Avalon 8.3 Above and Beyond, part 1 of 4

After 697 A.D. The Breton March

Kairos 101: Margueritte, the Bride

Recording …

A blonde, about thirteen, sat on her old mare like a young woman who spent plenty of time on horseback. She wore a fine-looking dress and had a silk scarf, which spoke of money, if not nobility.  Her old mare waited quietly, unlike the younger stallion beside her that pranced a little and did not seem to want to settle down in the face of the oncoming strangers.  The young man, maybe a year or two older than the girl, sat on the stallion and fidgeted a bit himself.  He did not appear alarmed, however, and had no weapons in any case other than the knife he wore on his belt.

Boston and Sukki drew near, but then stopped a few feet away from the young couple.  “Is this the road to the Breton March?” Boston asked.  “We are looking for Margueritte.”

The blonde rolled her eyes at the mention of Margueritte’s name, but before she could say anything, a fairy squirted out from her horse’s mane and flew up to face Boston.

“Hello Elf,” the fairy said.

Boston grinned and Sukki looked positively delighted.  “Hello fairy.  My name is Boston, and my sister’s name is Sukki.”

“My name is Goldenrod.  My best friend is Elsbeth, and Owien is her boyfriend.,” the fairy reported.

The boy and girl looked at each other, and Elsbeth raised her voice a little.  “Owien is not my boyfriend.”  She glanced at the boy.  Owien looked like he would be happy to be her boyfriend.  Sukki covered her smile.

“The rest of our group will be here in a minute,” Boston said.  Even as she spoke, Katie and Lockhart came around the bend in the road, followed by Tony and Nanette.  Lincoln and Alexis drove the wagon and Decker and Elder Stow brought up the rear in the rear-guard position.  Everyone waited for them to catch up, then Boston introduced everyone, including Goldenrod.

“Are you going to the wedding?” Katie asked, kindly.  They heard all about it in the village where they spent the night.  The King and Queen of Brittany with their son Judon, who often went by the name of David would be going.  They felt, after all the trouble they caused it was the least they could do.  The village chief, Brian was looking forward to it, though he never did explain exactly what the trouble was.  They would all be following in the morning.  “I expect Margueritte will make a lovely bride,” Katie finished with an encouraging smile.

Elsbeth rolled her eyes again as she and Owien turned around to lead the group to the triangle, which is what they called the home of the Lord of the March.  Then she opened up and seemed to want to talk about it.

“Margueritte is my sister, and the Breton are coming because my mother is a Breton.  My father is Count Bartholomew, Marquis of the Breton March.  He is Frankish, so Margueritte and I are half and half.  Owien, son of Bedwin, is all Breton.”

“I am not,” Owien objected.  “I am page to Lord Bartholomew and have pledged to the King in Paris, so I am a Frank now.”

“Lord Charles and Roland have been fighting in Vascony,” Elsbeth continued after another eye roll.  “We got word that they will be here tomorrow, and the wedding will be the next day.  Then Margueritte and Roland will go away with the army and Mother and Lady Jennifer will cry and miss her.  Then she will have adventures while Owien and I will have Latin every Wednesday.”  She made a face.

“It’s not so bad,” Owien said, and they all continued for a time at a very leisurely pace, letting the horses walk as they will.  Owien eventually thought of a question.  “So, where are you from?”

“And how do you know my sister?” Elsbeth added, though she seemed to have an idea.

“We are from a land far in the west called America, not Amorica,” Katie said.  “And how we know Margueritte is kind of complicated.”

Elsbeth harumphed.  “It’s that Kairos thing, I bet.  I met Gerraint and Festuscato, and she has got about a hundred more people that she has been in the past and some in the future.  It must be hard to keep track of them all.”

“We met Gerraint and Festuscato,” Lockhart said.  “We haven’t actually met Margueritte yet, to be honest.”

“I figured that,” Elsbeth said.  “Otherwise, I would remember you, or at least heard of you.  You know, Little White Flower, that is who Lady Jennifer used to be, she and her father Lord Yellow Leaf, the fairies, they came from America when I was little.”

“Lady Jennifer used to be a fairy?” Nanette asked from behind.

Elsbeth nodded.  “Margueritte made her human so she could marry Father Aden.  They have a little girl.  Father Aden will be doing the ceremony.”

Katie spoke up.  “Alexis, the one driving the wagon with Lincoln, she used to be an elf and the Kairos made her human so she could marry Lincoln.”

“Boston used to be human,” Lockhart added.  “She went the other way.”

“I didn’t know she could do that,” Owien said, sounding interested in the subject, but Elsbeth turned her nose up at the idea of being an elf.

“You could be a fairy,” Goldenrod spoke from where she relaxed in the mare’s mane.  Elsbeth nodded slightly, like maybe that would not be too terrible.

It was not that long before the group rounded the bend and arrived in the triangle.  The big barn in one corner sat nearest the road and backed toward the fields which spread out, just down a small incline.  At the top of the triangle, a tall tower of stone sat like a castle keep, and in the third corner sat the manor house.  A great, old oak grew outside the house, and a bench sat beneath the tree where one could sit in the shade on a hot summer day.  The whole scene looked peaceful and quiet, but the sensitive members of the group felt the hurried tension in the air.  A table had been built outside, under an awning.  It looked like it might seat thirty, but the man who stepped over from the blacksmith area outside the tower looked at the table and all the new people in the triangle and wondered if the table would be big enough.

“Father,” Elsbeth called to the man while she got down and let Owien take her horse with his into the barn.  Two women and a man dressed like a priest came out of the house, smiling and anxious to greet their guests.   Elsbeth went to stand beside the older woman who Katie guessed was Brianna, the mother. Then a young woman with dark hair and green eyes came barreling out of the door, shouting for Boston, her arms already open in anticipation of her hug.  Boston happily obliged.  Then Margueritte, who the young woman was, went happily from traveler to traveler hugging them all.

Margueritte’s mother, Brianna, did not know what to make of it all, but she did not seem surprised that her daughter knew complete strangers.  Margueritte’s father, the one from the blacksmith area simply looked confused.

Margueritte ran to him to grab his hand, and as she did, his mouth opened to say something, but he paused as a clear blue light filled the triangle and half of the people vanished.  Sukki, and Elder Stow stayed, since it was their turn to care for the horses and they followed Owien into the barn.  Tony and Decker did not disappear since they got busy taking the wagon across the road where they could park it next to the church that stood there.  But Katie, Lockhart, Lincoln, Alexis, and Nanette, all vanished, along with Elsbeth, Brianna, Jennifer, and Father Aden.  Boston stood there suddenly alone, until Goldenrod fluttered up to land gently on Boston’s shoulder and speak in Boston’s ear.

“What just happened?”

The people vanished, but the horses remained in the yard with Boston and Goldenrod the fairy who tugged on Boston’s hair to get comfortable.  She repeated herself.  “What just happened?”

“What?” Margueritte’s father, Sir Barth spouted, and Margueritte let go of his hand to run forward to get a closer look.  Owien came running out of the barn, followed by Elder Stow and Sukki.

“Where did everybody go?” Owien asked.

Decker and Tony left Ghost and the wagon to cross the road.  Decker spoke.  “Somehow I don’t think the Masters are involved in this one.”

“No,” Margueritte agreed.  “Even Elder Stow’s people do not have that level of technology, if I am reading it right.”

