Reflections W-4 part 1 of 3

“I tell you, there’s good eating on these beasts.” Badl raised his voice.

“And I tell you these horses are not for eating.” Wlkn sounded just as determined and he looked up when Wlvn rejoined them. “Lord, you have to straighten out this little person.”

“Little person? I am not a short human, I’m a dwarf, a gnome if you want to get technical, and anyway, I am sure you have never tasted horse bacon and sausage the way I can make them.”

“Badl.” Wlvn spoke the dwarf’s name and Badl thought about things again and whipped off his hat.

“Lord?”

“And Wlkn. You said Lord.”

“Well, I was listening to this gnome person,” he pointed. “Anyway, maybe that’s a fair word for the god of the horses, or anyway, someone who seems to be friends with the real gods.”

“Loki is not my friend,” Wlvn mumbled.

“The god with the Lord of All.” Wlkn smiled. “I figured that one out all by myself.”

“God of horses? I never heard anything so lame in my life. He’s my god, god of all the elves, light and dark, and the dwarfs in between, too. The gods decided that some fifty years ago, in the days of Kartesh.” Badl built up a good head of steam before he remembered himself once again. He turned back to face Wlvn. “Counted among the gods, he is, even when he is no more than a grubby boy. That’s a fact.”

“See? That hardly makes you a normal, human mortal, does it?”

“Counted among the gods, he is.” Badl nodded.

“Stuff it,” Wlvn responded. “We have to decide what we are going to do here.” They paused as the wailing in the distance came again and this time it abruptly turned into a scream, like the scream of a mountain lion.

“They’ve got the scent.” Badl looked worried. “Let’s hope it is the horses they are after because they never give up, and they never quit until they are dead, or they got what they are hunting.”

“What can we do?” Wlkn looked as worried as the dwarf, but it seemed hard to tell because worried was Wlkn’s natural expression. Wlvn heard a different sound, looked up, and saw that beautiful bird. For some reason, the bird had come back and circled over their heads. Even as Wlvn looked up, it took off across the river. Wlvn had to run to the hole he made in the back of the shack to see, and the others followed. The bird landed in the water again, just like before, and it climbed the bank and took off again to the southwest, paralleling the river on the far side.

“Maybe she wants us to follow her,” Badl suggested.

“She?” Wlvn wondered.

“What is it?” Wlkn asked and stared off in the distance, though the bird flew out of sight.

“Called a swan, she is. Isn’t she beautiful?”

“Yes.” Wlvn and Wlkn spoke together as they heard the screaming again, but not quite as far away, and with perhaps a bit of a roar mixed in.

“It’s got the scent,” Badl said once again, and worried his hat almost to the point of tearing it.

“We cross the river.” Wlvn made the decision. He knew that horses were good swimmers, and while the river appeared fairly wide and deep at that point, the current looked gentle enough. “The trick is going to be getting Badl up on a horse.” He laughed, but it turned out not a difficult thing to do. Wlvn had to order the dwarf to get up on Strn’s mount, and even then Badl only felt prompted by the fact that the night creatures were clearly getting closer. He sat well despite the short legs, and the horse looked very comfortable with the gnome on his back.

Wlvn guided Thred slowly into the water. It felt very cold, and he remembered that it was November, but the horses went without argument. Even Badl’s horse followed the crowd, though to be sure, Badl looked more like Brmr’s size on the beast’s back and hardly looked in a position to guide, much less control the horse. Then again, the gnome, like all true gnomes, had a natural affinity for animals beyond anything a normal, human mortal might imagine. If Badl could not exactly speak to the horse, he could make himself understood, and now that the horse knew that it would not be eaten, it responded willingly to Badl’s verbal directions.

As the horses got to the depths and began to swim, Wlvn lost Number Two’s reigns. He looked back to make sure the horse still followed and saw in the last of the sunset, three beasts looking like gray terrors, standing in the shadows on the bank of the river, smack in the hole in the shack—the very place they just vacated. One of the creatures lifted its head and let out a wail such as they had not heard before. It sounded like a lost soul in torment. The other two beasts growled and roared at them like something between a bear and a lion’s roar, frightening to hear. The horses picked up their pace, and Wlvn saw one of the beasts enter the water to follow. The other two waited on the shore and watched. Wlvn raised an eyebrow at that behavior and wondered how intelligent these creatures might be. At first, the beast in the water did fine since it started in the shallows and it could wade without problem, but once it hit the deep water, where the footing fell away, it stopped, and it might have stood there for a time if a wave had not come and pushed the beast into the deep.

“Incoming,” Wlvn said. He expected the night creature to begin to swim after them, but instead he heard the beast whelp and squeal in despair as it sank into the deep to drown. “Halleluiah!” Wlvn changed his tune. “They can’t swim. We should be safe as long as we can keep the river between us.”

Wlkn looked up as if thanking the Alfader himself. Badl stayed too busy trying to hang on to the horse’s mane to do much more than make a simple comment. “Water sprites,” he said, and Wlvn heard and swallowed hard. The water sprites were his, too, just like the earth sprites—the elves and the dwarfs—and the fire sprites, and sprites of the air, too. It was too much, he thought, as Thred found his footing again and came up out of the water. Fortunately, at that moment, he hardly had time to contemplate it all.

