M4 Gerraint: The Frankish Peace, part 4 of 4

“Lord Birch.” Gerraint turned to the fairy.

Lord Birch made a short bow.  “I have people ready to move as soon as they get the word.  When Chlothar leaves Soissons, they will bring him and his select retinue here in a day.”

“That is five or six days before his army gets here,” Gerraint pointed out.

“Well, that should shake him up, anyway,” Percival said.

“And there is this,” Gerraint smiled.  “I hesitated to say this, because I don’t want him to get a swelled head, but I have talked to quite a few Franks in the past weeks, antrustiones and pueri, and I would not underestimate the name of Arthur.  Saxons talk, you know.  And here, the Franks thought they had you with a two to one advantage and an easy road to victory, but Arthur shows up and the Franks end up running for their lives.”

“Uh, Lord Birch.  Any chance you can get us back to Amorica in a day should that become necessary?” Bohort had to ask.

Gerraint looked at Percival and they shouted together, “For Arthur!”  All the men in that tent echoed the shout, and Arthur gave Lancelot and Bohort a strange look.  Lancelot answered the look.

“Old habits are hard to break.”

The Bretons arrived at the gates of Paris on the next day.  Childebert made a show of drawing his horsemen up in front of the gate, but then he waited.  He was not going to start anything, at least not until Chlothar came to back him up. He expected that would be a few days.

Chlothar himself arrived the next mid-afternoon at about three o’clock.  He just appeared suddenly in front of Gerraint’s tent with twenty men on horseback who looked very confused.  Gerraint sat, relaxing on a chair, waiting.  Gerraint’s men were all around, watchful, but he told them to make no hostile moves.  He hoped Chlothar’s men reciprocated.

“Chlothar,” Gerraint stood up and smiled.  “I’ll be with you in a minute.”  He practiced his Saxon as he imagined it was a language Chlothar would know.  He knew, the gifts his little one’s gave him so long ago included the gift to understand and be understood, no matter the language, but like the little ones themselves, he refused to depend on those gifts, though he was grateful at times when the little ones were willing to help.

Lord Birch’s seven fee came in their hunter’s outfits and knelt to Gerraint.  “Lord,” they called him.

Gerraint shook his head and said, “Please stand.  I want to thank you for this special work in bringing our guests here safely.  Now, I know it goes against etiquette, but please get small and return to Lord Birch for whatever other instructions he may have.

“Lord,” they repeated the phrase, and got small and fluttered off.  Some of Gerraint’s own men raised an eyebrow at that.  Chlothar’s men became more confused than ever, but Chlothar, and a few merely nodded.  Chlothar dismounted, so the rest followed.

“Allow me to introduce myself.  I am Gerraint, son of Erbin.”  He reached out and Chlothar reluctantly shook Gerraint’s hand as a man behind whispered in Chlothar’s ear.  Chlothar gripped a little harder before he let go and spoke.

“I have heard of you.”

“Only good, I hope.”  Gerraint smiled.  “But come, I have others I want you to meet.”  He began to walk while the man at Chlothar’s ear continued to whisper.  The Franks led their horses, as long as no one came to take them.  Gerraint hated himself for doing it, but he listened in to what the man was whispering.  The man was a Gallo-Roman and filling Chlothar in on his estimation of the disposition of Gerraint’s troops.

“We are your prisoners?”  Chlothar brushed the man from his ear.

“You are our guests.  Your brother Childebert is lounging around in front of the gate to Paris with about two thousand horsemen.  I imagine he is waiting for your army to show up.  He doesn’t have much initiative, I would guess.”

“No,” Chlothar admitted.  “But tell me, if we are your guests, what if we decide to ride out and visit my brother?”

Gerraint stopped and faced the man. “No one will stop you.  We can fight, if you want to waste your men and ours.  But at least come and listen first to what my friends have to say.  I think you will find it worth your while.”

“And what do you have to say?” Chlothar looked hard at Gerraint, no doubt a practiced look, but it did not faze Gerraint.

“Larchmont!” Gerraint called.  The fairy appeared, full sized, but Gerraint tapped his shoulder.  “Come and sit.  I have to ask you some questions.”

“Lord.”  Larchmont, a good looking, blond headed young man got small and took a seat on Gerraint’s shoulder.  Chlothar and the others looked surprised again, as if they had forgotten.

“Right now, I am just an observer,” Gerraint told Chlothar.  “The two you need to talk to are in here.”  He pointed to the tent as Uwaine and Bedivere stepped up and opened the tent doors.  “Only four, please.  The tent is not too big.”

Chlothar stopped and pointed to four men, one of which was the Gallo-Roman.  They entered and Gerraint introduced the others.  Bohort, King of Amorica and Lancelot, his right hand.  Arthur, Pendragon of Britain, Wales and Cornwall, and Percival, his brother.

