M4 Margueritte: Strike Back, part 2 of 3

On the first day of the siege, when some soldiers set up two tents for Margueritte and her women, other men dug a great pit in the woods and constructed two wooden seats and a wooden covering with a curtain so the women could go in private.  Sigisurd knew what went on there, besides sitting and thinking, but no one else knew.  After her first conversation with Abd al-Makti, Margueritte knew she could not trust anyone, and even Sigisurd’s memory got deliberately blunted to be safe.

Abd al-Makti came to her tent after giving her a week to settle in for a long wait, as sieges often become.  “If the Lady is at liberty, I would ask a few questions about things of the Franks and such.  I am a stranger here, and I do not understood as I should.”

Margueritte would have corrected the man’s grammar, but presently she felt something like a fly speck against her mind, and she tried not to laugh.  When she became invested as the Kairos in ancient days, given the responsibility for the little spirits of the earth, air, fire and water, and counted among the gods as the god or goddess of history, the gods understood her mind contained too much information about the future; information that would be dangerous in the wrong hands.  Therefore, it was decided to establish unbreakable barriers around her mind.  Even the gods could not read her mind.  This Islamic sorcerer had no chance, but in trying, he gave himself away.  She would have to be careful whom she trusted and with what information as long as this man walked around the camp reading people’s minds.

“Can I help you?”  Margueritte finally spoke and watched the frustration cross Abd al-Makti’s face.

“Indeed.  I thought a lady such as yourself might offer a more pleasant conversation than these men of war.  It appears we will be here for a long time, and full of much boredom.  I hope things are settled before the diseases begin.”

“As I think.  Cholera, dysentery, and such are not to be hoped for.  I say, the things I have seen in long sieges would make you shudder.  I suppose it is a good thing you cannot read my mind.”  She could not resist the jab.

“Indeed.”

The conversation continued for a time, but Margueritte represented herself well as a paragon of Christian virtues, and otherwise just the ordinary Frankish woman that she was, well, half Frankish, half Breton.  And Abd al-Makti kept saying indeed until he had enough.  He would not get anything out of her by direct questioning.  If she was a witch, or worse, the power his Lord and Master insisted, he could not prove it.  For her part, Margueritte saw no other signs of the man’s power, though she did not doubt he was a powerful wizard.  She suspected there was more to it, something more behind this man of power, but she caught no indication of what or who that might be.  This man appeared to be a genuine Muslim missionary, well versed in the Koran and his faith.  She checked with her Storyteller who studied all that and could look things up.

“I must be off,” Abd al-Makti said at last.  “My servant Marco has much to be watched, but I may return, and we will speak again.”

“We may speak again, another time,” Margueritte said with a smile, and thought, then again, we may not, God willing.

“That was interesting,” Sigisurd said.

“Don’t be fooled,” Margueritte responded.  “Christ is the way of life.  The Prophet is the way of death to all who will not submit to their greedy ambition.  Besides, they treat women like cattle.”

“And how is that different from the way we are treated now?”

“Trust me, you have no idea.”

When they reached the toilet, Margueritte called out.  “Tulip.”  The fairy appeared and immediately sprinkled Sigisurd with dust.

After a moment, Tulip announced, “She’s clean,” and Margueritte checked to be sure Tulip was clean as well.

Margueritte called, “Maywood.  Larchmont.”  Both fairies appeared, and Maywood spoke first.

“Plectrude is still in isolation, but she has spoken with a local midwife.  The feeling I get is she has heard about your situation and is willing to send help if Ragenfrid will let the woman through the lines.”

“We shall see.  That is good news.  I know Doctor Mishka and Greta can only do so much, being me, if you know what I mean, and I am sure Ragenfrid does not have a midwife in the camp.”

“Mother Mary checked on that,” Sigisurd said, and shook her head.

“And how is my husband?” Margueritte asked Larchmont.

“Impatient.  Every time I tell him you are fine; he keeps saying he is missing it all.  He wants to go yesterday, but Charles keeps saying, not until they are ready.  I get the feeling if this siege goes on much longer, they will get ready.  Charles has twice as many men as before, and he is pushing them hard to prepare.”

“Good for him.  Please tell him I had a talk with the bishop today.  His name is Boniface, and they should meet one day.  Remind him if he will support the Church, the Church will surely support him.  Then tell him Abd-al-Makti the Sorcerer has plans and is gathering information on our strengths and weaknesses, which I have no doubt will be shared with the invading Islamic generals in Iberia.”

“I do remind him of this and will again.  Charles is worried about the south coast of Septimania, it being in Visigoth hands.  He says the Visigoths in Iberia have put up little struggle against the invading Muslims and he feels sure they will not stop at the Pyrenees.”

“And I agree,” Margueritte said.  “Thank you.”  She waved her hand, and Larchmont and Maywood went back to the place from which she called them.  Then she went behind the curtain and left Sigisurd with Tulip because she really did have to go.

“What is the news from the coasts?” Margueritte asked from behind the curtain.

“All is quiet, and lovely,” Tulip reported.  She was in love with a fairy named Waterborn and had been for going on three hundred years.  Tulip now neared seven hundred years old.  But everything was lovely when a fairy was in love, so Margueritte asked.

“Tell me about the Christians in Frisia.”  Tulip was certainly old enough and mature enough to not ask, “What about them?”

“The priests and churches are mostly gone,” Tulip said.  “But the people are mostly good neighbors, and families that have been friends for generations remain friends, and what one family believes does not make them bad neighbors.”  

Margueritte considered Abd al-Makti.  Muslims could also be good neighbors until they got the upper hand.  Islam spread, not as a religion of gentle persuasion, like Christianity for the most part.  Christians had their convert or die moments, but they were rare.  Convert or die became standard practice for Islam, from the beginning, and Margueritte decided if that made her prejudiced, then so be it.  Boniface was right about that.  She felt driven to save life, not take it.

“Thank you, Tulip,” she said, as she came out from behind the curtain.

“Can I stay this time and be friends with Sigisurd?” Tulip pleaded sweetly, and Sigisurd looked hopeful, but Margueritte shook her head.

“Not this time.  Not as long as the sorcerer-spy is around, but some day things will be better.”  Tulip vanished as Margueritte sent her back to her troop that lived and worked along what would one day be called the Dutch coast.  Sigisurd looked sad, but understood, and in short order she forgot all about the fairies.  It was safer that way.

###

Summer became autumn and the leaves began to change.  Ragenfrid saw that the local harvest got brought in and took the lion’s share for his army.  No siege is perfect, especially when the General wants to own the city, not destroy it. The trick is to let just enough food inside the city to keep the population near starvation, but not too little so the people are not forced to survive on rats.  Ragenfrid sat on the fence about that with Cologne.  He would destroy the city if he had to.  Chilperic had been declared king of the Neustrian Franks, not the Austrasian Franks, and Cologne was a very Austrasian city.  Both the king and Ragenfrid assumed if the people turned from Plectrude and her son, they might just as easily swear allegiance to Charles rather than to him.

The city had the normal supply of foodstuffs until the harvest, but after that, they were at the mercy of Ragenfrid, and instead of standing watch on the walls, the people began to protest in the streets.  Rat was a dish not to be taken lightly, no matter the sauce.