“Lord.” Badl spoke as soon as he could speak again. “They will find a place to ford the river and be on us again before you know it, but I know some spirit paths that can take us out of range in short order.”

“Dwarf paths, where you can cover many miles in a few short hours?” Wlvn asked.

“I guess,” Badl said, not knowing what a mile or an hour was.

“You can find these ways in the dark?” Wlkn asked, aware of the conversation while his eyes still looked back. He lost his mattress in the water, but that was not what he looked at.

“This way.” Badl did not answer directly.

“Wait.” Wlvn got off of Thred’s back and mounted Number Two. Thred puffed, badly from all the exercise he had that day. Then again, he was not going to be pulled along like just any horse, so about all Wlvn could do was shake his finger in Thred’s face and tell the horse to keep up. With that, Badl started out and the others followed, though Wlkn at least wondered how the dwarf could see anything in the dark. He did not know the virtue of the dwarf nose or the fact that dwarfs in general were underground creatures and well suited to dim light.

It took only a couple of hours before Badl said they would be safe. The river still sat on their left, and indeed, having abandoned it almost at the start, they came upon it suddenly again just before stopping. Apart from a few small clumps of trees, neither Wlvn nor Wlkn saw anything but grassland that whole time. How a dwarf could find a short-cut through that was beyond them, but Wlvn at least remembered one old adage and decided not to look this gift horse in the mouth.

“Even if they find a way across right away, they won’t get here before morning, fast as they are,” Badl said. “Of course, in the morning they will have to find shelter from the sun where they can lay low for the day. You say night creatures can’t swim and that may be, but I know for certain that sunlight is like a bane to them, and they can’t move in it at all.”

Wlvn nodded, but he kept watching Wlkn make a fire. “I wish we had something to eat,” he said.

Wlkn looked up briefly and went back to work. “I wish I had that mattress,” he said. “Lord, that was comfortable.” And with that, and the fire burning, the three travelers lay down in the grass by the river and slept, not altogether successfully.

Reflections W-3 part 3 of 3

It took all morning to complete the gentle turn around the bend in the stream. They had to walk their horses slowly through the rocks and briars of the grasslands, and sometimes they had to walk through the stream itself. The gully, which had been shrinking by the hour on both sides, now joined the flat grasslands, and the stream meandered across the surface of that land until, far in the distance, it ran into a great river. They could see a village along the riverbank, and Wlvn nudged his horse to a trot. He dragged Number Two along with him. Wlkn came at a little slower pace with two horses in tow, but by around three in the afternoon they came within sight of the houses. The village looked like the villages of their people apart from it being out in the open, not surrounded by trees, and yet one thing was very different about this village by the river. This village looked to have a stockade, like a little fort built at the back of the houses, right up against the water.

“Looks deserted.” Wlkn commented as they slowed again to a walk.

Wlvn nodded. “Deserted for some time,” he said, as he examined the farm fields. They were grown over with weeds like they had not been planted in several years.

“Maybe the Lord of All sent his helpers to burn them out,” Wlkn suggested.

Wlvn shook his head this time. “The buildings are run down, but still standing, not burnt. Besides, the Lord of All is not Lord of as much as he says. The arm of that Titanic monstrosity does not reach this far.” Wlvn had to shiver just thinking about that giant.

“So! There is land beyond the center of the universe.” Wlkn grinned, knowing for certain something that had long been a debate among the villagers. “The Lord can’t reach us here.” He looked happy for a second.

“I didn’t say that,” Wlvn said, as he kicked Thred again to a trot and only stopped and dismounted when they came up alongside the first hut. Sure enough, there were no fires, and no sign of people at all, but there were signs of wreckage. It looked like some kind of battle had been fought there.

“What happened here?” Wlkn asked.

Again, Wlvn did not answer right away as both the Princess and Diogenes came up into his mind and directed his eyes. He found a spear at his feet, under a tarp of some kind, with golden hairs, animal hairs, still attached to the stone tip as if glued there by blood. Just inside a big, ragged hole in the wall of one hut, in a place where the rain could not wash it away, there were more golden hairs.

“Hello?” Wlkn called out, just in case.

Wlvn walked up to the fort. The stockade had been broken through in several places, like with a battering ram, or something very heavy that got applied with great force. If he did not know better, he imagined some person might have thrown himself against the wall until he made the hole, but then he supposed even the Gott-Druk were not that strong.

“Hello?” Wlkn called again. He dismounted but held his reigns tight, no doubt thinking of the need for a quick getaway.

Wlvn dropped the reigns of his horses and stepped through one of the holes in the stockade wall. “Hello?” He echoed Wlkn. “If anyone is here, please come out. We will not hurt you.”

“So you say.” A voice responded and both Wlvn and Wlkn got startled to hear a response. Wlkn took a couple of steps back in case he had to run. The voice came from inside the hut at the back of the stockade, but no one could be seen.

“You see? I have no weapons in my hand. I only wish to talk, to ask what happened here.”

