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: Backed into a Corner, part 2 of 3

One little one did come up to Margueritte.  “We don’t hold with slavery neither,” he said, before he vanished into the woods.

“Of course,” Margueritte said.  That was one of her rules.  Then Roland got there to help her up while a whole crowd had gathered because of her cry.  They all laughed hard, with the great guffaws of her father sounding out above all.  Finnian, to preserve what remained of his dignity, pulled up his pants, only to hear them tear at the seam.  He had a smiley face painted on the butt of his slacks, and yes, the sign pinned to the back of his jerkin said, “Kick me”, in three languages.

Margueritte still giggled when she reached the inn to change for the night’s festivities.

The king’s house seemed festive, but on entering, she felt the air of tension underneath it all.  They had music, and though a couple of tunes were danceable, for the most part they were not.  Margueritte felt sure it was deliberate so as not to encourage the queen.  She thought it must have been nearly impossible for the musicians to fill a night with Breton music to which one could not dance.  They had food, also in abundance, and spread around numerous tables where one could help themselves whenever the urge might strike.

All felt wonderful, and Margueritte found herself quite shy despite being with Roland who became very gregarious and outgoing.  He seemed to know a lot of people for having been in town for all of a day and a half, and the ones he did not know seemed to know him.  They mostly knew Margueritte as well, but in part her embarrassment came from being called such a sweet girl and, “My how you’ve grown,” and “You’re quite the young lady now.”  She knew she was only fifteen, but they did not have to treat her that way.  When she had just about had enough, her mother became her refuge and for a minute she wished she was back at the inn with Elsbeth and Squire Tomberlain.

Roland, for all his desire to be with her, kept so easily being dragged away by the men.  She told him, at last, to go and enjoy, and he did until the time came and the chamberlain called for quiet.  Roland stood beside Margueritte when the people attended the king.  The king sat in his place on the dais, and the queen beside him, but a bit further away and a bit lower than before.  Finnian filled the gap to the king’s left, and at the moment, he looked around the room with his hardest stare in case anyone should be tempted to smile in his direction.  Duredain stood to the king’s right, and he leaned over to whisper and the king then remembered.

“Gentlemen,” the king said.  “My lords.”  He paused.  “And ladies.”  He added.  “I have received correspondence from Charles, Aid decamp of the Franks.  He has suggested that Lord Ahlmored may pose a threat to our fair country.”  The king laughed and most of the Breton lords laughed with him.  Ahlmored, most not knowing him dead, had become the butt of quite a few jokes since his sudden departure.  The king waved for silence.  “Nevertheless, Lord Durin has volunteered to take a ride to the south coast a week hence.  When he returns, having sighted no African sails, I will return correspondence that we have indeed had our eyes on the coast.”  Most of the Lords snickered again as Lord Durin stepped briefly into the center and waved to all.

Duredain whispered in the king’s ear and the king waved him off, like he did not need to be reminded.  “Now as for this dragon,” he began, and many in the court smiled but those who knew became still and serious.  “I am not convinced there is such a beast.  I believe rather it is a petty chief or robbers, cleverly disguised.  Dragon stories are all around these days what with Beowulf and the stories around George the Saxon.  I say, we leave the dragon stories to the Danes and Germans.  Let us be more sensible about these matters, and let my petty chieftains settle their own squabbles as they see fit.”

“But I’ve seen it,” one man’s voice rang out.

“No, my Lord,” the king countered.  “I am not sure what you saw was really what it was.  I did say, cleverly disguised intentions.  Mark me, someone is growing rich off your delusions.  You must find the real culprit, and not bother me with such nonsense.”

“But.”

“Enough!”  The king’s rage flared for a moment as he slapped the arms of his chair and rose to his feet.  He calmed and sat.  “I’ll not speak of it anymore, as it will merely distract from the real joy of this day.”  With this, the queen, even in her lowly position, sat up a little straighter in her chair.

“Judon,” the king called.  If someone stood in the wings, they did not respond.  “David!”  The king tried again, and slowly a young boy poked his head around the curtain.  One could almost feel the push his nanny gave him as he stumbled, recovered, and walked slowly like one overawed by the gallant lords and ladies that surrounded him.  At last the king grabbed the boy around the middle and pretended affection.  The boy did not resist, but he never took his eyes off the crowd.  He looked scared, and almost like a child who could cry at any moment, though surely, he was too old for that.

