M3 Margueritte: Counting the People, part 3 of 3

“If your majesty would be so kind,” Brianna added with a slight bow of her head.  Lord Bartholomew caught that note and realized his presumption.

“If we may,” he said with a slight bow of his own head.

Lady LeFleur ignored them all and went straight to Jennifer, kissed her on both cheeks and spent a precious moment admiring the baby.  “Most fortunate of men,” she said to Aden as she smiled.  “And have either of you scamps seen my daughter?”  She turned to Elsbeth and Owien.

“No, ma’am,” Owien said with a big bow which only looked a bit awkward because he was still rather young and unpracticed.  He had gotten used to having Goldenrod around, but this was something quite different.

Elsbeth watched him bow and then thought it best to add a curtsey of her own.  “And I am getting worried about her,” Elsbeth said.

“As am I.”  Lady LeFleur responded before she turned to Margueritte and Brianna.  Margueritte felt a curtsey of her own was not out of place.

“I tried calling to her,” Margueritte said.  “But I can’t seem to get through.”

“And you might not have gotten through to me if I had not been calling to you,” Lady LeFleur said, and turned to Margueritte’s mother and father.  “Most of Amorica has not yet turned to the Christ Child,” she explained.  “The old ways are falling, but not yet gone.  Most of the people are in between, not knowing what to believe anymore.  Even Urbon and his queen have been divided for years over David-Judon.  The Lord of Light and Dark has stepped into the gap.  He is presently bringing the whole nation under his thumb.  What his intentions may be, I cannot say.  My powers are small.  I would not presume to read the mind of a god.”

“Seven-eighths god.”  Margueritte corrected without thinking through what she was saying, exactly.  “Abraxas is one eighth greater spirit on his mother’s, mother’s side.”

“All the same.”  Lady LeFleur smiled.  She was not insulted.  “He is as far beyond your little ones as you are from Puppy.  Puppy may obey your commands, but do not presume he understands them or their purpose.”

“I see what you mean,” Brianna said.

“This does not sound good,” Barth said over her words.  “Not good at all.”

“Will you stay with us for a while and be refreshed?”  Brianna asked.

“I cannot,” she said, and turned last to Margueritte.  “I have my troop to consider, and Goldenrod to find, but do not worry.  None of us will cooperate, whatever his design.”  Lady LeFleur flickered once again like a bad movie and vanished.  She had not really been fully there to begin with.

“This is bad.”  Thomas of Evandell mouthed what Barth and the others were thinking.

“Powerful bad,” Grimly said as he became visible again, having decided that it hardly mattered at that point.

The talk went on late into the night, especially after Constantus and Lady Lavinia arrived around midnight.  Morton said they should send a rider to Paris to inform the king.  Peppin knew better and insisted the rider be sent to Charles.  Lord Bartholomew kept putting them off.  “And tell him what?  We don’t know where this is going.  We don’t even know exactly what is happening.  Is it a threat to the peace?”

“Most likely,” Father Aden said.

“But we don’t know that for sure,” Barth responded.

Margueritte went to bed, and Elsbeth was not far behind.  Owien wanted to stay up with the men, but he fell asleep after a time and Brianna covered him with a blanket and Redux carried him to Tomberlain’s room.  And so, they talked, and they were asleep all over the house when Margueritte got up in the morning.

Margueritte tried to be as quiet as she could as she left the Manor house and headed toward the barn.  She worried about Goldenrod and did not think very hard about what she was doing.  She got Puppy and the sheep and headed toward the pasture.  This felt like at least one job she could do for her father.

When her parents were awake, Brianna became immediately concerned.  Barth seemed less concerned, not knowing what to think, but he sent Elsbeth and Owien to fetch her.  They rode out right away.

“But shouldn’t you send soldiers?”  Brianna asked outright.

Barth looked at her, and almost had a change of heart, Margueritte having gone missing twice already; but at the last he assured her Elsbeth and Owien would do.  “They are just meeting first,” he reminded her.  “That will likely go on for a few days.”  He tried to reassure her, but he honestly needed the men to help turn the triangle into a better defensive position.  He would have liked to turn the whole thing into a fort, but they had no time for that.  The women and children would be coming up from the south March by the next afternoon, and he wanted things as ready as he could make them.  The barn needed to be emptied for use as quarters, and the road needed to be cleared for some distance in case men should come at them from Vergen.  The only question seemed what might be the best use for the lumber?

“And let me know as soon as the men get back from DuLac!”  He shouted at Peppin who nodded before they both moved off in different directions.

Brianna also got busy.  She had to check their food supply and she had a great deal of cooking to do.  Maven and Lady Lavinia were a help, as well as some of the wives of the free Franks who had been brought in, but she missed Marta.  Marta disappointed her, and she wished more than once that Lolly was still there.

Elsbeth and Owien dismounted in the hollow.

“Why are we stopping?”  Owien asked, knowing full well that the pasture sat just up the ridge.

“I want to surprise her,” Elsbeth said with a wicked grin.

“You’ve been hanging out with the little ones too much,” Owien said.

“Hush,” Elsbeth said, and she grabbed his hand, which he did not mind.

They began to sneak up, side by side, but then they heard Margueritte scream, “Ow!  Not again!”  Elsbeth tried to pull away.  Owien would not let go.  He pulled her back and quieted her until they could get a look.

This time the men did not bother being careful with the net.  They cut her hair off boy length, at the neckline, and tied and gagged her, and she could not stop them.  Half a dozen men were unconscious and scattered about the field, but Margueritte had worn herself out and had no more charge in her at the moment.  She had called for the armor of Gerraint and Festuscato, and that protected her from the worst of it, but she got bound all the same and tossed over the back of a horse as she had been once before.

“The army is in the south, by Aquitaine.”  Owien whispered.

Elsbeth whispered in return.  “You go get Roland and Tomberlain.  Ride south fast as a fee.  I’ll go tell Father.”  She had decided.  Owien knew there was no point in arguing, so he nodded, and they snuck back to where they tied the horses.

Owien got right up.  He had become quite a horseman since he got a real horse to ride.  “I’ll be back before you know it,” he said, and Elsbeth could not help smiling as she felt her heart flutter a little when he raced off in one direction.  She turned and headed the other way.  As she rode carefully through the woods, there were men waiting so she did not get very far.

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

MONDAY

Even after a lifetime of unusual events, Margueritte is hardly prepared for what lies ahead.  Until then.

*

M3 Margueritte: Counting the People, part 2 of 3

Roan and Morgan did not argue further or say anything about what Margueritte did to them.  That alone felt strange enough to raise Margueritte’s curiosity, but before she could think much about it, she had to help Elsbeth to her feet.

“Are you all right?”  Elsbeth nodded while Margueritte shouted up the ladder.  “Owien.  Stay where you are until they are gone.”

Owien wanted to rush down to Elsbeth, but he gritted his teeth.  “As long as Elsbeth is all right,” he said.  “Otherwise, I would cut the man.”

“Don’t let the small insults rule your knife.  That’s what Father says.”  Margueritte reminded Owien of something he had undoubtedly heard a hundred times.  Owien showed his gritted teeth but said no more as Marguerite and Elsbeth went to the door.

The serfs lined up outside with blankets and such small possessions as might be important to them.  It indeed looked like they were leaving for a week, if not much longer.  Brian stormed out of the house and mounted his horse.  Bartholomew followed and protested all the way though Brian looked equally determined to ignore him.

Brian and Canto lead the procession.  Roan and Morgan followed with a half dozen men, all armed, who brought up the rear.  The peasants walked in the middle as they headed off down the road to Vergen.  Bartholomew threw his hands up, and Brianna came out to stand beside him and watch.