“What just happened?” Goldenrod asked again.

M4 Margueritte: Toward Tomorrow

The Muslims went back over the mountains.  Charles gave his daughter Gisele away in marriage.  In fact, all the children seemed to be approaching that age.  Marta’s Morgan married first, and into a much better position than Marta ever imagined.  Lefee also married, a young knight subject to Count Michael of Nantes.  Larin turned seventeen in the spring of 733 and fell madly in love.  Sadly, Margo did not like the boy

Margueritte turned thirty-six in the spring of 733, and she began to understand what Gerraint said about ages being three to four.  Thirty-six for her was like forty-eight in the Storyteller’s day.  Life remained hard in the dark ages, even for a countess.  Her hair turned gray, her joints complained, and she could not sort the potatoes like she used to.  She did not have the option of going to the spa and having her hair and nails done and getting a message and pedicure.  God!  She at least made Roland massage her feet when he came home.  Sadly, he still was not home nearly enough.  And then she decided everything in her age seemed sadly this or sadly that.

Margueritte went home to the Saxon March in the spring of 733, and she imagined she moved for the last time.  She left Pouance and the castle to Walaric who pledged to serve Owien faithfully, and also pledged to have room for Jennifer and her children for as long as they wanted it.  The annex next to the chapel was hers, he said.  And besides, he joked that he would not want to make the queen of the fairies mad at him.

733 was one whole year of peace in Frankish lands, and Margueritte rejoiced.  Of course, in 734, the Frisians, who had already thrown out the Roman priests again, moved an army up to claim the bigger half of Roland’s land north of the Rhine.  Bertulf had nearly two thousand lancers by then with more on the way, and after the spring planting, he raised another two thousand footmen, and they held the line against the Frisians taking the whole thing, and even pushed the Frisians back in a couple of places.

When Charles arrived, he came angry.  He beat the Frisians senseless, and the Frisian king, Radbod got killed in battle.  He told the priests to wait a month while he tore down every pagan shrine in the country.  Then he gathered the Frisian nobles, replaced a few with more sensible men and warned them that they could all be replaced if they did not behave themselves.

“End of discussion,” he said.  Frisia became a Frankish province, and Charles marched up to Margueritte and Boniface with a word for the bishop.  “Your turn,” he said, and stomped off, still mad about something.

“I am not sure force is the way to win people to Christ,” Boniface said softly.

Margueritte agreed.  “Force is more of a Muslim thing.”

Boniface looked back.  “Martel is a hard man.”

Margueritte grinned.  “I would call him Hammerhead, but he would never forgive me.  Besides, I would not want to confuse him with the ogre of that name.”

Boniface let out the smallest smile and leaned down to kiss Margueritte’s cheek.  She kissed his in return, and they went their separate ways.

By 735, Charles had just about finished reorganizing Burgundy, replacing not only the duke with his brother, but replacing several counts and numerous barons with men who were mostly his supporters.  Then old Duke Odo passed away, and Charles had something similar in mind for Aquitaine.  He had been keeping to the south because he did not like what was happening in Provence.  They had a Muslim presence since 725, or some ten years ago, and they were calling for more.  It did not occur to Charles that they would call for Saracens because they were afraid of the hammer.

When Charles arrived in Tolouse, all he could do was yell, “What?”

Hunald explained.  “My father retired after the battle of Tours.  He turned the dukedom over to me with the full consent and acclimation of the nobility.  I have ruled for these past three years.”

“What?  What the hell is retired?”

“Something Lady Margueritte talked about way back when she was prisoner here.  She said it was best to pass on the reigns when you are still alive, so you can help teach and guide the next generation.  She said your own civil war was the result of your father not choosing and declaring his successor before he died.”

Charles thought about it, but he said something else.  “That girl makes more trouble than anyone I ever knew.”

“But she is worth it,” Hunald said, and Charles did not argue.  He had his hands on five thousand heavy-cavalry and began itching for the Muslims to start something, which he knew they eventually would.  In fact, even then, the son of Abdul Rahman sailed into Narbonne harbor with a large force.  He moved into Provence and built a strong garrison at Arles, and then forced the other cities of Provence to submit to him and garrisoned them all.

Charles moved down into Provence in 736, surprising the Muslims with his speed.  They did not expect him so soon, much less Liutprand, King of the Lombards in northern Italy, who moved up into the same area.  Liutprand made an alliance with Charles to remove the Muslim presence from the whole province and return the province to the Roman church.  He felt glad he joined Charles when he saw what Charles did at Arles.

Charles had fifteen thousand foot soldiers, almost half of whom were conscripts, and five thousand cavalry, far more horses than Liutprand normally saw.  Charles’ brother, Childebrand brought another ten thousand, mostly foot soldiers from Burgundy, but the Muslims had twice the cavalry, and closer to forty thousand foot soldiers.  Liutprand thought it would be no contest, until he saw Charles dismantle the Muslims with moves combining his heavy horse and footmen in ways even the Muslims never thought possible.  He utterly destroyed the Muslim army, and almost as an afterthought, he burned Arles to the ground.  Surely, they would rebuild, but it would never again be a stronghold for the armies of the Caliph.

“The greatest army ever seen since the Romans were at their peak, and Charles took it apart like he was playing with all queens and the Muslims had only pawns,” Liutprand described it.

Once Provence was liberated, and all the Muslim garrisons destroyed in all the cities, Liutprand got ready to go home.  He heard rumors of discontent at home, especially from one duke by the name of Spoleto, but Charles had not finished.

Charles moved like a war machine into Septimania.  He liberated the cities inland first, then turned on Narbonne. There he encountered a second army, newly arrived by sea for the relief of Arles and the strengthening of the garrisons in Provence.  They had no idea that Charles had already moved well passed that.  They also had no idea Charles had heavy cavalry.  They had imagined it would take the Franks at least a generation to develop heavy cavalry.

Once again, Charles took the Muslims apart.  He figured out how to use the heavy cavalry most advantageously with his phalanxes, or thick, chunky box things, as Margueritte called them.  Those Muslims who got back to Al-Andalus, limped home, and when it was all over, only Narbonne itself remained in Muslim hands.

Charles considered his options.  Assaulting the city would carry a great cost in Frankish lives, and he really wanted to be able to pass on some kind of army to his sons.  Putting the city under siege, on the other hand, would cost lives to sickness and dysentery, and take months if not years, given that Narbonne could be supplied from the sea.  He let it go. He set local men who could watch it, but for himself and his army, he went home.  He said he was going to retire.  He said he had sons to train.

Margueritte turned forty in 737 and felt her age.  Things in the county were peaceful and prosperous, and Margueritte had no reason to complain, but she wanted Roland home for good.  Her father had been home when they were growing up, but those days were full of peace and quiet.  She missed those days.  She missed her husband.  Even the child of her age, Gerald was fourteen, a page, and growing fast.

Roland did come home in 738.  He turned forty-seven, and Margueritte thought how gray and old he had gotten. She held on to him every night, and he was good to her, even when she began to have hot flashes and started into what she called mental pause.  Then in 741, Charles died from complication from the flu.  He passed on at the ripe young age of fifty-three. and Margueritte began to wonder about the future.

