M3 Margueritte: Roland, part 1 of 3

Three days before Samhain in that same year, Roland came riding into the Triangle, much to the surprise of everyone, especially Margueritte.  “I was invited.”  He professed and pulled Margueritte’s embroidered handkerchief from his pocket.  Lady Brianna just smiled and welcomed him, regally.  Bartholomew, though glad to see the young man again, looked at his daughter with a different eye.  He knew nothing about it.

“Are you returning my token then?”  Margueritte asked later.

“Not a chance,” Roland said.  “I’ll let you know, but I suspect you may never get it back.”

Margueritte hardly knew what to say, but the joy got written all over her face.

At supper, Roland explained his presence.  He was sent by Charles with letters to Urbon, king of Amorica.  After leaving the Breton Mark and on returning to Paris with Father Stephano, he dug up the letters Bartholomew and Baron Bernard wrote over the last several years.  He read all about the Moslem Ambassador and wished to convey his congratulations on Urbon having the foresight to throw the man out.  The letters discussed at some length the incursions of the Moors into Aquitaine and suggested that Urbon keep a careful watch on the coast, knowing the coastline to be full of nooks and crannies where a raiding party might easily find a foothold.  Should he need the assistance of the Franks, Charles assured Urbon of his friendship and support.  And that was about it.

“Such letters could have been carried by courier.  Nothing secret there to move you out of your comforts in Paris,” Lord Bartholomew said.

“Actually, I volunteered to bring them,” he said.  Margueritte looked at her food and her heart fluttered.  “I wanted to see how Tomberlain was getting along with his swordplay.”

She kicked Roland this time, and she meant to.

Sadly, for her, Roland did seem to spend a lot of time with her father, Tomberlain, and even Owien.  They rode once for an hour or so.  They had a picnic on the second day, but Elsbeth came along and Goldenrod distracted everyone.  They did walk by the stream, but not much got said.  It seemed like they both became suddenly very shy.  Then Margueritte had her chores to do before they could leave for Vergenville, and she did her best to see them done.

Margueritte worked in the barn, in the potato bins, when Roland came unexpectedly.  She wore her apron.  Her hands were dirty, and she even had a streak of dirt across one cheek put there by the back of her hand used to wipe away the sweat.  “Oh, Sir.”  She started to turn away.

“Oh stop.”  He said in her same tone.  “My mother and sisters sorted potatoes all the time, and likely more than enough for a lifetime.”

“It is important, you know,” Margueritte said.

“Absolutely.  One rotten one can spoil the whole bin.”  He looked up at Grimly, whom he genuinely liked, and Goldenrod for whom he had the deepest love and affection, and Hammerhead, whom he at least respected, even if he still found it hard to look at the fellow.  They lounged around on the hay while their mistress sweated at her labor.  “Say, though,” he said.  “Wouldn’t it be better to let these little ones of yours sort the potatoes?  You and I could maybe walk again by the stream before your brother and father find me.”

“Oh, I don’t know if that would be such a good idea.”  Margueritte started.

“Why sure.”  Grimly jumped up.  “We would love to sort the taters.  I’m getting bored just sitting around anyway.”

“I can help.”  Goldenrod assured them all.

“Er, okay,” Hammerhead said, not quite sure what was being asked.

Margueritte explained while she wiped her hands as clean as she could on her apron.  “You just need to go through them one by one.  The good ones go here.”  She pointed to the empty bin.  “Any that are especially soft or if they are rotten, or even if you are not sure if they are good to eat, put them in the bucket.  Oh, I don’t know.”  She said in one breath, turned to Roland, and nearly bumped into him.  He put his arm over her shoulder as he spoke.

“We can stay a minute to see they get started,” he said.

Margueritte reached both hands up to hold his and make sure his arm stayed around her shoulder, but she said nothing.

“Now, if I’ve got it, the good ones go in the bin and the rotten ones in the bucket.  Come on, then.”  Grimly climbed up on the bin.  Each little one took a potato.  At least Goldenrod tried to take one, but she could not quite lift it.  Hammerhead took about six by accident and stared at them in utter uncertainty.  Grimly made up for the other two by instantly going from one to the next.

“No good, no good.  Definitely no good.  Nope. No way.  Not a chance.”

“Ugh!”  Goldenrod tugged with all her little might.

“Nope. No good. Ooo, this one looks like Herbert Hoover.”

“Let me see.”  Goldenrod left off her tug of war.

Hammerhead, still unmoved, stared at his spuds.

“Who is Herbert Hoover?”  Goldenrod asked.

“I don’t know, but this looks like him.”  He looked at Goldenrod and they spoke in unison.  “No good.”  The bucket started filling rapidly and not one was yet in the bin.

“Nope. Nope. Nope.”  Grimly started shoveling toward the bucket and Goldenrod got back to tugging until Grimly made enough of a dent for her potato to roll and take her with it with a “Weee!”

Margueritte’s sides were splitting with laughter, and Roland laughed right with her until she turned toward him, and their eyes met.  The laughter vanished in an instant and he drew her up to him and held her tight.  Their lips touched, soft and warm, and they might have remained that way for some time if Grimly had not whistled.

“Woohoo!”

“Whaty?”  Goldenrod said and got her little head above the edge of the bin.

M3 Margueritte: Visitors from the Real World, part 3 of 3

Bernard looked around at Redux and then the formidable little woman guarding the house and decided the barn made the best place to start.  They pushed passed Margueritte and bumped little Elsbeth out of the way, spilling two of the eggs she had so carefully salvaged and went in.

“You two, up the loft.  You search the hay.  You the horse stalls and you the bins. You look around for anything out of place.”  Bernard was good at giving orders, but not about to soil himself actually looking through a barn.  The man at the hay began to poke with his sword, but then the cavalry arrived just in time.

“What’s all this then?”  Lord Barth asked, almost before he dismounted.  Tomberlain, Owien and the sergeant at arms with two men from the fields came to the barn door and the intruders paused in their search while Bernard explained.

“Two escaped men are wanted for questioning by the king.  Lord Ragenfrid has ordered us to search the barn, the house and the tower while he has taken the main force on to Vergenville.”

Margueritte spoke up.  “I told them the men may have ridden on to Vergen while Elsbeth and I were at our chores, but they do not believe me.”  She tried to look forlorn.  Tomberlain thought she was serious.

“Are you calling my sister a liar?” he shouted, and only Sir Barth’s arm held him back.