The eyes of the Franks got as big on the word Arthur as they did on seeing the fairies.  Chlothar stuck out his hand.  “It is an honor.”  After that, the ideas were presented in short order, and as Gerraint had suggested, every advantage of a friendly neighbor got underlined while the disadvantages of conquest were plainly stated.

Gerraint stood up and went to the door and Chlothar stood as well.  “You must wait,” Chlothar said.  “My brother must hear this.  You talk to my men.”  He followed Gerraint outside and gave a command.  “Conrad.  Take three men and fetch Childebert, alone.  No, he can bring that dotty old priest with him, but no more.”  He paused.

A jousting pole had been set up not far away.  Chlothar’s men were fascinated.  The Cornish were using the lances with the cushioned ends, since they did not want men injured who might need to go into battle, but it made a rough sport all the same.

“Two coppers on Marcus,” Uwaine said.

“Taken,” Bedivere answered.  He pulled out two coins and groused when Marcus unseated his opponent.  A couple of Chlothar’s men saw and laughed.  Chlothar, being of a military mind, instinctively saw the benefit of such training.

“You have well trained men,” he commented.

“Yes,” Gerraint agreed.  “But I am more interested in the women.  I was just about to ask Larchmont what the women were like in Paris.”  Chlothar looked, like he had forgotten Gerraint had a fairy on his shoulder.

“Dull and mindless,” Larchmont said.  “They spend all of their time in fancy dress and parties, like the world is no bigger than their boudoir.  I think there is only one female brain in all of the city and the women take turns using it.”

Chlothar laughed.  “Exactly my thinking.”

Gerraint laughed as well, but then said, “I think you better go see what Birch is up to, and tell Galoren, Baran and Gemstone to stand down for now.  I hope these men will be able to work things out for everyone’s benefit.

“Very good, Lord.”  Larchmont sped off.

“These others?” Chlothar asked.

“Elf King, dwarf King and goblin King.”

“How is it that you…”

“They are friends.  Sometimes I have an opportunity to ask them for help, and they are good enough to oblige.  But I have a feeling you really want to ask me something else.”

Chlothar looked up.  “The Lion of Cornwall.  I should have guessed from your height, you know.”

“I am, but I have gotten old now.  It is something we all do, even kings.”

“Yes, but Arthur?”

“He brought just a few men to help a friend.  That is something you must also consider, but if you decide on peace and friendship, it is Bohort with whom you must speak.”

“I understand.  But I will say this.  Arthur is the only man on earth I would not like to fight.”

Gerraint smiled.  “I think you will find friendship with Great Britain and Little Britain is much better.”

Chlothar nodded and remained silent for a minute.  Then he turned and pointed at the joust.  “Tell me about this game your men are playing.”

 

 

M4 Gerraint: Old Men, part 3 of 4

Gerraint thought about Uwaine’s wife.  Uwaine brought her home not long after that business with the Graal cleared up.  She was a Saxon, a buxom blond with just the right amount of freckles, as like to Greta as one might find.  Neither Gerraint nor Uwaine ever said anything about that.  Uwaine’s mother never got used to her as long as she lived, but their neighbor, Morgana was good to her, and she and Morgause became friends.  Odd how things sometimes worked out.  The girl, fifteen years younger than Uwaine, but in the last thirteen years or so she gave him two sons and two daughters so Gerraint supposed there were no complaints.

“George.”  Gerraint said suddenly, as he brought up the rear, leading his charger with the wrapped hoof.  “Seems to me I recall a George in British history.  Can’t remember any details, though.  I suppose that chapter is not yet written.”  He got silent for a moment before he shouted.  “For England, Saint Michael and Saint George!”  He quieted.  “No idea what that means.”

They arrived at the village of Swindon the following evening.  Constance made them as welcome as she could.  She turned the servants toward a flurry of activity which Gerraint called unnecessary.

“Majesty,” Constance said.  “I had no word you were coming.”

George looked up at the word “Majesty,” but he said nothing.

“I wasn’t,” Gerraint admitted.  “You know at my age I would rather be home with Enid, or out fishing, but Arthur called, and I thought to take the long way around to visit my old friend.”

Constance looked pained.  She looked away and nearly let go of some tears.  “My Lord passed away last winter,” she said.  “It was a mercy.  He stayed helpless in bed for too many years.  He begged me not to tell anyone or send word.”

Gerraint reached out and held the old woman, and she did let out a few tears.

“I’m very sorry,” Bedivere said.