Plectrude came out of her isolation when things in the city began to turn.  She had to do something before hunger caused a revolt and the people handed the city and her life to Ragenfrid.  To be sure, surrender seemed her only option, but she was not above haggling.  When her husband Pepin died, she brought much of his treasure, the treasure of Austrasia, with her to Cologne.  She trusted in Chilperic, a man who once went under the name of Daniel, who got dragged out of a monastery and given a crown, and trust in his forgiving Christian nature, that Plectrude turned over the treasure and renounced the mayoralty of her son on condition Ragenfrid go away and leave Cologne, and her, alone.

Chilperic agreed, and after great arguments, Ragenfrid and Radbod agreed, especially after Radbod got paid off.

M4 Margueritte: Prisoners, part 1 of 3

Margueritte:  The New Way Has Come

After 697 AD: Francia

“Shut-up.  Shut-up,” Margueritte whispered with as much strength as she could and still keep quiet.  “If you two don’t shut-up we will be discovered.”

“He started it,” Grimly pointed.

“You made a crack about my mother,” Pipes came right back.

“Catspaw,” Margueritte whispered.  Catspaw put her hands over the mouths of the boys and she looked at them like two birds she would have for supper if they protested.  Margueritte ignored the three gnomes that should have been named Moe, Larry and Curly and peeked out from behind the big tapestry.  They found no one in the hall two hours before sunrise.  She knew it would get busy soon enough.

“Is this the right vent?” she asked.

Grimly said, “Mumphs mus mumph mum.”

“He says yes,” Catspaw whispered.

“Get it open.  Pipes, the rope.”

Grimly got out a fold of fairy weave cloth and covered the pegs which he then popped out without a sound.  Pipes tied one end of the rope securely to the fixture that held up the heavy tapestry and Catspaw let it down into the dark as soon as Grimly and Margueritte moved the vent enough to squeeze through.

“Now, Catspaw.  You know what to do,” Margueritte said, as Grimly shimmied down to where he could light a small light and check the room to be sure it was empty.  Margueritte followed carefully, hand under hand, until her feet touched down.  The room was small, but a crossroads of a sort.  They saw two open corridors, a staircase, and two big wooden doors.

“Which room?” Grimly asked.  He pointed to the big doors.  All he knew for certain was the prisoner was in this general location.

Margueritte pressed her dress down with her hands, wiped off some dust and dirt, and shrugged.  “The locked one,” she suggested, and reached for the door on her left.  It popped open and three soldiers jumped.  “Oops,” Margueritte said quietly, before she thought fast.  “Why isn’t one of you out in the hall?” she yelled.  “This prisoner is to be guarded at all times.  I hope for your sakes you weren’t sleeping on the job.”

Two of the soldiers straightened up and made military type excuse noises, but the third wasn’t so easily taken.  “Who the hell are you?” he asked.

“Countess DeWinter, here from Cologne to question the prisoner, on the authority of the church and my good friend, your mayor’s mother.  It is only an hour before sunrise, and I can’t sleep so I see no reason why the prisoner should sleep.”

“You have papers?”

Margueritte stepped up and slapped the man.  “Your lord got my papers when I arrived last night.  Can you even read?  Now, come along and open-up.  I need to make the man miserable.”

One man got some keys from a hook on the wall, picked up and lit a torch out of a brazier, and nodded toward one of the others.  One of the men mumbled that she was obviously talented at making people miserable.  Margueritte knew the third man would go upstairs to check on her authorization, and she could only hope it took time to wake the old lord of the fortress.  Even so, she would have to be quick.

After the man lit the two torches in the small central room, he unlocked and opened the other door.  He stepped in first with the torch still in his hand while his fellow soldier stayed outside in case there was trouble.

“Charles,” Margueritte yelled.  “I come with greetings from the outside world.”

The short but broad-shouldered man, under thirty, though with the bearing of one much older, sat on a rough-hewn slat bed that only had straw for a mattress and no covers.  The way he had been chained around his wrists and ankles suggested he had a hard time lying down, so the uncomfortable bed hardly mattered.  He looked up at his name, but his eyes seemed to be having a hard time adjusting to the light.

“Come.  Let me look at you so I can see who it is that is speaking.”

“Now Charles, are your ears bound as well so you do not know my voice?”

Charles shook his head.  “Who would have thought you would be here for me rather than the other way around? Last I saw you, what? you turned sixteen, still a child and tied up to be burned at the stake?”

“Seventeen and just married, and now I am eighteen and in some circles that makes me a full-grown woman.”  She turned to the guard and smiled.  “What do you think?”

He returned the smile as he looked her once over.  “That was never a question.”

“Charles, I brought some friends who want to hear what tales you have to tell.”

“Not the big fellow, I hope.”

Margueritte knew the big fellow was Hammerhead the ogre that Charles met once and said that was enough.  “No, but I can call him if you like.”

“All clear,” Grimly spoke from the hall.  The guard inside the room turned, but Margueritte raised her hands.  An electrical charge flowed out of her fingers and struck the guard.  He jiggled and jiggled before he dropped the torch and collapsed to the floor.  Margueritte called to Grimly and bent down to move the torch before it set the straw on fire, and then searched through the pile of keys.

“Never mind,” Grimly said.  He applied a little gnome magic and popped the wrist and ankle chains open.

“I hope you’re not too stiff.”  Margueritte helped Charles stand.  “We have some climbing to do, up and down.”  They went into the hall and stepped over the unconscious guard that Grimly took care of.  Grimly called to Catspaw to let the rope back down.  When the rope hit the floor, he shimmied up and gave the all clear.

“Ladies first,” Charles said, always the gentleman.

“No way,” she nudged him.  “If I get caught, I have friends who can help, but this may be the only chance to get you out.  Climb, mister.”  He did, but it looked painful and slow.  By the time Margueritte grabbed the rope, she heard noises down the hall.  While she climbed, she called her armor out of Avalon in the Second Heavens.  It replaced her dress in an instant.  The chain mail, made by the god Hephaestus in the ancient days, would repel about any weapon, and the knee boots with the hard soles would protect her feet at a dead run equally through gravel and briars.  The fingerless gloves helped her grip the rope better, and her cloak, woven by Athena and turned black side out, would make her all but invisible in the night and in the shadows.  Sadly, at present she felt all too visible.

Margueritte got half-way out of the vent when a man reached the rope beneath her feet.  That man yelled and yanked on the rope to shake her loose, but Charles grabbed Margueritte’s hand and pulled her the rest of the way out.  Margueritte breathed her thank you before she said flatly, “Now we run.”  True, her hard-soled boots made a clop-clop sound in the hall, but that hardly mattered with all the yelling.

At the end of the hall, Catspaw urged them on.  Pipes stood at the top of the stairs and indicated the all clear.  They stopped short of the very top when they reached a watch room with slit windows for bowmen.  Grimly opened the door and he yelled, “Keep your heads down.”  They burst through the door and ran down the wall of the fortress.

“How about a little fire, Scarecrow,” Margueritte quipped.

A big rope had been tied fast to the top of the wall, and again Margueritte insisted Charles go first.  “Lord Birch, stay with him.  He may need the Peter Pan treatment if his hands give way.”

