M4 Margueritte: Sword of the Five Crosses, part 3 of 3

Only one old priest served in the church, talking, and laughing with Charles and Roland.  Four of Wulfram’s men from Potentius and four of Hunald’s men from Aquitaine stood around looking bored when the women trooped in.  The men stood and followed as Mother Matilde brought them straight to the back of the altar where a flat stone had been carved with five crosses, painted red at some point in history.

“Don’t break the stone,” Margueritte kept saying.  “After it serves its purpose, it needs to be put back for the next person.”

It took a while to dig out the mortar and pry up the stone.  The big stone took a small chip, but that could be filled in.  It took four men to carefully lift the stone and set it gently along the wall, and then one man lifted a long, thin box. Margueritte tried to get the box, but the men crowded around and blocked her way.  They were anxious to open it, but Margueritte felt obliged to speak first.  She stepped back, raised her hands, and called.

“Caliburn and box.”

The box disappeared, startling all the men, and it reappeared in Margueritte’s arms.  Roland and the nuns were the least surprised.  The priest let out a shout and Giselle dropped her jaw.

“Now listen,” Margueritte said, though she certainly had everyone’s attention.  “The sword in this box was first made for a Greek princess two hundred years before Christ.  That makes it nine hundred years old, so it needs respectful treatment.  At the same time, you will find it stronger, sharper, and of a better-quality steel than anything that can be produced by Christians or Moslems.  It should serve you well, Charles.  The last one who carried this into battle was a man named Arthur.”

“Excalibur?” one man asked.

“No.  Excalibur is older, heavier, and pressed with meteorite in some way, I don’t know.  It is very pretty, but Caliburn in most ways is the better sword.  Caliburn is the one that was taken out of the stone.”  She took it out of the box, dusted it off and saw several spots that showed a rusty colored dirt, the remains of its former sheath.  She tapped it gently against the pew and used her sleeve to clean the sword.  The rusty spots easily fell off, and they all saw the blade itself, untainted by any discoloration.  It gleamed in the dim light of the church.  Charles and the others started to crowd forward again, but she stopped them.

“Charles,” she said.  “You must put your hand out and call for the sword.”

Charles paused before he lifted his hand and called, “Sword.”

“It has a name.”

“Caliburn,” Charles amended his word and the sword jumped once, flew through the air, and landed in Charles’ hand ready to strike at an adversary.  Charles looked more surprised than anyone else.

“What witchery is this?” the priest asked.

“No witchery.”  Margueritte rolled her eyes for Mother Matilde and Sister Mary.  “It is the sword’s only virtue, to return to the hand of its owner.  It is on loan, but at present, Charles, it is fit to your hand.”

“But how?” Roland asked.  “I mean a sword that comes when called.”

“It got forged in the fires of Mount Etna under the watchful eye of Hephaestus.  It got worked into shape and completed by the same family of dark elves that made Thor’s hammer.  It should serve well, but it is not indestructible so treat it well.”  Margueritte handed the box to Matilde.  “Save this,” she whispered before she turned again to Charles.  “The sheath it had is rotted.  I recommend a strong leather sheath to keep it from scratching.”

“It can be scratched?” a man asked.

“No, but it is sharper than any knife we have, and it will stay sharp.  You won’t have to sharpen it.  No, I was thinking to keep it from scratching your leg or your horse.”

“Ah,” Charles understood.  “But now these crosses in the circles?  There is one on each side of the block where the cross-guard meets the grip.”

“The wheel of Saint Catherine?” Sister Mary guessed.

“And on the pommel, at the end.  And reflected, like an imprint in the ricasso on both sides of the blade itself above the block.”

“The five crosses,” Roland understood, and Margueritte nodded.

“It is the symbol of the Athol valley where the Princess was a princess.  It is two crossed swords in a circle, but it does look cross-like.  God’s providence two hundred years before Christ, do you think?”

“And it has been hidden in the church from the beginning?”  The priest shook his head in disbelief.

“Lady Margueritte.”  Charles spoke in his formal voice and gave a slight bow.  “I never expected to have and to hold the sword of King Arthur himself.  I will do my utmost to take care of it.”