“My Lord,” Bernard spoke quickly.  “These men can be dangerous.  It is for your own protection that we offer to search on the chance that they may have snuck in without the girls knowing.”

Bartholomew looked at his daughters and got quite a different message than Tomberlain.  “I’ll see to the safety of my home and my family.  You can move on.”

“My Lord.  A secret door.”  A soldier shouted and the soldiers gathered there.

“No secret.”  Margueritte thought fast.  “We keep preserves down there.  A root cellar.”  Bernard did not accept that.  He ordered, and two soldiers raised the lid and one started down the stairs and stopped when he heard a voice.  And what a voice it was!

“Hey!”  The thunder rolled up the staircase.  “Who is that to disturb my sleep?”

“Didn’t I mention the ogre,” Margueritte said.  “Much better than a watchdog, you know.”

Bernard went white and the soldiers were already headed for their mounts when the voice returned.  “I’m coming up!”

Bernard snapped his head at Lord Bartholomew.  “M’lord” and ran for his steed. Six men left as quickly as six ever left anywhere.  They did not even see Hammerhead rise like a monster from the deep.

“That was a good dream, too,” he said.

“It’s been two days,” Margueritte pointed out.  “I think you may be growing up.” Hammerhead straightened in his pride.

“After a good meal my folks can sleep a whole season,” he said, but then Sir Barth wanted some answers.  Elsbeth already started uncovering the men who appeared frozen by what they saw.

“Little White Flower saw the riders from the chapel, and she rushed to get me.  Now what is this all about?”  Bartholomew asked.  He looked at Elsbeth but spoke to Margueritte.

“Don’t worry,” Elsbeth said to the two strangers as she came over and patted Hammerhead on the thigh, about as high as she could comfortably reach.  “He won’t hurt you, much.”  She paused to let it sink in.

“Ha.”  Hammerhead blasted a laugh.  “Much.”

“Great Lady.  You put one over on them Franks,” Grimly said.  “Slick as an elf selling water to a drowning man.”

“Actually,” the short man spoke as he came out from behind the hay, but in a direction that would take him farthest from the ogre’s reach.  “That was the most courage and quick thinking I have seen in some time.  You are a lucky man, Lord Bartholomew, to have such a daughter.”  The short man took Margueritte’s hand and kissed it.  “It was the best case of misleading truth I ever heard, and not one untruth in a single word.  Have you ever considered politics?

“I think not, m’lord,” Marguerite said, and felt a little embarrassed.

“My sister’s not a liar,” Tomberlain said.

“Water to a drowning man,” Grimly repeated himself.

“May I ask what will become of our horses?” the young man said.  He followed his Lord’s lead in kissing Margueritte’s hand.  She rather did not mind that.

“A temporary spell,” she said.  “It will wear off soon.”

“That’s right,” Grimly said.  “Temporary.”

“And who are you?”  Lord Bartholomew got tired of waiting for his daughter to give him an answer.

“Charles, aid decamp to the king by order of my father Pepin.”  The short man spoke simply.  “And my hulking young friend is Sir Roland, knighted three weeks ago last Lord’s day by the king himself hard on his twenty-first birthday.  But the honor was long overdue.  Best man at arms in the palace.  Saved my life, twice now if we can find the priest Stephano.  Ahem.”

Roland still held Margueritte’s hand and they were looking, eye to eye.  “Er, yes,” Roland said and quickly let go.  “My Lord Charles is too kind in his praise.”  Margueritte, with a glance at her father, put her hand quickly behind her back.

“Well, come up to the house and let us straighten all this out.”

“Wait,” Charles said.  “We must first be sure Ragenfrid did not leave behind someone to spy us out.

“Oh, yes.”  Margueritte came to herself.  “Goldenrod, would you mind taking a fly about to see if there are any spies lurking?”  The fairy came right up, and Roland was glad he stood far enough from Charles not to have his arm grabbed again.

“Yes. A good wing stretchy,” she said, and vanished.

“You’re not the Charles of the Saxon campaign, are you?”  Bartholomew asked.

“The same,” Charles said, but before more could be said, Goldenrod already came back to report to Marguerite.

“I went all around the triangle and around the chapel and everything,” she said.  “There is one horse by the first road bend, and a man, sneaky, with his head around the tree there.”  She pointed to the back corner of the barn where, clearly, no one could see anything but barn.  Still, most looked.  Hammerhead, who had been having trouble following all the conversation to that point had a thought.  He spoke as quietly as he could.

“I think I’ll stretch my legs now that I’ve slept,” he said.  “I might just go down the road a bit and see what I might find.”  He excused himself, everyone gave him plenty of room to exit the barn, and he began a little sing-song chant.  “I love to bite a crunchy head and grind the bones to make my bread.  I sing the song that’s in my head, and grind the bones…no, I said that part.”  Hammerhead got silent for a minute, then he began to whistle as he walked.  If you have ever heard an ogre try to whistle, you will know why everyone in the barn had to hold their sides to keep from laughing out loud.

After a minute, all assumed the way was clear.  Lord Bartholomew had been thinking in the meantime.  “Father Stephano has gone to the house of my Romanish friend, Constantus,” he said.

“You know the way?”  Charles asked.

“Of course.  But it is getting late and it will be dark soon.  Come and have supper and stay the night.  For all their zeal, your friends will have to stop as well in Vergenville, at least to rest the horses, and even if they leave at daybreak, it will be noon at the earliest before they are back here.”  He put his arm around Charles’ shoulder.  “Now tell me about the Saxon campaign.  God, I’m sorry I missed it.”  They headed for the house.

“Sir Roland,” Margueritte invited him toward the house.

“Lady Margueritte,” Roland responded.  He took one more look into her green eyes before he caught up with the other men and got tackled by Tomberlain.  As Margueritte followed, he looked back once more, and Margueritte felt herself turn a little red.

Margueritte thought her figure seemed to be turning out very nice.  All the curves and bumps were exactly as they ought to be, and it seemed her best feature.  Apart from her figure, however, she imagined she might be pretty enough in her way, but hardly exceptional.  Her features were too big: her ears, nose, hands, feet, and lips as well.  Her face looked much too round.  Just then, Elsbeth, with her perfect, sharp, angular, beautiful face bumped past her with her pert little nose stuck straight up in the air and her hips wiggling like a tramp.  “Lady Margueritte,” she whispered.

Margueritte did not feel too grown up to make a face at her sister, even if Elsbeth was not looking.  Besides, she thought, Elsbeth has freckles.  She withdrew the face, and just in time, as Roland turned his head for one more look before he entered the house.

