M3 Margueritte: Guests, part 2 of 3

“My Lords,” Roland said as he rose.  “Lady Brianna.  Will you pardon me?  I had better see to the horses before I retire.”

“I will help Maven with the dishes,” Margueritte said, knowing it would let her outside as Roland was going outside.  Then her father had to ruin it all.

“Don’t mind the ogre if he’s back.  He really is a nice fellow.”

“Oh, yes.”  Roland had forgotten and needed to think a minute.

“It’s all right,” Tomberlain said.  “I’ll go with you and help.”

“Thank you.”  Roland stole a glance from Margueritte.

Margueritte took out the plates, knives and cups and set them in the water, not too gently.  Marta came back in time to help and ended up doing most of it because Maven’s back hurt.

“What’s the matter missy?”  Lolly asked, shooting for the core.  “You like that hunk of a young man, don’t you?”

“I wouldn’t know,” Margueritte said, sounding ever so frustrated.  “Tomberlain won’t let me get a word in edgewise.”

“There, there.”  Lolly said in her most motherly fashion.  “You don’t want to go falling in love, anyway.  All that will get you is the three “H’s.”

“What are those?”  Margueritte fell right into it.

“Heartaches, Headaches, and Husbands,” Lolly said.  “And that last, ungrateful, self-centered child is the cause of most of the first two.”

“I would like a husband.”  Marta spoke up from her work and honestly tried to join the conversation.

“Yes, Marta.”  Margueritte got curious.  “Why aren’t you married.”

“No one ever asked me,” she said.

Maven got up then, grinning, and came forward, rubbing her hands together.  “Well, well, well,” she said.

“Now, now.”  Lolly tapped her cooking spoon tenderly against Maven’s hands and eyed Marta with a strange look.  “I think you need to be leaving this one to the experts.”

Margueritte knew Marta would not be long for this world.  “I gotta go,” she said, and she slipped off toward the barn, but could not imagine a reason to go closer than the old oak.  Think, think.  She said to herself, but it was no good.  The moon came up.  The stars twinkled and she knew, like Elsbeth, she ought to be in bed.  At last, when she could think of no excuse to wander into the barn, and indeed, she felt she could hardly think at all, she settled on returning to the house and to her sleep.  She got near the door, however, and heard a word.

“Hello.”  The word startled her.  “That brother of yours is hard to lose.”

“Thick head, good heart,” Margueritte said, smiled and suddenly felt very giddy.

Roland smiled his perfect smile and it made Margueritte turn her head, slightly.

“What?”  Roland wondered.  “You should not hide your smile.”

“But my smile is not perfect like your own,” she said, honestly.  “You see?”  She showed him where the crooked was.

“Who would notice?” he said and reached to touch her, as if looking, but let his fingers linger on her lips.  Margueritte looked deeply into his blue eyes before she pulled back ever so little.  “All night I thought you had something to ask me.”

“Oh, yes.”  Margueritte had to pause to remember.  “I wanted to know if you really saved Lord Charles’ life.”

“Yes,” he said.  “I suppose I did.  But I grew up on the Saxon Mark so in a way I knew what treachery he would face, and he could not have known.”

“You are modest,” Margueritte said, and thought this was a rare and prized quality not found among the braggarts who surrounded her father or who called Tomberlain friend.  “But I feel that is very important.  I have a sense about your lord; that he has only begun to step into his greatness.”

“The same as I feel,” Roland said, in a more serious tone.  “Even though he has already done more in his life than most men ever dream of doing.”

Both looked at each other, and Margueritte wondered why she kept speaking of Charles when Charles was not on her mind or heart.  She got ready to ask another question when a little voice interrupted them both.

“What am I missing?”  Goldenrod fluttered up and hovered briefly in between them.  Roland seemed to take a good long look at the fairy’s face, and she looked at him with curiosity.  “Are you loving?” she asked.  Neither felt quite sure what she was asking.  Roland looked uncomfortable for the first time, and Margueritte answered for her little one.

“I do hope we may be friends,” she said.

“Yes,” Roland agreed.  “You know what friends are, don’t you?”

