Avalon 8.9 Metal Men, part 3 of 4

Three well-armed lords rode up to the blacksmith shop shortly after sunrise.  John sat at the stone and sharpened the sword, one side and the other, and ignored the riders.  The men tied their horses to the railing that made the small penned in area where John and his men’s horses waited.  The three wandered into the smithy area and the gruff one spoke.

“Blacksmith.  Sir Guy’s horse appears to have picked up a stone.”  He paused and watched John put the finishing touches on sharpening the sword and asked a question.  “How much do you charge for sharpening a sword, and maybe a knife as well?”

John looked and paused a moment as his mind figured out who was talking to him.  Meanwhile, the one John figured was Sir Guy pointed at the horses in the pen and identified them as Flemish horses.  “I recognize the saddles,” he said.

“I’m not sure,” John said, coyly.  The blacksmith came out of the back room and Gerald, the apprentice, paused in whatever he was doing to join his master.  “Blacksmith.  What do you charge for sharpening the instruments of war?”

The blacksmith took one look at his three guests and bowed deeply.  Gerald bowed half-heartedly, not sure what was going on.  “My lords, it would be an honor to prepare your weapons for battle.”

“Now, none of that,” John said.  “A man is worthy of his labor.  Your normal price will do.”  He turned to shout toward the side of the back building.  “Richard.”  A man dressed in Flemish armor stuck his head around the edge of the building.  “Hugh, fetch Sir Richard.”  Hugh waved and disappeared for a moment.  He came back with another man who did not appear to be awake.

John swung the sword in the air with some evident skill.  He liked the feel of the weapon and handed it to Richard with a word.  “There.  This beast of a sword will take off a Saxon head and not break in the process.”

Richard took the sword and smiled.  Then he woke up enough to see the three lords staring at him.  He gasped and bowed like the blacksmith.  “Duke William,” he said.  The three men said nothing, but the third man, who had said nothing so far, stared at John like he was trying to figure something out.  John helped the man out.

“Hello Uncle Roger,” John said.  “How is Aunt Mabel?”

“Oliver’s son,” Roger responded without a smile.

“You know this blacksmith?” William asked.

“Blacksmith John.  That’s me, though Father always insisted on the name John de Bellleme.”

Something clicked in William’s mind as Sir Guy spoke.  “But you are not Flemish.”

“Well,” John said as he dipped his hands in the water barrel and splashed his face to clean off some soot.  “I am sort of Flemish at this point, or at least my wife is.  Emmelina is the grandniece of Baldwin one or two times removed.  You see, Uncle Baldwin—my wife’s uncle—gave me a new name.  I think he wanted to cover up the details of our background, but I told him it would not do him any good.  My father is still Oliver de Belleme, but now it is Walter de Hesdin.  Baldwin made him the Comte of Hesdin.  I am officially Ernulf de Hesdin, and will no doubt inherit the lands if my Father dies before me.”

“Why are you here?”  Uncle Roger did not look happy, and added the words, “Bastard son of a bastard son.”

“Careful.”  John looked at William.  He grinned a little and William had to cover his own grin.  “My Lord Duke.  I have some three hundred men from Brittany, my old stomping ground, camped on the West side of town.  They are under the command of my childhood friends, Richard and Hugh.  I have ships on the way, and the men of Flanders are gathering at St. Valery sur Somme on the coast, and a bunch of more ships.  You know, you put Uncle Baldwin in an awkward position.  He has supported the Anglo-Saxon crown for years, though mostly as an ally against invading Norsemen and Danes.  He wants to support you in your quest, but he honestly cannot do so directly.  So, he decided since my father is of Norman blood, he should represent Flanders and lead those who will join on this adventure.  Sadly, my father is talking about going into a monastery since my stepmother, Emma died.  Thus, it fell upon my shoulders to lead this charge.”

“How many men are we talking about?” Sir Guy wanted to know.

“At least a thousand,” John said, but his eyes remained on William.  “Uncle Baldwin does want to support you as much as he can, if not the least for the sake of his daughter, your wife Matilda.  He told me to ask how she is doing, by the way.”

William was thinking, but he came out of his reverie to say, “Fine.  She is doing well.”

“The old man can only do so much,” John said.  “But he clearly cares about his children, and his extended family.  Meanwhile, the old man’s son is a piece of cow manure.  I am sure when the old man dies, I will lose Hesdin.”  He stared at Roger.  “And be homeless once again.”

Roger said nothing, but William had something to say.  “You give me good service, you and the men of Flanders, and the men of Brittany.”  He paused to include Richard and Hugh.  “And I will see that you are not left homeless.”

“Yes, your majesty.  Thank you, your majesty,” John said, and to Roger’s and Sir Guy’s curious stares, he explained, “Just practicing.”  William let out the full grin when a red-headed young woman ran up and hugged him.  She went around the shop hugging every man in the shop.  When she got to John, John said, “Ugh,”

Boston backed up, pointed at him, and said, “You must be John.”

“Ugh,” John repeated and waved.  “Lockhart, good and bad timing as usual.  There is nothing history shattering going on at the moment, but in two or three days, I have three hundred men who will be taking ship for St. Valery sur Somme on the coast of Flanders.  I hope the time gate won’t end up somewhere out in the channel.”

Lockhart and Katie, Lincoln and Alexis, Decker and Nanette all arrived.  They walked at a casual pace but came armed and ready.  Sukki, Tony, and Elder Stow straggled behind.  Lockhart took up the telling.

“We spent the last three days following Englebroad, Hoffen, and Budman from Charlemagne’s day, and when we got to town, we found the same doctor from Constantinople and also from Genevieve’s day, so that would make this at least his third lifetime.  Don’t know what name he goes by in this time zone.”

Katie clarified.  “Baron Edgar, his two knights, Hubert and Bernard, and the doctor.”

“Edgar?” William asked and looked up at Katie before he turned to look at John.

John shook his head.  “They have to be prevented from whatever they are plotting.  Well, at least there are no alien people this time.”

“Not true,” Decker said.

Lincoln spoke.  “Elder Stow picked up an unknown life form on his scanner, and a bunch of electronic-type equipment, but it is in a covered wagon and so far, we have not been able to get a look to see what it is.”

“My guess is the doctor has been keeping it alive, whatever it is,” Alexis said.

“Damn,” John said

“What?” William asked, like he might demand an answer if one was not forthcoming.  Roger and Sir Guy had the same look on their faces.

“It is kind of difficult to explain,” Lockhart said, as he looked back and saw Tony and Suki stopped to watch a stall being set up in front of a jewelry shop.  Elder Stow stopped with them.  He looked further and saw Baron Edgar, his two knights, a couple of soldiers, and the wagon on the road.  “Damn,” he said it himself.

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Don’t Forget Tomorrow’s post to end the episode

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Avalon 8.9 Metal Men, part 1 of 4

A whole episode this week in just 4 posts, with posts Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  Enjoy.

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After 1045 A.D. Normandy

Kairos 107: Blacksmith John.

Recording …

Boston and Sukki sat uphill, among the rocks, and spied on the train of soldiers.  Sir Bernard, alias Budman, and Sir Hubert, alias Hoffen, both servants of the Masters from Genevieve’s day led the procession.  A dozen soldiers on horseback who appeared well turned out followed the knights.  The girls could tell the soldiers knew their business by the way they kept their horses in line.  A covered wagon followed them all.

“Elder Stow’s scan shows an alien in the wagon and a bunch of electronic equipment,” Boston whispered, though it was unlikely they would have been heard or noticed unless they shouted.

Sukki nodded to say she heard that.  “I wish we could see inside the wagon.” Sukki spoke in her softest voice.  She was still learning to whisper.

Boston nodded in return, but kept her eyes trained on the procession.  One man followed the wagon.  They could not see his face well since he hid it with his fancy hat and a veil of some sort.  They assumed he wore the veil because of the dust on the road, but they heard in several villages where they stopped that it was the Baron Edgar of Vilmont, an estate south of Rouen.  They followed him for two days, this being the third. They expected to reach the river Dives in the afternoon, the place where William was gathering his army for the invasion of England.

“I bet Baron Edgar is Englebroad, alias Engel Bronson, servant of the Masters,” Boston said.

“No bet,” Sukki said.  She had learned not to bet on something that Boston felt sure enough about to bet on. Boston was usually right.  “Come on,” she said, but waited.

Boston hesitated only to make sure the three riders behind the baron and the forty-four men marching in careful order behind the riders were all still there along with the three ox-drawn wagons that followed them all.  Then they went back to rejoin the others.

“We need to just do away with them,” Decker argued.

“We don’t know what their plans are,” Katie said.  “Worse may happen if we don’t know what they intend.”

“Or what they have up their sleeve,” Lockhart supported his wife.

“A wagon full of electronic equipment is troublesome, not to mention an unknown species of alien.” Elder Stow admitted.