“No, Charles.  It is being given to you to use.  I hope the sword will take care of you.  I don’t know who the Masters may be, or anything about Tours, or what that man was talking about, but I know it is important that you be there, alive to meet it.  You understand, I can make no promises.  Caliburn is the best I can give you—that and some heavy cavalry if I have maybe ten years to organize the Breton March and train the men.”  Margueritte looked around at all the faces staring at her and decided she said too much.  “I don’t know what crucible you plan to put your men through in the next ten years.  That is not my job.”  She genuflected to the image of Jesus on the cross behind the altar, lit a candle for her father at the statue of Saint Catherine and left.

Margueritte held on to Roland in the night but said nothing.  She said nothing all the next day when they returned to Tours, though she listened while Roland explained to Charles how Tomberlain planned to divide up his property and rent it to faithful men, and how he planned to include military service as part of the rental price.

“And any who refuse the call to arms will have their land taken away and given to others,” Roland said.  He did not exactly get it right, but Charles grasped the concept.

“You know I have another half-brother, Childebrand,” Charles said.  “He has a small place in Burgundy.”

“You can’t trust your brother?” Roland asked.

“No.   He is content with his place and supported me in my struggle as you know.”

“Then what?”

“We are headed for Bavaria on the Burgundian border, even as your spooky wife guessed.  But the Burgundians are making noises about needing to tend the land, the fields, the grapes, and maybe not being able to raise many men to fight, even though the fight will be on their border and to their own benefit.”  Charles paused and rubbed his chin.

“I’m not following,” Roland admitted.

“I was just wondering how Childebrand might like being the Duke of Burgundy, and maybe there are some other Burgundian nobles worth replacing.”

Roland said nothing, and Margueritte said nothing until they got back to the inn in Tours.  Then she said something to Roland on an entirely different subject.

“Tomorrow is Sunday.  I need to go to church, at Saint Martins.  I told the abbot I would come back and check on his work.”

Roland considered when she might have spoken to the abbot.  “When was this?” he asked.

“About three hundred years ago,” she answered.

###

Giselle begged off when Margueritte went to church.  Margueritte felt concerned, because Giselle was very faithful in church, but Giselle said she just wanted some quiet time, and that had not really been possible when they were traveling.

As soon as Margueritte stepped into the sanctuary, Giselle walked to the woods by the stream where Abd al-Makti waited.  Giselle spoke first.

“The father is gone by my hand, and as you said, the Lady has taken on the responsibility of overseeing the organization of the Breton March.  She is occupied and out of the world, so why have you called me?  You promised to let my family go free once Lady Margueritte became occupied.”

“Because the job is not finished,” Abd al-Makti said.  “Charles is taking his army out to battle, and it is not my desire that the Franks should become good at war.  It is my desire that Sir Roland, Charles’ strong right arm, should leave his mind, if not his body, back in the Mark.”  He reached into a pocket in his vest and pulled out a small vial of clear liquid.

“I’ll not poison anyone else.  The old man suffered night and day.  I did not mind that, like an act of mercy.  But no more.  I will not harm the lady or anyone else in the family.  They are good people, and the lady, her mother, and Lady Jennifer are saints.  I will not do it.”

Abd al-Makti continued speaking as if Giselle said nothing at all.  “I am not asking you to harm any living person.  But I have seen a bit of what is to come, and I know the lady will again be with child.”  He held up the vial.  “This is for the last month when the lady is with child.  It will not harm the lady, only the lump of flesh in her belly will be affected.”

Giselle’s eyes got big.  “I will not harm her unborn child.  That would be murder.”

“But unborn, it is not yet a child.  I tell you it is just a lump of flesh until it is born.  It has no feelings, and cannot feel, not like a person.  And it will be quick.  The lady will be sad, and Sir Roland will turn his mind to his wife.  That is all.”

“You promised.  My family.”  Giselle got stubborn.

Abd al-Makti held out the vial.  “This time I do promise to set your family free when you do this successfully.”

Giselle closed her eyes for a moment and thought, but in the end, she took the vial and put it in her pocket.  As she walked off, she did not look like a person who was decided if she would do anything or not.  Abd al-Makti simply shrugged and called for Marco and the horses.

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

MONDAY

What can you do when everything gets broken?  Next time.  Happy Reading.

