Avalon 8.3 Above and Beyond, part 4 of 4

Everyone found themselves in a living room kind of room, with comfortable chairs, tables, lamps with warm lights, and no more bugs.  They had a door that said bathroom in three languages just in case anyone did not get it.  They even had a big picture window, though presently all it showed was the dark, the stars, and the moon much closer than it should be.

Lincoln pointed.  “I can practically count the boulders in that crater.”

“The moon?”  Brianna, Father Aden, Jennifer, and Elsbeth all pressed up against the glass, which Katie at least assumed was not honestly glass.

“The moon,” Lockhart assured them.  Nanette pushed up to the glass as well, but the others were not so fascinated.  All but Katie had been in space before, and they all saw plenty of films and close-up pictures of the moon before.

A woman with long green hair appeared behind them, and the travelers responded.

“Thank you for taking us out of a bad situation” Katie said.

“I assume we are on a different ship,” Lincoln had to make sure.

“Did the Kairos send you?” Lockhart asked.  He temporarily blanked out on the name of the Kairos in that time period even if it had been said and told to him a billion times.

“The Kairos asked, time traveler,” Sheen said.  “But if you will excuse me.”  A spaceship came into view in the glass.  It exploded, and people saw the pieces fall toward the moon, including all that water.  “In the future, when your people go exploring, don’t blame me if you find water on the moon.”  The woman with the green hair smiled and vanished.

People blinked and the view of the moon from space became replaced with a view of the earth from space.  Only Brianna said, “It’s lovely.,” though Jennifer nodded in agreement.  Elsbeth never closed her mouth.

Another blink, and everyone found themselves back on the ground outside the manor house.  Margueritte came racing outside and hugged her mother.  She hugged Jennifer, and Elsbeth, and then her mother again, and she began to cry.

Lord Barth stood in the doorway, but Owien ran to Elsbeth.  They hugged before they awkwardly separated and looked at the ground and elsewhere.

Elder Stow grumbled about his scanner, though it was fixable.  Sukki and Tony followed Boston around while she hugged all of the travelers except Nanette, who ran to Decker as he ran to her.  They stopped and faced each other inches apart, not moving, like two statues.  They kissed, and at least Jennifer said, “Aww…”

Lord Barth and Father Aden got everyone to come inside.  They left the lovers kissing on the front lawn where no one disturbed them.

###

The next day, everyone arrived.  The travelers already had their tents up on the ground beside the chapel, the ground that Katie and Alexis agreed might one day be a small cemetery ground.  The Breton, including the king camped on the farm field that started just down the small hill from the barn and the triangle.  Sir Thomas of Evandell, the king’s bard, brought Crown Prince Judon to the house right away.  Clearly, the bard was an old family friend.

Lord Charles and Sir Roland, the groom with several officers of the Franks set up their tents on the other side of the church.  Tomberlain, Margueritte’s older brother, shared his old room in the manor house with Owien.  The whole Frankish army camped down the hill from the church off what they called the Paris Road.  The long, flat field that sat on both sides of the road was more than big enough, and the woods beyond the field offered plenty of wood for the hundreds of cooking fires and hundreds of men camped there.  Most of the army went home after the action in Aquitaine and Vascony ended.  Even so, Lord Barth worried about having enough beef for everyone.

Sadly, Roland’s family lived on the Saxon March, all the way on the other side of Francia.  No way they could make such a long journey to attend the wedding.  Fortunately, he had plenty of support from Charles and the Franks, and Margueritte’s parents and family who apparently already accepted him as a son and brother.

The travelers stayed good.  They encouraged Margueritte when they saw her, but otherwise did not get into the middle of everything.  Margueritte had enough to worry about.  She fretted, cried, got deliriously happy, and cried some more, while her mother, Jennifer, and Elsbeth helped her with her dress, hair, make-up, and everything else, including the crying.

The local fairy troop supplied an abundance of flowers, Goldenrod right there in the midst of them.  Several gnomes, with Sir Thomas, took over the barn to practice the music.  Lolly, the dwarf cook enlisted several other dwarf wives to help cook for so many.  And between the two servants in the house, Marta fretted, and Maven snuck off to catch the occasional nap.  All felt right with the world, even if nothing went exactly right.