“Right,” Birch, the old fairy lord responded even as Lord Yellow Leaf let out a Cherokee war cry and let loose another arrow.  Margueritte saw several dead guardsmen littered about, barely discernible in the torch light.  It was hard to tell how many, but there were plenty more soldiers where the first ones came from, and they would all arrive soon enough.  Margueritte felt an arrow strike her back.  It bounced off the armor, did not even penetrate the cloak of Athena, but it proved time was short.  Margueritte did not wait for Charles to reach the bottom.  She scrambled over the top of the wall and grabbed the rope while Grimly, Catspaw and Pipes jumped over the side and floated down.  The gnomes could not exactly fly, but they could float pretty well.  Last of all, the fairy lords Larchmont and Yellow Leaf got small, their normal fairy size, and exited the wall.  They had horses down below, and Charles did not have to ask what they were for.

A hundred yards out from the fortress, and they ran into Roland with a party of thirty men.  Roland yelled as loud as he could, much louder than all the yelling so far, and Margueritte wilted a bit, but they did not stop.  They had a hard ride ahead of them.

M4 Festuscato: A Little Romance, part 1 of 3

Heather found an unbranded dapple gray seven-year-old that seemed gentle enough.  They had gotten a couple of gnomes to do the actual looking, and the gnomes had the horse saddled and ready to go.  They also had a glamour covering the horse so instead of being dapple gray, it looked like a natural brown.

Margueritte looked around at her little ones and said, “Thank you all so very much.  It was lovely meeting you all, and I do hope to see you again some time.  Say a special thank you to Fangs.”  She looked at Heather.  “I don’t like rats and bats either.  Good-bye,” she said and went away, so Gerraint could take his turn.

“All right then, Ironwood.”  Gerraint appeared a commanding contrast to Margueritte.  To an outsider, it would have been hard to imagine they were actually the same person, or maybe different persons but the same being.  “Let’s make this fairy weave imitate a Visigoth soldier’s uniform.  I feel silly in a dress.”  It took several minutes.  Gerraint called to Excalibur as his most Gothic looking sword and set it at his left side, Visigoth style.  He set Defender to his right side and stepped back to ask how he looked.  Naturally, everyone said he looked great, but he frowned.  “Well, let’s just hope it fools the men at the various gates.”

“Actually, you don’t look very much like a Goth, with your dark brown hair,” Clover said, in a sudden fit of honesty.  “You might pass for a half breed, but you have a Celtic look about you.”

“So maybe I have to swear and spit a lot,” Gerraint said, as he slipped on his helmet, mounted his horse, and rode off.  “These baby blue eyes ought to count for something.”

None of the guards gave him any trouble, even though he stumbled on a couple of words and once had to revert to Latin.  Gerraint, a big man at six feet, had finally perfected his mean stare, so no one argued.  Once he left Tolouse, he turned in an unexpected direction, towards Provence instead of Narbonne.  The gnomes had thought to fill his satchels with some quality food, so there were no worries there.  The fairies still followed but kept their distance when there were people around.  They came in close when the road finally brought Gerraint into the shelter of some trees.

Gerraint changed to Greta and let his fairy weave change back to Margueritte’s washer woman dress.  Greta immediately stomped her foot.  “What is she, a size two?”

“She is a couple of inches taller than your five foot, four inches, but she is a size four, petite.  Short waist, with nice, long legs,” someone said in Greta’s mind.  She assumed it was the Storyteller, and she responded to him out loud in her grumpy voice.

“So, I have stumpy legs and have to make everything bigger, especially around the middle.  I must be a size twelve,” she said, and added, “at least,” before someone else said it.  Greta considered the clothing then and opted for her old riding clothes which were still being kept somewhere in Avalon.  She called her red cloak with the hood to have against the fall chill in the night.  She mounted her supposed brown horse and headed toward Arles.

Around noon, a large troop of Visigoths caught up with her.  They were looking for a man with red hair, possibly riding on a dapple-gray horse.

“I have seen no such man,” Greta said, in all honesty, since she did not have a mirror.

“It is not safe here for a young maiden alone on the road,” the captain said.

“I will be careful,” Greta promised.  “I am not going far.”

The captain smiled for her and took his troop off at a gallop.  Heather stuck her head out from Greta’s hair where she had been standing on Greta’s shoulder, whispering in Greta’s ear.

“That was close,” Heather said.

“Clover, you need to watch behind.  Ironwood, you need to watch ahead.  If that captain comes back this way, I need warning, so I have time to get off the road and hide.”  That said, Greta and Heather settled into a long day’s ride, with Heather talking most of the way.

At sunset, Greta pulled well off the road, but did not light a fire.  She ate a little before she curled up in her cloak.  She slept well.  It had been a long day.  It just turned to sunrise, however, when she got rudely awakened.  Someone screamed, and the first thing Greta thought was she was back in Dacia, traveling with her friends, and she jumped up.  The scream came again.  The second thing Greta thought was, Margueritte, that’s how you do it if you want a good scream.  There came a third scream as Greta woke enough to go away so Festuscato could return.  He arrived dressed in his armor with the sword Wyrd in his hand.  He ran through the woods but stopped short of the action.

Three women crouched behind a fallen log.  He knew immediately that the one with the long black hair and the bow in her hands was a half-elf, and he also knew her father was a Macreedy.

“Man,” he said to himself. “Those Macreedys get around more than I do.”  Then he shut down those thoughts because he did not want to know how many little Festuscato’s he might have left in his wake.

The other two girls appeared human.  The one with the plain brown hair held tight to a long knife and looked prepared to do whatever might be necessary.  The blonde looked to be a basket case; obviously, the screamer.

Their camp had two tents and two bodies, one young man and one older man who still clutched a sword.  He just caught a glimpse of the men on the far side of the camp hidden among the trees when Ironwood flew up with a report.

“Five men, Huns.  One has an arrow in his leg.  One has an arrow in his chest, right side.”

“Oh, girls,” one of the Huns called.

“Not alive,” the one with the brown hair shouted over the log without sticking her head up.  “You might as well go away.”

“What do you want?” Festuscato interrupted the sparkling conversation and heard silence for a minute, while Festuscato called to Heather and Clover.  He spoke softly.  “You two need to fly over to Mirowen’s Macreedy cousin and tell her we are on her side.  Ironwood get big.  I need you with your bow.”

Ironwood appeared as a twenty-four-year-old, covered in a fine armor, and took up a position by the next tree.  “We mean no harm to you women, but what do you men want?”

There followed a long pause before a man answered. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

“Fair enough.  Now here is an offer.  You can leave right now while you still live, or you can die.”  Festuscato had sheathed his sword and pulled out his own bow.  He had an arrow ready and three more in his hand.  Diana, the goddess, had given a gift of her own spirit to his genetic reflection, whenever that might have been in the past, much like Bodanagus had been gifted and Margueritte reflected those gifts.  In Festuscato, the gift of the goddess presently pushed deep into his hands and eyes.  Given any sort of shot and he knew he would not miss.  “Time is up.  What’s your answer?”

“Who in Mitra’s name do you think you are?”

“I am the dragon who tied Megla up like a pig and threw him and his men off my island.  I am the dragon who just kicked Attila’s butt so hard he took all of his men and friends and ran away.  I am the dragon who is going to burn you to ashes if you don’t leave these women alone, right now.”