Lincoln felt inclined to agree with Decker.  “The Kairos has told us any servants of the Masters have to be considered enemy combatants and need to be removed from this life.”

“Granted,” Katie said.  “But the alien makes that a problem.  They may have it restrained in some way or be controlling it somehow.”

“Or it may be a prisoner and under duress,” Alexis said.

“Elder Stow?” Decker turned to the Gott-Druk.

“No.  Only a small energy signal,” Elder Stow confessed.  “Maybe photon based so not putting out ambient radiation, but only enough for a hand weapon or two.  Nothing that may explode to any extent to be concerned about.  No bombs detected.”

Tony, who had not taken a side thought to point out one thing.  “But your scanner has not proved one hundred percent.  I know.  You call it a toy.  But in the last time zone, you thought a brigade of oncoming Wolv might be a herd of deer.”

“True enough,” Elder Stow admitted.  “But it is very good at reading energy signatures and metal content.  It is honestly a survey tool not the best at reading disparate life signs.”

“This isn’t getting us anywhere,” Lockhart said.  “We will take care of the servants of the Masters, but first we have to figure out what to do about the alien and whatever equipment it is carrying.”  He turned to Boston and Sukki as they rode up.  “What did you see?”

“They are still plodding along on the main road and should stop for lunch in an hour or so, to get into town just before sundown.  If we hurry, we should be able to use this cutoff road and get into town well ahead of them.  That should give us time to get settled and be ready when they arrive.  I figure that is the plan.”

“The town is probably full of soldiers,” Decker said.

“Getting settled might not be so easy,” Katie agreed with that.

“So, let’s get moving.  The sooner we get there, the more time we have to work things out.”

###

They arrived in the town of Dives and found the soldiers were just beginning to gather so it was not overwhelmed with several thousand men at the moment.  The rooms at the inns in town, including, and maybe especially the inns by the docks were already full or booked, but one innkeeper had a big yard by the beach and the sea which he gladly rented to the travelers so they could put up their tents.  He also sold them plenty of feed for Ghost and the horses, of course at premium prices.  He even had firewood at a price, but Sukki calculated it would cost more to buy their own food and wood and cook themselves than it would to eat whatever the inn cooked for supper that evening.

“Not to mention the work involved in cooking it for ourselves,” Alexis said.  The women agreed.  The men needed to take them out to eat while they were in town.

That afternoon, Boston told everyone that the Kairos would be there tomorrow, probably sometime in the morning.

People understood, and as Katie and Decker both looked at Lockhart, he said, “Unfortunately, depending on what we find out when the baron and his knights get here, we may have to act before the Kairos can be told.”   It was a concession to both sides, that they would try and find out what Baron Edgar had in mind, but by necessity, they might have to act sooner rather than later.  The alien and the electronic equipment they carried was the wild card in this whole thing.

As it turned out, the baron, Sir Bernard and Sir Hubert came strolling into town around sundown with three cavalry soldiers and the alien wagon.  They had prearranged rooms at one of the inns in town and a space for the wagon in the barn.  Apparently, they also prearranged a place on the edge of town for their men to camp, and they met a ship’s captain at their inn.

Alexis and Boston put on glamours to look like a mother and her daughter, with Boston taking special care to cover her red hair.  They went with Elder Stow, a grandfather looking sort of man in his glamour and gray hair and had supper that evening in that inn.  Grandfather had some local coppers to spend so he did not attract attention.  Boston eavesdropped on the baron’s conversation.  Alexis fingered her wand in the hope that she did not have to use it.  Elder Stow kept trying to get a better reading on whatever was in the barn.  He tried to look at his scanner in a subtle way, but he was not very subtle.

“I’ll tell you.”  The ship’s captain raised his voice.  Boston hardly needed elf ears to hear the man.  “I heard ships are coming from as far away as the Baltic.  They all want a piece of English loot and figure William has the best chance of taking the prize.”

That was about the best piece of information she came away with that evening, so after a supper of tough and rubbery chicken, she suggested they leave and try the barn.  They found two soldiers guarding the wagon.  Elder Stow realized that getting close did not help.  He could already identify the quantity and type of metal used down to the molecular level and got a good reading on the alien but could not tell what it looked like.  It seemed all that metal interfered with his scan.  Boston was not for giving up, so over Alexis’ objections, she talked to the guards.

“So, what is in the wagon?”  She pulled her top down to show a bit of breast, swayed a bit as she walked, and smiled to show her good teeth and bright eyes.  “It must be terribly important to be guarded by two such fine men.”

The men were stupid, as only men can be.  They returned her smile and opened up.  “A surprise present for Duke William.” one said.  “But you did not hear it from me.”

“Don’t honestly know,” the other said.  “But it is an animal of some kind.”

“Maybe a hunting dog,” one suggested.

“Maybe a wild and dangerous animal, like a bear or a lion.” the other said, trying to provoke a reaction out of Boston.  “It is a meat eater, whatever it is.”

“They wouldn’t keep an animal like that in the wagon.  At least not without a cage.  Besides, we would hear it.”

“It could be a cub.”

Boston regained their attention by merely leaning into the guard.  She patted his cheek and smiled the whole time.  “So, you haven’t seen it,” she said.

“No one has,” one guard admitted.

“That is why it is a secret,” the other guard said. “I think only the baron and the doctor know what it is.”

“Doctor?”  Alexis heard the word and asked, even as a man climbed out of the wagon.  She saw the man and turned away before the doctor got a good look at her.  She was less concerned about Boston who had to change her appearance considerably to appear like a sixteen-year-old Norman girl.  But she turned Elder Stow away so the doctor would only see him from the back and hopefully would not recognize hm.

Boston saw the man but did not break her stride.  She said good-bye to the guards, thanked them for being so sweet, and left them for the doctor to yell at them.  Back at the campground, Alexis got to name the man.

“Doctor Theobald, or Theopholus, or whatever name he has in this age.”

Boston said now she was curious.  She wanted to go invisible and go back to see what was in the wagon.  Elder Stow even volunteered to go with her, but everyone said no.  At that point, since the baron did not seem to be doing anything in the night, they also needed to get rested and tell the Kairos when he arrived, hopefully in the morning.

M4 Margueritte: Settling Home, part 1 of 3

Margueritte and Roland took Charles outside to the big oak tree that had been cracked down the middle, where the weathered bench offered a place for shade on a hot summer day.  Margueritte had a table set up there, and papers on the table held down by rocks.  She had three things to discuss and wanted privacy, so Charles did not feel put on the spot.

“I heard about your use of cavalry,” Charles started right in.  “Using the horsemen to drive your enemy into the waiting arms of your infantry was near genius.  Besides, I have seen enough with Wulfram and his hundred to begin to think there may be some merit in such a cavalry unit.”

Margueritte looked at Roland.  He smiled as he spoke.  “A year ago, the battle went back and forth. We would have taken the field eventually, but it was a struggle.  Wulfram got his hundred to pull out their lances and they led two hundred more horsemen right into the right side of the enemy.  Three hundred men on horse drove three thousand infantry soldiers right back into the river, and the enemy fell apart.  It was pretty amazing.”

Charles nodded and did not object to the story.  “I have been thinking of ways to use horsemen and have been seriously surprising our enemies with old tactics such as the Huns used in Roman days.  We got away from that, and most have forgotten, so they are like new again.”

“He is drooling at the prospect of a thousand of what you call heavy cavalry,” Roland teased.

“I would not say drooling,” Charles objected before he softened.  “But near enough.”

“Ten years,” Margueritte said.

“You said five, unless I dreamed it,” Charles protested.

“Revised,” Margueritte explained.  “Ask Walaric and Peppin.  They have been working with the men and horses, and they will tell you ten years.  It came to us that old men have old thoughts and are not the best candidates for this new thing.  I can get you several hundred older men, seasoned men, but it won’t be the same.  In ten years, I can get you your thousand, and maybe several thousand in their prime.  You see, it isn’t just the horses we have to train when they are young, it is the men.  Right now, Peppin and Walaric have five hundred boys, sixteen to eighteen, and some as young as fourteen.  We are training them in reading, writing, math, military tactics, history—including what the Huns did, and more.  They are learning to fight on horseback, but also on foot.  They will be all you ask for, but right now we only have them for two or three months in the summer.  Ten years.  By the time they are twenty-four, twenty-five and twenty-six, you can have them, and they can train the young squires that come after them.”

Charles tapped his lips, a sign he was thinking.  “But you are only talking local here.  Wouldn’t it be better to get young men from all over the realm?”

Margueritte smiled.  “Once Pouance is rebuilt, in a year, two at the most, I will be taking horses and men to Roland’s home, where I am sure Horegard and his old friend Adelard of Aldeneik will be fully supportive.  I will duplicate the work and training in Austrasia.”