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MONDAY

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

*

M3 Margueritte: And Secrets, part 3 of 3

Sir Bartholomew stepped back a step on seeing the doctor disappear, but quickly recovered and turned to Grimly and Luckless the Dwarf.  He tried hard not to look up at the ogre.  “And what can I do for you gentlemen?” he asked.

Luckless stepped up again.  “Actually,” he said.  “We were kind of hoping we could stick around for a while.”  He looked at Grimly who nodded vigorously, and at Hammerhead, who was not sure what was happening.

Sir Barth took another step back and looked to the girls and to his wife.  Surprisingly, Lady Brianna did not seem to have any objections, while Elsbeth quickly said, “Please.”

“Pleasy,” Little White Flower echoed.

“But.”  Bartholomew hardly knew what to say.  “Where will they stay?” he asked.

“Under the hill, under the barn,” Margueritte suggested quickly.  “They dig fast and well, and no one need ever know they are there.”

“Aha!  But what will we feed them?”  Bartholomew thought he had the right idea.  “We can’t possibly feed the lot of them for free.”

“I understand fairies need only a little milk and some bread for sustenance,” Lady Brianna said, and Sir Barth knew he was already outvoted.

“And berries.”  Little White Flower spoke up from Elsbeth’s hair and shoulder.  Elsbeth giggled because it tickled.  “I like berries.”

“I can cook a bit,” Lolly chimed in.  “I been practicing, er, ‘bout four hundred years.  I ought to be pretty good by now, so wouldn’t be for free.”

“You ought to be good,” Luckless mumbled.

“Never heard you complaining yet,” Lolly shot at him and Lady Brianna covered her grin.

“M’lord.”  Redux the blacksmith stepped forward.  “I would be pleased to learn from this good dwarf, all of whom are known to be experts in the smithy crafts.”

“I’m no expert,” Luckless said, as he straightened his helmet which was a bit large and had begun to slip to one side.  He paused, but then rubbed his hands.  “Still, it would be good to get my hands on a good furnace again.  All play and no work makes for a fat dwarf.”

“No.  It’s my good cookin’,” Lolly said and smiled from ear to ear, literally.

“And Grimly the brownie.”  Margueritte gave him the Breton name rather than the Frankish “hobgoblin.”  “He can help in the fields.  Gnomes are known to be very good with crops and bring bounty and blessing.”

“So, it would not be feeding them for free.”  Brianna summed it up.

Bartholomew put his hand to his chin.  “Ah!” he said at last.  “But what about this big one.  He looks like he could eat a horse for breakfast.”

Grimly stepped straight up to the lord who had to look straight down to pay attention.  “You got a problem with rocks and boulders in your fields?  Like who doesn’t in these parts?  You got a problem with sandy soil and needing tons of fertilizer?  Like who doesn’t around here?  You got stumps and things to clear, and sink holes and little hillocks and the like?  Well, my friend can fix all that, and better than a whole herd of oxen and bunches of you human beans.”

“Beings,” Margueritte corrected, then held her tongue.

Sir Barth thought a minute longer before he turned to Margueritte.  “Can you guarantee their good behavior?  I’ve heard some pretty strange stories, as have you.”

“Well.”  Margueritte hesitated.  “No, father, I cannot promise.”

“That’s right.”  Lolly stuck up for her Great Lady.  “The gods never make promises.”

“’sright.”  Luckless confirmed.

“But they will be loyal and faithful and won’t hurt anybody.  Isn’t that right?”  All the little ones agreed to that and swore mightily.

Sir Barth looked around at his men, and especially at Marta and Maven.  “If any one of you ever says anything about this to anyone at any time, I will not rest until I find out who did the telling and it will be worse for them than if they had never been born.”  His men and women also swore they would keep it all a secret, though they did not swear nearly as colorfully as the little ones.  Margueritte knew the Franks, and even Marta and Maven would keep their word, at least up to a point.  She also knew the little one’s word was hardly worth the breath it took to say it, but her father seemed satisfied.

“Let’s go home,” he said.

They rounded up the horses and found a half dozen Arabians added to the spoils.  Those horses carried the dead who would be buried by the chapel, but already Lord Bartholomew’s mind turned to breeding.  He thought the right combination of Arabian and Frankish charger would be a horse that could finally beat the Gray Ghost.

Luckless, constantly straightened his helmet and walked beside Redux.  “Got a wife?”  Margueritte heard him ask.

“No,” Redux answered.

“Lucky man,” Luckless said.  “I can see maybe there’s a thing or two I could learn myself.”

Margueritte, knew how good the ears of a lady dwarf really were and felt surprised Lolly had no comment to shout.  Then she saw her in the cart with Marta and Maven.  Marta reached out to touch the dwarf like one might fear to touch a leper.  Maven was already looking for a comfortable spot for twenty more winks.

“Lady.”  Margueritte heard and almost answered before she realized Little White Flower was speaking to her mother.  “Can I spend the night in Elsbeth’s room?  Pleasy?”

Lady Brianna laughed and nodded.  She understood this would become a regular thing.  Both Elsbeth and Little White Flower cheered.

Margueritte then looked back to the end of the small procession, just past the third wagon.  Hammerhead walked slowly to keep from accidentally kicking the last wagon.  He grinned ever so broadly, and Margueritte felt glad no one else looked back.  The sight of an ogre grinning was not something normal people would ever want to see.

“So, it’s you and me.”  Margueritte heard Grimly’s voice, but the brownie was obscured by the wagon where she could not see him.  When the ogre did not respond, probably because he did not hear the little voice, being lost in his own though, in the singular, Grimly floated up until he got to ear level.  He leaned in, spoke right into the ogre’s ear and cupped his hands for the extra volume.  “I said, so it’s you and me.”

Hammerhead dumbly turned his head in the direction of the sound and bumped Grimly who flew back and down and landed smack in a mud puddle.  “Sorry,” Hammerhead said, sincerely.  He tried to whisper so as not to frighten the beasts or the people.  Margueritte laughed.

Come evening, Margueritte could not help dreaming of little ones, but oddly, she also dreamed of Gerraint, son of Erbin that Thomas of Evandell sang so well about.  At least it seemed like a dream, at first.

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MONDAY

Beltane, because, you know, for every fall festival there has to be a spring festival.  Until Monday, Happy Reading

*

M3 Margueritte: And Secrets, part 2 of 3

A crack of lightening split a rogue apple tree down the middle, and a roar came that sounded like thunder.  “I am here.”  Horses danced and skidded away in pure fright, and everyone paused, in the midst of their life or death struggles, to look.