“How can I run a farm without laborers?”  Lord Barth asked no one in particular.  Brianna just took his hand until the procession moved out of sight.  Moments later, Father Aden came out of the chapel, and Jennifer followed, the baby in her arms.

“I don’t like this,” Aden said when he came close.

“Me neither.”  Margueritte added her voice to the mix.

“I should have cut the man.”  Owien rushed up.

“No, son,” Bartholomew told him, but he appeared thoughtful, and added, “Not yet.”

A moment after that, Thomas of Evandell came up, and Grimly rode with him.  Everyone waited to hear what he had to say, and he did not waste words.  “I had to wait until they were gone.  It would not have been safe while they were here.”  He got down and Grimly took the moment to speak.

“Powerful enchantments about,” he said.  “The whole country is in a fog.  Hard to tell what is going on.”

“I felt it myself,” Thomas said.  “I was with Constantus practicing my Latin when the strangest feeling came over me.  I felt that I needed to attend to the king.  Now, as the king’s bard, I have felt that feeling before, but never like this.  It was more than a feeling, if you know what I mean.  Constantus wondered if I had taken ill.  I could not say.  As time passed, the feeling grew.  I became agitated.  I said I had to go.  I went to ride out, and curiously, I knew exactly where the king was at that moment, and thinking about it after, I know how curious that was.  You see, he was not in his home.  He was in a village by the sea, but I knew he was there, though there is no way I should have known.  I would be there now if Grimly had not found me on the road.”

“Things are afoot,” Grimly said.  “And I know Sir Thomas has been a great help in the past.  I thought we might need him, but it was powerful hard to break the spell that had come over him.  It took me and Catspaw and Pipes altogether to set him free.”

“Yes,” Thomas said.  “And even now I feel it a little.

“Aden?”  Jennifer looked at him.

“Nothing,” Aden said.

Elsbeth looked at Owien, but Owien shook his head.  “I don’t have a king, not with what he did to me and my mother.  Sir Barth is my master, and he is going to teach me to be a knight, and I’ll be a good one, I will.”  Everyone smiled, but this felt like serious business.

“Come inside,” Brianna said.  “We can talk just as well when we are comfortable.”  She took Bartholomew’s arm and brought him to the house, the others following.

Elsbeth nudged Margueritte and whispered.  “Maybe now the rest of us can get some adventure.”

Margueritte shook her head.  “I don’t know what is going on, but I don’t think this is a good thing.”

The free Franks came in all evening as their Breton serfs and servants deserted their homes.  Some Franks came all the way up from the south mark.

“I don’t know what to make of it.”  Sir Morton, Baron Bernard’s former Master at Arms spoke for the southerners.

“None from the north at all,” Sir Peppin, the man who took Sir Gile’s place beneath Bartholomew explained.

“I don’t know why Giscard should not be here.  Morton came,” Barth responded and patted Morton on the shoulder.

“Unless he has the men fortifying the Manor house,” Peppin responded.

“Yes, I thought of that.”  Barth shook his head.  Morton looked like he had not thought of that.  “It doesn’t look good.”

“Some Breton haven’t been taken in by the spell,” Morton said, changing the subject.  Besides Thomas and Father Aden, Andrew and James-John remained.

“And all committed Christians,” Aden pointed out and Brianna agreed.

“But I don’t know what that means,” Brianna added.

“Peppin.  Send two men up to the north March and see what is happening at Curdwallah’s old place.”  Bartholomew ordered, just before Margueritte, Elsbeth, and Maven began to bring in the food.  Marta had gone with the Potter and her baby.

“I apologize for the poor fixings, my lady,” Maven spoke to Brianna.

“Don’t,” Brianna said.  “In fact, let me help.”

“Me, too,” Jennifer said, though she held her baby so her hands were already occupied.  The truth was she remained uncomfortable around large groups of humans, especially when many of them were strangers.

Once outside, Brianna immediately turned to her daughter.  “Margueritte, could you call to Goldenrod?  Maybe she would know something.”

“Doubt it.”  Grimly came up from where he had been hiding out back with Owien and Redux the blacksmith.

Margueritte looked hard at Grimly.  “I already tried,” Margueritte said.  “It’s like she can’t hear me or something.”  Margueritte shook her head.  “But maybe,” she had a thought.  “Lady LeFleur!  Your majesty, I need you.”  She put every ounce into the call that she could muster.  The Lady came, but she came like a bad piece of film at first, no more than a flickering image.  “Lady LeFleur!”  Margueritte called again, and the fairy became like a ghost before she solidified, ever so slowly.  She took a deep breath as soon as she fully manifested, and that was just when Father Aden, Thomas, Barth, Peppin, and Morton came out the back door.

“Oops.”  Grimly quickly went invisible.

Lady LeFleur, however, stayed visible, for a moment in fairy form before she got big.  She looked fairy beautiful.  Aden stood beside Jennifer and stared.  Peppin and Thomas went to one knee.  Morton looked afraid and wanted to run, but his feet felt planted like lead.  Barth spoke right up.

“Maybe now we can find out what is going on,” he said and put his hands together.

M3 Margueritte: One Happy Ending, part 2 of 2

Father Aden and Lady Jennifer held hands, and Margueritte felt warmed by that sight.  Father Stephano came a moment behind them, and they crossed the road, and headed straight for Margueritte.

“My lady,” Jennifer said, and nodded her head slightly toward Marguerite as they came within range.

“Dear Margueritte.”  Father Aden began immediately.  “I do not know if you are well enough or strong enough for this yet,” he apologized.  “But Father Stephano has been recalled to Rome and I am afraid the matter must be settled quickly if things are going to be done properly.”

He did not have to say wedding.  That was understood.  Margueritte just stared for a moment.  She had researched this as well as she could, gathered as much information from her other lifetimes as possible, but that only assured her that there was no absolute answer.  She still felt undecided as to what she should do, or even if she could do anything; so she just stared for a minute before she spoke.

“For my part.”  Father Stephano filled the gap.  “I will say I have never seen two human beings before who were so right for each other.  I would be honored to do the service.”

“But that’s just it…” Margueritte said, and she let the sentence trail off.  She did not say that one of the two was decidedly not human.

“Yes,” Father Aden understood.  “But it is our tradition that a Priest marry and be faithful to one wife rather than subject to daily temptation.”

“Now, let’s not start that again,” Father Stephano said, to one he had evidently taken as a friend.  “We have agreed to disagree.”

“Quite right,” Father Aden said, and he turned his eyes back to Margueritte.

“I do not understand, though, why you must seek the permission of this young lady.”  Father Stephano went on.  “That is one tradition that makes little sense to me.”

“Because I am pledged to her,” Jennifer said, plainly, and she lowered her head a little as if to indicate that she was ready to listen and accept, no matter what.

“Precisely.”  Father Stephano shook his head.  “I would think the younger would be pledged to the older.”  He shrugged, as if to indicate that it was something he might never understand, but it was not that important.

Margueritte knew Father Stephano did not have all the facts.  It was that important, and, like it or not, she was the one had to decide if they could marry.  That one thing had been made most-clear to her.  No matter how many other lives she lived, this one belonged to Margueritte, and so it was up to her how she would live it.  This became her responsibility, not a decision to be made by Gerraint, Festuscato, or even the goddess, Danna.  Margueritte shook herself free of her stare.

“And what has your father to say?” she asked Jennifer.