“His mother calls him David,” the king said patently ignoring the queen.  “I objected at first, but I understand this David was a great king in his day, and a valiant warrior.  His name, though, is Judon and by royal decree three weeks gone, Wednesday, I have declared him my son and heir.”  Many present were not surprised, and of those who were, most were accepting.  A short round of applause went up.  Margueritte thought it very short.

M3 Margueritte: Roland, part 1 of 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She kicked Roland this time, and she meant to.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I can help.”  Goldenrod assured them all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hammerhead, still unmoved, stared at his spuds.

“Who is Herbert Hoover?”  Goldenrod asked.

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

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

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

“Woohoo!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You know the way?”  Charles asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

MONDAY

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

*

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

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

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

“I will cover you,” Elsbeth volunteered.

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

“Thanks,” the young man said.

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

There were riders coming into the triangle.

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

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

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

“Lady?”  It sounded like a question.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

M3 Margueritte: Visitors from the Real World, part 1 of 3

By the year of our Lord, 712, the dragon had exacted a toll on the region.  Vergen got attacked, and another village to the north and one west as well.  Briesten on the sea got reduced to cinders as the dragon seemed to have a real taste for fish.  Of course, No one could tell how much hunting in the wild and fishing on its’ own the dragon did, but when Margueritte added it all up in her mind, she began to wonder what was going on.  Dragons usually ate a lot, but then they normally slept, sometimes for years, even decades before they stirred again with hunger.  This all suggested there might be more than one beast at Caern Long.

Caern Long was the place where the most recent kings and queens of Amorica were buried.  They were generally known by name, and their treasures, up to that point, were essentially undisturbed.  Caern Briis, on the other hand, dated from around the time of Caesar.  The graves there held those who ruled during Roman days. There were many stories about the treasures they contained.  Some were good stories with happy endings, but many were frightening, and well suited to warn the young about the sins of greed and theft.

Caern Long was located in the north on a ridge that looked out over the sea.  In that place, likely attracted by the treasures, the dragon took up residence and burrowed into the long caves and warren of tombs.  King Urbon had already prepared his burial place there, but now it seemed unlikely the aging king could actually be buried there unless something got done.

Nothing, however, got done.

The people tried to blame the gypsies, but the gypsies themselves took the brunt of one vicious attack and promptly packed up and moved further west on the Breton peninsula.  Then, the issue of missing children once again came to the surface.  Margueritte assured her mother that her little ones were not responsible, and the gypsies also appeared to be missing three children of their own—not that it stopped the mouths of those who were inclined to prejudice.  Still most, if they did not blame the little ones, they blamed the dragon for that too, and noted that young maidens seemed a special favorite of the beast.

After Beltain in the Lord’s year 712, when Margueritte had just turned fifteen and Elsbeth was still eleven, Margueritte found herself working about the barn while Elsbeth went out collecting eggs from the chickens.  Margueritte heard two horses coming up the road from the Paris side, and they sounded like they were being ridden hard.

“What is it?” Elsbeth asked and ran in with her apron full of eggs.  Margueritte wondered how many were now cracked.  She also wondered what to do since Lady Brianna went off visiting in some of the serf houses, and Lord Bartholomew went off to the fields with Tomberlain.

“Hide.”  Margueritte decided as she heard the horses slow.  She ran behind the hay and Elsbeth, after a moment’s thought, let the eggs fall and clambered up into the loft.  The horses stopped in the Triangle.

“There doesn’t appear to be anyone home,” a man said.

“Quick.  Into the barn,” the other man said.  The door stood wide open and both horses trotted in.  One dismounted and bounded to the doors in almost a single motion.  The other looked around before dismounting, and Margueritte understood they were looking for a place to hide.  She rose-up.

“Leave the door open,” she said, to gain their attention.  “It will be less obvious you are here if the door is wide open.”  The short one, who almost had to look up ever so slightly at Margueritte’s five foot five-inch height, had an air of authority about him nonetheless that required her attention.

“The girl’s right.”  He waved to his friend.  “It will look conspicuous to see the barn shut up at an early hour.”  The man at the door opened them again without a word.  “But what to do about the horses?”  The short man spoke to himself and had gotten over the girl’s presence already.

“Grimly.”  Elsbeth said as she began to climb down the ladder.  The man by the door came and helped her off the last few rungs.