Shortly, Constance led them to the graveside to pay their respects.  “The swiftest of men.  Steadfast as a rock.”  Gerraint named him, while George got the little cross his mother had worn around her neck out of his pouch and spent a few moments in silent prayer.  After, as they returned to the house, George turned to Bedivere.

“The famous Bedwyr of Arthur.”  He was just checking.  Bedivere affirmed.  “And Gerraint, King of Cornwall, the terror of Badon and the Lion of Cornwall,” he finished.

“Exactly,” Bedivere said.

“Praise God’s good hand for placing me in your company,” George said.  “I could not have asked for more.”

Gerraint overheard, but he chose silence.  He did not act as such a terror anymore, and he never was as much as the tales said.  He wondered, looking around the village of Swindon, seeing mostly old men and women, what would become of Britain after his days?  Loth had gone, and now Bedwyr.  What would come when Arthur died?  He wondered if that might have been why Arthur sent for him.  Perhaps Arthur was dying.  He tried not to think too hard on that.

After two days of good food and two nights of soft beds, with Bedivere no longer in danger of opening his wound, provided he behaved himself, the three travelers continued toward Bath and Badon where they would ride around the point of the channel and head for Caerleon.  George rode most of the way in silence and only asked once why Gerraint insisted on stopping every couple of hours to walk around.

“Because if I don’t,” he explained.  “I’ll stiffen up and you will have to carry me on a stretcher.”

They spent the evening in the wild some distance from Bath as they found no convenient village inn.  Gerraint wanted at least one night under the stars, and besides, Constance, or someone, had ridden out in advance and told people that he moved on the road.  He all too constantly got stopped and awed.  It was not like the old days when people would ask, Gerraint who?  Heck, in those days they asked, Arthur who?

That evening, they had a visitor.  He came right after sundown, glowing in elfish armor, and standing tall as a man, though Gerraint knew it was not his natural look.  His helm looked plume encrusted in the Roman style, and his weapons appeared all gold and jewel encrusted as well.

Bedivere and George had their swords out, hearing the intruder before seeing him.  On first sight, however, Bedivere put up his sword and instructed George to do the same.  He did, but he could not resist staring.  Meanwhile, Gerraint snored.  It took a bit to get him awake.

“Great Lord.”  The warrior bowed, deeply.

“What news, Lord Beechworth, and what brings you to Britain on this side of the Channel?”  Gerraint asked as he rubbed his eyes.  This time he was talking about the English Channel.

“The Lady Viviane has seen this young one in her heart and she knows there is greatness in his days to come, though she cannot say what that work may be for the clouds that cover those days,” Beechworth said.

“Yes.”  Gerraint started coming awake.  “I felt the same when we picked him up some days ago.  But what does Rhiannon want?”

“Lord, you know she has left the lake across the sea and moved court to the British Highlands since Meryddin passed over.”

“Er, yes.”  Gerraint nodded but he sounded hesitant.  He had not really thought about it since Macreedy informed him all those years ago.

“The lady has sent me to ask if she may train the youngster as she once trained Lancelot and Galahad.”

“Young man.”  Gerraint turned to George.  “This concerns you.  What have you to say?”

“I, I.”  George did not exactly know what to say.

“Spit it out,” Gerraint insisted.

George swallowed.  “I stopped believing in elves and fairies when I came to faith in the Lord.  How?”  He stumbled on what to ask.

“God works though all that he has made to affect all that he will.”  Gerraint said.  “There are more things in Heaven and Earth than you or I can dream or imagine, and don’t underestimate the creativity of the Almighty, or anything else concerning the Almighty for that matter.”  He shook his finger at the boy.  “But the question is, will you learn the way of the chiefs of this world, what soon enough they will call Knighthood?  Here are teachers offering to teach you.”

“Yes.”  George yelped lest the offer vanish.  “Only I promised my mother that I would first seek Arthur’s court.”

“There you have it,” Gerraint said to Beechworth, who did not understand exactly what he had.  He looked at Bedivere, but Bedivere merely shrugged.  “George will go with us to Arthur,” Gerraint explained.  “Then I will bring him to the highlands myself.”

“Very good, my Lord.”  Beechworth offered another bow, but he did not otherwise move.

“My best to your Lady and tell Brimmer the Dwarf to get cracking.  The boy needs armor that will fit him,” Gerraint said.

“Very good.”  Beechworth repeated himself again, but still did not move.

“Good to see you again,” Gerraint added.  “Go on, now.  Get small.”

“Lord.”  With that permission, Beechworth did get small, fairy that he was, and flew off at such speed, for all practical purposes he vanished.

George looked full of wonder, but before he could begin to ask questions in earnest, Gerraint already started snoring.

They arrived at Caerleon in due order.  Gerraint and his party were hustled into the Pendragon who sat at the Round Table looking morosely at all of the empty seats.  He got up when Gerraint came in and they embraced and passed pleasantries.  Then Gerraint introduced his party.

