M3 Margueritte: Trouble in Banner Bein, part 3 of 3

Margueritte looked into the dark and felt immediately overwhelmed by the smell of mold and old bones.  She turned her head.  “Will you wait for me?” she asked, and the unicorn agreed.  Margueritte nodded her thanks, and with tears in her eyes, from fear as much as from the smell, she stepped into the dark of the graves.

Down a long corridor, and she had to turn away from the light altogether.  She needed her hand at that point to touch the wall and not lose her way.  She felt sure she touched dead bones more than once, but the bones and the dark did not frighten her.  The ghosts of lost souls that haunted the passageways raised the hair on the back of her neck.

She came to no more turns before she caught the glimmer of firelight ahead.  She heard the deep, gravel voices of the ogres in the distance, but curiously, they did not make her nearly as afraid as the thought of ghosts.

“The lady will be happy with the girl,” one said.

“Is that what it is?  A girl?”  That sounded like a much deeper voice.  Margueritte guessed the first one was the female—the smart one.

“I’m hungry.”  That had to be the little one, though it was hard to tell by the voice.

“The sheep’s a boiling,” the female said.  “We’ll get a good winter’s nap from that lot.”

Margueritte shook her head as she neared the light.  The sheep were already gone.  She only hoped Elsbeth was still in one piece.

“Eh!”  That was an imp voice.  “Fingers out of the pot.”  She heard a sharp crack of a metal spoon rapped against rocks, which Margueritte rightly interpreted as the ogre’s knuckles.

“Ow! But I like it more raw.”  The ogre complained in a voice which suggested he might be the grandfather.

Margueritte stole that moment to peek and guessed that the ogres would all be turned away.  Sure enough, their eyes were on the fire and the old ogre who licked his knuckles.  The imp stood on a tall stool over a cauldron big enough for three men where she stirred the meat with a spoon studded with spikes against over eager hands.

“Well, just wait with the rest.”  The imp went back to stirring, while Margueritte, who saw an opening, took that moment to sneak in behind a rough-hewn cabinet which had been pushed only lazily toward the wall.  She waited there a long time while the ogres argued over the stew, before they settled grumpily around the tremendous fire which took up the whole center of the room.  Margueritte appreciated the cabinet, since the heat from the fire felt sweltering.

Elsbeth sat in the corner, well away from the fire, her hands wrapped with thick chords of rope, tied to the bench she occupied.  Margueritte imagined the imp tied her there since she would be the only one with fingers capable of tying a knot without accidentally breaking Elsbeth’s wrist.  Elsbeth looked awake but stared blindly as if in shock and unable to fully comprehend what was happening to her.  Margueritte tried several times to get her attention, but to no avail.

At last the imp declared the sheep ready enough and everyone grabbed a favorite piece and began to munch, bones and all.  Margueritte, who had been brought up with some manners felt repulsed by the scene.  She knew she ought to wait until they finished and hopefully went to bed, or at least to sleep, but the longer she stayed behind the cabinet, the more worried she became.  It would be dark soon.  The unicorn might not wait much longer.  Surely, they are so absorbed with eating, they will not notice her.  She saw a cupboard of sorts and a terribly oversized wooden bucket she could slip behind along the way.  And all this finally convinced her to move before it was prudent.

The cabinet was easy to get to.  But the bucket sat some steps off.  She decided to try the old rock throwing routine, but her first rock, instead of sailing over the heads of the ogres and making a nice clattering sound on the other side of the cave, it slammed into the father ogre’s head.  Then again, he did not even feel it and only paused long enough to mumble something about nasty insects.

Margueritte’s next stone sailed truer to the target.  It did not clatter quite like she hoped, but it did turn the ogre heads long enough for her to dash to the bucket.

“More likely rats.”  The mother ogre commented before they returned to their feast.  “Maybe we can catch some for dessert.”