Charles rubbed his hands in anticipation.  “I like the way your wife thinks,” he said to Roland.  “Did I ever mention that?”

“Ten years,” Margueritte repeated.  “We have to get them when they are young.”

“734,” Charles said.  “Not a year longer.”

“Agreed.”

“Pouance?” Roland interrupted, and Margueritte directed them to the papers on the table.  She let them look but talked at the same time.

“Talliso of Angers took an arrow in the belly and did not last the night.  He has a wife and daughter who might be given a nice home and a small stipend.  Maybe we could find a good husband for the daughter, a man loyal to Charles.  That leaves the whole of Anjou open, with Pouance here in the top western corner by the Breton border.  Pouance is the door to Anjou County.  I was thinking Sir Owien and Elsbeth could be elevated to Count and make their home in Angers.  They would be subject to Tomberlain as the marquis of the Breton Mark, but it would put the whole county in loyal hands, and give you access to more certain taxes as well as men at arms.”

“But what about Ragenfrid?  His property is in Anjou,” Roland asked.

“In a minute,” Charles put him off.  He studied the map.  “What is this other county?”

“Maine,” Margueritte said.  “Tomberlain gives up his corner of Anjou, and in return gets the properties of LeMans.”

“LeMans has sons,” Charles said.  One of his talents was remembering details like that, and Margueritte nodded.

“Two sons.  And the younger is interested in the church, and the elder does not share his father’s greedy nature.  LeMans may live a while, but he is crippled and probably won’t live long, especially if his wound turns.  Let the elder be made a baron for Tomberlain.  Let him keep his home and some small property to support him, and he may become the king’s good and loyal subject in time.  I have suggested as much to him, and he is agreeable.”

“Tomberlain’s headache,” Roland said.

Charles turned his eyes as if the matter was already decided.  “Now, Ragenfrid.”

“I own his sons,” Margueritte said sweetly.  “Do you recall the rental agreement we drew up and sent a copy to Paris?”

“Three cows or three sons,” Charles got a big grin on his face.  “I really like the way your wife thinks.”

“Boys,” Margueritte called.  They were standing off to the side waiting to be called, and they came, Bernard out front, Adalbert and Fredegar a step behind.  They had their hats off and looked very humble.  “They belong to me, and I give them to you.  Put them in your army and teach them how to be men.  Maybe they could be the first of your permanent standing army.”

“No,” Charles said decisively.  “Teaching is not my job.  It is your job.  You take them.  I give them to Roland.”

“Charles,” Roland protested.

“But Charles,” Margueritte interjected.  “I am teaching men how to be knights, not just soldiers.”

“Agreed,” Charles said.  “But the sons of Ragenfrid should be subject to potential knighthood.”

“Grr,” Margueritte said, borrowing the term from some past life.  She was not sure which one.  She stepped over and walked around each of the boys like she might have examined a horse.  “Bernard is a bit old, and Adalbert is already twenty-one.  Fredegar is eighteen.”

“Nearly nineteen,” Fredegar said.

Margueritte stared at her charges.  “Knighthood is a privilege, not a right.  It requires two things.  First, you must exhibit extraordinary loyalty and bravery in battle to win your spurs.  You must live honorably and be faithful to king and country.  Second, you must show evidence of true Christian character and live up to the Christian ideals, to defend and respect women and children, not try to grab them to use as hostages, to be charitable to the poor and help the needy and so on.  Satisfy Charles or Count Owien on these conditions, and he may grant you knighthood.  Then you might receive some property of your own.  I said might, do you understand?”

Fredegar nodded.  Adalbert looked down at the ground.  Bernard spoke like a young man being scolded, “Yes mum.”

“Dismissed,” Margueritte said.  “Go see Walaric and tell him I sent you to be enrolled and be good.”  She turned her back on them and after a few seconds, they shuffled off.

“I could use you in the camp to yell at my soldiers,” Charles remarked.

“She does a great reprimand,” Roland admitted.

“So, knighthood has requirements,” Charles continued.  “I knew the gist of it, but I did not know the act of Christian charity part.”

“Arthur’s rules.”

Charles shrugged.  “Gerraint should know.”

Margueritte looked at Roland with questions in her eyes.  “We heard,” he said.  “Everyone heard, though I am sure most people don’t believe it.”

“I was desperate to stall Ragenfrid and Gerraint was willing.  That’s all.”

“So, Count Owien and Count Tomberlain,” Charles brought them back to the topic.  “Pretty good for your family.”

“They have both proved themselves well on the battlefield,” Roland interjected

“Not for my family,” Margueritte said.  “I will be living on the other side of the world.”

“And their loyalty is without question,” Roland added.

“I’m not against the idea,” Charles said, his hands held up in surrender.  “I can think of many worse options.  I expect Margueritte to draw up the papers, and I will sign them, only you don’t get my sons.”

“I’ll get Pepin at least,” Margueritte said.  “Carloman may put the time in, but he is honestly a reader.”

Charles let out a little laugh.  “Yes, come to think of it, you probably will get them.”

“So, two counties, and men who can support each other in war and peace, and watch each other, even as they watch the Breton.  Is that it?”

“No, we have to talk about Ragenfrid,” Margueritte said.

“What is there to talk about?” Charles responded.  “There are only so many ways to cut a man’s head off.”

M4 Margueritte: Watch and Rescue, part 2 of 3

Out where the town met the castle, the walls that came down from the Paris gate was nine feet for almost a hundred yards before it dropped down to less than seven feet.  DuBois was backing up slowly, trying to make the ground as costly as he could.  Michael and his men were ready to fight and had a hard time keeping still when they saw the men at the back of duBois’ troop coming down through the streets.  Olderon the elf had three hundred elves on top of the short wall to back up Michael.  He, and his command group of six elf lords followed the action as duBois backed away from the castle corner and got into the streets.

“Brave man,” Olderon said quietly.  The others kept silent.  They were on the wall when Ragenfrid’s catapults sent the first volley of stones over the castle wall.  “To your posts,” Olderon ordered as fairies came speeding down the lane Michael made in front of the wall.

“Keep back.  Keep your heads down.  Keep to your places,” the fairies shouted, until they reached duBois.  Then they shouted, “Get in the houses.  Get out of the street.   Get back against the house walls.”

Six hundred lancers, squires, and few knights among them, came roaring down the streets and roads.  Ragenfrid’s men fled back the way they had come, poured out of the town and raced down the Paris Road.  The lancers stopped at the head of the road.  They did not appear the best organized or most impressive looking group, but Ragenfrid’s army wanted no part of those lancers, after they heard what they did to the men of LeMans.

At the same time, Bedwin slowly pulled his men back, like duBois, as Talliso concentrated on the end of King David’s line in the hope of turning it.  Peppin, with three hundred men from the County who came up, and in Tomberlain’s name, drove back the men of Anjou.  When Talliso saw his own flank being turned, and the men of Ragenfrid fleeing, he pulled his men back and retreated carefully to his own camp.

LeMans did not get away with such ease.  His men assaulted the front wall in vain, as Birch and his fairies easily thrust down their ladders, cut their ropes, and kept them away with arrows that rarely missed hitting somewhere.  They saw Creasy withdraw and Talliso follow, so they pulled back without waiting to be told.  But LeMans was around the corner, among the apple trees, concentrating on the postern door.  Unfortunately, he could not figure out how to stick his head out from the trees without getting shot at by the kobold, the brownies, or both.

Luckless and a large party of dwarfs finally pushed up to the postern door.  “You can’t go out there,” Childemund argued.

“Can’t stay in here,” Luckless responded, and pointed at the sky where the rocks were falling.

“They busted the forge,” a red headed dwarf said as he cradled a two-headed axe as big as himself.  Childemund did not doubt these dwarfs were ready for battle.

“On condition,” Childemund said.  “If you succeed in driving LeMans off, let him go and come back into the castle.  You must promise.”

Luckless and all the dwarfs promised with great and colorful language.  After they were let loose, Ringwald the brownie Lord heard that the dwarfs promised, and he laughed and laughed.

“And you believed them?” he asked.  When Childemund nodded, Ringwald laughed harder.

“Heurst,” Childemund called to the kobold lord.  “Bring some men if you want to participate.  We need to go get the dwarfs.”

“They promised to be right back,” Ringwald said, barely, before he laughed some more.

In the end, they got Luckless, and everyone back behind the postern door, but in the meanwhile, Luckless and his dwarfs not only chased off LeMans, they also took a chunk out of the man’s leg.  The man made it back to Ragenfrid’s camp, but he would not live for many days.

Ragenfrid saw his men pulling back and decided on an early lunch.  He would have to revise his attack plans for the afternoon.  The sun would not be favorable by then, so he would have to make some change in direction.  He would also have to decide what to do about Count Amager and Baron Bouchart.  They promised to hold the camp and stay in reserve, but Ragenfrid doubted they would fight.