“Oh, no.  Elsbeth.  What are you thinking?” Margueritte asked.

“Grimly can do it,” she said.  “Remember how he made Tomberlain’s steed invisible for a prank?”  Margueritte laughed.  The tail was still there, but out of stubbornness, it looked for several hours as if Tomberlain rode around on thin air.

“Oh, but do you think?” Margueritte said.

“Oh yes,” Elsbeth said.  “These seem good and right men.  They will not tell a soul.”

Margueritte did not feel so sure.  Curiosity appeared all over the face of the short one. Margueritte was not sure what entered the face of the young one, but he did seem very nice, and clearly these were noblemen and no common thieves or robbers.  “All right,” she said.  “Now no jumping or yelling.”  She told the men.  “Grimly!” she called.

“Right up here,” the gnome said from the loft.  “I was having a good nap before miss bigfoot stepped on me.”  He came to the lip but bypassed the ladder, preferring to float slowly to the ground.  The short one grabbed the young man’s arm, tight, but otherwise neither made a move.

“These two horses.  You need to make them invisible.”  Margueritte did not waste any time.

“Well, I don’t know.”  Grimly began.

“Immediately.  No arguing,” Margueritte commanded.  Grimly jumped.

“Yes, m’lady,” he said.  He led the horses into a dark corner, and war horses though they were, they trusted the gnome completely, as most animals did.  Immediately, as Margueritte said, he began to circle the beasts and chant something that sounded like “Flicky, sticky, quicky, tricky.  Mucky, ducky,” and so on.

“But what about them?”  Elsbeth asked.

“Yes, what about us?”  The young man asked.  He showed his perfect glistening teeth in his smile and extracted his arm from the short man’s clutches at the same time.

“The cellar?”  Elsbeth suggested.

“Wouldn’t do,” Margueritte said.  “I think Hammerhead is napping.”

“Oh.”  Elsbeth made a big, knowing sound.  It was not a good thing to wake an ogre when he was napping.

There were many horses in the distance coming on.

M3 Margueritte: And Secrets, part 2 of 3

A crack of lightening split a rogue apple tree down the middle, and a roar came that sounded like thunder.  “I am here.”  Horses danced and skidded away in pure fright, and everyone paused, in the midst of their life or death struggles, to look.

They saw three men, dressed resplendently for battle.  They all glowed a bit with an unearthly glow.  Somehow, Margueritte knew them all by name.  Birch, the eldest fee, stood full sized, big as a man.  He had gray hair like a well-seasoned warrior.  He came dressed all in German-like chain mail of black and silver, though much finer than any German made chain, and the silver looked to be real silver.  Beside him stood young Larchmont, also a full-sized fairy lord, dressed like a druid prince in black and gold that matched his golden hair.  The third was a sight, in wooden chest protection, feathers on his head, a wicked looking war club in one hand and a wooden shield in the other on which the thunderbird had been painted.  Yellow Leaf was his name, and he was not long arrived from the other side of the world.

Beside those three fairy lords, there were three more figures.  Grimly, the hobgoblin stood only three feet tall, pink faced, and dressed all in green like a midget Robin Hood, but no one doubted the determination written all over his grim face, and no one wanted any part of the long knife he brandished with what appeared to be great skill.  Beside him, and a foot taller, stood Luckless the dwarf.  His armor showed neither gold, nor silver, but it looked ancient as if made before human beings ever entered that part of the world, and it also looked like it hardly fit him.  The double headed ax he held, however, appeared to fit him very well.  Last came Hammerhead, the ogre, the youngster from Banner Bein.  He stood eight feet tall, almost as broad in the shoulders and ugly enough to make a stomach turn just to look at him.  The tree trunk of a club he held over his shoulder seemed superfluous.

Lord Birch spoke first into the stunned silence.  “Unhand the Lady.”  He pointed his glimmering steel at the two who held Brianna to the ground.  They did not argue.  They let go immediately and backed away.

Margueritte took that moment to try wriggling again.  “Let go of me.”

“Yes!”  Luckless the dwarf yelled to gain everyone’s attention.  “Let go of our special lady.”

The soldier that held Margueritte did not move and may have even tightened his grip a little out of pure, unthinking fear.

Hammerhead took one step forward and opened his mouth like a shark, wide enough to bite a man’s head off and showed several rows of teeth.  “Let-Her-Go!” he said like thunder and with a great wind that exploded from his gut.