Jennifer looked up, but not at Margueritte.  Instead, she looked to the manor house where several people came out of the front door, a sure example of the impeccable timing that the little ones so often show.  Lord Barth, Lady Brianna, Elsbeth and Owien, came out with Lord Yellow Leaf, Jennifer’s father, full sized of course.

“My lord.”  Margueritte said to the fee as he approached.

“My lady.”  He bowed to the invalid wrapped in her cloak and blanket as a man might bow to a Dowager Empress.  “We have spoken long and hard these past several days.  We have taken much counsel.  And I have concluded that I will not stand in the way of my daughter’s happiness.”

“You understand if she does this there may be no going back,” Margueritte said.

“I understand.”  Lord Yellow Leaf nodded, but he seemed to be at peace.

“Father Aden?”  Margueritte felt curious, though she did not exactly ask a question.

“I have no reservations, and no doubts.”  Father Aden answered plainly.  Margueritte did not have to ask, exactly.

“Little White Flower?”  Margueritte prompted, deliberately using the Lady’s true name.

“With all my heart,” Little White Flower responded.  “His God is my God, and because of that I know, whether we are apart or together, I will be his, always.”

“His God is my God, too,” Margueritte said, and only then did she understand what she would do.  “Jennifer, please come here and kneel because I do not know if I have the strength to stand and do what I must.”  She did not really intend to do anything, but she honestly did not know what might happen.

Jennifer stepped forward and went to her knees.  She clasped her hands, lowered her head and closed her eyes like a woman in prayer.  She took a deep breath and let it out slowly as if to say she was ready.  Margueritte leaned forward and placed her hands on Jennifer’s head.  Then she took a breath of her own and said what she decided.

“You have my permission, and my blessing.”

They stayed that way for a moment.  It seemed hard to tell, outwardly, if anything much happened.  Jennifer’s appearance hardly changed at all, and she never looked more beautiful, but from the inside-out she got transformed. Neither she nor Margueritte had any doubts.  She became fully human, and the proof came in the tears that began to stream down her face.  As for Margueritte, she felt something like a conduit as the power of creation flowed through her.  It felt a heady, and draining experience, though she lost nothing of herself in the process.  Then she removed her hands and Jennifer went immediately to Aden to hold him and cry on his shoulder.

After a moment, Jennifer turned to cry on Lady Brianna’s shoulder, the Lady having a few tears of her own.  Then she cried on her father, and Yellow Leaf, being as empathic as fairies are, cried with her.  Margueritte saw Elsbeth and Owien standing side by side, touching hands, though not actually holding hands.  Elsbeth had teary eyes herself, but Owien asked a question.

“Why is she crying?” he wondered.  “I thought she would be happy.”

Margueritte looked up.  She had slumped down low on her seat and her mother looked concerned.  “Bartholomew,” she said.  “Help me get your daughter to bed.”  Lord Bartholomew did not just help; he picked Margueritte up and carried her himself all the way to her room and mumbled as he went so Brianna would not hear him.

“I’d kill that hag for hurting my Margueritte so, if she wasn’t already dead.  Made you weak as a kitten.”  Margueritte smiled, but she fell asleep almost before she touched her pillow.

M3 Margueritte: One Happy Ending, part 1 of 2

It took a whole week before Margueritte felt well enough to sit on the bench under the old oak.  She loved her visit with Goldenrod, but she hardly got a word in edgewise.  Goldenrod had too much “newsy.”

“And Hammerhead got so ogerish it was scary to be around him, and he broke bunches of stuff,” she said.  “But your mother was very brave, and she and Lady Jennifer, that’s Little White Flower, you know, they convinced him to go home to his family for a while.  And his family moved down to Aquatainey, but Roland says king Eudo thought the Saracens were scary.  I think he was making a ha-ha.  And anyway, Lord Larchmont and Lord Birch and Lord Yellow Leaf, that’s Little White Flower’s father, you know, and my mother, Lady LeFleur kept everyone working really hard at what they were supposed to be doing.  Mother said you would want it that way, and the Lady Danna, too, though everyone wanted to go looking for you.”

“Grimly?”  Margueritte got one-word in.

“Oh, he and Catspaw went to find where Pipes wandered off to, and Catspaw says she wants children.  And Marta is pregnant, now that she is married to Weldig the potter, though how anyone can stay pregnant for so long is a mystery.  She’s been pregnant five whole months now!  Oh, and Luckless and Lolly are talking to each other, now that Lolly says her work here is done, what with Marta being married and all, and they are talking about going to find their own children.  I didn’t know they had children.”

Margueritte shrugged.

“Oh, and I saw Owien and Elsbeth kissing once, and I laughed and laughed.  It was so funny!  And Maven found a new hidey place for nap time and she says I’m not supposed to tell anyone that it is just past the bushes between the kitchen and the tower, you know, where it is all soft grassy on the hillside.  Oh, and Little White Flower, I mean, Lady Jennifer is beside herself with frets and fusses because Father Stephano has been here three whole weeks and Father Aden has asked her not to get little when Father Stephano is around, but I think she is really in love with Father Aden, you know.  But sometimes he and Father Stephano get really loud, but I think they like each other, so I don’t understand why they get loud unless one of them has some troll or ogre in him.”

“Ahem.”

“Oh, hello, Lady.”  Goldenrod flitted over to Margueritte’s shoulder.

“Mother.”  Margueritte looked up and pulled her blanket up a little as well.

Lady Brianna looked down at her daughter and the little fairy perched so sweetly on her daughter’s shoulder.  “You two are a real picture,” she said with her warmest smile.  “But I think maybe Margueritte has had enough for one day.”

“No, Mother, please,” Margueritte said.  “I’m all right, really.  Here.”  And she pushed over a little to give her mother room to sit

Her mother sat, slowly.  “I always loved the fall,” she said.  “But it is rather chilly out.  I think it may snow soon.”

“It may.”  Margueritte shared the blanket.

“White and lovely, warm and fluffy,” Goldenrod said.

“You don’t know how wonderful it is to be outside, even if it is chilly,” Margueritte said.  Her mother looked at her and after a moment, nodded.  “And Goldenrod, even at her most runny-mouth, is the best company a girl ever had.” Margueritte finished her thought.

“I am?”  Goldenrod asked with complete surprise.

“The best,” Margueritte confirmed with a nod.

“Weee!”  Goldenrod took to the air, positively, and literally beaming with delight.  Both Marguerite and Brianna had to smile.  They felt a small touch of that delight as surely as if it was their own.

After a moment, Goldenrod settled down, and Lady Brianna looked seriously at her daughter.  “I need to speak with you about Jennifer,” she said.  She paused only for a moment as if searching for just the right words.  “She told me the spirits and people are not supposed to mingle.”

“It isn’t encouraged,” Margueritte said.  “Imagine the trouble that could cause.”

“Yes.”    Lady Brianna nodded, grimly.  “I can testify to that by personal experience over these last several years,” she said.  “But there are exceptions.”  She was suggesting something.  Margueritte got curious.  “Say, in the case of true love?”

“Oh?”  Margueritte felt suspicious, but Goldenrod voiced the suspicion before Margueritte could ask.

“Like Lady Jennifer and Father Aden who want to get married,” she blurted it right out.  Lady Brianna looked over to the Chapel.

“Jennifer has grown into a lovely, faithful young woman,” the lady said.  “But I cannot imagine how that might work.”  Fairies tended to live as much as a thousand years, and by comparison, the human lifespan was so terribly short.

“Has anyone talked to her father?”  Margueritte wondered.