No one answered, but they heard the Huns getting up on horses and riding off at a gallop.  Festuscato called again to his fairies, and they came right away.  “Ironwood, I need you small again, to follow the Huns and tell me where they land.  I don’t want them to set up an ambush down the road.  Clover, you have to search the whole area to make sure they didn’t leave one behind.  Heather, is it safe to visit the women?”

“Oh, yes,” Heather said.  “But Mirowen Macreedy’s cousin is crying.”  Heather did not understand that the tears were happy tears.  Soon enough, the blonde started wailing, definitely unhappy tears.  Apparently, the old man had been her father, and the younger one, her father’s son by another marriage.  Mercedes was seventeen, the youngest of the three half-sisters, but her father had arranged a marriage with the son of a successful merchant in Arles, and now surely that would never happen.

M4 Festuscato: Visigoth Hospitality, part 3 of 3

After two weeks, it became clear Festuscato would be there for a long time.  He spoke with Thorismund once; more of an interview where Festuscato hardly got to say anything.  He figured Thorismund felt the need to justify his actions and did not want to hear anything contrary.

After a week, he figured his troop should be in Narbonne, contracting with a ship and safe.  The Visigoth kingdom did not claim Provence or Septimania, so they had no access to the Mediterranean and could not follow Gaius, Dibs and Felix.  With that worry off his mind, Festuscato came up with a daft plan, as the Brits would call it.

Fangs the goblin enjoyed his time chasing all the bats, rats and spiders when Festuscato slept.  Heather could hardy bring herself to look at him at first, and Clover did his best to hold and comfort her, which was all she really wanted.  Ironwood stood up to the goblin, but even he did not look too steady, and it made Fangs chuckle.  The goblin seemed really a nice person, who for once did not mind being called a goblin.  Unlike so many others, he did not insist on the term dark elf in mixed company.

“So, what do you think?” Margueritte said, as she adjusted the fairy weave apron to be a little longer and then turned slowly around.  Heather kept her eyes on Margueritte but smiled at her handiwork in shaping and coloring the dress to just the right sort of drab.

“You look the very image of a Gallo-Roman washer woman,” Fangs encouraged her.

“You are still too young and pretty,” Ironwood said as he flew once around her in the opposite direction.  He showed what he meant with his hands before he said, “And too shapely for the sorry old women who clean around the castle.”

“Maybe a small glamour,” Clover suggested.

“No, not now,” Margueritte responded.  “I’ll think about it.  Right now, I have to practice.”  She screamed, frowned, and tried again.  She tried several more times but stopped when they heard a loud bang on the door.

“What is going on in there?” Gormand shouted through the door.  He caught a glimpse of the goblin one time and never opened the window in the door again.  He slipped the food through the hinged board at the bottom of the door, but never looked.  Fangs enjoyed the slop, so Gormand always got the tray back with the food eaten, and that was all he needed to know.  Festuscato, of course, dined well on the goodies the fairies pinched from the kitchens.

Margueritte made no effort to disguise her voice.  “I’m practicing, what did you think?”

“Well, you better straighten up,” Gormand said, apparently not batting an eye at the evident female voice.  “I got word Euric, the younger son wants to see you.”

“Now?”  Margueritte asked.

“Here they come.” Gormand banged once more on the door and everyone had to move fast.  Clover and Ironwood had to get the bucket and scrub brushes to place strategically when they got the word.  Heather had to get the gnomes to check on the horses.  Fangs had to walk through the walls and think directions for the fairies, though they would wait until the return trip to set the trap.  Margueritte had to go away so Festuscato could come back in his comfortable clothes and be waiting.

The door opened.

Two soldiers came in to fetch him.  Two others stayed outside with Gormand, of course, who wanted nothing to do with what went on inside that cell, even if everything looked perfectly normal at the moment.

“Lead the way,” Festuscato said, kindly.  “I haven’t met Euric.  I am looking forward to it.”

The soldiers were prepared to bring him roughly, if necessary, but his eagerness to see Euric made their job easy.  They walked, two soldiers out front and two behind, with Gormand following in the rear.  They passed through any number of halls before reaching Euric’s quarters.  They passed several of the cleaning crew on the way as well, so everything seemed set.

Young Euric tried to be sly in his pleasant conversation.  He thought he was so smart.  Festuscato stayed frustratingly pleasant and offered no information at all until the end.  When he got dismissed, he looked at the younger son and stated, “Right now you don’t have the political or military skill to succeed.  You could learn a lot from Aetius.  You won’t learn it from me because I am going home to eat oranges.  Just one word of advice.  Don’t move until you are ready.”  Euric stood with his mouth open.  He tried to be so cunning, but Festuscato showed that he had been utterly transparent.  He had no answer when Festuscato left.

Festuscato caught sight of the bucket in the middle of the hall.  When they came alongside the bucket, he did a quick bob and weave, instantly traded places with Margueritte dressed in her washer woman garb and she screamed.  The bucket got tipped over, the soldiers shouted, and she flung herself into the arms of the two soldiers who were following and paying a modicum of attention.

“What a rude man!” she shouted.  Her eyes pointed in the direction opposite the way she would be going.

“Where did he go?” the men all shouted.  Gormand said nothing.  Perhaps he recognized the scream.

One of the soldiers grabbed Margueritte roughly and shook her.  “Where did he go?  Margueritte pointed in the direction she had been looking, and the soldier threw her roughly to the floor.  “Come on.”  The soldiers raced off down the hall.  Gormand put his hand out and helped Margueritte to her feet.

“Don’t mind them,” Gormand said, with a grin that appeared almost distasteful.  Truly she was too young and shapely, as Ironwood said, but she counted on the soldiers not giving her a good look.

Margueritte took a step back and smiled for the man.  She gave him a most graceful curtsey, a sign of her good breeding and something no real washer woman could imitate.  Then she picked up her now empty bucket and scrub brush and walked away from the way the soldiers went.  Gormand might have said something but choked when two fairies flew up.

“Clover, please go check and see what horse Heather picked out,” Margueritte said.  “Ironwood, you may sit on my shoulder.”

“Yes, Lady,” both fairies responded before doing what she asked.  At the same time, they heard Gormand running away as fast as he could.

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

MONDAY

Getting out of the dungeon is not getting home. There is trouble on the road, and maybe a little romance.  Until next time, Happy Reading

*

M4 Festuscato: Visigoth Hospitality, part 2 of 3

Their time in Tours proved brief.  The bishop greeted Gaius with all the pomp of a visiting bishop and gave Festuscato a brief smile.  Festuscato heard Gaius referred to as the apostle to the Franks and as the Bishop of Tournai, though Festuscato knew of nothing official in that direction.  Certainly, Gaius never said anything.

The abbot of Saint Martins was there, a man named Maurentius.  He came dressed to travel and go with them to apply to the Pope to approve his monastery with the appendage for women.  Maurentius, Dibs, Marcellus and Festuscato got to know each other while Gaius got wined and dined.  Festuscato found Maurentius to be a frumpy friar Tuck sort of fellow, good natured, and not a finger shaker when the conversation got a bit bawdy.  He would fit right in.