They saw three men, dressed resplendently for battle.  They all glowed a bit with an unearthly glow.  Somehow, Margueritte knew them all by name.  Birch, the eldest fee, stood full sized, big as a man.  He had gray hair like a well-seasoned warrior.  He came dressed all in German-like chain mail of black and silver, though much finer than any German made chain, and the silver looked to be real silver.  Beside him stood young Larchmont, also a full-sized fairy lord, dressed like a druid prince in black and gold that matched his golden hair.  The third was a sight, in wooden chest protection, feathers on his head, a wicked looking war club in one hand and a wooden shield in the other on which the thunderbird had been painted.  Yellow Leaf was his name, and he was not long arrived from the other side of the world.

Beside those three fairy lords, there were three more figures.  Grimly, the hobgoblin stood only three feet tall, pink faced, and dressed all in green like a midget Robin Hood, but no one doubted the determination written all over his grim face, and no one wanted any part of the long knife he brandished with what appeared to be great skill.  Beside him, and a foot taller, stood Luckless the dwarf.  His armor showed neither gold, nor silver, but it looked ancient as if made before human beings ever entered that part of the world, and it also looked like it hardly fit him.  The double headed ax he held, however, appeared to fit him very well.  Last came Hammerhead, the ogre, the youngster from Banner Bein.  He stood eight feet tall, almost as broad in the shoulders and ugly enough to make a stomach turn just to look at him.  The tree trunk of a club he held over his shoulder seemed superfluous.

Lord Birch spoke first into the stunned silence.  “Unhand the Lady.”  He pointed his glimmering steel at the two who held Brianna to the ground.  They did not argue.  They let go immediately and backed away.

Margueritte took that moment to try wriggling again.  “Let go of me.”

“Yes!”  Luckless the dwarf yelled to gain everyone’s attention.  “Let go of our special lady.”

The soldier that held Margueritte did not move and may have even tightened his grip a little out of pure, unthinking fear.

Hammerhead took one step forward and opened his mouth like a shark, wide enough to bite a man’s head off and showed several rows of teeth.  “Let-Her-Go!” he said like thunder and with a great wind that exploded from his gut.

The soldier dropped Marguerite like a hot coal, screamed, and ran off down the road the way he came without even stopping to collect a horse.

Margueritte fell hard onto the mud and rocks.  Concern quickly crossed the faces of Sir Barth and Lady Brianna, but it passed when Margueritte came up laughing, wrinkled her nose and waved her hand through the air.

“Good Lord, Hammerhead,” she said.  “When was the last time you brushed your teeth?”

“I’m supposed to brush them?”  Hammerhead responded in his more normal deep gravel, and honestly, quite scary enough voice.

The Franks laughed, however nervously.  The Saracens were mortified to finally realize that these apparitions actually answered to the young girl.  Immediately they began to grab what horses they could, and each other, to run, except Ahlmored, who took the distraction to take a swing at Bartholomew.  Sir Barth was not so distracted, though, when any enemy threatened his flank.  He blocked the swing of the sword and followed up with a thrust of his own that went right under Lord Ahlmored’s chinstrap, through his throat, and out the back of his neck.  It only stopped against the chain that draped down from the back of Ahlmored’s helmet.  With that, the enemies were all gone.

“Tomberlain!”  Margueritte remembered.  Tomberlain moaned and tried to sit up.  He bled beneath his helmet.

“Luckless!”  Margueritte turned quickly.  “Is there a doctor?”

“Doctor Pincher might be available,” he said with a bow.

Margueritte grinned at the name and made the call.  “Doctor Pincher,” she commanded his attention in a voice she did not know she had.  Doctor Pincher, a half dwarf, appeared out of thin air.  He looked confused at first until Luckless pointed to Margueritte.

“Ah, so it is true,” he said.  “Great Lady.”  He bowed low to Margueritte, but she was concerned for her brother.

“Tomberlain.”  She pointed.  “He got bonked on the head.  Help my brother.”

“Hmm.  Let me see.”  The doctor drew a big black bag out from the inside of his coat, though the bag clearly looked bigger than any pocket he might have had inside the coat.  Immediately, he helped Tomberlain remove his helmet and quickly announced, “It’s only a flesh wound.  Nothing to worry about.”

Margueritte then remembered her manners.  “Thank you, Lord Birch.  Thank you, Lord Larchmont.  Thank you, Lord Yellow Leaf and welcome to this side of the Atlantic.” The three fairy Lords bowed without a word and became small together and flew off into the woods.  Lady Brianna crawled up beside her daughter and helped Margueritte and herself to their feet.  She held Margueritte because Margueritte appeared to have twisted her ankle a little.

“Thank you Grimly, Luckless, and dear Hammerhead,” Margueritte said.

As she held her daughter and saw for a moment as if through Margueritte’s eyes, Lady Brianna asked her daughter a quick question.  “Are all these yours?”

“Yes, indeed, m’lady.”  Grimly tipped his green hat.

“No, mother,” Margueritte answered.  “They belong to themselves as we belong to ourselves, but sometimes they help me and do what I ask, and I am always grateful.”  She smiled for her mother because her mother seemed to understand far more than most would on such short notice.

“And the unicorn?”  Sir Barth asked.

Brianna answered for her daughter.  “No dear.  Nothing so grand.  Only the littlest spirits and certainly not even all of them.”

“Elsbeth!”  Lady Brianna and Margueritte reacted together.  They paused to listen and heard giggles come from under the wagon.  They peeked.  Elsbeth lay on her back and tried in vain to catch the fairy that buzzed around her face, and she giggled.  Beside her was a dwarf wife who held her cooking spoon like a war club.

“Is it safe?”  The dwarf wife asked.

“Yes Lolly.”  Margueritte called the spirit by her name.  “You and Little White Flower can come out now.”

“Elsbeth.  Stop playing with the fairy and come out here so I can look at you.”

“Aw, Mother,” Elsbeth protested, but complied.  Little White Flower grabbed onto Elsbeth’s hair, came with her and took a seat on Elsbeth’s shoulder.  “This is Little White Flower.”  Elsbeth introduced her friend.  “And this is Lolly, my other friend, even though she is threatening to make me learn to cook.”

“Hmm.”  Lady Brianna saw that her daughter was unhurt.  “That would take some very strong magic.”