Absolutely everyone went to Paris for the funeral.  Carloman and Gisele were there and cried.  Pepin kept a stiff upper lip.  He turned twenty-six, only a few years younger than Charles had been when he contested for rule with Ragenfrid.  Weldig Junior, Cotton and the young one, her own Martin at twenty-four, were all there to support Pepin.  They were all growing up—grown up.  Even “wait up, wait up,” Adalman was there, twenty-one and married, and he already had a son he named Roland.

Margueritte thought it was a lovely name.  She always liked it, and she had forgotten all about Roncevaux pass and a certain Roland, Marquis of the Breton Mark, and what would happen there.

Pepin had married.  All the boys were, and Pepin’s wife would have a son, and they would name him after his grandfather, Charles, but that was in the future.  In the present, all she saw was how old everyone seemed.  Margo was forty-two.  Elsbeth was thirty-eight, and fat.  She finally succeeded with fat.  And well, she thought, it is time for the next generation to have a turn.

Jennifer was there, still looking young and vital like something from the fairy life did transfer to her human life after all.  She was a novitiate at Saint Catherine’s, since Mercy turned twenty-one and had a child of her own.  She said that she and Giselle had become friends again.  Margueritte felt glad, and in the end, it was with glad feelings that Margueritte went home again.  Roland went with her, and she held him every night until he died in 750.  Margueritte lived another five years and died wondering who she would be in her next life and wondering if she would ever get to see her children or grandchildren again.  But, she decided, she needed to pass on, because otherwise Charles, the grandson, would get to be far too old for her to be his lover.

END

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

TOMORROW & WEDNESDAY

Previews of coming attractions.  Material I hope to put up soon on Amazon, Smashwords, and elsewhere.  At least toe cover art is ready.  Also, tune in for the introduction to Avalon, Season 8 which will begin posting on MONDAY.  Don’t miss it.  Until Tomorrow

*

M4 Margueritte: Tours, part 3 of 3

Danna picked up Abraxas and flew to the English Channel in the blink of an eye, and she threw him out over the water.  “Stay off my continent.  It will be death for you to return here.  I am sorry for my islands, but this is it.  Do not interfere with the people.  Do not impede their faith, whichever way they turn.  Find your courage and go over to the other side where your mother and father are waiting for you.  I will not give you forever.”

Abraxas floated in the air, afraid to touch the churning water of the channel beneath his feet.  He turned and flew toward the white cliffs, but before he arrived, Danna got back to Abd al-Makti, who cried and looked like his mind finally snapped altogether.  She blinked the man back to his Iberian home in Al-Andalus and turned to recall her men from the enemy camp.

The men came, some reluctantly, and Danna changed back to Margueritte and asked, “So how did you do?”

“Melanie is still one ahead of me,” Calista complained.  Melanie only grinned.

“Well, we will be going home, to my home.  Maybe you can find a Saxon or Frisian to slaughter, you bloodthirsty mink.”

Walaric walked up and waved the last of the men to safety.  “Peppin took an arrow,” he said casually.  Margueritte nodded.

“Boys,” she said, and the boys, the four men and two elves fell in behind her and Walaric and followed them down the hill.  “We are going to have to get him and any other wounded to Charles before we stop.”

“I’ll work it out,” Walaric assured her, and stepped off.

Margueritte found Duke Odo at the bottom of the back side of the hill where the horses were being held by the men.  The old duke did not look like he had enough strength left to climb the hill, but he smiled as hard as he could.  He gave Margueritte a kiss on the cheek, and men came and helped him up on his horse for the ride back to the Frankish lines.

###

Greta and Doctor Mishka spent most of the late afternoon and night patching up who they could.  Many Franks died and many more would not live long, but Peppin would live if the wound did not become infected, and it was always a big if in those days.

Tomberlain and Owien burst into Greta’s makeshift hospital tent early on and did not even blink on seeing Greta in place of Margueritte.  “We got Abdul Rahman,” Tomberlain blurted out, and did a little dance.

“He was trying to rally his troops,” Owien explained.  “His men were all deserting the line, and I don’t blame them.  We had them beaten.”

“Owien hit the man with a javelin,” Tomberlain interrupted.

“You pulled him from his horse,” Owien turned on his brother.

“We both stabbed him, together.  We got him together.”

“We did,” and the boys hooted, a very Breton sort of hoot.

“They did,” Roland said, as he came in.  “Any chance I can see my wife soon?  I want to scold her for even being here.”  Roland showed a very loving smile which kind of negated his words.

Greta stood and put a hand to his chest to push him back.  “Not just yet.  I can still save some of these men, and Doctor Mishka can save a few more.”

“Is she around?” Charles came in the tent and saw Greta turn into Doctor Mishka.  He had met the Doctor, but this was the first time he saw the instantaneous change take place.  “Remarkable,” was his word for it.

Mishka stopped and faced the man.  “So now you have earned the right to be called Charles Martel.”  She started to clean one man’s shoulder wound as they talked.

“Many of the men call him that already,” Roland admitted.  “Ever since you, or Margueritte said it back in Saxony.”

“I would think more like an anvil,” Tomberlain said.  “The Saracens did the pounding, and we took it and were not moved.”

“Wrong image,” Mishka said.

“I like the hammer image,” Owien said.

“Me too,” Charles said quietly.

“So, Charles Le Martel it is,” Roland said.  “But now, what can we expect tomorrow, or tonight for that matter?”

Mishka spoke up first.  “In my opinion, they will argue all night.  Abdul Rahman did not strike me as a man who appointed a second in command, so it is not clear who will take over now that Rahman is dead.”  Mishka paused and gave Charles a hard stare until Charles got it.

“Roland,” he said.  “If I were to die, Roland will take over the army.  Everyone knows that.”

“Very good,” Mishka continued.  “Though not for Margueritte, I suppose.  But in the morning, I see three options.  Either they will attack again, though that is least likely, or they will retreat to look for a better place to hold the line, or if some commanders sneak away, they may grab whatever treasure they have left and leave altogether.  Pray for the third choice.”

“Yes,” Charles said and rubbed his hands.  “I saw the treasure you collected from the camp.”

“And the people we set free, so they won’t become slaves or end up in some harem.  The people are what matter most.  Never forget that.  Which reminds me, Carloman did his duty.  And no, you may not knight him until he is twenty-one.  Don’t break that rule.  No exceptions.  Pepin and the boys were kept out of it.  They were only allowed to watch and are very upset by that.  Too bad.  And your daughter Gisele is going to marry if you are there to give her away or not.  He is a fine young man.”

“Yes, I was thinking—”

“Don’t.  Don’t think.  She will marry her young man who will win his spurs, if he has not already after today, and she will live in a fine manor house with servants to help her, and she will have children and be happy, and let that be the end of the discussion.”  Mishka stepped around and kissed Tomberlain, Owien, Roland and Charles on the cheek.  “That is from Margueritte, and that is all you get.  Now go away.  These men are supposed to be getting rest and you are just spreading germs everywhere.”

They went, and Owien asked Tomberlain, “What are germs, anyway?”

“Hey, lady,” Peppin called from several men away.  He had been sitting up, listening.  Like all those in the know, he used the term the little ones used when he was not sure of her name.  “Lady, you forgot to tell him about Hunald.”

“Hush,” Doctor Mishka said as she examined Greta’s handiwork on Peppin’s leg.  “He will find out soon enough.”