Elsbeth saw her sister suddenly and looked about to shout out.  Margueritte barely kept Elsbeth quiet long enough to hunker down behind the bucket rim.  She still concentrated on keeping her sister quiet when the father ogre got up and stepped to the bucket.  He scooped up a drink in the tremendous ladle and then splashed the scoop back into the bucket which caused the water to slosh over the side and soak Margueritte’s head.  One step and the ogre’s vision caught up with his brain, and his arm was much longer than Margueritte would have believed.

“Hey!”  The ogre shouted and in one reach, scooped Margueritte up by her hair.  Elsbeth screamed and that caused a moment of confusion, which allowed Margueritte to slip to the ground, free of the Ogre’s grasp.  Marguerite flew to Elsbeth’s side, but the thick rope proved too hard to untie quickly.  In a moment, the imp was on her and the ogre family blocked the way out.

“What have we here?”  The imp asked.

“The Danna.  The Don.”  Margueritte answered without thinking.  “And you have invaded my house without asking.”  Her fear made her angry and opened her mouth with whatever words might come out.

“Now come, pretty.”  The imp reached out to grab Margueritte’s arm, but something like lightning from ruby slippers caused the imp to jump back and suck her fingers.  Margueritte finished untying her sister.  “I told Ping no children!”  Margueritte shouted while the imp’s eyes widened as big as dinner plates.

“You saw my husband?” she whispered through her fingers.

“I said no children, and I never said he could have even one sheep,” Margueritte raged.  “You stole them.  You are thieves and you owe me your lives in return.”  It seemed a bold madness drove the poor girl.  Even Elsbeth stared.  Margueritte grabbed her sister’s hand and marched to the door full of ogres.  Elsbeth averted her eyes because they were so hideous to look at.  Margueritte, however, stared right at them all and demanded.  “Move!”

The mother, the young one and the dim-witted grandfather were all inclined to follow instructions, but the father bent down and tried to grin.  Lucky, Elsbeth was not watching.  The sight of an ogre grinning could make the strongest stomach give it up.

“Now, then, you don’t mean it,” the ogre said.  “Why not stop for a bite to eat and a bit of calm down?”

Margueritte’s fear peaked.  “Smasher!”  She shouted the ogre’s name.  “I said move!”  She screamed and her little hand rushed out and slapped the rock-hard ogre jaw dead on.  Of course, nothing should have happened other than Margueritte hurting her hand, but to everyone’s amazement, the ogre got knocked all the way to the wall and slid to his seat, unconscious.  Margueritte was not about to look that gift ogre in the mouth.  With a tight hold on Elsbeth’s hand, she raced down the long, dark hall and the other ogres gave her plenty of space.  She turned toward the light.  She heard the young one call after her.

“Don.  Danna.  Wait.  Please.”

Margueritte did not wait.  As soon as she got out the door, she saw the sun well on its way to the horizon. Gratefully, she saw the unicorn still there, not having moved an inch.

“Margueritte?”  Elsbeth said, and followed immediately with, “So pretty!”  The unicorn dropped to one knee and Margueritte placed her sister on the beast’s back.  She slipped up behind while she told her sister to hold tight to the unicorn’s mane.  Then they were off at a soft gallop which the girls hardly felt.  Margueritte even had time to look back and see that ugly young head peek out of the open door.  “Hammerhead is a dweeb.”  Margueritte thought to herself and felt rather affectionate toward the youth, ogre though he was.  She attributed the feeling to the unicorn and imagined that one could not do other than love in the purest sense when in such a creature’s presence.  In truth, everything was by necessity pure in the presence of a unicorn.

Whether by magic or by design, only moments later they found Lord Bartholomew, Tomberlain, and several soldiers of the Franks.  The troop halted and stared in wonder at the beast which carried the innocents.  Margueritte got down right away when the unicorn stopped, a good ten yards from the troop.  Elsbeth still hugged the unicorn, utterly in love, and Margueritte knew, fully cured from the trauma she had suffered.  A tear of pure joy and gratitude showed in Margueritte’s eye when she leaned over and kissed the unicorn on the nose.  Elsbeth did not want to let go, but Margueritte got her down, slowly.  As soon as Elsbeth got free, the unicorn bounded into the forest, and so fast it looked like the animal vanished into thin air.  Elsbeth cried, but her father came up quickly and lifted her in his arms.