“Oh yes,” Goldenrod said with some excitement.  “My Lady, and Elsbeth and I are best friends.  And my Lady Brianna and Little White Flower.”  And she started a list.  “And Luckless, Grimly, Lolly, Maven and Marta, Tomberlain, and even Hammerhead, and Miss Blossom and Lady LeFleur, my mother.  She is queen of the fairies, you know.”

Roland interrupted.  “So that makes you the fairy princess.”  He tipped his hat to her.

“It does?”  Goldenrod widened her little eyes.  “Wow.  Wait ‘till I tell Elsbeth.  She’ll be so proud of me.”  She flew off as quickly as she came.  Roland looked at Margueritte.

“We have pointed this out to her many times,” Margueritte said.  “But retention of the facts is a fleeting thing for a fairy so young.  She is only about seventy years old; you know.”  Roland swallowed and looked again in the direction Goldenrod had gone.  Margueritte took a deep breath.  “I should be in bed,” she said.  “Goodnight, Sir Roland.”

“Just Roland, if you don’t mind.  I’m still getting used to the sir part.”  He smiled again, but she turned toward the door and stopped only before entering as Roland spoke once more.  “By the way, you did not have to kick your brother.  He is a good young man, and despite his questions, my attention was all yours.”

Margueritte’s hand went to her mouth.  She kicked the wrong leg.  She felt very embarrassed.

“Oh, don’t think of it,” Roland said quickly.  “My sisters used to do that all the time.  It reminded me of home.  And I found it very refreshing after all the stiff formalities of the palace.  I don’t believe the ladies in Paris even know how to kick.”  He tried hard to help, and Margueritte smiled for his efforts, but she felt embarrassed all the same.

“Goodnight then,” she said, went inside, and only paused to say goodnight to her mother who was waiting to escort Sir Roland to his room.

M3 Festuscato: Shipwreck, part 1 of 3

Festuscato:  The Halls of Hrothgar

After 416 A. D., Outside the Western Roman Empire

Festuscato 1:  Shipwreck

The clouds gathered, gray and dark on the eastern horizon, but the evening was near and Festuscato was not sure if the darkness got caused by a storm or the slowly fading sun. He considered the problem when his eyes became utterly taken by another vision.  Mirowen came up from below where the seven horses, and two ponies sounded restless, even against the sound of the wind and the waves.

“Lord.”  She acknowledged him in the way she did ever since they left Rome on this impossible journey.  Long gone were the days of his childhood when she called him sweet names, and his teenage years when she called him spoiled brat.

“My Lady.” He responded and watched her walk to the bow to stand, statue-like; her habit of the past seven days.  Everyone else watched as well and only returned to their various distractions after she came to a stop.  Festuscato, held the tiller dead on and had nothing better to do than stare.

Mirowen’s long green dress flowed out beside her with the wind and made it seem as if any moment, the beauty might take to flight.  She appeared, not so much a beauty one could point to, Festuscato decided, but more of an unearthly kind of something that made her impossibly attractive. It could be seen in the perfection of her form and figure, in the grace of her every gesture, in her long black hair and pitch black eyes, in her elvish ears with those perfect little points. Festuscato decided she needed a mate, if one could be found to match her perfection.  Sadly, at present, all he could do was sigh for her and turn his eyes away.  Besides, Hrugen seemed much more interesting.

Hrugen claimed to be a great Danish sailor.  He volunteered to guide them safely through the waves, once he found out their proposed route would take them near his homeland.  He said he had nothing against living in exile in Britain, but secretly, Festuscato imagined the man just got homesick.  As Festuscato suspected, the man proved to be no sailor at all.  In fact, Festuscato had started calling the man Gilligan, from time to time, even if that made himself the Skipper. Presently, Hrugen tried again to tie down the sail in the corner where it came loose and flapped, furiously. Gregor One Eye, the old Saxon, finally got tired of watching him and did it himself.

“I was about to do that,” Hrugen said, defensively.

“Nothing compared to what I was about to do,” Gregor said.

“Yes,” Festuscato thought.  “Seven days at sea could be interminable.”