The soldier dropped Marguerite like a hot coal, screamed, and ran off down the road the way he came without even stopping to collect a horse.

Margueritte fell hard onto the mud and rocks.  Concern quickly crossed the faces of Sir Barth and Lady Brianna, but it passed when Margueritte came up laughing, wrinkled her nose and waved her hand through the air.

“Good Lord, Hammerhead,” she said.  “When was the last time you brushed your teeth?”

“I’m supposed to brush them?”  Hammerhead responded in his more normal deep gravel, and honestly, quite scary enough voice.

The Franks laughed, however nervously.  The Saracens were mortified to finally realize that these apparitions actually answered to the young girl.  Immediately they began to grab what horses they could, and each other, to run, except Ahlmored, who took the distraction to take a swing at Bartholomew.  Sir Barth was not so distracted, though, when any enemy threatened his flank.  He blocked the swing of the sword and followed up with a thrust of his own that went right under Lord Ahlmored’s chinstrap, through his throat, and out the back of his neck.  It only stopped against the chain that draped down from the back of Ahlmored’s helmet.  With that, the enemies were all gone.

“Tomberlain!”  Margueritte remembered.  Tomberlain moaned and tried to sit up.  He bled beneath his helmet.

“Luckless!”  Margueritte turned quickly.  “Is there a doctor?”

“Doctor Pincher might be available,” he said with a bow.

Margueritte grinned at the name and made the call.  “Doctor Pincher,” she commanded his attention in a voice she did not know she had.  Doctor Pincher, a half dwarf, appeared out of thin air.  He looked confused at first until Luckless pointed to Margueritte.

“Ah, so it is true,” he said.  “Great Lady.”  He bowed low to Margueritte, but she was concerned for her brother.

“Tomberlain.”  She pointed.  “He got bonked on the head.  Help my brother.”

“Hmm.  Let me see.”  The doctor drew a big black bag out from the inside of his coat, though the bag clearly looked bigger than any pocket he might have had inside the coat.  Immediately, he helped Tomberlain remove his helmet and quickly announced, “It’s only a flesh wound.  Nothing to worry about.”

Margueritte then remembered her manners.  “Thank you, Lord Birch.  Thank you, Lord Larchmont.  Thank you, Lord Yellow Leaf and welcome to this side of the Atlantic.” The three fairy Lords bowed without a word and became small together and flew off into the woods.  Lady Brianna crawled up beside her daughter and helped Margueritte and herself to their feet.  She held Margueritte because Margueritte appeared to have twisted her ankle a little.

“Thank you Grimly, Luckless, and dear Hammerhead,” Margueritte said.

As she held her daughter and saw for a moment as if through Margueritte’s eyes, Lady Brianna asked her daughter a quick question.  “Are all these yours?”

“Yes, indeed, m’lady.”  Grimly tipped his green hat.

“No, mother,” Margueritte answered.  “They belong to themselves as we belong to ourselves, but sometimes they help me and do what I ask, and I am always grateful.”  She smiled for her mother because her mother seemed to understand far more than most would on such short notice.

“And the unicorn?”  Sir Barth asked.

Brianna answered for her daughter.  “No dear.  Nothing so grand.  Only the littlest spirits and certainly not even all of them.”

“Elsbeth!”  Lady Brianna and Margueritte reacted together.  They paused to listen and heard giggles come from under the wagon.  They peeked.  Elsbeth lay on her back and tried in vain to catch the fairy that buzzed around her face, and she giggled.  Beside her was a dwarf wife who held her cooking spoon like a war club.

“Is it safe?”  The dwarf wife asked.

“Yes Lolly.”  Margueritte called the spirit by her name.  “You and Little White Flower can come out now.”

“Elsbeth.  Stop playing with the fairy and come out here so I can look at you.”

“Aw, Mother,” Elsbeth protested, but complied.  Little White Flower grabbed onto Elsbeth’s hair, came with her and took a seat on Elsbeth’s shoulder.  “This is Little White Flower.”  Elsbeth introduced her friend.  “And this is Lolly, my other friend, even though she is threatening to make me learn to cook.”

“Hmm.”  Lady Brianna saw that her daughter was unhurt.  “That would take some very strong magic.”

