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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What have we here?”  The imp asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Don.  Danna.  Wait.  Please.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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MONDAY

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

 

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M3 Margueritte: Trouble in Banner Bein, part 2 of 3

Almost exactly a year after that day, when Elsbeth, now seven came with her, Maven found them by the stream near the grotto where the sheep were watering.   Elsbeth liked to dance through the clearing.  In truth, Elsbeth liked to dance as much as she hated to cook.

“Come along,” Maven said.  “Bring your sheep up to the meadow.  I have special treats for you today.”

“Elsbeth.”  Margueritte called, but Elsbeth did not answer.  Margueritte stepped to the clearing and reached out while Elsbeth danced.  She took hold of Elsbeth’s scarf and pulled, expecting her sister to come along, but the scarf came free and Elsbeth stuck out her tongue as she continued to pirouette across the grass.

“She’ll be along when she’s hungry enough,” Maven said, as she turned to climb up out of the hollow.  Margueritte shrugged but held on to Elsbeth’s scarf as she took her crop to drive the sheep to the meadow.  Her old dog followed but he did not really help.  He was more of a hunting hound than a sheep dog, and of an age where he had a hard-enough time getting himself up the hill without trying to drive sheep as well.

Atop the hollow, on the meadow’s edge, Maven huffed and puffed right along with the dog.  Margueritte smiled as the sheep spread out to graze.  “What special treats?”  She asked, not really expecting an immediate answer.

“Heavy ones.”  Maven feigned her need to sit and rest, as she always did.

“Well, as long as they weren’t cooked by Elsbeth, I am sure they will be good.”  Margueritte joked, mostly to herself.

No sooner had Maven set down her burden by the old oak, and the dog prepared to curl up in his usual spot, a scream from Elsbeth pierced the air.  Margueritte turned.  Maven looked ashen and the dog perked up his ears.

“Elsbeth!”  Margueritte shouted, but Elsbeth screamed again, and then a third time as Margueritte began to run.  Maven waddled after as fast as she could, and the old dog paced Margueritte and began to bark wildly at something unknown.  Elsbeth screamed again, but the scream echoed from some distance downstream.  Margueritte and her dog turned to follow, but Maven raised her voice, and that alone was so unusual it made Margueritte stop in her tracks.

“Hold where you are!”  Maven shouted as she puffed up the last few steps.  “Someone’s taken her, that is certain, and I’ll not have you follow and get lost or taken yourself.  Quickly, now, home to your father.  Let him raise the men to follow proper and be quick.  The quicker, the better.”

“No,” Margueritte protested and turned after her sister, but Maven grabbed her by her arm.

“I’ll not argue.  And I’ll not lose you, too,” Maven said, sternly.

“But the sheep.”  Margueritte reminded her.  Maven paused and looked toward the meadow.  “I’ll not leave them.”  Margueritte pressed her words.  “And I’ll have Ragnar with me to protect me.”  She pointed at the dog.

Maven spat at the dilemma, but she let go and began to waddle at top speed toward the triangle, saving only enough breath to shout back.  “You better be here and safe when your father comes, or it will be my life.”  She knew the risks.

Margueritte did not really know what to do.  “Elsbeth,” she breathed.  She knew, especially if the kidnappers were on horseback, they were well out of her reach by then.  She turned slowly, the dog panting beside her, and climbed back to the meadow with her head hung low.  When she arrived, however, a surprise greeted her.  The sheep were gone, everyone.  Look as she might, she found neither sight nor sound of any of them.  She wanted to cry, and might have, if a voice in her head had not said, “Leave them alone and they’ll come home.”

“Wagging their tales behind them,” Margueritte said out loud in a flat voice while she fingered the cloth in her hand.  The dog barked.  Margueritte took a closer look at Elsbeth’s scarf, the dog, and had an idea.

They went back to the stream and she rubbed the scarf all over the poor old hound’s nose.  She repeated the word, “Elsbeth,” as she did.  Then she let go, pointed downstream and tucked the scarf into her dress.  “Elsbeth.”  She said it again, several times.  The dog was slow but got it in the end.  He began to sniff the ground, round and round where Elsbeth danced, and he snorted several times at what was probably a strange scent before he at last settled on a direction.  The dog trotted, and Margueritte had to trot along to keep up.  A good hour passed before Margueritte wished she had brought some of Maven’s dinner with her, and another hour before she absolutely had to stop and rest.

“Thank the Lord you are old and can hardly move fast,” she said, as she patted Ragnar’s nappy head.  He had never wavered in his trail.  They left the stream behind and headed right through the woods called the Banner.  These were much wilder and untouched than the woods of Vergen.  There were no roads here at all, and no sign at all of human encroachment.  The terrible rocky soil made it impossible to farm, and the ridges of rock that broke it up made it worse.  The greatest ridge was Banner Bein, and people said it was full of caves where kings of old were buried.  This was not a place Margueritte wanted to be alone in the dark, but as it turned only an hour or two beyond noontide, Margueritte imagined she had plenty of time yet before she should have to worry.

“Okay.”  She got again to her feet and gave the dog another good whiff of Elsbeth’s scarf.  “Time to move.  Elsbeth,” she said.  “Elsbeth,” she repeated, and then she realized that two hours of her own dress pressed against the scarf might have the poor beast confused.  Still, he picked up a scent of some kind and started out, and Margueritte stayed right behind.

At one particularly rocky place, the dog stopped.  It appeared to be confused.  They were in a small dip covered with eons of fallen leaves.  All around were rock facings, boulders of various sizes, some that seemed to grow right out of the ground along with the trees, both birch and pine.

“What is it?”  Margueritte asked the dog as if he might answer.  Suddenly, the dog growled and leapt.  A black bear came growling and staggered into the little clearing.