“I see weapons at your back. Dark elf, by the look of them. What are you, a Hobgob?”

“Just a boy and an old man,” Wlkn said as he stepped up beside Wlvn, having decided that standing next to the one with weapons might be the safer course. “We seek only shelter for the night and mean you no harm.” With that, Wlkn decided some show of their peaceful intent was due, and he began to gather up some lumber with the idea of making a fire while he thought, too bad they had nothing to eat. Of course, both he and Wlvn were well used to going without food for a day or two.

“Oh, no!” A head popped out of a window in the hut. It had a bulbous nose, a long brown beard that hung from the window almost to the ground, and beady little eyes that nevertheless looked old and wise and much older than Wlkn. “It isn’t safe here,” the face said. “Especially not at night. Night is when they come. You will bring them back here. They will come for you. It isn’t safe.” The head withdrew, back into the dark shadows of the hut.

“Bain!” The name, burst from Wlvn’s lips before he could stop it. The face in the window immediately popped out once with terribly wide eyes and withdrew again. The little one looked utterly shocked to hear that name, of all names.

“Bain?” Wlvn questioned himself, having no idea where that name came from, but it sounded right, even if it did not sound right at the same time. “But you can’t be Bain. You are far too young,” Wlvn concluded.

“How do you know that?” The voice fairly shouted from the hut, but the face stayed hidden. “How can you possibly know that?”

“Come out.” Wlvn shouted right back. “Let me look at you.” Something clicked in Wlvn’s psyche, and he knew this was one creature over which he had some say. The creature, a dwarf of sorts, came out of the door like his Lord had called him. He trembled, just like Wlkn trembled in the face of the Alfader. Wlkn took one look at the dwarf and dropped every stick of wood. This creature, clearly not human, made Wlkn tremble, too. “Your name?” Wlvn had it on the tip of his tongue, but he could not quite verbalize it.

“Badl,” the dwarf said, and he removed his hat in Wlvn’s presence because he felt it was appropriate.

“Badl. Of course. You must be Bain’s—”

“—Son. Yes, your worship, your honor, sir.”

“What the…?” Wlkn watched the exchange between the boy and this spirit of the Earth, and he decided then and there what had been brewing in the back of his mind all day; that this all actually had to be a dream and he was safe in his hut sleeping, or maybe he died, only he did not feel dead.

“You must be the god my dad told me about, but he said you were a woman.” Badl tried to make sense of what he felt. “But then he did say you were a man when you changed him, you know, from a regular imp to a gnome.

“I suppose I was, Badl.” Wlvn got that much out before he froze. Everyone looked up as they heard the distant sound of wailing, like a baby’s cry. The sun looked ready to set, and Badl had a quick look as if checking the time before he spoke. It felt near five.

“Lord, you have to get out of here. The night creatures, they will come like they came before. All they do is eat, and they are fast and strong and nearly impossible to kill, and…”

“What are night creatures?” Wlkn got back to his questions and looked at Wlvn. He decided that even if this was all a dream, he did not want it to turn into a complete nightmare if he could help it.

“I don’t know, except they have golden fur.”

“Mostly. Some are black and motley colored.” Badl started to answer before he shook his head and started again. “You have to get out. They hunt and eat, and never give up. They rest in the day under the shade but hunt as soon as the night comes.”

“Loki’s guardians.” Wlvn suddenly understood and put two and two together. “How long have they been walking the perimeter of the forest?” he asked.

Badl twisted his hat in his hands. “Couple of years,” he said, his face all twisted up with thinking.

“Since the days we started with horses and riders,” Wlvn concluded.

“Maybe we can fix the barricade.” Wlkn tried to be practical. He still did not know what night creatures were, but he did not like the sound of them. “Loki?” he wondered.

“No good.” Badl started to whine. “The men made it as strong as they could. Look, they used whole trees, but the night creatures busted through anyway. They just kept hurling themselves against the wall until they finally broke in. All those women and children.” Badl looked ready to cry.

“Bring the horses inside the barricade,” Wlvn told Wlkn, and the old man nodded. It was something to do to keep his mind off night creatures that he never saw and hoped he never would.

“Lord, lord!” Badl seemed about to shred his hat when Wlvn put his hand on the dwarf’s shoulder.

“It will be alright,” he said, and he stepped into the hut to look out the back window, except the back wall had no window. The hut had literally been built right up to the water and framed without an opening, so in order to see, he had to kick hard against the logs of the hut until they started to give way. “Help me,” he said, and Badl helped until the back wall opened up in a large gap. Several logs collapsed and Wlvn only looked up once to be sure the roof would not fall on his head.  He looked across the river and saw the most beautiful bird he ever saw fly down on to the water, near the far bank. It appeared to look right at him, but Wlvn assumed it could not really be looking at him, being a poor, dumb beast. It began to sing an alluring birdsong that sounded as lovely as the creature itself, and it climbed carefully to the bank. With one more look back in Wlvn’s direction, it took again to the air and flew off in a southwesterly direction. Wlvn watched it for a time before voices drew him back into the stockade.