Tomberlain hugged Margueritte to pieces.  “I thought I lost my very best sister,” he said.

“I was so scared,” Margueritte admitted, and then she saw her dog draped over one of the soldier’s horses and she cried with her sister.

The next day, she told her family the whole story.  Elsbeth praised her courageous sister and embellished the part in the ogre’s lair almost beyond reason.  In turn, they told how they trailed her, how they found her old dog and, oddly enough, the tails of all the sheep hanging from a tree branch as if set out to dry in some strange ritual.

“I don’t think those ogres will give us trouble anymore, at least as far as children go,” Margueritte said, and then she wandered down to the kennels where her dog got buried and set a small wood cross on the grave.

“Mother?” she asked.  “Do dogs go to heaven?”

“I don’t see why not,” her mother said.  “God made them, too.”

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MONDAY

After the trouble in Banner Bein, there are tales and secrets to tell…  Until Monday, Happy Reading

 

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M3 Margueritte: Trouble in Banner Bein, part 1 of 3

In the year of our Lord, 707, there were trolls reported in the hills of Banner Bein, those gentle, rocky rises just south of Vergenville.  Some sheep and cattle were said to be missing and everyone agreed that it would be ordinary thieves but for two reasons.  First, the animal tracks disappeared right where they were taken.  This spoke of a powerful enchantment or it suggested that the animals were literally lifted from the ground and carried off.  Of course, only trolls could be imagined carrying off a thousand pounds of beef.  Second was the matter of the children.  Three youngsters and two babies were missing and since there were no gypsies or other strangers around to blame, the accusation naturally fell upon the little ones in general, and trolls in particular because of the issue of the beef and sheep.

There were those Moslems around the king’s palace, but they were discounted because they were hardly remembered.  The Lord Ahlmored and his people scrupulously avoided any and all contact with the ordinary people of Amorica.  The ambassador was reported to have said that when the time came the people would be converted by the sword readily enough.  This did not sit well with the Breton any more than it did with the Franks who felt a man’s soul ought to be able to make its’ own choices.  The days when the Romans persecuted the Christians were in the deep past and hardly remembered, and the druids never imposed themselves on the people.  For too many centuries the druids had been a natural and unchallenged part of the culture, so they did not have to rule by imposition.  True, men like Aden the Convert were making many followers of the old ways uncomfortable, but they were tolerated for the good the Adens of the world did, and for the love they evidently had for all the people.  These Moslems, by contrast, apparently waited until they gained the upper hand, and then, at least in those days, it became either convert or die.  That rankled a lot of people, but it did not speak for their stealing babies.  In fact, the followers of Mohamet strove so hard not to have touch with the people, the people forgot they were there.

So, the common wisdom said trolls in Banner Bein, though Margueritte did not think that sounded exactly right.

Tomberlain went well into his thirteenth year that early summer and a true page for his father.  He had duties every day but Wednesday and Sunday.  Wednesday got spent at the home of Constantus and Lady Lavinia with his sisters, learning his letters.  Constantus was of the old Roman mindset who insisted that Latin was the only proper language in which to read, write and think.  He required that Latin alone be spoken in his house, and secretly appreciated the silence when guests came to visit.  Lady Lavinia, on the other hand, decided with her husband’s consent and support, to teach Latin to any and all young ladies and gentlemen within reach of her home.  Wednesday was the day Tomberlain and Margueritte made the trip, which was two hours each way.  And Elsbeth joined them when she got a little older.

Sunday, of course, was the Lord’s Day and Lady Brianna treated it like a Sabbath. She insisted that even the serfs and peasants should rest, though Sir Barth always saw that the necessities were done.  Her son, Tomberlain, became another matter.  She would not let him do his duties and rather schooled him, with the girls, in prayer and Christian virtues.  Often, Aden the Convert or other Christians from among the Breton and Franks would join them on Sunday, and to that end, just across the roadway from the triangle, she had a chapel built.  Andrew and John, or maybe James, did most of the building.