Margueritte screamed several times while dog and bear went at each other.  The dog got a good hold of the bear’s shoulder with his old jaws, but the bear knocked him off and with a great paw swipe and sent the dog into the nearest boulder.  Fortunately, the bear seemed to have had enough and rushed off down the hill to lick its wounds.  The dog, however, did not move when Margueritte fell on it.  The dog stopped breathing, and Margueritte began to cry as her foolishness suddenly came to mind with a vengeance.  She had gotten herself utterly lost in the Banner, and it would be dark soon enough.  She became wracked in tears, and for Elsbeth as much as herself, and she stayed that way, crying on the poor dog’s face until something rather sharp poked her in the side.

Margueritte jumped back.  She thought for a brief instant that the bear had returned, and her quick motion almost frightened off the beast.  It pranced a little but settled down to stare at the girl with sad, deep-set and intelligent eyes.  The one, long horn that grew from its’ forehead looked silver in color, while the beast looked white, yet the horn sparkled ever so slightly, and the beast glowed a bit in the shadow of the trees.  This told Margueritte that this was a creature not entirely of this world.

“Will you help me?” Margueritte asked, with great hope in her voice, and never doubted for once that the unicorn would understand exactly what she asked.

The unicorn nodded and shook little sparkles from its mane.  It lowered one leg to invite the maid to ride.  Margueritte did not hesitate.  Faith guided her.  She got up on the unicorn’s back and immediately the unicorn started out at a gentle pace.

“Are we going to Elsbeth?” Margueritte asked.  The unicorn nodded again and Margueritte said “Thank you,” and cried some more into the unicorn’s glorious mane.

Another hour passed of up-hill and down, through the trees and across unexpected meadows.  One meadow showed signs of a recent fire, which might have been a ritual fire of some kind.  Margueritte did not want to look too closely.

At last they came to the face of a rock outcropping on Banner Bein and stopped.  Margueritte got the message and slipped off the unicorn’s back.  She faced the rocks and saw writing of some kind, but it looked like runes—clearly pre-Roman.  She squinted at it, but the runes made no sense except for one name: Danna, Danu or Don, depending on the accent.  “This is the place where kings are buried,” Margueritte said and the unicorn nodded and stomped its’ foot.  “And where gods of old were buried in the time of dissolution,” she added, and again the unicorn nodded and stomped.  “But how may I get in?”  She asked and stepped aside while the unicorn stepped up.  The unicorn touched the very name of Don and stepped back.  Something creaked, groaned, and it sounded like rocks scraping against rocks, but slowly a door opened in the hillside.  The opening stood ten feet tall and eight feet wide.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

M3 Margueritte: Samhain, part 3 of 3

In the morning, there were jugglers and acrobats, men on stilts, little people, and people who told fortunes for a price.  The cloth got a really good going over, and some actually got bought.  The highlight of the day, however, came before the noonday dinner.  It was a horse race that Constantus always won and in which Bartholomew always came in second.  The thing seemed so sure the rest argued about who would be third.  That year, however, there were some new entrants, and the one true unknown factor was how the Spaniard’s so-called Arabian might perform.

The course looked simple enough.  First came a short stretch to judge speed, but then the real test began.  Second came a field, newly flattened, as well as the people could get it, where a spear had to be put through each banner in the field.  They were spaced like chutes on a ski slope and each miss deducted points.  Third, one entered the obstacle course which involved jumps over various heights and widths with carefully measured distances between.  Last came the endurance test and it involved a real race down a long stretch of road, around the distant post and back to the finish.

Sir Barth came in fifth in the speed portion, but that was normal since his charger had not been bred for speed alone.  By the time he finished stabbing the banners, he stood in third place, but there he stayed.  The Arabian surprised everyone and kept up with Constantus’ courser the whole way.  There even came one point at the end, when they rounded the endurance pole, that it looked as if the Arabian might actually win.  Constantus eked it out by a nose, and later, the king’s men discovered that the Arabian was in bad shape after the race, as if the rider pushed it almost beyond endurance.  Some suggested it may have been drugged beforehand to perform.  That did not mollify Lord Bartholomew however, who finished a whole length behind the other two.

“I would not have minded third,” he said after.  “If it did not give that Ahlmored fellow something to brag about.”

“Come now.”  The baron whose eldest son came in seventh consoled his friend.  “I don’t think that will even register on his scale of brags.  Didn’t you know everything among the Arabs is bigger and better than anything we poor backwards People of the Book have?”

Barth laughed.  He had heard the man speak.

“But what I want to know.”  Constantus smiled.  “Is when will you give up this foolishness?  You will never beat the Gray Ghost.”

“The man names his horses?”  Lord Bartholomew made it a joke.  “He names his horses,” he repeated for a passing stranger.

Back at the inn, they found Thomas of Evandell, king Urbon’s bard, entertaining the children during their noon meal with tales of King Arthur and his knights of the round table.  Margueritte especially loved the story of Gerraint, son of Erbin, and how he won the hand of the beautiful Enid.

Sir Barth noticed that the bard carefully covered the fact that Arthur and his knights were decidedly Christian, but he did not cover it too well.  Actually, it was masterfully done so no Christian would doubt, but no druid would have reason to suspect, or if they suspected, they would have no grounds with which to accuse.

Even Elsbeth, in her way, appeared fascinated by the stories, as was her brother Tomberlain, though he spent much of the mealtime holding his head and grimacing.  After the meal, they had free time among the booths and plays.  There were puppets in the afternoon while the men and boys were off in sport, having combats, or playing games which were very much like combats.

Finally, evening began to approach.  Food got hastily prepared so the fires could all be put out.  The adults were with the king, and Father Aden of Iona, known locally as Aden the Convert, came to the inn.

“No,” he explained to Maven, along with a great deal of the Christian religion, he was not welcome at the pagan festival.  “The king hears many of my words and I like to think I am gaining some ground, but Duredain the druid still has the king’s true ear and Brian, the village chief here is a strong believer in the old ways.”