Later that night, about an hour before dawn, Lord Larchmont came with a report.  The Muslims were escaping, and they did not look to be united in their retreat.  Yellow Leaf thought the Berbers started it, but Birch said it was the Syrians.

Mishka nodded and sent a mental message to all her little ones on the field and in the hills.  They could follow and harass the enemy, but not engage them.  They could take any strays, and any who couldn’t keep up, but otherwise they were to encourage the enemy to go all the way back over the Pyrenees.  If they stop short, they are not to attack, but come and tell her.  Understood?”  Mishka got the general response from a thousand or more that they understood well enough.  Whether or not they would keep her commands was a different question, and unlikely.

After that mental message, Mishka went away to avoid the inevitable migraine, and Margueritte came back, feeling as fresh as the morning.  Except for a couple of hours the day before, she had been away, like off sleeping, and others took her place most of the day.

Margueritte told Larchmont to take a seat on her shoulder and went to Charles to tell him what she learned.  She suggested Hunald and the men of Aquitaine with her horsemen from the march follow the enemy, at a distance.  They wanted encouragement to vacate Frankish lands altogether, and that included Vascony.

“Yes,” Charles started thinking again—a good trait for a general who just came awake from a sound sleep.  “It seems I will have to replace some of those Vascon nobles for their cowardice in the face of the enemy.”

“The Basques won’t like that,” Margueritte warned, but then Roland and Hunald came in, and Margueritte made sure they understood that Larchmont and his men would be keeping an eye on the retreating enemy.  “They will keep you informed of the progress, so you don’t get ahead and stumble into them.  If they stop and gather themselves in Bordeaux or Vascony, like they want to hold on to some territory, you need to get Charles to make them think again.”

“We can pick off some strays, maybe?” Roland thought out loud.

Margueritte shook her head.  “Any strays will be dealt with, and don’t send your own scouts out.  To be honest, some little ones have a hard time telling one human group from another.”

“Yes, I remember,” Hunald said, fascinated by Larchmont.  “I was at Pouance, if you recall.”  Margueritte recalled, but just then, Roland wanted some of her attention before he rode off again, and she wanted some of his.  They emerged around nine o’clock when everyone said the Muslims were not coming again.  Charles’ men scouted the abandoned camp, and indeed, they had packed up their goods and left.  Roland and his thousand, and Hunald and his men from Aquitaine followed, and the rest headed back up the road to Tours.

Charles pulled off the road at Saint Catherine’s de Fierbois.  Margueritte brought the nuns.  Three nuns came this time, and the same old priest who now had to be near eighty, even older than Duke Odo.  The nuns had the box, and the stone came up easily enough.  Margueritte said Charles might still need the sword, but he said he had plenty of swords, and Caliburn saved his life, and that was enough.

“You said there is another who will need this, from under the stone of five crosses,” Charles remembered.  Margueritte nodded, but when she got the box and placed the sword in its brown leather sheath into the box, she saw one of the nuns crying.  Margueritte recognized the woman right away.  They had been close.  Charles took a minute before he spoke her name.

“Giselle,” he said.  “My daughter’s name.”

“Lady,” Giselle wept.  “I can never make up for what I did to you.”

Margueritte put the box with the sword in the floor, and the men laid the stone gently on top and sealed it, so no one would suspect there was something beneath that spot.  Then Margueritte spoke.

“You have no need to make up for what you did,” she said.  “I forgive you.”

Giselle cried all the harder, but Margueritte hurried herself and Charles out of the sanctuary.  When they returned to the road, Charles asked if she really forgave the woman.

“I want to, but it is hard.  But I really want to.”

Charles seemed satisfied.  “It is good to know you are human after all,” and he said no more about it.

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

MONDAY

There are loose ends to tie up and tomorrow to consider.  But tomorrow always remains a mystery, even to the Kairos, the Traveler in time, the Watcher over history.  Until Monday.  Toward Tomorrow Happy Reading.

*

M4 Margueritte: A Few Words, part 3 of 3

They heard a noise from the far door.  An old nun dropped her mop and her bucket and shouted.  “An angel.”

Tulip instantly got small and shot for Margueritte’s shoulder where she could hide in Margueritte’s hair.

“Relindis.  I saw the angel you were speaking to, and the angel vanished.”  The old woman ran off before the other could stop her.

Margueritte stood.  “I’m going to fetch some tea,” she said.  “Tulip, why don’t you sit on Relii’s shoulder and play with her hair for a while.”

“Yes, Lady,” Tulip said, and she zipped to Relii’s shoulder and whispered something in her ear that made Relii laugh.

With tea and little snacks, the afternoon seemed not so bad.  Tulip made a home on Gisele’s shoulder, and Gisele made no more complaints about being forced to travel for the rest of the trip.

The next morning, they began the journey up the Meuse River to Verdun. In Verdun, they picked up the old Roman road which they followed all the way to Paris.  It had gotten in terrible disrepair is several places, but for the most part, it still pretended to be a road.

They stayed three days in Paris, and Margueritte got visited by everyone, including the archbishop, who declared at this point she was as near to a queen as the people had.  Margueritte rolled her eyes.  She had enough on her plate, and besides, Roland would never go for it.

In Paris, they said goodbye to Tulip, and it became tearful, but Margueritte called Goldenrod and told her to tell Jennifer they were in Paris and would be home in a week or ten days.  She told Goldenrod that she would call her to join them in the morning, but Goldenrod still got surprised when it happened.

“Now, Goldenrod.  You need to get big so the girls can see you and recognize you in your big form.”

“Do I have to?”  Goldenrod flitted gently back and forth like a leaf caught in the wind, a very different reaction than they got from Tulip.

“Yes, dear.  You have to, please.”

“Okay.” Goldenrod changed her mind, and stood to face Brittany and Grace, looking for all the world like a fourteen-year-old girl.  Brittany and Grace were delighted at the prospect of having a fairy near their ages.  Margueritte later explained to Gisele.

Goldenrod is actually seventy-seven years old, but they age so slowly, it is hard to tell.  They also mature slowly, so Goldenrod is about like a twelve or thirteen-year-old as far as her maturity goes.  Sorry to saddle you with three pre-teens, but hopefully they will help with Gerald.”

“Not likely,” Gisele said, but she smiled.  “But your lady friend, Calista has been a great help.”

“Then you should know,” Margueritte said, with a sly elf grin.  “Calista is an elf.  Don’t be fooled by the glamour she wears that makes her appear human.”

“Lady,” Gisele returned the smile.  “If anyone else said that I would call them mad, but in your case, I suspected it was something like that.”

The Paris Road did not seem in bad shape.  Margueritte guessed Tomberlain or his men worked on it, at least the section through Maine.  The road went north of LeMans, but they came through Laval and stopped in Craon where they visited Peppin’s family.  The family sergeant looked old and worn, but he said good things about Tomberlain’s rule over the county, and good things about Owien as well, and that helped Margueritte relax.

“My chief concern in all of this is to have a thousand heavy cavalry to send to Charles by the due date of 734.  If I can raise a second thousand in the east, all well, but this side of the nation has had several years head start.”

“Don’t worry,” Peppin assured her.  “We may have twice that by 734.  We have a thousand already who are fully trained, as well as we can get them without testing them in battle.  They are beginning to train other young ones.  The work is spreading out.  Pouance is not the center it used to be.”

