, they left the couple alone.  It turned March, the spring started blooming, and though the couple had only known each other for six months, both felt it more than enough time and they were beyond ready.  As they entered the house, they found men with knives waiting for them.  Huns, Festuscato thought.  Morgan looked to be in shock.

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

MONDAY

Romance is nice, but Attila is not finished with Rome. Monday, The Last Gasp.

*

Avalon 7.6 Food of the Gods, part 4 of 6

The travelers left as early in the morning as they could, which meant when Berry and her two boys were ready.  Hans proved a patient young man, expecting first thing in the morning to be a relative phrase, even with Lavinia, Boston, Sukki, Nanette, and Alexis all helping.  Nanette and Sukki eventually went out to help with the horses.  Too many moms just added to the confusion and provided too many distractions.

Hans hitched up his family wagon, and checked the harness on his ox three times, just to be sure.  He talked casually with Lincoln and Lockhart about life in Dacia.  He talked with Katie and Tony about the Roman Empire, while Tony imitated Hans by checking the hitch on Ghost three times.  Decker and Elder Stow did their best to sit on the front porch and watch the people in the street.  They made little commentary.  Decker mostly chewed on some local version of jerky.  Elder Stow mostly fiddled with his equipment.

Bragi came back from checking on the bird when the group finally got ready to pull out.  He stood with Karina and the girls on the front porch and waved.  Boston especially returned the wave and shouted good-bye but moved to the front before Lockhart or Katie yelled at her.

Once out of town, Boston and Sukki took their regular position out front, and pushed ahead now and then, even if they only planned to follow the road.  Decker and Elder Stow did not wander far out on the wings, being in what they considered friendly territory.  Two soldiers rode at the very front where Lincoln, Alexis, Tony, and Nanette grouped up at the head of the line.  They talked and laughed most of the way, though the soldiers probably did not understand most of what they talked about.

Hans and his family wagon came next, trailing two horses he and Lavinia could ride, if needed, while Berry moved the boys and the wagon off the road.  Berry, Lavinia, and the boys presently rode in the wagon with plenty of blankets and cushions against the rock bumps and potholes in the dirt road.  Hans had the Latin equivalent of Haw and Gee down pretty well, but he did not have to say much.  The ox seemed content to follow the contours of the road.  Hans did not have to use the goad stick very often either, as long as the ox kept moving and kept up.

Katie and Lockhart took a turn driving the traveler’s wagon. Ghost the mule did not mind the slow pace, being able to go only as fast as the ox in front; and the ox only went as fast as Hans walking.  The fairies Willow and Reed traveled with the couple, and those four were the only ones who talked about giant trouble and which lesser spirit might be responsible.  It felt like something kept their minds focused and on track.

Lockhart finally decided it had to be the wraith.

“But no god would endow such a wicked creature with such power,” Willow protested.

Lockhart shook his head.  “Ashtoreth, Moloch, Asherah, Baal, or any number of others might have done it before going over to the other side, as you say, in reference to the death of the gods.”

“Not all of the gods cared for us,” Katie slowly came to agree with the idea.  “In this jurisdiction, maybe Eris or Hecate.”

“Maybe Loki?” Reed suggested, but Katie shook her head and Lockhart spoke.

“No.  Loki did not seem to me to be stupid enough to empower a wraith.  He did not strike me as the vindictive type.”

“Baldur,” Katie whispered, but Willow spoke over top.

“He could be vindictive, but he always liked to stick around and see how his wicked schemes worked out.”

“True,” the others agreed, and Lockhart took a moment to look back.

They were being followed by six more soldiers, an honor guard for the brother of Mother Greta, wife of the former governor of the province.  They did not expect trouble from the locals, though the people did not seem happy with the current Roman governor, Marcus Italicus.  But sometimes, outsider Dacians or Scythians of one sort or another snuck over the border in small raiding parties to see what they might steal, and the way the travelers headed would skirt the gold and silver fields in the province, the place where the raiders mostly turned up.

Lunch, with plenty of fruits and vegetables to make Alexis, Sukki, and Elder Stow happy, seemed more like a three-hour picnic beside the road than the typically efficient, mostly game-shot lunch of the travelers.  For some reason, neither the travelers nor the soldiers seemed worried about giant beasts in the wilderness, which would have been very odd if any of them had the presence of mind to think about it.

After lunch, Lincoln and Alexis took a turn with the wagon, and Reed stayed with them to talk.  Willow rode in Katie’s horse’s mane.  She said, the idea of an elf turned human to marry a human made her uncomfortable.  Lockhart laughed.

###

Greta pushed her group.  They got past Aquae that first evening, and Greta found a bath to luxuriate in.  On the first day the travelers moved, Greta wanted to reach Apulum, home of the legion fort.  It would be another two days after that, over and around the hills, to reach Potassia.   She hoped without dragging a wagon, they might make it to Potassia in a day and a half.  She wanted to get there before or at least at the same time as the travelers.