Lady Brianna’s eyes lit up, but she said no more about it as she smiled and patted her daughter’s hand and went back inside with one more word.  “Come in soon.”

“I will mother,” Margueritte said and she shrugged off the more disturbing questions by turning back to Goldenrod.  “What other newsy since I’ve been gone?” she asked.

Goldenrod flitted, almost danced in the air like a little porcelain ballerina.  “Lovey, lovey, lovey.”  She stopped still in mid-air.  “No time for newsy.  I have to see if Elsbeth and Owien are getting kissy again.”  And she was gone.

Margueritte got stronger every day, though she remained skinnier than even she wanted to be.  But every day she felt more certain of herself, in her identity, and in her memories, including those memories throughout time that she could reach, and she supposed that was the important thing.

After three days, on an early afternoon very much like the other, Margueritte sat again on the bench under the old oak.  She had her cloak wrapped tight around her, and her blanket tucked in beneath her legs.  She imagined she looked like an invalid, but she felt determined to spend as much time outdoors as she could before the winter made that impossible.

She thought of Roland, of course, and fretted over his going to war.  She felt worried for him, and the thought of Tomberlain with him felt frightening.  She decided not to dwell on that thought.  She just began to wonder for the millionth time if Roland might propose, and imagined what such a life might be like, when she saw Little White Flower, or rather, Lady Jennifer and Father Aden come out from the Chapel.

M3 Margueritte: In the Tower, part 1 of 2

Margueritte awoke but did not open her eyes at first.  Her stomach churned a little and she did not know why.  She did not remember being sick.  She heard the sound of shuffling beside her, like someone rearranging things on a dresser.  She looked.

An old woman had her back turned to the bed.  Margueritte sat up a little and that got the woman’s attention.  The woman turned, and Margueritte threw a fist to her own mouth to stifle a scream.  The woman was frightening to look at, especially in her piercing eyes.

“Ah, you’re awake,” the old woman said.  “But you must not act that way toward your own, dear mother Curdwallah.”

“Mother?”  Margueritte felt confused, but that did not sound right.

“Yes, dear,” Curdwallah said.  “You left the tower again.  The little ones almost caught you, and you lost your memory again.  I bet you don’t even remember your name.”

Margueritte paused and wrinkled her brow.  She did not remember.

“Lucky for you your mother was able to save you again and bring you back to safety.  This tower is isolated.  You are safe here and no one will find you, but you must stay in the tower, my dear, or you will never remember anything.”

“What is my name?”  Margueritte asked.

Curdwallah paused as if she considered her options.  “Margueritte,” she said at last.  “I always did like that name.”

“Mother?”  Margueritte said it, but it was really a question.

“The only one you have,” Curdwallah responded, but she never did smile.

Margueritte shook her head.  That did not sound right, but the name Margueritte felt right and it made her wonder about the rest.  “I must stay in the tower?”  She did not exactly understand.

“It is the curse,” Curdwallah said with a raise of her brows.  No doubt, she intended to pretend concern, but in fact it made her look more frightening so Margueritte had to look away and just listen.  “You would not marry the evil one.”

“I am old enough to marry?”  Margueritte wondered.

“Not quite,” Curdwallah responded.  “That was part of the problem, but you must not interrupt your mother.  It isn’t polite.”

“I’m sorry, Mother Curdwallah,” Margueritte said, and swallowed, like the name caused a great lump in her throat.

Curdwallah paused, but Margueritte refused to look.

“You would not marry the evil one.  He made you lose all your memories and told you lies to try and trick you into his bed, but you would not.  I barely saved you the first time, when we came here.  Our great god, Abraxas, made this a safe place for you.  You will not be haunted by your past or by strange dreams of the future, and the spirits of the earth that the evil one has sent to find you will never find you here.  But you must stay here, always, er, until I can find a cure for the curse.  Every time you leave the tower, you lose all of your memories and we have to start all over again.”

Margueritte swallowed again.  She could think of no reason to disbelieve what she was told.  She screwed up her courage and looked again at Curdwallah.  It was not easy.  “Am I so beautiful then that he cannot resist me?”  She asked.

“Yes,” Curdwallah lied.  “And see, your hair has grown again as it should.”  Margueritte looked quickly.  For an instant, she remembered having long hair, hair to the floor, but this was ever so much more.  It looked twice as long as she was tall, and to be sure, she got up to see.

“Good.”  Curdwallah said.  “Come here, girl.”  Margueritte went and Curdwallah brought her to the window.  “Tie your hair to the pole here and let it down outside.”  Curdwallah said and showed her how.  “I have much to do today.”

“But mother Curdwallah, will you not stay with me?”  Margueritte asked.  She did not want to be left alone, at the moment, in unfamiliar surroundings.

“No.  But remember this.”  Curdwallah trained her sharp eyes on the girl and Margueritte shrank back ever so little.  “You must never go down to the first floor and the door to the tower must always remain closed to you or the spell of safety may be broken.  I go in and out the window.”

Margueritte changed her mind in that moment.  She wanted company, but Curdwallah, mother or not, frightened her terribly.  “Yes, Mother Curdwallah,” Margueritte said, thinking it prudent to be agreeable.

“I must go,” Curdwallah said and taking hold of Margueritte’s hair she easily stepped over the window seat to the sill.  “I am servant of our great god Abraxas, and there is always work in service to the god.”  She began to lower herself, hand by hand until she reached the ground.  “Now pull your hair up.”  She instructed.  “I will call you when I need you to let it down again.

“Yes, Mother Curdwallah,” Margueritte said, and complied, but to herself, she said, “Abraxas is no god of mine,” and she doubted in her heart that anyone so horrid could be her real mother.  When her hair got safely wrapped around her shoulders several times like a great scarf, she went and threw herself on her bed and cried.  She did not know why she felt so sad.  She really could not remember anything at all.  But she felt sad all the same and finally decided that life was simply too unfair for words.  She found a bit of bread and a cup of milk on the side table, but she did not feel hungry. There were no mirrors, but she decided she did not want to look anyway.  She nearly tripped on her own hair when she went to the door of her room but decided she did not want to search the tower.  She hoped her hair would not get much longer.  Finally, back on her bed, she cried herself to sleep.

###

Almost a year passed before King Urbon called off the search and sent his condolences to Lord Bartholomew and Lady Brianna.  They, of course, were not for giving up.

Early on, Luckless, who could stand at the front door and find the exact spot where a copper had fallen in the labyrinth on Crete, sniffed the air and spun around so many times he got dizzy; but he could not find a trace of her.  “But she isn’t dead,” he insisted.  “I would know if she was.”

“She isn’t dead,” Grimly confirmed over and over before he disappeared.

“Gone to raise the troops for a good look around.”  Little White Flower told Brianna.  They had indeed become best of friends, and Brianna did not mind at all that Elsbeth and Margueritte had in Little White Flower something of an older sister.  In fact, she sometimes treated Little White Flower like a daughter, and the fee, whose own mother was long gone, responded willingly and with her whole heart.

One afternoon, they walked beside the oak in the triangle and sat on the bench Brianna had put there.  “I don’t know if they may find her, though.  It is like she has been taken right out of this world.”

Little White Flower stayed big as much as she could stand, and she had taken to wearing the clothes of a true lady and calling herself Jennifer.  Brianna thought to change the subject.

“And will you marry Father Aden?”  She asked.

Little White Flower began to cry, and Brianna instantly felt sorry to have brought it up.  “Without Margueritte that may never happen,” Little White Flower explained.  “It is one of the oldest rules of all; that the sprites are not to marry or even mingle with people without permission.”