In fact, Pouance seemed almost quiet for May.  Several of Wulfram’s men and several from Peppin in Craon were there, and a Captain Lothar had the castle and town well defended, and the young ones who came well in hand.  There were more than a hundred young men there, but there were also nearly fifty older men from that area trying to catch up with the new way of doing things.

“Count Michael down in Nantes, and Count duBois in the north are both training their own men, and the Counts Tomberlain and Owien have training going on in LeMans, Laval and Angers, so you see, it isn’t just here,” Captain Lothar explained as they came up to the Paris gate.

Goldenrod could not contain herself by then.  She squirted ahead and hugged everyone on the cheek, Jennifer twice, and then she disappeared by the kennels.  The gate was open of course, to welcome Margueritte, Lady of the castle, and Margueritte felt some Goldenrod impatience herself and could not wait to jump down from her horse and run to hug Jennifer.  She hugged Marta and Maven and would have hugged Lolly if Lolly had not been busy scolding Luckless for being away for so long.  Grimly sauntered over to the stables where Pipes and Catspaw were waiting, and he settled right back into their company without so much as a word.

Morgan, who was nineteen, and engaged, and Jennifer’s Lefee at eighteen were there to welcome and hug Gisele.  “And Larin will be here any day,” Lefee said, cheerfully.  “The gang back together.  You remember Larin, don’t you?”

“Yes, the little one who kept following us around.” Gisele said.

“She is fifteen now, and thinks she is all grown up,” Morgan said with a roll of her eyes.

“I remember being fifteen,” Gisele responded with a laugh.

Weldig Junior and Cotton were there for the boys, and Pepin and Martin wasted no time getting reacquainted, though they did not hug so much as punch each other in the arms and slap one another’s backs.  They were all pages, and Captain Lothar said he would gladly put them to work and keep them busy.

Carloman was a bit left out, until Jennifer stepped up and handed him a book.  It was Bishop Aden’s book on Greek.

“He would want you to have it,” Jennifer said, and Carloman hugged her and offered his sympathy at her loss.

Jennifer’s Mercy was eleven.  Marta’s Sylvan was ten.  They looked hesitant as Brittany and Grace cane up to them and stopped.  But Grace could not hold herself back.  She and Mercy hugged and cried like they were four years old all over again.  Brittany did not mind someone to hang out with other than her sister, but she did not want to be stuck with the ten-year-old.

“Lady, Lady.”  Goldenrod came rushing up.  “Puppy Two remembers me.  He does.”

“Of course he does.  It has only been eight days,” Margueritte said.

“It has?” Goldenrod wondered, like she thought it was forever, but then her mind moved on and she flew over to sit on Brittany’s shoulder and hear what the girls were talking about.

Calista came up with Gerald, and Jennifer, Marta and Maven all fussed over him, and Lolly promised him special honey treats.  Gerald looked up at his mother with an expression that said this might work out after all.  Walaric had a boy who would be eight in July, so at least Gerald would not be alone.

They went into the house and settled sleeping arrangements.  Apparently, Jennifer sent for Owien and Tomberlain as soon as Margueritte got within range.  She expected them to show up any day, and then things would be naturally hectic again.

“Well, at least they finished building the castle,” Margueritte said.  “I no sooner left this mess than I went over to the east and started a new mess.  I don’t think there will ever come a time when I am not building something.”

Tomberlain arrived first with Margo and the children, and plenty of men at arms, all on horseback, though most were still rather young.  Owien and Elsbeth and their children arrived the next day, and their men looked just as young.  Tomberlain picked up Peppin and some older men along the way, and Owien brought Wulfram and his men, so as Jennifer predicted it became a madhouse around the castle.

Margueritte sat on the bench that used to be beside the old oak, and once sat in the middle of the triangle of buildings that made up her childhood home.  Now the triangle, with the old chapel and annex across the road, and a good bit of land cleared from the forest and the edge of the fields had all been surrounded by a great wall of stone joined by seven towers.  The chapel looked the same, but all the buildings that surrounded the courtyard were new.  Her greatly expanded home appeared unrecognizable.  The barn, moved near the farm gate, looked brand new, and bigger than ever, and it had a long stable attached.  Down by the farm gate itself there were new pens for the hogs and sheep, and the new kennels where Puppy Two started getting old, and great forges for the smiths that worked and lived in the old tower, a tower she hardly recognized since it had been renovated and attached to the wall.

Margueritte turned her head around to where the old oak once stood at her back.  It had been dug up and an oak sapling planted in its place.  It took well to the soil and would no doubt grow into a great tree, but it would be a generation before it offered any shade on a hot summer day.  Margueritte cried a little.  Her mother loved that old tree.

Margueritte turned her eyes back to the chapel and passed over the barracks for the castle guard that sat against the wall beside the Breton gate.  Jennifer came out of the chapel, and Margueritte slid over to give her room on the bench.

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

MONDAY

Time has moved on.  Tours is threatened.  Charles need to bring the army.  Christendom is in the balance.  Until next time, Happy Reading

*

M4 Margueritte: A Few Words, part 2 of 3

Three days after Gerald turned six, the day the last of the local snow melted, Margueritte packed everyone, got up on old, faithful Concord, and set out.  Gisele bravely rode in a wagon with Brittany, Grace and Gerald.  Carloman, Pepin and Martin had horses of their own.  Walaric was going home to the Breton border where he confessed his wife and children had not seen him in five years.  His troop got filled with most of the border men he brought when Margueritte came to the Saxon March in 726.  They were all going home.

“Drogo, my number one, the man knighted by Roland when he came with Pepin, Carloman and Gisele, is more than qualified to take over the training of the squires,” Walaric explained.  “With the Baron Theobald and his brothers, Cassius and Geoffry, they will build a whole army of horsemen.  What is more, the baroness Ingrid’s daughters have their new husbands involved in the work.”

“Clara in Tournai and Thuldis in Metz,” Margueritte nodded.  “And Clara has already said her daughter will not marry any man unless he is knighted.”  The medieval world progresses, Margueritte thought.

“Well, you have your Sergeant Bertulf watching the lands on the other side of the Rhine, and your Oswald and Maywood have both pledged to watch over the area.  Plus, Luckless has Lolly’s family on the watch in the hills, and Grimly has gathered a whole tribe of gnomes under Chief Horshank, and they will help with the animals, as may be.”

“Sounds like you have everything figured out,” Margueritte said.

“They are your resources, but I try to be thorough.”

“And what do you think about all these resources?”  It could be a lot for ordinary humans to take in, and she never really asked the man.  She just stuck him with a bunch of little ones and let him figure it out.

“Well,” Walaric took a moment to consider the issue.  “Most of the men and boys have no idea that such is the case.  Luckless got very good about making sure everyone kept quiet and people generally did not find out the truth.”  He paused to think again.  “It is a strange world you live in, but in truth, it has made life kind of interesting.”

“That is what Julius used to say.”

“Julius?”

“A Roman.  He lived three hundred years ago.”

Walaric grinned.  “I’m glad I keep telling people you are not a witch.”

“Are you happy to be going home?” Margueritte changed the subject, and Walaric nodded.