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MONDAY Chapter 4

They gain a dwarf to go on the journey once they convince him the horses are not for eating.  And they find a lovely lady who will feed them.  Until Monday, Happy Reading

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M4 Margueritte: The Breton March, part 2 of 3

He handed his helmet to the young man beside him and immediately began his instructions.  “I have been tending this animal for a week.”  He turned to Concord and laid a hand gently on the horse’s neck.  Margueritte had discovered what the Princess knew all the way in the deep past.  Horses were intuitive.  Any horse she bonded with would be bonded with whatever person of the Kairos she happened to be at the moment, male or female, it did not matter.  The horse knew.

“I have already tested him with myself and the equipment, though we have not yet charged anything, per se.  These are strong animals, not too high strung, but sensitive in several ways.  If you mistreat the animal, they will not forget and may refuse to perform.  If you treat the animal well, it will remember and work his heart out for you.”  Gerraint began to walk, and Grimly made the selections, matching horse to rider as well as he could figure, with a little magic, and he made sure each man got an animal by the lead.  Gerraint led them down the road toward Paris, down the small, gradual hill that rose-up to the Manor house and infant village, down to the long, flat field where Margueritte would not let them plant two months earlier or let the men camp when they first arrived.

A dozen scarecrows stood some distance out in the field.  They were lined up in three rows of four dummies each.  They left about three scarecrows of space between each dummy.  It was way too much space between straw soldiers to simulate real combat, but these men were nowhere near ready to simulate combat conditions.

“Stay on your feet for the moment and just watch.  Touch your horses and talk to them.  Name them if you want, so they can get used to their name.  These part Arabians will get attached to a rider if you give them a chance, and the perfect combination would be man and horse working like a single unit.”  Gerraint brought his horse to the ready.  “Now, Concord.”  He spoke to his horse and patted the horse’s neck.  Concord had already been saddled, so all Gerraint had to do was point to the stirrup.  “Left foot,” he said and mounted.  “You keep your foot in the stirrups.  You will note how it puts your legs and knees at the right place to properly grip the horse.  If it is not right, you can lengthen or shorten the stirrup.

“I will show you how, later.”  The chief saddler, invited to watch, spoke quietly to the men.

Gerraint continued.  “The saddle has a high back for support in combat, but it is wood, so if you take a sharp blow from an enemy, the saddle back should break rather than your own back.  Now, one at a time.”  He got back down as he had mounted, foot in stirrup, and he waved to the young man who had volunteered.  The man, Greffen, about eighteen and a good friend of Owien brought the helmet.  Gerraint put it on to model it before he took it off again to speak.

“Your helmet will protect your head and neck and keep your eyes on the enemy.  I don’t expect to have to fend off any arrows during this demonstration.”  He pointed down the hill to the open field where the bulk of the young men stood behind a rope Gerraint put up.  “But just in case you do not know the rule, you are not permitted to ride into trouble without your helmet.”  He set it on the table they had set up, while the young man fetched his gloves.

“These are gauntlets,” he said.  “They will protect your hands and forearms, but notice the inside is plain leather, not too thick, so you can get a good grip on your lance and shield or sword, as the case may be, not to mention holding the reigns and being able to guide your best friend.”  He handed them back before he took his shield and thought to say something different.

“The golden Fleur-de-lis,” he said, though it really looked like a stylized cross with fleur-de-lis type ends.  “At the center, we fight for king and country.  One leaf stands for all the people, the workers, the women and children we defend.  The other leaf stands for the church and the purity of the faith.  Never forget you are Christian warriors.”  He put on his helmet, his gauntlets and mounted Concord again, his shield at the ready, he reached for his lance.  “The lance is balanced where you grip it.”  He spoke up nice and loud.  “It has its own stirrup, like a cup of leather to hold it straight up when at rest.  When I charge, watch my feet as well.  You will see how I push hard on the stirrups which will do two things.  First, it will put the full weight and strength of your horse into the lance, which is far better than just my arm strength alone. Second, it will hopefully keep me from losing my seat.”  He smiled for the group even if they could hardly see it.  “Now this lance is far longer and meaner than anything I am used to, but the principle is the same.  You see how I can tuck it under my arm.  Pray I make a good demonstration.”  He kept the smile and put his lance back into its leather cup holder, as he called it, and started out at a walk.

Gerraint and Concord walked the road.  When they reached the flat ground, Gerraint pulled up his lance and stared at the boys to be sure they were staying behind the rope.  Then they trotted for a second before they started to canter, and the horse built some speed.  A hundred yards out and Gerraint bent forward, and Concord leaned in with him at a gallop.  He lowered his lance, and they quickly reached the target.  Gerraint drove his lance through the first, second and third straw men like they were straw men, then took his time to slow and turn.  He dropped his lance, pointed to the excited boys to retrieve it, drew his sword, and galloped back through the ranks of straw enemies, slashing outwards, until he came out the other side where again he took his time to slow down.  He cantered back up the shallow hill and dismounted.  Then he paid attention to Concord before he took off his helmet and spoke again to the men.