“Well, that’s that,” Doctor Pincher interrupted.  “All bandaged, disinfected and cleaned.  Some dead though.”  Three Saracens and one of the Franks would move no more.  Two other Franks were bandaged, but like Tomberlain, neither had been wounded too seriously.  The Africans seemed to have taken their wounded with them, which spoke well for their training to have done so despite the loss of their leader, and the fact that they were frightened out of their minds.  “If you don’t mind my saying, you might tell these mudders it would not hurt to get clean once in a while.  The water won’t melt them, mud though they be.”

“Thank you, Doctor Pincher,” Margueritte said.

“Yes, thank you,” Lady Brianna added.

“Ahem.”  The doctor coughed.  “Don’t mention it, but I do have lots of ‘pointments this afternoon.”  He whipped out a list which stretched to the ground.  No one asked where his black bag went.

“Oh, yes,” Margueritte said.  “Go home.”  She waved her hand and the dwarf instantly vanished.

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.”

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

MONDAY

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

 

*

R6 Gerraint: Claudus, part 2 of 3

Gerraint found he could see better than he used to in the dark.  He imagined it like the dwarf nose and the elf ears.  He tried not to let the thought bother him, and turned to Manskin who stood beside him in the dark.  He had come up from Bringloren with the complaint that he did not know Gerraint planned to have so much fun toying with the humans.  His goblins and the few trolls they brought with them wanted in on the action.  Gerraint allowed it on the condition that they be gone by dawn.  He let them haunt the Roman line and keep them awake, especially at the end of the lines where the attacks would come.  He knew the Romans would be half broken by the time the attack came, and Manskin just kept grinning like the cat who caught the mouse.

Numbknuckles, the dwarf chief, Ringwald and Heurst came up to report that the elves and dwarfs were ready.  Gerraint already knew that Lord Birch and young Larchmont had the fee in the trees on the edge of the Vivane, ready to fly to whatever point on the line they might be needed.  More effective than reserve cavalry, he thought, and suddenly doubled over from guilt. He despised putting his little ones at risk, even if they were happy to do it.  Percival came over when Gerraint moaned.  The little ones vanished as Percival expressed his concern.

I’m all right,” Gerraint responded.  “I just don’t like the killing part.”  He tried to smile.  “Twelve thousand years, past and future, and I pray I never get used to it. Now I have a special task to discuss with my two-fifty.”  He mounted his horse and rode to his men.

When the sun began to rise, the horsemen came out from behind the line of archers and bunched up a little on the edge of the plains. Clearly, the Romans expected an infantry charge and set themselves to defend the field.  Also, clearly, they expected the Celts to be tired after charging across that long field, thus adding to their advantage.  A cavalry charge appeared unexpected and the Romans did not know what to make of it.

The knights of the lance came last to the field and formed a perfect arrow head shape.  They appeared an incredibly imposing sight, reflecting back the sunrise into the eyes of the Romans.  Each Knight sported a symbol on the small flag at the top of their lance, on their shield and on their tunic.  Every knight sported a different symbol—no two alike, and Gerraint surmised it would be the only way to tell one from another.  The Knights did not wait for the horsemen to fill the space.  Gerraint and Percival barely got to shout. “For Arthur!” and hear it echoed by Arthur’s men before they started at a brisk walk.

A third of the way across the field, and the knights stepped it up to a brisk trot.  Two thirds of the way across, they began the charge and every lance came down in unison.  The Romans did not like it one bit, disciplined or not, and the whole center of the Roman lines on both sides broke and ran.  The knights and their fifteen hundred followers did not make nearly the noise at impact Gerraint expected.  He looked for a thunderclap, but the sound did not overwhelm the sound of running, screaming Romans.

When the horsemen broke through, they divided well enough.  The RDF set ahead of time which men would go which way, and they divided fairly evenly, taking their lances as close to the front as they could.  Arthur’s men went left to support Arthur.  Hoel’s men went right for Hoel.  Both Arthur’s and Hoel’s foot men charged the flanks.  It came late according to the plan, but Gerraint imagined they were in awe of the cavalry charge and probably did not think to move sooner.  It hardly mattered.  The flanks quickly fell apart, especially when the horsemen charged from their rear, and that left only one way for the Romans to run, across the field and up the rise toward the waiting bowmen.

Some of those Romans did make it to the line of archers, but they were so beaten and tired, they put up little fight, all except one man and his followers.  The man had to be seven feet tall and looked broad in the shoulders besides.  He swept Arthur’s and Hoel’s men aside with a sword altogether too big.  It looked like he and his followers might make it to the shelter of the forest and escape, but an eight-foot ogre came bounding out of the trees.  He tore the man’s sword out of his hand, along with his hand, and hit the big man on the head with his fist, crumpling the man’s helmet and the top of his skull as well.  Then he knocked the man down and stomped on him until he became mush.  A number of Arthur’s and Hoel’s men ran on sight of the beast, but some had the good sense to cheer and renew their efforts.  At that same time, young Larchmont and his fairy troop arrived, assumed their big forms, and shot every Roman in the area, so in the end, none escaped.

Gerraint knew none of this.  He held his two-fifty back from the fray and watched the knights of the lance.  The Roman cavalry had not moved, like men stunned to stillness, and the knights of the lance took advantage of the moment to form four long lines.  They charged the Romans, and Gerraint caught a whiff of divine wrath in their charge.  The Romans fled with all speed, and did not stop at the Frankish border.  Gerraint noticed the Franks brought up a small army, no doubt to watch and critique the battle, and he knew the Roman cavalry would not last long.

Gerraint turned his eyes to the camp and auxiliaries. Claudus was there in his chariot, a fine Roman affectation, but useless on the modern battlefield.  He looked busy arming and rallying his auxiliaries to charge the back of Hoel’s horsemen.  All those cooks and teamsters were slow to get organized, but Claudus had some Visigoths in his auxiliaries, and it began to look like Claudus might bring a credible force to bear.  Claudus watched his army be destroyed.  For him, it seemed an unparalleled disaster.

Gerraint turned and got his two hundred and fifty lancers ready to charge, but the knights of the lance got there first. They slammed into the auxiliaries, cracked shields, knocked men down made men run in absolute panic.  They tore up tents, knocked over wagons and threw everything into such disarray and confusion it would be impossible for Claudus to mount a charge.  Gerraint watched the knights pop out the other side of the camp and disappear, going back to Avalon from whence they came.  Gerraint also noticed that the knights killed no one.  They had not killed the Roman cavalry.  They just drove the enemy into waiting Frankish hands. In fact, Gerraint doubted they killed anyone in the initial charge.  They likely went through them like ghosts, the way they stood on men and tents that the men never noticed the afternoon before.