They stopped the night at Aduan’s house, at the edge of the march, near the town of Aldeneik.  Aduan’s eldest boy, Dombert, who had just turned eighteen, said hello to Gisele, but he talked all about the virtues of a young lady named Bertrand.  It took Margueritte a few hours to figure out that Bertrand was the daughter of Hildegard, Count Adelard’s daughter-in-law.  Margueritte remembered the awkward dinner party that she and Sigisurd and Boniface attended in Count Adelard’s home.  Hildegard and six-year-old Bertrand said nothing during the meal and kept their eyes lowered the whole time, while Hildegard’s son, Poppo, made rude noises and threw his food.  Poppo was a page now, and as annoying as ever.  Margueritte felt glad that Captain Ragobert was one who would not put up with any funny business.  Then Margueritte thought she really needed to keep her twentieth century expressions to herself.

Aduan’s daughter, Corimer turned fourteen and she could not decide who she wanted to eat with her eyes, Carloman or Pepin.  Fortunately, Pepin and Martin escaped before dark, and Aduan’s youngest boy, Lavius, a twelve-year-old, followed them to the barn.  Lavius complained about wanting to be a page, and how terrible it was that he had to wait another two whole years, and how if he was made page to squire Dombert, his brother, that would stink worse than rotten eggs.

“I think the rule is you can’t be page or squire to a member of your family,” Pepin said.  He had memorized everything.

“Still, it would be funny,” Martin said, and Martin and Pepin ran off laughing, with Lavius chasing them.

The trip from Aduan’s to the town of Aldeneik took less than two hours.  Margueritte remade Hildegard’s acquaintance and met Bertrand all grown up.  Bertrand, a lovely young woman, thrilled to take Gisele shopping, and she wanted to talk about Dombert, and no doubt Childebear.  Meanwhile, Hildegard curtsied to Margueritte, went right to the ground in the market square, which embarrassed her.

“Countess,” Hildegard said loudly, and Margueritte could not help returning the curtsey, even if it was not so deep.

“Viscountess,” she said, but not so loud.

People heard all the same, and they quickly scrambled to put out their best, and at reasonable prices.

“I think I may find what I want today in the market.  I hope you don’t mind.”

Margueritte did not mind.  “Have we come out of our shell and become our own woman now?”

“We have,” Hildegard said.  “We had no choice.  The count is so feeble these days, and most of the time he has no idea who I am or thinks I am his maid, and Thierry will not leave Charles’ side long enough to come home.”

“So, we are making all the decisions these days.”

“We are.”  Hildegard said with a little smile, before they got interrupted by the shopkeeper.

“That’s how royalty talks, now you get back to work.”

“We are going,” the boy imitated, and ran.

“We are not amused,” Margueritte whispered.  “I always wanted to say that.”

Hildegard ignored her, looked at the linen on the stand, and checked the colors against the sun while she resumed the conversation.  “I have men clamoring at this point to be knighted.  Apparently, you started something.”

“Tell them it isn’t that simple.  They must prove their loyalty to the king, that is Charles, and to their country. They must prove their bravery in battle.  And they must show true Christian character by their acts of charity.  Gerraint says they must live up to the Christian ideals, to support the church, help the poor, defend women and orphans and so on.  If they qualify, and that is a big if, then the count can confer knighthood, but only on his own subjects.”

“The count can’t confer anything these days.  I doubt he would even remember who the men are.”

“Then Thierry.”

“But he won’t come home.”  Hildegard looked sad for a minute and Margueritte slipped an arm around her shoulder.

“I haven’t seen Roland but for a dozen weeks in these last five years.  Would you like me to write to Charles?”

“No.  I’ll be fine,” Hildegard said, as she wiped her eyes.

“Well, then the countess may do it.  Your act would do it, subject to your husband so to speak, but it is not something I recommend if it can be avoided.  I don’t normally think it is a good thing to have women reward men based on their ability to kill other men.”

“Yes, I see what you mean.  I’ll have to think about that, but I am pleased that by your qualifications, I can take most of the men off the list already.”

“Not Christians?”

Hildegard shook her head.  “Not exactly loyal or brave.  I don’t see them riding off to fight in support of Charles any time soon.”

Margueritte nodded and said, “I like that shade of yellow.”

“Our finest work,” the shopkeeper said, quickly.

Margueritte spent the afternoon in the abbey, visiting Relindis after acknowledging her sister Herlindis, of course.  Margueritte made Gisele, Brittany and Grace go with her while Calista kept Gerald and Carloman tried to keep Pepin and Martin out of trouble.  The girls protested, Gisele in particular, because she wanted to hang out in the market with Bertrand.  She came but pouted until Margueritte whispered that Relindis was a witch.

“You shouldn’t tell such things,” Relindis said, as she brought them into the mess hall where there were plenty of chairs to sit and talk.  “I am trying to be good.  The monastery finally got finished and dedicated this last year, and I have minded my prayers and my duties without complaint since then.”

“And so, you deserve a little reward,” Margueritte said.  “Tulip,” she called, and the fairy appeared.  “I have an old friend of yours,” she said, while Brittany and Grace clapped their hands in excitement.

Tulip remembered Relii right away, and Relii swallowed hard.  “I had forgotten.”

“So had I,” Gisele said.  “I never saw the women.  Lefee said her mother used to be a fairy, but I could not see it.”

“Lady Jennifer,” Tulip said.  “She used to be Little White Flower, and I heard she was very nice.”

“She is nice,” Gisele said.

“And you remember Lefee?”  Margueritte asked.

“Oh yes,” Gisele said.  “And the housekeeper’s daughter, Morgan, and the little one.  What was her name?”

“Larin.  She was Margo’s and Count Tomberlain’s daughter.  She should be about fifteen by now.”

“Still young,” Gisele said.

“But not so young when you are twenty-eight and she is twenty-five and you both have young children running around your feet.”  Margueritte smiled.  “It is all a matter of perspective.”  She turned to Relii and Tulip who were remembering when they met.  “Tulip,” she interrupted.  “Would you like to travel with us for a while.”

“Oh, yes,” Tulip said.  “That would be lovely.”

“You would have to ride with the girls here.  Could you do that?”

“Yes, if they would like me to.”  Brittany and Grace squealed in anticipation.

“Yes,” Gisele said, softly.

“That includes riding with a seven-year-old boy, Gerald, my youngest.”

“I don’t mind.  And Martin will be going with us?”

“Yes.  And Tulip, this is Gisele.  She is the daughter of Charles, the Mayor of the Franks.”

“Really?” Relii and Tulip both looked.  “I didn’t know Charles had any children.”

“Oh, yes,” Margueritte assured her.  “Her twin, Carloman is right now watching Martin and her younger brother Pepin get into trouble.”

“And I have two younger sisters,” Gisele said.  “Aude is fourteen and Hiltrude will be thirteen soon, and a younger half-brother, Grifo.  He is almost five.  He is Swanachild’s son.”

Margueritte interjected before Relii or Tulip could speak.  “Now Tulip, if you want to come with us, you will have to promise to hide around humans, and if you can’t hide, you may have to get big for a bit.  I think you should get big now so the girls can see what you look like.”

“Yes, Lady,” Tulip said, and she got big, and she appeared very beautiful, as all fairies should.  Gisele drew her breath in, and Relii spoke.

“I had forgotten.”

Tulip turned to the nun and scolded her.  “Now Relii.  Your memory is not that bad.”