The first night after leaving Tours took them to Fierbois, hardly a village on the road to Pontiers.  Maurentius and Gaius were both surprised when Festuscato suggested it might be a good place for a church, and a satellite monastery for Saint Martins, and especially for the women.

“It would be a good place for pilgrims to stop and refresh themselves,” he said.

“Another Saint Martins?” Maurentius wondered.

“People would get confused by that,” Marcellus said.  Dibs and Gaius knew not to interrupt.

“I was thinking Saint Catherine would be a good choice, especially for any women on the road.  They would see it as a safe haven on the border between Visigoth and Roman lands.”

“I like Saint Catherine,” Emma spoke up from the cooking fire.

“Saint Catherine,” Felix echoed as he took something to his children.

“Saint Catherine de Fierbois,” Festuscato said. 

“It has a nice ring to it,” Gaius interjected.

“Anyway, after this I’ll mind my own business.  But I was thinking the Visigoths could use some spiritual guidance.  I hear many of them are Arians and do not know the true catholic faith, and this would be right on their border, or near enough.”

“No, I like the idea,” Maurentius said.  “I may mention it to the Pope.  The people of Aquitaine are mostly Christian, but many Visigoth nobles remain stubbornly Arian.  Having plans to expand the true church into the territory might help Saint Martin’s gain papal approval.”

Festuscato said no more, but in the morning, he confessed to Gaius something about the future and for once, Gaius said he had nothing to feel guilty about.

It took two weeks to reach Tolouse, the Visigoth capital.  No one bothered them all the way through Visigoth land, and when they arrive at Thorismund’s court, they appeared welcomed, at first.  Festuscato caught wind of the fact that Thorismund was not happy with Rome and with him for turning him away from finishing off Attila.

“Now my father is not avenged,” he said.  But his younger brother, Theodoric junior who also participated in the fight against Attila simply shook his head, sadly.  Festuscato understood.  Thorismund was not that bright and indeed, would not occupy the throne for long.  But in the meanwhile, Festuscato had to watch out.  During his life and career, Festuscato found that such men were easy to manipulate and easy to turn in the right direction with the simplest of arguments, as he turned Thorismund away from the battlefield; but once they got their mind stuck in a rut, they were impossible to reach.  Festuscato took Theodoric’s unspoken warning to Felix, Dibs and Marcellus.

“Felix has the money.  If I am delayed, your orders are to go to Narbonne on the south coast.  I will meet you there, but again, if I am delayed, you must take the first ship for Rome, before the cold weather arrives.  If all else fails, at least you will get home and I will meet you in Rome.”

“You are serious,” Dibs sounded surprised, though he should not have been, since he got left behind when Festuscato first sailed out of Britain for the continent.

“I have never heard you order anyone,” Gaius confessed.  “You always ask.”

“I had to order the four horsemen.  I practically yelled at them, but they will see you safely all the way to Rome, if necessary.”

“We will do this thing,” Marcellus agreed, and Felix shook Festuscato’s hand.

“Good luck,” he said.

The very next day, Festuscato found himself thrown into a dungeon cell with a single, small window much too high up to reach.

###

Festuscato got left alone by his jailer, Gormand.  He was not sure what Gormand’s orders were, but as long as they did not include torture, Festuscato could wait and hope—and try to figure some way out of his predicament.  It helped when on that very first day, the fairies Ironwood, Clover and Heather came fluttering in the little window.  Festuscato frowned and tried not to yell at them.

“Clover and Heather are running away from home,” Ironwood confessed.  “We followed you all the way here from Chalons.”

“Yes, and why are you here?” Festuscato asked.

“Well, someone has to keep an eye on these children,” Ironwood said with a smile.

“We are not children,” Clover insisted.

“I’m one hundred and three and Clover is nearly two hundred,” Heather insisted, looking very much like a petulant child.

“One seventy-six, and Ironwood is just two sixty-five.  Still young enough for a fairy,” Festuscato said, and Clover and Heather eyed each other, and realized Festuscato knew all about them in a way they had not really considered before.  He could look at them right down to the depths of their toes.  “Still, I am glad you are here,” Festuscato said, to change the subject.  He did not want to frighten the young couple with his awesome presence, as some of the ancient gods used to talk about it.  “You can help me plan my escape, and Ironwood, if you wouldn’t mind, I would appreciate you taking a message to Gaius and the men to tell them to get out now and head for Narbonne while they can.”

“I can do that.  Father Gaius seems very nice, for a human.”

“Would you like us to find some diggers?” Heather asked, avoiding the name goblins.  “It would take some time to dig you out.  There isn’t an easy tribe under your feet like in Tournai.”

“No, no.” Festuscato said, like someone else might have said, “Tut-tut.”  He would have to plan his route out of the city and once he left the city, and he would need a horse among other things.  Just getting out of the cell would not be enough.  “We will work on it.  I am going to try to reason with my captors first.  Meanwhile, I would not mind one digger, as you said.  It would be good to have one while I am sleeping to keep the rats, spiders, and bats away.”

Heather shrieked loudly at the thought of rats, spiders, and bats.  She threw herself into Clover’s arms, which she felt inclined to do in any case, and which he felt glad she did.  Gormand came to the door and slid open the little window in the door to yell.

“What was that?”

“I have a young girl in here and we are making wild, passionate love,” Festuscato responded.  Ironwood flew up to the window so Gormand could get a good look at him. 

“Hello,” he said in a friendly manner, his only previous experience with jailers being the Frank who eventually made peace in his mind and heart with having fairies around.  Gormand did not strike Festuscato as the same sort of man.  He shrieked, a high-pitched sound to match Heather’s, and he shut the cover on the window in the door and ran away.

M4 Festuscato: Huns, part 1 of 3

Festuscato stayed in his prison cell for a month, waiting for Merovech to return from Soissons. Gaius came to visit every day.  Childeric came almost every day, often with Gaius.  Luckless took up with a nearby dwarf clan so he was not around much.  Tulip and Waterborn were in love, so also no help whatsoever.  Tulip and Waterborn visited now and then, but their minds were far, far away, in love, and young fairies, meaning less than five hundred years old or so, have a hard time staying focused as it is.  To a human, it might have appeared like a whirlwind romance, but for fairies that was often the way it worked.  The fairy world never made the horrible mess of love and relationships we humans made.

Fortunately, the young male fairies Ironwood and Clover, and the young female fee, Heather, were a great help and company.  They often entertained Childeric when Festuscato and Father Gaius went into confession mode, and Festuscato had a lot to confess.  But Festuscato had to keep one eye open during his confessions because Heather in her big form appeared to be about seventeen, and beautiful, as all fairies are, and he feared it might be too much for Childeric at almost fifteen, hormones raging as they undoubtedly were.

Gregor and Bran settled in at Felix’ place, and Dibs fit himself right in when he and his troop of thirty men, all sporting their dragon tunics, returned from the meeting with Aegidius, the new Magister Millitum of northern Gaul, which is to say, the chief General of the Roman province in the north.  It looked for a while like Merovech, the king of the Salian Franks might settle in Cambrai for the winter, but come mid-November, when the last of the harvest came in, he returned to Tournai with some serious questions for his guest.

“Aegidius says I should keep you locked up and throw away the key,” Merovech said.