“Get up and help,” Marta yelled, but it did no good.  Maven appeared glued to Aden’s every word.  Margueritte imagined that as soon as the lights went out, Maven would find a corner for a quick nap.  Meanwhile, she kept Aden busy with her questions, and would continue rather than work for as long as she could think of questions to ask.

“So, tell me, little one,” Aden said at last when Maven needed a breath.  He turned to Margueritte, much to her surprise.  “Why has your father not been baptized?”

“Because.”  Tomberlain spoke up for his sister’s shyness.  “Father says that Mother is a Christian and that is about as much religion as any given family can stand.”

Aden nodded, but his eyes stayed on Margueritte.  “You have the Celtic look about you with your round face, big features, long, dark hair and sparkling green eyes.  You are much like your mother, but I suspect Elsbeth will favor her father and bear the more sharp and angular features of the true Franks, and with plain brown hair and plain brown eyes as well.”

“And what am I?”  Tomberlain asked.

“The perfect blend of two worlds,” Aden responded without hesitation, but then he verbalized the thought that rested in the back of his mind.  “Curious.  Of the three Frankish lords given Breton borderland, two chose to marry among the very people they were sent to guard against.”

Margueritte temporarily got over her shyness to speak.  “Mother says, the better to tie two people together in peace and mutual succor, whatever that means.”

“Well said.”  Aden the Convert laughed.  “And a very diplomatic answer.  Peace is always the hope of every right-thinking man and woman.  Still, that other Breton wife, that Curdwallah woman, she even scares me a little.  In Christ, I should have no fear of anything in this life, but there is something unearthly strange about her that clings to her like a demon.”  He shook his head.  “But this is not the time to speak of it.  Cheer up, children.  The fire will only be out for a little while and then soon enough it will be full day again.”

The fire got put out and the cold seeped slowly into the room.  Margueritte and Elsbeth huddled.  Maven snorted a little in her sleep.  Marta sat as close to Aden as she dared, and everyone looked at the door and hoped the ceremony would not be too long.  Only a deep glow of moonlight came in from the outside through the holes in the wood-board window.  A cat cried and everyone jumped.  Then the door crashed open and Margueritte and Elsbeth screamed; and Marta joined them.  They knew who it was though her image appeared just discernible in the moonlight against the dark sky.  Curdwallah paused in the doorway, with her eyes all aglow in the dark.

“What do you want here?”  Father Aden spoke loud and clear.  If the woman frightened him, he did not show it.

“What do you think?  I have come to steal the children, to eat them,” she said, and the renewed screams of Margueritte and Elsbeth made Curdwallah laugh.

“In Christ, Jesus, you will not have them,” Aden said, not knowing exactly if she might be serious.

Curdwallah laughed again.  “I live here, you dolt.”  She pushed passed to the stairs, but not without one more look at the children with her glaring, glowing eyes.  She went up, presumably to her room, and everyone breathed.

“Did I miss it?”  Maven mumbled in her half-asleep state.

“I think not,” Marta answered just before a man with a torch could be seen through the open door going from house to house relighting the home fires.

Several hours later, Margueritte got awakened by the sounds of arguing.  “The man was rude beyond words,” her father said.  “Ahlmored.”  He spat.  “The man makes me want to become a Christian like you and my mother just so I can wish him into Hell.”

“Bartholomew!”  Lady Brianna scolded with her voice, but her hands never stopped packing.

Sir Barth kicked the chair and Margueritte was fairly sure Tomberlain woke up.  She was not so sure about Elsbeth.

“Shh!”  Brianna tried to quell the volcano.

“No man should make suggestions to another man’s wife.  And he touched you!  He brought three wives of his own.  Let him touch them, abomination though they may be.  God knows how many wives he left home.”

“He comes from another world,” Brianna said, in her most reasonable voice.  “Maybe they just do things differently where he comes from.  He might not understand.”

“Understand?!”  Her reasonableness only fueled his fire.  “What is there to understand?  He is a man.  You are a woman.  I had a good knife for the meat.  The way he was looking at you, I should have cut his eyes out.”

“King Urbon will not be happy at our leaving,” she pointed out.

“The baron can speak for the Franks,” he countered.  “And if his majesty is displeased with our leaving, then perhaps he should think twice before inviting a lecher into his court.  Now pack.  We leave at first light.”  He stormed out of the room and Brianna sat down for a moment to collect herself.  Elsbeth crawled up into her lap.  Margueritte and Tomberlain stayed quietly in bed, but their eyes were wide open.

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

MONDAY

Margueritte faces trouble in the Banner Bein, the wild haunted woods south of her home where the Amorican kings of old were buried.

*

M3 Margueritte: Samhain, part 2 of 3

The strange looking man spoke much too loudly.  “The Great Lord Ahlmored requires you to stand aside so his train may pass.  Then you may follow up after as you please.”

Bartholomew looked shocked for a second at the audacity.  He looked at his men and laughed loud and long.  “You go back and tell your Lord Al-mud the Franks stand aside for no one.”

“Eat our dust,” Margueritte whispered to Tomberlain, who snickered.

 “Hush.”  Brianna quietly scolded the children and turned to speak as if she was the only one to fully realize the seriousness of what was happening.  “Young lord.”  She spoke up, and Sir Barth and the Frankish soldiers looked to her, being accustomed to her good counsel.  The stranger looked taken aback, at the sight of a woman speaking, and an unveiled one at that.

“The soil of this land is full of sand and I understand how difficult it can make traveling, but here it is near mid-day.”  The lady looked up through the trees as if judging the sun.  “Perhaps your lord may be willing to pause and refresh himself while we push on.  Surely by the time he is done, our dust will be well settled.”  It seemed a fair suggestion, only the stranger simply could not hear a woman’s words.

“If you will not move, you may be made to move, kafir!”  The man growled and spun his steed to the rear and sped off.

“Form up.”  Sir Barth understood the threat well enough.  He pushed the wagons out front with orders to move on to the village as fast as they could.  “Don’t draw sword unless I give the word,” he said.  It did not take long for Margueritte to hear the sound of approaching horses before a dip in the road obscured both the sight and sound.