M4 Margueritte: Negotiations, part 2 of 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I made the pies,” Margueritte offered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

M4 Margueritte: Battle, part 1 of 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“After father had at him.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thomas?” Elsbeth spoke up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My lady,” Pomadoro bowed, regally.

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

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

“Abd al-Makti is here?”

“Even so.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The sorcerer.”

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

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

“You sound like Gerraint.”

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

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

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

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

“How old are you again?”

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

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

M4 Margueritte: Disturbances, part 3 of 3

Brianna was the first person buried in the yard set beside by the new church.  They laid her right next to the church where she could be near her husband, and Margueritte had a passing thought to wonder how quickly the yard might fill if Ragenfrid showed up.

Childemund finally remembered where he had seen Rolf in Paris.  The man was a petty thief at least twice brought before the magistrate.  He did hang around with a gang of thieves and pickpockets, but Childemund could not say there were twenty-three.  And he could not imagine what would send such a man on a suicide mission, to attack the castle and all.  When he saw the man in Paris, he rather imagined the man to be a coward.

Margo cried, but not like the girls.  She commented later that now she would have to be the grown up.  She did not sound too happy about that, but Rotrude assured her that it was not so hard.  She had sisters to help, and that was more than Rotrude ever had.  Rotrude also said the yard where Brianna got buried was lovely, with a few trees for shade and a view of the grotto where the sheep passed on their way to the fields to graze.  She said she would like to be buried in just such a place, but after the service, she had to go back to her room to rest.

###

Count duBois brought three hundred men from the northern march to the castle on the tenth of May.  He said they encountered advanced units from Ragenfrid’s army and had to fight their way through.  He only had thirty men, his personal retinue on horseback, and Margueritte felt disappointed, but it was better than she expected.

“I would say Ragenfrid is trying to move men in secret to surround your town and castle,” duBois reported.

“I would say he won’t be able to do that,” Margueritte responded.

DuBois did not understand.  He looked to the men, but they looked to Margueritte.

“I have people in the forest of the Vergen, on the Breton border, and people in the fields and trees south of the village, on the edge of the Banner.  They will watch day and night, and Ragenfrid’s men won’t go there, especially in the night.  We are not Cologne.  We are not a big city with big city walls, but Ragenfrid will find it impossible to cut us off from fresh food and water.  He will not be able to starve us into submission.  He will have to fight.”

“If his army is as big as Larchmont and his, er, men have reported, and I do not doubt that it is, he may not have to fight very hard or very much,” Walaric said.

“What are we talking about?” duBois wanted to know.

“The report says a minimum of eight thousand, and maybe ten.  With your men, we have fifteen hundred, but a third of them are untrained boys,” Peppin said.

“What?” duBois looked astonished they were even talking about making a defense.  “And I suppose a few hunters and farmers are going to keep that force from surrounding us and choking the life from us.  I hope you have a plan for negotiations.”

Margueritte nodded as three women came into the Great Hall.  Rotrude came to the table and sat.  Margo took the seat beside her, and Elsbeth came to stand beside her sister.  “I plan to negotiate Ragenfrid’s unconditional surrender.”

“You are crazy,” duBois said.

“Now hold on,” Childemund interrupted.  “Let us remember what the Lady Brianna said, God rest her.  Let us see what Ragenfrid has in mind before we go and surrender ourselves.”

“And a wise and wonderful lady she was,” Rotrude added, and Margo nodded.

DuBois stood up straight and looked again at the men in the room before he looked at the women.  “Don’t tell me, these are your personal Amazon guard.”

“Hardly,” Margueritte laughed, so the women and Peppin joined her laugh.  “I have Melanie and Calista for that.  The two elves that had been sitting quietly in the back, stood and found bows in their hands, weapons duBois had not seen when he came in.  “They have a kind of contest going on, and right now they are tied on how many of the enemy they have killed.  But you should know who it is that is defending the forest and south of the village.”  She looked at Margo who took Rotrude’s hand.  Rotrude had already been introduced to the fairy lord, Larchmont, and was delighted to find Melanie and Calista were house elves, but it was still a bit of a shock for the newly initiated, so Margo took Rotrude’s hand and Childemund and Walaric stood close to duBois to keep him steady in case he wanted to run away or do something stupid.

“I have no desire to keep secrets from my commanders, including Larchmont.”  Margueritte looked up. “Larchmont, you can come down now, please.  The Count duBois needs to be let into the circle of knowing.”

Larchmont fluttered down, offered a regal bow to Margueritte, and a nod to the others.  “It is an honor, lady, to be in such fine company.  I believe when Count Michael and King David arrive, we will certainly best the enemy, no matter his numbers.”

DuBois jumped on the sight, seemed frozen as he watched the fairy descend, and looked startled when the fairy spoke.  He clearly looked spooked.  It became a fight or flight situation, but then he appeared to change his mind as he spoke.  “So, it is true.  You are a witch to whom even the spirits of the earth must give answer.”

“I am not a witch,” Margueritte stomped her foot, and several others echoed her thought.  “I haven’t got a witchy bone in my body.  Elsbeth here has more witchery in her than I do.”

“Only once a month,” Elsbeth countered, and Rotrude covered her mouth in embarrassment.  Margo also covered her mouth, but to keep from laughing.

“You country girls,” Rotrude smiled and dismissed them as she turned her eyes and thoughts to Larchmont.  “Still, it is remarkable how this gentleman, and the kind ladies love you so dearly.”

“And you, sweet lady,” Melanie said.

“We love you, too,” Calista agreed.  Rotrude found a tear, and Margo comforted her.

“Meanwhile,” duBois said, back to business.  “If you have the forest covered, as you say, then I believe you about keeping Ragenfrid out.  But if he has ten to one odds he may not have to encircle us to crush us.”

“Don’t underestimate my sister’s devious mind,” Elsbeth said.  “She has resources,” but she knew not to say any more.

“And who are you?” duBois obviously felt the need to object to something.  “I understand the non-witch and her fairy friends, but why are these women in this war council?”

“Forgive me.  My manners,” Margueritte said.  “My sister is the baroness of this corner of Anjou and Lady of this Castle if my brother has any sense.”

“Hey,” Margo wanted to object, but Margueritte cut her off.

“Margo is Countess and Marchioness of the Breton March, and by treaty, your overlord.  And I heard you and Tomberlain talking about Laval.”  she turned on Margo.  “I believe you said it is a little city but at least it is a city.”  Margo reluctantly nodded.  “And this fine lady is wife of Charles, mayor of all the Franks.”

“My lady,” duBois said with a backwards step.  “I didn’t know.  I…” He was at a loss for words.

“What is more, Charles’ children are running around this castle even now with our children getting into various levels of trouble.”

“A break from Saint Denis,” Rotrude interjected.

“So you see, defending this place is the only option.  We cannot let these ladies and their children become bargaining chips against Charles and against the Frankish nation.

DuBois had a change of heart and he spoke.  “Ladies, my men and I will defend you to our last breath.  May it be when we are old and comfortably in bed.”

Walaric smiled.  “I think he has got it,” he said.

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

MONDAY

Ragenfrid arrives with an army of thousands.  Since surrender is not an option, battle plans must be made. Until next time, Happy Reading

*

M4 Margueritte: Disturbances, part 2 of 3

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

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

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

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

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

“You said Parisian,” Peppin pointed out.