*

M4 Margueritte: Sword of the Five Crosses, part 2 of 3

“Lady.”  Giselle interrupted Margueritte’s thoughts.  “Lady, we are running out of linen to paint the Saracens.”

“So just paint the faces.  Cut the linen into smaller pieces.”

“Lady,” Grimly interrupted.  “Fair warning.  We are going to outgrow the new stables in two years, the way I figure it.”

“Understood.”

“Lady,” Peppin, master at arms, and Captain Wulfram came up together.  “The number of horses that meet your specifications that we can buy in Anjou, in the area we surveyed, are going to cost.”

“Please.  I understand, but we need the bright young men to go with the horses, not just the horses.  Let the men cover their own costs if they can.  We have limited scholarship money.”

“Lady, Lady,” Goldenrod fluttered up.  “Elsbeth is going to have a baby.”

“Lady,” Luckless came to complain.  “These lances are hard enough to make.  They could at least take care of them.”

“Margueritte,” Roland yelled from the house.  “Childemund arrived with the mail.  Charles is coming.”

Margueritte screamed, put her hands to her ears and marched back inside.  She picked up her children, ran to her room and slammed the door.  She had a headache.  She couldn’t think straight.  Roland and Giselle had to bring up supper.

Three days later, Margueritte stood with Roland at the top of the Paris Road, dressed in her Sunday best, watching Charles arrive at the head of a hundred men, thinking about the future and frustrated by not knowing what tomorrow might bring.  She understood something about Charlemagne—not much.  But after that time, things cleared up.  She grasped the middle ages, the renaissance and reformation, the age of exploration and enlightenment, the days of revolution and nationalism, the times of crisis and collapse, the opening of space, both the stellar and interstellar movements and migrations right up to the building of the arc called the Alice II, but tomorrow always remained a mystery.  Margueritte could not help feeling that she had missed something.  She looked around and wondered.

Tomberlain and Margo looked nervous.  This was his first real act as Count of the Breton March, to welcome the Mayor of the Palace, lord of all the Franks.  Mother stood by him, and she smiled.  She considered Charles an old family friend.  Owien and Elsbeth did not pay much attention, still being like newlyweds, and Elsbeth being pregnant and all.  Then there were the spectators, the workers, the Breton serfs, the free Franks from the village, all turned out to see the parade.  There were precious few entertainments in the dark ages, so people had to hang on to every special event they could.

Margueritte’s eyes rested on two men, two workers at the front of the crowd.  It took a moment to remember their names.  The short dark one with the big nose was Gunter, and the big, uglier blond, Sven.  She recalled the age she lived in and wondered what these medieval men could possibly know about germs.  She lost her smile and shouted the word.

“Germs!”

Margueritte swallowed her voice before she attracted too many eyes, and she got Owien’s attention.  “Owien,” she whispered, though the crowd started to cheer.  “Get Greffen there and several of the young men with him.”  She pointed out Gunter and Sven, told him what to do, and turned back to watch Charles ride between her men.  Wulfram had thirty on one side of the road, and Peppin had thirty on the other side, like honor guards.  They sat quietly atop their well-trained big horses, shields attached to their saddles, lances held straight up, resting in their cup holders.  She caught Charles eyeing them and thinking about it before he came up and dismounted.

Tomberlain stepped up to give his welcoming speech, but Mother Brianna interrupted by stepping forward and giving Charles a welcoming hug.  Charles readily reciprocated.  When they parted, before they could speak, there came a scuffle close by in the crowd.  They heard a metal sound clank against the cobblestones in the road.  Owien and Greffen had Gunter by the arms and Gunter had dropped his long knife.  Three young men pulled down Sven and took the sword he had hidden under his cloak.

Margueritte butted in front of Charles, Roland right behind.  The crowd backed away with sounds of shock and surprise.

“Who are you working for?”  Margueritte turned on Gunter.

He grinned a sly grin.  “Why you, of course.”

Margueritte presently had no tolerance for deliberate stupidity.  She stepped up and kicked the man between the legs.  He bent over and moaned.  “Who are you working for?” she repeated the question and had a thought.  “Got any more castor seeds?”

