M3 Margueritte: The Maiden and the Dragon, part 2 of 4

Canto came in, followed by Morgan with his usual foolish grin, and Roan, who looked mean and serious.  They were followed by Finnian McVey, who smiled like the Cheshire Cat.

“Margueritte, dahrlin’,” The Irishman drawled.  “So good to see you again.”  His accent was positively honey-dripping.  He took the other chair.  “I am sure you would have some kind word of greeting for me as well, but I see your tongue is a little tied right now.”  He thought he was so funny.  She turned away from him, contempt in her eyes, but he grabbed her chin and turned her face back.

“I thought you might be interested in what has been happening at Caern Long since you’ve been away,” he said.  That caught her attention.  She assumed the dragon had simply gone to sleep, and that it would probably sleep for several years if not decades.  “Ah.  I see you are interested.  Well, it is this way, if I may do the tellin’.”  He took a moment to get comfortable before he went on.

“When the king refused to do anything about the beast, the people in all this part of the country got together and talked about what we could do.  They had a parlay, you might say.  Someone suggested it might be a good idea to simply take food to Caern Long and feed the beast.  That way they might keep their homes and farms flame free, if you understand.  Then someone else reminded everyone about all the missing children, and they decided that the beast must have developed a taste for such.”  He shrugged.

Margueritte’s eyes got big.

“Of course, no one would give up their sons, so it has been eighteen young garls in eighteen months.”  Margueritte shut her eyes tight and turned her head away, repulsed by what she heard.  Sheep would have been fine, she thought.  She did not want to think about it.

“Oh, I argued against it.  Truly,” McVey said quickly.  “But in a room full of stupid, stubborn farmers.”  He shrugged again.  “Most villages and towns cast lots.  I suppose that is fair, but you know, Vergen has yet to make a contribution.”

Margueritte’s eyes got big again, and Finnian McVey’s countenance changed suddenly from calm and conversational to hard and cruel.  “You know what I want,” he said.  “But perhaps you will ask the wee folk to help you out.”  He shrugged again, but Margueritte surmised he hoped she would.  He undoubtedly had some plan to capture a little one and hold it prisoner.  She dared not call for their help, even if she had a voice.  She would never willingly put her little ones in danger.

The men left.  She cried, but only a little as she thought hard about how she might escape this fate.  She could think of nothing, not even when Canto came back near nightfall with some bread, soup, and cider.  Roan untied her hands, rather roughly, and Morgan removed the gag and they waited outside.

“I am not sure this is wise,” Canto started right up.  “I am not sure it will get us what we want.  I see a penchant for self-sacrifice in you; longsuffering as Aden the Convert calls it.”

“And what of Chief Brian?” she asked, wondering how far this plot reached.

“Brian has no part in this.  In fact, he has ordered us to stay out of it,” Canto said.  He sat carefully on the other chair.  “In truth, Brian has refused to participate in the sacrifices.  Vergen would never make a contribution if it was strictly up to him.”

Good for Brian, Margueritte thought.  “So, I suppose Duredain is behind this.”

“No, actually, the king’s man has no idea about this, any more than the king.  I doubt they even know about the sacrifices.  People understand you have to keep quiet about such a thing.”  Canto started being so friendly and open, Margueritte became suspicious.  “Of course, my brother in wisdom would no doubt be pleased to have a good person of his own, not to harm the creature, mind you, but for purposes of study; that sort of thing.  No.  This is Finnian McVey’s idea, and though I don’t know how wise it may be, you know how persuasive he can be.  I must also warn you.  He is very determined to get what he wants.  There is not much I can do to help you.”

Margueritte pushed her supper away and Canto called.  She thought if she could escape the room, somehow, perhaps Chief Brian could give her sanctuary.  Surely Brian was wise enough to not want the dragon on his head; but then being closest to the border he would not want the Franks on his head, either.

Morgan came in and retied her hands.  He was not very gentle about it, but he had the decency to say, “Sorry, sorry,” when she complained.  Then McVey came crashing into the room followed by Roan.  Canto quickly got between them.

“Why did you feed her?”  McVey said, rudely.  “She should have gone hungry to sharpen her thinking.”  Roan, meanwhile, tried to put the gag back on her, but he stopped when McVey reached out, grabbed her chin, and drew his face close to hers.  “A shame to waste such prime female flesh when it hasn’t even had a chance to know what it is good for.”  He looked like he might force a kiss on her, but Margueritte stared at him with such a bold hardness in her eyes, he hesitated.  Canto drew the Irishman back.

“She is still a young lady,” Canto said.  “Whatever else she may be.”

McVey snapped his hand from her chin, scratching her with his nails, and he appeared to turn his anger toward the druid.  Margueritte, though her jaw hurt, nevertheless had a thought which made her smile.