“I think I scared him when I lowered the lance right beside his eye, and we practiced that to help him get used to it, too.”  He removed his gauntlets and gave them to the young man while he spied the boys down on the field putting the straw men back together.  “I don’t know if any of you men want to try that today.  You might spend the next couple of days getting to know your horses and letting them get to know you.  These are not just some rich man’s horse handed to you before you go into battle.  You can learn to lance and shield, but you need to bond with your horse.”  He looked at Wulfram, Peppin, who was Lord Barth’s sergeant at arms, and Owien who looked like he couldn’t wait to get started.

“A very unusual use of horsemen,” Wulfram said.

“Yes.  But imagine a thousand such men cutting through enemy infantry like the proverbial hot knife through butter.”  A touch of lag time followed before Wulfram’s face it up.  Gerraint could almost see the light bulb turn on.

Peppin grinned.  “I can only imagine Saxons wetting their pants.”

“A colorful suggestion.  Owien?”

“What happens when they face other cavalry?”

Gerraint smiled.  The young man was bright.  “We have much to work on, but let us take one step at a time, please.”  He looked to Concord where Pipes led the horse away.  “Tell Concord I’ll be there after a while,” he said, and Pipes waved while Gerraint turned back to Wulfram with command in his voice.  “You are in charge.  You need to decide what your men are ready for and when.  There is time.  No need to push them too fast.  Now we have about thirty horses that are old enough to ride, and about twenty that may be old enough to start training if you can figure out how to do that. The rest of your men, and sorry Peppin, you will have to do your best with the chargers you have.”

“They won’t be as strong and fast, but we will make it work,” Peppin said.

“You want big, strong animals to carry the weight, but don’t forget the horseshoes.  And you need smart animals, too.  Horses that can bond with a rider will do things that any old horse picked out of a line will not do.  Now, I am sorry, but I need to borrow Owien for a bit.”  He carted Owien off, with only minimal protest, and traded back to Margueritte when they reached the old oak outside the front door.

“Margueritte.”  Owien jumped, but not too badly.  He had seen her do that before.

Margueritte came in her own clothes.  She had not started showing yet, but Jennifer had a little bump and Margo looked big as a house and due any day.  “What is it, July thirteenth, there about?”  Owien shrugged.  “Owien dear, please fetch Elsbeth and Jennifer if they are not in the house.  We have to have a family conference.”  Owien looked at her and realized she was serious.  He went without a word.

Margueritte stepped into the house and found Brittany crying.  “The diaper is clean,” Mother said right off.  “Even your father’s funny faces don’t help.”

“It makes her scream, er, sort of like you were.”  Father’s words were much improved once he realized he could fight this thing.  Margueritte picked up Brittany and paced.  She needed to wait for the others.

“Margo?”  she asked.

“Coming.”  Margo got to the top of the stairs, grabbed the railing, and waddled down.

M4 Margueritte: The Breton March, part 1 of 3

Margueritte moved her father’s bed downstairs so he could be part of what went on, and she put up curtains for some privacy.  She made him a chair with wheels so he could use his good leg and good arm to roll himself around, and she made him a potty-chair behind the curtain as well.  She had a big cane for him, and it took serious time and effort, with Mother and Jennifer working tirelessly, to teach him to get out of bed without falling to the floor.  Once he got the idea that Margueritte did not see him as bed ridden and hopeless, he became determined to succeed.

Doctor Pincher came by on a regular basis, not only to tend Father, but also to check on the progress of the three ladies.  “And not a man of yours present,” he pointed out the obvious before he spoke to Sir Bartholomew.  “Hardest battle you ever fought,” he called the struggle to get around.

“It is,” Bartholomew responded.  “But it is a battle I am going to win.”

“Good for you,” Margueritte said, and then Mother said the same thing out of her exhaustion and tears.

While Margueritte had things made for her father, she gathered men with skills to make her saddles with stirrups, lances, gauntlets, helmets, and shields.  She got Luckless to come back to the farm, and with his recommendation, got several more dwarf craftsmen.  Lolly also returned with Luckless to run the kitchen, which became a great blessing for everyone.

“I know a few dark elves who would be perfect for the work on the armor, lances and shields,” Luckless said.  “But I think you are right.  That would be too much for this crowd.”  Then Grimly interrupted with a report, or more honestly, a complaint.

“So, you want twice the number of foals as a normal year.”  Grimly looked grim.  “Powerful hard for these poor horses.”  Under Grimly’s direction, they had quite a herd of horses already, most of whom were a combination of Frankish Chargers and the Arabians that were taken after the unpleasant visit of the African Ambassador, Ahlmored.  These horses were very strong and capable, and Margueritte thought they would do just fine for her knights.

“Not double necessarily, but more.  More each year.  Big and strong.  As many as reasonable, and we will have to work out how to train them to be heavy cavalry and carry an armored man with equipment into battle.”

Margueritte moved on before Grimly had another objection.  “Captain Wulfram,” she called.  He came, but he looked at Grimly and made sure he kept Margueritte between himself and the gnome.  “How goes the addition?”  With all she had been doing, that one thing she neglected, though it stood right under her nose.  She contracted with Ronan, a Gallo-Roman builder of some reputation, and then she moved on to other things.