Elsbeth, who turned six that summer, got exceptionally bored on Mondays, Tuesdays and, before she was old enough for the Latin, on Wednesdays.  She could not do anything about Wednesday, but on Mondays and Tuesdays, Margueritte, who turned ten, got the sheep to take to pasture with her old dog along to help.  Sir Barth said he needed the extra hands of the regular shepherds to make up for the damned inconvenience of Sunday, as he called it.  Lady Brianna did not mind.  She felt her daughter was getting old enough to begin taking some responsibility around the manor, and besides, she spent plenty of her own youth watching sheep for her father.  This, however, left Elsbeth rather isolated and alone.  The end of the week was fine because that was when the girls were schooled in spinning, sewing, weaving, cooking, music and other arts, such as women did, but the beginning of the week felt lonely for poor Elsbeth.

It did not take long before Elsbeth began to follow her sister to the pasture.  Both girls were glad for the company, but Lady Brianna was not happy to see her baby so far from the house at such a young age.  She could not stop it, however, short of locking Elsbeth in her room, so in the end she relented.  She always sent Maven early with their noon meal, and Maven stayed for several hours, generally sleeping under a tree, until she had to get back to help prepare the evening meal.  In this way, Brianna became able to more or less keep an eye on the girls.

On one Monday in August, Elsbeth did not go with her, and Maven did not stay for her usual nap.  Apparently Elsbeth, who hated cooking, passionately, was being forced to make an acceptable pie.  Margueritte sighed for being alone.  She petted her old dog, Ragnar, and he almost woke, and then she counted the sheep for the millionth time.  In so doing, however, she noticed a strange sight.  An old man waggled toward her, slowly, leaning heavily on a staff of crooked oak wood.  Margueritte stood.

At once she saw that the man could not have been taller than four feet.  Margueritte, who already stood a good bit over four feet tall at age ten, towered over him, but she stayed respectful all the same, as she had been taught.

When he came near, she saw a man bent over, with a huge, bulbous nose and a white beard that fell almost to the ground.  His white eyebrows were so bushy she could barely see his eyes beneath, but those eyes appeared sharp to her and quick to see more than just appearances.

“Good-day old man,” Margueritte said with a small curtsey.  “What brings you to the land of Count Bartholomew?  Perhaps I can be of help.”

The man looked at her for a moment before he answered.  “Don’t slouch,” he said, and immediately Margueritte stood up straight and realized that she had been slouching to be more equal to his height, so as not to offend.  “You’re not a simple peasant girl I would say.”  The man’s voice was gruff but disguised a sweetness that Margueritte could not explain.

“No, sir,” Margueritte answered honestly.  “The Lord Bartholomew is my father. I am Margueritte.”

“Sending his own daughter out as a simple shepherdess?”  The man’s question came out more like a statement of judgment.

“Yes, sir,” Margueritte answered.  “Mother says it is good to learn responsibility at a young age and to learn to help with all the chores.  She, herself tended the sheep when she was young.”

“Brianna, the Breton wife,” the man said, and seemed to know all about it.  “But here, my plight is simple enough.  My family and I are hungry.  Our food is exhausted and there is time yet before the harvest.  It has been said Lord Bartholomew and Lady Brianna are generous and kind to help the poor and hungry.  It is my hope that your father may help us with enough to see us to harvest.”

“Oh, I am sure he will,” Margueritte said, with a touch of joy and pride in her words.  “Never were there more willing and generous folks than my own sweet parents.” The old man nodded, and Margueritte turned ever so slightly to point the way.  “There,” she said.  “After the meadow, you will come down into a hollow, and after the hollow, you will come to a stream and a grotto in the woods.  Pass straight through the grotto in the way you are going and beyond the trees on the other side you will come to the fields of my father.  From there you will see the triangle of buildings where the family is at home. Go and ask and say we have spoken if you wish.  I am sure…”  Margueritte let her voice trail to nothing as she saw the old man waving off her words, and with what she noticed as an exceptionally large and bony hand.