“Oh. I see,” Brianna said.  “But we will find her, and soon.”  Brianna always sounded positive about that and Little White Flower, that is, Jennifer perked up a little.

“Oh, I hope so,” she said.

“I have explained all that to Charles.”  Roland yelled as he came crashing out of the house.

“But son.”  Lord Bartholomew argued right back.  “It will do no good getting yourself in trouble as a deserter.  We will send word as soon as there is word to send.”

Roland shook his head and would not listen.  “Charles has plenty of swords and can take care of himself.”

“Damn, stubborn.”  Lord Barth started but pulled up short when he noticed the women.  “Sorry, my dear.”

Brianna stood.  “Roland.  I believe Charles may need you for more than just your sword,” she suggested.

“That’s right.”  Bartholomew picked up on the thought.  “A good head is worth more than sharp steel alone.”

Roland paused, looked first at Lord Barth and then at Lady Brianna and settled finally on the fairy.  “I’m not for giving up,” Roland said plainly.  “How about you, Lady Jennifer.”

“No giving up.”  Little White Flower agreed, and her cry was completely forgotten and replaced by a grim determination.  “I know my Lady LeFleur has kept the little ones to task, lest the world suffer while we search for our Lady; but I think I may pay her one more visit.  I can’t possibly do much more praying right now.  My knees are almost worn out as it is.”  That was quite a speech for the little lady, but then, when the fee spent considerable time in their big size, they tended to behave more like ordinary people.

Brianna took and patted Little White Flower’s hand for support.

M3 Margueritte: Backed into a Corner, part 1 of 3

Chief Brian took a deep breath.  “Please understand.  I love our people and I expect the witch’s plans will not be in their best interest.  I assume, though I may be wrong, that you may have the power to undo her wicked scheme, whatever it may actually be.”

Margueritte paused once more to consider.  “But how do you know I am not also a witch, maybe worse than the other?” she asked.  Brian looked at her again, briefly before he looked away once more.  He seemed to laugh.

“Because I have seen you and know you, and your mother and family as well.  If there is anything in you, it is purity, not wickedness.  You have the Christ in you.  And you have shown no signs of wanting to take over anything or bend anything to your nefarious will.  Why, you are no more witch than I am.”

“But what of the king’s left ear?  Surely, he has some sense there,” Margueritte said, but Brian sighed.

“Alas, his left ear is occupied by Finnian McVey, and that Irishman is only in it for himself.  Lord knows his agenda, except he is nobody’s fool, not even for the witch. But you see, now, whether the king turns to the left or to the right it will not go well for us, not well at all.”

Margueritte had a lot to think about, though she was not sure there was anything she could do.  She hardly had time to think, though, because as she stood to walk, she found herself cornered by Finnian McVey himself.

“Young Margueritte,” he said and turned up his thin lips in what Margueritte imagined he supposed was a friendly smile.  “A weard, if you would be so kind.”

“Of course,” Margueritte said, curious enough after what the village chief just told her.

“Over here, if you don’t mind,” he said and took her by the elbow and lead her to the edge of the woods.  “What I have to ask is delicate and I would not have untoward ears listening in.

Margueritte extracted her arm before she was pushed into the actual woods, but she found herself well within the shade of the trees and her back to one great tree, while Finnian blocked her way back into the light.  “I am sure there is nothing I might tell you which is worth such secrecy,” she said.

“Ah, but there is.”  He pressed his hands together and put his fingers to his lips as if deciding exactly how to phrase things.  He stepped closer, and she took a small step back, and so he moved her more surely into the shadows.

“I have it on authority that around your home there are certain powers in the world and spirits of the darkness.”

“Then your authority is wrong.”  Margueritte said quickly even as she wondered who else knew the supposed secret.  “For I would entertain no darkness around my house, and neither would my mother nor my father who is Count of the Frankish Mark, lest you have forgotten.”

“Light and dark,” Finnian said with a step to force her back.  “These are relative terms.  They say there is a god, Abraxas, who bears the burden for both.  Of that, I would not know, but of the cratures that surround you, I am certain,” he drawled.

“Sir,” Margueritte said.  “I must return to the grounds before the others miss me.”  She was not really with others apart from Roland, Tomberlain, Owien and her father, and they were engaged in the games, though Finnian did not need to know that.  She started to walk, but he put out his arm and stopped her steps.

“Not yet,” he said.  “For I also know these powers worship the ground you walk on and will do whatever you ask.”

“Sir.  Even if that were true, it would be in the asking,” Margueritte said.  “Your spirit belongs to you and for that only you are accountable.  Would it be any different with any other spirit?  I think not.  Whatever you have heard, each one belongs to him or herself, not to me.”

“Ah, but if you were to ask, you could give one to me and then I could see what is what,” he said, and Margueritte took two steps back on that note.

“I am not one to endorse slavery, especially to the likes of you.”

His hand came very close to her face, but he withheld his slap.  “I am not asking you, missy,” he said instead.  “I am telling you to give me one of the little people, one with power in this earth, and you will, soon, if you know what is good for you.”

“Never.”  Margueritte charged toward her freedom, but Finnian caught her and dragged her deeper into the woods.  Her eyes yelled for help, but her mouth got covered by his hand.  She dreaded the taste but bit him all the same.  He yelped and she got out one “Help!” before he hit her, hard.  The smile appeared long gone from Finnian’s face as his thin lips turned down in a growl.

Finnian let go suddenly when a little one ran up his back.  He giggled, even as he caught something out of the corner of his eye.  He spun round and round and tried to get a good look, but the fee moved too fast and stayed always just in his peripheral vision.  When he fell over from dizziness, an impish lady gave him a wet, slobbering kiss right before the two below pulled on the string that held up his pants.  He fell, face down into the puddle of mud, not there a minute ago.  Finnian got up, angry, but his pants stayed around his ankles and there came a great roar, like a lion got right behind him, though it came thundering out of the littlest dwarfish creature.  Finnian screamed for his life and ran.  He tripped several times because of his pants as he ran back to the ground of the games.  Margueritte fell-down, laughing.

M3 Margueritte: Roland, part 1 of 3

Three days before Samhain in that same year, Roland came riding into the Triangle, much to the surprise of everyone, especially Margueritte.  “I was invited.”  He professed and pulled Margueritte’s embroidered handkerchief from his pocket.  Lady Brianna just smiled and welcomed him, regally.  Bartholomew, though glad to see the young man again, looked at his daughter with a different eye.  He knew nothing about it.

“Are you returning my token then?”  Margueritte asked later.

“Not a chance,” Roland said.  “I’ll let you know, but I suspect you may never get it back.”

Margueritte hardly knew what to say, but the joy got written all over her face.

At supper, Roland explained his presence.  He was sent by Charles with letters to Urbon, king of Amorica.  After leaving the Breton Mark and on returning to Paris with Father Stephano, he dug up the letters Bartholomew and Baron Bernard wrote over the last several years.  He read all about the Moslem Ambassador and wished to convey his congratulations on Urbon having the foresight to throw the man out.  The letters discussed at some length the incursions of the Moors into Aquitaine and suggested that Urbon keep a careful watch on the coast, knowing the coastline to be full of nooks and crannies where a raiding party might easily find a foothold.  Should he need the assistance of the Franks, Charles assured Urbon of his friendship and support.  And that was about it.

“Such letters could have been carried by courier.  Nothing secret there to move you out of your comforts in Paris,” Lord Bartholomew said.

“Actually, I volunteered to bring them,” he said.  Margueritte looked at her food and her heart fluttered.  “I wanted to see how Tomberlain was getting along with his swordplay.”