“The great hall is as you see.  Ronan the builder says another week and we can begin to furnish it.  Now that the big new field is cleared, we have plenty of lumber to finish all the work you have drawn out.  Stone is still coming in from everywhere for the foundation, so we are in good shape with supplies.  Ronan says stone it about the only thing Little Britain has too much of.  Stone and sand.”

“And apples,” Grimly interjected.

“We will be ready to start adding the four second-floor rooms in the next few days,” Wulfram finished.  Three of those second-floor rooms were going to be bedrooms big enough for a family. The fourth was going to be the new servant’s quarters for the women, connected to the tower where old Redux the blacksmith and the other male servants were presently housed.  It would also have a set of stairs down the back of the house to the new Kitchen.

“All good, Margueritte said.  She had plans to move Tomberlain and Margo into one big room, Elsbeth, should she ever settle with Owien into the second, and herself and Roland into the third of the big rooms.  They would fix up the one big, old room, the room that used to be the servant’s quarters and was right next to the Master bedroom where Mother still slept.  Jennifer and her children would have that room if she wanted it, whenever Father Aden went away, as he did all spring.  With that, Margueritte’s, Elsbeth’s and Tomberlain’s small old rooms, with the old guest room, could all be cleaned and used for visitors, like Charles, or the king, or whatever lord, chief or count happened by.

“All good,” Margueritte repeated.  “But that is not why I called you.”  She took him into the adjunct area beside the barn, a large roofed in area near the new forges.  Margueritte was both pleased and surprised to have found two farriers who were actually qualified to make and nail real horseshoes.  True, they were used to shoeing mules, but the principle was the same.  Wulfram watched while one of the men carefully measured the hoof and trimmed the nails.

“This is called a rasp,” the farrier said, having noticed he was being watched.  “It is important to trim the hooves and file down nails to avoid any sharp edges.  Prevents snags and splits and such things.”

“I’ve not seen that done before on horses,” Wulfram said.  “What is the purpose of such shoes?”

Margueritte thanked the farrier, and he led the horse away while she talked.  “The iron shoe will protect the war horse from injury when running across rough ground at a full charge, carrying a man and all that equipment on its back.  It is much better than hipposandals.”

“War horse?”

“That is what the Princess called them, and Diogenes too, I suppose.”

“Truly a fine animal, whatever you call it.”  Wulfram leaned down a bit, cupped his hand to his mouth, and spoke slow and loudly.  “The finest horses I’ve ever seen.”

Grimly looked up at Margueritte.  “What?  So now I’m deaf and stupid?”

Margueritte spoke before things went any further.  “Anyway, I need ten volunteers.”  They stepped to where Giselle looked a mess of paints.  She painted plain linen cloth with ugly, mean Saracen faces, as she remembered seeing them in her youth, and she turned out to be quite an artist.  Those faces were going to be plastered on the straw dummies.  “I have a dozen horses that are more or less ready.  Keep in mind they are three and four-year olds.  They have not been training since they were foals.  They have been broken to ride, but not necessarily to the work we will put them through.”  She stepped over near the forges.  There were shields with a golden Fleur-de-lis and a cloth draped over the leaves with writing on the cloth painted on each and a whole stack of lances.

“What do these words mean?” Wulfram asked.

“In the Latin,” Giselle explained.  “It says for king and country.”

“We have enough equipment ready, but here is the thing.”  Margueritte got him to focus.  “I want your best horsemen to start.  We need to develop a way to train the horses when they are young.  That is what I want you and your men to figure out.  As we work through our paces, we may need to adjust the shield and lance, and it will take some work to learn how to lance and not spear the enemy, among other details, but all of that can be worked out and learned.  I know the men will adjust, but we need to have trained horses to do this well.  So, while we work through our paces, you need to be figuring out how to train the horses for the job.”

“What paces?” Wulfram asked.

“Bring your men here in an hour, and we will talk.”  Margueritte had to check on the Children before time got away from her.

In an hour, Wulfram showed up with ten men, including three that Margueritte got to know fairly-well during their journey.  Lambert and Folmar were her wagon drivers, and Walaric was Wulfram’s lieutenant who had the small group that tended to stay around the wagon, encircling it most of the time during their journey.  Margueritte acknowledged her friends before she made an announcement.

“I am going to bring a man who knows the basis of this business to begin teaching you.  Much of this we will have to work out ourselves, but he can get us started.  He is an older man, so be good and listen the first time.  He will be riding my horse, Concord.  We worked with Concord this past week so he could connect with the horse, but I will let him explain.  Now, I have other things to attend to, as you can imagine, so let me get him.  His name is Gerraint.”

Margueritte stepped away from the group and through a door at the back of the stables where several trees gave shelter against prying eyes.  She took a breath and traded places with Gerraint, son of Erbin.  He came in his own armor, the armor made for him by Arthur’s men.  It was not nearly as good as the armor of the Kairos, but he was not going into battle.  It would work fine for the demonstration, and it would not be recognizable as connected to Margueritte.