“Bedivere, you know,” Gerraint said.  “And this is young George, a Saxon we picked up under some rather unusual circumstances.”

“God’s providence.”  George announced and he fell to one knee.  Such formalities were rarely seen in the room of the Round Table, but George felt acutely aware that he was a stranger in a strange land.

Arthur’s face turned.  “You know no pagan has ever been allowed in this room.”  He shot at Gerraint, though the accusation was not strictly true.

“And still hasn’t,” Gerraint returned in kind.  “George is a confessing Christian.”

Arthur looked up.  He stepped forward, helped George to his feet and looked long and hard into the boy’s eyes.

“Great majesty.”  George mumbled and attempted to turn away, but the eyes of a great man are hard to turn from once they are fastened on you; and especially those of Arthur.

“I believe you are right,” Arthur announced at last and let go of the boy.  “This means something, I am sure.  But what?”

“It means, if nothing else, the Saxons are beginning to receive the word of hope for all men.”  Gerraint spoke plainly.  “This is another great victory for Arthur, I would say.  These years of peace have not been fruitless.”

“Perhaps,” Arthur said, returned to his morose attitude, and retook his seat at the table.  “My knees, you know.  Sitting is more comfortable these days.”

“Though the younger man,” Gerraint teased, and grinned broadly.  “Still, I seem to know what you mean, if I don’t sit too long.”

“Yes,” Arthur started, but Bedivere interrupted.

“Lords.”  He spoke up.  “Perhaps George and I could see to our rooms and leave you two to talk over old times.”

“Yes, yes,” Gerraint verbalized while Arthur waved them off.  Then Arthur had a thought.

“Big feast tonight,” he said.  “Seats of honor and all of that.  Don’t disappoint the lady.”  Bedivere bowed slightly in acknowledgement, and they left.

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

MONDAY

Arthur is set on fetching Lancelot, but first Gerraint has to keep his promise and take George into the British Highlands which are not exactly the British lands they expect. Until then, Happy Reading

*

M4 Festuscato: Saxons and Franks, part 2 of 3

Two days later, Festuscato, Heinz, Bran and Tulip sat on the edge of a short cliff, looking down on three Hun scouts who were camped in the valley.  They appeared to be taking only minimal precautions against being found.  Either they thought they were in Hun land, or they thought Saxony was well under their thumb, or both.  Yet they were scouts, so they were looking for something.

“They are too close to the village,” Heinz whispered.  “If we take them here and men come to look for them, they will surely find us.”

Festuscato grinned.  Heinz had started learning.  Sadly, not everyone did.

“There are other men down there,” Tulip said, quietly, and pointed, not that anyone could follow her little finger.

“Morons,” Bran used Festuscato’s word.

“Hey.  No.”  Heinz tried to stand and shout, but Festuscato put his hand over the man’s mouth and they waited.  Six Saxons surprised three Huns and the final score was Saxons three, Huns two, though when Greta examined one of the Saxons back in the main camp, she pronounced the score three to three.  The man did not live two days.

“And that was taking them by surprise,” Festuscato said calmly.

“You idiots.”  Heinz did not sound so calm.  “Now when the Huns send out a whole troop to look for them, how will we avoid being found?”

“Morons,” Bran repeated.

“I like that word,” Festuscato said.

“Morons,” Heinz repeated.  “And I don’t even know what it means, but you are it.”

They got the Hun camp cleaned up and brought the bodies in with the horses and all the equipment.  Festuscato had an idea, but he waited until Gregor got back that evening.  Gregor came in smiling, his whole troop intact.  Luckless got down and spoke first.

“Didn’t hardly need to sniff out the boy,” he said.

“We caught them unprepared,” Gregor boasted.  “The terrors of the wilderness, and we caught them flat footed.  Let me tell you, it was fierce.”

A young man stepped up.  “I went to relieve myself at the edge of the camp.  There were only two guards.”

“We snatched him up and ran,” Luckless finished the story.

Gregor stared at the two with his one eye and made an expression like they were no fun.  “But it was fierce running,” he said.

“Okay!  Listen up!  Here’s the plan.”  Festuscato got everyone’s attention, and after two days of fairies and miracles, the Saxons learned to listen, even if he was a Roman.  “Gregor.  You need to leave Egbert in charge here so you can go with us.”

“Etheldrood,” Etheldrood corrected.

“But I like Egbert,” Gregor said with a laugh.