Gerraint turned to his men and said, “We must fight our own battles.”  Then he turned toward the Roman camp and yelled, “For Arthur!”  They charged on the echo from the men.

Two hundred and fifty men against roughly three thousand auxiliaries did not make good odds, even if the auxiliaries were not the best soldiers.  Fortunately, Lancelot saw and pulled a great horn from his belt.  He let out a blast which got Bohort’s attention, and he charged, Bohort and roughly three hundred men and half of the RDF on his heels.

They fought, faced plenty of resistance, but soon enough the auxiliaries surrendered in droves.  It may be because many of them saw Claudus’ chariot dancing around the battlefield with Claudus shot full of arrows.  Surrender was accepted.  And in fact, by then, Romans were surrendering and pleading for mercy all over the field.

R5 Greta: Back to the World, part 3 of 3

Her own thoughts turned to Gerraint and all the struggles around York.  She saw too much blood and killing, and she willingly worked her fingers off, but it felt like trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon. Festuscato would be facing the same soon enough.  Greta wondered what was wrong with the human race.  So much blood would be spilled, and she thought of Darius and Marcus and Ravenshold.  She dreaded what was to come.

Greta proved right.  They arrived at the river crossing after only a short walk.  Vilam stayed there, waiting as agreed.  He quickly got to his feet and doffed his hat as he saw them coming. Finbear was not there, however. In his place stood an older man named Cecil, a member of the Eagle Clan.  The first thing Cecil did was draw his sword and take two steps back. Thunderhead ignored the man since even that sharp steel could barely scratch his hide.  Greta understood why ogre hunting never became the great sport that dragon and giant hunting once became.  Thunderhead set Hans down gently as instructed and Greta let go of the tension she had not even realized she held.  She felt ever so glad that Hans did not wake up in the ogre’s arms.

“Now, maybe you could help Bogus with his job,” she suggested and gave a few scratches on his itchy spots.  Clearly, it felt more natural and came much easier for her having spent some time now among her little ones.  This time, Thunderhead appreciated of her gift.  He really was not a bad fellow for an ogre.

“I will. And I’ll do a good job.  You’ll see.”

“There now.” She finished.  “You better get along before this poor man falls over.”

Thunderhead did not even look at the man.  He moved off through the forest a little happy and a little less itchy.

Vilam introduced his friend and Cecil came straight to the point.  “If I had not seen it myself, I would have called any man a liar.”

“Well you saw.” Greta did not mean to sound uppity, but Hans remained too heavy for her.  “Now, would you put that sharp thing away and help my brother to the raft.” She stilled herself.  “Please,” she added, coming down from the heady experience of the last few hours.  She might be the Woman of the Ways, but a mere mortal, human after all.

“I’ll help,” Berry said, but Greta let Cecil and Vilam carry the boy, and they managed to get him to the raft without waking him.  In the end, he woke up all the same as the raft moved low in the water and his backside became soaked.

“Where are we going?” Hans asked.

“To the village of the Bear Clan.”  Greta answered.  “They are going to help us finish our journey to Ravenshold, but we have to pick up Drakka, Rolfus and Koren first.”

“Are they here?” Hans asked.   He wanted to get excited, but the best he could manage was groggy.  Greta pointed ahead as if to say they were in the village, but Hans looked back.  Berry had her face hidden in Fae’s shoulder, and Greta thought she had to help Berry get over being so shy.  It would be too irresistible for a boy like Hans.

When they came to the far bank, the men held the raft steady.  Greta helped Hans and Berry helped Fae.  When they came up to the gate, they found a bonfire out front. The other Clans were coming.  Many were already present.

“Vilam.” Greta had a quick thought.  “Is there another way into the village where we might not be seen?  I need to get Hans into a real bed, and I don’t like the idea of Berry being surrounded by all of these men.”  Of course, Vilam knew who Berry was, but at that moment Cecil stood in the gate shouting.

“They’re here! They’re here!”  Vilam looked at Greta and shrugged, but Greta would not give up.

“Vilam, take Hans,” she said.  “Berry, you go with them and stay with Hans.  See that he gets to bed and gets a good night’s sleep.  Look.  He is falling asleep standing here.”

“Yes, Lady,” Berry curtsied and Greta reminded herself again that these were not her little ones.  Human interactions were far more complicated.

“Do you mind?” she asked Vilam

“Not at all,” he answered.  “Three days and three nights under fairy charms and it is a wonder he is still on his feet at all.  No offence to the present company.”

“Does he mean me?” Berry had to ask, innocently, though she knew full well who he spoke of and who he stared at.

“Yes, sweet,” Greta said.

“Oh, no offense.” Berry replied.  “Bogus the Skin would take that as a great compliment.  I must tell Bogus, I mean, Grandfather the next time I see him.”

Vilam smiled, sort of, and they scooted along the stockade wall until they became lost in the dark.  Fae and Greta staggered to where they were met by a group of men, escorted to the center square, sat in chairs in the most prominent place, and promptly ignored. Fae fell asleep almost as soon as they sat down.  Greta felt unable to sleep as the men argued for hours, and sometimes it became rather heated.

It all sounded typically human as far as it went.  Some believed none of the talk of gods and the Vee Villy.  Some did not want to believe for the usual variety of personal reasons.  Some, on the other hand, were true believers, and some, while they did not believe, they thought making peace with the Yellow Hairs and Romans was the right thing to do.

In the end, it came down to two sides.  Chobar of the Dog Clan argued against change.  He wanted to kill the outsiders, including Greta.  Gowan of the Eagle Clan argued for change.  He wanted to let them go and seek peace so they could join in the defense of the land, because while his village and many of the others were technically outside and west of the Roman province, they had the Lazyges thundering across the plains at their backs and they would likely ride right over the Celts to get at the gold and silver being mined out of the mountains under Roman control.

Baran finally called the meeting ended for the night.  They needed to wait for all of the Clans to arrive and be represented before making a decision.  Greta had to wake Fae, though she felt reluctant to wake her, only to be escorted to a place where they could sleep.

Greta found Berry and Hans fast asleep, entwined in each other’s arms.  They were innocent, being fully clothed.  Greta doubted if Hans even woke up.  He lay face down in bed, and Berry’s face lay beside him and with her mouth a little bit open.  She saw Berry swallow without waking, and saw Berry’s hand go up to rest in Han’s hair.  She caught a glimpse of them when they were very much older, and she decided to leave them alone.