“Well, that’s that,” Doctor Pincher interrupted.  “All bandaged, disinfected and cleaned.  Some dead though.”  Three Saracens and one of the Franks would move no more.  Two other Franks were bandaged, but like Tomberlain, neither had been wounded too seriously.  The Africans seemed to have taken their wounded with them, which spoke well for their training to have done so despite the loss of their leader, and the fact that they were frightened out of their minds.  “If you don’t mind my saying, you might tell these mudders it would not hurt to get clean once in a while.  The water won’t melt them, mud though they be.”

“Thank you, Doctor Pincher,” Margueritte said.

“Yes, thank you,” Lady Brianna added.

“Ahem.”  The doctor coughed.  “Don’t mention it, but I do have lots of ‘pointments this afternoon.”  He whipped out a list which stretched to the ground.  No one asked where his black bag went.

“Oh, yes,” Margueritte said.  “Go home.”  She waved her hand and the dwarf instantly vanished.

R6 Greta: The Swamp of Sorrows, part 1 of 3

Morning found a middle-aged gnome woman in the camp. She looked about three hundred years old, or so Greta guessed in her sleepy mind.  The gnome woman cooked and whistled around the fire, and Greta had a moment of fear that the gnome woman might be an imp cooking her friends.  She blinked twice.  Goldenrod sat there, trying not to kibitz about the cooking, so Greta figured it was safe.  Greta squinted and then turned up her nose when she discerned the gnome’s name and thought the name translated into the Latin as Pincushion.

“Ah!  The sleepy one is awake at last.”  Pincushion raised her voice when she saw Greta move under her blanket.  “Late to rise fills a person with lies.” Pincushion had to stop to decide if that was a bad thing or not.  Goldenrod whispered in Pincushion’s ear.

“What?  I had a goddess once.  I didn’t like her so I threw her back.”

Whisper.

“No.  Just for us? I thought we were an independent lot, libertine and all that.”

Whisper.

“With child?  Lazy mama won’t get the house clean.”

Whisper.

“Oh.”  Pincushion put on a haughty face.  “We have servants for that sort of thing.  Hey!”  Pincushion’s hand snapped out quick as a snake.  Bogus had come up to the fire and tried to snitch a bit of breakfast.  He got his hand seriously slapped.  “Not ready yet,” Pincushion stared Bogus down, not an easy thing to do, while Goldenrod continued with the whisper, whisper.

“Lady.  Over here.” Mavis called from the reeds, and Greta staggered over to wash up in the lake.  She paused to see if she would throw up, but she got to thinking she had passed that stage.  Once the reeds stood between her and the fire, Pincushion’s voice got cut off, loud as she was.  That felt fine.  Greta had seen the hungry dwarf and fussy cook game played out a thousand times.

The lake water proved frigid, and Greta imagined it would freeze in the winter.  Greta hardly got in before she got out.  She dressed with only a thought and a call to her armor.  She knew the fairy weave she wore beneath her armor would absorb all the excess wet and yet remain comfortably dry.  It was a miracle with sweat.  Greta took the time, then, to braid her hair into pigtails.  The lake had been too cold to stay in long enough to wash her hair, but she had to do something with it, so she braided it, and Mavis helped.  When Greta got good and ready, and had some blush on her cheeks over her freckles and some pink on her lips because she felt like it, she and Mavis returned to the fire.  Everyone sat there, waiting patiently, even Bogus, though he had his fingers in his mouth which told Greta he tried more than once for a little advanced taste.

When Pincushion got good and ready, and to be fair it happened about when the sun first stuck a fraction of an inch above the horizon, everyone got more food than they could possibly eat.  It tasted wonderful, and no one spoke at first for fear of breaking the spell.

“This is as good as the elf feast,” Vedix finally admitted.

“Better,” Greta said quickly to prevent Pincushion from throwing a fit.

“Much better,” Bogus agreed, and held out his empty plate for seconds.

Once breakfast was done, and it took almost no time to clean up, King Treeborn arrived with thirty fairies, all volunteers, he said.  At the same time, a true gnome named Grassly arrived with six others just like him, the tallest of which stood about three feet tall. They were clothed in a kind of fairy weave that imitated the environment they were standing in, so they were hard to see; virtually invisible, without having to make an effort to be invisible.

“Grassly, here, has volunteered to walk with you to the swamp so we don’t fly too far ahead,” Treeborn said to Greta, Mavis, Briana and Alesander who were hanging around the breakfast fire.  Hermes, Lucius, Vedix and Nudd were packing while Bogus tried for fourths.