“Etheldrood.  You need to take these people to the new site.  We know the Huns have scouted all in that area, so you should be safe for a time.  You need to get word to all the other people, the ones in hiding and the ones still at home.  Don’t trust anyone with your location but tell them to be ready to turn out when the Huns pull out to go to war.  I’m guessing a year.  Tell them they will also be going to war and joining Roman and other allies to kill the Huns.  Anybody want to kill some Huns?”

“Yea.  Aye.  Aye.”  At least some of the men were ready.

“Heinz.  You know what to do with the bodies.  Are you up for it?”

“I will do my best for my king,” he said.  “Even though it cost me my life.”

“Not me,” Gregor said.  “I’m retired.  I would move to Florida if I knew where that was.  Lord Agitus says it is a warm, sandy beach and has scantily clad women who bring you drinks while you relax in the sun.  Sounds to me like that place, Heaven, that those Christians talk about.”

“Retired?”  Etheldrood got stuck on the word.

“It means you get to be king with all the headaches now and I get to go play and have fun.”  Gregor said more quietly, and Etheldrood thought that was still strange.  “It’s the least you could do for your old man.”

“All right,” Festuscato took back the conversation.  “So Etheldrood, you know what to do.  Make sure they are ready when the call comes.  And Heinz, you have your assignment.”

“And what will you be doing?” Heinz asked.

“Gregor, Bran, Luckless, Tulip and I will be talking to Merovech, King of the Salian Franks about that alliance, and if the Ripuarian Franks want to join with us in going after the Huns,” Festuscato shrugged.

“You are a scoundrel,” Heinz said.

“He doesn’t like to leave things to chance,” Gregor said and poked his son in the chest with a big finger.  “A trait you would do well to learn.”

“Every little bit helps,” Tulip gave it a positive spin.

“He doesn’t start the trouble,” Luckless chimed in.  “But he is good at ending it.”

“Cad,” Festuscato said, and when Bran looked at him, he said, “I’m a cad, not a scoundrel.”  Bran nodded.

###

Two days later, Heinz of the Saxons with four men rode somberly into the Hun camp.  They had three dead Huns on their horses, and the Huns were not pleased to see them.

“What is this?  What is this?”  Dengizic, Attila’s second son came racing out of his tent while the Huns grabbed and threatened the Saxons.

“We found them and thought you might like them back.  A kindness,” Heinz said.  Dengizic took a moment before he waved off the men who were holding the Saxons.  Those men only backed up one step.

“What happened?” Dengizic asked.

“Ripuarian Franks.  They crossed the river in the night and attacked us, looking for easy loot.  I guess they heard we were hiding from the terrible Huns and they figured we took our loot with us.”  Heinz grinned a very Festuscato grin.  “They must have found your men.  They carried off their dead and wounded from the attack so as not to leave evidence, but they had to be the same Franks who attacked us.”

“So, you bring them here with this tale and think we will believe you?”

“With this message.  Not everyone supports Etheldrood.  There are many of us who hate the Romans and are willing to fight, but you need to give us time to convince Etheldrood or remove him.”

Dengizic would have to think about that.  He considered his dead men.  “Thank you for returning our men.  You will have some time, I think.  We will be busy for a time paying the Franks a visit.”

Heinz nodded.  “I am Heinz.  I will see you again,” he said, and he and his men mounted, rode out, and tried hard to keep their horses at a steady pace and not look like they were running away, because, as Festuscato said, the dog will not attack until you turn your back to run.

###

Festuscato rode into the city of Tournai, the capital of the Salian Franks with all eyes watching him.  Luckless the dwarf could be seen as a short man with too much beard.  Gregor the Saxon looked like a Saxon, and while he might have gotten mixed reviews from the people, he was not an uncommon sight.  Bran the Sword, also not an unusual sight, apart from his size.  The Salian Franks had a good trade with Britain.  But Festuscato not only looked like a Roman, he looked like a rich Roman, and whenever such a man showed up it inevitably meant trouble and annoyance for the people.  When Tulip abandoned the horse’s mane to hide in Festuscato’s hair and sit on his shoulder, the people looked twice.

“Here we are.  Home at last,” Festuscato shouted when he came to a tavern and got down from his horse.  “The Dragon Inn.”  Festuscato read the sign and added, “Go out in the street and drag ‘em in.”  No one understood a word since he said that in twenty-first century English, but they joined him on his feet.  “Tie them off and let’s see if the ale is dragon strong.”

“Gotta be better than the last place,” Gregor said, and nodded when Luckless added his note.

“Piss water.”

“About time you got here,” someone spoke from the porch.  Festuscato took a close look before he shouted.

“Felix.  What brings you here?  You are about the last person I expected to see.  Still trading in wool and silk?”

“No, no.  I own this place.”

“Hope the ale is better than the last place,” Gregor said.

“Piss water,” Luckless added.