Gunter growled, broke free of Greffen’s arm as Greffen loosened his grip and looked pained, like he felt the kick, personally.  Gunther made a fist to swing at Margueritte’s face.  An arrow got there first.

At the same time, Sven pulled a knife he had hidden down his pants leg and slashed one of the young men as he broke free.  Roland, right there, pulled his sword.  There was not much Sven with a knife could do against a seasoned, first-class swordsman.  It was soon over.

Gunter stayed on the ground, one hand on the arrow that stuck out from his gut.

“Who are you working for?” Margueritte tried one more time.

Gunter laughed softly, though it hurt.  “The Masters decided they would rather have things turn out differently at Tours.”  He tried to shrug and closed his eyes.  “We will meet again,” he said.  He lingered for a time, but he said no more.

“Masters?  Tours?” Roland wondered.

The man with the bow, one dressed in hunter green, stepped up, and Margueritte acknowledged him.  “Thank you, Larchmont.”

Charles answered Roland.  “Tours is on the border of Aquitaine.”  They both looked at Margueritte, but she could only shrug.  She did not know anything special about Tours or who might be involved there.  To be honest, she felt more concerned with the Masters, a word that sent chills through her bones, but first she had an Alice of Avalon inspired thought.

“No, Charles.  You may not take my horsemen.  They are not ready.  And before you drag Roland, Tomberlain and Owien off to fight in Swabia, Bavaria, or wherever you are going, we need to take a trip.”  Charles looked at Roland, but it was his turn to shrug, so he looked again at Margueritte.  “To Saint Catherine de Fierbois Church.  I have a gift for you.”

Margueritte stayed surprisingly quiet in the days it took to get to Fierbois.  They rode through October days where the fall weather, fall flowers and the color change in the leaves all helped to distract her.  Giselle accompanied her, while Brianna, Jennifer, and Marta took turns back home, watching the children.  Fortunately, perhaps, Giselle did not say much on the journey either, and that helped Margueritte keep her mouth closed.

When they arrived in Tours, they took rooms near the abbey of Saint Martin and relaxed.  They intended to head to Saint Catherine’s in the morning.  While they sat around the table telling jokes and stories, Captain Wulfram and Giselle with them, soldiers of the duke of Aquitaine arrived and came in with drawn swords.  Margueritte saw them first, stood and shouted.

“No!”

Charles, Roland, and Wulfram paused long enough so they were taken without a struggle.  “In the name of what God do you threaten innocent travelers and pilgrims?” Margueritte let out her anger.  Several men, who might have ignored a man, stepped back under the woman’s wrath, but one young man stepped forward.

“Not in God’s name but in the name of my father, Duke Odo of Aquitaine in whose land you travel.”

Giselle dropped her face into her hands, like she was afraid of what might happen. Margueritte stepped around the table, walked up to the young man, and slapped him, hard, but not too hard.

“Ouch.”  He put his hand to his cheek.

“Hunald, has it been so long you do not know me?  Has your father’s chess hand become so lax to let you run free?”

“Lady Margueritte,” he said as he really looked at them for the first time.  “I did not know it was you.”

Margueritte reached up and the young man flinched, but she patted his cheek softly.  “Join us for supper,” she said in a complete turnaround.  She saw a familiar face at the door.  “Captain Gilbert.”  He recognized her right away.  “Captain Wulfram is my personal guard.  Would you two tell the men to put away their swords and put down their arrows.  We are friends and neighbors.”

“I heard there were soldiers scouting the area for invasion,” Hunald said as Roland guided him to sit on the bench.  Margueritte heard but decided not to ask who told him that.  She did not need another blank, staring face and an “I don’t know.”

Charles put a gentle hand on the young man’s shoulder.  “Son, if I wanted to invade Aquitaine, I would not advertise it in advance.”

“No,” Hunald thought about it.  “I suppose not.”

Margueritte came back around the table to take her seat.  “Hunald, dear.  You should always look before you leap.”

“Trust this old soldier,” Charles said.  “The testimony of two is true.  It is never good to jump on what you think or what you hear.  It is always best to make sure of what you are dealing with before you deal with it.”

“Wine?”  Roland handed him a glass.

“Thank you,” he said, but hardly knew what else to say.