Then she could not sleep.

Drakka and the boys had left town almost as quickly as she had gone in search of Hans. They had taken Finbear to guide them which was why he had not been at the river.  Finbear also made a rather dull knife, but she hoped he had enough sense not to trust the boys.  That thought made her turn.

Drakka did not really care about her.  He had not even left word for her.  It finally penetrated her thick head, and now it seemed painfully obvious.  He would never be with her.  At least Darius would have left word, but that just meant he was polite.  True, her view of the Romans had changed considerably in the last couple of weeks, but still!  He had his tart waiting for him in Rome.  Greta could not even be sure if Darius liked her, and here, they were going to end up stuck with each other, unless one of them got killed.  She did not want to think about it.  She turned again.

She wondered if Darius would look for her in the morning.  She would probably be a day late.  He probably would not even notice.  She turned again and finally fell into a tense and not very restful sleep.

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

MONDAY

Greta and Hans, with a few extra passengers, finish the journey to Ravenshold.  Greta fears what may be transpiring, since she became unavoidably delayed. She fears they may be fighting already.  She fears for Marcus… and maybe Darius.

Don’t miss it, and Happy Reading

*

R5 Greta: Back to the World, part 2 of 3

Ragwart cried, Gorse blew his nose, and Bogus hit them with his hat.  “You see, I told you,” he said, and he finished with a knock on Gorse’s noggin.

“Go on,” Greta said.  “Have lots of prickly babies.”

“That was lovely,” Fae said.  Berry got teary eyed.  She had her arms around Hans and started kissing the back of his head.  He stayed face down, asleep on the table, a half-eaten baked potato by his mouth.

It started getting late.

“Thunderhead!” Greta called.  “How are the itchies?”  She asked when he appeared.

“Better.” Thunderhead admitted in his gravel, deep voice.  He swallowed hard and added, “My lady.”  He must have figured it out and Greta knew that meant he had a tremendous headache.

“Ahem.” Bogus the Skin, still hat in hand wanted Greta’s attention once more.

“What!”  She shot him a look which on retrospect might have been harsher than it needed to be.  Bogus winced like he had been hit with a hammer.  Gorse stiffened and Ragwart hid his face in Gorse’s shirt. “You mated with a human woman which is strictly forbidden.”  Greta said. “And the child, your son, you let him run off to be lost in the wilds of the Dragon Mountains.  Now, your granddaughters have been kept apart all of these years, and that was unkind, too.  I tell you, if you like humans that much, how would you like to be one?” This was the worst of all threats for a little one, and Bogus understood.

“Oh, please.” Bogus fell to his knees and almost worried his hat to death.  “Not that. Anything but that.  I loved the lady fair and square as long as she lived. She took up with that human herself, but I never deserted her. I was faithful.  And I begged our son not to go away.  You don’t know how hard I begged him.  But I could not stop him because a young man of that age needs to make his own way in the world.   And my granddaughters, as precious to me as my own skin, I wanted them with me, but by great and noble sacrifice I let them stay with the humans, theirs being only one quarter spirit.  But when the humans gave one back to me, how I rejoiced.  And we made great magic, and all the best of us joined together so we could release the spirit within Berry so she could truly live among us as one of us. And I loved her.  And I always took best care of her.  And I’ve never been so honest in my life, but please, you must believe me.”

Greta knew he did more or less speak the truth.

“He does not lie.” Berry said, and she and Fae looked at each other with startled expressions.  Berry put her hand to her mouth as if she had said something very strange.

“But you know since the dissolution, the days for separate places is over,” Greta said.

“Yes, Lady. But I thought in this sparsely populated corner of the world we might yet have a little place for freedom, even if only for a short time.  I meant no harm.”  His voice trailed off.  His hat finally stilled, and he knelt like a condemned man waiting judgment.

“There is one thing you could do for me,” Greta said.  “You and your cohorts.”

“Anything,” Bogus said sincerely.  “Anything.”

“Make sure no guns escape,” she said, thinking fast.  “No guns, no bullets, powder or nothing else from the future must escape, either by the North road or by the South, or by any other way.  Can you do this?”

Bogus looked at her for a minute and some of his sly self began to bubble up again to the surface.  “How far can I go?” he asked.

“I prefer no one die,” Greta said plainly.  “But by hook or by crook, you must be sure none escape.  You must hide them for me, to be taken to Usgard above Midgard.”

“I think we can deal,” Bogus said.

“No deals,” Greta shot at him and his whole countenance sank.  “I am asking yes or no.”  She said it, and it was a genuine choice.  He knew he could say no with no ill effect, but he also knew he could not haggle over the job.  At last he decided.

“Yes,” he said.

“Thank you,” Greta smiled.  “Now, your granddaughters will be with me for a while, and maybe, just maybe I will let them come visit you one day.”

Bogus understood that, too, but he nodded his head.  “We will do what you ask.”  Before he could move, Greta bent over and kissed his grubby bald spot.  His face lit up like the fourth of July and he spun around with great gusto and a big smile.

“Come on, dimwits,” he said to Gorse and Ragwart.  “We got a job to do.”

“Did you mean it?” Berry asked about staying with her for a while, but Greta did not answer right off.

“Thunderhead.” Greta regained the ogre’s attention from whatever planet it had wandered to.  Actually, Thunderhead thought of nothing in particular, and likely nothing at all.  “Please pick up my brother very carefully and carry him as you would the Fairy Queen’s own baby.  I do not want him damaged, but you will have to carry him to the river.”

“Yes, Lady,” the ogre said, and with a gentleness that could hardly be believed in the rock hard, dim witted brute, he picked up Hans and they started back to the river. Thunderhead knew the way, and he was not inclined to lead them in circles.

“Did you mean that?”  Berry asked again as soon as she could.

“Yes, sweet,” Greta said.  “You must stay with me for a while, but you must stay big.  I hope that won’t be a hardship for you.”

“That’s Okay,” Berry said.  “I’m big a lot.  It doesn’t bother me.  Thissle said she was never comfortable being big and did not get big very often, but it doesn’t bother me.”

“Hush,” Fae said. “You’re going on like a teenager.”

“But I’m seventy just like you,” Berry said.

“Actually.” Greta interrupted.  “In human terms, she is about thirteen.  I know it hardly seems fair, but it is true.”

“And my twin sister,” Fae said.  “And I know that is true, too, with all my heart.”

“Me too,” Berry said, and she gave her sister a little kiss and squeeze.  “Tell me more about mother,” she said, and Greta tuned them out to give them their privacy.