“Mama.”  Tomberlain may have wanted to say he would be a man and take care of them all, but he clearly felt afraid.

“Hush,” Brianna said again.  She listened for something the children could not hear.  Margueritte guessed she was praying.

It turned out not long at all, perhaps twenty minutes, before they heard the horses again, coming up fast.  Lady Brianna breathed deeply, and the children cheered when they saw Sir Barth.  Old Lord Bernard rode beside him, trailed by some fifteen well-armed Franks.

“Lord Ahlmored was as loathe to draw arms as we were, but he had about two dozen men and no doubt planned to move us off the road by force of strength,” Bartholomew explained.

“Luckily, I had just caught up with his slow-moving procession.”  The Baron jumped in.  “It took a minute to figure out what was happening, but then we came straight on while my wagons pushed right by the fools.  Jessica should be along in a minute.”  He looked back for his wagons while Sir Barth finished the tale.

“I guess they decided not to try us once the numbers were more or less equal.  I will say, though, he is an arrogant son of a—”

“Bartholomew!”  Brianna did not want to hear the rest; especially in front of the children.

It took more than a minute for the Baron’s wagons to catch up, and Brianna had a chance to welcome Lady Jessica.  Then with five good wagons and some twenty men at arms, they made quite a procession when they entered the village.  A nearby field had been set aside for the servants and soldiers to set up camp.  The nobles and their families went on to the inn.

Constantus, the Roman, and the first great house just south of the triangle, had already arrived with his wife, Lady Lavinia.  Old acquaintances were renewed, but Margueritte sighed, because the baron’s youngest was sixteen, and Constantus’ youngest was fifteen, and they were both boys.  Tomberlain would be a rare sight during their stay as he would be hanging with the boys.  That left only three-year-old Elsbeth for comfort, and she was small comfort.  Thus, Margueritte decided she would have to leech herself to her mother and act grown up the whole time they were there.  It would be hard, but it felt better than being alone and left out of things.

Urbon, king of Amorica, had come into town the day before and already established himself with his court in the great house with the wooden towers, which was his only residence for the once-in-four-years visits.  Meanwhile, the village square and another adjacent field were already set up with booths and festivities and Margueritte’s mind turned to sweet meats and toys.  All they had to do was check their rooms and they could be off to the fair.

“You will love this, Elsbeth,” Margueritte told her sister.  “Everything about the Fall Festival is wonderful.  I know I loved it when I was your age.”  Of course, in truth, she could hardly remember it when she was three, but since then, and especially in the days of anticipation before coming, it had been built up so wonderfully in her mind, Margueritte was in danger of disappointment lest the reality not live up to her imagination.

Elsbeth chose that moment to scream and Margueritte screamed with her.  As they walked into the inn, a woman startled them terribly.  She was the most wrinkled and ugly, half-toothless, gray haired hag of a lady Margueritte had ever seen.  The woman’s eyes glared at the children as if piercing to their souls, and it seemed those eyes looked without blinking.  Lady Brianna picked up her baby and Margueritte found herself in her father’s firm grasp.

“I must have frightened them.”  The woman expressed a touch of glee in her voice as if she felt delighted by that prospect.

“Startled, perhaps is all,” Lord Bartholomew said, as he acknowledged the woman.  “Lady Curdwallah.”

The Baron broke in.  “Once again, m’lady, let me express our deepest condolences on the loss of your husband and children, though it was now so many years ago.  We have not forgotten him, or you, and we continue to remember you in our prayers.”

“Faugh!”  Curdwallah said.  “Thank you, but it would be better if you stopped bringing it up every time we met.  It is done.  That is that,” she said, and walked out toward the village square and the king’s house.

“A hard woman,” Bartholomew breathed after her.

“Indeed,” the baron said as he directed them to a table.  Margueritte got carried along with them.  They got drinks, though Margueritte found her portion of cider watered to almost nothing.  She looked at it, but only for a moment.  Traveling was thirsty business, and then she did want to hear what they were saying about the hag.

“I, too, have written to the king.”  Baron Bernard was speaking.  “And concerning myself as much as Lady Curdwallah.”

“No.”  Bartholomew protested, but Bernard simply moaned and rolled his arthritic shoulder in response.

“Indeed,” the baron continued after a sharp, strong drink.  “The king and the mayor do not appear overly concerned with the Amorican Mark.  Too many years of peace, plus he is older now as I am, and the political wrangling has stepped into the power gap.  I have seen the same thing happen before elsewhere, in type.  Some say the Roman Cicerus is to be watched, but my money is on Ragenfrid.”  He took another drink and added an afterthought.  “I can’t say as I like the man, personally, though.”

“What about that young Charles fellow?” Bartholomew wondered.

“I don’t think we can count him out, being of the mayor’s issue, but at this point he is terribly young, I would guess around seventeen.” Bernard agreed. “He is a fine young man and has a good military mind.  If the peace is broken with the Saxons or Burgundians, or for that matter, with Amorica or Aquitaine, however unlikely that may be, and something should happen to Pepin, I would not be surprised to see him elevated all the way to Mayor of the Palace in his father’s place, next in line to the king himself.”

There came a break in the conversation as a commotion outside drew them all to the door.  Margueritte watched from the feet of the two men who ignored her completely. Ahlmored, the ambassador from Africa had finally arrived with his twenty-four soldiers and his servants and terribly slow-moving baggage train.  The people crowded around to see this strange sight while Lord Ahlmored seemed both attracted by the attention and waved grandly like a conquering emperor might wave to the admiring masses and repulsed by the thought that one of these unbelievers might actually touch his person.

The baron picked up where he left off in his thoughts about war.  “Then again, these arrogant Africans may be looking to extend their empire and infernal religion into the heart of Europe.  Who knows?  This Ambassador may be the first salvo in a war we cannot yet imagine.  Those basted Moors, or whatever they are called, have marched with little resistance right across North Africa.  In any case, I suspect this Ahlmored fellow will be more of a spy than anything else.”