“I was not aware that cliché started this far in the past,” Festuscato mumbled before he spoke up.  “But to the point, why?  I am no threat to you.  I am only here to help you.”

“That is what I am afraid of.  We have had our fill of Roman help, all my life.  My father got tired of it and rebelled.  He got killed by Romans, not that many years ago.  So why should I trust you?”

“You don’t have to trust me.  You just have to prepare your men for the Hun hurricane.  Attila has brought his victorious armies up from the border of the eastern empire and is even now preparing to explode on to the western stage. My spies tell me he intends to overrun Gaul, and don’t think he will let the Franks be at his back.  I suspect he will take you down first before he ever meets a single Roman in battle.”

“But what evidence do you have?  Only the word of these dragon flies.”

Festuscato smiled.  “That is very good.  The dragon and the fairies.”

Merovech grinned at his own wit, then he left Festuscato where he was, in jail.

Six weeks later, around the new year, word came that the Huns laid siege around Strasbourg.  Merovech returned to hear what Festuscato had to say, or maybe to gloat.

“The Huns have entered Swabia.  It is a great army, as you said.  My report says ten thousand Huns and ten thousand others, Germans of all sorts, what the Romans call Auxiliary troops, like Bavarians, Goths and others.  But Strasbourg is a quick route to the heart of Gaul.  My men say from there he will surely fall on the Burgundians and pass us by.”

“Surely, he will not,” Festuscato responded.  “I have it from Maywood, King of the fairies along the Rhine, that the Huns have a second army, the main army coming up from the south and headed right for Worms.  Ellak, Attila’s eldest is leading the Huns, some fifteen thousand.  Ardaric the King has ten thousand Gepids and Valamir the Ostrogoth has some ten thousand men as well.  Keep in mind, these are battle tested and hardened troops that have defeated the legions of the east three times in the last several years.  What is more, the Thuringians and your brother Cariaric with his Hessian Franks are waiting just north of Worms, near Mainz.”

“To fight and try to turn back the Huns?”

“No.  To join the Huns, but sixty thousand troops is too much for the land to support, especially in February.  I would guess Attila will divide his forces more evenly into two or three groups, and plan to rejoin them after the spring harvest is in, maybe around Paris.  Exactly which direction they will head after they ruin Mainz is a guess, but they will have to take cities to steal the winter food store along with whatever loot they can pillage.”

“Why would Cariaric despoil Mainz?  It is his own city.”

“My spies tell me the city fathers rejected him and closed their gate to him.  I imagine he wants revenge for the insult.”

Merovech pulled on his beard.  “Yes, that sounds like Cariaric.”

“He is the eldest brother, isn’t he?”

Merovech nodded before he turned toward the door.  “My men say the Hun will turn on the Burgundians.”

“He is not going to leave you Franks like a big knife in his back,” Festuscato protested.

Merovech nodded again.  “But I am listening,” he said, and left Festuscato in jail for another month.  

When Merovech came back for the third time, he brought a chair to sit and face Festuscato, and he looked worried.

“As you predicted.  Mainz has been burned.”  Merovech threw his hands up and spouted his disbelief.  “They surrendered.  They gave no struggle.  They turned over everything they had, and they still were killed and burned.  The Huns are like wild dogs.  How can we fight them?”

“Very carefully,” Festuscato said.  “Go on.”

“Well, it looks like Attila will split his force in two, as you said.  How did you know?”

“Common sense.  Armies have to be fed, even in winter.  Go on,” Festuscato encouraged him.

“Well, it is too soon to say which way they will turn, but I would guess one will head down the Moselle and the other will come here.”  Merovech shook his head.  “What can we do to stand against him?”

M4 Festuscato: Saxons and Franks, part 3 of 3

“And how do you know what Attila will do?” Gaius asked the obvious question.

“We just spent the last eight or nine years mostly in the empire of the Hun.  We saw more cowed people than you can count.  Maybe we did not deal much directly with the Huns, but we heard all the stories.”

“Paper,” Felix came to the table, having stepped away for a moment.  He set paper, a jar of ink and several quills on the table.  “My wife keeps the accounts and keeps a supply handy.”

“Luckless,” Festuscato held his hand out to the dwarf.  “Four pieces if you don’t mind.”

Luckless grumbled as he pulled four gold coins out of his vest pocket.  “Not much left, you know.”

Festuscato nodded and handed them to Felix.  “One for the rooms, one for the food, one for the care and feeding of the horses, and one for your wife, for the paper and ink, and maybe you buy her something.”  No doubt, it was more gold than Felix had seen in a long time.

Festuscato took the paper and ink to a separate table, one with the afternoon light, and he spent the afternoon writing letters.  Father Gaius helped some with the more diplomatic parts.  He went to bed tired but woke up early and wrote some more.  Then he sealed the letters and finally coaxed Tulip down from the rafters.

“Yes Lord, I understand, but we are closest here to the coastal fairies and I do not know who they might be,” she said.

Festuscato risked a migraine by reaching his thoughts out to the coast.  He caught a few names and was pleased with what he found.  “Treeborn and Goldenrod,” he called, and with a look at Tulip, he added, “And the son, Waterborn.”

Three fairies appeared on the table.  It was still early enough in the day, so it caused no stir among the patrons. Treeborn looked old and seemed to be having trouble figuring out what just happened, but Goldenrod, his wife figured it out readily enough and turned him to Festuscato.  She curtsied.  Treeborn squinted at him.  Waterborn did nothing since his eyes were occupied with Tulip.  That was fine, because she just stared right back at him.

“Forgive me.  I should have changed first,” Festuscato smiled and went away so Greta could take his place.  “It is good to see you again,” she said.  “But when did you leave the lake of gold on the Dnieper?”  Goldenrod gave another curtsey and this time Treeborn seemed to recognize her.  He gave a slight bow before he answered.

“When the Goths came south and slaughtered so many as they pushed through Dacia, all the way to the Danube.  They built a settlement on the lake, and we went nomad, always moving to the northwest, until at last we found a place along the coast and among the Frisians.”

“Father?”  Waterborn looked over and Tulip offered a curtsey of her own as they took a break from their staring contest.

“I see you have grown,” Greta said with a smile.  In her day, he had hardly been a child of fifty.  Now he had to be near three hundred.  “Are you ready for another adventure and another battle?”

“Yes, Lady.”  Waterborn finally offered a bow.  “But I heard you had passed on.”

“I did.  This is not my life.  It belongs to Lord Festuscato Cassius Agitus, and he has some very important letters to be delivered.  I need a dozen volunteers.  Time is not of the essence, but time is fleeting, might you ask—”

“I know just the crew,” Treeborn shouted.

“Here,” Greta said in the right way, tapped the table, and closer to twenty fairies appeared as Waterborn frowned.

“Father!” Waterborn complained with the word, and Greta caught a glimpse that these were his friends and Treeborn thought of them as lazy lay-abouts. 

“The lady has messages to carry, letters to be exact, and she needs volunteers to carry them.”  Treeborn rubbed his hands together, while Goldenrod had a practical thought.

“Perhaps you should go in teams of two.  You can pair up.”

“Where do you want them sent?”  Treeborn already reached the next step.