Bran followed them in but Festuscato turned to his childhood friend.  “So, any word from Father Gaius or Dibs?  I seem to recall telling them I would meet them here.  I suppose I’ve taken longer than planned.”

“About nine years longer,” Felix said, before he amended his statement.  “Make that ten years.  Anyway, a bit more than the three years you said.”  Felix grinned, like he had several jokes prepared, but an interruption came bursting out the door.  Father Gaius grabbed Festuscato in a big hug and Festuscato responded with a serious face and a word.

“Forgive me Father for I have sinned.”

“I look forward to hearing all about it,” Gaius said, and he and Felix brought Festuscato into the inn.

“Lord Agitus,” Luckless spoke right up.  “Dibs is apparently with his troop down around Soissons.”

“Where is Tulip?”

Bran pointed up while Gregor spoke.  “Can’t get the little lady to come down from the rafters.”

Festuscato sat and thought about it while Felix brought a mug of ale.  He tried it and protested.  “Felix.  This is good.  I know there is no way you made it, Roman that you are.”

“Murgen’s recipe,” Felix confessed.  “The Brit has his brewery out back, and in case you forgot, most of my neighbors back home were Brits as well.”

“True,” Gaius agreed.

“So, what is the next step?” Gregor sounded impatient, but not complaining.  He may have been uncomfortable being the lone Saxon in the midst of all the Franks.  Then again, Festuscato was not sure that was right because he could not remember ever seeing Gregor uncomfortable.  Festuscato nodded.

“All right,” he said, and thought a second.  “We find Merovech, king of the Salian Franks”

“That’s easy.  He went with Dibs to Soissons to meet with the new Magister Millitum, Aegidius,” Felix said.

“Now wait.  I know that name.”  Festuscato was still thinking.  “Wasn’t Aegidius General Aetius’ aid de camp?”

“He was,” Gaius confirmed.  “But what of it?”

“I have to write some letters.  Too bad Seamus isn’t around.  He always had parchment and ink handy.”

“Letters?”

“Thorismund of the Visigoths, Budic of Amorica, Sangiban of the Alans down in Orleans.  You remember him from our time there.  Let’s see.  Aetius in Italy, and I guess Aegidius in Soissons or Paris or wherever he ends up.  Then I need to write to Merovech and his brothers, wherever they are.  We need to gather what men we can, and then the hard part will be holding them back until the opportune time.  When Attila is ready, he will strike hard and fast and cities are going to burn, maybe this city.  We need to gather, to be ready to strike when the time is right and not spread ourselves out trying to defend every city.  If we spread out like that, Attila will have us for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

“That will be hard for the Franks,” Gregor said.  “They are not known for patience.  They will defend their crops and homes, and you won’t be able to stop them.”

“They will get themselves killed and not stop the Huns,” Bran decided.

“We will see,” Festuscato said.  “A lot will depend on the Visigoths and Aetius and what they come up with and are willing to risk.  I can see Theodoric sticking to his own border and maybe trying to buy off Attila.  That would be like trying to buy off a lion with a steak.  The steak, once eaten, might just whet the lion’s appetite.”

M4 Festuscato: Saxons and Franks, part 1 of 3

Festuscato, Last Senator of Rome

After 416 AD Gaul, Kairos 96

“Festuscato Cassius Agitus, Vir Ilistrus, Comes Britannia, Legatus Augusti pro Praetore and chief cook and bottle washer, at your service.”  Festuscato bowed low and smiled.  This had to work better than it did for Margueritte.  She got tied and gagged.

“We don’t like Romans in our land,” the big man growled from his horse, and had a dozen men to back him up.  His Latin did not sound bad, but clearly the big man did not understand most of what Festuscato said.

“I don’t blame you.  I don’t like many Romans either, although I would not mind another tussle in bed with Honoria.  That girl knew more like a hundred shades of gray.”

“The emperor’s sister?”  One man asked and looked shocked, but Festuscato figured these Saxons did not know many Romans by name.  Honoria’s name got bandied about lately, and it had something to do with the Huns.

“The very same.  Ah, Bran.”  Bran stepped from the woods into the small clearing where the company camped.  He looked wary and fingered his belt where his big sword waited, but Festuscato remained friendly, and Bran took his cue from that.  Festuscato introduced his big British friend.  “Bran the Sword meet—” He could not finish the sentence and looked to the original speaker for a clue.

“Heinz,” the man said.  “Chief of my village.”

“Heinz,” Festuscato repeated.  “I was just about to invite Heinz and his men to join us.  A hundred pounds of deer meat is more than even Luckless can eat.”

“We might just take the deer,” Heinz said.  “We don’t like Brits either and don’t like strangers hunting on our land.”