“What to do?” he said, even as a series of explosions occurred in his line.  He stood and saw the nearest catapult broken to pieces and burning.  He seriously underestimated the resources of the witch.  He would have to finish this quickly.  His source said Rotrude and her children were in the castle.  That was all he wanted.  He knew he could not get her by stealth.  It was going to have to be brute force and manpower.  He still felt confident he would succeed, but first he would have a good lunch.

Lord Yellow Leaf and his warrior fairies flew from Ragenfrid’s lines back to the Paris gate.  He laughed as he spoke.  “Those cat-of-puts won’t be bothering us anymore.”  He let out a Cherokee war cry, and Childemund’s men on the gate all applauded.

Margueritte, Margo, Elsbeth and Jennifer all came upstairs to survey the damage.  The chapel near the short wall looked undamaged.  “I would guess Ragenfrid did not want the stones landing too close to the wall he expected his men to be crawling over,” Jennifer said.

The barn and stables took some hits, along with the manor house.  The house, mostly the roof holes and one spot in the floor of Margueritte’s room all looked repairable.  The stables looked solid, with holes, but the old barn looked ruined.  One whole corner collapsed, the milk cows were out in the yard, one wounded, and the chickens were running wild while potatoes rolled around the yard.  The men would be getting pork for a while as the hog pen looked crushed.  It all looked like a real mess, but it could have been much worse.  The women all showed stiff upper lips until they found the big old oak that had stood all their lives out in front of the house.  It had a crack down the middle and could not have been killed cleaner if it had been struck by lightning.

Margo stared.  Jennifer cried.  Elsbeth wept.  And Margueritte wailed.  Her mother left the oak tree in the yard because it held mistletoe—the last gasp of her pagan, druidic days, when she first married and became a Christian.  She kept the tree up, and it became a sign of stability at times for the whole family.  Margueritte felt this atrocity too much, and everything felt broken in that moment.  Her father got poisoned.  Her baby got killed before he was even born.  Her mother got murdered.  This became too much.

Margueritte felt Elsbeth and Jennifer hold her as she sank to her knees.

###

Margueritte struggled in her funk, but finally resurfaced enough to pull back David’s troops.  She put them on the edge of town where they could fall back to Michael’s position, and she made sure they put out as many obstacles as they could.  On the one hand, it would give the enemy boxes to hide behind, but on the other hand, it would negate a concerted charge and make the enemy crawl around and over things, thus exposing themselves to arrow fire.  It would also give her outnumbered troops plenty of cover.

Peppin complained that putting out all those obstacles would negate his chance to charge with his cavalry.  Margueritte told him he already revealed himself and they now knew where he was.  She told him to send his footmen to reinforce duBois and protect the Paris gate, while his horsemen, dismounted, protected the Breton gate.  She told him, true knights had to be the best and fiercest of fighters, even when their horse got taken away.  In this case, they had to keep a path of access to the gates if they could, in case David and Michael had to retreat behind the wall.

Finally, Margueritte got Ringwald to move down and spread out and hold the front wall, while Heurst and his kobold covered both sides around the postern gate.  This freed Lord Birch and his fairies.  Lord Larchmont went with Peppin, and Lord Yellow Leaf went with duBois, but she borrowed them all, about five hundred fairies, and sent them to the roofs in the line where King David and Count duBois had been.  She knew fairies had to be big to fire their arrows, but she also knew they could get big, fire, and get small again quickly, and thus present a very little target for return fire.  They were to harass the enemy, and not be caught, if possible.  She knew she was tempting the enemy to burn the town to give the men over their heads no place to stand, but she wanted to make the taking of Potentius as costly as possible.

After that, she went back to her tears, but Margo and Elsbeth got her to climb again to the lookout roof which had miraculously survived the catapult bombardment.  Margueritte even roused enough in the climb to comment.

“At least we destroyed the catapults before they started in with the big, wall buster stones.”

“Yes, Lady,” Calista and Melanie echoed each other as they helped Margueritte climb.

Margueritte turned her eyes to Ragenfrid’s lines only long enough to see where he went.  He did, in fact, what she expected.  He concentrated his attack on the center of the town, and poured so many men up that easy incline, King David’s line would have busted open right in the middle.

As expected, Ragenfrid started burning the houses so Birch, Larchmont, and Yellow Leaf would have no place to land.  The fairies got off a number of good shots, and Ragenfrid’s men had to be nervously scanning the skies as they spread out in the streets and came up on King David’s position.

Margueritte guessed Ragenfrid had as many as seven thousand men.  He must have scraped the bottom of the barrel, since Count Amager and Baron Bouchart were holding their men back.  But with those numbers, David’s eighteen hundred beat up men would not hold them back for long.  They might do better when they fell back and got reinforced by Michael’s fresh five hundred, not to mention the elf archers on the wall itself, but they were still outnumbered by more than two to one.

Margueritte had six hundred men on each gate, and that should hold for a time, especially when Larchmont and Yellow Leaf got back into position.  She did not specify where Birch should go, but she imagined he would join the elves under Olderon in the center.  She did not want to watch.

M4 Margueritte: Negotiations, part 4 of 4

They eventually got to discussing just Neustria, and Margueritte pointed out that Orleans, Chartres, Paris, and Soissons all failed to come to Ragenfrid’s call, which was the eastern half of Neustria

“I did not call for their help yet,” Ragenfrid lied.

“Well, even so, I can guarantee Lord Tomberlain, Marquis of the Breton March, will never support you.   His taxes as well as his right arm belong to Charles.”

“He can be replaced,” Ragenfrid threatened.

“Count Michael, what say you?”

“My loyalty is to Tomberlain as it was to his father, Bartholomew, and the people of Nantes and the whole southern march listen to my wife.”

“Here, here,” duBois said.  “And to be honest, I don’t know if Normandy will accept Lord Ragenfrid as Suzerain.”

Ragenfrid yelled.  “This is all nonsense.  I will decide who will be on my border.”

Margueritte smiled, because it was a concession that the Breton March would be on his border, not his territory, though she expected him to backtrack.

“And so will I,” King David spoke up.  “I have a small force here on short notice.  Do not be foolish to think this represents the strength of the Breton people.”

“But he does not know how many men and resources we may have right now,” Margueritte said, coyly.

“Not enough to drive me off,” Ragenfrid responded.

“Or maybe we were just hoping we could come to an agreement without the need for further bloodshed,” Childemund suggested.

“I will appoint men to hold the march that will be acceptable to King David,” Ragenfrid said, with a smile that made Margueritte want to gag.

No one believed him, including his own men.

Eventually, the idea of Marquis of Neustria came up, a title equal to Tomberlain, but not over him.  Ragenfrid insisted on the mayoralty, but that was not going to work.  Charles would see to that, and not be giving it up.

Then Margueritte brought up eastern Neustria again, and Tomberlain’s independence, and offered the title, Marquis of central Neustria.

“But I don’t know if Normandy will accept that,” duBois repeated.

“It had better be acceptable,” Ragenfrid said gruffly

“Of course, that would mean sending taxes and men to fight on the frontier, and accepting Charles as your suzerain,” Margueritte pointed out.

Ragenfrid yelled again that the suggestion of submitting to Charles was totally unacceptable, and no land deal would suffice without the march.  Obviously, he wanted the land to take what he wanted for himself and use the rest to pay off LeMans and Talliso for their loyalty.

Margueritte signaled, and Peppin stood and growled.  “Totally unacceptable.  Lord Tomberlain will not give his place to a rebel.”  He did a credible job, and the Childemund stood and spoke in a quiet voice.

“I don’t believe Charles will allow you to take fully half of Neustria, like a king.  You are not a king, but I will talk to Peppin and Lady Rotrude and find a compromise.”  He walked off, and Margueritte stood, so David, Michael and duBois stood.

“Please,” she said in her most forlorn voice.  “Give me tonight to try and talk sense into Peppin.  Give us tonight,” she said, pointing to the others.  “I know it is my brother Tomberlain whom you would beggar, but I would do almost anything to make peace.”

“Why?” Creasy asked for his own reasons, whatever they might be, and Margueritte suddenly wondered if Ragenfrid promised the man Tomberlain’s place.

“Because if you fight, I will not be able to save you from Charles’ wrath.  If you fight, he will come and destroy you, and your families will be the ones beggared, and the whole Frankish nation will suffer.  Please, give me tonight to talk sense to my friends, and we will have pork tomorrow, if you like.”  She looked at Amager.

“Pork would be fine,” he said, with a smile and a nod.

As she turned to walk up the hill, Baron Bouchart added, “Looking forward to it.”

Margueritte wondered if the baron understood enough of what was going on to have second thoughts.  At least he heard things from a point of view she was sure he never considered.