They made it to Apulum that day, but after dark.  They tried to sneak into an inn, unnoticed.  Greta forgot.  It turned out to be the inn where she saved the life of a girl raped by Roman soldiers.  The girl had since grown and married.  The soldiers lost their heads.  But Greta forgot, and now there would be no hiding.  The whole town would probably turn out in the morning.

As for Darius, he hardly got in the door when he got noticed by several legionnaires.  He stayed up most of the night drinking and talking with most of the legion commanders who either privately complained about the new procurator, Marcus Italicus, or reminisced about how much better things were when Darius took temporary command of the legion and the governorship in the province.

Greta had to hold audience in the morning, as she suspected.  They only escaped for the road in the end after she said she rode on an errand of mercy and had to get going.  They escaped around noon, a whole half a day late, and Darius, who napped in the morning, was in no condition to ride hard and make up the lost time.

Greta spent most of that afternoon calling to the goddess Rhiannon in her heart, and sometimes with her mouth, but for some reason, Rhiannon did not answer her.

###

The travelers stopped for the night about half-way to Napoca and settled into a continuation of their picnic lunch.  They had good conversations and plenty of laughter.  Only Lockhart appeared to remain worried about the wraith and what giant predators might be lurking about in the wilderness.  Something nagged at him, and he could not help the way he felt.  The rest of the travelers seemed content to let the soldiers take the night watch, but Lockhart insisted on the regular watch for everyone.  No one honestly complained.  It had become their routine.  But only Elder Stow caught some sense of Lockhart’s concern.  He promised to set his screen device for quick deployment if that should prove necessary.

The following morning, the same morning that Greta left Aquae for the legion fort at Apulum, Boston and Sukki, sat on a log to watch the sunrise.  They talked knowingly about the way Decker and Nanette appeared to be hitting it off.

“You know,” Boston said.  “Since Nanette is our sister now, it is our duty to tease her, only not too much because she is a sensitive girl.”

Sukki felt a slight nudge in her spirit.  “Wait,” she said, and her eyes felt drawn to the grass.  “Wait,” she repeated, stood up, and kept rising until she floated twenty feet in the air.  Boston gasped.  Sukki pushed the power she had been given out of her hands.  She felt it and did it deliberately this time.  The result was a big smoldering spot in the tall grass, and Sukki floated back to the ground without actually realizing she flew.

Lavinia, who had gotten up to get breakfast started, and both soldiers came running over.  They found thirty feet of serpent in the grass, now missing its head.  It looked big enough to easily swallow a couple of people.

“A viper of some kind,” Lavinia decided.  “Very poisonous.”

“But they don’t get this big,” one soldier protested.

“I once saw a Black Sea Snake that size,” the other soldier whispered.

“Way to go Sukki,” Boston praised her sister, even as Sukki realized she flew and got excited.

Avalon 7.6 Food of the Gods, part 3 of 6

Greta, Mavis, Darius, and their small troop of soldiers left the city, but not at first light.  Greta had to settle things at home before she could go anywhere.  The sleeping children were easy enough to kiss, and Selamine, their nurse, would watch them well.  Father and Mother were another issue.

Father sat up, awake in his bed.  That was not unusual, as he woke and slept at odd hours.  Mother sat by the bed, nodding from exhaustion, until Greta came in.  Greta kissed her father and explained what she would be doing.

“Friends of mine.  Ancient friends appeared in the north and are coming down to meet me. But they are in trouble, and I have to go to them, or they may not survive the journey.”

“Appeared?” Mother interrupted.

“Like the gods.  They appeared out of nowhere,” Greta said.

“Trouble?”  Mother did not like the sound of that.

“I will be fine.  It is them I am worried about.  Lord knows they will not stay in Porolissum where they are safe.  I am sure they will try to bring me the terrible news as quickly as possible.”  She began to think out loud.  “Maybe I can reach Willow and convince Hans and Berry to go with them.  That should slow them down so I can get there.”

“But Greta, what about your father,” Mother protested, no doubt still thinking about the trouble.  “You need to stay and take care of him.”

Greta looked at her father, and he gave it his best half-smile.  He tried to talk, but the words slurred, and everyone strained to catch the gist of it.  “I once tried to stop you from going into the haunted forest.  I learned my lesson.  You do what you must, Mother Greta.”

Greta leaned over to give her father another kiss.  A tear formed in her eye.  “You just be here when I get back.”  She turned to leave, but Marcus, her five-year-old came racing into the room and jumped into her arms.  She said, “Ugh,” loudly, as she caught his embrace.  Selamine followed, carrying two-year-old Hildi, and Greta wondered what Marcus did this time.

Darius came in.  “The troop is ready,” he reported.  Mavis followed him and brought Greta’s well-worn red cloak.

Greta put Marcus down, and put her foot down in such a way, the boy thought it safest to go stand by his grandmother.  “Darius.  Mavis and I need our horses.  We will not be riding in the wagon.  Mavis, get the cook up and get something for the road.  Selamine, you have the children, and Marta can help watch the little ones.  Tell Gaius I expect him to help Johannes with the house and grounds, and he better be a good help, or I will hear about it.  Mother take care of Father.  There, did I forget anyone?”

People shook their heads.