“We got more volunteers,” Grassly said.  “But they will be ranging out to the fields where they can keep an eye on any horsemen who might happen along.” Grassly called, “Pincushion.” He waved, and turned again to Greta.  “Sorry about her.  She doesn’t do gnome very well, but who else will have the unfortunate child of an imp and an elf?”  Greta looked closely.  Bogus stood a bit less than four feet tall.  Pincushion stood a bit shorter than that, but certainly taller than any of the true gnomes.  “I hope she didn’t poison you or make you sick or something, but she insisted on helping and, well, she cooks okay.”

“All are well,” Greta said.  “Lead the way.”  She looked at Treeborn who nodded and tried not to grin.  Obviously Treeborn and Goldenrod set this up.  No telling if Bogus the Skin and Pincushion might end up together. It kind of depended if Pincushion decided to trap him with her good cooking.  They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, but that is even more true with certain dwarfish little ones.  Those two might not end up a couple, but Treeborn clearly grinned at the notion, and Greta thought, God help the world if they ever had children.

That thought caused Greta to miss her husband and her children.  She thought of them most of that day and hardly said a word.  When they arrived in a small wood, around four in the afternoon, Grassly said they did not have enough daylight to make it to more open land before nightfall.  Greta said nothing.  She just plopped down on the grass, damp though it was in that spot, and moped while everyone else set up the camp.

Greta said nothing during supper, and nothing when she went to lie down early, but her mind slowly turned from being homesick for Darius and the children to other, truly disturbing thoughts.  She imagined Darius as an old man, and their children all around him.  They fell prostrate before a man hidden by a fancy red robe with the hood raised to hide his face.  All Greta could see was the man’s hands.  He wore a big ruby ring on one hand, and held a staff in the other, a staff that exuded unimaginable power.

Mithrasis stood beside the man, and she laughed her wicked laugh and pointed at the action, which drew Greta’s eyes to the outside. They were in Rome.  Greta recognized the forum, and the great coliseum where she had a bird’s eye view of the proceedings.  In the great open space where they raced chariots, and gladiators fought to the death, and Christians were crucified or filled the empty bellies of the lions, She saw a great raven chained to a perch.  It feasted on people who lined up to the lower doors.

Outside, a man with a lion head, and a serpent worthy of Eden wrapped around his legs, divided the endless line of humans.  Some went to the right and disappeared into the streets.  Some went to the left and entered the line for the evening meal.  Some few objected.  Greta saw the ichthys on them.  The lion headed man had lightning in his fingertips and fried all objections. Greta wanted to look away, but the birds eye view shifted again.

In the streets of Rome, the people were being herded into the line by soldiers.  Some of the soldiers were Romans.  Some of them were barbarians.  Over all of the soldiers were the Wolv, and Greta remembered again that the Wolv were front line soldiers of the old Humanoid empire.  Their allegiance might have changed, but the work seemed the same. Now, she really wanted to look away, but again, her view shifted.

Greta looked down on the coliseum and saw the one forcing people into the raven’s beak.  He looked like a demon, with horns and fangs and claws in place of hands. He appeared a titan-like creature, being twenty feet tall, and in his claw, he held a whip of flames.  Any person touched by the whip became charcoal and then ash to blow away on the wind, but mostly the creature just snapped the whip, and laughed a very Mithrasis, wicked sort of laugh. Suddenly Greta wanted to look under the hood of the man with the ruby ring, and she forced her sight to go back to where old man Darius kept trying to keep the children behind him, to protect them.

Another man stepped up to the left of the hooded man, as Mithrasis stood to his right.  This man appeared darker skinned, not like a tan but like a true Persian. He wore a Phrygian cap and carried a sickle.  Greta thought he should have had a robe, a black robe because death with the sickle always wore a black robe.  The man laughed like Mithrasis and pointed his sickle at Darius and the children to suggest they were next to die.  Then he did the one thing no one does in dreams.  He looked directly at Greta and waved, and Greta sat up from beneath her blanket and screamed.

###

Greta could not speak right away.  Everyone gathered, concerned, but she indicated she needed some water.  Her throat tasted dry and her palms sweated.  Finally, she spoke in a soft voice so everyone had to stay still and quiet to listen. “We are being used.  Someone is betraying Mithras, and is using us to do the dirty work.  Berry, Hans, Fae and Hobknot are prisoners in the Land of the Lost to force my hand.” Greta sipped her water and thought things through as well as she could, given her limited information.