“I’ll warrant,” Sir Barth agreed before they turned back into the inn.  Margueritte stayed outside and watched for a minute more before her mother came and snatched her up.

“I swear,” Brianna said.  “Your father would lose his sword if I wasn’t there to point to his side.”  Margueritte got placed with Elsbeth in the capable hands of Lady Jessica while Sir Barth and Lady Brianna made a trip to some of the poorer places with gifts of hope.  Maven and Marta fixed the rooms as well as they could, checked on the arrangements for supper, and helped the grateful innkeeper as much as possible.  The rest of the troop had time off, except for the command to stay ready in case they were called

Lady Jessica bought the girls some sweets and each a toy.  They spent a lot of time fingering various bolts of colored cloth, but it had already gotten late in the day, and much of the festival started to close for the evening.  Thoughts turned to suppertime, and the sun would soon set.  When they returned to the inn, the Franks sat all around a big table and the Lady Jessica was nobly welcomed.  Margueritte and Elsbeth got to sit at the children’s table.

Margueritte knew they would have all the next day for fun and games before they came home to be kept by Marta and Maven.  Mother and Father would eat with the king of Amorica that night, and then all the fires would be extinguished except the king’s fire from which all the fires in the world would be relit, or so they said.  Then the day of Samhain would come, and it would be more fun and games before an evening to relax and an early start home in the morning. 

Margueritte nodded and thought about how traveling could be a tiring business, and she might have fallen asleep at the supper table if Tomberlain had not chosen that moment to stagger in.

“Son?”  Lord Bartholomew looked up.  “Have you supped?”

“Yes shir,” Tomberlain said.  “Me and Michael and Sebalus…us.”

“And had a bit to drink I would guess.”  Bartholomew looked stern.  Brianna looked mortified.  Tomberlain opted not to speak.  He simply shook his head up and down.  He shouldn’t have done that.  He ran toward the fire and promptly emptied his stomach.  No one laughed.

“I think I’ll have a talk with that son of mine,” Constantus said.

“Indeed,” the baron added.  “And my Michael.”

Margueritte and Elsbeth got promptly carried to bed.

 

M3 Margueritte: Samhain, part 1 of 3

Margueritte was born in the year of our Lord, 697, on the Amorican Mark—the border land that divided Brittany, sometimes still called the kingdom of Amorica, from the Frankish domains around Paris.  Her father, Sir Bartholomew, the Count of the Central March had come some years earlier to join two older gentlemen who guarded the March in the North and South.  Together, the three were assigned to watch the Breton border and, if possible, keep the peace.  Bartholomew married a Breton Lady, Brianna, who was a very distant cousin of King Alain II of Amorica, and together they settled down to his long duty to the Merovingian king, having been granted sufficient land by treaty to support a reasonable number of men and their families.  They had a son, Tomberlain, born just after Samhain, and three years later, on a fine spring day, Margueritte came along.  In 701, a second daughter, Elsbeth completed the family.  And thus, they lived in peace with a small number of Breton serfs to keep the fields and flocks, and an equally small number of free peasants, mostly Franks, who contracted for land for a percent of their produce and for the promise to fight for the Lord of the manor whenever such need might arise.

The manor house itself was roughly the size of a modern Cape Cod, with a thatched roof and glass in the upper windows.  A bowshot away so as not to be a hazard should one or the other building catch fire, sat a strong, stone tower, ten years in the building.  The blacksmith workshop was there, though outside of the tower itself, as the kitchens were out behind the manor house.  Redux was the blacksmith.  Marta and Maven were the cooks and housekeepers.  Everyone else worked out of the third building in the triangle of buildings—the barn.  By far the biggest building, the barn looked the size of the manor house and tower put together; but that was the world they lived in.  It was an agrarian world.

The barn was home to the horses, nearly two dozen.  Outside, but attached, a shelter had been put up for the milk cows as well as a pen for the sheep.  The hogs and chickens also had their own houses outside the barn, proper.  There were bins in the barn for every kind of grain, potatoes and vegetables, and a great hay loft from which the beasts were fed.  They also had stacks of tools for the labor-intensive form of agriculture practiced.  The serfs lived in their small houses just down the little hill from the barn, out of sight from the Manor House, but alongside the fields where they worked.  Every morning at dawn they came up the hill, collected their tools, and drove the various animals out to pasture.  Those animals came home around sundown, and the tools got put back at dark. It was also a hard life.

The dogs in the kennels were old when Margueritte was born.  Lord Barth was not much of a hunter, but Margueritte loved those dogs, and they loved her.  She spent most of her time near the kennels, with Tomberlain, whom she loved dearly and looked up to about everything, and later she played with Elsbeth when Elsbeth grew old enough.  When they weren’t playing by the kennels, they were in the center of the triangle by the great old oak which their mother, Brianna, insisted stay up.  The oak had mistletoe on it, a rare thing, and sacred to the druids and to the people, though whether the lady still felt the same since her conversion to the Christ seemed a question.

All around the triangle of buildings there were trees which helped block the view of the houses of the serfs, but if one looked from the upstairs windows of the manor house, one could see, far out across the cleared land, the misty edge of the forest of Vergen through which one had to travel to reach the Amorican village of the same name.  The road to that village skirted the edge of the triangle and came from the east where Lord Barth often pointed and told young Tomberlain, “There is Paris.  There is the heart of civilization where ladies of distinction and men of war and great valor live.  There, son, is the real world to which you belong, and if you ever despair, remember that we live on the edge of it.  Turn your back on the superstitions of the Bretons and look to the golden city, only keep your ears open.  You never know when someone might be sneaking up behind you.”