“Got any gold?”  One man asked.  “We might not kill you if you have enough gold.”

“No one ever has enough gold,” a voice spoke from the woods before Luckless the dwarf made his appearance.  “I found some spice.”  He added it to the pot and totally ignored the tension in the air.  “Are your friends ever going to get down off their high horses and join us for supper?”

On sight of a real, live dwarf, Heinz and his men looked hesitant.

“Heinz, chief of your village, please, you and your men join us.  I want to ask you about your village, because the last two villages we found were burned and uninhabited.  I hope it wasn’t Romans.  I would hate to have to crucify some over eager centurion.”

Heinz got down slowly but waved to keep his men up.  “You could do that?”

“As a Roman Senator and Imperial Governor, Lord Agitus can do pretty much what he wants,” Bran said.   It was more than he said in days.

“Maybe you could be a ransom.” Heinz started thinking.

“Maybe,” Festuscato nodded.  “But I would rather be friends and find out about the villages.  Maybe I can do something about that, and that might be worth more than ransom.”

“What can you do about the Huns?” Heinz asked.

“We drove them out of Britain,” Bran said.

Festuscato paused and looked Heinz in the eye.  “Threw them right off my island.”

“Your Island?  Britain?”  Men doubted.

Heinz quieted them.  “I heard about Meglas’ humiliation.  I heard Attila cut the man’s head off.”

“My island.”  Festuscato nodded.  “I tied him up like a pig for slaughter and sent him back, but I take no responsibility for what happened after he got back to this shore.”  He took a moment to apply his sauce to the deer.  “Probably poison,” he said to Bran.  Bran touched it with his finger and licked it.

“Tastes okay to me,” he said.

“Me too.  I’m starving,” Luckless said.

“You’re always starving,” Festuscato countered, and then paused while he watched Heinz stick out his finger to try it.  Heinz clearly approved as he turned and yelled at his men to gather around.  The Saxons tied off their horses and came clinking and clanging in their armor and dragged up lumber for chairs.

“Nice horses,” one man said in halting Latin as he examined the company’s horses.

“Danish,” Bran said.

“A gift from Wulfgar of the Danes,” Festuscato added.  “After leaving the Eastern Empire and traveling back through the Germanies, we stopped in Copenhagen again to see how things were going before finally heading west, and he insisted.”

“I heard the Danes are beset by a terrible monster,” one man started, friendly enough, but paused when he looked at the dwarf.  He thought it best not to offend.

“They were,” Luckless said.  “Let me just say, the Danes were grateful.”

“Big monster, too,” Festuscato added.  “So, tell me about the Huns.”

Heinz finally sat and looked hard at his three prisoners, as he imagined them to be.  Then again, he was not sure what to think.  “You are like a dog with a bone,” he said at last.

“I am,” Festuscato agreed.  “Last time I talked to Attila, that was more than fourteen years ago, it sounded like he had big plans.  What is it now, four-forty-nine, four-fifty AD?  I want to know what he is doing in case I have to stop him.”

“How do you propose to stop anything Attila does?” Heinz asked.

“You are not a superstitious man, are you?  Attila is a superstitious man, but you aren’t, are you?”  Heinz shook his head.  “Good,” Festuscato smiled and looked up a tree.  “Tulip.  You can come down now.  These are not bad men.  They are husbands and fathers and good sons concerned about their homes and families, as they should be.  Miss Tulip, please come to my shoulder.”  Something fluttered in the leaves before a streak of light raced to Festuscato’s shoulder to hide in his hair.

“I am asking,” Heinz said, as he and several of his men tried to get a glimpse of what it was.

“A bird?” one man wondered.

Tulip stuck her little face out from Festuscato’s red strands and shouted.  “I am not a bird.”  She disappeared again and tickled Festuscato’s ear.

“What?  Oh.  She says if you try to hurt any of us she will get her big brother to beat you up.”  Festuscato smiled and reached over to give Heinz a friendly pat on the shoulder.

“Is she?”

“A fairy.”

Heinz laughed.  “Never fear, Miss Tulip?  I mean your friends no harm.”  Most of the men were smiling by then, but it all stopped when they heard a voice in the distance.

“Yahoo! Wait until you see what I found.”  Gregor one eye came riding up pulling a mule with two kegs of ale balanced over its back.  Gregor paused when he saw they had company, and Heinz and his men stood and stared until Heinz spoke.

“Lord Gregor?”

“Heinz, isn’t it?  You are all grown up.  After all these years, I can see I have some catching up to do.”

“Lord Gregor?”

“Lord Agitus.  Are these young boys bothering you?”  Wait.”  Gregor got down from his horse and stopped a few feet from the fire.  “Where is my little lady?”