“I had a nightmare,” she said.  “It was not a vision and it was not a dream.  All day long I felt homesick and thought if Berry and the others were safe I should go home and not worry.  I think someone started working on my mind, because when I think clearly about it, I know if Berry and the others are trapped I am very worried.  But I was missing Darius and the children very much and leaning toward going home, so the aspect of Mithras that is betraying the others gave me a terrible dream. I saw what the future might look like if I don’t follow through with this quest.  It was a nightmare.”  Greta sipped again, and Alesander dared to interrupt.

“The aspect of Mithras?” it was a question.

“How can I explain this?”  Greta took one more sip of water and handed Mavis the cup.  She sat up and spoke a little louder, with her eyes closed so she could focus on the story.  “When the time came for the dissolution of the gods, the great sign for them was all of the lands of the dead, like Hades, emptied, and all the spirits of the dead gathered through the centuries vanished and went over to the other side. Most of the gods went with them, but some refused.  Baal, god of the dead from the sea coast of Asia, the bull god refused.  He wanted to refill the land of the dead that he ruled, and he did not care if he had to kill the entire human race to do it. Only Mithras stood against him.”

“We know the basic story,” Alesander said.

“Mithras lost,” Greta said to everyone’s surprise. “He went to the deepest pit in Baal’s kingdom.  Technically, he died.”

“But that is not true,” Lucius objected. “Mithras defeated the bull…”

R6 Gerraint: Mount Badon, part 2 of 3

Gerraint mounted, waved to those present, with a special wave to Flora who watched both her sons go off to war, and he took Bowen and Damon to meet Lancelot and Lionel.  It did not take long to plan what they would do.

Gerraint would take Damon and a hundred men down the forest path, to where they could hit the Saxons on the flank.  Bowen, the elder brother, would guide Lionel, Lancelot and the four hundred to the place of the fallen tree, as they called it.  Then they would cut straight to the mountain village from there and strike the Saxons from the rear.  The plan seemed simple enough, but Gerraint would arrive two hours ahead of the others, so he would have to remain hidden and quiet for a time, and wait.

Gerraint and his men reached the edge of the wood around three that afternoon.  They could see the village from there, and saw it burning brightly.  The Saxons were on foot below a cliff face, their horses kept back in Gerraint’s direction, away from the fire and smoke.  There were several cave openings that could be seen in the cliff, some ten or twenty feet up the rocks.  It looked like the Little King gave up the village begrudgingly. Gerraint, with his fairy good eyes, counted more Saxon bodies than British ones.  Now, the Saxons were below the caves, but behind cover where the arrows could not reach them.  It looked like a stalemate, as long as the Little King’s supply of arrows held out.

Gerraint, Sergeant Brian and Damon sat at the lookout spot, though Gerraint was the only one who could see clearly at that distance.  The others could only make out the gist of what was happening when Gerraint pointed things out to them.  They waited a half hour, which seemed an eternity, and a true little man came up to Gerraint, right out in the open, and removed his hat out of respect.  This man stood only two feet tall, what one might call a gnome or nature spirit, and Gerraint quickly realized the man had to be invisible to the others, so he did not let on that they had a visitor.

“Lord,” the gnome said.  “The Saxons are building ladders and are about done.  They have many men hidden behind the big building that is not burned, and plan to attack all at once with the ladders.  Some are going to places where they can hide behind cover and shoot arrows at the cave openings.”

Gerraint picked up his head for a better look, but the smoke and remaining buildings in the village made things difficult. “Thank you Lemuel.”  Lemuel was the gnome’s name. “You know what would be really good?  If those Saxon horses broke free of their binds and tethers all at once and stampeded right across the base of the cliff face.  It would be especially good if that happened when the Saxons came out with their ladders.  Do you understand?”

“The Saxons have ladders?”  Brian squinted his eyes.

Lemuel answered at the same time.  “I understand.  That should not be hard.”  He scooted off and vanished in the tall grass while Gerraint slapped Damon on the shoulder.  “All right, son.  Let’s get the troop up and ready to ride.”

“What?  Aren’t we supposed to be waiting?”

“Not if the Saxons have ladders,” Brian said.  “Fat chance those horses will stampede, though.”