In the year of our Lord, 704, the household packed three ox-drawn wagons and saddled nine horses for the trip to Vergenville, as the Franks called it.  Every fourth year the Amorican king, now Alain’s son, Urbon, came to Vergen during the days of Samhain—at the end of October.  It was the great fall festival and all sorts of craftsmen and entertainers came to town, many following the royal court.  Lady Brianna always insisted on going shopping.  They had to go in any case.  It had been arranged in treaty that the three Lords of the Frankish Mark would meet with the king during those days and talk trade, review and resolve any complaints, and reaffirm the peace.

Along with Lord Bartholomew, the peace in the south was kept by the eldest of the three lords, Baron Bernard and his Frankish Lady Jessica, while in the north the March was kept by the Count DuBriss and his Amorican wife, Curdwallah, who lived in the Tower DuLac, which is to say, by the lake.  Baron Bernard always came in the fourth year with a dozen or more men at arms, believing that arms always spoke louder than words.  His lands were the best, being free of the rocks and hillocks that made parts of Amorica so hard to farm, and so his free Frankish population grew larger than the others.  Count DuBriss, on the other hand, passed away rather mysteriously some years earlier, along with his two sons.  The Lady Curdwallah, a native Breton, now lived alone at DuLac.  Sir Barth had written to the king of the Franks several times suggesting the Lady be given a small, comfortable place and the north March be given to another man, but thus far, the king had failed to move.  Clearly, Amorica no longer posed the threat it once did. 

Brianna and the children rode in the first of the three ox carts guided by Redux the blacksmith.  Elsbeth, at three years of age, spent most of the morning journey in her mother’s arms.  Margueritte, seven, held tight to her doll.  Tomberlain, being ten, felt he should be going on horseback with the men, but Sir Barth would not have it.  They argued for days, and it only ended when they agreed to make Tomberlain a page on their return, though he was honestly too young.

The second cart, driven by a man named Andrew—the Christian name he took for himself at his baptism—carried Marta and Maven and all the things Lady Brianna imagined she might need over the next few days.  The cart was full, but Maven managed a soft place to sleep while Marta fretted the whole way about thieves and monsters in the dark woods.

The third cart, as was custom, carried grain and gifts for the king, his court, and the people of Vergenville.  Both Sir Barth and Lady Brianna had a soft spot for the poor and helpless.  They always made sure they had enough to share, and they left that cart in the capable hands of a man named Ky; though lately he had taken to calling himself John.  He was not sure, but his Christian name was definitely going to be John—or James.

Sir Barth rode his charger, of course, and a half-dozen men at arms rode with him. The other two horses trailed behind as spares.  “Spare tires,” Margueritte called them, though she could hardly explain what she meant.

They left the manor early in the morning, but the sun was well up when they entered the proper forest.  Not far along, they came to the point where they crossed the road that came up from the south.  Happily, they only had to stop twice to clear fallen branches and a fallen tree from the path, as Margueritte called it.  She could hardly call it a road.

“I’ll be black and blue by the time we arrive,” she complained and took every bump, root and rock, personally.

“Why do you think I wanted to ride on horseback?”  Tomberlain told her.

“Mama, hold me,” Elsbeth said, and she got to ride in a soft lap.

“Ouch.”  Margueritte bumped her knee.  “It isn’t fair,” she said generally to the wind.

“Maybe you can hit your head next time and be knocked out,” Tomberlain suggested.  “Then at least you won’t know any better.”

“Ha, ha!”  Margueritte responded without really laughing, and while she rubbed her knee, she thought a good set of shock absorbers would help.

Their way improved after they crossed the road that came up from the coast.  More traffic, Margueritte assumed.  They had not gone far, however, and they were still a good hour from the village, when a man in very strange dress caught up with them.  He spoke with a heavy accent and with some condescension once he determined that Sir Barth was the one to whom he had to speak.

*

Kairos Tales Preview

Beginning Monday, April 2, 2018

If you have read some of the Avalon stories that have appeared on this blog (available at your favorite e-book retailer), I thought it only fair that you get a look at several of the actual Kairos stories in their full form.  If you have not read any of the Avalon stories that have appeared on this website, that’s okay.  The stories here are self-contained with one exception:

The books (not presently available to buy) weave the partner stories like a fine tapestry.  For this blog, however, I have pulled the stories apart so you can read a whole Festuscato story, for example, without having to flip back and forth to Gerraint and Greta, or as the case may be, to Gerraint and Margueritte.  Hopefully, that will work well.  You can just ignore the rare references to what is happening in those other stories, knowing, that like the Kairos, you will get there, eventually.

This series of stories will begin posting on Monday, April 2, 2018, just in case you want to go into the archives and read from the beginning.  All weeks will have posts on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday = 3 individual, easily and quickly read posts per week to carry the story forward.  A good way to start the day.

 

Kairos

A Greek word meaning opportunity, the right time, a propitious moment, event time, or as the Kairos defines it, history.  It is the name the old titan Cronos gave to the polyploidy being he struggled to bring to life as a complete male and a complete female.  Knowing his time would soon be over, he imagined this complex “one being in two persons” would be his replacement.  When Cronos died at the hands of his children, the mere counting of days ended, and with the birth of the Kairos, history—event time began.

The Kairos might be called the god of history, though the Kairos prefers the term watcher over history, because unlike the gods of old, he or she is not immortal.  Instead, the Kairos normally lives as an ordinary mortal, male or female, sort of taking turns, and as such is subject to all the frailties of the species, while at the same time, being captured by the very events where he or she must inevitably act.

Not allowed to fully die, the being or spirit of the Kairos is taken at death and reborn somewhere else on the planet, where some important historical juncture looms on the horizon.  On bad days, the Kairos complains about being no more than a cosmic experiment in time and genetics.  On good days, the Kairos averts a disaster.

Taken out of the hands of the most ancient gods, and placed in the hands of persons unknown; it is her or his job to see that history turns out the way it has been written.  With access to future lifetimes, as well as past lives, the Kairos knows the way things are supposed to go.  But getting it to turn out right is not ever easy.  Fortunately, the Kairos is able to borrow lives from the past or future that often have the skills and knowledge to meet whatever might arise.  No guarantees, of course.