She kicked Roland this time, and she meant to.

Sadly, for her, Roland did seem to spend a lot of time with her father, Tomberlain, and even Owien.  They rode once for an hour or so.  They had a picnic on the second day, but Elsbeth came along and Goldenrod distracted everyone.  They did walk by the stream, but not much got said.  It seemed like they both became suddenly very shy.  Then Margueritte had her chores to do before they could leave for Vergenville, and she did her best to see them done.

Margueritte worked in the barn, in the potato bins, when Roland came unexpectedly.  She wore her apron.  Her hands were dirty, and she even had a streak of dirt across one cheek put there by the back of her hand used to wipe away the sweat.  “Oh, Sir.”  She started to turn away.

“Oh stop.”  He said in her same tone.  “My mother and sisters sorted potatoes all the time, and likely more than enough for a lifetime.”

“It is important, you know,” Margueritte said.

“Absolutely.  One rotten one can spoil the whole bin.”  He looked up at Grimly, whom he genuinely liked, and Goldenrod for whom he had the deepest love and affection, and Hammerhead, whom he at least respected, even if he still found it hard to look at the fellow.  They lounged around on the hay while their mistress sweated at her labor.  “Say, though,” he said.  “Wouldn’t it be better to let these little ones of yours sort the potatoes?  You and I could maybe walk again by the stream before your brother and father find me.”

“Oh, I don’t know if that would be such a good idea.”  Margueritte started.

“Why sure.”  Grimly jumped up.  “We would love to sort the taters.  I’m getting bored just sitting around anyway.”

“I can help.”  Goldenrod assured them all.

“Er, okay,” Hammerhead said, not quite sure what was being asked.

Margueritte explained while she wiped her hands as clean as she could on her apron.  “You just need to go through them one by one.  The good ones go here.”  She pointed to the empty bin.  “Any that are especially soft or if they are rotten, or even if you are not sure if they are good to eat, put them in the bucket.  Oh, I don’t know.”  She said in one breath, turned to Roland, and nearly bumped into him.  He put his arm over her shoulder as he spoke.

“We can stay a minute to see they get started,” he said.

Margueritte reached both hands up to hold his and make sure his arm stayed around her shoulder, but she said nothing.

“Now, if I’ve got it, the good ones go in the bin and the rotten ones in the bucket.  Come on, then.”  Grimly climbed up on the bin.  Each little one took a potato.  At least Goldenrod tried to take one, but she could not quite lift it.  Hammerhead took about six by accident and stared at them in utter uncertainty.  Grimly made up for the other two by instantly going from one to the next.

“No good, no good.  Definitely no good.  Nope. No way.  Not a chance.”

“Ugh!”  Goldenrod tugged with all her little might.

“Nope. No good. Ooo, this one looks like Herbert Hoover.”

“Let me see.”  Goldenrod left off her tug of war.

Hammerhead, still unmoved, stared at his spuds.

“Who is Herbert Hoover?”  Goldenrod asked.

“I don’t know, but this looks like him.”  He looked at Goldenrod and they spoke in unison.  “No good.”  The bucket started filling rapidly and not one was yet in the bin.

“Nope. Nope. Nope.”  Grimly started shoveling toward the bucket and Goldenrod got back to tugging until Grimly made enough of a dent for her potato to roll and take her with it with a “Weee!”

Margueritte’s sides were splitting with laughter, and Roland laughed right with her until she turned toward him, and their eyes met.  The laughter vanished in an instant and he drew her up to him and held her tight.  Their lips touched, soft and warm, and they might have remained that way for some time if Grimly had not whistled.

“Woohoo!”

“Whaty?”  Goldenrod said and got her little head above the edge of the bin.

M3 Margueritte: Guests, part 2 of 3

“My Lords,” Roland said as he rose.  “Lady Brianna.  Will you pardon me?  I had better see to the horses before I retire.”

“I will help Maven with the dishes,” Margueritte said, knowing it would let her outside as Roland was going outside.  Then her father had to ruin it all.

“Don’t mind the ogre if he’s back.  He really is a nice fellow.”

“Oh, yes.”  Roland had forgotten and needed to think a minute.

“It’s all right,” Tomberlain said.  “I’ll go with you and help.”

“Thank you.”  Roland stole a glance from Margueritte.

Margueritte took out the plates, knives and cups and set them in the water, not too gently.  Marta came back in time to help and ended up doing most of it because Maven’s back hurt.

“What’s the matter missy?”  Lolly asked, shooting for the core.  “You like that hunk of a young man, don’t you?”

“I wouldn’t know,” Margueritte said, sounding ever so frustrated.  “Tomberlain won’t let me get a word in edgewise.”

“There, there.”  Lolly said in her most motherly fashion.  “You don’t want to go falling in love, anyway.  All that will get you is the three “H’s.”

“What are those?”  Margueritte fell right into it.

“Heartaches, Headaches, and Husbands,” Lolly said.  “And that last, ungrateful, self-centered child is the cause of most of the first two.”

“I would like a husband.”  Marta spoke up from her work and honestly tried to join the conversation.

“Yes, Marta.”  Margueritte got curious.  “Why aren’t you married.”

“No one ever asked me,” she said.

Maven got up then, grinning, and came forward, rubbing her hands together.  “Well, well, well,” she said.

“Now, now.”  Lolly tapped her cooking spoon tenderly against Maven’s hands and eyed Marta with a strange look.  “I think you need to be leaving this one to the experts.”

Margueritte knew Marta would not be long for this world.  “I gotta go,” she said, and she slipped off toward the barn, but could not imagine a reason to go closer than the old oak.  Think, think.  She said to herself, but it was no good.  The moon came up.  The stars twinkled and she knew, like Elsbeth, she ought to be in bed.  At last, when she could think of no excuse to wander into the barn, and indeed, she felt she could hardly think at all, she settled on returning to the house and to her sleep.  She got near the door, however, and heard a word.

“Hello.”  The word startled her.  “That brother of yours is hard to lose.”

“Thick head, good heart,” Margueritte said, smiled and suddenly felt very giddy.

Roland smiled his perfect smile and it made Margueritte turn her head, slightly.

“What?”  Roland wondered.  “You should not hide your smile.”

“But my smile is not perfect like your own,” she said, honestly.  “You see?”  She showed him where the crooked was.

“Who would notice?” he said and reached to touch her, as if looking, but let his fingers linger on her lips.  Margueritte looked deeply into his blue eyes before she pulled back ever so little.  “All night I thought you had something to ask me.”

“Oh, yes.”  Margueritte had to pause to remember.  “I wanted to know if you really saved Lord Charles’ life.”

“Yes,” he said.  “I suppose I did.  But I grew up on the Saxon Mark so in a way I knew what treachery he would face, and he could not have known.”

“You are modest,” Margueritte said, and thought this was a rare and prized quality not found among the braggarts who surrounded her father or who called Tomberlain friend.  “But I feel that is very important.  I have a sense about your lord; that he has only begun to step into his greatness.”

“The same as I feel,” Roland said, in a more serious tone.  “Even though he has already done more in his life than most men ever dream of doing.”

Both looked at each other, and Margueritte wondered why she kept speaking of Charles when Charles was not on her mind or heart.  She got ready to ask another question when a little voice interrupted them both.

“What am I missing?”  Goldenrod fluttered up and hovered briefly in between them.  Roland seemed to take a good long look at the fairy’s face, and she looked at him with curiosity.  “Are you loving?” she asked.  Neither felt quite sure what she was asking.  Roland looked uncomfortable for the first time, and Margueritte answered for her little one.