When she reached the top of the hill and climbed up the half-wall this time, Peppin and Childemund were waiting, and David, Michael and duBois followed her up.  Calista and Melanie, being elves, no doubt heard every word of the meeting and reported as much to the women.  This time the women were as quiet as the men.

“He will attack,” Margueritte said.  “My guess would be first thing in the morning when the sun is in our eyes.”  No one objected to her assessment.  “Even the Storyteller came to that conclusion, and he is a minister, what you would call a priest, and about the most non-violent person I know.”

“Then we better prepare our men and strengthen the sentry posts,” Peppin said.  As sergeant at arms, it was his duty to think of such things.

Margueritte nodded.  “But we are going to have to shift our positions.  I talked to my fairy spies last night.  Ragenfrid has moved away from the castle and toward the town.  I don’t know if he has become aware of the short wall facing the town or not.  Ronan and his men have been working like mad, and they have the wall just short of seven feet tall, so it is too high to jump, but not so high that it cannot be easily climbed.  Gerraint and the others who know about such things say we have to protect the wall.”

“I can move Bedwin and his men to the wall,” King David suggested, but Margueritte shook her head.

“LeMans and Amager are facing the castle, and I have hope that Amager may refuse to fight.  He is still suffering from the enchantment, but he has enough of his own spirit now to where he should be able to fight the enchantment.  I hope Bouchart may also back away, but I have less hope with him, and it should not seriously diminish Ragenfrid’s numbers for the attack on the town.  The people of the town have all been evacuated to Vergenville, so, if necessary, we may all withdraw to the wall.  It is best if we can defend the property, but not imperative.  David, your men fight best together.  DuBois, I need you to stay where you are, at the corner of the castle and the town.  Michael, you need to make a space between the town and the wall, which sadly means tearing down a couple of houses.  Then you need to get whatever wagons, boxes, barrels, and such to build a wall in front of the castle wall, one that your men can get behind.  You need to practice your archery skills.”

Peppin groused.  “You want my men inside the castle?”

“No,” Margueritte said.  “You need to stay in reserve.  Let your veteran men on horseback and foot support David and duBois in the line as needed, and let the rest, the young men on horseback, be ready to sweep in on the flank if it looks like Michael’s line is going to be overwhelmed.”

“And me?” Childemund did not exactly protest.  “You expect my hundred men to hold the castle alone?  If LeMans is facing the castle, I doubt we will be spared from the assault, even if Tours backs off.”

“I want twenty men on the Breton gate, thirty on the postern gate by the kitchens and forty on the main, Paris gate.  I want the other ten outside Rotrude’s room, unless we can convince her to go to Vergenville, at which point the ten can escort her safely there.  I will take care of the defense of the castle walls, and woe to LeMans if he attacks.”

“Lady,” Jennifer objected again.  “It has always been your way to refuse to put your little ones directly in the battle.”

“The Princess put little ones in the battle, I remember.  Generally, you are right, but in this case, Rotrude, Margo, Elsbeth and you, along with all the children who will be held captive underground, no exceptions, makes a difference. The women and children must be protected, and if you will not evacuate, I have no choice.  I just hope whichever one of you said we could hold him off for a day, two at the most was right.”

“Lady,” Calista stepped up, Melanie right beside her.  “We are honored to be included in your battle plans, for once.”

“And you are one of the women with children we will gladly protect,” Melanie said.

Margueritte shook her finger, and her voice was stern.  “And you better not get hurt, either.”

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

MONDAY

Battle seems inevitable.  The defenders need to hold out long enough for help to arrive.  Good luck.  Until Monday, Happy Reading.

*

M4 Margueritte: Negotiations, part 2 of 4

“Wait,” Childemund shouted at Peppin, having put it together in his head.  “The question is, why are we stalling Ragenfrid.  We don’t have the numbers to hold him off more than a day or two, so it seems like we are just stalling the inevitable.”  Peppin looked at Margueritte and waited for her to explain.

“We are talking to try and find a way to make peace.  That much is true, and if we can settle things peacefully, everyone wins.  The thing is, if any of you say the wrong thing so Ragenfrid figures out we are stalling, he will attack immediately, and we will be fighting for our lives.  I will tell you this, but in the meeting, you must promise to keep your mouths shut.  You may directly answer a direct question, but any more would be risky.”  She waited until the men all agreed to stay silent before she told them.

“Maywood flew all the way here from the Rhine with the news.”

“What do you mean, flew?” duBois interrupted and asked about the unusual term, but concluded with an, “Oh, you mean flew.”  He waved his hand in imitation of a fairy.

Margueritte nodded.  “Charles and his whole army are roughly four days out, not counting today.  Larchmont got word to Roland, and they are on their way.  What is more, I got word last night through the dwarf grapevine.  Duke Odo of Aquitaine has sent his son, Hunald with five thousand men from the Bordeaux region.  They are three days away after today.  If we can stall Ragenfrid for three more days, we will have the men to equal his numbers, and on the fourth day, the rebellion will end.”

The men on the wall smiled and congratulated each other, like the battle had already been won, but Peppin had to say something.  “I don’t know if I am a good enough actor to do what you ask.”

Margueritte explained.  “Depending on how the talks go, on a prearranged signal, Peppin is to stand up and protest on behalf of Count Tomberlain and suggest Tomberlain will never agree to whatever it is.  He stomps off, angry.  Then I say I can control my brother and please give me the night so I can talk sense into Peppin’s stubborn head.  I figure that should gain us one more day.”

“I could do that,” Childemund spoke.  “On behalf of Charles, I mean.”  Margueritte stared at him and thought about it.  “I’ve seen plays in Paris,” he went on.  “I always thought it would be fascinating to get up on stage and pretend to be someone else for a while.”

“I’ll write some lines and we will practice,” Margueritte suggested.  “But only back-up.  The best option is with Tomberlain.  I can’t hardly suggest I can control Charles.”

“Ha.  I would like to see someone try,” Rotrude said, but then she began a coughing spell and since she had to go inside, they all went inside.

The following day, just before noon, Margueritte and her men made the trek to the canopy beside the Paris Road.  Ragenfrid and his men came out as soon as they saw Margueritte descending

“The lady is well?” Ragenfrid asked.  He was polite but sounded short tempered.

“Quite well, thank you.  And prepared to make peace,” Margueritte said, but waved and directed everyone’s attention to the beef.  It had been as well prepared as the chicken had been, and again, few words were spoken until the dwarf women brought dessert.  Even Ragenfrid, tempted as he might have been to get on with it, paused long enough to savor the food.  Margueritte felt glad the meal took up an hour or more.  That meant an hour less time she had to babble and delay things.

They had apple pie for dessert and cut nine pieces per pie so in the second pie there were six pieces left over.  It was deliberate.  Peppin helped himself to a second piece and Childemund went right there with him.  LeMans took a second without asking, but Amager of Tours asked, and when Margueritte offered he added a comment.

“If I had cooks like yours, I would never leave my home.”

“I made the pies,” Margueritte offered.

“A woman of talent,” Baron Bouchart praised her.

Creasy took a second piece, so one remained in the pie plate, but Ragenfrid started getting impatient to talk, so Margueritte had to talk.  She would try to guide the conversation.

“Yesterday, I asked what you can do about Charles,” Ragenfrid started right in.

“Quite a lot,” Margueritte answered with a perky smile.  “But first, let me apologize for yesterday.  It was impertinent of the sorcerer to interrupt the proceedings before they hardly got started.  I am sorry for reacting, but I felt he needed to be answered, and most strongly.”

“Yes, yes.” everyone agreed, remembered, and were not about to argue, given what they saw.  Margueritte felt glad one of them did not have the bad sense to call her a witch.

“I want these negotiations to be open and fair and honest, and to that end let me see if I can introduce everyone and suggest why you may be here and that might help us understand the stakes.”  She waited for objections, but she did not wait too long.

“King David is here to make sure the peace between the Franks and Bretons remains secure.  I don’t blame my cousin for not liking an army on his border.  And the Counts Michael and duBois wish the same, to leave Brittany undisturbed.  Beyond that, Michael and duBois have answered the call to arms sounded by the Marquis of the Breton March, Count Tomberlain, and Peppin speaks for him.  Childemund speaks for Charles, and the Lady Rotrude, and please hear me concerning the lady.  If any of you injure that sweet woman at any time or in any way, there will be nowhere on earth where you will be safe.”  Margueritte coughed to clear her throat.  Men held their tongues.

“Now, Lord Creasy and Baron Bouchart are here by invitation.  Creasy is here more on mercenary terms, wondering what he might gain in the way of power, or title, or money, or land, all reasonable commodities in his thinking, such as it is.”

Margueritte looked at Ragenfrid as she spoke and saw by his expression that he suspected as much.  Creasy, who was only minimally paying attention, said something else.