“Only if you are willing,” Greta insisted, and she waited until she heard from them all.  Then she prepared to tell them about the letters and about delivering them in private and not being caught, but to give also a verbal message to help underline the letter, but they got interrupted.  A dozen Franks came in with swords drawn.

“Where is the Roman?” one man asked while Greta raised her voice.

“Bran and Gregor, don’t you dare resist.  It is just my escort to my winter quarters, that’s all, so put your weapons back where they belong.”  Fortunately, the Franks paused on seeing the fairy troop, so no one got hurt.  One of the Franks ran back outside.  He looked scared half to death.  But a young man of about fourteen or fifteen years came right up to the table to watch.  Greta looked and guessed.

“Childeric?”  The young man nodded while Greta went right back to instructing the fairies about the letters.  “I’ll be with you in a minute,” Greta said, and she saved Merovech’s letter for last.  “This one is for your father,” she said.  “He must be prepared to evacuate Tournai as soon as the Huns show their ugly faces.”

“The Huns work for the Romans,” Childeric said.  “The Romans killed my grandfather, Clodio when I was twelve.”

“No, dear,” Greta said, and she raised her voice loud enough to be heard by all the Franks who were standing around the inn by then, thinking about getting a tankard of ale.  “The Huns killed your grandfather, and now we have good information that they are going to rebel and start killing Romans.  They want to take over Gaul.  You might not like the Romans, but they are better than having Huns in charge.”

“At the risk of sounding like a Christian,” Gregor spoke up and winked at Father Gaius.  “I say Amen to that.”

Greta turned back to the fairies.  With the last letter gone, Tulip and Waterborn and three of Waterborn’s friends remained.  Treeborn and Goldenrod also remained, and Greta told the elderly couple how glad she was to see them again, and how happy she was that they found a good home, away from all the fighting around Dacia.  “I hope we can keep the fighting away from you this time.  Please, may I borrow Waterborn and his friends for a while?”

“By all means,” Goldenrod said sweetly.

“Please,” Treeborn said, but in a way where it seemed hard to tell if he meant a polite be my guest or please get them out of my hair for a while.

“Now watch this,” Greta said, and Childeric leaned over to watch.  Greta clapped her hands and Treeborn and Goldenrod vanished.  They would reappear back in their home on the Frisian coast.

“How did you do that?”  Childeric looked impressed, and vocal at fourteen.

Greta smiled and placed a gentle hand on the boy’s cheek.  “A secret,” she said in a conspiratorial voice which only intrigued the boy all the more.  She turned once again to the fairies and looked them over.  Waterborn’s remaining friends were two younger boys, Clover and Ironwood, and a girl named Heather who looked so young.  She just recently turned over a hundred-years-old and thus barely qualified as an adult.

“Now Tulip,” she said.  “No more hiding in the rafters.  You need to take your friends and introduce them to the others.  Don’t forget to include Felix and Father Gaius, and Sergeant Dibs when he gets here.  And be good to Luckless.”

“Yes, Lady,” Tulip said, and with some glee in her voice she grabbed Waterborn’s hand and dragged him over to meet Bran the Sword and Gregor one-eye.

“Now Childeric,” Greta turned and spoke up again to get the attention of the Franks.  “I believe you came to arrest me.”

“No, not you,” Childeric said.  “We were looking for the Roman, a man.”

“But that is me,” Greta said.  She smiled again and went away so Festuscato could return in his comfortable clothes.  Childeric shrieked.  The two Franks who had taken seats to wait, jumped to their feet.  The leader of this squad of men let out a bellow, like a buffalo driven off the cliff.  Festuscato ignored them all and put his hands out.  “I surrender,” he said.

The Franks escorted Festuscato to jail.  It was a pleasant walk since none of the Franks dared touch him, and Gaius came along for company.

“There are enough Christians in town,” Gaius said.  “I say mass every morning, extra early this morning in anticipation of finishing the letters.  Merovech is accommodating, but I feel he just does not want to be on the wrong side of any gods.”

“Good.”  Festuscato was not really listening.  It took until they were almost there before Festuscato opened up and said what was on his mind.  “I think we should have most of the winter for you to hear my confessions.  Trouble is, everything indicates Attila will move in the coming year, but there is no telling how soon he will move.”

“Burn that bridge when you come to it, as you say,” Gaius quipped, and they arrived.

It looked like a jailhouse in the old American west.  They even had an office out front, but through the big door at the back of the office sat a long room full of torture devices on the left and cells on the right where the prisoners could look out on the torture devices and think about it.  The jailer, a man named Horeburt, appeared as big, mean and ugly as one might expect.  Not having the experience of the fairies in the tavern, Horeburt thought nothing of reaching out to roughly grab the prisoner.  The chief Frank himself stayed the man’s hand.

“I don’t recommend you touch this one, at least not before Merovech gets back.”

“I’ll take the cell on the end here,” Festuscato pointed.  He had looked and this one was the cleanest and had a small, barred window through which Tulip could visit.

Horeburt got the key and the Franks stayed long enough to see Festuscato securely locked in.  Gaius left when Festuscato assured him he would be comfortable.  Then Horeburt got a chair.  There were three other men in three other cells, but Horeburt only seemed curious about the Roman.  He set his chair outside the bars that made up the door to the cell and he watched as several fairies fluttered in the window carrying a fine lunch.  They set it on the small table in the cell, and carried on a conversation, which Horeburt recognized as Latin even if his Latin was not good enough to know what they were saying.

The fairies went away while the prisoner ate, but returned soon enough with fresh straw for bedding, several blankets and a first-rate pillow.  Festuscato looked through the bars and told Horeburt he was going to take a nap and would appreciate some privacy.  Horeburt watched as a troll rose up right out of the ground inside the cell.  The troll had another blanket which he draped over the bars to act like a real door and cut off Horeburt’s sight.  Horeburt decided the chief Frank had been right.  He never would have permitted another prisoner to cut himself off so he could not be seen, but in this case, Horeburt decided he did not want to see anymore.  He looked down where his feet touched the ground, slowly stood and put the chair back where it belonged.  He went out to the office room and sat in the big chair there, then he pulled his feet off the floor before he tried for his own nap.

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

M0NDAY

Festuscato does what he can from jail all winter long, because he expects Attila and his Huns to move in the spring. Until Monday, Happy Reading

*

Avalon 7.6 Food of the Gods, part 2 of 6

The travelers came through the time gate first thing in the morning, beside a river that rushed off to the north.  They stopped there to take in the lay of the land before they moved on.  The trees they stood by included pine and fir among the oak, spruce, and beech.  The meadow appeared covered in crocus, fuchsia, and daisies.  At first glance, it looked similar to the land they traveled in Syria, but the change in trees, flowers, and meadow grasses proved they landed somewhere else on the planet.

“Dacia,” Lincoln guessed.  “Modern day Romania.”

“We go south.”  Katie looked at her amulet.

“Late summer,” Boston announced as she pulled out her own amulet to confirm the direction.  “South,” she said, and pointed.

“Good thing it is not winter,” Katie said.  “We look headed into the mountains.”

Lockhart interrupted.  “Lincoln.  Help us get the wagon through.  This tree is right in the way.”