“I have little strength for such a journey.  Perhaps if I may have one of your sheep, it will save us.  This will be sufficient for our needs.”

“Oh dear.”  Margueritte immediately started to count her sheep, though she knew how many were there.  “I don’t know.”  She started to speak as well, but the old man looked up at her with such longing in his eyes she could hardly say no.

Margueritte looked deeply into those odd, little eyes, and for a moment she saw something Asian about him, strange as that sounded.  “You would not be lying to me, would you, Ping?”  She called him by name, having no idea where that name came from; but that it was his right name, she was sure, and doubly so when the man spun quickly once around.

“How did you know what I am called?  I don’t remember revealing myself.”

Suddenly, Margueritte saw the elderly imp right through his disguise.  It frightened her for a moment, but then she knew, like instinct, that the imp could not and would not harm her.  “Is my young sight so blind to not know an imp when I see one?” she said.  “Stay,” she added, to be sure the imp did not run off immediately.

“But.”  Ping looked up at her again with new eyes.  His disguise fell away which showed him to be just over three feet tall, with no white hair or eyebrows at all, and certainly they were Asian looking eyes.  “B-b-but,” he stuttered.

“I have heard things.”  Margueritte pressed her advantage as she felt suddenly, strangely empowered in the presence of this little one.  “About trolls at Banner Bein and the stealing of animals and children.”

“What?  No, never trolls.  Who would steal children?  That old way is strictly forbidden by the gods, and though they have all gone over to the other side, we do not forget the rules.  And as for the animals, they were all fairly begged.”  Ping clamped his mouth closed.  He had no intention of admitting anything more.

“No trolls?”  Margueritte imagined.  “Ogres then able to go about in the daytime.”  Ping nodded in spite of himself.  “And an imp or two, come up with the Moslems?”  Ping kept nodding, but his feet began to back up.  “And you are right.  I have forbidden the taking and eating of children,” she said, though again she hardly knew what she was saying.  She looked at the imp also without knowing what came-up into her eyes, but the imp shrieked, and he did turn, and he ran off as fast as his little old legs could carry him, which proved far faster than any human could run.

Margueritte sat down with a thump beside her dog who barely stirred from his nap. She put her hand tenderly on the beast’s side and wondered what that was all about.

Elect II—13 Christmas Too, part 3 of 3

The following day, Emily got packed and Riverbend pulled her carpetbag out of the closet.  They went to the airport where Riverbend, not surprisingly, had a ticket to New Jersey.  She also had the required identification to go through the TSA checkpoint and to the gate, so they said good-bye to the family, Riverbend lingering on hugging David, and David looked like he did not want to give her up either, but after that, they walked to the plane.  They had an hour.

ac-riverbend-a4They sat quietly for some time until Emily finally spoke.  “So do you really love him?’  Rivebend nodded.  “And does he really love you?”  Riverbend just got that elfish grin on her face.  “You know you neglected to return that dress.”

“I’m going to keep it.  David likes it on me.”

Emily sat up.  “What?  You showed it to him?  Well no wonder.”

“No wonder what?”  Riverbend sounded innocent.  The truth of the matter was not always easy to discern with an elf.

Emily did not answer right away.  Her plane was pulling up to the gate and would board as soon as the luggage was aboard.  “I wish I knew what that felt like,” Emily said wistfully.

“What what felt like?”  Riverbend asked.  She was eating ice cream.  It was about the only thing she ate apart from salads.

“Love.”

“Oh.  I think it probably feels the same.  Maybe I’m an elf and he is human, but I think love is just love.”

ac-emily-1“Not what I meant.”  Emily said as Marion walked up from security and sat on Emily’s other side.