“Hiding,” Festuscato said, and at the same time Tulip stuck her head out and gave Gregor the raspberries.  That set Gregor to laughing, and he slapped one of the Saxons hard on the shoulder.  The man had to catch himself to keep from falling.  He resumed his seat with a look of pain on his face and rubbed his shoulder.

“Lord Gregor?”

Luckless walked to the mule and interrupted.  “Human ale.  It’s better than piss water, but not by much.”

Bran finally asked.  “Lord Gregor?”

Heinz answered.  “Our king.”

Gregor sat by the fire.  “I went back to check out something in that last village we came through.  I was right.  The mule and the ale were just a bonus.”

“Right about what?” Tulip could be heard if not seen.

“Well, little lady, there was the mark of one of Attila’s sons left as a warning for others to find.  What game is Attila playing?”

“That is what I keep asking,” Festuscato admitted, and he stared at Heinz who appeared uncomfortable with the turn of events.  He sat and opened up.

“The talk is of war, and the Huns want to force all the Germans to fight for them.  They have cowed some of the tribes, but some are holding out.  I think they plan to invade Gaul.  They have it on good authority that General Aetius is in Italy and the one he left in charge in Gaul has just three legions available, and maybe half that in Auxiliary troops.  That is about twenty thousand men.  Attila can bring thirty thousand men by himself, maybe more, and if they can get that many Germans from the various tribes, they can go into the province with perhaps three times the Roman numbers.  But many of us are resisting.”

“My son?” Gregor asked.

Silence followed, for a moment, before Heinz pleaded.  “Forgive us, Lord.  Your son is a prisoner of Attila, a hostage, but when he was taken, he ordered us to resist, and we have resisted, though it has cost us in our homes.”

“Lord Agitus?”  Gregor did not hesitate to turn to Festuscato.

“Well, we will just have to get him back.  Tulip?”

“Maywood is my uncle and a king not far from here,” she said.

“There are two things we need to do right away,” Festuscato said.  “Maywood.”  He called in the right way, and the fairy king appeared out of thin air.  After a second to get his bearings, he approached Tulip and bowed in mid-air to Festuscato.

“Lord,” he said.

“Maywood.  I do not want you to put any of your people in danger.  We just need information.  If you would not mind, I would appreciate it if you would send out fliers to all of the Hun camps.  Anything they overhear about war objectives and Gaul would be helpful, but mostly I would like to know where Lord Gregor’s son is being held prisoner.  After that, I may need you and yours to carry some messages for me, to Thorismund, to some of the tribes that I know are not friends with the Huns, like the Samartians and Scythians, the Alans and so on, and Aldrien in Amorica.  I assume he is king now.”

“Aldrien passed away after ruling for twelve years,” Maywood said.  “His son, Budic is king now for these last two years.”

“Time has gotten away from me,” Festuscato admitted, and added quickly.  “That means fourteen years ago I was a brash youth who confronted the old king and took his younger brother on an adventure to Britannia.  Fourteen years.”  He repeated and shook his head until Tulip tugged on his hair and protested.

“And fifteen years since I have been in Saxony,” Gregor mused.

“Only about ten since you found me in Wales,” Luckless said as he struggled to open one keg.  “Most of that has been spent here, on the continent though, among the Jutes and Danes, Goths of all sorts and Germans of more types than can be counted.”

“You forgot all the different Iranian types and the Slavs,” Bran noted.  “And I was thinking when we left the Holy Land to return to the west, we might get back to civilized lands soon.”

“What is the second thing?” Heinz asked.  “You said there are two things we need to do right away.”

“Enjoy this venison, the veggie pot and the ale.  We can’t make good plans on an empty stomach.”

“Ha!” Gregor agreed.

M3 Margueritte: Counting the People, part 3 of 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I see what you mean,” Brianna said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Most likely,” Father Aden said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elsbeth and Owien dismounted in the hollow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MONDAY

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

*

M3 Margueritte: Counting the People, part 2 of 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Aden?”  Jennifer looked at him.

“Nothing,” Aden said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oops.”  Grimly quickly went invisible.

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

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

M3 Margueritte: One Happy Ending, part 2 of 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You have my permission, and my blessing.”

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

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

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

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

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

M3 Margueritte: One Happy Ending, part 1 of 2

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

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

“Grimly?”  Margueritte got one-word in.

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

Margueritte shrugged.

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

“Ahem.”

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

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

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

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

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

“It may.”  Margueritte shared the blanket.

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

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

“I am?”  Goldenrod asked with complete surprise.

“The best,” Margueritte confirmed with a nod.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

M3 Margueritte: In the Tower, part 1 of 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is my name?”  Margueritte asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Curdwallah paused, but Margueritte refused to look.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

###

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, I hope so,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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