Gregor sauntered over to where Seamus, the Cleric and Bran the Sword sat quietly.  Seamus wrote in his book, and Bran leaned on his sword, contemplating the cross.  The first was a cleric in the true sense, a priest of the Irish, a present from Patrick. Bran was a puritan through and through, and also a present, given by Constantine whom Festuscato anointed as the first Pendragon to rule Britannia in the name of Rome until such time the Romans returned, if ever.  Bran had been charged to defend the Senator’s life until Festuscato could safely return to his home along the Appian Way.

“What is it you write in that book of yours, anyway?”  Gregor asked as he sat on the cleric’s other side where he could keep watch with his good eye.  “You’ve been writing for seven days now and I have not heard a word except out of that other book of yours, that Bible thing.”

“I am keeping a record of our journey and adventures,” Seamus said.

“Adventures?” Gregor let out a hearty laugh. “Haven’t had any yet.”  Bran, craned his neck a little as if to take a look, though he had not yet shown anyone reason to believe he knew how to read.

“If you must know.”  Seamus spoke fast, corked his ink and set it and his quill in the pouch he always carried. “I have just written how we came into the Baltic from the outer sea yesterday morning, rounded the height of Jutland and came within sight of the coast which ran from horizon to horizon.”

“That’s all there is at sea.  Just horizon every way you look.”  Hrugen spoke as he joined the group.  The others paused.  For one minute, it appeared as if Hrugen might be sick, again.  “I try not to think about it.”  He finished, and looked down at his shoes.

Bran still craned. “It’s poetry,” he said.  “It’s not supposed to make sense.”

Seamus shut the book even though the ink was not quite dry.  “It makes sense,” he said.  “It’s just poetic.”

“Latin?” Gregor asked.

“Of course,” Seamus said.  “Just because we were wise enough not to get entangled with Roman overlords, doesn’t mean every Irishman’s an uneducated lout.”

“Quite true,” Gregor said with a big, friendly grin.  “Well, partly anyway.”

Bran stifled a laugh and stood up for the cleric.  “David was a poet.  I’ll grant you that,” he said.

“A barbarian of high esteem?”  Hrugen asked.

“A king for God’s people,” Seamus said.

“God’s chosen,” Bran said, almost at the same time.

“Which god?” Gregor asked, and then relented.  “That’s right, you only have one, so you say.”

“The Danes know of the Alfadur.”  Hrugen suggested.

“Can he protect my tools from salt water?”  A new voice joined the group.  Luckless the dwarf had come up from below where he hourly checked on his precious possessions.  “Pray that they don’t all rust.  Some of them were my great-grandfather’s, brought all the way from the mines of Movan Mountain.”

“But I thought your father was in the thick of it when the dwarf lords drove you out?” Seamus said.

“I don’t blame him,” Luckless said, with half a heart.  “Got to seek my fortune.  Besides, what would you do with a bad luck charm?”

The two Christians shook their heads.  The other two, however, looked like they would throw the dwarf overboard in a minute if he was not under Lord Agitus’ protection.

R6 Festuscato: 10 Londugnum, part 2 of 2

Festuscato and Mirowen, with Mousden holding on, rode side by side over the many days it took to get to Londugnum, as the Brits called it.  Luckless on his pony and Seamus on horseback followed.  Bran rode beside Dibs and said almost less than he said when they first met. Julius and his men, along with the four horsemen, agreed to stay and defend the Pendragon; but Dibs’ men felt obliged to follow their commander now that he came back from his special assignment in Ireland, and Dibs was technically still guarding that Imperial rogue, Festuscato Cassius Agitus, Vir Ilistrus and Comes Britannia.  Dibs could not be sure if the imperial governor remained under house arrest, but if he was, Dibs understood that concept needed to be liberally interpreted to let Festuscato do his job.

Once in town, Festuscato rented out an inn by the port. The men slept downstairs in the common room.  Dibs and the travelers got rooms upstairs.  The first thing Festuscato did was find a young woman who kept him happy in the night.  The second thing he did was run into a man he did not expect to see.

“Gregor,” The man reintroduced himself.  He stood a big blond Saxon, almost Bran size, but older, and he had and eye-patch over his missing eye.  “I heard about your errand, and I waited your return from Ireland. Patience does not fit my temperament, you know, but here you are at last, and here I am.”

“You waited?”

“Aye.  I got the Dane on a short leash and can fetch him on short notice, then we get a ship and take him home, no?”