Greta walked to the door, walked back to give her mother a kiss, tussled Marcus’ hair, and kissed Hildi’s cheek on the way out where she raised her voice.  “At this rate, we will be lucky to make it to Aquae by nightfall.”  More softly, she added, “Well, at least I can get a good bath there.”

###  

In the late afternoon, the travelers arrived at a big house in town.  The fairies, Willow and Reed stayed with Katie and Lockhart.  The young fairies, Icechip and Snowflake raced ahead to loudly announce their arrival.

Two women sat on the front porch, sewing and talking.  The older one, a beauty in her mid-thirties, introduced herself as Karina, Bragi’s wife.  It was her house, she said, greatly expanded since they had some trouble on the border some years earlier.  The younger one in her mid-twenties, almost too beautiful for words, was Berry, Han’s wife.  Lincoln had to explain that Hans and Bragi were Greta’s brothers.

“Welcome,” Karina said.  “I’m sorry the men are not here to greet you properly.  Nad-fia!  come here and greet our guests.  My daughters, Nadia and Sofia.”  The twins, five-year-old girls were sneaking off, but came back with sour expressions on their faces until they saw Willow.  They beamed for the fairy.  Apparently, Icechip and Snowflake were old news.

“Karina has girls.  I have boys,” Berry sighed and pointed to the two at her feet.  “Lucas is four.  Andri is two. And Lavinia is the best help in the world.  I don’t know what I would do without her.”  Lavinia, the young elf, blew at the hair that had broken loose from her bun and straggled down in her eyes.  She tried to smile but caring for two young boys was dirty business.

Boston removed her own glamour of humanity and stepped up to encourage the girl.  Lavinia recognized her, lowered her eyes, and said, “Princess.”  Boston did not appear to know how to respond.  Sukki grinned for her, and after a moment, Nanette joined in the grin.

“More like a Disney Princess,” Alexis said with a grin of her own, as she, Katie, and Willow followed Karina and Berry inside.  Boston stuck out her tongue, even if Sukki and Nanette did not understand the reference.  The men, Tony, Lincoln, and Lockhart had to take a turn with the horses, once Berry pointed out where to take them.

Caw!

Something very big, like a giant Raven flew overhead.  The men were taken by the size of the shadow. The women also looked and dropped their jaws at the size of the thing.  Lavinia grabbed the two-year-old and hugged him, while the four-year-old shouted the second century Latin version of “Cool.”

Decker and Elder Stow stood between the two groups, and Decker pointed to where he could barely make out the wraith, leading the bird.  She appeared so pale in the glaring light of the setting sun, she almost looked invisible.

“If she sky-writes Surrender Dorothy, I’ll kill her,” Decker said.

“We probably need to,” Elder Stow agreed, not understanding the reference.  “But I think the big bird needs to come first.”

Both men got their weapons.  Elder Stow kept his handy after the bear.  Decker never let his get out of reach.  Two men ran up in time to see Elder Stow fire and slice the sky with his weapon. The energy stream stopped moving when the bird head fell in the street.  The bird body fell on a house several blocks away.

Meanwhile, Decker laid down a pattern of fire.  He tried to lead the wraith, like a hunter might lead a bird in flight.  He did not imagine he hit the wraith, but he heard her shriek and race off into the light.  Decker would have to fire into the setting sun, so he lowered his rifle.

The younger man shouted, “Wow.  What kind of weapons are those?  Where did you get them?  Can I see them?”  Decker shook his head while the older one asked a question.

“Where did the bird fall?”  He eyed the bird head, not a hundred yards away.

“Probably on a building,” Elder Stow said.  “I hope nobody got hurt.”

“Great!” the older one threw his hands up.  “The magistrate will blame me, and I’ll have to clean it up.”

“Free food,” Decker said. “Unless you charge so much per pound.”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” the older one said, rubbing his beard in anticipation.

“Come on in,” The younger one said.  “I want you to meet the wives.”

Elder Stow and Decker followed without mentioning that they already met.  Boston followed after the boys got settled, and the other men followed after the horses had their turn.  Lockhart made an announcement when he ducked under the door lintel and came inside.

“We can’t stay here.  It is for your own protection,” he told Karina, Berry, Hans, and Bragi.  Willow, in her big size, clearly the most beautiful of them all, responded.

“Lady Greta suggested you might stay here until she can arrive, but I told her about the bird, and she said you should meet her in Potassia in three days.  She is riding up to meet you, and she says, be careful.”

“We will go with you,” Hans said, reaching for Berry’s hand.  “We wat to see Father.  He is sick and may be dying.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Alexis said.  “Maybe I can help.”

Hans shook his head.  “Greta calls it a stroke.”

“What about the children?” Katie asked.

“Lavinia will come to help with the boys,” Berry said.  “Karina and her children will be staying here for now.”

“Yes, that’s right,” Karina confirmed.

“Yes,” Bragi, the older brother agreed.  “I’ll have to stay and clean up the bird.”

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MONDAY

The travelers and their new friends head for the midpoint in Dacia, but are followed by the wraith, and Greta tries to get there in time. Next time. Happy Reading

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