The following day, early in the morning, it turned bright and sunny.  People crowded into the church or stood outside, and Father Aden performed a wonderful ceremony.  They had a big mid-day meal on the outside table under the awning, and then Roland and Margueritte disappeared while everyone else celebrated with music and dancing into the night.

The following morning, the travelers went with Lord Charles and the Franks to Paris.  Roland and Margueritte with a small troop of men would follow in two weeks.  Roland had apartments in Paris, but Charles said they might not get much time.  He was not happy with the reports he got from the Bavarian-Burgundian border.

The time gate sat before the city, and just a bit south off the road to Orleans.  It was just a well Charles and his men did not see the travelers disappear.  Charles’ father, the Mayor of the Palace was not well and the political wrangling about who would succeed him did not bode well for the future.

“714,” Lincoln reported the year.  “Margueritte was born in 697, and she married at seventeen, so it must be 714.  Charles’ father will die this year, in December.  There will be civil war.”

Katie nodded.  “And I was so proud to have fine conversations with Charles all this week, and never once called him Charles Martel.”

“Tony did once, but I think if was by accident,” Lockhart said.

Katie waved it off.  “The two knight-captains that heard him simply laughed and nodded, like they thought maybe that was a good name for the man.”

“He is a hard man,” Lockhart admitted.  “A no nonsense kind of guy.”

“What are you looking at?” Lincoln interrupted the conversation to ask Alexis.  She kept looking back.  Sukki rode quietly beside Elder Stow.  Tony drove the wagon.  Nanette and Decker rode side by side in the rear, occasionally talked, but mostly Nanette smiled, and Decker looked stoic.

“I was thinking we might have our own wedding soon,” she said, and Katie grinned, but the men did not want to touch that topic.  Fortunately, Boston came back from the front.

“The time gate is just ahead of us, right beside the road,” Boston reported.  “It is eight in the morning. I vote we go through.”

They did.

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

MONDAY

Another Wedding.  This time, Mistress Genevieve in the days of Charlemagne will be given to the March Lord of Provence, an old man with an eight-year-old son.  Well, the aliens won’t interfere, though the Masters might.

*

M4 Margueritte: Watch and Rescue, part 2 of 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

###

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

M4 Margueritte: Watch and Rescue, part 1 of 3

Ragenfrid moved some men out before dawn to test the hill between the castle around the Paris gate and the edge of town where the diverted Paris Road entered the town.  That was duBois stronghold, and he was not fooled.  He wanted to give fight but was held back as the goblins and a few trolls had some fun.

At the same time, Talliso tested the south end of town where Bedwin waited behind a barricade with his men ready for the fight.  Again, they held back to allow the dark elves a free hand to chase off the men of Anjou.

The third test, still under the cover of darkness, came from LeMans.  He sent fifty men secretly to the small copse of apple trees outside the postern gate, but by the time they arrived, the dawn came upon them.  The goblins and the few trolls there got a few soldiers and scared enough more so they ran.  That turned out fortuitous for the men of LeMans, because Lord Birch, the old fairy lord, had his archers ready to fire as soon as the sun broke the horizon.

Though all three sorties were easily driven back in the dark, Ragenfrid decided to attack in the morning.  “Besides,” he said.  “Those infernal demons dare not come out in daylight.”

He waited until the sun came fully up and in his enemy’s eyes, then he concentrated on the town.  LeMans with two thousand men got sent to the castle wall around the postern door, and their job was to break in, if possible, but if not, to keep the castle defenders busy in a place where they could not concentrate on what happened in the town.

For three days they watched guardsmen walk the castle walls.  They saw all the activity associated with evacuating the town, but they saw no such guardsmen in town.  Margueritte, of course, had her little ones put up glamours to disguise her intentions. The town looked minimally defended, and as is true with all good glamours, Ragenfrid’s men were encouraged to think wrongly about the truth.  They imagined Margueritte pulled the majority of her men inside the castle to defend the walls, which is what they would have done, so they did not look at the town too closely.

In truth, if Margueritte did not have her little ones to defend the castle, she would have shifted King David’s two thousand men toward the castle to hold the Paris Road, would have moved duBois and his three hundred against the short wall. Michael’s five hundred would have been the only ones she would have taken inside the castle, and that was it.  She would not have changed Peppin’s position at all.  Three thousand men would have still defended the town, and Ragenfrid’s men would have still been surprised.