Gerraint straightened the tunic he wore over his armor.  It looked blood red and had the picture of the Cornish lion on the front.  He looked impressive at six feet tall, despite his gray hair.  Six feet was practically a giant in the medieval world.  With the great sword Wyrd on his left hip and Defender on his right, he felt impressive.  He carried his helmet in his hand when he stepped through the door and walked to face the men.  Everyone stopped talking when they saw him, and that made Margueritte grin in his head.

M4 Margueritte: Trouble All Around, part 3 of 3

That evening, she confessed to Roland.  “I have to go, but I don’t want to leave.  I just got you back.”

“Owien must be about twenty by now.  That is almost grown up, and Elsbeth is what, seventeen?” Roland asked.  “I married you when you were seventeen.  I thought you were very grown up.”

“Owien is nineteen and Elsbeth is eighteen, and I can only imagine the disaster if I left things in their hands, no offence to Owien,” she responded.

“Now, come on.  Elsbeth is a sensible young woman and probably well grown by now.”

Margueritte could not imagine it but said no more about it.  She felt worried about her father, and what her mother would do when he had gone.  She felt glad Jennifer stayed nearby.  Tomberlain told her they built a cottage beside the church, and some others had come since then and were building their own cottages there, in a place that was safe for Christians.  Margueritte thought that one day there would be a nice little town, and it already had a poor section where the serfs had their huts, just down the hill from the barn.  Sometimes she hated the age she lived in.  She rolled over to rest on Roland’s chest.  Then again, she thought, some things were very nice.  Brittany got fussy so she had to get up, and she thought, or not so nice in any age.

###

Roland gathered a hundred horsemen from the Breton side of the world to accompany Margueritte home.  Boniface would be going with them as far as Paris.  Sigisurd decided to stay on the Saxon border.  She said it felt a land like the place where she grew up, but Margueritte figured Sigisurd and Geoffry would not be single for long.  Horegard and Rosamund had already more or less given their blessing, and even Ingrid seemed to like Sigisurd, and talked to her more than she talked to Margueritte.  Aduan liked everyone, so there was no trouble there, so overall, Margueritte kissed the girl good-bye and sighed as she got up in the wagon that she christened the S. S. Black-n-Blue. 

Relii went with her for the first two days.  Count Adelard was going home, and Herlindis had the good sense to ride on horseback.  Relii bounced with Margueritte for those days, but when they reached the Abbey, Margueritte got left alone with her children.

Marigold came to visit every day they were along the Meuse River, and Tulip came twice.  After they left the River, Tulip took over the visits and stayed with her, at least during the day, every day, until they reached Paris.  

They stopped in Paris for a time.  Margueritte saw that Boniface got well taken care of, and she also got treated well, going back to the same house Charles owned on the left bank of the Seine, the house with the servants.  Rotrude, Charles wife, was not there, but the servants did not question her being there.

Margueritte took the time to visit several local blacksmiths and three saddleries while she was in town.  It was not easy to do with the children along, but she found a young woman to help.  Her name was Giselle, and her family came from Vascon, and came to Paris a generation ago by way of Orleans.  The children seemed to like her, so Margueritte hired her to be an au-pair, though no one knew what that was.  Then Margueritte found out what it would take to make a better saddle, one with stirrups, and how much it would cost to make real lances, a shield to balance the other side, and gauntlets to hold them.  She had samples made of each, found a horse that could carry all that weight, and made Captain Wulfram ride the horse and get used to the equipment.

“My arms will fall off by the time we reach Little Britain,” Wulfram said.

“So you know better how you need to train the rest of the men,” she answered, and she crawled into the wagon.  

For the next three days, Wulfram complained that he could see no military value in what she asked him and his men to do.  “We have horsemen who can ride around an enemy flank and strike where least expected.  All this equipment would make that impossible.  They would hear us clinking and clanking from a mile away.”

“But your horsemen dismount to fight on foot.  With this, you can fight from horseback.”

“That’s crazy.  You can’t fight a man from the back of a horse.  A man can move and turn.  A horse can’t keep up.”

“You will see, when the time comes,” Margueritte insisted.

When they arrived at Margueritte’s manor home, the spring came in full bloom, and Captain Wulfram had only one thing to say.  “Well, at least my sword doesn’t feel as heavy as it used to.”

“You will see,” Margueritte insisted, and she pointed Wulfram and his hundred horse back down the road they just came up.  “Down the hill where the grassland flattens out.  Try and keep your camp to the right side of the road.  We will need the long field for practice.”

“Sorry Margueritte.  Now that we have delivered you, we need to get back to Charles in Saxony.”

“No,” Margueritte interrupted the man.  “I stood right there.  Charles clearly said you were to stay with me until I dismissed you.  Well, you are not dismissed.  Even under the watchful eye of Charles and Roland, I have been kidnapped twice and held for hostage, and I would have been kidnapped a third time by the Saxons if I hadn’t found a way out of that dilemma.  No, captain.  You are not dismissed.  You camp right here.”  She turned away from the captain and spoke to the teamsters who were holding the wagon.  “Lambert and Folmar, just stay here and relax for a bit.  I’ll let you know where to take things in a minute.”