“I do hope we may be friends,” she said.

“Yes,” Roland agreed.  “You know what friends are, don’t you?”

“Oh yes,” Goldenrod said with some excitement.  “My Lady, and Elsbeth and I are best friends.  And my Lady Brianna and Little White Flower.”  And she started a list.  “And Luckless, Grimly, Lolly, Maven and Marta, Tomberlain, and even Hammerhead, and Miss Blossom and Lady LeFleur, my mother.  She is queen of the fairies, you know.”

Roland interrupted.  “So that makes you the fairy princess.”  He tipped his hat to her.

“It does?”  Goldenrod widened her little eyes.  “Wow.  Wait ‘till I tell Elsbeth.  She’ll be so proud of me.”  She flew off as quickly as she came.  Roland looked at Margueritte.

“We have pointed this out to her many times,” Margueritte said.  “But retention of the facts is a fleeting thing for a fairy so young.  She is only about seventy years old; you know.”  Roland swallowed and looked again in the direction Goldenrod had gone.  Margueritte took a deep breath.  “I should be in bed,” she said.  “Goodnight, Sir Roland.”

“Just Roland, if you don’t mind.  I’m still getting used to the sir part.”  He smiled again, but she turned toward the door and stopped only before entering as Roland spoke once more.  “By the way, you did not have to kick your brother.  He is a good young man, and despite his questions, my attention was all yours.”

Margueritte’s hand went to her mouth.  She kicked the wrong leg.  She felt very embarrassed.

“Oh, don’t think of it,” Roland said quickly.  “My sisters used to do that all the time.  It reminded me of home.  And I found it very refreshing after all the stiff formalities of the palace.  I don’t believe the ladies in Paris even know how to kick.”  He tried hard to help, and Margueritte smiled for his efforts, but she felt embarrassed all the same.

“Goodnight then,” she said, went inside, and only paused to say goodnight to her mother who was waiting to escort Sir Roland to his room.

M3 Margueritte: Visitors from the Real World, part 3 of 3

Bernard looked around at Redux and then the formidable little woman guarding the house and decided the barn made the best place to start.  They pushed passed Margueritte and bumped little Elsbeth out of the way, spilling two of the eggs she had so carefully salvaged and went in.

“You two, up the loft.  You search the hay.  You the horse stalls and you the bins. You look around for anything out of place.”  Bernard was good at giving orders, but not about to soil himself actually looking through a barn.  The man at the hay began to poke with his sword, but then the cavalry arrived just in time.

“What’s all this then?”  Lord Barth asked, almost before he dismounted.  Tomberlain, Owien and the sergeant at arms with two men from the fields came to the barn door and the intruders paused in their search while Bernard explained.

“Two escaped men are wanted for questioning by the king.  Lord Ragenfrid has ordered us to search the barn, the house and the tower while he has taken the main force on to Vergenville.”

Margueritte spoke up.  “I told them the men may have ridden on to Vergen while Elsbeth and I were at our chores, but they do not believe me.”  She tried to look forlorn.  Tomberlain thought she was serious.

“Are you calling my sister a liar?” he shouted, and only Sir Barth’s arm held him back.

“My Lord,” Bernard spoke quickly.  “These men can be dangerous.  It is for your own protection that we offer to search on the chance that they may have snuck in without the girls knowing.”

Bartholomew looked at his daughters and got quite a different message than Tomberlain.  “I’ll see to the safety of my home and my family.  You can move on.”

“My Lord.  A secret door.”  A soldier shouted and the soldiers gathered there.

“No secret.”  Margueritte thought fast.  “We keep preserves down there.  A root cellar.”  Bernard did not accept that.  He ordered, and two soldiers raised the lid and one started down the stairs and stopped when he heard a voice.  And what a voice it was!

“Hey!”  The thunder rolled up the staircase.  “Who is that to disturb my sleep?”

“Didn’t I mention the ogre,” Margueritte said.  “Much better than a watchdog, you know.”

Bernard went white and the soldiers were already headed for their mounts when the voice returned.  “I’m coming up!”

Bernard snapped his head at Lord Bartholomew.  “M’lord” and ran for his steed. Six men left as quickly as six ever left anywhere.  They did not even see Hammerhead rise like a monster from the deep.

“That was a good dream, too,” he said.

“It’s been two days,” Margueritte pointed out.  “I think you may be growing up.” Hammerhead straightened in his pride.

“After a good meal my folks can sleep a whole season,” he said, but then Sir Barth wanted some answers.  Elsbeth already started uncovering the men who appeared frozen by what they saw.

“Little White Flower saw the riders from the chapel, and she rushed to get me.  Now what is this all about?”  Bartholomew asked.  He looked at Elsbeth but spoke to Margueritte.

“Don’t worry,” Elsbeth said to the two strangers as she came over and patted Hammerhead on the thigh, about as high as she could comfortably reach.  “He won’t hurt you, much.”  She paused to let it sink in.

“Ha.”  Hammerhead blasted a laugh.  “Much.”

“Great Lady.  You put one over on them Franks,” Grimly said.  “Slick as an elf selling water to a drowning man.”

“Actually,” the short man spoke as he came out from behind the hay, but in a direction that would take him farthest from the ogre’s reach.  “That was the most courage and quick thinking I have seen in some time.  You are a lucky man, Lord Bartholomew, to have such a daughter.”  The short man took Margueritte’s hand and kissed it.  “It was the best case of misleading truth I ever heard, and not one untruth in a single word.  Have you ever considered politics?

“I think not, m’lord,” Marguerite said, and felt a little embarrassed.

“My sister’s not a liar,” Tomberlain said.

“Water to a drowning man,” Grimly repeated himself.

“May I ask what will become of our horses?” the young man said.  He followed his Lord’s lead in kissing Margueritte’s hand.  She rather did not mind that.

“A temporary spell,” she said.  “It will wear off soon.”

“That’s right,” Grimly said.  “Temporary.”

“And who are you?”  Lord Bartholomew got tired of waiting for his daughter to give him an answer.

“Charles, aid decamp to the king by order of my father Pepin.”  The short man spoke simply.  “And my hulking young friend is Sir Roland, knighted three weeks ago last Lord’s day by the king himself hard on his twenty-first birthday.  But the honor was long overdue.  Best man at arms in the palace.  Saved my life, twice now if we can find the priest Stephano.  Ahem.”

Roland still held Margueritte’s hand and they were looking, eye to eye.  “Er, yes,” Roland said and quickly let go.  “My Lord Charles is too kind in his praise.”  Margueritte, with a glance at her father, put her hand quickly behind her back.

“Well, come up to the house and let us straighten all this out.”

“Wait,” Charles said.  “We must first be sure Ragenfrid did not leave behind someone to spy us out.

“Oh, yes.”  Margueritte came to herself.  “Goldenrod, would you mind taking a fly about to see if there are any spies lurking?”  The fairy came right up, and Roland was glad he stood far enough from Charles not to have his arm grabbed again.

“Yes. A good wing stretchy,” she said, and vanished.

“You’re not the Charles of the Saxon campaign, are you?”  Bartholomew asked.

“The same,” Charles said, but before more could be said, Goldenrod already came back to report to Marguerite.

“I went all around the triangle and around the chapel and everything,” she said.  “There is one horse by the first road bend, and a man, sneaky, with his head around the tree there.”  She pointed to the back corner of the barn where, clearly, no one could see anything but barn.  Still, most looked.  Hammerhead, who had been having trouble following all the conversation to that point had a thought.  He spoke as quietly as he could.