R5 Greta: How May Miles to Avalon? part 2 of 3

“You must be Bogus,” Greta said, while a quick image flashed through her mind. Basically, she thought if he took her home to where there were six others that looked just like him, she would hit him.

“And just who are you?”  Bogus asked. Danna had hidden the truth from him so he honestly did not know.

“Greta,” she said. “Plain old Greta.”  And she thought real hard at Berry to keep her big little mouth shut.

“Oh, no,” Berry said.  “I’m no tale teller.  No I’m not.”

“So, what exactly do you want?”  Bogus asked.

“I want you to take me to my brother, Hans.  I appreciate you looking after him, but it is time that he and I finish our journey.”

“I don’t know any Hans.”  Bogus sounded very sincere.

“Just take me to him,” Greta insisted before Fae could say a thing.

“All right,” Bogus said, as if he suddenly changed his mind.  He turned, but stopped in mid-step.  “Why am I doing this?”

“Just…” Greta started.

“Oh, I’ll do it,” Bogus said, and started to walk again.  “I just don’t know why, that’s all.”

They walked slowly because Fae could not walk very fast, and all the while, Bogus mumbled. “I protect my people.  I work out a fair deal, a fair deal, mind you.  And we take the wyvern, the bogie and all of the other not so nice on our side.  And then all we get is squeezed between the river and the road, but that’s all right because at least there is a little room for us to be free, and what happens?  A mere seventy years later, a measly seventy years, mind you, and the goddess shows up out of nowhere and Poof!  It’s all gone.  Then she says I gotta give this dumb girl her dumb brother back besides.  I tell you, what is the world coming to?”

Greta looked around briefly to see how Fae and Berry were getting along, but when she looked back, Bogus had gone.  Instead, there came a tremendous roar and a vision of horrible ugliness that towered before them.  It stood right in the path, and all three women screamed, and Fae at least feared that Bogus might have been eaten.  Greta jumped forward without thinking to get between Fae and the beast.  She was not sure how Fae’s old heart could stand it.

“Stop that!” She yelled at the beast without really thinking about what she did.  She just reacted.  “Bad, bad ogre!”  She yelled, and then she slapped the ogre in his outstretched arm, truly without thinking. Curiously, the ogre wilted under her scolding and, though he would not have felt a human slap, he howled in pain at Greta’s touch.  Then Greta remembered that ogres were included among her little ones, though they could hardly be called little.  “Bad, bad.” She said again, and the ogre winced as if under hammer blows.  Then Greta felt sorry for the beast.  Berry was hide-ed in Fae’s hair, and Fae, while clearly repulsed, at the same time, she seemed fascinated with the sight.

“You scared us badly,” Greta said, a bit more softly.  “You really are an ugly, scary ogre.  I bet if you saw your own reflection you would even scare yourself.”

“I did once,” the ogre proudly admitted, and he turned a little red from embarrassment.

Fae drew her breath in sharply as Greta stepped up and put her hand right up to the ogre’s mouth; but Greta had no fear.  “Oh, I knew it.”  Greta praised the creature and he turned ever redder as she began to scratch beneath the fold of his chin where his own hammy hands could not scratch.  Ogres develop a kind of moldy fungus there which otherwise only grows on rocks.  It is not painful, but it itches terribly and Greta imagined that might be why ogres were sometimes so mean.

“Have you always been this scary, or did you grow scary when you got older?”  She made polite conversation.  At the moment, he was thumping his leg against the ground like a puppy dog.  The ground shook a little and Greta felt obliged to stop scratching to let him answer.

“Always,” he said and stuck his chin out for more.

“What’s your name?” Greta asked, not offering any more scratches.

“Thunderhead.”

“Well, Thunderhead, you know you are not allowed to scare humans.”  She almost scolded again and that took his attention from his chin.

“Bogus said it was only fairies.  He said it was a prank.”  Thunderhead defended himself in the classic way.  He blamed someone else.

“No, Dunderhead.” Berry jumped out and began to scold him herself.  Evidently, she knew him.  “No hurting the humans.  It is not permitted.”  He listened, but at the same time he made a couple of slow attempts to grab the sprite darting in front of him.  It looked a bit like trying to swat a fly with a wrought iron lamppost.  Greta backed up a little to avoid the flailing arms. “Don’t make our goddess mad at you,” Berry said.  “You have had enough scratchies.”

“No telling,” Greta insisted.

“I’m no tale teller.”  Berry said, and she fluttered back to hover between Fae and Greta.

“What do you do, Thunderhead?”  Fae asked out of curiosity.

“I make sand,” the ogre said, frankly.  “I crush the rocks to make the soil good.”  He made a fist, like he was showing her how it was done.  “But sometimes my hands get tired so I crush them with my head.  But right now, I got terrible itches.  Maybe you scratch or I eat you, rule or no rule.”

Greta’s jaw dropped.  “Of all the nerve!”  She got a little angry, and the ogre wilted again under her lashing.  “You frighten my friends, but I make nice.  I compliment you and scratch under your chin, and what do I get?  You threaten to eat us anyway!  Serves me right for being nice to an ogre!  Now move, you big, ugly oaf!”  The ogre raised his arms as if to ward off her tongue, but she slapped his arm again, and this time he felt something electric in her touch.  Thunderhead howled and jumped back about eight feet.

“You sound like Bogus,” he confessed, while he sucked on his arm and eyed Greta with awe.

“Yes.” Greta started building up a good head of steam.  “Bogus! Bogus the Skin!”

“What? Who?”  He appeared right in front of her.  “What am I doing back here?”  He got confused, at first.

“The goddess said take me to my brother and she meant safely.  She did not say I should be threatened by an ogre!”

Bogus deflected her anger by turning on Thunderhead.  “Thunderhead.  What have you been doing?”  He began a scolding of his own, but Greta interrupted before the ogre could speak.

“He only did what you told him to do,” she said.  “Yes, I know the truth.”  She added before Bogus could lie about his innocence.  “Now get moving.  I want my Hans back, and Thunderhead.”

“Me?” Thunderhead paused in his sucking. He looked visibly shaken.

“Go make some sand, and maybe, if you are real good, just maybe your itchies will go away for a while.”

“Yes,” Thunderhead said.  “I will. I will.”  He did not know what to make of her, but he felt sure that she was one he ought to listen to.

“Move,” Greta said a bit more softly as the steam began to run its’ course.

“I’m moving,” Bogus said.  “What is the world coming to?  And who are you, anyway?”