“Paris is a big city,” Childemund responded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“There she is,” someone shouted.

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

“Kairos.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

M4 Margueritte: Disturbances, part 1 of 3

Carloman and Gisele were both there to support her.   “But come,” Margueritte encouraged Rotrude, and introduced her to the women.  “My mother Brianna, and Jennifer, who is like a big sister.  And this is Elsbeth, my little sister, and Margo, Countess of the Breton March, your real hostess.”

“I am looking forward to hearing all the news from Paris,” Margo said softly with a look at Margueritte which wondered what might be wrong with the woman.  Brianna stepped up and gave Rotrude a hug.

“Welcome to our home, as Margueritte said.”  Brianna guided Rotrude inside where Lolly had fixed a fine repast, with Marta there to serve, and Maven missing as usual.

They all had a lovely day, what remained of it, and got Rotrude settled into Jennifer’s big room, while Rotrude sat in a comfortable chair in the old downstairs hall.  Jennifer moved herself, Lefee, Cotton and Mercy across the castle courtyard to her home beside the chapel.  Rotrude did not want to put Jennifer out, but Jennifer said she expected Father Aden home any day, and they always stayed in their own place when he came home.

“In fact, we are building a new home beside the new church, Saint Aubin’s”

“Ah,” Rotrude sounded very interested.  “You are the bishop’s wife.”

“Yes,” Jennifer said softly and looked down.  She never wanted to be the center of attention.

“And the dearest woman in all the world,” Brianna saved her, took Jennifer’s arm, and directed her toward the food, where she got Rotrude some cider.

Margueritte mostly sat back and watched that afternoon.  Rotrude and Margo had much in common, being from Paris and wanting to gossip.  But Rotrude also shared some traits with Mother Brianna, and the two of them hit it off very well.  Margueritte concluded that her mother could not help it.  She was such a kind and caring person, and Rotrude evidentially so ill.  Jennifer almost relaxed after a time, and Margueritte felt glad to see it.  Elsbeth did not say much, which was probably for the best.

They ate supper in the old hall, on the old family table.  Childemund, Peppin and Walaric joined them, but mostly the women talked through the meal, while the men kept busy enjoying the food.  When the chicken came in, roasted to perfection and filled with the most delicious sage dressing, Rotrude made the expected comment, that if she ate like that all the time she would be as big as Margo’s house.

“All credit to the cooks,” Brianna said, and Childemund smiled, being used to the dwarf cooks.  Lolly had a whole bevy of dwarf women who were all excellent chefs, wives mostly of the crew Luckless got to help Redux, the master smith, with the forge and smithy work for the new heavy cavalry.  The women cooked for the castle, about a hundred people altogether, and no one ever complained except a few of the dwarf men for whom complaints seemed an automatic reaction.

All the young men, their horses and their equipment, were with the soldiers in a tent camp that stretched out on the edge of the long field just down the road from the unfinished castle.  Small groups of young squires got assigned to seasoned soldiers who had a few years practice learning the lance and shield.  They would camp, like an army camp, all summer, and go home in time for the harvest.  And they would learn how to be men, and hopefully how to be knights.  They had rations of bread, weak mead and cider sent down from the castle and village, and vegetables when the gardens began to ripen, but mostly they had to hunt and fish and feed themselves, just like a real army, which meant they had to cook for themselves, and learn to cook something edible.

Elsbeth excused herself before desert.  Her Bogart turned almost two and ate solid food, but still needed his mom more than the other children.  Rotrude had brought two women with her, attendants, more like nurses, to help her in her illness, with the children, and in the night.  They were joined by the half-dozen young women from the town, only two of which were disguised house elves, who had the mass of children in the Great Hall.

“I’ll send one of your ladies back to you,” Elsbeth said, and in fact, the one lady came with two locals who helped clear the table.  Margueritte watched and neither Brianna nor even Jennifer got up to help clear the table, and she decided the medieval world might be moving rapidly forward.  They were the nobility.  They had servants to do the dishes.

Rotrude went to bed early, right after supper.  She looked worn and mother Brianna asked Margueritte what might be done for her and wondered if Doctor Pincher might help.  The men stayed silent to listen and eat apple pie for dessert.

“No, mother,” Margueritte responded sadly.  “You have been to Avalon.  You know how it works.  Theirs is a world apart, and I abuse my privilege as it is.  And I have a feeling I will abuse it much more if Ragenfrid shows up.  But some things I am not permitted to do, and sometimes things carry eternal consequences and I dare not interfere.”

“But it would not hurt to have Doctor Pincher take a look at her, would it?”

“Or Doctor Mishka,” Margo suggested.

Margueritte shook her head.  “Greta says she might take a look.  She says she is less likely to do something extraordinary.”

“Doctor Pincher might look,” Brianna said.

“Please,” Jennifer asked sweetly.

“Pleasy,” they heard a voice from above to which Margo responded.

“Goldenrod, you might as well come down here from the rafters and join us.”

Childemund and Walaric looked startled, but not surprised when the fairy fluttered down to the table to stand beside Brianna and Margueritte and look shy.  Peppin laughed.

“You should have seen it when the queen of the fairies showed up just before the Curdwallah battle.”

“Ha!”  They heard a voice from the doorway.  “You should have seen the ogre.”  It was Aden, home as promised, and Jennifer hurried to him to hug him and welcome him home.  After that, the conversation turned to Ragenfrid, Goldenrod retreated to Brianna’s shoulder where she could hide in Brianna’s hair, and Margueritte breathed, but she imagined Greta and Doctor Pincher might pay Rotrude a visit in the morning.  All things considered, Margueritte had a lovely time that evening, and just as well, because it became about the last lovely time she would have for a while.

Early the next afternoon, the fifty they sent to retrieve Ragenfrid’s tax of three cows came home without the cows.  John-James reported to Margueritte and the assembled captains.

“The three of us went in as expected, like we were innocent and not suspicious, like you said.  We went to retrieve the three cows, like normal, but there were about three hundred men on our side of the Sarthe.  I did not see Ragenfrid, or the younger sons, Adalbert or Fredegar, but the older son, Bernard was there.  They had some horses, about thirty, and when Bernard shouted and pointed at us, we rode off.  The thirty were slow to start, but they followed us until we rejoined the fifty.  Then they backed off.”  He took a breath, like he had just run that distance.

“We would have run into trouble if we went the way we came.  The ford on the Mayenne we crossed just the day before now had three hundred more, guarding it.  I did not stop to count them.  The fairy Lord, Larchmont, saved us from riding right into the middle of them.  He did a good deed for us, I say.  We would have been back here last night if we came the way we went, but it took half a day to go upriver to find a place to cross over.”  He took another deep breath before he added a last thought.  “Just so you know, I say Lord Ragenfrid is coming our way or he would not have the ford on the Mayenne blocked.”

“They might be there to stall us if we come to the aid of Paris or Orleans or wherever he has in mind to go,” Walaric suggested, but Margueritte shook her head.

“He would block the main road, which would be the Paris Road.  The ford he is talking about is between the Paris and Loire roads.  The ford Ragenfrid has blocked is a ford for crossing an army without announcing your presence.  I suspect John-James rode up and crossed without opposition where the Paris Road crosses the river.”

“Even so,” John-James said.