“Is anyone going to claim that last piece of pie.”  He grabbed it before anyone could answer.

“Chew your food,” Margueritte scolded the man.  “You are as bad as my children.  You don’t want to choke.”  She noticed Ragenfrid looked like he would not mind if Creasy choked.

“It is a wonder where the little man puts it all,” Peppin joked

Baron Bouchart, by no means a small man, responded with a laugh. “Indeed.  Though it was an excellent pie.”  He and Peppin shared a friendly look over Creasy’s head.

“Enough!”  Ragenfrid made his word sound like they were getting off topic, but Margueritte understood that Ragenfrid’s real concern was that these were supposed to be enemies.  He did not want them getting friendly.

“Quite right,” Margueritte said, and she picked right up where she left off before Ragenfrid could get another word in.  “The baron, quite to the contrary, believes in Ragenfrid’s cause, but it is a limited cause as Lord Ragenfrid will admit.”  Margueritte held up her hand to forestall Ragenfrid’s objections.

“Ragenfrid, LeMans and Angers all claim, or would like to claim land which is clearly land granted by the king to the Count of the Breton March.  Something equitable may be worked out.  It may cost, and you may not be entirely happy, but I am sure Tomberlain and Margo will not be entirely happy either, but let it be enough so there may be peace.”  Margueritte looked at Peppin, and he merely nodded.

And yes, Talliso of Angers, yesterday you heard me threaten your god, Abraxas, the one in whose name you practice so much cruelty.  That came as one god to another, you might say.  And, unless he has become a fool, I suspect you will not be hearing from him for quite a long time.”  Margueritte did not pause.  “Count Amager is the only one I do not understand.  My Lord Count, why are you here?”

“Because…” he paused.  The man had clearly been enchanted, but under the canopy and the protective spell of Pomadoro and his monks, he started shaking it off.  “I am not sure.”

“Do not fear,” Margueritte quickly told Ragenfrid.  “The enchantment will return as soon as he leaves the sanctuary of the canopy.”

Ragenfrid said nothing, but he denied nothing.  Margueritte continued.

“Now apart from wanting the land, which as I said may be negotiated for a fair price, the whole thing boils down to Lord Ragenfrid wanting the position of Mayor of Neustria— or do you now want all of the Frankish lands?”

“All, but…” Ragenfrid paused, and everyone felt great anticipation in that pause.  “We Franks have lived with two or more kingdoms in the past.  There are options.”

Margueritte smiled a genuine smile because he told her he might consider alternatives to taking everything.

M4 Margueritte: Negotiations, part 1 of 4

After the Count of LeMans got driven from the farm fields, and the Viscount of Angers got prevented from encircling the village, Margueritte opted to talk and Ragenfrid obliged.  King David, Count Michael, Count duBois, Peppin in the place of Count Tomberlain, and Childemund in the place of Charles, all accompanied her down the hill.  Besides the Count Garrold of LeMans and Viscount Talliso of Angers, Ragenfrid brought Count Amager of Tours, Baron Bouchart of Vendome and Sir Creasy, Lord of Dun from the other side.

Margueritte tussled with the Count of LeMans when she surveyed the lands west of the Sarthe.  She found that over the years, LeMans claimed a large portion of the land.  She took it back, one might say she liberated it, and the people were glad to get out from under the greedy count.  LeMans twice sent men over the river, but Margueritte’s troop drove them back, decisively.  If that had been it, Margueritte might have let it go, but know it or not, this rebellion would be the end of Count Garrold’s lands and title, if Margueritte had anything to say about it.

Margueritte also met Count Amager in Tours.  The man seemed a reasonable and honorable man, at least in front of Charles.  She felt rather disappointed to see him supporting Ragenfrid, and she wondered if she might talk to him privately and help him have second thoughts.

She did not know the other three, but the cruelty of Talliso of Angers had been reported to her by more than one man who moved his family out of Talliso’s territory.  The Baron Bouchart came across as dim witted.  And Sir Creasy of Dun seemed too slick and smarmy for his own good.  Margueritte felt surprised Ragenfrid put up with Creasy.  She figured the man must have a large number of soldiers, or money, or both.

Margueritte sent men first to put up a canopy and set a dozen chairs and a long table on the neutral ground at the bottom of the hill beside the Paris Road.  When she walked casually to the meeting with Ragenfrid, she had the dwarf wives bring a light meal of chicken, with a fine dwarf cheese, elf bread, and several bottles of an excellent Bordeaux wine, a gift from Duke Odo of Aquitaine.  She took the end seat and put King David and Michael to her left.  She set duBois on her right and placed Childemund and Peppin beside him, though their backs would be toward the enemy.

Ragenfrid did not hesitate to take the other end seat, and Garrold of LeMans sat to his right.  The others were not sure what they were supposed to do at this unusual gathering.  Count Amager of Tours started to sit next to Garrold, but Margueritte stopped him.

“No, no.  Amager, please sit next to Michael, Count of Nantes, and it is wonderful to see you again.”

“Lady,” Amager acknowledged her and took his assigned seat.  That got the others to sit.  Talliso of Angers sat between LeMans and Amager.  Bouchart and Creasy sat in the last two seats with the little Creasy next to the imposing Peppin.  Margueritte felt sorry that Peppin would probably get indigestion watching the greasy little slime eat.

“Gentlemen,” Margueritte said, and raised her glass.  “My treat, and please enjoy it before it gets cold.”  Again, the enemy hesitated until Ragenfrid laughed and dug in.  Once the meal got started, not much got said.  The food tasted that good.  And when they had finished, the dwarf wives appeared out of nowhere, cleared the table, and left honey sweetened pastries, sliced apples, and a hearty burgundy for dessert.

At last, Margueritte began.  “I have asked to speak with you so we may devise a way to settle all of our differences without the further need for bloodshed.”  She raised her glass.  “I would like to propose a toast for peace.”  Her men joined her right away.  The enemy moved a bit slow, but Ragenfrid lifted his glass and agreed.

“Peace is always preferred.”

“Exactly,” Margueritte agreed cheerfully.  “And I have drawn up a list of the grievances these men have voiced, and I will gladly counterbalance that with your concerns, as you voice them, and then we will see if we can find common ground and a mutually equitable solution that does not involve war and blood.”

“As you well know, the grievance I have is ultimately with Charles,” Ragenfrid said.  “And what can you guarantee about that?”

Margueritte got distracted.  She looked up the hill to where Pomadoro and his monks were holding a magical shield around the canopy area, so that the sorcerer could not interfere with honest and fair negotiations.  Suddenly, Pomadoro fell to his knees, and Margueritte stood and shouted at the sky.  She raised her hands without realizing it and felt almost like an observer in her own skin as her primal calling took over.  The sky overhead turned black, nearly as dark as night, and a great bolt of lightning struck the middle of Ragenfrid’s camp.  It looked like the explosion of a cruise missile.  Men, animals, tents, and wagons were shredded, thrown in the air, and charred beyond recognition.  Then, as soon as it began, it all stopped.  Margueritte lowered her hands, her hair stopped writhing in the wind like so many snakes, the sky returned to a beautiful spring blue, and Margueritte smiled.  She sighed, sweetly.

“I beg your pardon, gentlemen.  The spirits of the earth were threatened by an unnatural force.  That has now been removed.  Lord Ragenfrid, your sorcerer got taken away at the last second, but now I know who did it.”  They watched Margueritte’s green eyes turn fire golden as she turned her head up and shouted at the sky.

“Abraxas.  Nameless gave you the coward’s option of suicide.  You could do the honorable thing and give up your flesh and blood and go over to the other side.  In any case, you have no place in Frankish or Breton lands.  You are coming very close to being banished from the Lands of Danna.  And the lands of Olympus, and the waters of Amphitrite.  If you want to play with the armies of Islam, Junior will only interfere if you screw up, but be warned.  You come here at your own risk.  You better hear me.”

Margueritte fell to her knees and King David and Count duBois were right there to lift her gently and help her back to her chair where she took a moment to recover before she spoke again.

“You will forgive me if I take a rest.  I know our business is important, and I ask you please not to do anything rash in the night, but right now I have a need for a time of quiet.  Please, let us begin again tomorrow.  I will see what the cooks can do with a bit of beef, if you don’t mind.”  She stood, looking a bit shaky.

David and duBois took her arms again and helped her back up the hill.  Michael and Childemund followed while Peppin looked to see Ragenfrid and his companions march back across the field.  Once they reached the top and were out of sight from the enemy, Margueritte let go, took a moment to brush the dust from her dress and turned to David.

“That was a frightening but fortuitous moment.  I should have brought Thomas of Evandell with me.  He is really an excellent actor as well as a bard.”  She looked and sounded not the least bit tired.  She smiled for the others.  “I believe that went as well as could be expected.  Peppin?”  She walked to where Pomadoro and his monks were settled and chanting something.