As it was, Ragenfrid ignored the Paris gate altogether, and massed two thousand men under Creasy to strike up the Paris Road to town.  He let Talliso with another two thousand rush the hill which petered out at that end of town.  They were to turn the defenders and press them back to the short wall that Ragenfrid knew faced the town.  They had ladders to scale that wall, and groups set to attack the Breton and Paris gates from the inside.  Ragenfrid figured once the gates were open, it would only be a matter of time before the castle fell and all opposition ceased.  He had orders to leave the manor house alone so he could take Rotrude, Margo, Margueritte and the other women and children alive, but realistically, in the heat of battle, he did not know what might happen.

Needless to say, things did not go as Ragenfrid planned.

Talliso ran into a wall of Breton, equal to his numbers.  He almost retreated as soon as he arrived.  Bedwin nearly turned Talliso’s flank, and in the end, they became two armies, just within bowshot, staring at each other across an open space, the Breton taunting, and the men of Anjou frustrated.  Talliso would have to do some serious rearranging to break through into the town.

Creasy found his approach to the city equally blocked.  Though duBois had only three hundred to Creasy’s two thousand, the way Creasy came up the Paris Road made it hard for his superior numbers to have an impact.  Creasy also had to rearrange things and send several companies into the area between the road and the Paris gate.  It spread his men, but soon enough his numbers began to tell and duBois had to slowly pull back.

LeMans came up to the corner of the castle where the little postern door looked inviting, and the small group of apple trees appeared to give some cover against any arrow fire from the walls.  His men had big ladders, and a battering ram to pound the door open.  He actually thought he might breach the defenses, but the castle shape appeared deceptive.

West of the door, the wall ran a short way to the completed tower that had long stood near the manor house, where the workmen and Redux the old blacksmith lived.  There, the wall turned ninety degrees and marched down the hill to the farm field before it turned again due west at a half-finished tower.  That stretch of wall sat within bowshot of the back door, and the tower gave a strong redoubt against any enemy who might make it up to the top of the wall with ladders and ropes.  The unfinished wall in that place stood nine feet tall, at the point where Ronan got ready to build an enclosed inner hallway.  Ropes and ladders were going to be the only way up, if LeMans wanted to test it.

East of the door, the wall curved out until it met another, unfinished tower.  Inside the castle, that curve allowed for a space behind the manor house and beside the kitchen where a great vegetable garden could grow.  Though not ideal for a garden, being on the north side and behind the manor house which would block some of the sun, Margueritte had been assured it would suffice for vegetables.  On the outside, the curve in the wall allowed another group of archers to draw a bead on whoever might approach the gate and being able to shoot at an enemy from both sides as well as from the front made for a withering fire of arrows. LeMans found this out, too late.

Childemund had thirty men on the door itself, and the oak in that door, being little one designed, proved far thicker and stronger than LeMans imagined.  His tree trunk of a battering ram did not even shake it, and they did not get many whacks before they had to retreat.  They left a dozen dead, being hit, as they felt, from all sides.  Heurst had his kobold archers on the wall section that dropped down to the field.  Ringwald had his brownies on the curve in the wall.  Childemund’s men cheered when LeMans retreated to the trees, which were, in fact, apple trees in full bloom

Birch had his hands full on the front wall facing the enemy.  Fortunately, Ronan started building the section in the front that would eventually make a six-foot arch for the hallway.  What they had was three feet of extra wall on the front quarter, with regular spaces where the arrow slits would be built.  Birch and his fairies had to be in their big size to fire arrows on the enemy, but the three-foot sections allowed them to fire from the opening and curl back for protection.

“You should build evenly spaced sections like that at the top of the wall when the wall is finished,” Elsbeth said.  The women had gone up to the top of the manor house to watch.  Margueritte had built a small third story room off the corner of the servant’s room where the ladies in waiting, as Margueritte called them, lived in dormitory conditions.  She put a flat roof on top of the third-floor room where people could go and get sun, or see the view over the walls, or take in the stars at night.  Right then, Margo, Elsbeth, Margueritte, Calista and Melanie were watching, and well out of bow range.  Rotrude and Jennifer preferred to stay underground with the dwarf wives and the children.  Neither wanted anything to do with war.

“I think the wall is going to be too big for this tower to see over,” Margo said.  “When it is finished, I mean.”