Festuscato only thought for one second before he took Gregor outside for some private conversation.  When he came back into the inn, Mirowen met him at the door.

“I don’t like the plan,” she said bluntly, but they had a bigger interruption to deal with.  Festuscato, Dibs and Gaius ran into their long-lost childhood friend, Felix. Last they heard, he started selling silk in Rome.  Apparently, he ran afoul of some rich patron and had to run.  He made it all the way to Frankish territory where he bought a ship, most likely with the lady’s money, and he had now been reduced to dealing in wool.  Reduced was how he described it.

“A long way from silk,” he admitted over a tankard of ale, but the others encouraged him, and Gaius even suggested he talk to the church.  If his stuff was any good, the church was always interested in quality cloth, even better if he still had some contact with the silk merchants.  Felix thought that might be possible.

###

One week later, a big British belly boat slipped out of Londugnum on the evening tide.  Dibs found a note that said, “Sorry.  Not this time.  I’ll be in Tournai in a few years.  Meet me there.  First I have a side trip, another delivery, then a good look around.  Blessings on Gaius and keep Felix honest with the church. From Tournai, I plan to return to Rome, so be prepared.”  Festuscato just reviewed some fond memories of his childhood friends when he got interrupted.

“Common sense says we should turn around,” Mirowen said, when she stepped up to the tiller.  The three sailors they hired to help them sail the ship took the longboat and deserted in the estuary.  Festuscato kept the ship headed toward the deep water.

“I assume they could not handle the company,” Festuscato said.

Mirowen nodded.  “An elf, a dwarf and a pixie do make a strange crew.”

“No.”  Festuscato shook his head.  “I was taking about Seamus, the Priest.”  Mirowen scoffed, but Festuscato had not finished.  “Honestly, at sea there is not much to do, as long as we keep the wind pointed in the right direction to keep the sails full.  I may ask for a little elf magic if things go contrary, but otherwise, what is there to worry about?”

“How about docking the ship without crashing it into the dock?”

“We will build that bridge when we come to it. Meanwhile, Bran, Gregor, and Hrugen all claim to know about sailing.  You and Seamus can tend the cargo, the important thing being the horses. Luckless can repair about anything, and Mousden can keep his eyes open up top.  Trust me.  I can follow the stars and the sun well enough.  We will be in Copenhagen before you know it, isn’t that right Hrugen?”

The Dane coiled a rope nearby and listened in.

“We must make for Heorot, hall of Hrothgar, King of the Danes.  Did I tell you about the monster?”

“Figures,” Mirowen said before Mousden screamed from above.  Apparently, he was listening in, too.

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

Tomorrow: A preview of Greta’s continuing saga: To Grandfather’s House We Go.

*

R5 Festuscato: The British North, part 2 of 3

That evening, Festuscato had three visitors to his tent, and all he wanted was a sip of ale and a good night’s sleep.  The first, a Dane brought in by Gregor the Saxon.  “I was taking a shit away from the camp and I saw this skinny fellow sneaking around in the woods.  I thought there might be a reward, though I don’t suppose he is worth much.”  He laughed a loud, hearty laugh.

“Do you speak any language I know?” Festuscato asked.

“I speak the British.  I was on one of the first boats that came to settle on the shore.”

“Are you a sailor then?”

The skinny man looked at Gregor, who appeared a big man in every way.  “I am an excellent sailor.  You might say my ship never would have crossed the North Sea safely without my help.”

Festuscato sat back in his chair while Gregor took an empty tankard and filled it without asking.  “What can I do for you?”  Festuscato was curious.

“You are the Roman.  I have heard you do not plan to stay on this island.  I was thinking if you take a ship anywhere near the Norwegian shore and my homeland, I could help you sail it.”

“Homesick?” Festuscto asked.

The man dropped his head.  “My name is Hrugen, son of Unferth, grandson of Edglaf, and I came here more than ten years ago when my uncles were foully murdered.  I feared for my life, but now I fear more that my father is old and I am not there for him as a good son should be.”

“I see.”

“He has my vote,” Gregor said.  “I say we take this sailor home.”

“We?” Festuscato got ready to ask what Gregor meant by that, but Death stuck his head in the door and indicated he had another visitor.  Festuscato excused himself and stepped out.  He found Cadwalder, the druid.