“They will return tomorrow, at least.  But Ragenfrid is not known for patience.  No telling how long we may be able to keep it up.”

“I pray we keep it up long enough to negotiate peace, though that is the least likely scenario.”  Margueritte leaned down, heedless of the elf ritual of meditation they were performing, an exercise which she knew perfectly well, and she kissed Pomadoro on the forehead.  Then she went back to climb the castle wall to where Margo, Elsbeth, Jennifer, Rotrude, and quite a number of the women, including Calista and Melanie, were taking the sun and saw the whole thing.  All the while the men were asking Margueritte and pressing Peppin for answers as to what they were doing and what they were talking about.

“Ragenfrid will break first,” Rotrude said.

“My money is on LeMans,” Margo said.  “After the drubbing you gave him, it is a wonder he can show his face.”

Walaric came up to join the conference.  He felt unhappy at being left out, but he understood someone needed to keep the men to their duties.  Elsbeth saw him and thought to nudge him.

“The drubbing would have been worse five years from now, after all those young men get properly trained.”  Elsbeth did not really know what she was talking about, but she heard Margueritte say things like that, and she looked up at Peppin, not meaning to leave him out.

“Yes, that was a remarkable use of horsemen, unheard of,” David said.

“Heavy horse,” Margueritte said.  “It’s the new thing, very modern.  You should get some.”

“I’m with Lady Elsbeth,” Peppin grumped.  “It would have been a massacre with fully trained horsemen.  But it is hard to train men and horses when we only have their attention for two or three months in the summer.”

“But it is all we have for now,” Margueritte sighed

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

MONDAY

There may be a chance as long as Margueritte can keep Ragenfrid talking.  Too bad Ragenfrid is not known for patience.  Until then, Happy Reading.

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M4 Margueritte: Battle, part 1 of 2

Ragenfrid showed up on the seventeenth of May and parked a great tent camp across the long field.  The students and soldiers of the county army pulled their encampment up the hill, to the edge of the village and castle where they could look down on their enemies.  The enemy camp looked huge compared to the defenders.  Then came the unhappy surprise as what looked like a second army camped in the north farm fields, half a mile off.  The north fields were still the main fields for the castle and village, since the south fields, being newly cleared, still had stumps and clumps of forest in many places.  Stump-land was territory the little ones could defend, as compared to the flat openness in the north.

“The Count of LeMans has taken the north with about three thousand men.  Looks can be deceiving.” Larchmont reported to Margueritte and her captains.  “The main camp on the other side of the long field looks about the same size but actually holds closer to eight thousand men, more than twice LeMans’ numbers.  Ragenfrid kept five thousand with him and sent the Viscount of Angers, with three thousand of those men to try and circle the town and castle, but we rebuffed them in the evening before the dark elves could have a turn.”

“So Manskin is mad at not getting a turn??” Margueritte asked.  Larchmont smiled, which became visible even on his little face.

“He got a turn in the north when the Count of LeMans tried to send men into the forest under cover of darkness.”

“They didn’t eat any of the men,” Margueritte said quickly, slightly worried

“No but they filed up on horse meat,” Larchmont responded.  The men laughed, even if it had a nervous sound to it, when soldiers from the Breton gate came in escorting Michael, Count of Nantes, Bogart, King of Brittany, and a distinguished looking older man with gray hair and a full beard.

“Welcome cousin,” Margueritte gave King Bogart, alias David, a familial kiss before she turned on Michael.  “Get any more young men stinking drunk lately?” she smiled.

Michael looked embarrassed.  “You remembered that?  Lord!  But I hear Tomberlain recovered, did he not?”

“After father had at him.”

“You should have seen what my father did to me.”

Margueritte gave him a welcoming kiss and invited them to the table where they had various things set up to represent the various pieces in the coming battle.  Elsbeth and Calista came quietly in the back door and said nothing at first.  Elsbeth had two-year-old Bogart on her hip and sat at the table where she held him in her lap.  Calista stood beside Margueritte, and she was dressed this time, not like a house maid, but like an elf warrior.  She retained the glamour of being human, but a woman in armor was not expected.

“And who is our friend?” Margueritte asked, before the mouths closed on seeing Calista.

David did the honors.  “May I present Sir Bedwin of Corveau.  A trusted advisor, as he was for my father.”

“I see,” Margueritte said with a glance at Elsbeth.

“Your majesty, King David,” Peppin and Childemund knew better than to interrupt Margueritte when she was probing, and Walaric had learned to trust Margueritte implicitly, but duBois was new, less than ten years on the northern march, and he felt he should say something.  “We are grateful that you are willing to extend yourself and your people in this time of trouble.  It is a most gracious act for the sake of peace between our two peoples.”

Margueritte smiled.  “You forget, I am half Breton.  David is my cousin.  I wrote to him and Chief Brian, who is getting to look like he will live forever in Vergenville.”

“Brian is here, with a small group of fighters,” David said.  “And also, an old friend of yours, Sir Thomas of Evandell.”

“Thomas?” Elsbeth spoke up.

“Sir Thomas,” Margueritte corrected.  “The king’s bard, and I like to think of him as my bard, too.  It is only fair considering the material I provided for him to make his living.”

“Sir Thomas,” David confirmed.  “He showed great bravery in the face of Curdwallah the hag, and his acts of true Christian charity and piety have been countless.  My mother said you told her those were the two marks for knighthood in King Arthur’s court.  As a professed Christian, he might have joined the round table.”

“He might have,” Margueritte said, but she turned to Sir Bedwin.  “But what brings you here?” she asked.  “I seem to recall when my husband Roland brought letters urging David’s father to keep a serious watch on the coast for Muslim activities, you thought it a great joke.”

“I was summoned,” Sir Bedwin said gruffly.  He was not going to respond to her prodding.

“Oh?” she looked at David, but Elsbeth spoke up.

“I wrote to him.  Owien never would, but when we married, I thought about it.  But now with Owien away with Charles and this trouble come upon us, I thought every letter would help, and this way, I could meet him, and he could see his grandson, if he wanted, and without having to face Owien, son of Bedwin.”

They all looked, but the old man tried not to cry.  “The boy’s mother?” he managed to ask.  Elsbeth appeared confused.  She was the boy’s mother, but Margueritte understood.

“She passed away about six years ago.  I understand pneumonia.  I would not know.  I was not here.  At that time, I was a hostage in the hands of Ragenfrid and forced to suffer through the siege of Cologne.”

“So now he has come up to lay siege here,” Peppin deftly guided the conversation back to topic.

“Yes,” Margueritte said.  “But he will not be able to cut us off here, and that is an order of business you need to know about.  This is why we own the woods,” Margueritte said, with a look at the men who knew, so they could hold Michael, David, or Sir Bedwin as necessary.  When the men nodded to her, she lifted her hand and the glamour that made Calista appear human fell away and she stood there in all her elfish glory.  Michael laughed, and after a moment, David joined him, and said he always suspected.  Sir Bedwin stared, even after Margueritte lowered her hand and the glamour returned, and he had something to say.

“I thought that whole story about the ogres had a ring of reality to it.  You are the witch they said.”

“I am not a witch,” Margueritte yelled.  “Why does everything have to be witchery?  Larchmont, will you come down here and tell these men I am not a witch.”

Larchmont fluttered down much like the last time, but this time he missed the table and took on his big size, which made him look altogether human, dressed in the green garb of a hunter.  “She is not a witch,” he said, and a voice from the back of the room echoed him.

“It is true,” the voice said.  “She has not a shred of magic in her.  Blessed as her reflection was by the gods of old, she hardly needs any ordinary magic.”

“Lord Pomadoro,” Margueritte identified the elf, who appeared, obviously, an elf, and in fact looked like a veritable elf king given the way he dressed and carried himself.  He stood there with what looked like a dozen monks, but they were a dozen more elves dressed in monk’s robes.  They were monks after a fashion, Margueritte imagined, but they assisted the elf wizard who attended the knights of the lance.  Pomadoro took the position when Lord Sunstone finally passed away.”

“My lady,” Pomadoro bowed, regally.

“You better have news about the battle formations, because if you have come about that other thing, I’m not going to talk about that.  I am not doing that.”

“I have only half come about that other thing, For the other half, I have come about the sorcerer in Ragenfrid’s camp.”

“Abd al-Makti is here?”

“Even so.”

“Sit,” Margueritte commanded them.  “All of you sit and wait.  We need to set the battle order.”  She turned to Michael and David.  “Your men are all camped in the woods of the Vergen and have been careful not to reveal yourselves.”

“Yes.  Certainly.” Count Michael and King David assured her.