Stories

Kairos and Rome 5: Rome Too Far

R5) Festuscato: The Last Imperial Governor of Britannia.   9 weeks of posts

Festuscato Cassius Agitus is both a wealthy Roman senator and a cad.  Because of his indiscretions, the emperor’s mother has him sent to the abandoned province of Britannia to bring order out of chaos.  The people there appealed for help.  He can’t end the fighting.  Thus is the age.  But maybe he can bring the Gaelic people together long enough to face the real threats: Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Picts, Irish, and especially, the Huns.

R5) Greta: Over the River and Through the Woods.   23 weeks of posts

Greta, wise woman of Dacia under Roman rule, must go through the haunted, forbidden forest to reach the capitol in time to stop the rebellion.  The Masters buried some hundred-year-old rifles in that area, and Rome and all of history will be in danger if they are dug up; especially if they are discovered by the wicked witch.

R5) Gerraint: In the Days of Arthur, Pendragon.   10 weeks of posts

Gerraint, son of Erbin, with Percival and Arthur, romp through the early days of Arthur, Pendragon.  They fight off a rebellion and beat back the Saxons, Irish, Jutes and Picts, and rescue Gwynyvar.  Sadly, as the boys become men, the fighting never seems to stop.  And Meryddin, a fly in the ointment, appears to be on his own agenda.

Kairos and Rome 6: The Power of Persuasion

R6) Gerraint: Love and War   12 weeks of posts

Gerrain, son of Erbin wins Enid, his love before he is called to the continent to help Brittany stay free.  After a time of torment, Gerraint and Arthur continue to fight off Picts, Scots, Danes, and Angles, before the final battle of Mount Badon.  And still, Meryddin has his own agenda working, subversive in the background.

R6) Festuscato: The Dragon in Ireland   10 weeks of posts

Festuscato gets roped into providing safe passage for Patrick to get to Ireland.  Festuscato wants to see Patrick get started on a good foot, but that isn’t easy when the so-called king of the Irish is against you, not to mention the reluctant druids, the Irish pirates, and the Saxon intruders.  The boy and his pet dragon don’t help, either.

R6) Greta: To Grandfather’s House We Go   20 weeks of posts

Greta’s ward, Berry, and her sister Fae, along with Greta’s brother and Fae’s husband go north, looking for Berry and Fae’s father to bless their marriages.  They get trapped in the land of the lost, and the shattered pieces of the old god Mithras stand against Greta when she sets herself for a rescue mission.  Soon enough, the Iranian (Mithraic) tribes in the wilderness come to knock on Dacia’s door, which doesn’t have enough strength to stand against them.  And the Roman ranks are full of Mithraites.

Kairos Medieval 3: Light in the Dark Ages

M3) Festuscato: The Halls of Hrothgar   8 weeks of posts

After seeing to the safe withdrawal of troops from Britain, Festuscato, Senator of Rome, is shipwrecked on the Danish shore.  With his strange crew in tow, he finds his way to the halls of Hrothgar where a beast called the Grendal has come like a plague on the mighty.  Festuscato leaves nothing to chance.  He sends for Beowulf, but then he has to tread lightly to keep history on track.  He knows things will turn strange as the Grendal, the creature of Abraxas, cannot be harmed by any weapon forged by man.

M3) Gerraint: The Holy Graal   13 weeks of posts

Gerraint, son of Erbin feels his days of struggle should be behind him.  All he wants is to retire to Cornwall with Enid, his love.  But when ghostly hands carry a cauldron across the round table, he knows he has to act.  Arthur deftly turns all talk to the Holy Graal, but Gerraint knows he has to stop the older men from recovering the ancient treasures of the Celts and dredging up the past.  Christendom is only a thin veneer and if Abraxas is allowed to strip that away, history might be irrevocably changed.

M3) Margueritte: The Old Way Has Gone   18 weeks of posts

In the early days of Charles Martel, Margueritte experiences everything a Medieval girl might want: fairies, ogres, a unicorn, dragons, knights to love and daring rescues.  But it is Curdwallah the hag, the devotee of Abraxas, that haunts her dreams in the dark.

Kairos Medieval 4: Saving the West

M4) Festuscato: Senator of Rome   6 weeks of posts

After years of exploring Germania and the Eastern Roman Empire, Festuscato returns to the west, to Saxony and the land of the Franks.  There isn’t much time.  The Huns are moving.  Attila has his eye on the weakened western empire, and the Roman commander in the west, General Aetius, appears stuck in Rome, preoccupied with the Vandals in Africa.

M4) Gerraint: The Last Days of Arthur   6 weeks of posts

Lancelot has taken most of the young men to Brittany, and Greater Britain appears to be falling apart.  Arthur and Gerraint go to bring him back.  They make peace with the Franks, but Lancelot will not be moved.  Upon their return, they discover that Mordred has captured Cadbury and Gwynyvar with an army of Scots, Saxons, and traitors.  The stage is set for the last battle.

M4) Margueritte: The New Way Has Come   18 weeks of posts

The god Abraxass has moved the Muslim Sorcerer to keep Margueritte occupied so the Muslim army from Iberia can invade the north.  Margueritte has to help prepare Charles Martel for that inevitable time, and she must build heavy cavalry for the Franks, virtually from scratch.  What horrors will the sorcerer do to keep Margueritte out of the picture, and will she be too late to save the west?