“My master wishes to speak with you, but he does not wish to disturb you if you are in a time of Christian meditation, er, prayer.”

Julius stepped up with curiosity on his face.  “You better go in,” Festuscato waved at his tent.  “Keep an eye on Gregor and meet Hrugen the Dane, son of, grandson of, and so on.”

“A Dane?” Julius went in.  Festuscato waved for the druid to lead on.  Death started to follow, but Festuscato assured him he would be fine in the camp.  Besides, Death and Pestilence would probably be needed to fetch more ale and cups.

The man Festuscato found looked near forty, with the gray just beginning to color his beard and hair.  He was a druid, a master druid.  Festuscato knew him right away, of course.  “Merlin,” he said.  “Meryddin. Good to meet you again for the first time, but I wonder why looking at you always reminds me of Loki.”

Meryddin appeared confused.  “You are a seer?  You are a prophet?”

“Neither one. I spoke to the Raven.  I am just an observer, you know.”

Meryddin accepted the explanation, though it really did not make sense.  “You are not in the midst of any Christian activities?” Meryddin was being polite.

“Moi?  I was drinking.  What is it you wanted?”

“I have heard from several that you have certain friends…”

“No.  You can’t have one.  You can’t even see one.  They are shy you know.  And I am friends with lots of people, all different kinds of people too.  I just made friends with a Dane, I think.  I’m not sure.  I have to get back to my drinking.  Anything else?”

“About these priests…”

“All priests are to be respected, as far as it goes.  Killing a priest, christian, druid or pagan is a crucifixion offense.  No burning churches or temples or deliberately desecrating sacred spaces.  That is a quick way to get yourself killed.  And no, you can’t go around the island designating every square inch a sacred druid space, so forget it.  Now, I am going back to my ale.  Wake me up if you have a serious question.”  He walked off quickly.

The third visitor stood outside his tent, not quite ready to join the party going on inside. Hellgard the Jute, had questions. Festuscato did his best to be up front with the man.

“General Aetius in Gaul has some seventy thousand Romans and more than two hundred thousand Fedoratti of one kind or another.  He even has some Huns working for him, and maybe some Jutes.  Anyway, I might be able to borrow some of his men and could probably kill every Pict on the island, man woman and child.  The thing is, I will never do that.  I believe that men of good will, Celts of different sorts, Jutes, Germans of all kinds, Picts, and even Danes can choose to live in peace with one another, support one another, and prosper. Everyone wins.  Maybe I’m a fool, but I say it is worth a try.”

“It is an interesting idea.  My people came to this island as Fedoratti to you Romans two generations ago.  We left the continent because it became impossible to live.  Everyone hated everyone, and war never ceased.  Since you Romans left, I have seen this island break down into the same troubles.  There is too much anger, hatred, pride, revenge.”

“You have to start somewhere.  I’ve spoken to Constantine.  We survey the land and establish borders.  Let the disputes be settled by vote of the Peers rather than fighting. That way if one man is unhappy with the vote and chooses to fight, he will know the whole rest of the island will get together and crush him.  That should stop most of the fighting, anyway.  Once people agree to stay to their own land, then trade can happen. Taxes can be low because fighting costs money as well as men.  Free trade, low taxes, suddenly everyone prospers.  Peace is a good thing.  Our women can grow fat and our children can grow strong.”  Hellgard nodded.  He liked the idea.  “Now, lets join the party.  Come meet Hrugen the Dane.  Gregor says he is a skinny little thing, and maybe not terribly bright, but we have to start somewhere.”  Hellgard nodded again as they went in.

Noon the next day saw no answer from Wanius so Constantine called his counsel together. Many ideas were discussed, and Festuscato only said, “You probably like your idea, and will argue strongly for your point of view, but don’t be wedded to it.  The counsel may decide otherwise, and I will expect you to give your full support to whatever the counsel decides and the high chief approves in the end. Whole-hearted support, too.  No dragging your feet.  Maybe next time your idea will be the one that carries the day. Besides, I once knew a man who could only think, “Kill the bastards.”  When he finally got the chance, he did not find it as easy or as much fun as he thought.  So, argue your point, but don’t marry it.”