“Good cop, bad cop,” she said, knowingly, even as Roan finally replaced her gag.  She stood up, still smiling to the amazement of all present, lay down on the army blanket, turned her back on them all, and dared them to disturb her.  After a moment, she heard the door close and she knew she was alone.

M3 Margueritte: The Maiden and the Dragon, part 1 of 4

When the days turned cold and the winter came on, Margueritte found herself inside by necessity.  She took to writing to Roland and told him about her days and the farm, and all the people and activities around the manor.  She strictly avoided the love talk she desperately wanted to share.  Some days she did not write for fear that she had to be boring him to tears with all her farm talk.  Some days she wrote twice, but it hardly mattered.  The rider from the capitol only came once a month, so Roland always got a neat packet of letters all bundled together.

In return, Roland wrote one letter every month, and addressed it to the whole family.  It sounded very strained and formal, Margueritte thought, and all too full of military progress in Belgium or against the Saxons or Burgundians.  Roland’s praise for Charles seemed unending, but that was not what Margueritte wanted to hear.  Even the notes by Tomberlain which got scribbled at the bottom failed to cheer her up.  Her mother always had an encouraging word.  “He is thinking of you.  He only writes to us because of you,” she would say, but that was not what Margueritte wanted to hear.

“And Latin every Wednesday.”  Margueritte would respond, and then proceed to mope for the next few days.  She began to take the dogs and visit with the shepherds, and sometimes she and the dogs would take the sheep, just like old times, and give the shepherds a day off; not that her father did not have plenty of other tasks for them to do.  Love was a hard thing, she decided; especially when it did not appear to be reciprocated.

At the end of April, Marta gave birth to a baby boy, and everyone celebrated.  Then they discovered that Jennifer was pregnant, and everyone got excited and celebrated again.  Margueritte did not feel much like celebrating, though she tried hard not to put a damper on everyone else’s joy.

With the spring, Owien found his work as a squire kept him exceptionally busy.  That gave Elsbeth a great deal of free time; but then it seemed that Elsbeth and Goldenrod had become very close in Margueritte’s absence.  Margueritte often continued to absent herself from their company, feeling something like a third wheel, and she would go off and talk to the dogs, and sometimes to the sheep, and sometimes she would cry, but just a little.

“And the rider from Paris should be here any day now,” Margueritte told her puppy one day.  She patted his head and he looked up at her with big eyes and panting tongue.  Actually, the rider from Paris arrived in the triangle at that very moment, and he carried a letter addressed to her.  Roland had agonized for months over what he wanted to say to her, struggled to find just the right words; but then, Margueritte did not get to read that letter, because even as she spoke, her puppy got up and began to growl and bark.

Several horsemen rushed out from the woods.  Margueritte recognized Rowan and assumed Morgan came with him, and she recognized Canto, the druid of Vergenville, but she was not sure of the rest, and she hardly had time for close inspection.

“Hey!  Stay away from the sheep!  Watch out!  Ow, puppy!”  She said “Ow,” and called for her puppy because someone dropped a net on her and it tangled her hair and she almost twisted her ankle.  The puppy, however, got tangled in its’ own net.

“What are you doing?” she yelled.

“Get her out of there and tie her up,” Canto ordered.

“My father will hear about this,” Margueritte threatened.  “You can’t do this.”

They yanked her arms behind her back and tied her tight.  She started to scream for help, but as she did, she found a gag put around her mouth, so it came out, “He-umph!”

“Pick her up, but carefully.  We don’t want her damaged,” Canto ordered.  Roan and Morgan reached for her, but she managed to kick Roan where he would feel it for days to come.  Morgan winced.

“I had an uncle who got kicked like that once,” he said.

Other men stepped up and tied her ankles, and then she got slung over the back of a horse, face down.  She felt a sharp slap on her rump and would have felt humiliated by that if she was not so busy being angry.  The thought, what did they think they were doing?  Was followed swiftly by, how did they imagine they could get away with this? And then, who is behind this?  But for the last, she would have to wait and find out.

The ride to Vergen was not pleasant.  Bumping up and down like that with the blood rushing to her head made her pass out after a while.  That turned out to be just as well, because she started cramping up terribly and hurt in every place they tied her, where the ropes rubbed with each bounce.

Once in town, she was not taken to the magistrate’s hall and to Chief Brian as she had guessed, but instead she got tossed into an empty storage room in a warehouse where they had an old army bedroll on some wilted straw, two rickety chairs and a small table.  She got locked in.  They untied her feet, but they left her hands tied behind her back and the gag securely across her mouth in case she got any ideas.

Margueritte could not cry; she could not scream, and she could not even look at where they cut her hair to untangle her from the net, so she just sat in the chair and fumed.  It felt like they cut it almost up to her shoulder blade in that spot, and apart from that, her only other thought was how the room smelled like musty old rotten apples.

It may have been hours before she heard the latch on the door.

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MONDAY

We shall see what the dragon has to say. Until then, Happy Reading

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