Margueritte sipped her tea.  “I know.  I was thinking of adding a fourth room, maybe with open arches and a bell, like a church bell tower, and another flat roof on top of that.  what do you think?”  Margueritte felt nervous.  She again wondered how Greta managed to watch everything with such calm.  She decided Greta was fine until she got in the middle of things.  Then she panicked.  She did not do well in Panic situations.  Margueritte, quite to the contrary, did well when she felt part of something.  She had good instincts and good reflexes.  But just sitting and watching got nerve wracking.

“What is that?” Elsbeth noticed.  It looked like dots in the distance that rapidly got bigger.

“Shit!” Margueritte swore.  “Down in, now.  We have to get underground.”   A dozen rocks the size of cannon balls crashed into the house and courtyard below.  The roof of the house got three big holes, and down below, the women and few men they brought in from LeMans’ camp on the farm field screamed in panic.  People got hurt and one or two maybe got killed.

While Calista helped Margo and Elsbeth down the hatch, Margueritte leaned over the railing and shouted, knowing the gnomes would hear her despite the noise and screaming.  “Grimly, Pipes, Catspaw.  Get your friends and get these women and men out the barn gate and into the woods for their own safety.  Hurry.”  Then it was her turn to get down the hatch.

M4 Margueritte: Negotiations, part 4 of 4

They eventually got to discussing just Neustria, and Margueritte pointed out that Orleans, Chartres, Paris, and Soissons all failed to come to Ragenfrid’s call, which was the eastern half of Neustria

“I did not call for their help yet,” Ragenfrid lied.

“Well, even so, I can guarantee Lord Tomberlain, Marquis of the Breton March, will never support you.   His taxes as well as his right arm belong to Charles.”

“He can be replaced,” Ragenfrid threatened.

“Count Michael, what say you?”

“My loyalty is to Tomberlain as it was to his father, Bartholomew, and the people of Nantes and the whole southern march listen to my wife.”

“Here, here,” duBois said.  “And to be honest, I don’t know if Normandy will accept Lord Ragenfrid as Suzerain.”

Ragenfrid yelled.  “This is all nonsense.  I will decide who will be on my border.”

Margueritte smiled, because it was a concession that the Breton March would be on his border, not his territory, though she expected him to backtrack.

“And so will I,” King David spoke up.  “I have a small force here on short notice.  Do not be foolish to think this represents the strength of the Breton people.”

“But he does not know how many men and resources we may have right now,” Margueritte said, coyly.

“Not enough to drive me off,” Ragenfrid responded.

“Or maybe we were just hoping we could come to an agreement without the need for further bloodshed,” Childemund suggested.

“I will appoint men to hold the march that will be acceptable to King David,” Ragenfrid said, with a smile that made Margueritte want to gag.

No one believed him, including his own men.

Eventually, the idea of Marquis of Neustria came up, a title equal to Tomberlain, but not over him.  Ragenfrid insisted on the mayoralty, but that was not going to work.  Charles would see to that, and not be giving it up.

Then Margueritte brought up eastern Neustria again, and Tomberlain’s independence, and offered the title, Marquis of central Neustria.

“But I don’t know if Normandy will accept that,” duBois repeated.

“It had better be acceptable,” Ragenfrid said gruffly

“Of course, that would mean sending taxes and men to fight on the frontier, and accepting Charles as your suzerain,” Margueritte pointed out.

Ragenfrid yelled again that the suggestion of submitting to Charles was totally unacceptable, and no land deal would suffice without the march.  Obviously, he wanted the land to take what he wanted for himself and use the rest to pay off LeMans and Talliso for their loyalty.

Margueritte signaled, and Peppin stood and growled.  “Totally unacceptable.  Lord Tomberlain will not give his place to a rebel.”  He did a credible job, and the Childemund stood and spoke in a quiet voice.

“I don’t believe Charles will allow you to take fully half of Neustria, like a king.  You are not a king, but I will talk to Peppin and Lady Rotrude and find a compromise.”  He walked off, and Margueritte stood, so David, Michael and duBois stood.

“Please,” she said in her most forlorn voice.  “Give me tonight to try and talk sense into Peppin.  Give us tonight,” she said, pointing to the others.  “I know it is my brother Tomberlain whom you would beggar, but I would do almost anything to make peace.”