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A Brief Introduction

Hopefully, you are a rational and reasonable person in search of a good story, though not necessarily willing to break ranks with the relatively dead and sterile universe in which we presently and conceptually find ourselves.  And if you are not naturally given to flights of fantasy, you may be wondering how all this began.  Where did the idea for such a complex character come from?  If the Storyteller could be interviewed, the answer might be something as follows:

“I was sitting at my desk one day at work, staring out of the window, bored out of my mind, when I had a vision.  I think that was what it was.  At the time, I could not remember having had a vision before, but to be perfectly honest, that is the only word that fits the experience.  Anyway, without warning, I found that instead of sitting at my desk, I sat cross-legged in the grass at the top of a ridge, clothed in odd, but very comfortable Roman style chain armor, and holding a sword across my lap.  The sword felt heavy, and appeared sharp, too.  It all felt weird, but the sword and armor, the grass and all was not the weirdest thing.  As I looked down at the sword in my lap, I saw some obstructions to my vision.  You see, I was a woman, a young, and beautiful woman, I knew that much, with long, light golden brown hair that looked to me almost blonde in the bright sunlight.  I backed away instantly and found myself at my desk.  It all seemed too strange for me.  Like most men, I had regular ideas about women, but being one of them was definitely not on the list.  After that I got to work.  That daydream, as I called it, was not something I wanted to think too hard about and certainly not something I wanted to dwell on.

“The very next day, I sat again at my desk, not entirely bored for a change, because I was considering a topic which I always found fascinating.  I wondered about the idea of the Trinity, and I could not figure out how God could be one God in three persons.  I was one me in one person, and I thought that was difficult enough, but then I heard a voice in my head that said, “No, you are one you in two persons.”

“What?”  I said that out loud, I think.  I looked around, but I seemed to be the only one in the office at the moment.  Everyone else went out to the field.

“Woah!”  I did say that out loud.

Now, please understand, when I said I heard a voice, I did not mean an actual, audible voice.  I meant it came as something in my mind, only it was not just me imagining a voice or thinking some thoughts to myself.  I knew the voice was somehow external, though I could not tell you exactly how I knew that.  Anyway, I said, “What do you mean, one me in two persons?”

“Male and female,” the voice said.  “It is how you were made to be, even if you are only living as one gender at a time, as far as your present consciousness is concerned.”

“Wait a minute.  Who are you?  And what do you mean one at a time?”

“Chronologically speaking, yours is the one hundred and twenty-first life you have lived.  And there are future lives you will live as well.”

“You’re mad.”  I responded, by which I meant, I’m mad.  I concluded that this boring rut of a job had finally driven me off the cliff.  Here I go, falling, over the edge, I thought.  Er, no…  I don’t like heights.  Then the voice sort of took over.

“It is time for you to learn these simple truths about yourself, your many lifetimes and your making, because soon you will begin to experience your other lifetimes.”

“What?  You mean like that woman in the suit?”  I managed to interject that much.

“You will experience far more than that.  And you will find in the course of these experiences that your lives have been lived in partnerships of two or more, but not necessarily in chronological order.  I know that may be confusing for you, especially when you experience future lifetimes; but you will do well if you simply take and record each experience as it comes.  It will all come together in the end.”

“Experience the future?  What?”

“It may be that only you and your partner with you will experience every lifetime, but that is because it is your job to record the events of your many lives.  The other lives you live call you the Storyteller.  But then, you have another job to do in all of those other lifetimes.”

“A-ha!”  I did not actually get the words in, but I thought it loud enough.  “The catch!”

“Your job is to watch over history and make sure it comes out the way it has already been written.”

“A-ha!”  I repeated, and remembered last Sunday’s hymn about God working His purposes out.  I wondered, why me?

“God is working His purposes out.”  The voice knew my thoughts.  “But as you well know, the work is always done through agents of some sort, and mostly human agents.  The Source even emptied himself at one point to take on human flesh in order to act on his own behalf.  Why should history be any different?”

I did not have a ready answer for that one.

“As you experience these other lives in partnership, you will find that still other lifetimes may temporarily break through the natural barriers of time and into the life you are currently experiencing.  Then you will have access to certain skills and knowledge.”

“Wait!”  I practically shouted.  “Why should other lives break through?  Why should I need access to skills?”

“Because there is no telling in advance what skill set or knowledge or other help you may need at a given moment.”

“What?  No telling?  Does that mean you don’t know or that you won’t tell me?”

The voice paused for a minute before it resumed speaking.  “You know full well that the universe is not the dead empty your current culture believes it to be.  The universe is full of great varieties of life.  There are powers and principalities in the universe, and some of those are ambivalent at best toward humanity and human history, and some may even want to change history to serve their own ends.  The universe is full of powers, and as you know, some of them are not very nice.”

I swallowed.  Trying to keep history on track sounded like dangerous work.  Of course, I had no idea at the time, and no frame of reference to understand just how dangerous it could get.  I did have one more question, though.  “Why me?”  I asked.  “I’m nothing special.  In fact, I would say just the opposite.  I have not exactly lived a sin free life, and more importantly, I have just about failed at everything I have ever tried to do.  I am so ordinary in that sense, it even boggles my own mind.  And besides that, I am not a great writer.  Oh, I can tell a story all right, but my writing is rather pedestrian.  Again, it is just so ordinary, you might say.   So, why me?”  I asked, but the voice did not answer. It had gone, and after a while, I decided that maybe the fact that I was so ordinary was precisely why I was chosen.  I understood that someone who already had an inflamed ego and sense of their own importance and abilities would not have been a good choice.  No, not at all.

To be sure, that very night I did begin to remember some early childhood snapshots, as I called them.  Some came from my own life, and some came from the life of the Princes who was, and apparently is, my partner in this lifetime.  She is my time access partner, which is a bit like time travel and connects me to this keeping history on track thing that I am experiencing and remembering.  After that night, things just got stranger and stranger.”

Author’s Note:

I have done my best to keep to the record of the Storyteller as written, only trying hard not to let the facts stand in the way of a good story.  For that matter, some of the facts, like names, dates, exact locations and so on have been fudged a little to protect the innocent, in some cases, but more often because it would not be good to give the Masters, or any other enemies of history an exact roadmap of the activities of the Kairos.  Basically, don’t send me any letters saying such-and-such is historically inaccurate.  It won’t do you any good.

Happy Reading

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