“They were hired guns,” Marion said without preliminaries.  “The FBI figures they were hired by one Ferdinand Franco who runs a drug syndicate out of Atlantic City, but there is probably no way to prove that.”

“Franco?  I’ve heard that name.  Where have I heard that name?”

“The question is; why would they be gunning for you?  I thought you told me your friend Latasha was fighting the drug people with your Detective Schromer.”

“That is a good question.” Riverbend leaned into the conversation.  Marion had tried to whisper but Riverbend had elf ears.

“All I can say is you better keep your eyes open when you get back to school.  I don’t know what all you are into, but if they think you are getting close to whatever it is, they will probably move the kill Emily plan to Trenton.”

ac-riverbend-a8Emily nodded.  She knew that, but she had apples to find and a door to close and a mystery to solve.  She did not see that she had much choice.  She was thinking, Marion was sipping her latte, Riverbend was flipping through a magazine when a little person in overalls with a clipboard stepped up.

“Miss Emily Hudson?”  The man asked.

“Yes?”  Emily looked up as the man looked down at his clipboard.

Marion stopped in mid slurp.  “Friend of yours?”  She looked over at the elf.

Riverbend looked up from her magazine, squinted and spoke up.  “Mister Picker.  I didn’t expect you.”

The Little Person squinted in the same way.  “Why, Captain Riverbend.  It is a small world after all.”

“Please don’t start,” Riverbend put her hand up as if fending off disaster.  She confessed to Emily and Marion.  “Danna, the one you know as Zoe, accidentally sang that song about three-thousand BC when she was around some fee, that is, fairies.  They say for the next two thousand years you could not go anywhere on the planet without hearing fairies, dwarfs, imps or some others singing.  It must have been maddening.”

dwarf-underground-2“Report,” Mister Picker coughed and frowned at the interruption.  He got to business as he checked his clipboard.  “Airplane has been checked left to right, top to bottom, front to back, round and round, wing tip to wing tip.  No explosives or other potentially offensive materials found.”

“You checked the baggage?”  Riverbend asked.

“Of course.”  Mister Picker looked offended.  “All is fine.  You should have a smooth, safe trip.”

“You checked my bags?”  Emily sat up.

“Of course, with all the others.  How do you think you got your sword back and forth this year and last without the TSA stealing it?”

“Don’t you mean confiscating?”  Marion asked.

Mister Picker grinned for her, and it was a startling face.  “I am an imp, if you don’t mind.  I know stealing when I see it.  I’m not bad on lying and cheating, too.”

“Could use you on the force,” Marion said as she sat back and returned to her latte.

Mister Picker pulled two business cards out of his pocket and handed one to Marion and one to Emily.  “Picker, Block and Bluetooth.  Reconstruction and restorations are our specialty.”

columb-ai-gate“Poor Block,” Riverbend said.

“Yes,” Mister Picker said.  “Died in 1973 along the Jersey Central when the Kairos was disarming that atomic bomb.”

“What?  Marion sat up again.

“Kairos?”  Emily asked.

“The one you call Zoe,” Riverbend answered quietly, and then they called to start boarding the flight.

Riverbend did not board.  When Emily was away and Mister Picker had blended back into the background, Marion turned to the elf.

“What now for you?”

“I will meet her there, but disguised.  She won’t know me, but I have been told to shadow her.  I know it is ludicrous to think anyone can guard an elect, but a second pair of eyes never hurts.”

Marion just nodded as a shimmer of light appeared in an unused corner of the terminal.  She was getting used to that kind of coming and going.  “Hope to see you again.”

“Oh, I hope so.  I mean I plan to.”

ac-marion“David?”

Riverbend wrinkled her brow.  “How did you know?”

“I’m a detective.”

“I’ll have to remember that.”  the light flashed when the hole between here and there closed.  Two TSA agents came running.  Marion just showed her badge and walked passed them as she finished her latte.

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Next Monday, everyone is back at New Jersey State University in Trenton, and it seems despite the snow and cold, things begin to heat up in the Elect II-14, Creatures Strike Back.

Happy Reading

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