They had to coax Ghost the mule to pull to the right immediately on entering the new time zone.  Lincoln feared a corner of the wagon might not have enough room between the tree and the edge of the time gate, but apparently, the time gate had enough flexibility to let through whatever needed to come through.  Tony held the reigns, but Lockhart and Lincoln, on their horses, flanked the mule to guide it.

The travelers had decided to let Tony guide the wagon in the morning through the time gates.  He grew up driving wagons in the eighteen-nineties and early nineteen-hundreds, so by far, he had the most experience.  

Once they were all present and accounted for, Sukki pushed off to the west, Decker scouted the east, and Boston headed south, their expected direction.  They looked mostly for a road, or at least a well-used path that would not be too hard on the wagon.  Lincoln looked around for a landmark that he could set in his mind. He still remembered the landmark he saw when they traveled through the very first time gate, back in the days of the Tower of Babel.  Of course, he since learned that the time gates moved when the Kairos moved, but by then, he had developed the habit to look.

“Just wilderness,” Elder Stow spoke up.  “I see what looks like a road and habitations, but some distance from here.”  He studied his scanner and shook it once to be sure.

“Okay,” Lockhart responded, but he, Tony, and Katie focused on getting the wagon ready for cross country travel.  Alexis and Nanette stayed on their horses and kept their eyes open, but kind of supervised the work.  They did not pay much attention to the woods around them.

Sukki returned and reported nothing in her direction.  Decker stayed out, but Boston came racing back, screaming, “Bear.  Bear.”

People grinned, and a couple almost laughed until they heard a roar that sounded more like a monster than an ordinary bear.  The bear stopped shy of the group and stood.  They got a good look when the bear towered twenty feet over them all, reaching for the tops of the trees.  People scrambled for their guns.

Lockhart took the first shot, but he imagined his shotgun slug would not be worse on that monster than a bee sting on a normal sized bear.  Katie and Sukki followed.  Katie aimed at the bear’s face and tried to put out an eye.  Sukki, afraid of the power within her, nevertheless shot her handgun twice at the bear’s middle, before she turned to help Lincoln and Tony get the horses, mule and wagon away from there.

The bear responded by taking a step forward.  It roared again when it had trouble moving the other foot.  Alexis magically called up the wind to press against the bear, to keep it back.   Nanette concentrated to lift the monstrosity a smidgen off the ground, heavy as it was.  It clawed at the ground and tore up the grass and bushes at its feet but could not get any traction.  It roared in protest and scratched at the air but could not move forward.

Boston put her Beretta away and slipped out her wand.  She sent a ball of fire into the face of the bear but realized that was a good way to set the whole forest on fire.  She put her wand away and went for her bow and arrows.

Decker came riding out from the trees, firing his rifle.  He had to get down when his horse balked against getting too close.  They all got to their feet.  Lincoln, Tony, and Sukki had their hands full keeping the horses together and trying to keep them from running off.

Boston fired her best arrow.  She put as much magic as she had into the point.  Decker and Katie shot for the head.  Lockhart pumped shotgun slugs into the middle of the beast.  A dozen arrows came from the trees and riddled the beast, even as Elder Stow shouted.

“Move.”

Lockhart and Katie separated.  Elder Stow stepped between them.  He fired his weapon once and put a hole the size of a basketball through the center of the beast, about where the heart should be.  Boston’s arrow landed just below the neck and exploded, tearing out most of the muscles in the neck.  The head tilted to the side, and the bear body followed in that direction as Alexis stopped her wind and Nanette could not hold the beast up any longer.  The bear bounced once on the meadow before it stopped moving.

“Twenty feet, at least,” Katie said, as she, Lockhart, and Elder Stow walked up to look at the head and jaw.

“Maybe thirty feet,” Decker said, as he and Boston stepped up to examine the big hole in the middle of the beast.

“How did it get so big?” a young boy’s voice said.

“I smell a power at work,” a man’s voice murmured.  “Doing something not natural.  Something stolen.”

“We got company,” Lincoln shouted.  He had rushed up from the horses when Alexis and Nanette collapsed to the ground.  They sat on the grass to catch their breath.  They would be all right in a minute.  Meanwhile, they stared at any number of little lights dancing around their heads.

“Fairies,” Nanette named the lights in a delighted tone of voice.

“Like seeing stars,” Alexis said, and when Nanette and Lincoln did not understand, she said, “Cartoon-like.”  At least Lincoln understood.

“My name is Willow,” a fairy woman spoke softly to the group.

“And I’m Snowflake,” a young fairy girl added, rather loudly.

“Yes, dear,” Willow said.  “And I think it is a good thing Lady Greta sent us out to find you.”

“Name’s Reed,” a fairy man told Lockhart, Katie, and Elder Stow.  “Icechip, here, was the one who thought we might find you along the Samus River.  Good thinking for one so young.”

“I’m not that young,” Icechip protested, but the travelers all heard the teenage tone in the protest.

“But what do you mean power?” Boston asked.  Decker followed her to join the group around the jaw of the beast.

“What do you mean, something stolen?” Katie asked as well.

“Young elf,” Reed said, turning to Boston.  He seemed most comfortable talking to her.  “I mean a power, much greater than us.  Someone that should have gone over to the other side at the time of the dissolution of the gods.  Only the food of the gods could make giants out of the ordinary, and that was a closely guarded secret of the gods.  If it isn’t one of the gods still here, then some power has learned that secret, though what they have against you folks I cannot imagine.”

“There are still a few gods around,” Willow explained to Alexis, Nanette, and Lincoln as they went to check on the horses.  Sukki looked delighted with the fairies.  Tony simply stared with his mouth open.

“Rhiannon is around,” Snowflake interrupted.  “She is Celtic.”

“And Mithras.  And the great sea god of the Celts,” Willow agreed.  “But I know of none that are not friendly with our lady, so I can think of none that would have anything against you travelers.”

“So, we are talking about a greater or lesser spirit,” Alexis concluded.  She stopped walking, so Willow hovered in front of her.

“Not a greater spirit, surely,” Willow decided.  “They are too tied to the earth and the natural order of life.  The lesser spirits sometimes interact with the human world, and some of them can be quite nasty, but I can’t think of any capable of stealing the secret of the gods.”

“Unless some nasty god gave him the secret before going over to the other side,” Lincoln suggested.

“Or her,” Willow said, and she and Alexis thought and shivered a bit on imagining some nasty lesser spirit getting their hands on the food of the gods.

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

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

“What?” Lincoln asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So, what is it?” Alexis asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“An offer from an elf—” Alexis began.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The others ignored them.

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

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

“Good lawyer, too,” Alexis added.

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

“A lawyer?” Nanette sounded surprised.

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

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

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

“Wait,” Tony started again.  “FBI?”

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

“A woman detective?” Tony asked

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

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

Nanette would have to think about it all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lockhart said, “Damn.”

Baba reacted.  “Boston?”

“Aemir is warned,” Boston said.

“Elder Stow?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hurry, hurry Avalon

Under moon and under sun

Make a way to Kairos hold

Make a door for travelers bold.”

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

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

“Can I get there by candlelight?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Promises?”  Goldenrod asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“Alice,” Tomberlain said.

“Huh?”

“Her name is Alice,” Tomberlain said.

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

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

MONDAY

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

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