Margueritte’s mother, Brianna came running, Jennifer beside her, and Margueritte smiled to see them, but noticed how old Mother had gotten in the last four years.  Her hair had turned completely gray, and her skin developed some real wrinkles in her face and hands, and crow’s feet around the eyes.  Her eyes overall looked saggy and worn, like she had not slept well in months, but they still had a familiar sparkle when she held Brittany.  The sparkle said mother, or maybe grandmother.

Jennifer’s eldest, her girl named LeFee was five and said to be sweet.  Her boy, Cotton, two and a half, about Martin’s age, had been reported to be a hand full.  Margueritte talked about her own.  “Sigisurd used to call Martin the wrecker.  I hope the house is childproofed.”

“I don’t know what that means,” Jennifer said.  “But everything is put up where Cotton can’t reach it.”

“I don’t know.  Martin is a climber,” Margueritte began, but she got interrupted by a flying streak of light.

“Lady!  Lady!  Lady!”  Goldenrod grabbed Margueritte by the face and kissed her cheek over and over. Margueritte had to grab the fairy by the fairy weave that covered the girl’s butt to pull her off.

“Good to be home, but it helps to breathe,” Margueritte said.  Mother and Jennifer laughed.  Giselle’s eyes got big, but she said nothing.

The next interruption was by Puppy who came up barking and lolling his tongue, a tongue he used to lick Margueritte’s face when she got down to pet him.  “Puppy, you remember me.”  Margueritte felt happy.

“He does,” Goldenrod said.  “And so do I, and me and Puppy take good care of the sheep, we do.”

“I am sure you do.”

“Just like you taught us.  Isn’t that right, Puppy?”  Puppy barked.  Then a grown-up couple came from the barn, and Margueritte had to take a breath.

“Owien with a beard,” she said softly, and Jennifer nodded.  Mother couldn’t seem to take her eyes away from Brittany who cooed in her arms and playing with Mother’s face.  “Owien, son of Bedwin, good to see you, if that is really you beneath all that hair.”

“Good to have you home,” Owien said.

“And who is this well grown woman beside you?” Margueritte asked.

“Elsbeth,” Owien started to answer, but Elsbeth took his hand and stuck her tongue out at her sister, which made Margueritte laugh.

“I see she has matured well,” Margueritte said, and held out her arms.  Elsbeth ran into them for a big hug.  Then she backed up and had something to say.

“About time you got here.”

“It is very hard to get anything done when my workers run off.”  Another woman stood in the barn door, and Grimly stood beside her.

“Me and Catspaw and Pipes are workers,” Grimly said.

“On a blue moon,” the woman responded, with blunt familiarity to the gnome and came out to see the visitors, even as LeFee came out of the house dragging a three-year-old girl by the hand.

Elsbeth spoke.  “That’s Margo, Tomberlain’s wife, and the girls are LeFee and Larin.”

“LeFee is mine,” Jennifer said.

“I remember,” Margueritte said.  “But Tomberlain told me nothing.”  

“They married the year after you left with Roland.  She is Sir Giles’ granddaughter,” Elsbeth explained.  “They met when he went to Paris as Roland’s squire.”

“You must be Margueritte,” Margo said, as she walked up to join the group, Grimly in her trail.  “Tomberlain told me all about you.  I half expected you to fly in on a broom.”

“No.  The broom flying was my work,” Grimly said in a voice that implied it was terribly hard work.

“No, I made the broom fly,” Goldenrod objected from Jennifer’s shoulder where she had taken a seat.  She took that moment to flit to Elsbeth’s shoulder where she clearly felt most comfortable.  

Margo and Margueritte kissed cheeks like sisters, but not much more because Margo was in her sixth month and beginning to round out.

“Got any names picked out?” Margueritte asked.

“Not yet,” Margo said, but she looked like she had a few possibilities in mind.

“Me neither,” Margueritte patted her stomach.  She felt fairly sure she was pregnant, but maybe it was too soon.  Brittany was not quite past five months old.

“Me neither,” Jennifer said with a grin and pat to her own stomach. 

“Me neither,” Goldenrod said.  She thought she knew what they were talking about but did not want to be left out of the discussion.

“I want one,” Elsbeth whined to Owien, who looked like he thought he knew what they were taking about.

 “Now, let me introduce everyone.  This appendage to my dress in Martin.”  Martin, who had been staring, turned his face into his mother’s leg.  “The one holding Mother’s nose is Brittany.  And this one is Giselle, their au pair.  She is from Paris.”

“Oh?” Margo responded.  “News from home.”

These fine gentlemen are Lambert and Folmar, and they are going to unload our things in the house and take the wagon to the barn.  Grimly, show these men where to store the wagon so it is out of the way, and get the mules settled.  I am depending on you.  Meanwhile, why don’t the rest of us go up to the house?”

“Yes,” Mother spoke at last.  “You want to see your father.”

“And tell stories.  We have a lot to catch up on.”

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

MONDAY

Margueritte returns home to The Breton March and finds trouble following her. Until Monday, Happy Reading

*

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.

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MONDAY

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

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