“I think I’ll stretch my legs now that I’ve slept,” he said.  “I might just go down the road a bit and see what I might find.”  He excused himself, everyone gave him plenty of room to exit the barn, and he began a little sing-song chant.  “I love to bite a crunchy head and grind the bones to make my bread.  I sing the song that’s in my head, and grind the bones…no, I said that part.”  Hammerhead got silent for a minute, then he began to whistle as he walked.  If you have ever heard an ogre try to whistle, you will know why everyone in the barn had to hold their sides to keep from laughing out loud.

After a minute, all assumed the way was clear.  Lord Bartholomew had been thinking in the meantime.  “Father Stephano has gone to the house of my Romanish friend, Constantus,” he said.

“You know the way?”  Charles asked.

“Of course.  But it is getting late and it will be dark soon.  Come and have supper and stay the night.  For all their zeal, your friends will have to stop as well in Vergenville, at least to rest the horses, and even if they leave at daybreak, it will be noon at the earliest before they are back here.”  He put his arm around Charles’ shoulder.  “Now tell me about the Saxon campaign.  God, I’m sorry I missed it.”  They headed for the house.

“Sir Roland,” Margueritte invited him toward the house.

“Lady Margueritte,” Roland responded.  He took one more look into her green eyes before he caught up with the other men and got tackled by Tomberlain.  As Margueritte followed, he looked back once more, and Margueritte felt herself turn a little red.

Margueritte thought her figure seemed to be turning out very nice.  All the curves and bumps were exactly as they ought to be, and it seemed her best feature.  Apart from her figure, however, she imagined she might be pretty enough in her way, but hardly exceptional.  Her features were too big: her ears, nose, hands, feet, and lips as well.  Her face looked much too round.  Just then, Elsbeth, with her perfect, sharp, angular, beautiful face bumped past her with her pert little nose stuck straight up in the air and her hips wiggling like a tramp.  “Lady Margueritte,” she whispered.

Margueritte did not feel too grown up to make a face at her sister, even if Elsbeth was not looking.  Besides, she thought, Elsbeth has freckles.  She withdrew the face, and just in time, as Roland turned his head for one more look before he entered the house.

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

MONDAY

Guests stay in the triangle, and Margueritte  feels especially interested in one of the guests.  Until Monday, Happy Reading.

*

M3 Margueritte: Visitors from the Real World, part 2 of 3

“In the Hay.”  Margueritte and the short man spoke together.

“It will have to do,” the short man said

“I will cover you,” Elsbeth volunteered.

“I’ll hide the pitchforks,” Margueritte said, and the short man and young man stopped short.

“Thanks,” the young man said.

Margueritte moved quick and then she helped Elsbeth while the short man kept saying to move further back because a sword could poke as well as a fork.

There were riders coming into the triangle.

“M’lady.  I got all but the tails.”  Grimly said hurriedly, having caught the excitement in the air.

“Margueritte!”  Elsbeth fretted and put her hand to her cheek.

“Goldenrod.”  Margueritte did not hesitate and commanded the Fairy’s attendance.  Goldenrod appeared out of nowhere and flitted around once to orient herself before she curtsied.

“Lady?”  It sounded like a question.

Margueritte pointed.  “Make the tails invisible.  Quickly.”

“But what should I do?”  Elsbeth looked flustered.

“You pick up your mess in the doorway and try to save a couple of eggs,” Margueritte said, to bring her sister back down to earth.  “Nothing more natural than you having to pick up the mess you made.”

“Humph!”  Elsbeth grumped but got a basket and got to her knees.

The last of the horses seemed to have stopped and a man shouted.  “Check the house, the tower, the barn.  Look for signs.  Look for horses, hard ridden.”  Margueritte stepped out and there appeared to be two dozen soldiers in the center by the oak with at least one lightly armed but well-dressed Lord among them.

“Can I help you?”  Margueritte spoke very loudly to gain everyone’s attention.

The well-dressed lord whipped around to face her.  “Whose place is this?”

“Lord Bartholomew, Victor in Brittany and Count of the Breton Mark, and I am his Daughter, the Lady Margueritte.”  She continued to speak loudly.  Maven and Marta were already at the front door and Lolly stood between them, gently tapping her cooking spoon in the palm of her hand.

“You’re not coming in here.”  Maven muttered with enough determination to make the soldiers think.

Likewise, Redux, his apprentice Graham and Luckless the dwarf blocked the path to the tower.  The big blacksmith and his companions were enough, at least, to cause the soldiers to pause and await orders.

Margueritte spoke quickly into the developing silence.  “I would not recommend invading my father’s house, uninvited.”  Then she smiled for the Lord.  “But perhaps I can answer any questions you might have.”  She wiped her hands clean on her apron as a sign of casualness and friendly attention.

The lord assessed things quickly and decided some questions might not hurt.  “Two riders were ahead of us.  Have you seen them?”

“I heard riders.  There may have been two,” Margueritte said, sweetly.  “My sister Elsbeth and I have been busy in the barn.  Perhaps they have ridden to Vergenville hoping to gain the village before dark.”  She pointed down the road.  “There is an inn there and if they believe they have lost you, they may stop to rest and refresh themselves.”  She smiled again.

“And the priest,” the lord was thinking out loud.

“Father Aden is in the chapel, if you wish to see him,” she suggested, in all innocence.

“No.  This one came from Rome.  His name is Father Stephano.  Do you know him?  Do you know where he can be found?”

“Yes.”  Margueritte sounded hopeful.  “Father Stephano was here three days before he moved on.  As to where he may be, I would inquire of the king.  I would believe if the Pope sent him all the way from Rome, it must have been to the king’s court, don’t you think?  If he could turn King Urbon to the Lord, the rest of the country would follow, no?”  She smiled again, and then looked serious.  “I am sorry, though, the king’s court is much further away than Vergenville, but then anyone going there would have to come back through Vergenville eventually, wouldn’t they?”

“My Lord.”  An older man spoke up, one near him who was also still on horseback.  He spoke in Latin supposing to disguise his comment.  “This wench knows nothing.  Let us search so we may find them.”

“Quiet DuBarry.  Let me think.  What would Charles do?  Take refuge in an outland county?  Appeal for refuge from King Urbon?  Or hopelessly search for a Roman priest from among a thousand villages of the Breton?

“Appeal to the king?”  Margueritte guessed, in Latin.  “You may tell the rude man I understand more than he thinks.  I will overlook the word, wench, as one spoken by an ignorant fool, unless, of course, he believes the word true, at which point he should say so to my father who will be glad to point out his error with the point of his sword.”

The man nearly rose out of his seat, but the head lord held him down with a wave and smiled, and a nasty looking smile it was.  He returned to the Frankish tongue.  “Vergenville.”  He pointed down the road.

“Vergen to the Breton.  You must pass the road to the southlands and the road that runs south to the coast.  Keep straight on through the woods and you will find it.”  She said, with just the right amount of shy for her age.  “And between us, I hope you catch them.  They must be terrible men to be pursued by such a noble lord as yourself.  I am glad such men did not stop here.  I would be very afraid.”

The lord scrutinized Margueritte, and though she stood in a truly submissive pose and had her eyes lowered so he could not see into them, he came to a conclusion all the same.  “I don’t suppose you are afraid of anything,” he said.

“Bernard,” he shouted.  “Take six men.  Search the house, the tower, the barn and the fields.”  He paused for one last look at Margueritte.  “With the lord’s permission, of course.  The rest of us ride.”  Most of the men mounted and they were off to Vergenville.