“Good,” she spoke to Pomadoro.  “As soon as we set the battle order, these men will be going to get their men ready and then will be back here for supper where they can argue about it over a good meal.  After they have gone, you and I need to have an argument.”  Margueritte went straight into the plan that Gerraint, Festuscato, and Diogenes agreed on.  Then she paused only long enough to see if someone pointed out an obvious flaw.  Peppin and Walaric both said the young men were too raw and not trained nearly well enough, but that objection she expected.

Once the men left, and Elsbeth left with Bedwin holding little Bogart’s hand, Margueritte said “No.”  She explained.  “Greta used the knights of the lance in Dacia, and I still feel guilty about that.  Then they seemed to come out of nowhere when I, I mean, Festuscato was trying to help Patrick get started.  I think I got blindsided.  Then again, they helped Gerraint against Claudus, and I was very grateful for their help, but please, it is enough.  They are not of this world, and for a good reason.  They have their place, to defend Avalon from demons.  Their place is not here, fighting in a transient human event.”

“Just a few in front to help guide your young and inexperienced men—the raw ones.”  Pomadoro smiled at remembering the term.

“No, no, no.” Margueritte paused.  “I’ll think about it.  Tell me the rest of it.”

“The sorcerer.”

“I do not want him dead, yet.  I need to know who is behind him, the source of his power.”

“I understand.  But he is able to interfere with whatever battle plans you follow.  With these monks, we will generate more than sufficient power to block him.  I propose only to prevent his interference, but you must fight your own battles.”

“You sound like Gerraint.”

“I accept the compliment, but understand this, the sorcerer’s source, and we believe it is a god who has not made the journey to the other side, if he or she should grant the sorcerer a temporary surge of power, we may not be able to stop him.”

“I do understand, and while I never want to put you in danger, I almost wish he tries that because that would be something I could trace.”

Lord Pomadoro bowed and Margueritte stepped out of the great hall, Calista on her heels.  “What do you think?” Margueritte asked her house elf.

“I think you will let some of the knights guide your young men,” she said.  “Even like an arrowhead, as they did in Dacia, and again with Lord Gerraint on this very field.”

“How old are you again?”

“Two hundred and eighteen.  I am not that old, but we elves have a long memory, as you very well know.”

Margueritte nodded.  She did know that, and in fact she knew just how much danger her elves would be in if Abd al-Makti received a surge of power to break through their shield.  She did not want to think about that.

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.

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

It took four days before Aden and Jennifer could be located, and three more before Thomas of Evandell sent word that he would be along shortly.  Several days later, they gathered at the Triangle, and by then, Owien raced home, trying to keep up with Tomberlain and Roland.  By then, of course, it was far too late.

Margueritte got taken rudely from her cart at the base of the long hill.  Her hands remained tied, but the gag came off, and had been for most of the last part of the journey.  It hardly mattered.  Margueritte had nothing to say.

“I had rather hoped we would see evidence of your friends before now.”  Finnian McVey said, and looked down on her from horseback.

Margueritte looked up at him and squinted against the morning sun; but her mouth remained closed.

“I was afraid it would come to this,” Canto said.  “She will not give you what you want, so now what will you do?”

“Follow through,” McVey sneered.  “That is where most men fail.  The threat just whets the appetite.  It’s the follow through that gets them.”  He waved to Roan and Morgan who took Margueritte’s arms and began to escort her up the nearest hill.

It seemed to Margueritte that Canto might be having second thoughts.  The men were all looking about, and looking up, and the horses had seemed skittish for the last several miles.  Roan and Morgan looked positively frightened to death to be so close to the dragon’s lair, and they barely held on to their charge as they climbed the path that had been well worn over the last eighteen months.

Canto and McVey dismounted and followed.  They seemed less concerned about the danger.  Canto imagined he knew something about dragons, and no doubt banked on the wisdom that the druids had gleaned over the centuries.  McVey rather banked on the odds, believing that he could escape while the dragon paused to eat someone else first.

“You druids have always been a bloody lot,” McVey said.  “You should have no problem with a single human sacrifice.”

“This is not the sacrifice of an enemy dedicated to the gods,” Canto responded.  “But I believe I understand your attitude at last.”

“Oh?”  McVey never thought of himself as being transparent.

“Yes,” Canto said.  “If you cannot get the spirits of the earth to serve you, you are determined to see that no one should have them.”  He said what Margueritte thought.

McVey stopped, so they all stopped.  “Those are your wards, not mine,” he drawled, not exactly denying the accusation.  “But if this bothers yeh so much, yeh can go down and make sure the men are ready.”

Canto paused, glanced once in Margueritte’s direction before he returned to the base of the hill.  McVey made the others finish the climb to the top.

They found a rock-strewn place at the top of the hill and a hole in the hillside which smelled unmistakably of dragon.  No doubt, there was plenty of gold in that hillside as well, but no one would be foolish enough to try and fetch it.  Margueritte got dragged to where two iron rings had been driven into a rock face.  How anyone stuck around long enough to secure the rings without becoming dragon lunch was beyond Margueritte, but clearly, they were there for the sacrifices.  Roan and Morgan secured her hands to the rings, Morgan said, “Sorry, sorry,” because of the ropes, and then they backed away quickly.  He did not wait for McVey to give the order.

“Be that way then,” Finnian McVey said to her.  “Though you’re a skinny little thing, hardly a snack for the beast I imagine.”  He took one long look around, not at the cave, but at the hilltop and rocks, believing his eyes might see any elves or dwarfs hiding there.  Truth is, they might have been there all around, but his human eyes would never perceive them, and Margueritte would never ask them to manifest in the dragon’s mouth.  McVey turned without another word and stomped off, not so much as giving Margueritte another look.

There followed one moment when Margueritte heard the rumbling in the cave and McVey still looked visible; but with the sound he picked up his pace and soon became lost from sight.  That gave Margueritte the moment she needed.  She had to act fast.  She cried out for her armor, and it came and fitted itself perfectly to her size and shape—the same armor that once perfectly fitted Gerraint, and Festuscato in his day.  With this, she thought to her Athena woven cape and the cape responded.  It grew longer until it touched the ground, wrapped itself around her and raised the hood up by itself which also grew large enough to completely cover her face.  She remembered that Athena had told the Princess in ages past that the cape was fireproof, and indeed, many things proof.  It seemed better hope than none, though unfortunately, there was no way it could stretch sideways to cover her arms and hands, spread out and tied as they were.

“Ankh.”  She heard the beast close by.  She shouted out in the Agdaline tongue as fast and as loud as she could.

“No fire!  Do no harm!  Friend, friend!  No eating, no fire!  Do no harm!”  She wondered if it would do any good. “No fire!  Do no harm!  Friend, friend!”  Margueritte yelled.  She felt a snout touch her side.  She squeezed her eyes tight and barely kept from screaming.  Then there came the fire.  She felt the heat.  Her left hand became aflame, but quickly came free of the rope.  She did scream.  The snout came again and sniffed at her and blew her hood up ever so slightly with hot air.  The hood fell back in place, but not before she saw the bulk of the beast.  It looked larger than she remembered.

Margueritte pulled her hand inside her cloak and tried to examine it, carefully.  Her glove and wrist guard prevented the worst, but the tips of her fingers were badly singed and would no doubt blister.  “No fire!”  She kept screaming.  “No eating!  No fire!”

Then one nostril of the beast poked under her hood and pushed the hood behind her head.  Margueritte bit her tongue before she saw something which explained a great deal.  “Mother.”  She said in Agdaline.  “Mother!  Mother.”  She saw a little, feathered serpent as long as her leg flitting beside its mother’s outstretched wing.  The dragon took a deep whiff of Margueritte before it raised its’ head.

“Baby.”  The dragon responded in Agdaline.

Three more babies roughly as long as the first came up beside that first, and Marguerite could see in the distance that there were perhaps five more.  “Mother!”  Margueritte said again.  “Protecting and defending your babies.”

“Protect.  Defend,” the dragon responded.  “Baby.”

“Feeding your babies.”  Margueritte continued in the Agdaline without realizing it.  Some internal prompts were coming through time.

“Feed babies.”  The mother dragon spoke and Margueritte gulped.

“Sheep,” she said quickly and waved her burnt hand in the direction away from the cave.  “Sheep.  Cows.”  She suggested quickly.

The dragon faced her again and came close, to take one more, long sniff.  “Baby,” it said.

“Mother.”  Margueritte responded and tried not to scream again.

“Sheep.”  The dragon said, and jumped to flight, let her wings out suddenly and flapped with all her might.  It made a bit of a whirlwind which scattered her own babies.  Margueritte felt sure it would have knocked her to the ground if she was not still tied by one hand.  The dragon shadow made a circle on the ground as the beast went once around for a last look before it set off on the hunt.

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MONDAY

Apparently, Margueritte is now a dragon baby.  Don’t miss next week when Margueritte, Mother, and the babies all take a turn in Protect, Defend.  Until then, Happy Reading

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