“Why?” Creasy asked for his own reasons, whatever they might be, and Margueritte suddenly wondered if Ragenfrid promised the man Tomberlain’s place.

“Because if you fight, I will not be able to save you from Charles’ wrath.  If you fight, he will come and destroy you, and your families will be the ones beggared, and the whole Frankish nation will suffer.  Please, give me tonight to talk sense to my friends, and we will have pork tomorrow, if you like.”  She looked at Amager.

“Pork would be fine,” he said, with a smile and a nod.

As she turned to walk up the hill, Baron Bouchart added, “Looking forward to it.”

Margueritte wondered if the baron understood enough of what was going on to have second thoughts.  At least he heard things from a point of view she was sure he never considered.

When she reached the top of the hill and climbed up the half-wall this time, Peppin and Childemund were waiting, and David, Michael and duBois followed her up.  Calista and Melanie, being elves, no doubt heard every word of the meeting and reported as much to the women.  This time the women were as quiet as the men.

“He will attack,” Margueritte said.  “My guess would be first thing in the morning when the sun is in our eyes.”  No one objected to her assessment.  “Even the Storyteller came to that conclusion, and he is a minister, what you would call a priest, and about the most non-violent person I know.”

“Then we better prepare our men and strengthen the sentry posts,” Peppin said.  As sergeant at arms, it was his duty to think of such things.

Margueritte nodded.  “But we are going to have to shift our positions.  I talked to my fairy spies last night.  Ragenfrid has moved away from the castle and toward the town.  I don’t know if he has become aware of the short wall facing the town or not.  Ronan and his men have been working like mad, and they have the wall just short of seven feet tall, so it is too high to jump, but not so high that it cannot be easily climbed.  Gerraint and the others who know about such things say we have to protect the wall.”

“I can move Bedwin and his men to the wall,” King David suggested, but Margueritte shook her head.

“LeMans and Amager are facing the castle, and I have hope that Amager may refuse to fight.  He is still suffering from the enchantment, but he has enough of his own spirit now to where he should be able to fight the enchantment.  I hope Bouchart may also back away, but I have less hope with him, and it should not seriously diminish Ragenfrid’s numbers for the attack on the town.  The people of the town have all been evacuated to Vergenville, so, if necessary, we may all withdraw to the wall.  It is best if we can defend the property, but not imperative.  David, your men fight best together.  DuBois, I need you to stay where you are, at the corner of the castle and the town.  Michael, you need to make a space between the town and the wall, which sadly means tearing down a couple of houses.  Then you need to get whatever wagons, boxes, barrels, and such to build a wall in front of the castle wall, one that your men can get behind.  You need to practice your archery skills.”

Peppin groused.  “You want my men inside the castle?”

“No,” Margueritte said.  “You need to stay in reserve.  Let your veteran men on horseback and foot support David and duBois in the line as needed, and let the rest, the young men on horseback, be ready to sweep in on the flank if it looks like Michael’s line is going to be overwhelmed.”

“And me?” Childemund did not exactly protest.  “You expect my hundred men to hold the castle alone?  If LeMans is facing the castle, I doubt we will be spared from the assault, even if Tours backs off.”

“I want twenty men on the Breton gate, thirty on the postern gate by the kitchens and forty on the main, Paris gate.  I want the other ten outside Rotrude’s room, unless we can convince her to go to Vergenville, at which point the ten can escort her safely there.  I will take care of the defense of the castle walls, and woe to LeMans if he attacks.”

“Lady,” Jennifer objected again.  “It has always been your way to refuse to put your little ones directly in the battle.”

“The Princess put little ones in the battle, I remember.  Generally, you are right, but in this case, Rotrude, Margo, Elsbeth and you, along with all the children who will be held captive underground, no exceptions, makes a difference. The women and children must be protected, and if you will not evacuate, I have no choice.  I just hope whichever one of you said we could hold him off for a day, two at the most was right.”

“Lady,” Calista stepped up, Melanie right beside her.  “We are honored to be included in your battle plans, for once.”

“And you are one of the women with children we will gladly protect,” Melanie said.

Margueritte shook her finger, and her voice was stern.  “And you better not get hurt, either.”

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

MONDAY

Battle seems inevitable.  The defenders need to hold out long enough for help to arrive.  Good luck.  Until Monday, Happy Reading.

*

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?”