The following day, Hunald took half his men and scooted off, back to his father.  He left the other half and Captain Gilbert with Margueritte in Tours.  It turned out they were headed to the Breton March with heavy horses, saddles and lances abandoned by the Saracens around Toulouse.  Margueritte got excited to see what her horsemen would actually be facing, but first she had to complete her errand.

Margueritte directed Charles, Roland, and the men to the church while she stopped in the nunnery.  They did not wait long before the good Mother Matilde greeted Margueritte and Giselle warmly.  Sister Mary, a middle-aged woman with a kind face came with her.

“I have come to retrieve my property,” Margueritte said after the exchange of pleasantries.  “It is buried in the church, but you are the only ones who should know about it, and I will need you to go with us to not arouse suspicion.”

“I know of nothing buried in the church,” Sister Mary said kindly.  “The church, the monastery and this small place for nuns got built in this community more than two hundred years ago by disciples from Saint Martin’s in Tours.  We are a place where pilgrims may rest.  But after two hundred years, we would have no way of knowing what might be buried beneath the altar.”  Mother Matilde said nothing, but stared hard at the sister’s the last comment.

“Unless you were told by those who came before you that it was beneath the altar,” Margueritte smiled.  “If Rhiannon was a good girl, she placed it beneath a stone with five crosses,” Margueritte said

“Gwenyvair,” Mother Matilde spoke suddenly, nodded, and stood to take a thin volume from the ledgers on the shelf.  Margueritte began to cry softly, and Giselle became curious.

“Gwenyvair?”

“Wife of Arthur, King of the Britons,” Matilde said as she opened the book to the first page.  “The chapel was not finished when she arrived.”

“And Enid?” Margueritte asked softly.  “No.  Don’t tell me.  I don’t need to know that.”

“Lady?” Giselle comforted Margueritte, and Margueritte tried to smile.

“I’m all right.  Gwynyvar was a good friend, that’s all.”

Mother Matilde looked again at Sister Mary and Margueritte, and then decided.  “We will take you there.”

M4 Festuscato: Visigoth Hospitality, part 2 of 3

Their time in Tours proved brief.  The bishop greeted Gaius with all the pomp of a visiting bishop and gave Festuscato a brief smile.  Festuscato heard Gaius referred to as the apostle to the Franks and as the Bishop of Tournai, though Festuscato knew of nothing official in that direction.  Certainly, Gaius never said anything.

The abbot of Saint Martins was there, a man named Maurentius.  He came dressed to travel and go with them to apply to the Pope to approve his monastery with the appendage for women.  Maurentius, Dibs, Marcellus and Festuscato got to know each other while Gaius got wined and dined.  Festuscato found Maurentius to be a frumpy friar Tuck sort of fellow, good natured, and not a finger shaker when the conversation got a bit bawdy.  He would fit right in.

The first night after leaving Tours took them to Fierbois, hardly a village on the road to Pontiers.  Maurentius and Gaius were both surprised when Festuscato suggested it might be a good place for a church, and a satellite monastery for Saint Martins, and especially for the women.

“It would be a good place for pilgrims to stop and refresh themselves,” he said.

“Another Saint Martins?” Maurentius wondered.

“People would get confused by that,” Marcellus said.  Dibs and Gaius knew not to interrupt.

“I was thinking Saint Catherine would be a good choice, especially for any women on the road.  They would see it as a safe haven on the border between Visigoth and Roman lands.”

“I like Saint Catherine,” Emma spoke up from the cooking fire.

“Saint Catherine,” Felix echoed as he took something to his children.

“Saint Catherine de Fierbois,” Festuscato said. 

“It has a nice ring to it,” Gaius interjected.

“Anyway, after this I’ll mind my own business.  But I was thinking the Visigoths could use some spiritual guidance.  I hear many of them are Arians and do not know the true catholic faith, and this would be right on their border, or near enough.”

“No, I like the idea,” Maurentius said.  “I may mention it to the Pope.  The people of Aquitaine are mostly Christian, but many Visigoth nobles remain stubbornly Arian.  Having plans to expand the true church into the territory might help Saint Martin’s gain papal approval.”

Festuscato said no more, but in the morning, he confessed to Gaius something about the future and for once, Gaius said he had nothing to feel guilty about.