“Trust in the power of positive thinking,” Gerraint said, and trust in luck, or Lemuel, he thought.  It felt like a lot to expect a gnome to get it right and not stampede the herd too soon or too late, but the edge of the herd was all he could see from horseback because the trees stood in the way.  He had to trust.

Gerraint separated Brian and thirty men from the rest of the troop.  They got torches and had special instructions to ride the back street of the village. They were to set the last of the buildings on fire, the ones that the Saxons were using for cover, in order to drive the Saxons into the open.  He gathered the rest of the troop and gave easier instructions.  He called for lances and then they waited.  It amounted to ten minutes sitting on the horse.  Brian began to think Gerraint had lost the nerve, but suddenly the Saxon horses broke free and they could hear them as they rumbled out of sight.  Brian grinned and went to lead his group while Gerraint yelled to the seventy.

“Ride along the cliff straight through to the other side to drive their horses out of reach.  There, we will turn and charge at them again.  Ready?  For Arthur.”

The men responded and charged.  When they came around the edge of the forest where they could see the battleground, they saw the last of the Saxon horses trampling along. Honestly, Gerraint did not have to ride through to drive the Saxon horses out of reach of the Saxons.  Most of the smoke and the smell of the fires being blown in that direction encouraged the stampeding horses that were not going to stop until they cleared that area.  Still, Gerraint had long since determined that men with lances had the advantage riding through the lines.  Once they stopped to fight it out, they became like an awkward Gerraint fighting the Little King.  The horseman had the height advantage, but the flexibility stayed all with the man on foot.

The Saxons, who had thrown themselves up against the foot of the cliff when the horses came, recovered what ladders they had left and renewed the assault.  More men came from the village, so they had a crowd at the base of the cliff when Gerraint and the RDF plowed into them.  Some Saxons thought the stampede was over and were surprised.  Some thought it was another group of wild horses from the same pack.  Some only belatedly realized that these horses had lancers on top.  For quite a number, it was the last realization they ever made.

Gerraint formed up his line while Brian finished and came to join him.  Brian lost six men somewhere among the fires and smoke.  Gerraint turned at the front to yell.  “We go straight through again and sweep the Saxons from the cliff. When we get to the other side, we turn immediately and charge to stay and fight.  Remember, you have height on horseback, but quarters are tight among the wreckage.  Do not hesitate to dismount if it is to your advantage.

“Straight through.”  Gerraint turned.  “Once more into the breach,” he whispered before he yelled, “For Arthur.”  Again, the troop responded and charged.  Some bright Saxon chief had gathered a few archers, but it seemed a pitiful thing.  The troop easily swept the cliff base clean of Saxons.  The Saxons had to run for the now burning buildings.  Some ran further into the charred remains of the rest of the village.  Some did not stop running when they reached the village edge.  Gerraint gave those last ones no thought at all, knowing that Dayrunner would not let any of them escape.

When Gerraint turned the troop for the final charge, he saw that his hope had not been misplaced.  Rope ladders came down from the caves and some fifty men followed the Little King into battle.  That evened the odds a bit, but Gerraint knew this would be where things got tricky. The RDF wore a virtual uniform and were easy to distinguish, but telling the men of the little King from the Saxons might not be so easy.  He told Damon to stay by his side, and then they charged.

The Saxons were already beaten in their spirit and it became only a matter of cleaning up the mess.  On a normal battlefield, more than a hundred would have escaped, at least on foot, but in this case, none made it out of the woods. Gerraint and his troop fought well, but the Little King and his fought with a raw vengeance.  They let none escape, even if they were trying to surrender, and Gerraint did not yell at them until the end.  There were fifty on their knees at the end, twenty of whom only escaped out of a building right before the burning roof collapsed.  The Little King counted his survivors apart from the women and children that were safe up in the caves.  Gerraint lost some men, but few when compared to the Saxon losses.

“Sorry I couldn’t get here sooner,” Gerraint said.

“Me too,” the Little King agreed.  He eyed their prisoners and wondering if the village had enough rope left to hang them all.  They paused when they heard the four hundred thundering across the fields. When they arrived, they slowed as Lionel and Lancelot quickly assessed the situation.  Lancelot bounded from his horse, ran up to Gerraint and complained.

“I missed it?”

“The Saxons had ladders,” Brian said gruffly. “We couldn’t wait.”