It took two weeks to reach Tolouse, the Visigoth capital.  No one bothered them all the way through Visigoth land, and when they arrive at Thorismund’s court, they appeared welcomed, at first.  Festuscato caught wind of the fact that Thorismund was not happy with Rome and with him for turning him away from finishing off Attila.

“Now my father is not avenged,” he said.  But his younger brother, Theodoric junior who also participated in the fight against Attila simply shook his head, sadly.  Festuscato understood.  Thorismund was not that bright and indeed, would not occupy the throne for long.  But in the meanwhile, Festuscato had to watch out.  During his life and career, Festuscato found that such men were easy to manipulate and easy to turn in the right direction with the simplest of arguments, as he turned Thorismund away from the battlefield; but once they got their mind stuck in a rut, they were impossible to reach.  Festuscato took Theodoric’s unspoken warning to Felix, Dibs and Marcellus.

“Felix has the money.  If I am delayed, your orders are to go to Narbonne on the south coast.  I will meet you there, but again, if I am delayed, you must take the first ship for Rome, before the cold weather arrives.  If all else fails, at least you will get home and I will meet you in Rome.”

“You are serious,” Dibs sounded surprised, though he should not have been, since he got left behind when Festuscato first sailed out of Britain for the continent.

“I have never heard you order anyone,” Gaius confessed.  “You always ask.”

“I had to order the four horsemen.  I practically yelled at them, but they will see you safely all the way to Rome, if necessary.”

“We will do this thing,” Marcellus agreed, and Felix shook Festuscato’s hand.

“Good luck,” he said.

The very next day, Festuscato found himself thrown into a dungeon cell with a single, small window much too high up to reach.

###

Festuscato got left alone by his jailer, Gormand.  He was not sure what Gormand’s orders were, but as long as they did not include torture, Festuscato could wait and hope—and try to figure some way out of his predicament.  It helped when on that very first day, the fairies Ironwood, Clover and Heather came fluttering in the little window.  Festuscato frowned and tried not to yell at them.

“Clover and Heather are running away from home,” Ironwood confessed.  “We followed you all the way here from Chalons.”

“Yes, and why are you here?” Festuscato asked.

“Well, someone has to keep an eye on these children,” Ironwood said with a smile.

“We are not children,” Clover insisted.

“I’m one hundred and three and Clover is nearly two hundred,” Heather insisted, looking very much like a petulant child.

“One seventy-six, and Ironwood is just two sixty-five.  Still young enough for a fairy,” Festuscato said, and Clover and Heather eyed each other, and realized Festuscato knew all about them in a way they had not really considered before.  He could look at them right down to the depths of their toes.  “Still, I am glad you are here,” Festuscato said, to change the subject.  He did not want to frighten the young couple with his awesome presence, as some of the ancient gods used to talk about it.  “You can help me plan my escape, and Ironwood, if you wouldn’t mind, I would appreciate you taking a message to Gaius and the men to tell them to get out now and head for Narbonne while they can.”

“I can do that.  Father Gaius seems very nice, for a human.”

“Would you like us to find some diggers?” Heather asked, avoiding the name goblins.  “It would take some time to dig you out.  There isn’t an easy tribe under your feet like in Tournai.”

“No, no.” Festuscato said, like someone else might have said, “Tut-tut.”  He would have to plan his route out of the city and once he left the city, and he would need a horse among other things.  Just getting out of the cell would not be enough.  “We will work on it.  I am going to try to reason with my captors first.  Meanwhile, I would not mind one digger, as you said.  It would be good to have one while I am sleeping to keep the rats, spiders, and bats away.”

Heather shrieked loudly at the thought of rats, spiders, and bats.  She threw herself into Clover’s arms, which she felt inclined to do in any case, and which he felt glad she did.  Gormand came to the door and slid open the little window in the door to yell.

“What was that?”

“I have a young girl in here and we are making wild, passionate love,” Festuscato responded.  Ironwood flew up to the window so Gormand could get a good look at him. 

“Hello,” he said in a friendly manner, his only previous experience with jailers being the Frank who eventually made peace in his mind and heart with having fairies around.  Gormand did not strike Festuscato as the same sort of man.  He shrieked, a high-pitched sound to match Heather’s, and he shut the cover on the window in the door and ran away.